All photos are by Aimee.
Ah, spring… After a long winter of eating potatoes, squash and carrots, she welcomes us with a tantalizing array of fresh new produce: bright green asparagus, cheery red radishes and seductive, oh-so-sweet strawberries.
Why does this bounty taste so good right about now? Because this is exactly when God intended it to be eaten! It is in season, meaning this is the time of the year it is meant to be enjoyed. It has naturally ripened on the vine or in the earth, it is fresh and, best of all, it’s affordable.
These days, with every fruit and vegetable known to man available year-round at our supermarkets, awareness of our planet’s natural food seasons is rapidly diminishing.
Curious as to why you should eat seasonal produce, as opposed to whatever is featured on the front of your weekly flier? Here are a few reasons:
Eating in season…
- Tastes better! It is ripened naturally (as opposed to picked prematurely for shipping purposes), harvested when perfect, and its sheer freshness provides us with a boost of extra nutrition. Surprise! Your fruit is actually is full of juice and flavour when it is enjoyed in its appropriate growing season.
- Saves on energy used to transport food. Way too many veggies are jet-lagged from those long trips from South America to your neighborhood grocery store – and more seriously, too much fossil fuel is being consumed to get them there.
- Supports local growers. Buttercup loved Farm Boy in The Princess Bride, and we love him too. Wouldn’t you rather support your community and the home team? While you may not see your purchases making an impact on a global scale, your requests for local, farm-grown food might change a Farm Boy’s future.
- Saves money. Costs are way, way down for produce in season. What’s not to like about that? You may not realize, but we pay a premium for food that has traveled a long way. Skip the berries selling for $4.99 a pint in January (they’re unripe and tasteless anyway), and wait until May when they are practically giving them away for $.99 a pint, and they taste like strawberries should.
- Teaches our children about nature’s cycles and the passing of the seasons. Most kids can tell you that pumpkins turn up in the fall, but how many can pinpoint the asparagus season?
To better inform yourself of what is available and when, a great site to start with is Eat the Seasons. Updated every week, it lists what food is currently in season (including things like oysters and wild mushrooms, because they, too, have seasons) and is full of tips and recipe ideas.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of disappointing off-season produce. This past winter I had enough rock-hard peaches, completely tasteless cantaloupe, and woody pineapples to drive this point home to me. Why I practically threw that money away, I’m not entirely sure, but it probably boils down to consumerism at it’s finest: I want what I want, when I want it.
From now on, I am going to try to celebrate each season as it comes and take my menu-planning cues from nature.
Here are two recipes to get started. Granted, fresh strawberries need no other embellishment than a dollop of whipped cream, and asparagus can be simply steamed and served with a slathering of butter; however, should you want to dress either of these noble spring ingredients up, here are two simple recipes for an appetizer and a dessert.
Both recipes are adapted from Martha Stewart.
Asparagus Gruyère Tart
- Flour, for the work surface
- 500 grams puff pastry
- 1 1/2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
- 1 1/2 pounds medium or thick asparagus
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16×10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pastry shell from the oven, and sprinkle with Gruyère. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over Gruyère, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
- 1 pound strawberries, hulled
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into pieces
- 250 grams puff pastry
On a floured surface, roll pastry to 1/4 inch thick round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cut strawberries lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Toss with sugar and cornstarch, and immediately arrange in concentric circles on the dough – start 1 inch from edge, overlapping slices slightly. Fold the edge of dough over the berries. Whisk together yolk and water. Brush the dough with egg wash, and dot berries with butter.
Bake until pastry is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool. Slice like a pizza and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Do you have a favorite month at your local farmer’s market? What is a seasonal dish you love?