Let’s say you live in the northern hemisphere. Spring arrives and so do strawberries and, later on, sweet little peas. But it’s December and you want them now. You go to the market and there they are, shipped in from far away. You take them home and discover that the strawberries are white inside like Styrofoam, and the peas are little hard bullets.
That’s because they’re not in season (nor are they local). And they’re a disappointment.
Seasonal ingredients offer the most flavor and the best possible texture.
There are four basic seasons in the year. I say basic because things change, temperatures vary, seasons stretch and shrink. Below is an overview of seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. Just flip them if you live below the Equator!
Everything goes to sleep and there is little harvesting going on. Belgian endive is one exception and farmers are out in the freezing cold digging it up for market. Fisherpeople are out in winter too, pulling in everything from scallops to mackerel. May we thank them for their hard, cold work, which they do just for us! We consider winter to be the season of root vegetables, but it’s not. They’ve long been harvested. Winter is simply the season of staying indoors and eating them, because they keep so well.
The soil has lain dormant throughout the winter, preparing for the seeds it will meet and nourish. By the time they are planted the soil is going “Yay-ho! Let’s go!”. But spring takes a while to appear, so the month of March can be a trial, food-wise. You’re lucky if you live in a place where ramps (bear garlic to the French!) grow, because they’re a welcome vegetable on the scene. And so are morel mushrooms. Soon it’s April and the radish shows up with its kissing cousins, baby lettuces. A month later there are tender herbs and maybe green peas and some early strawberries. By June the earth is pretty much exploding and we’ve got just about anything we could dream of, all of it i young and crisp, juicy and gorgeous!
Tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, zucchini, tree fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines, berries of all kinds, peppers, the first fennel and artichokes, more and more potatoes, tender sweet carrots…the list goes on. Summer is the apex of the harvest season, when everything is there in abundance.
The very beginning of autumn, from the third week in September, is the VERY BEST season (opinion!). I call it a “shoulder season” because summer produce is still pouring forth while squash and rutabagas, turnips and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Romanesco) are filling the market stands, along with apples, pears and quinces. There is wild game, too, and wild mushrooms, chestnuts, and the beginning of citrus fruits.
Seasons are different everywhere, but you get the idea!