or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Cooking Discussions › Food & Cooking › Please Help Me Understand Food Seasons
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Please Help Me Understand Food Seasons

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

Hi,

 

I'm a novice having trouble understanding this. I read lists of what's in season, but I don't fully understand it.

 

Question 1. Is a food listed as in season now say apples, is it in season globally? what if I buy it at Costco? was it in season where they imported it from? I can't always go to the farmers market if that is your advice.

 

Question 2. I see fish and meat listed as "in season" how is that possible? does that mean when they have aged to butchering specifications?

 

Any websites or books that explain seasonality I would sure appreciate. Thanks

post #2 of 15

I think your intuitions are telling you something is weird about the way food is sold in the supermarket, and it is.  The way produce is picked and stored, genetically altered for color and size, the fact that it is cheaper to import some foods says it all.

 

There is no true seasonality in the USA, except perhaps for Peaches, Apricots, and Plums.  :(

post #3 of 15

I will respectfully disagree somewhat with Kuan. 

     In season is meant to mean that food which is available ripe in its' natural cycle. It applies more to fruits and vegetables than meat or fish. 

Before the industrialization of the food industry, food was grown according to the natural cycles of the year. So various climates and geographies have different foods available according to what grows best in that particular location. 

     Apples and pumpkins are currently "in season" here in the Northeast because this is the time of year they are typically ready for harvest. In spring we have fiddle head ferns, asparagus and strawberries, all of which have slightly different harvest times but all in the three months of spring. 

     Other locations of the United States and naturally other parts of the earth have different plants which mature and produce fruit. Those plants are in season when the fruit they produce is available for harvest. If they can be shipped quickly and are available in a market near you, then you may be able to say you are eating them seasonally. But often growers and distributors will harvest those fruits and vegetables slightly before they are really ready simply because they can be shipped further. So while you may be eating them seasonally, you may not be enjoying them at their best.

     This is why people will tell you to go to a farmers market. Because the farmers who sell at the market will be growing the food themselves.

If you can't get to a market, go directly to the farm.  If, for some reason you can't visit a farm, investigate what are the native plants for your area. There are many edible plants and fruit producing plants that may be unique to the area you live in  but you won't find in the store.

 That may be because they can't be grown in commercial quantity or because there is not enough interest in them. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy them. You just need to know where to look. 

post #4 of 15
I know it's difficult to go to a farmers market but there is a reason everyone will tell you to go. It's because that is where you will find and interact with local farmers who can talk to you specifically about what is in season in your area. I can tell you what's in season in NY but if you are not in the northeast then it doesn't matter or affect you. At least visit the websites of local farms and find out what they are harvesting. Eating seasonally means that food will be at its best and cheapest.

Another yo can do is set up a service where fresh produce can be delivered to you. I forget what this is called but you will be sent a box filled with whatever the farmer is growing so everything is seasonal. You may trying searching for online farmers markets.

Modern day grocery stores are very confusing. Everything is available or at all times. A lot of American produce is shipped in from South America but the long travels means that fruits and vegetables must be harvested before they are ripened and then ripened artificially when they arrive to the US. By being aware of seasonal produce your shopping priorities change.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

Reply

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

Reply
post #5 of 15

I have to throw out a word of caution here regarding "Farmers Markets". Like so many things, this term is not necessarily what it used to be. For instance, I have an actual farm about 20 minutes drive from my home that grows from what I can gather, collard greens and mustard greens. That is all I have ever seen in their rows. Yet, they run a produce stand. I kid you not, they are selling low grade produce that has come from other countries as if it's "organic". It's disgusting. They don't lie about it, but they let those that are a little less knowledgeable connect their own dots and come to a very untrue conclusion.


So I'd recommend as others have said to learn what is in season in your zone. Throughout the US and I would imagine the world there are zones that are based on seasonal change. If you find out your zone, all you will have to do is google fruits or vegetables in that zone, and you will find listings that show what is in season. I would treat farmers markets as suspicious until proven otherwise.

 

As far as meat/fish, there are few examples that might be considered seasonal it would be best not to use that term outside of produce. For instance, in the US when the Salmon run occurs, they are going to be plentiful, likely available never frozen, etc. that's one example of a seasonal fish. There are examples of when shrimp "run" .. basically when they leave their estuaries and make their way towards the ocean they can be harvested. That is another example of a season for meat but to me that is stretching the term.

post #6 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by eastshores View Post
 

I have to throw out a word of caution here regarding "Farmers Markets". Like so many things, this term is not necessarily what it used to be. For instance, I have an actual farm about 20 minutes drive from my home that grows from what I can gather, collard greens and mustard greens. That is all I have ever seen in their rows. Yet, they run a produce stand. I kid you not, they are selling low grade produce that has come from other countries as if it's "organic". It's disgusting. They don't lie about it, but they let those that are a little less knowledgeable connect their own dots and come to a very untrue conclusion.


So I'd recommend as others have said to learn what is in season in your zone. Throughout the US and I would imagine the world there are zones that are based on seasonal change. If you find out your zone, all you will have to do is google fruits or vegetables in that zone, and you will find listings that show what is in season. I would treat farmers markets as suspicious until proven otherwise.

 

As far as meat/fish, there are few examples that might be considered seasonal it would be best not to use that term outside of produce. For instance, in the US when the Salmon run occurs, they are going to be plentiful, likely available never frozen, etc. that's one example of a seasonal fish. There are examples of when shrimp "run" .. basically when they leave their estuaries and make their way towards the ocean they can be harvested. That is another example of a season for meat but to me that is stretching the term.

Eastshores is right.  At a farmers market I frequent some "farmers" have tomatoes and watermelons in May.  They ripen in July and August locally.  

post #7 of 15
Farmers markets are much like outlet stores... At least in my region. They aren't what they once were and say little about what they really are to create an impression based on most folks recollection of what they once were. This article didn't form my opinion (I spend enough time at both farmers markets and outlets to have formed an independent opinion) but is well-written and worth reading:

http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/wellbeing/6-farmers-market-scams

But there's nothing wrong with either farmers markets or outlet stores if they have good product and decent prices.
post #8 of 15

Great article and is my experience as well. Here in upstate NY we have a mix of all of the above. Even the farms I visit will buy produce they can't or don't produce but don't always post signs stating origin. Talking to the farmers/owners is vital to understand what they actually do, especially when I make it clear that I am not looking to criticize or complain, just gathering information.  

       Many members of the general public who visit farms and markets are uninformed and/or very opinionated and the farmers don't feel like engaging in a confrontation over what they do. As noted above, there are expectations, both erroneous and nostalgic the public has about farms and markets. The farms are expected to meet those expectations, educated or ignorant, whether based in fact or fantasy. After years of visiting as many farms and markets in my area as I can get to, I have yet to find a truly dishonest farmer or market purveyor. Most are just trying to do the best they can to satisfy a fickle public. 

post #9 of 15

That was a good article.  We have a woman farmer at a local market that grows most of what she sells.  What she does not grow she puts a sign on it to that effect.  I shop with her a lot.

post #10 of 15

Look up "food seasonality charts" in google. It depends entirely on your location, though. Certain foodstuffs grow certain times of the year, in certain climates and conditions. Some are close by, others not so much. 

 

I have a meat purveyor that sells veal only around August. Although animals don't necessarily have "seasons (but they actually do in a different sense)" it depends on when they breed or rear their livestock. Fish can also fall under "seasonality" if feeding cycles/ spawning/ salmon runs, etc occur during certain times of the year, as eastshores stated. Oceans have cycles that benefit some fish over others during they year providing abundance, especially in colder waters. Although IMO buying fish has more to do with availability and shipping, farm grown or wild, and which endangered species should be avoided - if that's something you care about. 

 

Ask your farmers market vendors where they get their product. Get to know them; become their friend. Sometimes I have guys and gals throw in a few extra peaches or cut breaks on price. They will also generally be honest about where they get their product. One vendor admitted that the apples he had in October were from the year before, or the year before that, when I asked. Are the eggs washed? Where is your farm? Are you direct from farm? I also live in NYC. Some of us can get kinda pissed off if we are being cheated and will shut the place down faster than a rat scurrying away from the oncoming 6 train. 

 

Also, I have one vendor that occasionally has great looking tomatoes in May or June. They are hothouse (greenhouse), but still grown by the farm under similar conditions - i.e. seed, fertilizer, pesticides etc. Most of the vendors at my farmers market come from the tri--state area, and are probably about 3-4 hours drive away. Some farther, like cheese and meat/ cured meat purveyors. 

 

In the end, it has everything to do with a few things. 1. perceived quality of the produce/ product, and if it's GMO or organic or simply grown the way it was grown 200 years ago. Then there are hormones, antibiotics, and growth agents and animal cruelty issues to deal with. Also, I don't care that I'm paying $4.00/LB for heirloom tomatoes because :  2. Feed your local economy instead of corporate giants that skip on paying their fair share of taxes and screw over the environment for profit. Since it is a corporation, small things like you paying for their waste times millions of customers equals big revenue for them. Meanwhile, you're throwing away string beans that are rotted at the bottom of the package because they combined the good with the bad and you cannot select each one. 3. Shipping asparagus in to the US from Peru costs money and leaves a carbon footprint. Same with fruit from California. It's wasteful for a bit of convenience, but that's my personal philosophy (I do give in every so often, though). We've been culturally engrained to believe we can have whatever we want, whenever we want, no matter what the cost. And if it's cheap, even better. This ignores a host of other issues. I eat tons of asparagus in the spring/ early summer - when it's "in season" and avoid it the rest of the year. It makes for delightful spring months and I look forward to it each year. Same with August for peaches, September for tomatoes, and winter months for root veggies. This approach is entirely up to you, though. And then of course, it depends on what is available to you and what your budget is. 

post #11 of 15
There are things I like about our shipped food though.

Lemons and limes year round is very handy. And Meyer lemons and key limes in season.

The Cavendish banana is of reliable quality year round though not spectacular at any point.

Cilantro and parsley from the greenhouse on demand. Same for green onions.

And many things aren't particularly seasonal because they can keep well. Potatoes and other tubers, hard squashes. Even apples can store well in a cool basement for months.

Seasonality is great for the fit of budget and peak flavor. It has nice ecological bonuses. But it isn't everything either.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Reply
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Reply
post #12 of 15

I'll second your comment, patch.  And let us not forget coffee and chocolate and peanut butter and …...

post #13 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by phatch View Post

Seasonality is great for the fit of budget and peak flavor. It has nice ecological bonuses. But it isn't everything either.


Neither are hybrid cars. They're slow, ugly and expensive. But, like seasonality, their point is EXACTLY the opposite of "being everything." We've had "everything" for a while now. Tomatoes in any season at the supermarket for example. But a few of us have noticed that with "everything" we've actually lost a lot, like the real flavor of a tomato for example. Hence the idea of trying to reconnect with nature and eating what's in season.

 

Now I'm not saying from now on, everybody eats only what's in season. But maybe that's a good general direction to take. And even here in Southern California, you'll notice a HUGE difference in flavor between apples bought in April and apples bought in September (even at the supermarket). Night and day.

 

Personally I eat chocolate and drink coffee year long, but I never buy apples in April or tomatoes in December.

 

When I'm in France, even supermarkets don't have fresh parsley on hand during the winter. At first it can feel a little frustrating but you get used to it, and you enjoy using parsley even more come the summer, cause you've had to do without it for the whole winter. It's not that bad.

 

As for "fit of budget", I'm not sure what you mean? Here at least, you save a lot of money when you buy things that are in season (vs buying the same things when they're out of season). For example in a given store you'll pay $1.99/lb for red bell peppers in August, and up to $5.99/lb in January. So if you're budget conscious, it's a good idea to try to buy what's in season.

post #14 of 15
Yes, I meant in season is cheaper and is better quality on some things.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Reply
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Reply
post #15 of 15

I also disagree that there is no seasonality in the US.

 

I can't afford farmer's markets but I do stay pretty close to seasonality for N. America. You don't need to get hyper-local about considering something "in season." If you live in most of N America and decided to only eat things in season in your USDA growing zone, you would soon end up with scurvy or some other illness caused by nutritional deficits because for most of the continent there simply are no locally-grown fresh fruits or vegetables for nearly half the year. You don't need to go to the farmer's markets to keep track.

 

Pay attention to what is on sale or selling at the best prices at your local produce market or, even, grocery store. After a few years you will just know. I keep track of the time of year by what fruits & vegetables look best and are on sale at the fruit market in the market. I eagerly await the first weeks that strawberries and asparagus go on sale in the spring, ushering in berry and stone fruit season, and I don't start buying apples, pears, grapes and hard squash --all on sale now in N America--until stone fruit season ends with the last of the plums and the first of the figs.

 

Sure, there are things that are available all year round--lemons, limes,bananas,cabbage, lettuces, broccoli, kale, parsley, cilantro. I also buy fresh herbs that have been hothouse grown year-round.  In commercial, non-farmer's markets, most fruits and vegetables have PLU stickers on them or there is PLU info on the twist-tie holding together the bundle of whatever it is--kale, lettuce, etc.,you are buying. There is usually a country of origin and/or the state where the produce was grown printed on that PLU sicker.   

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Food & Cooking
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Cooking Discussions › Food & Cooking › Please Help Me Understand Food Seasons