The world is a smaller place with your standard supermarket having a vast variety of food all year round that we take for granted. Yet more and more of us are looking towards seasonal, sustainable food to feed ourselves and our families.
What is seasonality?
We may talk about things being in season, but do we actually know what that means? Simply put, if something is in season, then it is at the peak of its availability and quality. In the days before refrigeration this meant the time when the fruit or vegetable was due to be harvested or, in the case of meat, when the animal was mature and plentiful. Foods like onion, rice or cabbage became staples because of their year round availability or long shelf life, while animals that are easy to care for and feed, such as pigs or chicken, became the most popular livestock.
The focus then was to gather enough food to last the cold days of winter. Meat was preserved by salting or submerging it in fat (giving birth to the French delicacy confit), fruit vegetables were pickled or preserved, while fish was smoked. Every region has its own specialities, such as German Sauerkraut, or the Arbroath Smokie. In Ireland butter is plentiful, while Mediterranean cuisine revolves around the cheap and easily available olive. We still only think of eating mussels in any month with an R because the hot summer weather means that they spoil more quickly, unless refrigerated.
Thanks to modern refrigeration and transport networks it is possible to import food that is in season elsewhere, though at a higher cost both financially and to the environment. If something is truly seasonal then we should be able to enjoy it without having to freeze, preserve or refrigerate it – and often these techniques can damage a product, affecting its flavour and nutritional content. Food can be grown out of season here, but requires the use of heated and unsightly poly tunnels and greenhouses.
Chefs and restaurateurs have long been wise to the benefits of local product, with one eye on the bottom line and another on the quality of the goods. Farmers have seen the benefits of selling directly to the public as well, bypassing the supermarkets who often drive prices down to unsustainable levels. With a better understanding of where our food comes from, and when it’s best to eat, we can make a difference.
A farmer’s market is often the best place to pick up local produce and connect with the suppliers directly. St George’s Market, located in a beautiful Victorian building is probably the best known and has netted several national awards for quality. It runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Folkstown Market on Bank Square runs every Thursday and features some of the best alternatives to your fast food lunch around. The Farmer’s Market at the Inns in Newtonbreda serves the Southeast of the city while a number of local producers run Vegetable box schemes, where farm fresh goods can be delivered to your door.