Walk into any supermarket today and you can find a vast array of produce from around the world. While this gives us a huge variety from which to choose, it can also lead to inferior tasting produce arriving in stores thousands of miles from where it was grown. When you eat food that has been grown locally in its proper season, the difference in taste is astounding: food actually tastes the way it’s supposed to! You cannot compare the flavour of an imported strawberry in January to one that was grown locally in June. The pure deliciousness of in-season fruits and vegetables means that as a cook, your job becomes much easier. In the spring, for example, fresh steamed asparagus with a pat of butter and some salt and pepper makes a delicious side dish with minimal effort.
There is also an economic factor – food grown locally in its season is generally less expensive than imported produce. In addition, with the recent focus on environmental issues, locally grown means less transportation and therefore less fuel consumption.
I’ll be the first to admit that for years I did not take much notice of what was in season throughout the year. If I felt like having asparagus in December I thought, ‘why not? They have it at the store’. Of course it’s imported from Peru and costs dearly but you can get it. Since I’ve started paying attention to when produce is at its peak, I’ve eaten much better. Sometimes it reaches the point of ridiculous: I ate so many peaches during the brief peach season last summer that I ALMOST got sick of them! They were truly divine – plump, juicy and bursting with flavour. Once you’ve had them at their best, you’ll never be satisfied with an anemic imported peach in January.
Of course living in a northern climate places severe restrictions on what is available throughout the winter. It can be difficult to live on meat and root vegetables for the duration of the season but there are ways to make the best of the situation. For example, there are some excellent canned tomatoes and you can always get greenhouse and imported stuff, it just won’t be as delicious as during the summer. Cooking methods such as braising and stewing can turn simple ingredients into mouth-watering meals. Certainly no one is saying that you have to follow a rigorous 100-mile diet or eat only things you grow yourself! Rice, citrus fruit, sugar, coffee, chocolate and olive oil are just some of the foods in the Canadian diet that make our culinary lives much richer. However, I hope to encourage people to try and make the best of what we have available when it comes into season because our summers are short but the bounty is plentiful. And, of course, delicious.