As winter departs and spring approaches I look forward to the emergence of green that warms my nature-loving heart. (Seriously though, have you seen me around cherry blossoms?!) I will, however, truly miss the 4 pm sunsets, the stretched out nights and most importantly the food. That’s right, winter food.
This may be confusing to understand as we now have the luxury of supermarkets exhibiting every type of food available to us, always, no matter the season. Yet it’s something that has caught my attention since being away from home and being able to experiment in the kitchen more. After an interesting nutrition lecture, research and my own reflections, I’ve realised that eating seasonally is important. It carries benefits to your wealth, the planet, your health and your spirit.
Firstly, your wallet. When you buy what’s in season, you buy food at the peak of its supply and so, it’s cheap. It costs less for farmers and distribution companies to harvest and get to your grocery store. Not only is it cheaper for you but the best consequence of eating seasonally, is that the food itself is at it’s healthiest and best tasting. This is because the food is grown closer to you and is harvested at its peak. Food out of season has to be shipped from around the world to get to you, usually picked before the peak of their flavour in order to survive the long trip to your local grocery store. As a result, they’re much more expensive because of the time, the distance, and the sheer number of people involved. So why not go for the seasonal, fresher food that supports your local farmers and businesses in your community?
There’s also the added benefit of getting a broader variety of foods in your diet. Obscure foods that can broaden your palate. Dishes and ingredients you may not have otherwise explored. This may help you eat a more well-rounded diet as well. Expanding your horizons a little more can open the door to more delicious food that you can find, prepare cheaply and surprise you.
Still if you can get apples year round and you love apples, enjoy them. I do love a good, crunchy Granny Smith anytime of the year. If your doctor suggests you get more leafy greens in your diet and kale is out of season but in stock at the shops, don’t turn them down just to say you’re “eating seasonally”. Be smart, not silly. Just also bare in mind that you may spend more in the process and there may be a seasonal or local alternative that’s just as good, and good for you.
We do this to a certain extent already. In the spring and summer we eat berries and stone fruit (yum!), then as summer turns to fall we turn our attention to apples, pumpkins, and squash. This is ingrained in our culture, but also because they’re plentiful. ‘Eating seasonally’ sounds trendy and new but it clearly isn’t a new idea. Before global transportation was as immediate and standard as it is today, eating seasonally and locally were just things everyone did. We simply responded to what the earth grew and gave us to eat, at that time of year. No one assumed you could get peaches in the winter, or chestnuts in the summer. Those things were part of enjoying that season.
So, I will miss enjoying the winter season. I never truly appreciated the winter ingredients my mother would give thought to, until I started university where I had to cook my own meals instead of coming home to them and missing hers. Not only is it easy on my student bank account and helps my local farmers but it helps my health, and my inner self.
When friends come over for dinner, high on electric light, like hamsters on a 24/7 wheel, I slow. them. down. Feeding them food with darkness sealed in it: deep hearty mutton stewed in crunchy onions and fresh rosemary, a rich and creamy chicken pie with a golden thick puff pastry, carp from the bottom of the river, root vegetables grown in rich black earth. Just as our bodies use the sun to store up vitamin D for the winter, so have the autumn and winter vegetables. Their summer foliage have locked in the sun and that packed-in power is what you get in the earthy veg. Little red turnips and ruby-black beetroot, small rough brown swede and deep orange rounds of carrot.
As you come home on a stormy night, groaning and grumbling, because the weather has you soaked then pour a glass of good red wine, and cook dark food. A mushroom risotto or braised beef and turnips served with dark green cabbage and truffle mash. If you only have 15 minutes, then mushrooms on toast with chopped parsley will do you nicely. Simple yet so satisfying. This kind of cooking and eating will please you in winter, because it is what the body requires. It’s comforting.
If you want to continue groaning and grumbling, spend the long winter nights eating out-of-season food. This is not the time for Caesar salads or anything with the words “slim”, “diet” or “low calorie” on the label. After a day at class or in the office, a brisk walk home – even if it means getting off a stop early – followed by real winter food, will give you good spirits. The kind not to be found in the over-superficially-lit-overheated-bus-in-a-traffic-jam situation, followed by a ready meal.
It is a mistake to fight the cold and the dark. We’re not freezing or starving in a cave, so we can enjoy what autumn and winter bring, instead of trying to live in a perpetual climate-controlled fluorescent world with the same day-in, day-out processed, packaged, flown-in food. Life is too short to be all daylight. I am quite the nocturnal so I may be biased but the night is not less; it’s so much more.
In winter, keep the bedroom slightly chilly, so that there is pleasure in that crispy tingle of cold before you leap into bed with a warm body to snuggle up to under the covers. A good book by candlelight, ginger biscuits to munch on and a mug of hot chocolate to curl your fingers around. Fall asleep with fluffy socks on whilst listening to a duet of fire crackle and raindrops.
I will miss the long winter nights and all that came with it. Though I do look forward to the sunshine, trees bursting, flowers blooming and picnics. As well as the the spring onions, fresh salmon and fruits galore.
In a time where we are so connected to one another through screens, we should remind ourselves to connect to our earth. Eating seasonally is not a fad; it is a way of connecting the body to what is happening out there; the earth we live on. Feeding our bodies as well as our minds. We are seasonal creatures. The over-ride button is hardly 100 years old.
Give the body back its seasons – and the mind is saner, and soul soothed.