A Guide to What Produce is in Season and When
Why Knowing What is in Season is Important
Most of my life, I didn’t know what kinds of produce grew when. Now a days, in many countries, we can get almost any kind of produce from around the world whenever we want. Granted, I did know that tomatoes in January tasted horrible compared to tomatoes in July. I also knew that winter strawberries were mostly white and tasteless. But basically, I bought whatever fruit or veggies whenever I wanted. When I got first got married and we were on a really tight budget, I began to realize that the prices of produce could really fluctuate throughout the year. I started paying attention to prices and buying what was cheap. I guess, it was about this time, that I accidentally started eating seasonal food. By seasonal food, I mean eating food that is grown and harvested at the time of year that it was created to be grown and harvested. It’s the food’s “peak” time. For example, a tomato grown in January is usually not tasty, because that is not time of year tomatoes are normally grown. They are a summer crop. Tomatoes grown in summer are 100 times better than any winter grown tomato. Often fruits and veggies that we get that are out of season have been transported thousands of miles from a country where they are growing or the produce has been grown in hot houses. This not only affects the taste but also the amount of nutrients. Food that is grown and eaten in the correct season tastes better and is better for your body.
About three years ago, I picked up the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I had read some of her fiction books and really enjoyed her as an author. This was a book she had written about her own family. It was a journey they took as a family committing to only eating food that was seasonal and grown within a 100 mile radius of their home for a whole year. I was fascinated and intrigued with the concept. After reading that book, my husband and I have basically changed our eating habits to only eating season and local fruit and veggies.
When we have guests come over to our house, they always rave about how good the food is. Now, I’m a decent cook, but by no means am I amazing. Most of the dishes I make are super basic. The key is that I buy good produce. Most of it was grown on my farm or I got it at the farmer’s market. It didn’t travel thousands of miles in a truck or get picked weeks before it was actually ripe.
All that to say, eating food in season is way tastier, better for the planet, and better for our own health as well. Sadly, most of us don’t even know what is in season when. Our food culture has so drastically changed over the past 100 years that most of us don’t have knowledge that was common to our grandparents or great-grandparents. I didn’t really learn what was in season when until I subscribed to a CSA box. By getting the box for a whole year, I finally learned what was in season and when for my climate. It also helped me plan my garden better as I learned what I could grow in my area. I highly recommend finding a local CSA to subscribe to in your area. Sometimes it takes trying out 2 or 3 different ones, but eventually you’ll find a farm that you really love their box.
I will say that I LOVE eating seasonal. Basically, it looks like us binging on whatever is in season. We eat strawberries for weeks until we don’t want to see another strawberry again for a while. Same goes for figs. I stuff myself full of figs for several weeks, but by the time figs go out of season, I’m ready for a break from them. I can’t tell you how fun it is, as a family, to anticipate the season. Usually around January, my kids start asking how much longer still strawberry season. We have a monthly countdown, and there is much joy when the first strawberries show up at the farmer’s market. We are so excited and have a high value for real seasonal strawberries. It makes them special. We don’t buy them out of season, because when they are in season we have a higher appreciation for them not to mention, they taste 100x better!
I’ve divided the rest of this post into four sections: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. Although, many of you live in different areas, this can be a guide to anyone living in the United States as to what is in season and when. It will fluctuate some depending on where you are at in the States, but in general, I’ve tried to make it work for everyone. Even if you are a place that can’t grow citrus, let’s say, this guide will still help you know when it is in season in places like Florida and California. That way when you will know the best times of year to buy it. Also, some types of a produce can grow at different times. There are breeds of apples that are early harvest so you can eat them in the summer, and others that are strictly for fall harvest. The guidelines below are very general just to give you an idea of how to start. Check out your local farmer’s market to get more of an idea for your specific area, because I’m sure I missed some things on this list!
Vegetables: tomatoes, corn, squashes, zucchini, peppers, root veggies (beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc.), lettuce, greens (collards, chard, kale, etc.), eggplant, beans, potatoes, okra, eggplant, artichoke
Fruit: peaches, melons, plums, apricots, grapes, berries, figs, plums, apples
Vegetables: peas, cilantro, garlic, artichoke, dark leafy greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin, radish, turnip, rutabaga, other root veggies
Fruits: olives, pears, apples, limes, pomegranates
Vegetables: brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, dark leafy greens, turnips, leeks, celery, cabbage
Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, cabbage, rhubarb, onions, peas, cilantro, fava beans, garlic
Fruit: strawberries, cherries
As a side note, some veggies store well. So lots of the winter squashes are grown in summer, but you can find them at farmer’s markets and grocery stores in the winter. They store really well. So although grown in season (summer), they are made available for sale in the winter as well.
Also, you can buy fruits and veggies in season and then process them certain wait to enjoy them out of season. We always freeze some strawberries so that in the winter we can enjoy that flavor. Food storage has been done for thousands of years, and there are so many ways to enjoy food grown in the correct season but eat it out of season.
I hope you enjoy starting to buy only produce grown in season as much as I have. Seriously, people will begin to think you are an awesome cook… they won’t realize you’ve actually just become an expert seasonal produce shopper!