A Seasonal Produce Guide to Last You All Year Long
Roughly 10 months out of the year, supermarket tomatoes are, well…pretty sad. They’re grown in hothouses or shipped in from overseas, their texture is mealy and watery, and their taste is paltry. But then—come late summer—everything changes. The tomatoes you find in July and August are so outrageously juicy, so deliciously fragrant and flavorful, that you wonder why anyone ever bothers eating them in the dead of winter.
That, in a nutshell, is why chefs, foodies, and eco-warriors are united in proclaiming the advantages of eating in season. Flavor isn’t the only reason why seasonal produce is the jam (though it is a pretty compelling one). By enjoying asparagus in the spring and squash in the fall, you’re also noshing on fruits and veggies that are more affordable, nutrient-rich, and eco-friendly. Plus they’re better for your local farmers.
Convinced yet? Here are some resources to get you eating how Mother Nature intended. Because rock-hard peaches in the middle of December just aren’t worth your while.
What’s in Season?
If you’re living in an urban environment—and far from fields and farms—what’s in season isn’t always obvious.
That’s where these online guides come in. The USDA hosts a basic seasonal produce guide on its website, which gives you quick freshness indications about crops ranging from rhubarb to rutabagas. Sustainable Table’s seasonal food guide is an even more in-depth tool; just input your state, the time of year, and/or the produce you’re seeking, and it’ll give you a host of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to try now (plus suggested recipes and cooking tips for each).
Need an IRL reminder? Cook Smarts produces poster-sized seasonal infographics that show you, at a glance, what to buy all year round. Bonus: they’re pretty enough to frame.
Where to Find It
If you’re looking for just-picked, straight-off-the-vine goodness, farmers markets are a natural place to begin your search. Show up early in the day for the widest selection of seasonal produce, and don’t be shy about chatting with growers for their food preparation tips.
Community supported agriculture (CSA) farm boxes—farm-run subscription services that ship crates of whatever’s fresh on a regular basis—are an even simpler way of staying in the seasonal loop, given that they are sent straight to your door. Cities have their own myriad of CSA options, so it’s worth doing some investigating into what’s available. And don’t forget to hit up your city’s urban farms, where you can enjoy fresh fare grown on rooftops, vacant lots, and other cleverly upcycled patches of green just blocks from your own pad.
How to Preserve It
Suffering from CSA bumper crop fatigue? It’s a good problem to have—as long as you don’t end up tossing the bounty. Instead, use it as an excuse to foster your culinary creativity, and start investigating some food preparation techniques your grandmother might recognize.
Canning and jam-making are great ways to put your fruit to good use (and give you a hit of summery brightness in the dead of winter). You can also make pesto out of leafy greens like arugula and kale, use your blender to whip up fresh fruits and smoothies, pick up a dehydrator to make your own dried fruit snacks, freeze fresh herbs in olive oil, make your own veggie pickles, and prep soups, stews, and other large-batch, freezer-friendly dishes.
Here are some other tips for tackling your cornucopia. Eating seasonal produce never tasted so good.