Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Making the most of seasonal produce

By Jenny

Part 1
Our household doesn't grow much food – our small garden has a very prolific lemon tree, which I love, lots of herbs (parsley, mint, oregano, thyme and rosemary), rhubarb and silver beet. In summer, we add basil and salad greens and chillies to the mix, but my husband doesn't like growing tomatoes. This year we grew pumpkins successfully. Our neighbour has a loquat tree which hangs over our fence, and which he doesn't pick. We planted a quince tree and a pomegranate tree last year, but it will be many years before they give us fruit.

Our pumpkin vines were very happy after a wet January

To make the most of seasonal produce I do a range of different things, which I will talk about in a series of posts.

First off, I make sure I know what is in season in our area – I didn't grow up with this information, but I have learned it over the years, and I am regularly reminded of it because I shop every week at our local farmer's market. You can pick up lots of valuable tips and information by talking to the vendors at these markets. 

Buyers and sellers at Canberra farmer's market

I go to the market with a menu plan and a shopping list, and I will occasionally change it if I see something very exciting or can't find what I am looking for. Because I take both the menu plan and the list with me to the market, I generally know what dish the substitute is for – so, if I can't find cauliflower for soup, I might decide to make pumpkin or potato soup, but if I wanted it for a stir fry or a vegetable curry, I might buy broccoli instead.

As I wander around the market I look to see what is new – are those the first quinces for the year? Is the asparagus man back? And I look at prices – tomatoes and capsicums are much cheaper in early autumn here, than in summer, so I buy them for weekly eating in summer and then buy by the case in autumn if I want to make harvest sauce or chutney or my favourite tomato kasundi. When I make my menu plan the following week, I remember what is appearing at the market (as well as what is coming to the end of its season), and plan accordingly. We like salads all year round, in our house, but tomato salads are for summer and autumn, and roast pumpkin salads start appearing in autumn and winter. Tomatoes are too expensive in winter, and don't taste as good as those grown in the sunshine in summer.

First kiwi fruit for the year

If you shop at a farmer's market, or a local greengrocer, or grow your own, you will learn what is in season in your area, when it is at it's best and cheapest. And the anticipation of those quinces, or figs, or asparagus, or that favourite tomato salad or roast parsnips will add to your enjoyment when the time finally comes. And it will do wonders for your budget. I wait all year for the opportunity to make my chicken, sausage, apple and plum casserole – and then I invite friends around to share it – which makes it even more special.