by Kari Heron (first published in The Khaleej Times, October 21, 2011)
Have you ever bit into a strawberry and wondered if you had mistakenly sucked on a tart tamarind instead? Chances are you had that strawberry out of season.
In recent years, there has been much emphasis in the food world on “cooking seasonally” and if you are wondering just exactly what means, I am here to explain it once and for all. As a disclaimer, because we live in the dry arid conditions of the Middle East, the majority of our food is imported. I still strongly encourage you to eat local first and then fill in the blanks with seasonal food that comes from as nearby as possible.
Foods bought in their season taste better and are brilliant without any embellishment. They are also much cheaper in season because they take less effort to grow during the times that nature intended them to grow.
Because produce is linked to special conditions of climate and season, it is important to have an understanding of the seasons and how they affect what we get in the market. Some things are available year-round in some climates, while others shine in specific climates. Because the seasons are different for some places in the world and North and South Hemispheres have opposite seasons, it is important to know where your produce is coming from so you will know if they are out of season. That way, you will not buy US berries in the December but you may buy from South Africa, which would at that time be experiencing their summer, which is prime berry season.
Cooking in Season – Autumn
THE FOUR SEASONS
In temperate countries where the four seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall are as distinct as night and day, it is easy to define what the essence of those seasons are. The climate changes drastically between seasons.
In winter, one has to layer up in heavy coats and boots and trample ice and snow in the freezing cold. The trees are bare and the landscape is covered in white . No flowers and leaves are to be seen. Gardens are covered in mulch to save roots from being frost bitten. Whatever lies above the surface is bare branch. Root vegetables thrive during this time because they are underground as well as low-to-ground cruciferous vegetables.
By spring, the temperature raises and a lighter coat may be worn. It is still chilly but snow and ice are of the past. As the season intensifies, buds awaken from the ground and blooms and leaves begin to return. It is the beginning of the real harvest. Asparagus is the poster child of spring.
When the seasonal clock hits summer, all coats are off and boots are replaced with sandals. It is the hottest season and the one most associated with freedom, gatherings, barbecues and potlucks. Berries shine in the summer.
As fall comes around, the intense heat of summer is replaced with cooler temperatures. Cardigans and leggings become layering essentials. It isn’t cold enough for heavy coats but too chilly for a summer dress. Leaves change colour across the landscape into lovely hues of deep orange, golden yellow and maroon. These colours also mimic the foods of the season. Pumpkins and squashes are all the rave.
TROPICAL AND DESERT SEASONS
I grew up in my tropical homeland of Jamaica and we define “seasons” quite differently. Much like the Middle East, our climate does not change much over the seasons and we typically have only two, during which the changes are mild in comparison. We tend to think or seasons in produce because those give more distinction to the seasons than just the weather. So summer is “Mango Season,” during which we budget for the 2kg of weight gain from eating the sweetest, tastiest mangoes all day. Winter is “sorrel” (hibiscus) and pigeon peas (toor dal) season. We drink our home brewed hibiscus drinks and make lots of green pigeon peas and rice and pigeon pea soup. Some opt to wear a cardigan in winter months while simply others enjoy the breeze of the cold fronts that drift in from the USA.
Over here in the Middle East, October heralds the approach of winter, our barbecue season when we wash down grills to get rid of inches of dust and the weather is cool enough for you to stand up over hot coals. Bonfires and camping sites in the desert are also a must to enjoy the weather, family, friends and the flavours of food cooked on an open fire.
Local cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers are available in large quantities in fall and winter and will never be cheaper. I am leaving you with a list of things that are in season now. There is nothing better than food farmed and harvested at the right time!
Capsicum (Sweet, Bell Peppers)