For me, the perks of seasonal eating can be summed up best using the strawberry. These days, thanks to global trade, modern shipping, refrigeration and farming methods, we can have strawberries whenever we want. They might well have been raised in an artificial environment such as a climate-controlled greenhouse, ‘ripened’ without sunlight and have travelled further than most people on the average summer holiday, but we can get them.
The question is whether it’s worth it.
When strawberry season officially starts, I actually find it really exciting. They’re the trumpet fanfare heralding the arrival of summer and call to mind all kinds of sunshiney associations (personally, I get the smell of sun lotion, the sparkliness of sunlight on blue water, the feel of bare feet on grass and [slightly unoriginally] the thock of balls on rackets at Wimbledon).
Buy strawberries in winter and you don’t get any of that. They’re just another one of your five a day, and probably insipid and watery in a way that they never are in the summer months. It’s great to have so much choice but I actually quite enjoy looking forward to things too. Asparagus in springtime, picking summer strawberries at my nearest PYO farm, apple and blackberry pie as the nights draw in and mornings start to get misty and cool again.
It’s a fact that seasonal food tastes better. It’s just fresher. It’s also more environmentally-friendly; buying seasonally and locally supports UK farmers and helps to cut down on the polluting food miles racked up in air and sea freight. But I think I love it most for the way it makes me feel more in harmony with the seasons (more so than debating when we can turn off the heating anyway), more in touch with my environment and more engaged with the way that I eat.
So what’s good for May?
Veg-wise, in May we finally get asparagus, as well as rocket and radishes. Possibly some early broad beans, beetroot and peas too.
Get in quick with the asparagus – you’ve got about six weeks before the season ends. Most people, myself included, reckon it’s probably best (and certainly easiest and most attractive – helpful if you’re cooking for others!) when it’s done simply. Just blanch in boiling water or grill and serve with a herb butter or vinaigrette. Jamie Oliver’s book ‘Jamie at Home’ contains recipes for grilled asparagus with olive oil, lemon and parmesan as well as white asparagus with smashed mint and lemon butter. He also recommends dipping them in soft-boiled eggs in his book ‘Jamie at Home’ which I haven’t tried, but totally would.
I love rocket for the exact same reason that The Man With The Camera loathes it – its peppery kick. Whether you’re adding it to sandwiches or salads, it gives it a bit of edge. You can also make a great pesto out of it by following the traditional basil-based recipe and just substituting rocket for the basil.
I regularly use the BBC Good Food Guide online for recipe inspiration. Helpfully you can search by ingredient (making it just as useful for creating miracles out of odd-couple store cupboard leftovers) and there’s a seasonal eating tab on the main menu: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/
I also subscribe to email updates from http://www.eattheseasons.co.uk/ – good for weekly reminders and inspirational links and how tos.