Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
Seasons are nature’s backdrop for enjoying foods that are not only healthy and nutritional, but locally grown and fresh. No matter where you live, let the local harvest be your guide and learn to eat with the seasons.
Eating a diet that follows nature’s cadence may seem like a food fad, but it precedes the trendy locavore movement that became main stream in 2005. The idea of only eating foods harvested within a 100-mile radius of where you live makes a lot of sense. Farmers’ markets and farm-to-table restaurants know the value of growing and selling fresh, sustainable foods within the community. This is the way people used to eat; it’s an easy and practical way to maintain good nutrition while supporting the local economy.
The rise of heart disease and obesity in North America should give everyone pause. We live in a fast-food nation underwritten by meals high in fat and calories and low in nutrition. Health experts tout the benefits of seasonal foods because they are rich in vitamins and nutrients that would be lost within a week of harvesting and shipping.
Eating with the Seasons: Summer’s Bounty
Summer is full of seasonal bounty. If only the New England climate allowed us to enjoy it all year long. Instead, the season of plenty is July and August, when neighbors (like me) sneak across lawns after midnight to leave bags of tomatoes and zucchini baseball bats on your doorstep. But while summer is here, let’s make the most of it!
Speaking of zucchini—and how can we not?— some different takes on this veggie are about to be kitchen tested at Casa Caron. For instance, these zucchini meatballs are a vegetarian alternative to the ground beef version. The key is to get all the water out before you mix them or they’ll fall apart. We’re also giving zucchini fritters a try. We have a lot of zucchini.
This season also boasts fresh corn on the cob. It’s a summer staple in our family, where the mantra is ‘there’s no such thing as too much” but there is always one that nobody eats. I remove the corn from the cob and freeze it, then use it in these corn cakes with Bob’s Red Mill corn flour.
Fruits of the Season
Because we have four distinct seasons our summer fruits season is short and sweet, but we do get them. The ones found in mainstream stores are not local; usually the strawberries are from Florida and blueberries from New Jersey. When I want the real thing, it’s the farm stand or a pick-your-own farm, both yielding great results.
Summer fruits lend themselves to so many things, but one of my favorite go-to desserts is Ina Garten’s free-form summer fruit crostata. The buttery dough and fresh selection of fruit never let me down. Any combination of fruit works; and a scoop of good vanilla ice cream will make it even better. No fancy pastry skills needed here. When fall rolls around replace the berries with apples from the local orchard and cranberries from the Cape Cod bogs.
There is nothing better than a wild Maine blueberry. Once you try them, no other blueberry comes close. These little gems can also be found frozen, and that comes in handy in the middle of winter when fresh ones aren’t available.
If you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance (and I do) enjoy a day trip, pick up a quart at a roadside stand, and make this easy blueberry snack cake. It needs nothing but the fruit to make it shine.
One of the prettiest ways to end a summer meal is a dish of fresh berries topped with Chantilly cream. Add a splash of your favorite liqueur to the berries or the cream to make it even more elegant. A sprig of fresh mint finishes it nicely.
Technically a fruit but used as a vegetable, the tomato is a summer super star. They ripen all at once and demand to be eaten. Apart from slicing and drizzling them with good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tomatoes have lots of ways to be made into something else. This gazpacho from the New York Times is a refreshing cold soup option that uses the blender. I like to serve it in chilled glass bowls.
When you have a bumper crop, nothing compares to pasta eaten with sauce made from your own tomatoes. You can also buy them in bulk at local farm stands. This recipe and tutorial offers a base for whatever flavorings you want to add and it makes enough to can or freeze for later. Don’t forget the fresh basil.
A staple in our house is Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce. It’s the simplest recipe you’ll ever find; made even better from a homemade sauce base, but I have used canned tomatoes in the winter.
A Seasonal Menu
Taste matters. For me, the taste of the food I buy is just as important as the cost. Seasonal food is set apart by quality and freshness and dictated by availability. We have a garden, and quite a few local farm stands to underwrite a summer seasonal menu.
Another option is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Many towns offer this option for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. What you receive depends on the farm and the season.
Typically, a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” for purchase to the public, usually vegetables, but other products may be included. Participants purchase a membership or subscription and receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. You never know what’s coming.
When you buy what’s in season, you’re getting food at the peak of flavor and abundance and supporting local growers. It’s the best tasting, healthiest food available. The summer harvest will reward you physically and financially and your taste buds will thank you when you buy and eat what’s growing in your seasonal neighborhood.