Our supermarket shelves are packed full with soft fruits in December, flown in from across the world – they’re tasteless, and yet we persist. The first British strawberry of the season is a glorious thing, something to be celebrated – I don’t want a strawberry in December, it feels odd, out of place somehow. I look forward to British asparagus all year, and that first mouthful in May, covered in nothing more than butter, salt and lemon is a sign that spring is on the way out and summer very much just on the horizon.
For me, seasonal eating is all about firsts – the first homegrown courgette, the first runner bean (use a crisk – look it up, it’s the only way to eat one!) and the first mince pie in December – markers of the year and each something to be celebrated. It’s not all seasonal fruit and veg though – alongside asparagus in May, when the fair rolls into town, there’s the first fairground doughnut, boiling hot and covered in sugar, the smell of candyfloss and onions frying. Asparagus and doughnuts might be at polar opposites of the nutritional scale, but both very much harbingers of summer.
Hang on for your first British raspberry, it will taste so much nicer
If we ate only from supermarket shelves, we’d eat the same things year-round – and what a dull supper that would make. I think there’s something incredibly important about waiting – hang on for your first British raspberry, it will taste so much nicer, so much fuller, it really will be worth the wait.
The best way to eat as seasonally as possible is to either grow your own, shop at your local farmers market or join a veg-box scheme. All pretty middle class I know.
There are problems with trying to eat seasonally; one being the danger of the Hungry Gap – a time in early spring when you just don’t feel like root vegetables any more, when you’re craving fresh green veg and the ground isn’t quite warm enough to deliver. But that’s what makes the first broad bean, briefly boiled and double-podded, so much tastier – it’s the anticipation, sitting back, being patient and waiting. There was a time a couple of weeks ago when I couldn’t face another courgette (there are bigger problems in the world, I know) – the two plants in my small garden had bumper crops all summer, and I had cooked them every way I could think of – but then all of a sudden they’re over, and I won’t see them again until next summer.
There are some seasonal treats that I’m always disappointed by – spring lamb being one; its older sister who’s been out munching grass for longer is always tastier. But there are so many more that are truly joyous at the right time of year.
I’m not going to pretend I only buy from farmers markets, I don’t – I work full time and have a young family, so budget and time are priorities – I rely on supermarkets just as the vast majority of us do, but I grow some veg, and shop at the local farmers market when I can. Next time you’re there, take a look at the labels – and the prices; I promise you, the seasonal British stuff will be tastier, and often cheaper too. So everyone’s a winner and not just your plate, but also the planet too.
Hannah Mackley is the event manager of the Ludlow Food Festival