With everything becoming more expensive and knowing that eating seasonal is not only more nutritious but more environmentally friendly, it's a good time to look at alternatives. Here is Toby Geneen, co-founder/head chef at Kindling Restaurant, looking at why using seasonal ingredients is better for you, your tastebuds, your wallet, and the environment. As well as two easy recipes to help you preserve seasonal summer fruits so they can be used later in the year.
THE BENEFITS OF IN-SEASON INGREDIENTS
By Toby Geneen, co-founder and co-head chef at Kindling Restaurant
Fresher, sweeter produce that tastes better – that’s what you get if you choose ingredients that are naturally in season. The joy of something perfectly ripe is that very little needs to be done to it to make it taste amazing. Nothing compares to the taste of tomatoes grown outdoors and ripened in the late August sunshine. Fragrant, sweet and juicy, these tomatoes taste of tomato and need nothing more than some salt and pepper to sing on the plate - a far cry from the red bullets that are imported in December.
Imported produce is generally picked well before it is ripe to make it easier to transport. This is why the avocadoes we buy in the UK will never taste like the ones in Mexico! Imported food is kept refrigerated for long periods of time and doesn’t develop the same levels of nutrients as food that is allowed to ripen in situ. Seasonal food has a higher nutritional value because it is consumed riper and closer to the time of harvest, while food that is transported and stored for long periods rapidly loses antioxidants such as vitamin C, diminishing its health benefits.
Seasonal food also supports what your body needs. Summer foods such as tomatoes and stone fruits contain high levels of carotenoids which help protect us against sun damage. When ripened on the vine, tomatoes have plenty of time to develop lots of the red plant chemical lycopene. This has been well documented in safeguarding our skin from damaging UV rays and protecting against skin cancer. Summer vegetables are also naturally lighter and have a higher water content helping us to stay cool and hydrated. Although 80% of your daily water intake usually comes from drinks, the other 20% comes from foods. Cucumbers, lettuce, courgettes, and watercress are all excellent summer vegetable sources of water. By contrast, winter veggies tend to be rich in starches. These help to provide the extra energy we need to stay warm in the colder months. What we eat sends signals to our body about the time of year. A warming pumpkin curry in October makes much more sense than a cold leafy salad.
If this isn’t enough, buying food in season can also be kinder to your wallet. When food is at its peak in supply it costs less for farmers and distribution companies to get it to your local supplier, which helps to reduce the cost to you. Local food also avoids any import costs. The more local you buy, the bigger the saving. Farm shops and veg box schemes are a great way to access the best of what’s available and learn about what’s in season throughout the year.
Using produce that is grown in the UK also reduces the number of ‘food miles’ and brings down your carbon footprint. There is less transportation, refrigeration, and fewer hot houses, all of which help to reduce air pollution. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but using seasonal produce supports regional farms and communities, helping to grow the local economy.
At first seasonal eating can seem restrictive but it doesn’t have to be. Every time you buy produce that’s grown closer to home some air miles are saved and some flavour gained. You’ll soon discover how much better food tastes and how much easier it is to make a delicious meal when the produce you are using is at its peak. To keep things interesting have a go at preserving or fermenting gluts of summer produce so you can have those flavours later in the year.
Two Easy To Make Recipes At Home
If you fancy having a go, here are a couple of recipes to get you started and help you preserve the taste of summer:
· 1kg of strawberries, green part removed and cut into quarters
· 1kg caster sugar (or you can use preserving sugar and omit the pectin)
· 15g pectin
· 3 tsp citric acid
1. Place a small plate in the freezer ready for testing the set of your jam.
2. Mix the caster sugar and pectin together so the pectin is well distributed.
3. Place the strawberries and sugar pectin mix in a large pan over a low heat and stir regularly until the strawberries have released lots of juice and the sugar is dissolved.
4. Stir in the 3 tsp of citric acid then bring the jam mixture up to a simmer, stirring regularly.
5. Hard boil the mixture for about five minutes, stirring to ensure it doesn’t catch on the bottom.
6. Remove from the heat and test the set of the jam by placing a small amount of your freezer chilled plate. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes. If it is set it will crinkle when gently pushed with a fingertip. If it’s not setting, return the mixture to the heat and boil for a few more minutes and test again. Repeat until the setting