Saturday, April 23, 2011

Seasonal Saturday!

Lately, it seems everyone has gone green. Whether to cut down on energy costs or to truly limit our "footprint" on the world, this new way of thinking has taken hold all over the country.
In the culinary world, this behavior has been around for a long time, but only bits and pieces have leaked out to the mainstream kitchen. Suddenly, the home cook is being asked to take a stand...What's better? Farmed or wild-caught? Free-range or organic? Most recently, which is better for my family? Organic or Local?
Phrases like "sustainable seafood" and "eating seasonally" have made their way into our everyday vocabulary.And yet, many people don't understand the importance if this method of cooking and eating.
Seasonal eating is a very simple practice. You try to eat foods (namely produce like fruits and vegetables) that are in season in your area.
Again, why is this important?
In my opinion, there are three very good reasons for eating seasonally: nutrition, freshness, environmental damage.

Foods that are in season have a higher nutritional content than those that are not. According to a wonderful website and resource, The World's Healthiest Foods, a 1997 research study conducted  by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London, England, found significant differences in the nutrient content of pasteurized milk in summer versus winter. The Ministry discovered that these differences in milk composition were primarily due to differences in the diets of the cows. With more salt-preserved foods in winter and more fresh plants in the summer, cows ended up producing nutritionally different milks during the two seasons. Similarly, researchers in Japan found three-fold differences in the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter.
If you're the kind of person who is frequently dieting or concerned about your health, it's important for you to get the most nutrition you can out of foods. Therefore, seasonal eating is a must.
Freshness is also a key factor, by buying foods that are in season locally food doesn't have to travel as far, it will be fresher when you come to eat it, and according to an online article by expert, Andrea Flint, "it's generally the case that the fresher a food, the better it tastes and the more health benefits it has. This is especially the case with fruits and vegetables, which are often picked well before they are ripe so that they can withstand the long journeys they have to make without going past their best."
Lastly, by purchasing local foods in-season, you eliminate the environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles. As an added bonus, you support the local economy (and small business owner) because your food dollar goes directly to the farmer.
For all these reasons, I do my best to eat local in-season food whenever possible, and to help others change their eating practices as well.
However, I understand that changing yours (and your family's) eating habits can be difficult, especially if you don't know where to start. That's why I'm starting a weekly feature, Seasonal Saturdays.
There are a lot of great resources available online to help you find what is in season in your area. Two of my favorites come from (my namesake!) and the National Resources Defense Council. You simply enter your state and month and voila, you have your ingredients.Epicurious' interactive map not only allows you to find these ingredients but also leads you to further information about the ingredient as well as recipes featuring the item. The NRDC's handy program allows you to choose time of the month (early, mid, late) and also helps you locate farmer's markets in your area.
Each Saturday I will identify one local in-season ingredient and post a few recipes featuring it here, the "best of the web". I plan to alternate the regions in future posts, but today I'll start with my area, New Jersey.
In late April, in my area (and many other areas) asparugus is in-season.
Here are a few insights into asparagus:
  • Asparagus can come in a few different colors: green, white and purple
  • Only young asparagus shoots are commonly eaten: once the buds start to open, the shoots quickly turn woody and become strongly flavored
  • Asparagus is a good source of vitamin A and a fair source of iron and vitamins B and C
  • The bottom portion of asparagus often contains sand and dirt, so thorough cleaning is generally required before cooking
  • Asparagus is a useful companion plant for tomatoes. The tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle, as do several other common companion plants of tomatoes
You can find much more in-depth profiles at Epicurious and Wikipedia.
Best of the Web
Try making your own asparagus recipe and tell me how it went. If enough people participate, I can start featuring a few of our recipes here.

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