It's lovely to hear that many of you enjoy my eat seasonably posts, in which I run through what's good to eat in the month ahead. For some it may seem easy, natural even, to pick out what's at its peak and create dishes accordingly, but I know from experience that starting to think and cook in this way can seem quite daunting. Today's post offers easy tips on how to start eating seasonably, considers why local food is important too, and includes expert advice from The Lincolnshire Chef.
Why should I eat seasonably?
Whether you care about any of the other justifications or not, the number one reason you should eat seasonably is the taste. There's a reason why we don't eat strawberries at Christmas - they taste awful; bland, insipid and slimy, the strawberries that are packeted and shipped into supermarkets over winter lack the heat of the sun and have probably travelled thousands of miles just to appease your whim. Are they worth it? Never. Is there a better option? Of course! Pick up a basketful of local apples to crunch and your taste buds (and your bank balance) will be thankful.
It can often be surprising how varied the produce on offer can be throughout the year if you're open to experimenting in the kitchen. You could find yourself sampling the delights of celeriac mash, baby radishes, Jerusalem artichokes and many more (often forgotten) delights if you eat what's in season, and your reliance on the same, tired recipes will inevitably, and happily, reduce. What's more, the abundance of in season produce and the fact it hasn't had to travel as far means that, more often than not, you'll save money too.
What about choosing local ingredients?
This falls hand in hand with seasonal eating. If you're eating what's best in Britain (or wherever you are) in that month, then chances are there's someone around you who's growing it. Not only are you relying even less on shipped in food, thereby reducing the carbon footprint left by your food choices, but you are also encouraging and helping to maintain your local economy. If no one uses the farm shop or the fruit and vegetable market, then they will disappear and our reliance on supermarkets will grow. Don't let yours disappear, because chances are they won't return.
How does this work in practice?
Steven Bennett, Executive Head Chef at The Comfy Duck in Grimsby and known locally as 'The Lincolnshire Chef' follows these guidelines when he creates his ever-changing menus. While I sampled his French-inspired afternoon tea, he discussed with me his ethos and approach to cooking using seasonal ingredients.
"Webase the menus on what food's available, not the other way around," he explains, telling me that only that week they'd changed the menu to include a rabbit pâté after a number became available from a local shoot. Served with blossom honey, carrot purée and marmalade brioche crisps, it sounds delicious and perfectly in keeping with the restaurant's values of fresh, local and seasonal ingredients with a modern twist. While most people choose what they want to cook, perhaps picking a recipe first, Steven argues that starting with the ingredients is key to cooking seasonably. It makes sense, and actually ensures a more creative kitchen environment, pushing you to consider what could be created from different sets of ingredients.
The afternoon tea - a tearoom standard that usually includes stodgy scones, a pile of sandwiches and a plethora of pastry - is reinvented using similar criteria, offering a spring-like pea soup, moules mariner (with ingredients sourced from the local seafront), a miniature eggs benedict (with free-range, local eggs) and caramelised onion and brie tarts, and that's just the savoury side. The miniature tarte au citron is a highlight of the desserts (there are 5!), and zesty flavours compliment the homemade casing.
After I mention how wonderful they are, Steven informs me, "it's all about the taste," and goes on to explain that while people are usually confident in creating menus that include great tasting desserts, joints of meat or sides of vegetables, putting something like a whole fish or game bird in front of them can be scary. Becoming more confident at cooking fish and game will really help to improve your ability to cook seasonal foods, and choosing them for a dish is sensible, because they pair so well with seasonal vegetables.
Steven has many plans for the future that align with the restaurant's current approach to food. In order to source even more local produce, they plan to ask local people to bring any surplus they may have from their allotments or gardens to be bought by the restaurant to use in their dishes. Anyone who has ever tried growing their own will know this can be a regular occurrence - particularly with courgettes! - and as preserving can only go so far, this will ensure no wastage, alongside the knowledge that most of the fruit and vegetables in the dishes have travelled only a few miles. So if you've got a mountain of rhubarb, or like the sound of the dishes, then don't hesitate in contacting the restaurant.
There aren't many restaurants in Lincolnshire focusing on food in this specific way, but having now sampled how delicious everything is, I'm sure that championing local, seasonal produce will be the way forward for many other establishments - and home kitchens, of course - too.
My meal was complimentary, but all opinions are honest and my own.
Eleanor is obsessed with stories. She writes for a number of online spaces including This is Your Kingdom, edits Creative Countryside, curates #aseasonalyear and teaches at Chalk House. In addition, she is currently studying for an MA in Creative Non-Fiction Writing. You'll find her roving the fields of the Lincolnshire Wolds or planning her next rural adventure.