Seasonal Guide to Farmers Markets : As spring is in full swing in the US, here is a pretty handy seasonal chart to help you know what to look for at local farmer’s market offerings.
It’s the Taste That Counts.
For most of us, the taste of the food we buy is every bit as important as the cost, if not more so. When food is not in season locally, it’s either grown in a hothouse or shipped in from other parts of the world, and both affect the taste. Compare a dark red, vine-ripened tomato still warm from the summer sun with a winter hothouse tomato that’s barely red, somewhat mealy, and lacking in flavor. When transporting crops, they must be harvested early and refrigerated so they don’t rot during transportation. They may not ripen as effectively as they would in their natural environment and as a result they don’t develop their full flavor.
“Foods lose flavor just as they lose moisture when they are held. Fresh, locally harvested foods have their full, whole flavors intact, which they release to us when we eat them,” explains Susan Herrmann Loomis, owner of On Rue Tatin Cooking School in France and author of numerous cookbooks. “Foods that are chilled and shipped lose flavor at every step of the way – chilling cuts their flavor, transport cuts their flavor, being held in warehouses cuts their flavor.”
Save Nutrients, Save Flavor, and Save Gas Too!
According to Brian Halweil, author of “Eat Here: Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket,” “If you harvest something early so that it can endure a long distance shipping experience, it’s not going to have the full complement of nutrients it might have had.” In addition, transporting produce sometimes requires irradiation (zapping the produce with a burst of radiation to kill germs) and preservatives (such as wax) to protect the produce which is subsequently refrigerated during the trip. While no definitive study quantifies the impact of these treatments, Halweil says there is good reason to believe that eating local is really the safer option. Loomis shares his concern and adds, “We have become terribly cavalier about quality, flavor and texture.” She prefers to buy her produce locally, and preferably from a farmer she knows.