Time to eat seasonally – and eat better

There’s something magical about food in season, eaten at its best. The first firm buttery jersey royal of spring, the crunchy pods of summer peas and January’s partridges are made all the more joyous by their seasonal exclusivity.

Although it is often thought that winter is the season of burrowing and repair – eating only what’s in store from more bounteous seasons – in fact food comes into its own during November and December. Petite Ccox’s apples provide a tangy contrast to their imported cousins. Glorious red cabbage – baked with raisins and treacly brown sugar – defines the colder seasons’ menu. Spinach lightens the creamiest of sauces. All of these foods are ripe and ready for the kitchen at this very moment.

Local, seasonal food is at the forefront of many shoppers’ minds as awareness about food miles and the environment improves, which makes the launch of the ‘Eat Seasonably’ campaign, operated by The Climate Change Organisation and funded by Defra, very timely. The campaign encourages growers, retailers and caterers to buy and sell the right product at the appropriate time, and has several main objectives. According to the Soil Association, although less than 1% of imported food is air-freighted, it makes up 11% of all carbon emissions from UK food distribution. By eating seasonably, we’d go a long way to cutting this figure down.

From the consumer’s perspective though, the aim isn’t to guilt-trip us when we succumb to Californian raspberries and Kenyan green beans. Instead, the campaign has its roots in research that suggests buying fruit and vegetables in season can be up to a third cheaper than the same produce bought at the ‘wrong’ time of year.

It’s about taste. Compare the watered-down, limp taste of a winter carrot picked in March, with the vegetable’s characteristic zing when plucked at its November best, and you will see the point. If you’re looking for the most flavoursome soup or vegetable gratin, forget salt and stock: just pick the veg at its peak.

The campaign’s appeal to the taste buds is one with integrity. It is supported by top chefs, including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Valentine Warner, proving that this isn’t just a government nag to cut food waste (although, given that the UK total of prepared, edible food that is thrown away stands at 10 billion, it’s in our interest to do that too). It’s about enjoying the best produce at the best time.

Supermarkets, notably Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, have signed up to the campaign. A spokesman from Waitrose told Countrylife.co.uk: ‘We review regularly our business practices and performance to identify how we can improve our energy efficiency, minimise packaging and reduce water usage, waste disposal and air emissions.’ With that in mind, they now label products that are from the store’s local region, and promote what is in season.

Look forward then, to the buttery sweetcorn, fluffy baking potatoes and creamy leeks that will be coming our way over the next few weeks. By the time we’ve reached aromatic parsnips, layered with spices and Parmesan for Christmas, we’ll know we’ve had our seasonal fill.