A low point in any day of this magical mystery tour called ‘adulting and parenting’ is when I find my self pushing a trolley around a supermarket just after 5 pm on a weekday, after a busy workday, hungry and dreading that question “What’s for dinner, Mom?”. Lions, in my humble opinion, have the answer, eating only every 4 to 5 days - our cubs need feeding pretty much all day - every day! A lot of ‘quick food’ lands up in that trolley, along with the old tried and tested ingredients (potatoes - anyone?) - it’s expensive, and reeks of desperation. Channelling my inner lioness, the decision was made to make some changes - how to make food shopping more fun, healthier, able to cater to various food needs in the family, and be affordable - Spring was a perfect time!
A bit of local research will yield results like Farmers Markets, farms where you can pick your own products. There is also a local company doing Farm to Table deliveries, or, if you did not binge watch Netflix right the way through lockdown, rather planning and planting your own veggie patch, you will be starting to reap the rewards of the early Spring crops. Even if you are pushing that trolley in a supermarket, take note of the following, these products will be cheaper and fresher on the shelf.
Strawberries, Blueberries, and Cape Gooseberries
This symphony of berries, the angels of Spring fruit! Morning breakfast smoothies, fillers for school lunch boxes, sprinkled in salads, served as dessert, could they be any more versatile or delicious! Nothing says, “Spring is here!” more than a medley of fresh berries, power-packed with Vitamin C and antioxidants, they are also natural anti-inflammatories.
Strawberries are easily grown in pots or companion planted with cucumber, blueberries and gooseberries are wonderful shrubs to have in the garden but do need some space. Gooseberries are the gift that keeps on giving as they seed naturally.
Mielies (Corn), Beans and Baby Marrow
These are three traditional companions, when grown together the large leaf marrow offers shade to the young bean plants, the mielies then give natural support to the bean plant. Cooked or raw these three mixed together are a treat. And don’t forget about the baby marrow flowers, delicious when stuffed, added to pasta, omelettes and salads.
Artichokes, Avocado and Asparagus
The holy grail of deliciousness! Think of a plate filled with just steamed asparagus and artichoke hearts marinated in olive oil, herbs and wine vinegar, sliced avocado with a squeeze of lemon juice and a bowl of lemon butter sauce.
These are the days we happily buy 5 avocado’s for R25, (usually, they cost as much as gold) and there are mounds of artichokes at Foodlovers, and we become almost blase about asparagus. Eat to your heart’s content fellow foodies, for the season is brief!
Pelargonium, Cape Fig and Spekboom
These indigenous plants grow well in gardens or can be foraged on walks and they add a real local flavour to any dish.
Pelargonium (Geranium) (the lovely purple geranium that flowers through spring) adds a floral-lemony taste to a salad and the flowers add a fresh burst of colour to a salad or sweet dessert.
Cape Fig (the ground cover with purple flowers) fruits throughout summer. The fruits have been eaten for thousands of years (yes, literally), and taste slightly salty, sour but sweet. Usually made into jams that complement a cheese board or they can be eaten fresh by squeezing the pulpy seed from the fruit.
Spekboom (that miracle plant that quietly cleans the air we breath) has zesty tasting leaves that add an extra layer of flavour to a salad dish. Using these wonderful indigenous plants connects us to our own bit of earth, and are great conversation starter around a table.
The pro’s and cons of seasonal food
It takes a real shift in attitude to walk into a supermarket and not buy whatever you want. Avocado’s and strawberries are only in season for a brief time during the year, we know when the season is over when prices escalate but wouldn’t a Pavlova be delicious even in winter? Some crops, like pumpkin, onions, squash are storage crops and are around longer, so there is a wider variety to choose from for longer. We have become very accustomed to eating whatever we want at any time of the year.
Skills and planning
When you have committed to eating seasonal produce, you will find that your standard, easy meals are not so easy to put together when the major ingredient is missing. After a visit to the Farmers Market or the arrival of your Veg Box, a bit of planning will be needed so that you can make a few meals from your bounty. Time to look for new recipes or invent your own.
Volume and preserving
So you got a great deal on the apricots? You just could not walk away from that bargain on the beans? And now you sit with 5 kilos of apricots and a sack of beans. Suddenly you are buying a chest freezer and have Consol glass delivering boxes of glass bottles. This is the ‘seasonal journey’ - canning, freezing, pickling, drying - but that feeling of satisfaction when you open up a jar of apricots in July or serve up a bowl pickled artichokes in February. Yes, go ahead and gloat, you deserve to!
Loss of convenience
Being able to cook whatever you want to cook, on the day you want to eat it, is a convenience. Eating seasonally does take a shift in mindset, however, we still live in the real world and we are not going to start nitpicking about seasonal food to waiters at restaurants or our families at Christmas.
Enjoy the journey of incorporating more seasonal food into your life and reap the health benefits in the knowledge that you are contributing positively to your local community and being kinder to the planet.