We often hear the term ‘in season’ bandied about but I was asked recently why it was so important when food is readily available all year round – a good question in the age of convenience. The following post therefore gives five reasons why we should be thinking more carefully about the foods we buy and cook throughout the year. It’s followed by a few suggestions for rhubarb recipes as well as a very seasonal rhubarb crumble cake that I discovered this week after we found ourselves with a glut of duck eggs and ‘in season’ rhubarb stalks.
Number 1. In season food that’s been freshly harvested has more nutrients and flavour than food that’s travelled hundreds of miles and/or has been stored before it reaches you.
After we pick fruit and vegetables they continue to breathe (known as respiration) which breaks down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Warm air can speed this process up, as in the case of apples for instance. For the commercial market apples are generally stored at cold temperatures for long periods of time (for a year or more in some cases), with low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide added to them. After a few months under these conditions, their nutrient levels begin to diminish. Even without long-term storage, it might take a week or two between a fruit or vegetable being picked, to when it’s delivered to the shop we buy it from. It may then be another week before we eat it.
When we buy ‘in season’ and locally, the food is generally sold within 48 hours of being picked and we’re more likely to use it quickly, perhaps excited and mindful that it’s so fresh.
Number 2. Buying seasonal food usually means we’re supporting local producers, farmers, farmers markets, CSAs and co-ops which is great for local economies. I wrote a post recently about the various schemes and projects we can support here if you’d like to find out more about them.
Number 3. Buying seasonal food means it’s usually cheaper. Buying a punnet of strawberries in June should be much cheaper than buying a punnet at Christmas. If it’s not, we should ask ourselves (or the shopkeeper) why not. Are the farmers getting a good deal?
Number 4. Some societies believe that ‘in season’ food provides nutrients and ingredients that our bodies crave or need at certain times of the year. Somehow juicy soft fruits such as red currents and raspberries seem much more appealing when the sun is warm on our skins than in the cold winter months. Likewise we enjoy eating warming vegetable stews and soups loaded with root vegetables, pulses and winter squashes in the autumn months when we’re tucked up in front of cozy fires.
Number 5. Eating in season is good for the environment. At a time when climate change and fossil fuels are uppermost in many of our minds thanks to the recent IPCC report, there are less air and road miles used when we shop for and eat ‘in season’ local produce.
Buying more local and ‘in season’ produce doesn’t mean that we have to give up buying imported produce altogether, but that we become more aware of what’s growing or on offer at any particular time and choose it as often as we can over imported fruit and vegetables.
As a result of a sudden rhubarb glut in the Greenside Up household, I learnt this week that if we don’t have time to cook it all, it freezes very well. Just wash, trim and cut the stalks into 25mm pieces then blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 mins. Drain them, dry them then pack them into containers on their own. They can then be used for stewed fruits, pies and cakes when you have more time.
However, it seemed a shame to be in possession of so much rhubarb and not make something with it! I therefore chose this particular rhubarb crumble cake recipe because it uses lots of eggs and now that our duck is laying, we have an abundance.
Not used to baking with duck eggs, I googled and found that we can just straight-swap duck eggs with hen eggs. So I did. The resulting cake was light, fluffy and went down a treat but it did take longer to bake than the original Good Food recipe suggested, probably as a result of the slightly larger duck eggs.
If you’re searching for other rhubarb recipes, I’ve one here that the lovely Mona Wise published in her newspaper column last year for rhubarb cheesecake and another from Sarah of Cake in the Country for rhubarb lemonade that’s very refreshing at this time of year. There are instructions on the latter post too for growing and caring for rhubarb if you have any questions about it.
Recipe for Rhubarb Crumble Cake
250g caster sugar plus 1 tbsp
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs (I used duck)
300g plain flour, plus 7 tbsp
2 tsp baking powder
300g rhubarb, washed, trimmed and sliced thinly
Preheat the over to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3 and grease and line a 20cm deep cake tin.
Please note that since my old food mixer broke, I’ve been using a food processor for all my mixing and baking…
Put the butter, 250g sugar and vanilla into a food processor and mix until the mixture is combined, light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time (I always break them into a cup first to check they’re fresh), and mix together before tipping the mixture into a large bowl. You wont need to do this if you use a food mixer. Sieve in the flour and baking powder and fold into the mixture.
For the crumble topping, remove about 85g of the mixture with a spoon and put onto a plate then stir in the extra 7 tablespoons of flour mentioned in the ingredients list. Use a knife and fork to mix and chop this up until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the chopped rhubarb into the large bowl of flour and eggs and fold in until combined. Empty the mixture into the prepared cake tin and sprinkle the crumble topping over the top before finally sprinkling the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top.
Place the tin onto the middle shelf of the oven for 1 hr 35 mins if using duck eggs (the Good Food recipe recommends 1 hr 15 mins for hen eggs). If the cake begins to brown or burn but is still runny in the middle when checked with a skewer, cover the top with a piece of tin foil.
When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a while before turning out of the tin and cooling fully on a wire cooling rack.
I’ve plans to make a rhubarb and honey compote this weekend with honey from a neighbours hives, making it a truly homegrown dessert. Do you have any favourite rhubarb recipes? What are your thoughts on ‘in season’ shopping? Do you think we’ve forgotten what ‘in season’ really means?