To cook with nature at home, you need to be aware of the rhythm of the seasons. Everything grows in its own time. Summer is a time of abundance, but even in winter, there are fresh vegetables available. To cook against nature means using foods out of season that have been kept in cold storage. Cooking with nature is more sustainable, supports your local producers and ensures that you get your food at its best.
Spring is a wonderful time as fresh young foods come on the market. If you have never been to a farmers’ market or a well-stocked greengrocer, now is the time to start. The produce on offer is of a wider variety and much fresher than the supermarket, where produce is more likely to come out of cold storage than the fields.
Fresh young greens such as lettuce, watercress, sorrel and spinach will be in abundance in spring, but the weather is still cool enough to enjoy soups like minestrone and spring vegetable soup. Young green peas, beans and asparagus make delicious light soups with served with sourdough from the farmer’s market and jewel-like preserves from the store cupboard. Stock up on soft and hard cheeses and enjoy a ploughman’s lunch in the early spring sunshine. It’s the perfect time to start cooking with nature when the seasonal produce is so light and lively.
Spring is also the best time to take a hands-on approach to producing your own food. Start a simple herb garden by planting basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme and chives. These will soon be providing you with extra zing and flavor for your meals. Move on to tomatoes (they grow well in the same spot as basil), peas, green beans, carrots and Asian greens such as pak choi which are easy to grow and will soon start producing for you. Check the climate zones on the internet and find out what grows best in your area. A plant which grows well in a warm, subtropical zone will struggle with frosts in a colder zone.
In summer, you will naturally be thinking of salads, and this is actually the time of year when many people do decide to buy fresh produce, as it all looks so appetizing and no one wants to cook complicated dishes on hot days.. Barbecues and al fresco eating are popular, but remember to always pick what is in season and what is grown in your area. Food flown in from far afield that is easily grown in your area isn’t sustainable or in keeping with a natural approach.
The shelves of your local greengrocers and the stalls at the farmer’s markets are groaning with fabulous produce in summer. You can find bell peppers in many colors from a deep, almost black purple to a bright sunny yellow; melons of all sizes and shapes; cane fruits such as blackberries and raspberries; tomatoes are ripe and inviting, but for best flavor look for the heirloom varieties, and of course, there are strawberries in abundance.
In your garden, you should be harvesting your spring planting and have started growing capsicum, corn and other barbecue favorites. Later, you can also plant zucchinis, pumpkins and cabbage to get started for the cooler months. As you grow your own vegetables and care for your garden you will understand why fruits and vegetables are seasonal and what this means to their freshness and nutritive value.
In the fall, you can enjoy the bountiful harvest of tree fruits such as plums, pears and apples that haven’t been in cold storage for a year. This is fruit at its best so make sure you buy from greengrocers and farmers markets that bring you fresh young produce. It is time for more hearty fare in your cooking, which can include delicious soups and stews made with pumpkins, carrots, parsnips, turnips and all the flavorful foods of fall.
Slow cooked casseroles and apple pies satisfy cravings for home-cooked comfort foods that are the hallmarks of the cooler months. This is the way nature intended the rhythm of the seasons, to keep you cool and light on your feet when it is hot, and warm and well-nourished when it is cold. From your garden, harvest cabbage and cauliflower, and lots of peas and beans.
It is time to start preserving as well, to make the excess fruit and vegetables last through the winter. If canning is not for you, stock up your freezer instead. This way you can keep up your commitment to cooking with nature as the winter sets in. Frozen vegetables are only kept for a short time and do not lose their flavor or nutritional value if you use them up over winter. Soon it will be spring again and time to start shopping for fresh young greens and preparing the ground for new plants.
Get to know what is grown in your area and what you can expect to see on sale in each season. Cooking with nature is healthy and fun, whether you do it outdoors or in your own kitchen. Nature itself also produces year-round foods you can forage from field and shore. Get someone knowledgeable to show which wild mushrooms and herbs are safe to pick, and forage along the sea shore for edible seaweed and sea kale. Knowing what nature provides where you live ensures you enjoy the freshest diet possible.