Embracing seasonal eating isn’t just an attempt to reconnect with nature. It’s one of the simplest ways to radically improve the quality of your food. And by default, you’re reducing grocery bills, packaging and food miles, all whilst supporting local farmers. That’s because seasonal food is fresh, local food. The type that our grandparents, and indeed all our ancestors, thrived on.
This post is part of our Traditional food tour through Europe.
We’re still in Frankfurt, Germany.
Seasonal eating in Australia
Thanks to the dwindling food culture – the price of convenience for our parent’s generation, we’ve really lost touch with eating this way. Most Australians shop predominantly at their local supermarket instead of markets or farmgate stalls, as is the norm in Europe. There’s certainly more of an inherent understanding over here, that all foods, including meats, have a season.
It would be virtually impossible to overlook the fact that it’s asparagus and strawberry season, right now. There are roadside pop-up stalls on the outskirts of every town. The entire list of appetizers at the centuries-old restaurant we visited recently, featured their famed white asparagus (Spargel) and hollandaise. And because we’re in Germany, the options were: Spargel with potatoes. Spargel with potatoes and bacon. Spargel with potatoes and schnitzel. Spargel with potatoes and pork medallions. Spoilt for choice, unless you had a hankering for leafy greens.
According to Oma, there is an old German saying ‘potatoes make you thin’. And if you look around, it’d be hard to make a case against them. Had a chuckle reading this brilliant piece ‘Why aren’t Germans fat?’. I couldn’t review German cuisine any more succinctly. Although, the mystery of why Germans remain slim on this diet isn’t lost on me. It’s a diet based on simple, seasonal, traditional foods. This is the diet we’ve all evolved to eat. And to enjoy!
Celebrating the harvest
I love that there’s celebratory rituals still firmly entrenched in the culture, here. May 1st was a public holiday and we celebrated Apfelblütenfest (apple blooming festival) with the locals at an organic apple farm. If harvest festivals aren’t the most enjoyable way to gain an appreciation for how and when our food is grown, I don’t know what is. We need more of them!
This wasn’t just any apple farm, however. Obsthof am Steinberg produces some of the best artisan apfelwein (apple wine) in the country. The farm is run by Andreas Schneider, whose family have owned the farm since 1965 and he was the driving force in certifying the farm as organic in 1996. He’s now leading a new generation of artisan producers who are committed to preserving heirloom varieties and the more labour-intensive, organic methods of crop production. Read more about the farm, here.
Frankfurt ‘ebbelwei’, the traditional apfelwein made from local apples, is such a specialty here in Frankfurt, that it’s virtually impossible to find outside the region. That’s precisely the kind of experience I was looking for on this trip. So, naturally, I was fairly committed to sampling every variety on offer.
Apfelwein is essentially just apple cider, that’s much more sour than anything we’re used to in Australia. And traditionally, sans bubbles. Although thankfully they did have plenty of sparkling on tap for us. Schneider is well-known for his tendency to use single, rare apple varieties to achieve very sophisticated ciders. I place them firmly in the mind-blowing category. I’ve never tasted anything more delicious.
My tips: getting started with seasonal eating
It’s ironic that reacquainting ourselves with this incredibly simple, natural practice can require some initial effort. My advice – as with everything diet related, is to start slow. Don’t approach this with a puritanical mindset and refuse all non-seasonal food items. You’ll exhaust yourself. Make it a process of gradually expanding your awareness and knowledge, until it becomes second nature. And it will, I promise!
Here are a few easy shortcuts to seasonal eating:
- Look outside the supermarket! Switch to shopping at Farmers Markets. Or better still, order a veggie box that sources predominantly local products.
- If you can join a CSA (community supported agriculture) setup – even better. Unfortunately these are less common in Australia than other parts of the world, but things are changing. There are ample opportunities if you seek them out.
- Mark out some time in your busy year, to attend some harvest festivals, picking trails, or other seasonal food events. It could be mushroom or plant foraging or community events like Milkwood’s Passata day. This is a great resource, if you’re in Sydney, with kids in tow.
- Download a seasonal food guide for your area and pin it on the wall. Try to cook as many recipes with those ingredients as possible.
- Aim to discover new favourite ‘strictly seasonal’ recipes. Just one each season! And soon you’ll have a wonderful collection to bring out once per year, as a family ritual. If you’re yet to sign up to Jude Blereau’s newsletters – she makes seasonal eating a breeze, by recommending recipes and ingredients right when you need them.
- Practice mindful abstinence. Once you’re familiar with when foods are out of season, experiment with going without them. Notice the sheer joy that is being reacquainted with a food, after waiting for the better part of the year for that moment. Tell me you don’t feel it, with cherries!
- Grow something. Even if it’s just one herb or some microgreens on the windowsill! Being the producer as well as a consumer, gives you an appreciation for all aspects of nature – not just the seasons. And if you have minimal room at home for a garden, rest assured it’s still possible. But you could also join a community garden. You might be surprised to discover that you’re surrounded by them, in the city! Complete with buzzing little communities to be part of. You just have to look.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed part 2 of my food tour. Stay tuned for more. All up, we travelled 6000kms in the car, so there is plenty more to say.
And please feel free to share your experience with seasonal eating. If you’re a seasoned pro, what helped you – and what do you love about it? If you’re not quite there yet, what do you find the most difficult?