Right about now people in my native Germany will start going nuts about asparagus. That’s white asparagus, not green. While we won’t go as far as turning our noses up at green asparagus, we consider white asparagus as far superior. Why? Because it tastes wonderful, but I think we value it so highly because it is so strictly seasonal: In Germany at least white asparagus is only harvested between the beginning of April – when it starts depends on the weather – and 24th June, St. John’s day. It would be possible to continue harvesting after that date at least for a little while, but that would impact on next year’s harvest, so farmers appreciate a set end date to preserve their fields.
In the past, a lot of what we ate was seasonal, not just fruit and veg or other plant foods, but fish and meat, too. Now, we can get foods from one side of the planet to the other within hours, which one the one hand has introduced us to foods that would have been unheard of before, such as bananas and avocados, or that would have been prohibitively expensive, such as pineapples. Cooling technology, too, on lorries and trains allows us to transport foods over long distances without it spoiling, so now we can have strawberries, lettuce, and green beans in the winter if we want. Yes, it’ll impact on the price, but many of us don’t really look at the price tag and just get what we want when we want it.
When I was growing up, most of the fruit and veg I ate was seasonal. We had a large vegetable garden – most people did, if not at their house, then an allotment – and apple, pear, cherry and damson trees, raspberry bushes. It was eaten fresh when in season, but most of it was boiled and preserved in ‘Weck’ jars, the German equivalent of Kilner jars (or Mason jars in the US). I spent long afternoons removing the stones and kernels from cherries and damsons, or chopping runner beans. Yes, we had bananas and oranges, but it wouldn’t have occurred to my family to buy fresh strawberries in the winter. I don’t even know if we could have done.
Today, most people get their fruit and veg at the supermarket and everything is always available, so we have lost the knowledge of what’s in season and when. But why should you care?
It’s better for the environment
If you buy seasonal foods, you can buy local foods. It hasn’t travelled long distances, so not as much precious fuel is needed to get it to your table. It also doesn’t need to be grown in heated greenhouses.
Because your seasonal food doesn’t have to come a long way, it can be in the field one day, happily growing away, and on your table the next. Fruit and veg from abroad are often harvested before they are ripe so that they’ll stay fresh on the journey.
It’s more nutritious
Fruit and veg that have been harvested before they have reached their full ripeness haven’t had time to develop their full nutritional potential and transport and storage may contribute to losing some of the nutrients that were there.
It’s more fun!
Every time the season changes I look forward to wearing something different at last, and I find that I feel the same when foods I haven’t had in a while are back in season. I believe that the strict seasonality of white asparagus plays a huge part in its popularity when it is there.