Although history aficionados often find themselves longing for the simpler days of the past when America was still filled with unbounded land and idyllic pastures, they probably would not enjoy the burden of foraging or growing their own food, which can be challenging and grueling. Nowadays, customers can go to the grocery and store their produce in the refrigerator, but back then, villagers had to use what was seasonally available. Unless you were wealthy, splendid feasts containing meats and fruits were a rarity.
While a wide array of fruits and vegetables can be found in supermarkets, including exotic varieties, they may not be of optimal freshness. It can be frustrating to encounter bland or hard textured fruits. A reason for this problem is that they have been harvested during the off-season, and are unripe, or have been ripened through artificial methods. When you buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, you may notice that they taste better. In addition to improved flavor, in-season fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients because they do not undergo lengthy transportation times. The prices will also likely be cheaper, as grocers incur less costs due to the decreased transportation time and the increased availability of crops.
Eating seasonally is a great way to take advantage of the harvest schedule and incorporate healthy dishes into your diet. To help you determine the best times to buy produce, below is a list of various fruits and vegetables and their harvest seasons. Depending on your region, the availability can vary. There may be overlaps, as some crops can be harvested year-round, while for others, the harvest season may be extended or shortened depending on environmental factors.
What’s in Season
Spring is known as a time of new beginnings and renewal as the ground shakes off the stupor of the cold, winter months. As temperatures warm up, spring fruits such as pineapples, apricots and strawberries are in season. If kale and Swiss chard do not seem palatable for a satisfying meal, try avocados and peas. Peas make for a great snack when eaten straight from the pod, while avocado has versatile applications in guacamole, as spreads on toast, or even smoothies.
- Apricots, apples, pineapples
- Limes, lemons, strawberries
- Carrots, radishes, turnips
- Lettuce, collard greens, cabbage, kale
- Rhubarb, spinach, Swiss chard
Considered a favorite season by many, summer is the biggest growing season, regardless of location and climate. Many varieties of berries, including blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, are best enjoyed in the summertime. Summer is a great time to enjoy hydrating fruits outdoors – red, juicy watermelon slices are a popular and nostalgic option that conjures up bygone days spent in an idyllic haze. For those that enjoy meat more than vegetables, you can improve your diet by adding vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers to your grilled burgers and BBQ skewers. Lastly, don’t forget to visit your local bakery or make your own berry pies for a tasty summer dessert.
- Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries
- Mangos, peaches, nectarines
- Green beans
- Summer squash
- Bell peppers
Fall brings to mind rustic farmhouses, delicious Thanksgiving feasts, and leaves tinged with autumnal colors of red, yellow, and orange. If you’re planning to cook for Thanksgiving, then consider purchasing pumpkins for pumpkin pie and other pastries. Other popular ingredients for side dishes include apples, Brussels sprouts, and cranberries. Since cranberries are the freshest during November, consider making your own cranberry sauce to serve as flavoring.
- Pumpkins, butternut squash
- Garlic, onions
- Sweet potatoes and yams
- Brussels sprouts
While winter is viewed as a season of scarcity, you can still obtain certain types of produce at your supermarket. It may surprise you that clementines, mandarins, and other citrus fruits are in season. Clementines, a type of mandarin that is a hybrid between a mandarin orange and a sweet orange, make great snacks for those that do not like other types of fruits.
- Clementines, mandarins
- Carrots, turnips
- Winter squash
- Brussel sprouts
Most types of herbs are available year-round, as well as cool season crops such as cabbage, lettuce, and broccoli. Below is a list of vegetables that you can readily find at the supermarket and are staples on grocery lists. Still, there is a time when they are the freshest and you’ll want to pick them up and incorporate them into your dishes.
- Avocados, classically summer
- Cabbage, best in late fall and winter
- Most types of herbs: mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
- Collard greens
- Celery, best in fall and winter
Where you can Find In-season Produce
- Farmers Market
If you seek fresh produce, want to help the environment or enhance the local economy, check out your local farmer’s market. Since the produce is directly sourced from farms, they are often fresh and don’t rely on pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and post-harvest treatments as much. Compared to those in season, off-season produce comes with an increased carbon footprint due to extensive use of chemicals and long transportation distances.
If you’re short on time or not sure where to look, check out the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) directory. The CSA lists farms or networks that deliver locally-grown, fresh produce during one or more harvest seasons to consumers based on a membership fee. Additionally, visit local food directories to find farmer markets and other centers offering locally grown produce.
- Grocery Store
If none of these options are available, you can still use this guide at your grocery store or supermarket. When browsing the aisles, pay attention to the texture of the produce. Do not purchase those that appear soft, discolored or have wilted leaves. Also be sure to check the expiration dates, as some may contain food that is past the sell-by date.
- Grow your own
One of the most sustainable ways you can obtain garden to table benefits is to grow your own crops. By growing your own crops, you can maximize freshness and nutrients by choosing the time of harvest. Although gardening can seem daunting to beginners, metal raised beds can facilitate your experience. Vego Garden has a collection of raised garden beds that can help you get started. Raised garden beds are ideal for gardeners of all skill sets because they allow you to control the soil quality, retain better drainage, and keep out pests. Vego Garden also has add-ons such as a frost cover, which keep your plants protected from the cold and fluctuating weather conditions while allowing sunlight to pass through, and a spacious garden bag for storing garden tools and other essentials.
- Buy meal kits
In today’s hectic world, it can be stressful going to the grocery and planning meals, especially if you live in an apartment and don’t want to drag all your groceries upstairs. Meal kits such as Hello Fresh is one option to consider for those time constrained or have no experience in cooking. There is also less food waste since the ingredients are already portioned for your meal. While it isn’t clear that these meal kits contain in-season produce, they are still a viable option for many struggling with cooking and preparing meals.