Our seasonal love affair starts with food: very simply, we believe that ingredients taste best when they're grown in the right place at the right time of year.
It’s not that we don’t enjoy food and flavours from overseas - you’d be hard pushed to prize a steamed pork bun out of our hands - but the great British public has become used to a diet of tasteless tomatoes and bland strawberries, simply because they can be cheaply imported all year round.
In times gone by our lives would have been intimately intertwined with the seasons. We would have known when to harvest crops for the best yield, which fruits tasted sweetest each month and which animals or fish would provide us with the richest meat. Innovations like fridge freezers, processing techniques and a globalised food market have changed all of that. Seasonality has largely slipped from our collective consciousness and our eating habits have become almost entirely disconnected from the annual cycle.
Should we care? It is easy to accuse us of being stuck in the past - of failing to embrace change. Many of the advances we have seen have, of course, done wonders for our world. For most people, especially those of us lucky enough to live in the British Isles, food is cheaper and more accessible than it has been at any time in the past. And yet, if you buy food that is artificially grown at the wrong time of year, you are certain to be making at least some compromise - whether that's in terms of taste, cost, nutrition or environmental impact.
There are weighty issues at work here and we certainly don’t claim that the answer is always clear cut. Even with today's technology, comparing things such as carbon footprints, energy consumption or nutritional content can be difficult. Nor do we suggest you need to stick too dogmatically to the principles. There’s undoubtedly a place in our cooking for well-sourced, seasonal produce from abroad, particularly those ingredients that don't thrive here. (You’ll see we happily feature Seville oranges and clementines in this book, as well as using a plethora of spices and seasonings that can only be imported.)
But it's also undoubtedly the case that food produced in tune with the seasons tastes as nature intended it to (and as our taste buds evolved over millions of years to appreciate). And if it can also be locally-sourced, a short supply chain necessarily means that fewer resources will be required to get it from field to fork. So, adhering to the "seasonal and local" principle is usually a simple and effective way to buy food with maximum flavour and minimum impact.
Far from being an act of self-denial, seasonal eating is a very positive choice. We choose to forgo green beans in December or peaches in March, looking to the alternatives without any sense of sacrifice; by eating with the seasons we have the excitement of rediscovering perfectly ripe produce and exciting new flavours every month of the year.
The annual cycle brings a cornucopia of new ingredients to our table every few weeks, all bursting with flavour and so often the ideal partners to other in-season produce. We can eagerly await the first squid of summer, be tantalised by the slow ripening of the autumn apple and delight in the earthy sweetness of winter chestnuts.
We can reject the September strawberry in favour of the underrated raspberry. We can refuse to eat insipid plums in June and instead enjoy tart and tangy gooseberries. Does Peruvian asparagus in February, actually taste any good? You already know the answer to that one, so why not try freshly picked stems of Purple Sprouting Broccoli instead? Britain produces great-tasting food all year round; our farmers and growers deserve to be championed and their produce deserves to be eaten.
More than that, we live in one of the most seasonally affected countries in the world and everything we do and experience as a nation, be it wrapping up warm to go to the park on a frosty winter’s morning or getting unexpectedly soaked to the skin in the middle of an April afternoon, is - and always has been - determined by the seasons.
So, this book is an enthusiastic celebration of British seasonality that goes beyond just food. You’ll find out about the New Forest pannage season, where to spot the first snowdrops of spring and why some rhubarb is forced. We’ll tell you the best times of year to spot seals, why St. George must have loved asparagus and what makes the ideal bonfire night banger. We’ll give you a sensational cherry compôte recipe for the summer, a wonderful warming soup for winter and a winning wild garlic pesto for the spring.
As you begin to explore, cook and eat with the seasons around you, you’ll quickly realise how satisfying and rewarding a seasonal life can be. It is, of course, the natural way to live and before long you’ll be wondering why you ever did anything else.
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