Fresh, local, seasonal

Borage

It’s early spring here in southern Tasmania; no doubt about it. The bulbs have pushed their green fingers through wet soil, the daffodils have thrust their cheerful faces towards the sky and the garden is gently unfurling itself, seeking the warming sun. The nights are still chilly but the days are lighter and warmer, and this weekend the first bees appeared, contentedly buzzing among the bright blue flowers of my borage.

It’s the lean season in the garden: winter crops of brassicas are going to seed and falling victim to the aphids that manage to appear out of nowhere. My spring greens, freshly planted, are little more than shoots and sprouts and the summer veg still lie in coiled potential within their seeds, sleeping in the warmth of my tiny greenhouse. The lack of local produce at this time of year can be felt at the grocery store and at the market. Winter root vegetables are past their best, with potatoes threatening to sprout in the cupboard and parsnips turning woody. There’s still kale about, but after 4 months of kale feast I’ve had my fill until next winter. At my local grocer the shelves are stocked with eggplant from north Queensland ($14 a kilo!), strawberries from Western Australia and green beans from somewhere in northern New South Wales. It’s all food that’s travelled a long way from market, by boat or plane, or spent months in cold storage, before it reaches our plates.

Me, I like to eat fresh local produce that reflects the seasons. There’s a whole load of good reasons to do this:

  • Local food gets to you sooner, so the food is fresher, tastes better and has peak nutrient content.
  • It’s more energy efficient, as less energy has been used to store and transplant the food.
  • Seasonal growing also requires fewer resources as we’re working with nature: no lighting, no heating, less fertilizers, less pesticides and less irrigation.
  • Seasonal eating allows us to taste the changing seasons and be more connected with the world around us.
  • It supports local growers and brings local products to market, improving food security and helping to build community.
  • It’s cheaper, as you’re not paying for the transport, storage, and other resources, plus you can grow a lot to eat yourself!

SpringPickings2

So what to eat in Hobart in September, when the pickings are slim and the shops full of imports? It turns out that there’s quite a lot! Between my little garden and Farm Gate Market I’m managing surprisingly well. You just might need to broaden your definition of vegetables to get the most out of early spring. A 10 minute forage in my still-establishing garden yielded the array of tasty goodies pictured above:

  • The last tiny shoots of sprouting broccoli, surprisingly sweet and just bite-sized.
  • Delicate fronds of salad burnet, rapidly unfurling new spring growth.
  • The first pickable leaves of oak lettuce, a self self-sown surprise in the berry bed.
  • The last few leaves of my winter crop of rocket (arugula), now in full flower.
  • “Rocketini” – the whole seedling thinnings from the spring crop of rocket – densely packed with nutrients and flavour.
  • Soft new leaves of the nasturtiams – such a lovely peppery taste.
  • A few sprigs of salad-friendly herbs: coriander shoots, sea celery and deep green mint.
  • a beautiful selection of edible blooms: bright yellow kale, maroon and cream rocket, borage blue and the cheery orange of nasturtiam.

Edible flowers are one of my favourite spring garden things, and this evening’s pickings turned my garden fresh salad into a delicious, nutritious work of art. With the addition of avocado donated by a friend with a bumper crop, some baby radish greens* from the incredible new season radishes I picked up at the Market (thanks Provenance Growers!), some Huon Valley smoked salmon and a splash of local raspberry vinegar  for dressing, everything on my plate this evening came from this little isle and most of it came from my back yard, a new patch that’s only just beginning its kitchen-garden journey.

That said, I still find myself yearning for a glossy dark eggplant (aubergine) or a bright red capsicum (bell pepper). I grew up in Queensland where European veg grows through the winters and summers are full of south-east Asian flavours, but I have learnt that the well-travelled specimens that grace our southern shores are a poor echo of the flavours I’m dreaming of. Better off waiting for the long days of late summer, when the locally grown stuff appears and life is Mediterranean-flavoured. For now I’ll celebrate the flavours of Tasmanian spring in all its fresh green glory, and preserve the few excesses of the season to flavour the summer to come.

SpringSalad

Want to know what’s in season where you are? There are lots of great, region-specific seasonal food guides available on-line, or wander down to your local produce market and see for yourself!

* Yes, radish leaves are perfectly edible! So are beetroot leaves. Both can be used as salad or lightly stir-fried but the youngest, freshest leaves are best.

2 Comments on “Fresh, local, seasonal

  1. Such lovely, fresh looking dishes! The smoked salmon and avocado salad looks stunning.

    We are lucky up here, so true. But this post really resonated with me. As well as the health and environmental factors, seasonal vegies just taste so great! There’s nothing like the first spring asparagus, christmas cherries or winter sweet potato. And the seasonal produce goes so well with the dishes we cook at different times of the year anyway (I honesty don’t get buying strawberries in winter, they’re completely flavourless).

    (although I do fail at garlic and onions as I tend to buy them all year round, oops).

    • Heh, I too buy garlic & onions year-round. I’d fail at cooking without them. =o(

      I should try growing garlic. That way I can eat the scapes in spring when the bulbs aren’t in season. Hmm, maybe next year.

      I’m really looking forward to harvesting my first crop of potatoes when the weather turns cold and the first raspberries and tomatoes of the summer are always a joy. I have high hopes for the garden this summer: hopefully the weather cooperates (a cold snap while I was away this week knocked out my basil seedlings – boo).

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