19 July 2009

On My Rickety Shelves: Seasonal Food

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada, a copy of this month's selection appeared on my doorstep.

Seasonal Food: A Guide to What's in Season When and Why
By Paul Waddington
Eden Project Books/Random House Canada
256 pages; $21.95

The ongoing dirge that announces and mourns (the inaccurately collective) "our" lost memory for food has been playing for a while, its needle skipping every so often, occasionally doing a whole dustbunny sweep across the album of (again, the inaccurately collective) "our" psyche.

As big business jumps on board to brand themselves as socially-responsible, with their earnest yet sparkly social media marketing-driven communications plans and advertising budgets, I find myself numbed to the hyperbole, distrusting every corporate-shined message I encounter. Don't get me wrong, food is incredibly important and I think we should be interested in what we eat, but like any message constantly broadcast, I become immune and disinterested.

Much has been written and broadcast contrasting what used to appear on tables, with what appears now, along with the various feel-good, blame-absolving movements that result. Some border on the cult-like: locovorism/100-mile dietism and organics; others seem like roleplaying: pulling out your front flower bed for carrots and cabbages, and home preserving.

But when you distill these, the concept of "seasonal eating" rings true. Essentially globalisation and advances in botanical and agricultural sciences have blurred seasons, making pretty much any food available at any time. If you've never gardened or been in contact with the natural food cycle, it could be confusing. Paul Waddington's Seasonal Food hopes to eliminate this barrier and help people think more about eating what's currently in season.

Waddington's style makes the book a pleasurable read. His introduction leads the reader through a quick history of food industrialisation and the basics of globalisation but also the importance of the Earth's natural cycle on plants and (as a result) animals. Probably my favourite section in the preamble is "The Seasonal Pig" and documents the once-important porker, fattened for an autumnal slaughter to its current fate as omni-seasonal, factorized fare.

Most of the book lists seasonally-available foods, organised by month. Descriptions are conversational and cover features like flavour, growing conditions and how to enjoy these ingredients. With some foods, such as leeks, pumpkins and Jerusalem artichokes, he provides simple and workable recipes. I've not cooked any to his suggestions, but in perusing them, I could tell they were easy and would work well.

What I particularly like is his inclusion of meats in his seasonal eating lists. To be honest, I've not put much thought into seasonal meats, and when I do it's primarly spring lamb and autumn and winter turkeys.

There is one caveat I feel I must make, simply because I suspect it will throw some people off. This book was created for the British marketplace. As such there are terms or foods referred to such as rocket, medlars and aubergines which some readers may take issue with. Also because it is British-focussed, what grows in their seasons may not map correctly onto what grows in the non-British reader's seasons.

Regardless of where you call home, this is a good reference book to have on hand when faced with ingredients and why something may not taste as good now, as it did when it was actually in season four months ago.


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sarah said...

Thanks so much for sharing! Very timely for me as I have just been thinking about getting this kind of reference.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef said...

Did Waddington have any tips for people in the southern hemisphere who read too many northern hemisphere food blogs and thus find themselves itching to make peach pie and cherry grunt in the middle of winter?

P.S. I've nominated you for an award. Check it out on my blog :)

Anita said...

Hi Jasmine. Great review, I have been hearing quite a bit about Seasonal eating, majority on MasterChef. I've just nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award, I love the range of food on you blog and enjoy the read. Cheers, Anita

NKP said...

Interesting! The country of origin is always the first thing I look at when considering a book on local eating. My best friend lives in Hawaii, her and my local eating is worlds apart.
Great review, thank you so much.

Darina said...

What a lovely, witty post. I have yet to try these eggs but they're on my list. I always get my books on amazon.ca. They're 40% cheaper that way. I got my MTAOFC for 25 bucks.