While the cold months of winter don’t instinctively spark thoughts of fresh fruits and vegetables, there is actually a surprising amount of fresh produce in season. In the last article in her “Eating Seasonally” series, Rebekah Fedrowitz shares how we can utilize the produce available to enjoy rich and satisfying winter flavors, as well as offering some menu inspiration for your own winter gatherings.
THE BENEFITS OF SEASONAL EATING SERIES
Winter is a season of twinkling Christmas trees, warm fireplaces, cheerful snowmen, and piping hot cocoa. Our tables are adorned with soups and stews, holiday feasts, and oven roasted dishes. Yet the cold months of this season don’t instinctively spark thoughts of fresh fruits and vegetables. While winter is seemingly barren and unyielding, there is actually a surprising amount of fresh produce in season. Additionally, there are many foods from previous seasons that store well throughout the cold months. This allows us to still enjoy a surplus of dishes full of rich and satisfying flavors that are perfect for winter.
Is Fresh Still Best in the Winter?
Your local grocery store will likely be filled with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. But the question now is whether it’s still best to buy fresh. Typically, I do believe fresh is best, especially if it’s local. However, winter is the season where that isn’t always the rule. Favor produce that is available in the winter. But for those times you’re looking for something that’s out of season, such as strawberries or tomatoes, finding an alternative to fresh will give you better flavor and nutrition.
So what options should you choose if fresh either isn’t available or isn’t the best choice? In many cases, frozen is my go-to alternative for fresh produce. Many fruits and vegetables are flash frozen at their peak. This sometimes makes them even more nutritionally dense than fresh produce that has been picked underripe and transported far distances.
If that’s the case, why don’t I recommend frozen all the time? When frozen fruits and vegetables are thawed, some of the nutrients can be lost in the juices that drain out. So if you’re not consuming or cooking it directly from its frozen state, such as adding frozen broccoli to a soup pot or frozen berries into a smoothie, it can still be less ideal than its local, fresh counterpart. Freezing can also change food’s texture, and the right texture is part of the appeal and satisfaction of eating. If you’re making roasted broccoli, starting with frozen broccoli will leave you with a mushy, soggy outcome instead of the crispy, lightly browned broccoli that you would get when you use fresh.
Dried and Canned Foods
Dried and canned foods are also good options, depending on the particular fruit or vegetable. Drying a food can change its nutrient composition and flavor. But when used correctly, this can be okay and even beneficial. For example, foods like dried fruits, mushrooms, and beans are essential pantry staples. These give you access to foods year-round and with an extended shelf-life. Dried fruits are not only great for snacking. They can also be rehydrated for a concentrated flavor that works well in baked goods, sauces, and other recipes. Dried mushrooms are a delicious addition to soups and sauces. They add a satisfying umami taste that compliments many traditional winter foods. Dried beans can be used any time of the year for soups, chilis, curries, side-dishes, and vegetarian entrees.
Canned foods tend to be my last choice as an alternative to fresh. But there are a few foods that handle the canning process well and are good not only in the winter but all year-round. Tomatoes, pickled foods, nut butters, and jams are a few examples of canned foods I recommend keeping on hand. Other options, like beans, offer a convenient, quick alternative to their dried counterparts which take a little more time and care to prepare. The key challenges with canned foods are once again the concern for texture, and also the risk for unwanted additives and preservatives. To avoid any potentially-harmful additive and preservative ingredients, buy canned foods organic and with minimal added ingredients whenever possible.
Produce in Season in Winter
Winter produce is often hidden or even naturally preserved, such as root vegetables buried underground or leafy greens that are made more tender by the icy frost, but in warmer climates, there are still bright citrus and juicy pomegranates drooping heavy from their trees just begging to be picked. Very little winter produce is actually only in season during these few short, cold months. Some fall produce carries well into winter, and other foods are actually planted in fall to be harvested in the winter and spring.
As we wrap up this series on eating seasonally, instead of merely referencing produce that’s already been shared in another seasonal article, I wanted to share a complete guide to produce in season for all four seasons. Click here to download a printable seasonal produce guide to help you know when you choose fresh and in season versus frozen, dried, or canned.
Inspiration for Your Winter Table
Looking for some unique ways to use produce in season in winter? Check out some of these recipes for inspiration:
- Brussels Sprouts with Lemon & Thyme
- Cauliflower-Kale Soup with Crispy Kale Topping
- Citrus & Avocado Salad with Honey Vinaigrette
- Curried Parsnip & Spinach Soup
- Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Lentils
- Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro-Ginger Salsa
- Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Pomegranate
- Roasted Beets & Carrots with Goat Cheese Dressing
- Slow-Cooker Cauliflower-Turmeric Soup
If you’re looking for healthy and satisfying dishes for your holiday table, or really anytime in the winter, you can also download a copy of my Healthy Holiday Feast menu for a collection of recipes that feature seasonal produce.
Embracing Seasonal Eating
Winter is a great time to pause and appreciate the gift God has given us with fresh produce all year round. Even in the months that are absent of our toil and labor, we are still nourished and satisfied in bountiful ways.
As seasons come and go, we can find ourselves longing for what’s next. When winter grows long, we begin to tire of soups and instead crave salads. In the spring, we enjoy ripe, juicy strawberries but soon long for blueberries and watermelon. These cravings and desires are good and natural, and I encourage the longing for what’s ahead. Sometimes in our longings for new and different, we rush to move into the next season only to find the flavors lacking and unsatisfying. If we wait until our produce is in its prime, we will experience the fullness of both taste and nourishment, just as God intended it.
“For everything there is season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). I hope you will savor the seasons and embrace each one for all it has to offer. Bon Appetit!
What is your favorite seasonal produce to incorporate into your winter menu? Share with us in the comments.
Check out Rebekah’s freebie printable, which lists fresh fruits and vegetables available by season. Just follow the link below!
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