We tend to think of summer as the time to dive into seasonal produce, with farmers' markets flourishing, roadside produce stands popping up across the country, and grocery stores lush with the bounty of the peak growing season. Eating seasonally, which means packing your plate with food that is grown naturally at that time of year in your region, is renowned for being especially nutrient-dense, extra flavorful, cost efficient, and environmentally friendly.
The benefits of eating seasonally don’t have to end when it’s time to pull out winter clothes from storage. There are plenty of colorful, nutritious fruits and vegetables that thrive in the cooler months, or are harvested in the fall and maintain their flavor and health benefits throughout the winter. It just takes knowing where and what to look for—read this, and you'll be on the path to eating seasonally all year round.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you’re eating in season is to buy local produce, meaning purchasing produce directly from farms in your area. The fact that the only voyage local produce has to make is the distance between the field and your table has many associated benefits. It means that your fruit and vegetables are picked at peak ripeness—rather than picked early and allowed to ripen en route—when both nutrient density and flavor are at their best. This super-fresh produce also lasts longer in your fridge or countertop before spoiling, has a lower environmental impact due to lack of transport and packaging, and supports your local economy. Many farms will have winter farmstands or cold-season community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription models. In more urban areas, you can often find winter farmers' markets with a huge array of vibrant and diverse produce to stock your kitchen.
Seasonal Winter Produce
Even if you don’t have access to local farms, you can find plenty of seasonal produce in the grocery store throughout the colder months. Depending on your market, you may even be able to find locally grown wares. While seasonal produce depends largely on where you live (California, we are all jealous of your year-round bounty), there are plenty of fruits and veggies available across the country that are at their peak during winter.
The name pretty much says it all: Winter squash is the quintessential seasonal ingredient. This category includes varieties of hard-skinned squash such as acorn, butternut, kabocha, butternut, and delicata that are harvested in the fall and can be stored and eaten all through the cooler months. Winter squash are incredibly versatile, whether you choose to blend, roast, stuff, or bake them. Whatever you do, be sure to try out all the different types, as each squash is uniquely flavorful. (I mean, if you’ve never had crispy kabocha squash slices with maple syrup and sage, have you really lived?)
As if we needed any more reasons to love potatoes, everyone’s favorite tubers are a great choice when trying to eat seasonally over the winter. Potatoes are readily available year-round due to how well they keep when stored properly. A typical harvest time for spuds is in the late fall, but depending on your climate, they might be fresh even in the middle of winter. Don’t limit yourself to basic white and sweet—there are more than 200 varieties of taters grown across the U.S. Between the myriad varieties and cooking methods, the potato possibilities are endless. If you need inspiration, try a brown butter hasselback yam, classic garlic roasted potatoes, or a decadent sweet potato pie.
It seems counterintuitive that bright, vibrant citrus would be a winter fruit, but most citrus fruits do ripen to their sweetest from late fall to early spring. Unless you live in a temperate region, you likely won’t be able to find them grown locally, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the vitamin C-rich, juicy treasures. Classics like grapefruit and clementines are always a hit, but keep your eyes peeled for blood oranges, kumquats, and persimmons for a variety of tart and sweet treats. In addition to making great snacks on their own, citrus fruits can be the perfect addition to brighten up an endive salad or an unexpected kick in an otherwise classic cake.
The brassica vegetable family includes some of the most nutritious and versatile produce out there, including cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and the lesser-known kohlrabi (which looks like an alien spaceship but tastes like a delicious variation of a broccoli stem). Brassicas shine when roasted to caramelization in the oven, thrown into stir fries, or sliced thinly in salads.
Cooking greens like escarole, endive, and kale are at their best when grown at cooler temperatures—crisp and sweet, and not too bitter. Try them sautéed, braised, or as part of a hearty winter salad with a mix of grains, dried fruit, and a tangy dressing.