Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seasonal Fruit Eating

Seasonal eating is an admirable goal, but if you live in a climate that can't grow tomatoes and avocados all year long—and are still accustomed to seeing those warm-weather fruits and veggies at your supermarket even with 3 inches of slush on the ground—it can be hard to know what's available and when. Find your favorite foods on this list and see where they grow and when to buy them for peak freshness.

1. Apples: In North America, apples are in season from late summer through the fall; if you're buying them in the spring or summer, they're imported.

2. Oranges: The two major kinds of oranges—Valencia and Naval—are in season consecutively, so you can find them all year (Valencias in summer and Navals in winter); however, these juicy fruits grow in Florida, Arizona, and other warm climates, so they're not local if you live where it snows.

3. Bananas: Bunches grow best where it's humid and tropical—though the Rainforest Alliance points out that, in the U.S., they're only grown in Hawaii, so no matter when they're in season, they're not local for most of of the country.

4. Peaches: Most peaches turn up ripe in mid-summer—the middle of July through August—and they grow best in areas with mild winters and dry summer; they are produced by more than 29 states, so there's a good chance you can find them near you.

5. Cherries: Look for these in the summer—June through August. Like other stone fruits (peaches and plums), cherry trees thrive throughout most of the country (except the Northern Midwest).

6. Plums: In the US, plum season is from May through October; look for Japanese versions until August and the European varieties afterwards—from the same regions as peaches and cherries.

7. Grapes: Red and green grapes grow mostly in California, and are in season during the second half of the year—but due to the fruit's need for a mild climate, you're unlikely to find them grown commerically—and locally—in northern and eastern parts of the country.

8. Strawberries: This is an easy one: we all know strawberries are a summer treat. This means that if you're seeing them in the store in the fall, winter, and early spring, you're probably buying imported or greenhouse-grown versions.

9. Raspberries: While raspberries will grow in most parts of the country, the main production areas are in California, Washington, and Orgeon—though this doesn't mean the ones at your store aren't local (check the packaging). These sweet berries bloom from April to November.

10. Pears: Most of the country's pears are grown in the Northwest—California, Oregon, Washington—showing up on supermarket shelves in July and staying through January. However, the fruits will grow in most of the country, so you might find them at your farmer's market.

11. Lettuce: Love salads? Use the freshest local lettuce in spring and summer, when greens are plentiful. Since it grows well in containers, you can find lettuce as local as "from your own windowsill" throughout the year.

12. Arugula: The crisp bite of arugula is a welcome change from standard butter, leaf, and romaine lettuce; look for it in the spring (or, like lettuce, plant it in your own containers year-round).

13. Tomatoes: The reddest, juiciest tomatoes come off the vines from June through August; if you live in cooler climates, look for them locally during those months (buyers in warmer climates can keep an eye out all year).

14. Cucumber: Made of more than 95 percent water, cucumbers are the perfect summer cool-off vegetable—and, since they're in season from May through July, it's easy to find them during the hottest days.

15. Celery: You can find celery grown all year in warmer states like California, Texas, and Florida—but if you aren't lucky enough to live in one of these sunny locales, look for it locally in climates with mild days, cool nights, and plenty of rain.

16. Carrots: Peak carrot season is fall and winter—October through April—which is why the root vegetables are such a key ingredient in soups, stews, and sauces. Most of the country's carrots come from California, Colorado, Michigan, and Florida, but the farmers in the north and east can harvest smaller batches in the early fall.

17. Kale: This hardy green can grow almost anywhere, but if you like a stronger flavor, wait for the fall leaves; some sites even recommend waiting until after the first or second frost, so you should be able to find it through late autumn.

18. Beets: Yellow, red, white, and striped beets come into their prime in late summer and early fall, and are sturdy enough to grow across the country.

19. Sweet Potatoes: Most sweet potatoes come from the Southern states, since they thrive with 4-6 months of warm weather, but people living in the north can harvest smaller batches in the fall, when spring-planted vines are ripe.

20. Winter Squash: As opposed to summer staples like zucchini, patty pan, and yellow squash, the cold-weather versions—butternut, acorn, spaghetti—ripen toward the end of the growing season, in September or October.

21. Garlic: These bulbs grow best when they have some cold weather to fight off: Plant garlic cloves in the winter for harvesting in July or August. If you live ina warm climate, you can get specific varieties that wlicill survive the heat; these may be ready to harvest earlier than those in cold climates.

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