fresh today

In-season fruits and veggies mean peak flavor

Don't waste your time on the rest
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Nature's grand culinary design gives many foods that are worth waiting for all year long. Corn, strawberries and tomatoes are among the many foods that are so delicious fresh from the farm that there's just no point risking the disappointment of beauty without flavor.

But the wonders of our modern, industrial food system have conditioned us to eat what we want, when we want it. Our grocery stores respond to our every desire with fruits and vegetables from distant lands, seemingly growing without regard to the changing of season. We've come to expect sweet corn, tomatoes, strawberries and more, throughout the year.

In the kitchen, we've relaxed into a routine of shopping for whatever ingredients our recipe choice of the day calls for - a far cry from even 20 or 30 years ago when cooks looked to fresh, in-season vegetables and fruits for inspiration. Today, unless you're a gardener or grew up on a farm, it's easy to forget (or not know in the first place) what's in season, when.

The goods

Local strawberries are at their peak flavor right now, so pick them or buy them before they're gone.

When they're gone, they'll be replaced by their superficially beautiful West Coast cousins - the ones whose beauty is barely skin deep, that is, and whose flavor is unremarkable. Anyone who has eaten strawberries while squatting in the field in the early summer sunshine knows that fresh strawberries are remarkable.

Who doesn't love the juicy, sweet burst of New Hampshire sweet corn on a warm summer evening?

Sweet corn, the quintessential summer vegetable, is at its best within hours of picking, and that means local. Lucky for us, local sweet corn will be available at area farmers markets within a month or so. Worth waiting just a little bit longer for!

Tomato varieties selected for their ability to withstand long shipping distances, rather than for their flavor, find their way into our kitchens in January, traveling from Florida, Mexico or even the Southern Hemisphere. Their texture is often mealy and dry; about all they offer at the dinner table is a splash of red in the salad. Look for early, greenhouse grown local tomatoes soon at farm stands and farmers markets any day now, with sweet, field ripened tomatoes close behind.

With a little patience, and a commitment to developing some appreciation for new and different local flavors, you can hold out for the best of what New Hampshire has to offer. Shopping local farmers markets and farm stands will help you get into the seasonal rhythm of local eating.

Many of us care about the miles our food travels to our plates and the related impact on the environment. Environmental concerns aside, we all care about how our food tastes. Focus on flavor, and you'll find yourself choosing local, in-season fruits and vegetables. They'll taste better, every time.

Take a little advice from Dionne Warwick, and just "walk on by" those grocery store visitors from summer in a faraway place. You won't regret it when you taste the flavors of summer right here in New Hampshire.

Eleanor Baron lives, gardens, cooks and writes in Concord, and stalks area farmers markets for fresh, in-season produce. Visit her blog at nourishingwords.net for more ideas and inspiration on incorporating healthy habits into your life.

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