Though we have the luxury of buying a vast array of vegetables year-round (albeit at a higher price), buying in season means you can consume vegetables and fruits at their nutritional peak. This is partly due to the time lag from garden to table of produce that is imported (many thousands of miles in some instances) which means it can be many weeks if not months before they hit the supermarket shelves, and even longer before they hit the plate.
This degrades many of the vitamins and antioxidants fresh produce is lauded for (such as vitamin C). To prevent spoilage some produce is picked while still immature, which also affects its nutrient status. Additional preservatives and chemicals can also be used to help ensure the appearance of freshness once on the supermarket shelf.
In addition, the nutrient profile for certain vegetables differs according to season. Broccoli, for example, may be available year-round, but is higher in certain antioxidants (such as flavones) during the summer-autumn period compared to that which is available in winter-spring. Buying in season can maximise that health benefit of eating your greens.
Many people are interested in more than just the nutritional benefits of the food that they eat — the resource cost to the environment with regards to transport, storage and packaging out of season products is becoming more of a salient consideration. In addition, it’s a cost to the economy when we are not purchasing produce that is locally grown and distributed.
Organic produce has been shown in many instances to be nutritionally superior to that of conventionally grown produce, however local trumps organic for the reasons above. You might be aware of the term “locavore”, referring to people who advocate supporting local businesses, markets and food producers to help strengthen the relationships between the food consumer and those who supply it.
Making a habit of buying produce from your local farmer’s markets (of which Auckland has many) is one way to ensure you are buying in-season and locally. This helps support the local economy and build the relationships that strengthen our communities — something that modern life doesn’t allow most people the opportunity for on a day-to-day basis.
It’s also a great way for children to learn about where food comes from and in many instances, farmers selling at the markets will be selling produce that is more sustainably produced with little-to-no pesticides used (though not always).
That said, buying local, in-season produce from your supermarket can achieve most of these objectives.
Top picks for the autumn months
Buttercup and butternut pumpkin are two of my favourites. They are rich in beta-carotene and good sources of carbohydrate (the buttercup being higher than the butternut).
I like to save time by baking the pumpkin whole in the oven for around an hour at around 200C (depending on its size). This means you can use the flesh for various things during the week. Make pumpkin pancakes or a loaf, cut it up and add to a salad or stir-fry for quick midweek meals. Here's the recipe for pumpkin fruit loaf.
Find more recipes in our pumpkin collection.
Swede is often overlooked but can be a great substitute for people wanting to lower their carbohydrate intake but not wanting to forgo the starchy element on their plate.
Roasting it in coconut oil with cinnamon makes a lovely accompaniment to a roast and the addition of cinnamon is good for reducing the overall blood sugar response to a meal.
Make hot chips by boiling swede first till still firm, patting it dry and roasting it in olive or coconut oil with salt, dried herbs or cajun seasoning and serving with a homemade low-sugar tomato sauce.
Fennel has long been used in many cultures to assist in treating digestive and inflammation-based ailments, and is recommended to help with skin irritation.
Use the fronds in salads or a pesto, and team the bulb with walnuts and apple to make a delicious coleslaw that provides you with additional antioxidants you wouldn't normally consume in your stock-standard salad. Here's Warren Elwin's recipe for apple, fennel and walnut slaw.
Find more recipes in this fennel collection.
Finally, no mention of autumn produce would be complete without the feijoa which is a good source of fibre and vitamin C.
Though yet to be tested in clinical trials, feijoa contains constituents that improve the action of cells in the bowel that help reduce inflammation.
This has the potential to be useful for people who suffer from inflammatory bowel conditions. The jury is out as to whether or not you eat the skin (ideally organic and not sprayed), but I like the bitter taste and am still standing.
Find baking, cooking and preserving recipes in these feijoa collections.