Whenever I go to the supermarket, I am always surprised to see that the fruit and vegetable section looks almost the same in July and in February. Supermarkets maintain us in some kind of utopian season in which everything is available all the time. It is as if they were trying to accomplish the great fantasy of stopping time and foiling the inevitable succession of years and seasons.
The problem is that we are now so accustomed to year-round availability that we are losing the knowledge of what is in season.
Yet following the rhythm of the seasons can be a proper bliss. It is the best way to enjoy products at their very best, appreciating the ripest fruits and vegetables, savouring the most sustainable seafood and tasting the most succulent cheeses. There is also something almost sentimental about the long-awaited reunion after a year apart. The pleasure of seeing asparagus or strawberries on the market stalls as the days become longer and longer; the comfort of eating citrus fruits and forced rhubarb in the gloomy winter evenings.
In Japan, produce seasonality has an even deeper meaning, rooted in centuries-old principles which are reflected in the Japanese language. The flavour of time is first expressed with the word “hashiri” which is when products are just starting to come on the market. There is this hasty anticipation and excitement for novelty in the air. The taste of products is often more delicate and fresher. Then, we move to the “sakari”, the peak, the best of the season. Remember the taste of the very juicy oranges or delicious summer tomatoes? The season then ends with the “nagori” which Japanese author Ryoko Sekiguchi beautifully defines as “the nostalgia for the season that has just left us”. Just like when we have to say goodbye to the summer and the memories of alfresco dinners whilst enjoying the last ripe peaches.
Over the last years, we’ve seen more and more seasonal calendars popping here and there, including the very one of Slow Food UK to make the most of what’s in season. They can guide us to find the best seasonal alternatives for our recipes, encouraging us to trade an asparagus risotto recipe for a winter squash one, replace a spinach omelette by kale scrambled eggs or innovate with a forced rhubarb pavlova in lieu of strawberries.
There are also many ways to carry the products from one season to another, from freezing to fermenting, pickling and, of course, making preserves. Every summer, in the pure Italian style, my grand-father used to prepare litres and litres of tomato passata as well as dozens of apricot, fig, peach and strawberry jams for the whole family to enjoy over the winter. Opening an apricot jam jar on a cold winter day is an indescribable pleasure, bringing a glimpse of sun and the promise of the spring around the corner. After he passed away, I decided to continue that tradition proving that whilst I can’t stop time, I can at least carry a bit of Mediterranean summer in the British winter.
Text and Images (C) Adrien Giacchero
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