I was reared in the business of food and farms and therefore acquired an easy knowledge of the natural world, seasons, soil, animals and the roles that man plays within nature’s boundaries. I also have a great passion for food but sometimes though, when one is immersed in a world it’s easy to forget that not everyone shares your passion or knowledge. Our increased busy-ness and technological advances have meant that simple knowledge about nature is often lost. Add to this trade agreements, modern food processes and fast transport and suddenly most foods are available all year round and the natural seasons and what they yield become irrelevant. It’s always “summer somewhere” and so everything appears to be available all year round. Many people just don’t know what is “in season” at any given time and therefore cannot operate within nature’s laws even if they wanted to. By the same token we don’t want to go overboard. This isn’t about adopting a bad attitude to anything imported, processed or not grown within a ten mile radius. It is, however, about adjusting the balance. If we increase the amount of local and fresh food that we consume we are positively impacting nutrition and the local economy.
Each season brings with it a glut of fresh ingredients and nature is clever in that it provides appropriate food for the time of year. When produce is abundant and grown locally or at least somewhere in Ireland, it should be less expensive. Autumn is all about chunky root vegetables and Irish apples and pears from local orchards. It’s the time of year that meat displays offer braising and stewing cuts for the colder days. The lighter breakfasts of summer give way to warm buns, toasted breads and porridge. A walk in the country will yield great free bramble fruits that make excellent jams, preserves and additions to homemade tarts. I had the rare opportunity of watching Nigel Slater on TV last Saturday. He did an amazing pork and blackberry dish. He half filled a large bowl with blackberries, squelched them with his hands, then scored the skin on a shoulder of pork, placed it in the blackberries and left it overnight in the fridge. The next day he put the whole lot into a roasting dish and cooked it slowly. It looked terrific and I intend trying it before the blackberries disappear completely. Of course if you really know what you are doing the fields are full of wild mushrooms just crying out to be picked and put in a soup or fried with some good bacon. Indeed those wild mushrooms would be fantastic slow cooked with some stewing beef in red wine
If you look at what’s in season from a nutritional point of view you will also marvel at nature’s ability to know exactly what we need. The colourful root vegetables are full of nutrients that are super cold and flu fighters. They also work really well when cooked slowly in stews which demand certain cuts of meat. Meats suitable for braising and stewing are packed with good fats and proteins that demand long slow cooking to extract them. Apples and pears are full of antioxidants and are also essential to stabilise the PH balance of the body which impacts the ability of the immune system to fight invasion. We really need apples, pears and other alkali foods to provide a balance today more than ever as many of the processed foods that we consume are very acidic. I could go on but you just need to know that autumn is all about gearing the body to cope with the harsher months of winter.
Naturally, winter is about hibernation. Shorter days and colder nights call for food that provides inner warmth. This season also gives us a natural yearning for healing and restorative foods. The body is recovering from a spring, summer and autumn of sowing, growing and harvesting and should now be resting in the winter and rejuvenating in anticipation of doing it all over again come the spring. Of course our modern world has abandoned such idyllic living and we work all year round, but isn’t it so easy to see how modern day burn-out and stress would be such an alien concept to our ancestors who, classically, abided by nature and avoided such ills and rested at least one day a week? That’s why in winter we love the comfort of pies, fruit or meat; thick, steaming broths, smoked meats and the odd hot whiskey! Goose is a traditional poultry choice of winter; its dark fatty flesh goes well with rich wine gravies and tangy fruit sauces. Full flavoured casseroles, sometimes using all types of offal, are also on the winter menu. Again offal is full of iron and we need it.
I think we are slowly changing and I’m always delighted when people seem to be waking up to the over industrialisation of food. Today we have greater access to local and fresh food and it seems to be a growing sector. People are definitely more conscious of what they are eating and where it is coming from and more people are making an attempt to grow their own. We’re seeing small local producers create new and interesting products to sell and by all accounts, between local markets and shops stocking local and fresh produce, I think things are looking good. Personally I think every schoolchild in the land should be taught about Ireland, its food and how the seasons impact that cycle. As individuals we may never go to the countryside to physically pick our own wild berries or even grow our own food in an urban setting. We may never want to bend over and actually pluck a mushroom or a root vegetable but if we know when they’re in season and a have a basic knowledge, then we can make better balanced choices for the rest of our lives. Surely that’s not too much to ask of an ‘education’ system, is it?
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers