Do you only eat fruit in season, or forced in greenhouses?

Whilst scoffing mango and strawberries with my nephew the other day, I found myself thinking of my friends in Sicily with pity. This is the season when they have pretty much no fruit, you see. Oranges fizzle out in February, and then there’s basically nothing till May.

ORANGE-JUICE_original

Fruit and veg in season

The idea of only eating fresh fruit in season is highly trendy in England.

When I say it is trendy in England, don’t get me wrong. People don’t actually DO it. It’s just trendy to TALK about how good it would be if they did do it. It would be sooooooo healthy.

In Sicily, on the other hand, it is something everyone does because they have no choice.

artichokes

Is seasonal produce healthier?

It’s a conversation we’ve probably all had. Fruit and vegetables have no taste these days because they’re all grown in greenhouses, with chemicals and climate control to make the plants bear fruit at the wrong time of year. They have no vitamins when they’re grown this way. It’s why we’re all tired these days. And fat. No doubt it’s why we all have allergies and diabetes and zits. We were all so much healthier in the olden days. Blah blah blah.

I’ve espoused these views myself, back when I lived in London and took it for granted that I could get cherries in February and oranges in June.

No, it isn’t

I did read a scientific article claiming that vegetables grown in greenhouses were analysed and had the same vitamin rating as vegetables grown out of doors in season. The nutritional content of fruit and veg is a result of the nutritional content of the soil, it concluded, not the circulation of the open air.

Sicilian prickly pears
Sicilian prickly pears

 

Seasonal produce is tastier

I would go on holiday to Italy, Greece, Spain, and marvel at the extraordinarily intense flavour of each and every tomato, olive and pear. I revelled in the nutrients I could feel coursing through my veins. Oh, it was all so much better. 

Why do Mediterranean fruit and vegetables and herbs have more flavour?

Any Sicilian can tell you why. It rains very little so they grow in concentrated form. Too much rain always ruins the olives and the tomatoes, they say. Vegetables from north Europe grow waterlogged and the flavour is diluted. Northern herbs have the faintest of flavours compared with the explosive taste of Mediterranean ones. But flavour is not the same thing as nutrition.

Suck on a vitamin pill if you don’t believe me. They taste so awful you’ll probably puke.

Seasonal produce is hideously boring

Once I came to live in Sicily, I realised all this primeval naturalness is a double-edged sword. You see, when I mentioned earlier that from February till May, there’s no fruit, what I meant was, you can’t buy anything, categorised as fruit, to eat. Nothing. Niente. Nada. There just happens to be no fruit in season, in Sicily, in those months.

You can at least juice the good old lemons, thank heavens, to ward off scurvy, and offer up a little prayer of thanks to whichever North African decided to bring them over on his ship. But apart from that, there’s nowt, duck! (…as they say here in Stoke).

I am here to tell you that it is miserable. You really can get sick of chocolate and fed up of pasta.

These are called cachi, pronounced kaki. You eat them when they are a lot squishier than this photo. They have a delicate honey-like taste and are utterly addictive.
These are called cachi, pronounced kaki. You eat them when they are a lot squishier than this photo. They have a delicate honey-like taste and are utterly addictive.

 

When I taught English to classes of children in Sicily, I used to ask them which was their favourite month, and why. A few named the month of their birthday, because they got presents. But in every class, more than half the kids would say their favourite month is May, because you can eat fruit. May is the glorious month when we suddenly get medlars, plums, apricots, more plums, greengages, other types of plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, and diarrhoea. Yes we all give ourselves diarrhoea. You try eating no fruit for three months and then see how good you are at rationing yourself.

Is it really so healthy to spend months deprived of any fruit, or periods of the year living on one single type of vegetable? It’s certainly makes you appreciate each individual food when at last you can eat it, but spending most of the year without it is no fun.

You have no idea how hard it is to adapt

Even when there is a bit more in season, your choices are really limited. When I brought my entire household of chattels down to Sicily, lock stock and barrel, I included my favourite English cookery books. Looking through them in Sicily, I realised about 85% of the recipes were useless.

Apple pie with orange segments and freshly grated orange zest? Exactly how was I going to work this one? Apples come in September and oranges come in January. It would be a recipe with the longest preparation time in pie history. Or what about all those marvellous flans? With vegetable combinations spanning half the year?

This is how you buy almonds in Sicily
This is how you buy almonds in Sicily

 

Getting foods from abroad

The people of the ancient world were all completely obsessed with transporting crops from one country to another and carefully establishing them there.

The ancient Romans literally invaded countries to get their crops.

Before people added to the local variety like this, they were nomads. If the fruit won’t come to the people, the people shall come to the fruit. People walked literally thousands of miles because they knew a certain fruit or vegetable would be in season, and they wanted it. Their lives revolved entirely around getting adequate  nutrition.

(Incidentally, one of the side-effects of this was that people could easily spot the medicinal effects of plants and herbs they ate. If you eat one food in excess, and to the exclusion of others, you will probably become a bit of an instinctive herbalist yourself. And so early medicine was born.)

Increasing variety improves health and saves lives

A great many individuals suffered from severe nutritional deficiencies in the past. We know from looking at ancient skeletons that people in past times had scurvy, ricketts, and many other diseases caused by their vitamin-poor diets.

Don’t be decieved by stories of the Garden of Eden, or those idealised tales of the noble savage living a charmed existence invented by the French during their period of “Enlightenment”. Real nature is cruel and maggotty and has lice and wobbly teeth. It has a bloated belly and a few scabs. And swarms of locusts.

A sprig of wild asparagus. This photo is from a blog called "All things Sicilian and more" written by a keen foodie who actually knows how to give you decent recipes!! And takes lovely photos. Highly recommended! click on this photo to go straight there.
A sprig of wild asparagus. This photo is from a blog called “All things Sicilian and more” written by a keen foodie who is actually Sicilian and who knows how to give you decent recipes!! And takes lovely photos. Highly recommended! click on this photo to go straight there.

The hard work of transporting plant stock

So as I was saying, early men devoted their lives to taking different plants to different places so there would be more variety and more months with stuff to eat in them.

Travelling on a ship with masses of live plants on it must have been remarkably uncomfortable, as anyone who has squeezed into a sailboat will realise, and keeping them alive on a long sea journey by giving them drinkable water involved considerable self discipline. You would have to be passionately motivated to do such a thing.

The Phoenicians brought figs, vines and olives to Sicily. They also probably brought the Manna tree. The Greeks brought various types of beans and pulses, particularly the sturdy grain spelt, and lentils. The Romans brought more fruits. Then the Arabs came with dates, pistachios, citrus fruits, sugar cane, and mulberries. The Germans brought most of the herbs that flourish in Sicily. The Spanish brought tomatoes, potatoes and Indian Figs which bear prickly pears.

Everyone who invaded Sicily added something to the menu and, in so doing, filled in some of the barren months where nothing growing in this fertile soil bore fruit. And I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

But I also thank Sainsbury’s, for bringing me out of season stuff from some greenhouse somewhere, as well.

NOT the Vucciria
NOT the Vucciria

***

Here’s a calendar of the seasons in Sicily. If you come here on holiday, make sure you try all the delicacies of the season!

JANUARY

  • oranges
  • lemons

FEBRUARY

  • oranges
  • lemons

MARCH

  • lemons

APRIL

  • lemons

MAY

  • lemons
  • medlars
  • plums
  • greengages
  • peaches
  • nectarines
  • strawberries
  • asparagus

JUNE

  • peaches
  • nectarines
  • plums
  • pears
  • lemons
  • cucumber

JULY

  • peaches
  • nectarines
  • cantalupe melons
  • watermelons
  • plums
  • pears
  • lemons
  • cucumber

AUGUST

  • figs
  • prickly pears (Indian figs)
  • peaches
  • nectarines
  • cantalupe melons
  • watermelons
  • pears
  • lemons

SEPTEMBER

  • chestnuts
  • almonds
  • cachi (Sharon fruit)
  • lemons
  • grapes
  • apples

OCTOBER

  • chestnuts
  • almonds
  • cachi (Sharon fruit)
  • pumpkin
  • lemons
  • grapes

NOVEMBER

  • olives
  • pumpkin
  • lemons

DECEMBER

  • oranges
  • lemons
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33 thoughts on “Do you only eat fruit in season, or forced in greenhouses?

  1. Great post. Back when I lived in Minnesota, a worshiper of locally grown in-season produce recommended seaweed to us. From the Minnesota sea, presumably. (Note: If you fold the map of the US in half, laying the east and west coasts on top of each other, Minnesota’s on the fold. Our closest sea is half a continent away.) But I will disagree about the lack of water concentrating a veggie’s flavor. We grew great tomatoes, although a normal summer gave us plenty of rain and we watered the plants when it didn’t. The tomatoes I grew when I moved to Cornwall were pitiful and I’ve stopped growing them ’cause it’s just not worth the bother. They want warm nights. And warm days don’t hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha haaaa! I like the Minnesota sea idea!

      Oh that’s interesting about the temperature. My Hubby wants tips like this. He is trying to grow veg in the garden. Do you think a greenhouse would be warm enough to give you good tomatoes in England or do they need somewhere heated?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know someone around here who does grow them in a greenhouse and when she gets the right variety they’re good. The ones with purplish-blackish tops tend to be good. I’m not sure what they’re called. They’re not as good as the ones we grew in Minnesota (she said without a trace of prejudice), but they’re well worth growing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll look out for those ones. Thanks for the tip!

        Are there any volcanoes in Minnesota? I think you need to be at the foot of a volcano to grow great tomatoes. Perhaps I should bring back a suitcase of mud from around Etna next time I go to Sicily? Hubby could use the suitcase as a grow-bag….

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Not a volcano to be had in Minnesota. (Sorry–I’m replying in the wrong spot, but I’ve run out of Reply buttons below.) Lots of manure. Lots of–oops–sunshine if you can get him to bring back a suitcaseful. The Brits do a lot of pinching back. I never did before I moved here, and although I tried it here I wasn’t convinced it did anything worthwhile.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s one thing that I’ve recently discovered which is still seasonal in Sainsbury’s and that’s the golden kiwi, so different from the normal green tart-or-femented one. I look for it longingly every week. Perhaps it’s good for us to have a few seasonal fruits to remind us how lucky we are to have choice.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hello…long time.
    I hope you are happy, and your Son is adapting to his new environment and classmates.
    Thank you for writing about this subject, I imagined Sicily to have an abundance of prodge (spelling?) all year round.
    But come to think of it; my paternal Gran, who was a certified nutritionist, (circa 1926) only bought, or picked, produce in season, and only bought from the grower’s stands along the highway, or from the huge produce only market in Pasadena, Prebble’s.
    I never saw her buy any at the super markets…
    I had forgotten that!
    Anyway, you’ve made me feel ashamed of myself for giving the owner of my neighbourhood produce market a rueful look when he can’t find “elephant garlic” year round for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That is why we have seasons…to vary and rotate things.
    I still have to cure my depression every time I but those orange-shaped, taste-less things that you called “oranges” in UK…

    Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and the Holy Grail of them all, Whole Foods…are great if you have the money to spend and you don’t mind paying to fetch fresh fruits from other places. Yesterday I had “fresh figs” from South Africa at £1 each…I recognised them thank to my electronic microscope…they somehow reminded me of the fatty, huge, delicious equivalent I was used when in Sicily 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha haaa!
      One day you will probably meet my husband in some branch of Sainsbury’s and you will recognise each other because you will both be looking at the “lemons” on offer there, weeping together over the terrible price and the tastelessness of them.
      He doesn’t even use lemons in cooking any more; he says it is pointless in England.

      I am planning to go to Sicily in August: I hope I will find some early figs and I promise to eat a kilo of them in your honour!!!

      Like

      1. Papà has 2 cachi trees in the front yard—in Canada! They produce a lot of cachi. We pick them in November when they are not ripe yet and let them ripen in the garage. We are able to eat cachi till January. It’s a time of year when all the fruit comes from Mexico or Chile so it’s nic to eat something local!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. One of my good friends had a neighbour with a very old and very large persimmon tree that yielded lots and lots of fruit.
        Most of it just over ripened and ended up spoiling on the ground.
        People that had apricot, avocado, or citrus trees etc. never had any spoilage, because the kids in the neighbourhood would pick it all…authorised or not.
        Not at all sure what type of persimmon it was, they were a robust dark red orange, and as large an cricket ball.
        Someone, somewhere, about twenty years ago, made cookies (snickerdoodles I think?) and added pulp from persimmons to the recipe…they were fantastic!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. On waste;
        It’s one of the really bad things about being an American…the amount of food that goes un-eaten. And I dare say, most of it is fruit and veg.
        I strongly believe, that one day, we, as a nation of “haves” are going to be held accountable in one way or another.
        As hard as I try, I can’t seem to ever empty my refrigerator’s vegetable crisper before something has gone bad.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I actually struggle with all the waste of food by my husband and his family. I grew up with the Protestant values of “waste not, want not” and had it drummed into me at school and at home that if I was leaving food, I must never forget that somewhere in this earth, that same food might save someone’s life. And in fact that someone might be a child, just like me.
        But Hubby and his family indulge in Sicilian abundance and extravagance with food. As I said, I just cannot adapt to it.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Hey! Me too!
        It was also a big part of my Sabbath School classes.

        The first time I was exposed to unbelievable waste, was during “basic training” in the military.
        I was bold enough, probably from that upbringing, to ask why isn’t the wasted food given to the needy?
        This was exactly between Ronald Reagan’s election and his inauguration. (You ain’t seen nothin yet!)
        I remember that they told me that there were restrictions on cooked food that prevented it from being passed on…makes sense to me now…it didn’t then.
        And he went on further to tell me that; they used to give it to local farmers for compost, but that to was had since been regulated and now it just went to dumps.
        I saw two to three hundred pounds of un-eaten food at the end of each of three daily meals, that’s about 1000 daily, non-stop for most of the year.

        I digress.
        I’ve consulted my “Field Guide To Produce” by Aliza Green Quirk Books of Philadelphia (2004) http://www.quirkbooks.com
        And under serving suggestions for persimmons; “blend ripe persimmon with soy milk or soft, silken tofu and a dash of cinnamon to make a smoothie.
        Add mashed Hachiyas to pancake or waffle batter.
        Ummm mmmm!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Mmm, persimmon milkshake sounds really yummy. I bet it would be nice with coconut milk too.

        All that waste in the military sounds terrible! My dad did military service and used to tell me the food was so awful he could hardly eat it, but the portions were so stingy, and there were plenty of boys who had grown up so deprived, that literally not a crumb got wasted.

        Like

    1. Yes, we call them persimmons in the US as well. You can buy the standard variety or the Japanese variety, which are also grown in the US. ( I prefer the later, much sweeter in my opinion). If you don’t live in an area where they are grown ( mostly they are grown in California), they can be pricey as well. But not as much as you are paying in New Zealand – yikes!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Realizing how lucky I am to have fruit all year round I don’t know how I would survive Feb – May in Sicily! Do people jar fruits all year round so they can have during those months? I don’t do that but I think I would have to start :).

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  6. I was in Sicily a couple of weeks ago and searched for a pepper pot to no avail, are they only used in restaurants? I found a Lidl near Selinunte and joyously leapt through the door thinking (foolishly) there would be one on the herb shelf but sadly not. I tried to mime what I wanted in a shop in Palermo but they gave me a corkscrew!

    Like

    1. Ha haaa! That’s funny. Now that you mention it, I can’t remember ever seeing people add pepper to food at the table in Sicily, so maybe they really don’t use them. I have several in my house there, which got shipped down with all my stuff from England. Hmm, a new import – export business, maybe…

      Like

  7. I was one of the disappointed visitors to the Vucciria market but soon realized what had happened (I live in a tourist area in the UK and often read the local guide book with amazement at the exaggerations). But as you say, other nearby markets are really great and felt the genuine article. I grow good outdoor tomatoes here on the Isle of Wight, lots of watering (and pinching out), as much sun as possible so choose the best spot, good soil and regular feeding with fertiliser (rose feed is good too). But you’ll never beat a big, beefy, Sicilian tomato grown in red hot heat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My husband rented an allotment today, right in the centre of the village with as much exposure to light as is possible in Stoke on Trent!
      I shall have to report on how his tomatoes get on…!

      Like

    1. Ha haaa! I can envisage Hubby’s allotment becoming a source of relief to both of us! He is so excited about it, he’s like a kid at a birthday party. Bless him! 🙂

      Like

  8. There are still berries of all sorts in our supermarkets (winter here) but they don’t taste as nice as they do in summer. Apples, oranges and pears. That’s it till summer.

    Like

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