Tuesday 23rd July 2024

Don’t fall for the “new season” food fad

Mouthy Money

With March and April nearly behind us, we’ve survived the “hungry gap”, that hiatus between winter and spring when UK-grown produce is most limited and least interesting.

Yet we’ve done the winter food thing and we’re looking forward impatiently to full-throated spring and summer.

As in mainland Europe, where the arrival of spring is celebrated in May with special asparagus menus and fêtes, you know that the dark months are behind you when the UK-grown asparagus crop appears in shops.

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Your butcher’s “spring lamb” will have been born in January and reared indoors.

It’s not as if we haven’t been able to buy asparagus throughout the year – far-freighted spears from Peru have a permanent place on supermarket shelves – but these bitter-tasting, tired specimens can’t compete with our sweetly fresh new native crop.

Some new season’s asparagus is grown under poly-tunnels to get it on the market a couple of weeks before the outdoor-grown equivalent, and I for one will pay the premium and fall upon it with relish. But my first flush of enthusiasm for new season’s labels stops right there.

Think of “new season’s lamb”. In the supermarket, there’s a high chance that it will be imported from New Zealand, and from an environmental point of view this south-north trade makes little sense.

Your local butcher’s shop is much more likely to make a hoo-hah about stocking new season English lamb, but this “spring lamb” will have been born in January and reared indoors on mothers’ milk and pelleted cereals. Pale, mild, and sold at a premium, in flavour terms it can’t compare with lambs born in the spring that have been chomping away on grass outdoors over the summer. September onwards is the best time for lamb, not spring.

Wait a few more weeks, and you can enjoy much more genuinely vigorous new season’s specimens.

When you see “new season” on vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, peas, chances are they are imports from countries like Israel, Cyprus, or Morocco.

Either immature, or pushed into growth to take commercial advantage of our impatience for a new crop, they always sell for an elevated price.

Wait a few more weeks, and you can enjoy much more genuinely vigorous new season’s specimens.

The same applies to UK-grown berries, which start appearing in April. Expensive, tempting, they might look the part, but by June they will be cheaper and taste much better.

When you spot a “new season” tag, try to take a deep breath and remember that old maxim: good things come to those who wait.

Joanna Blythman

Joanna Blythman is an award-winning investigative journalist, the author of seven landmark books on food issues, and one of the most authoritative, influential commentators on the British food chain. A great believer in basing your diet on whole, unprocessed food that you cook yourself, Joanna is a passionate supporter of independent shops, markets and similar non-supermarket outlets. Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the Year 2018.

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