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Rich pickings: how to source the best local, in-season food

Published: June 8, 2015
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Scotland is blessed with a rich variety of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy, all within easy reach of dinner tables across the country. With this abundant, all-year-round harvest on our
doorsteps, it’s easy to eat in-season, healthy, sustainable, environmentally-friendly food that hasn’t travelled halfway round the world to reach us or been grown in artificially heated greenhouses that
produce carbon emissions.

Here, we look at some of the best ways to get local, in-season produce on to your plate.

Why shop in season?

The first step is to ask yourself why it’s worth doing in the first place. Or, alternatively, ask some of Scotland’s top chefs.
“It is so important to work with the seasons,” says Tom Kitchin of Michelin-starred Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin. “Make sure you choose produce that’s fresh and in season – quite simply it tastes better and is a great way of pairing flavours and textures exactly as nature intended.”

Catering Scotland Chef of the Year 2014 Neil Forbes believes the benefits of eating in-season food go far beyond the plate: “A farmers’ market is the first place I take my new chefs to show them that eating in season does so much than just fuel us,” says the chef, whose Cafe St Honoré restaurant in Edinburgh has in-season eating at the heart of its ethos. “It supports our local economy and improves our health as we eat things like roots and pulses in winter, and fruits and green veg in summer. It’s nature’s way of balancing our diet throughout the year.

“Buying local produce that's in season is cheaper, and also great for the soul. By eating the seasons I believe you eat well, so try to avoid buying produce that’s not in season. It will be more expensive as it’s air-freighted from the other side of the world. So think before you buy!”

Shop at a farmers’ market

One easy way of finding out what foods are in season without really thinking too much about it is to shop at a famers’ market. There are regular markets dotted throughout Scotland and you can find out about where and when your nearest one is here:

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And as Tom Kitchin explains, you will pick up a lot more than fresh, local produce here. “Farmers’ markets are a great place to get some expert advice and learn about different ingredients straight from the experts who grow, farm and produce them,” he says.

Neil Forbes agrees: “Build up a rapport with the stall holders. In time they will let you know when items are coming into season.”

Aside from the food for thought and fresh, healthy produce, shopping from farmers’ markets also means you’re supporting local businesses and giving the local economy a boost.

Devonn Francis, co-founder and chef for Enroot , which organises farm-to-table dinner events aimed at reconnecting farmers with consumers, recommends playing the long game:

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“I go every week - it allows you to really see how produce changes through the year. You can see how the rocket or courgette, for example, is bigger the following week - you get a good sense of how it works.”

Meet and eat with the farmers

Knowledge is power when it comes to seeking out the best seasonal food. In the era of the supermarket, it’s all too easy for consumers to be disconnected from producers and lose touch with where food comes from and when it is at its best. What better way to reconnect with a deep, generations-old knowledge of your food than enjoying it while sitting next to the farmer who grew or raised it? Enroot is an Edinburgh-based, non-profit venture which is hosting farm-to-table events around the country in collaboration with local farmers and producers in the hope of bridging the gap between producers and the general public.

Co-founder of Enroot, Angus Buchanan-Smith, says: “Our events hope to offer people a better understanding of our food, information on how it’s planted, harvested or slaughtered. We hope our events emphasise the importance of shopping seasonally and we hope that people will be pleasantly surprised about what they can get on their doorsteps. Hopefully, with our dinners, we can build sustainable, lasting relationships between farmers and their clients.”

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Use a fruit and veg barra

Co-operative fruit barras run by volunteers are popping up in communities all across Scotland.

Supported by seasonal workers, they aim to provide low-cost, high-quality fruit and vegetables to the public as they travel from place to place. There are successful barra initiatives in north and south Glasgow and across the Forth Valley , with some also offering advice and workshops on how to make healthy meals from the produce.

Get farm produce on your doorstep with a box scheme

If you can’t make it to the local farmer’s market, or there isn’t one near you, you can still get your hands on local, fresh produce. Vegetable box schemes deliver a selection of fresh, locally grown (and often organic) in-season fruit and vegetables - and sometimes meat and dairy - direct to your door or a local collection point. Not only is this a hassle-free way of putting healthy, in-season produce on your table, it will save you money on fuel if you normally take the car to the shops, and the vegetables don’t come wrapped in plastic so you’re saving on waste and doing your bit for the environment too.

Often, the schemes run on a weekly-subscription basis. Some schemes are very localised, with produce coming direct from a local supplier, while others operate a nationwide network.

There are box schemes dotted around the country - you can find your nearest here.

Pick your own

You can’t get any closer to the freshest produce than at a farmers’ market, right? Wrong. You can visit a pick-your-own farm and harvest the produce yourself, paying the farmer for your pickings.

Typical pick-your-own produce includes strawberries, raspberries, green beans, tomatoes and apples, but many farms offer a lot more. Not only does picking your own fruit and veg guarantee you’re getting the freshest possible produce for the cheapest possible price, it also puts you in charge of quality control. And on top of that, it’s a great activity that the kids will enjoy, giving the whole family a deeper understanding and appreciation of how the food we eat is grown.

You can find your nearest pick-your-own farm here.

Grow your own

Growing your own vegetables and herbs saves money, puts you in control and cuts down on packaging and the carbon emissions required to get the produce from the soil to your plate. Easy-to-grow crops in Scotland include potatoes, carrots, leeks, courgettes, squash, strawberries and beans. If you don’t have much space, you can still grow many vegetables and fruits, including potatoes and beans, in containers. Failing that, you can join a community garden or apply for an allotment. Be patient, however - in some areas such as Edinburgh you could be on the waiting list for years.

Cook local to shop local

Tune your household menu into local foods and make the most of them, recommends Neil Forbes of Cafe St Honoré in Edinburgh. “Start thinking about main meals that use Scottish produce like mussels, fish cakes, stews and hotpots. Delicious, simple food that will make the best of the ingredients on our doorstep,” he says.

Channel your inner ape

Listen to your body, and do as our ape-like ancestors did, advises Graeme Pallister, chef-patron of 63 Tay Street Restaurant in Perth, and former Catering Scotland Chef ofthe Year.

“Nature has a cycle for a reason, and we tend to crave certain foods at certain times of the year as our bodies adapt to the environment. What’s available locally and in season is usually perfect forour nutritional needs. In the summer we don't need quite as many calories, and in winter we have plenty of vitamin-loaded root vegetables to sort us out when we are looking for a little more substance,” he says.

“Food is always at its best when it's in season. It’s designed to be eaten when it's nutritional values and flavour are at at their peak, which is often why you crave more! We were all foraging apes atone stage! Always look at the colour of your food - colourful fruit and veg tends to have more health benefits,” adds Pallister.

Government initiative Greener Scotland has a handy in-season food calendar on its website  as well as a host of other useful tips on sourcing fresh, local, in-season food.


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