By Jami Badershall, Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council

The concept of “eating for the season” can be looked at in two ways. 1. You’re consuming locally grown foods that are harvested at the time of year that you are eating them, making for a more sustainable farm and food system here in Maine. 2. You’re eating based more on the weather – warm or hot foods (think soup) in the fall and winter, while cooler, fresher foods (think fresh salad) in the warmer months. Fortunately,
in Maine, these two concepts are not exclusive of one another.

While most fresh foods are not harvested during Maine’s winter, we do have a variety of locally-grown storage fruits and vegetables, ones that are excellent for nutritious, warming, comforting recipes and dishes. Carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, certain squash, and even some apple varieties can be stored for months if you have the right space. Make sure you’re storing your apples separately from everything else as they release a gas that can make other foods ripen (or over-ripen) faster. And here’s what you’re going to do with those foods through the colder months – you roast them, put them in slow-cooked stews, or add them to the crock pot with a roast. Even though winter can cause a great deal of stress due to the weather, travel conditions, holiday expectations, the cost of keeping your house warm, etc.; it’s also meant as a time for us to slow down, rest, and heal as our ancestors did after months of gathering, hunting, foraging and later growing and harvesting their food. While survival might be simpler these days, we still have a need for physical and mental rest. Those aforementioned slow-cooked, hearty foods can help you achieve this.

Eating for the season doesn’t mean you can’t have a salad if you’re craving one in the middle of winter. You won’t have your local foodie card revoked if you buy fresh greens from a warmer climate at the grocery  store, but you can also often find local greenhouse/hothouse-grown microgreens. Winter salads are the best. I love a salad of greens, diced apples, dried cranberries, cheese curds, and a maple vinaigrette. Or you can top your fresh spinach with a mix of roasted vegetables like carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes and another vinaigrette for a delicious one-dish meal.

In the spring and into the summer, we ramp back up as the warm sun thaws our limbs and we wake from winter’s slumber. Eating the colorful fresh fruits and vegetables that the season has to offer can reinvigorate us while also cooling us – think crisp cucumbers and fresh fruit smoothies. If you don’t have your own garden, do yourself a favor and start looking for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program through your local farm(s) now. You’ll be getting a box of fresh produce straight off the farm each week throughout the summer, and you’ll be helping to keep a farm in operation and ensuring farmland remains farmland. Also, look up your local cooperative extension and see what they offer for food preservation courses to learn about canning and freezing if you want to stock your shelves with those farm-fresh goodies year-round. Remember,
local foods aren’t just fruits and vegetables. Have you thought about purchasing meat from nearby farms? With a little planning, purchasing a whole or half animal like beef, lamb, or pork, can really pay off in the long run. Many livestock farms offer this option. If that sounds like too much for your family, go in on it with other friends or family.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention dairy when talking about eating for the season. Remember, milk is always local and in season. Its vitamin D can help improve your mood and your immunity during the winter months, and what’s a better comfort food than some cheesy macaroni or a grilled cheese and tomato soup (made with those tomatoes you canned last fall)? In the summer, you can make a meal of fresh berries if you add some yogurt. There are so many makers of added-value products like cheese and ice cream in the state.

Does anyone in your family like to ice fish? Next time they come home with a landlocked salmon, try this Salmon, Corn, and Potato Chowder for a cozy, flavorful dish. This is a nutritious, well-balanced meal that satisfies. Each serving offers an excellent source of protein, vitamin D, folate, and choline, along with a good source of fiber, vitamin A, iron, and a boost of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

How about a warm cup of chowder?