Seasonal Foods in Canada

You may have heard that it’s beneficial to eat local, seasonal produce; it’s true, and there are so many reasons why.

Some of the local food benefits are for you, as an individual. Eating something that has been grown locally, picked at peak freshness, and goes from soil to plate in as little time as possible means you’ll get the best flavour and texture experience. If you’ve ever bitten into an apple right off of the tree, you’ll understand what this means. Nothing beats fresh when it comes to taste, and if you experiment with eating seasonally, you may never want to go back. Another benefit is that because fresh produce tastes so much better, you’ll be more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables without even thinking about it. It is hard to resist the rainbow of seasonal produce. 

Eating seasonally also encourages a varied diet throughout the year. This is better for your health because of the wide range of nutritional benefits of different foods, and it’s also more pleasant for your palate. Seasonal eating keeps things exciting. It’s fun to look forward to the next season’s produce, and the different recipes you can make. 

When fruits and vegetables have just been picked, they are at peak nutrient content—as soon as food is removed from the plant or the ground, the nutritional value starts to decrease. If you eat fresh, you’ll be getting more vitamins and minerals along with all of the extra flavour. 

Eating seasonally and locally also has social benefits. Farmers feed cities, and supporting local farmers keeps your money in your community. There’s something to be said for knowing where your food comes from. Try visiting local farms; many have pick-your-own options available during different seasons. It can be a fun outing, and it means you’ll pay less for your bounty. In general, eating seasonally can be easier on your wallet; you’ll be paying for the produce, not the mileage it had to travel to get to your plate.

Some farms give tours, and many have community supported agriculture (CSA) deals available—you pay the farm upfront for the growing season, and then get fresh food deliveries at regular intervals. Not only will you be supporting local farmers, but it’s better for the environment as well. When plants are grown in their ideal season, they are at their most hardy, which means they require less pesticides and fertilizers, or none at all. Food that has been grown far away also has to be shipped around the world, creating a giant carbon footprint.

If you have a little bit of space for a garden, try planting some seeds. If you’ve never done it before, it might seem intimidating, but it really isn’t that hard. You can try planting outside in pots if you have a little sunny space, or even inside near a sunny window. Growing your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs is the ultimate flavour experience. Carrots taste like a completely different vegetable when they’ve just come out of the ground. It’s also exciting to watch things grow. Maybe you’ll discover a green thumb you didn’t know you had. If you usually garden, try adding new plants to your repertoire. 

From British Columbia to Newfoundland, there is a lot of ground to cover across Canada. Growing seasons, climates, and available seasonal produce vary across the country, and because all of these factors differ, seasonal doesn’t mean the same thing in every region. Explore locally and see which ones are available to you. Keep an eye out for local produce at markets and grocery stores. It’s fun to browse farmer’s markets, and even big chain grocery stores often have seasonal, local produce set aside. Here is a seasonal breakdown of the fruits and vegetables that are generally available in Canada:

Spring

After long Canadian winters, the fresh green of spring is a sight for sore eyes. It’s the same for flavour—think bright and fresh flavours when you’re cooking in the springtime. Things like light pastas with greens and vegetables; simple grilled seasonal veggies; baby-green salads with peas, radish, and green onion; and bright-flavoured sweet or savoury tarts and pies. Here’s what you might be able to find locally in the spring:

AsparagusFennelMorel MushroomsStrawberries
ArugulaFiddleheadsPeasSummer Squash
BeetsGarlic (Fresh)RadishesSwiss Chard
BroccoliGooseberriesRhubarbTomatoes
CeleryGreen OnionsSalad GreensTurnips
CherriesKaleSaskatoon BerriesZucchini
Fava BeansLettuceSpinach

Summer

The Canadian summer is short, but oh, so sweet. Summer is when we have the most seasonal options available to us, and the heat has us craving meals that are fresh and light. Take advantage of all of the fresh fruit, and experiment with herbs, like mint and basil, in fruit salads or homemade popsicles. Add fruit to green salads, or make spicy salsas with fruit and peppers to add to burgers or eat with corn chips. With so many vegetable options at peak flavour, cooking can be pretty simple; fresh veggies on the grill with just some oil, salt, and pepper are perfect as they are, but you can top them off with fresh herbs for some extra wow. If you prep fresh summer fruits and vegetables ahead of time, you’ll find they tend to disappear before they even have a chance to get cooked. Here’s some of what’s available in summer:

ApplesCrab ApplesNectarinesSalad Greens
ApricotsCucumberParsnipsSaskatoon Berries
ArtichokesCurrantsPeachesShallots
BeetsEggplantsPearsSpinach
BlackberriesGarlic (Fresh)PeasStrawberries
BlueberriesGooseberriesPeppersSummer Squash
BroccoliGrapesPlumsSwiss Chard
CabbageGreen BeansPotatoes (New)Tomatoes
CarrotsGreen OnionsPrunesTurnips
CauliflowerKaleRadishesWatermelon
CeleryLeeksRaspberriesZucchini
CherriesLettuceRhubarb
CornMelonsRutabagas

Autumn

There’s a lot to look forward to with the autumn harvest. Things start to slow down, and as the weather cools, we start to crave things that are more warming and comforting. Try grilling fruit, or baking savoury scones. Roast vegetables in the oven with warming spices, like nutmeg and cinnamon. Make cakes with pumpkin and zucchini, or soup with parsnips and pears. Indulge in the last of the year’s corn-on-the-cob. Here’s what you might be able to find during your local autumn harvest:

ApplesCrab ApplesMelonsQuince
ArtichokesCranberriesNectarinesRadishes
BeetsCucumberOnionsRutabagas
BlueberriesEggplantsParsnipsSalad Greens
BroccoliGarlic (Fresh)PearsSpinach
Brussels SproutsGrapesPeppersSwiss Chard
CabbageGreen BeansPlumsTomatoes
CarrotsGreen OnionsPotatoesTurnips
CauliflowerKalePotatoes (New)Watermelon
CeleryLeeksPrunesZucchini
CornLettucePumpkin

Winter

It may not seem like it, but it’s even possible to make seasonal choices throughout the winter in Canada. We crave heat and comfort throughout the long, dark winter months, so now is the perfect time to indulge in hearty stews and decadent soups. Bake your heart out, experimenting with sweet and savoury options. Mash vegetables with vegan butter and sprinkle with pumpkin seed parmesan. Here’s what to watch out for locally: 

BeetsGarlicRed OnionsTurnips
Brussels SproutsLeeksRutabagas
CabbagePearsSquash
CarrotsPotatoesSweet Potatoes

There are also some options that are available year-round in Canada, because they are grown indoors. All kinds of mushrooms are available year-round, and they add the perfect umami flavour to whatever you’re cooking. Keep your eyes open for cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, lettuces, and herbs that have been greenhouse-grown.

Sometimes you might want something that’s out of season, and that’s fine, too. Look for produce that has been frozen or canned at peak freshness, or freeze and can your own food during the more bountiful seasons. You can also use fresh produce to make things like pickles, sauerkraut, jams, and sauces, so you can enjoy your favourite flavours year-round. Their nutritional content will be locked-in at peak value, and it won’t have been shipped in from far-away places—you’ll still be taking advantage of most of the seasonal food benefits.

When it comes to eating seasonally, there is so much to explore in Canada. Having seasons that vary so widely in temperature may not always seem like a gift, but it can create opportunities for food adventures and always gives us something to look forward to. 

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