Other than meat, dairy and eggs, nearly everything we eat can trace its roots to an angiosperm aka “flowering plant“. Angiosperms are over 140,000 million years old, and their lineage traces back to a branch from gynosperms (seed producing plants that don’t wrap their seeds in fruits) over 200,000 million years ago. Since then they have exploded into between some 250,000 to 400,000 distinct species and have adapted to virtually any environment.
All angiosperms follow a distinct lifecycle: seed → germination → sprout → leaf → flower → fruit and then death (annuals) or repeat (perennials). Regardless of the parent plant’s survival or demise, the seeds of the next generation sit safely ensconced in the fruit that is the culmination of each growing seasons trials and tribulations.
Barbara Kingsolver walks readers of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle through the life cycle of the “vegetannual” as a means “to recover an intuitive sense of what will be in season throughout the year”. This helps you recognize what was likely flown, trucked, trained, or boated to your grocery store from thousands of miles away, even when the stores do their best to hide the seasons from us.
The vegetannual is a single plant that produces an entire seasons worth of food. The seed of the vegetannual will germinate shortly after the last frost when the ground begins to warm. From the germinated seed, a root shoots downward, two seed leaves pop and a true leave shoot sprouts upwards. Eventually sunlight awakens the chloroplasts in the true leaves, and from then on the seedling is on its own.
Now the leaves start to multiply and “spinach, kale, lettuce and chard (April – May)” are ready to be picked off the vegetannual. The leave heads continue to mature so next comes “cabbage, romaine, broccoli and cauliflower (May – June).” Flowers lead to fruit so early immature edible fruits are the next to the dinner plate: “snow peas, baby squash, cucumber (June), followed by green beans, green peppers, and small tomatoes (July).” Next comes large “tomatoes, eggplants, red and yellow peppers (late July – August)”. Finally your mature hard fruits are ready, like melons, pumpkins and apples (August – September). Last are the root crops: potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and turnips (autumn – winter).
If you can remember that the order of things is “leaves, buds, flowers/green fruits, ripe fruits, hard fruits”, then roots, and that each stage lasts for about a month or two beginning near April, then you’ll have a good idea what’s in season without having to read the fine print.
What are your favorite fruits or vegetables? If you haven’t been aware of their true season before, can you make a guess at what their season is now? How close were you?
Last week we started to get snow peas from my first raised garden bed. After completing a third bed I jokingly referred to the first pea we took as our “500 dollar pea”. If I counted my time too and not just the material it would have been worth an even more exorbitant sum! As tasty as it was I am sure no one would pay that much for a pea, even a fresh local organic one! Luckily each snow pea I pick reduces the cost significantly. Now that I’ve picked 10 of them, each would have only been 50 dollars a piece; I’m almost willing to pay!