Seasonal food will give you what you need for the particular season in which it grows — simple really, says Fiann Ó Núalláin.
November can be mild and dry or it can be wet and windy but it is always a bit nippy.
So no matter what it looks like outside, that temperature drop is an early warning to start the process of wrapping the garden up for winter.
When it comes to productive gardening then it asks two questions: what needs to come up and go into storage and what actually is best left in the ground to let the chill factor transform those plant starches into a hint of sugary sweetness?
It’s a case of how do you like your parsnips. If it is a mild and dry year then I don’t get into any panic about saving the yield but rainy years I do worry about root rot and foliage stress.
Cloches and clear plastic or glass covers are great. I have some perspex lengths that act as pseudo-umbrellas as much as heat preservers that I can deploy where and when needed.
In the main, plants are adaptable and if they are growing in a season then they have evolved to survive and thrive in that season, whatever the weather throws at them.
Unless you have been successional sowing out of the plant’s normal growing calendar, then what you have on the go outside now is perfect for this season. Better still. it is perfect for your plate and your wellbeing.
What we eat in spring very often is full of phytochemicals that detox the body after a sluggish winter.
What we eat in summer generally has phytochemicals that protect us from summer — sunshine exposure and stresses to the body of exertion — and certainly the energy we have in summer is boosted by the foods in that season while lots of winter-season crops have properties that protect us from winter bugs, the winter blues and winter aches.
When we eat seasonal foods we are in sync with the needs of our body (and brain chemistry), in that season.
One of the problems with the modern world and food on demand is that the strawberries you have on New Year ’s Eve are nothing nutritionally like the strawberries in June when the lycopene in them is raising your skin’s own sun protection factor.
Sure the zinc and magnesium content will give you a boost at any time of the year, but what’s the cost to the planet and flavour of the food that forcing a crop out of season incurs? For me personally, too high.
I like the majority of my food to come from my own allotment, because I know no rubbish has been sprayed on it, I know how it was handled from ground to plate and I know it’s the right time of year to be eating it.
I have full confidence in it and I have the satisfaction of producing it for myself which gives me not only an ego boost, but a release of achievement-triggered endorphins. It’s a win win.
I enjoy each season for what it brings and as to now, well there are plenty of crops at their best.
Some not just general autumnal harvests, but varieties that have maximum concentration of phytochemicals and nutrients in November.
We are so used to seeing apples and pears year round that many forgo growing their own and keep that space for something harder to find on the shop shelves like a mulberry or quince, but autumnal apples and pears are a real treat.
Granny Smiths and golden delicious are coming into their own now and with the mildness of late, so too are the Galas and Jonagolds.
When it comes to pears, they are usually picked when just slightly under-ripe and allowed to ripe in storage, so if the wind is whipping up, don’t worry about being too early to cup and twist.
Beetroot is at it’s brilliance right now. It has mounted up its levels of betacarotene (improves vision and skin rejuvenation in time for the dark and cold nights), and folic acid (apart from pregnancy support, it is also an anti-depressant), and one of those vegetables reputed to cleanse the liver and strengthen stamina and cardiac health, thanks to its enrichment of manganese and potassium.
If you’re not growing it, buy it and remember to grow it next year.
The chill will sweeten, so leaving it in is cool (pardon the pun) and it stores best in a fridge — so harvest as you go rather than in combine-harvester fashion.
Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and other darky leafy veg are great to eat now to engender a brighter outlook. Depression is often complicated by deficiency in vitamin D (sunshine, mushrooms, yoghurts and oily fish) or a deficiency in B-complex vitamins.
Our brassicas all have good b-complex as well as being jam packed with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds and those wonderful cancer-fighting glucosinolates.
Raw, fermented or steamed cabbage has cholesterol-lowering properties, the old boiled-for-a week mush is not much good for anything.
Kale has plenty of brain fuel and health-extending vitamins as well as essential dietary fibre and omega-3 fatty acids.
Sprouts are not just for Christmas. They are full of vitamin C and vitamin K to help you survive the Christmas shop and actually on a serious note, do help the body eliminate environmental toxins and help manage stress-related diseases.
I like the nutty sweet taste of celeriac in a roast veg dish or a soup. And I really appreciate both at this time of the year to warm my bones after a stint in the garden.
And while it is fiddly to clean and de-skin, I also appreciate that its potent content of vitamin-K is also mineralising those cold bones and slowing the process of any potentially occurring neuronal damage in my brain.
Jerusalem artichokes are in season and are great in an autumnal gratin but they are also health boosters from the sunflower family.
The magical part of them is the content of inulin which is a prebiotic fibre that stimulates the growth of bifidobacteria which boost digestive health and immune system functioning.
I generally let parsnips sit until after frosts, for the sweetness, but if you have a sweet tooth and are in the realm of becoming or remaining diabetic, then parsnips are one for your plot and plate.
The majority of fibre content in parsnips is the soluble fibre kind which helps mop up excess sugars in the system and regulates high-blood cholesterol.
Similarly, swedes and turnips improve metabolic function and digestion and have many benefits to lowering the dangers of diabetes. Swedes are a bit less watery in texture than turnips. Store both at low temperatures and remove all foliage.
Now that Halloween is over we can consider pumpkin and winter squashes for their food value.
An average kitchen cup of cooked pumpkin delivers 200% of your recommended daily requirement of vitamin A. Plus you get the seeds packed with dietary fibre and hearty and brain healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids.
Winter squashes are equally amazing with the same cup quantity delivering between 300mg to 400mg of omega-3 fats and all that anti-inflammatory benefit.
You may still have some maincrop carrots to lift and so get a crunch portion of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B8, pantothenic acid, folic acid and also potassium, iron, copper, and manganese.
And those leeks are looking good, with all the same health benefits as garlic and onions and a good chance to avail of their blood strengthening iron.
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