Green stories, by Lesley

The musings of Lesley Lopes about the journey to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Living by the seasons


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By Green Lifestyle's editor, Lesley Lopes

When I married into an Italian–Australian family I didn’t really ‘get’ what I saw as their obsession with fruit. The arrival of the growing season for this fruit or that was met with a kind of enthusiasm I’d never experienced in my country-town upbringing. It often demanded an early-morning trip to the city markets, and the obligatory comparison of per-kilo prices with those from the supermarket.

Suddenly, boxes or bags of figs, mini pears, lemons, chestnuts or cherries would appear on my kitchen cupboard courtesy of my in-laws (just recently I found a tray of plump persimmons in my fridge). An enforced cooking spree would often follow as I searched for ways to use up those eggplants or tomatoes bought in bulk.

It wasn’t until I visited the island in Sicily where my father-in-law comes from that it all fell into place. Its hillsides are covered in stone terraces built hundreds of years ago to allow the islanders to farm the steep slopes with the help of donkeys. Most of the terraces now stand vacant, and the people rely less on what they grow thanks to jobs as builders, council workers and ferry operators. But a kind of subsistence lifestyle persists, supplemented with the convenience of the supermarket (although even that is a ferry ride away on the next island).

Arrive in olive season and you’ll be put to work shaking the fruit from the trees into tarpaulins and spreading them on the floor to dry. If the cherry tomatoes are ripe on the vine, you’re plaiting the stems for hanging under the pergola to sun-dry. You may be designated as the fig picker, being required to climb the tree to collect fresh fruit for dessert each night. And there’s nothing like getting woken up at 4 am to stomp grapes for the annual wine-making, having just journeyed for 36 hours on planes and ferries to get there (that was my husband, not me, thankfully).

Fast-forward two children and too many boxes of fruit to mention and I have gained an appreciation of the delights of cooking and eating fruits and vegetables in season – especially if they’ve been grown in my own backyard. You do save money by buying in season. They do taste better. It does encourage you to eat more fresh fruits and vegies. And I certainly do appreciate that first herb-garlic-breadcrumb-stuffed artichoke of the season, made by my lovely mother-in-law – I’m yet to attempt that one in my own kitchen.

I can see why the old-country traditions linger in Australia for many people born overseas. Sharing the produce of the season is also a social thing. Ask the busloads of Italian nonnas and nonnos – and older generations of various overseas origins – who strike out from cities on day-trips to regional fruit-growing areas to take advantage of the pick-your-own specials. Or the men who gather pre-dawn in city suburbs once a year to divvy up semi-trailer loads of grapes ordered from the Barossa for backyard wine-making.

Many of us are starting our own traditions of fresh produce-sharing: organised swaps, community gardens, or just passing the lemons to neighbours over the back fence. It’s all part of the appreciation – and joys – of eating seasonally.