Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

When not to eat sweetcorn

BEWARE OF FUSTY CORN…When it is not in season there is little taste in sweetcorn.

I had two really dodgy fruit and veg moments last week although this time, I couldn’t even blame the cooking.

However, coupled with a conversation I had with a friend on vegetables coming into season, this dodge-iness led me to reassess my life choices (and general gluttony).

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I may have mentioned as much in this very column in the past but, more often than not, I try to capitalise on seasonality. At this time of the year for example, I’ve already eaten way too many Jersey Royals than is acceptable (their availability window being so small), my asparagus (over) consumption has already begun and my tangerine and mandarin binges have finished for another year. This seasonality thinking is: If something’s in season it’s going to taste its best. When it’s not in season, the quality suffers.

This was brought home to me in the starkest of terms last week when I almost choked on sweetcorn.

I purchased and cooked up a brace of corn on the cobs last week for the wean and me, and even a solitary bite into our lunch, I realised the sweetcorn wasn’t very sweet. ‘Fustycorn’ would have been a more accurate description on the packaging. For what flavour there was, it tasted as though it had been left on the other side of the plant, presumably where the corn was grown.

And you’ve guessed it, sweetcorn isn’t in season.

The other dodgy exercise was a bag of mandarin oranges I bought at a local supermarket. All I saw was the appealing orange-y spheres just waiting to be devoured. However, when I sat down to one after lunch, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. For me a bad orange is one of the worst things when it comes to fruit, because it’s difficult to tell it’s bad until you’ve already under the skin, and by then you’re already committed.

These ones tasted as though they’d spent an inordinate amount of time in someone’s sock. My one was desiccated, flavourless and as disappointing as a coldsore. The rest of the bag made an early exit into the wheelie bin at work. You guessed it again, oranges are out of season.

Briefly, following these two manky experiences, I considered complaining to the respective retailers but then I caught myself on. The long and the short of it is: I should have known better to eat things out of season and in that sense, I only have myself to blame.

The difficulty with seasonality and modern life is this: Supermarkets would have us believe that all fresh produce should be available to everyone all year round, which patently isn’t the case. If your sweetcorn is coming in from Kenya, it probably isn’t going to taste very fresh.

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Thus, for maximum flavour, freshness and maybe even optimum nutritional value, it’s worth remembering that locally produced foods are always going to win. And if that means waiting until August and September for good sweetcorn, then that’s the way it has to be.

Take the humble apple too. Would you believe that May or June are probably the worst months to eat apples (in this part of the world). Apples are at their best in Britain and Ireland from September through to February, so if you’re still eating apples, they’re either coming in from Chile or South Africa or they’ve been lying around in a cold warehouse since last Autumn.

Other things of course, like bananas are exceptions to the rule. Since they need a tropical climate to grow in the first place, you’re never going to get bananas grown in Co Armagh, Devon or even France. In a sense, they’re always going to taste of airmiles.

But things like strawberries, the aforementioned sweetcorn and even tomatoes, have limited seasonality and so for maximum effect, you’ll want to ration the months when they’re making it to your dinner table or packed lunch.

The other benefit of eating seasonally of course is that you should be able to vary what you’re eating. Things like beef and chicken are always in season but when the mackerel comes in or when the broad beans are at their best, climb out of your comfortable rut and try something different. Not only should it taste great because it’s in season, you’re doing you bit for the environment (albeit in a small way) and local food might even be cheaper.

The moral of the story?
Don’t feed yourself and the wean fusty sweetcorn, not matter where it comes from.

• For more information on what’s in season, check out the ‘seasonality table’ on the BBC Good Food website

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