Eating and cooking in summer

Holidays, sun, beach. Summer is a favourite of kids worldwide, and usually a fun time for everyone (except those who have to commute in crowded trains and work in hot places!).

Summer usually revitalises the kitchen by bringing in a variety of colours and flavours that are very much needed after the Winter months and the hungry gap of Spring.

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Let’s get fresh

Summer is either your favourite season or your most hated one. It all depends on how you feel about the heat. I am in the ‘hate summer’ camp, I love the long days and lovely warm evenings, but I am a sweat machine who overheats from looking at the sun.

To me, and those like me, summer is all about keeping your body temperature within human levels while trying to strike the balance between drinking enough to stay hydrated but not drinking so much that you need to visit the toilet every 20 minutes.

For a lot of people, summer also means a break from work or school, and children at home to keep entertained and fed.

Summer eating involves a lot of salads, iced treats, cold drinks, and for those who get to travel: new flavours.

Basic ingredients

I always start these posts with seasonal variations of my list of 10 basic ingredients.These are a starting point that can be changed for different cuisines, budgets, and seasons.

My main change in summer is onions, now it’s a great time to have onion and garlic greens. They have a milder flavour and, while hard to find at stores, they are very easy to forage. They are also a great option while you wait for your onions and garlic to mature if you grow your own.

I also like having some nice flavoured oils for salad dressings, like olive oil, sesame, or walnut. Chicken and vegetable stock are also always around in my Summer kitchen as a an easy way to add flavour to grains I use in salads.

When it comes to sweeter things, I have to admit I don’t bake much in summer (the kitchen can get so hot!). But I always make sure to have coconut milk and vanilla flavoured oat milk for iced coffees and smoothies.

Summer herbs and spices

Summer is probably the best time for herbs. The leaves will be big and flavourful and ready to be picked. If you want to dry them (as I write this I have lavender, sage and rosemary drying in my kitchen), this is the best time to do it.

  • basil
  • chervil: best during early Summer.
  • chives: the flowers are edible and have a milder flavour.
  • coriander
  • dill: best during early Summer.
  • oregano
  • mint
  • parsley
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • sorrel
  • tarragon
  • thyme

Spices are usually not a priority in Summer, unless we’re talking about BBQ rubs. But there are a few that are seasonal and available fresh that work great for cold and warm foods.

  • elderflower: available early and mid Summer, great for drinks and sweets.
  • garlic: available from July to October, perfect raw or cooked.
  • ginger: depending on the weather it can be harvested almost year round, it works great in salad dressings or to liven up cooked meals.
  • nasturtium flowers: available early and mid Summer, flowery and spicy flavour that works great in salads and sandwiches.
  • lavender: available in early Summer, great for drinks, baking and oily fish.
  • rose: best to use in cooking during June and July.

Summer fruits

After the emptiness of Spring fruit, Summer will feel like a true cornucopia of flavours. Some fruits won’t be ready to be picked until the end of Summer, and we have to wait until Autumn for others. But there is quite a nice variety to be enjoyed during the hotter months of the year.

Many of these fruits can be easily foraged, so if you want to get started Summer is a great time to do it. In my local area (city center of an UK SW coastal in a mid-sized city), I can find, apples, crab apples, blackberries, raspberries, damsons, cherries, pears, medlars, elderberries, figs, strawberries and plums within a half-hour walking distance.

  • apples: available from very late Summer in some areas only.
  • apricots: available May to July.
  • bananas: available year round.
  • bilberries: available end of July to September.
  • blackberries: available August to late September or early October (depending on the weather).
  • blackcurrants: available July to August.
  • blueberries: available July to August, or early October in hot areas.
  • cherries: available June to July (the season is very, very short!)
  • crab apples: available from late July, but best to pick them in early Winter if you want them sweet.
  • damsons: available August to October.
  • elderberries: available July to October.
  • fig: available May to November.
  • gooseberries: available May to September, but sweeter from June or July depending on the area.
  • grapes: available August to October.
  • greengages: available from August to September (short season that will move depending on the weather).
  • loganberry (mix between a blackberry and a raspberry, less sweet than a tayberry): available June to September, best after mid-July.
  • medlar: available from June to November. However, medlar is a weird one. You can use it for cooking when ripe but it will be hard and tart, much like quince (and it should be used like it). It can also be left to soften (blet) either on the tree due to frosting on in a freezer, and then it can be eaten raw as it will be softer and sweeter.
  • melon: available June to September, best in July and August.
  • nectarines: available May to August.
  • peaches: available July to September
  • pear: available September to January, but hot areas may have them earlier.
  • plums: available May to October.
  • raspberries: available June to October, but it can vary wildly depending on the area.
  • redcurrants: available July to August.
  • strawberries: currently available May to October due to the use of greenhouses, best June to August.
  • tayberries (mix between a blackberry and a raspberry, sweeter than a loganberry): available June to September, best after mid-July.
  • watermelon: available June to September, will vary depending on the area.

All the berries and stone fruits are great for snacking on or making jams to use throughout the year. With melon and watermelon skins, I like to make pickles. They are easy, delicious, and will give you food from what most rinds consider to be rubbish. My daughter hates all sorts of melons, and loves these pickles.

Summer vegetables

The start of Summer means the end of the hungry gap. Nowadays we don’t feel it as much as in the past due to food travelling a lot more and greenhouses being in common use. But even with our modern lifestyle, the quality of vegetables increases wildly during Summer.

Produce like tomatoes and corn are so much better during Summer, and well worth the wait.

  • artichoke: available June to November.
  • aubergine/eggplant/garden eggs: available June to November.
  • beets (including greens): available July to January.
  • broad beans: available June to September.
  • broccoli: available mostly until November.
  • butternut squash: if you live in a cold are, you could get them from August.
  • cabbages: available year round, different varieties depending on the season.
  • carrots: available June to January.
  • cavolo nero: available June to March.
  • celery: available July to February.
  • celery root/celeriac: available September to April.
  • chard: available July to November.
  • chicory (all varieties, including radicchio, endive, and escarole): available year round.
  • chillies: available March to October.
  • cobnuts: available August to October.
  • courgette flowers: available July to August, male flowers (the big ones with long stalks) don’t turn into courgettes, so pick those, else they will go to waste.
  • cucumber: available June to October.
  • fennel: available June to October.
  • garlic: available year round, best July to October.
  • green beans: available June to November.
  • kohlrabi: available August to November.
  • lamb’s lettuce: available from May well into Winter depending on the variety.
  • lettuce: available May to November.
  • okra: available July to October.
  • onions: available year round
  • peas: available May to November.
  • peppers: available March to October.
  • potatoes: available year round, new potatoes early and mid Summer.
  • radish (including horseradish): available April to January.
  • rhubarb: available April to July, or from late January if forced.
  • rocket/arugula: available May to October.
  • runner beans: available July to September
  • samphire: available May to August (a good one to harvest)
  • spinach: available March to early July.
  • summer squash (including courgette/zucchini): available July to early October.
  • sweet corn: available June to September depending on the area.
  • tomatillo: available July to October.
  • tomato: available June to October.
  • watercress: available April to October.
  • wild nettles: available May to September (be very careful when harvesting and using, use gloves or you will be in a lot of pain and always cook it).

Staying hydrated

The average person loses about 2 litres of fluid per day, extra sweating during Summer can make this number much higher. Staying hydrated during the hot weather months is crucial.

How much water do you need? As with most things related to nutrition, it depends. Every person will have unique requirements depending on their lifestyle, environment, age, weight, and sex. Moreover, food contains water, so your liquid intake doesn’t just come from drinks. About a quarter of the liquids you consume come from the food you eat. During summer, it’s important to keep this number on the higher side.

You can also go the other way and hydrate too much. This can result in your sodium levels dropping and fluid retention. Don’t drink just to drink. Listen to your body. Keeping an eye on your urine is a good way to check your hydration needs. Dark and smelly? Drink more. Almost colourless and visiting the toilet frequently? Drink less.

Staying hydrated at night is also important. We sweat a lot during sleep, and even more so when the temperatures are high. Have a drink before going to bed, and keep a bottle of water on your bedside table.

Some foods that are high in content include all members of the squash family: melons, watermelons, cucumbers, courgettes, bitter melon… As well as leafy greens like lettuce, berries, and stone fruits. Basically: seasonal produce.

Drinks like smoothies, flavoured water, tea, and milk (maybe try non-dairy alternatives if you haven’t before) will also help your hydration levels up. You should avoid fizzy drinks made with sugar and too much juice (it can also be very high in sugar). If you can’t give up the bubbles, use sparkling water to make flavoured water. This is a fun option for kids as the bubbles will make the fruit dance up and down if cut up small.

Cooking usually reduces the amount of liquid in foods, so during hot weather go for raw food more, including cold soups and salads. You will also keep your kitchen colder by not using the stove and oven.

Don’t skip eating

Eating generates heat. During hot weather times, our body tries to regulate its temperature by reducing heat-generating processes. This is one of the reasons why you might feel ‘lazy’ during summer, or why you may not feel hungry.

While I’m a big fan of respecting your body, it is also important to keep yourself fed.

If you feel like eating less, make sure the food you do eat packs a punch: high in nutrients, fiber, and water. Snacking more instead of having big meals is a good idea, but make sure you choose snacks that are good for you. Most packaged snacks tend to be high in calories and sodium, and low in water, vitamins and minerals.

If you are someone who becomes more active during summer (hiking, swimming, running…), you want to make sure you increase the amount of calories you consume. Beans are a good way of doing that, they are a great source of protein, starch and fiber. You can add them to salads, dips, and even smoothies. You can also make salad dressing with a yogurt or nut butter base instead of using oil-based salad dressings, they will give you more interesting flavours and textures and upo the nutrition.

Summer BBQs

If there is an universal Summer activity, it has to be BBQ! And while going all out sounds fun, there are a few tips you may want to keep in mind to make sure you can keep those BBQs going all Summer long without feeling awful afterwards!

  • Add fruit and veg: a lot of produce BBQs beautifully.
  • Add fish.
  • Avoid processed meats, rubs, marinades, and condiments with a lot of salt.
  • Be careful with alcohol: it can dehydrate you. Make sure you keep those cocktails virgin and give alcohol-free beer a try (you might want to go for flavoured ones or mixes like shandy if you’re not a fan). If you decide to have a drink, make sure you have a glass of water in-between alcoholic drinks.
  • Keep hydrated if you are in charge of the grill: the heat will make you sweat more than usual.

Don’t overdo the fruit

Many fruits are at their best during the Summer months. And they are a fantastic way to stay hydrated. However, fruit also has a lot of sugar, and it can add up fast. Try to keep your intake to a maximum of about 2 cups per day, and eat it as part of a meal.

You should also avoid dried fruits. They have a very low water content, but very high sugar content. Go for fresh fruits instead, or rehydrate those dried fruits before eating them (compotes are a great way to do that).

Avoid frozen foods

Yes, I know an ice coffee or a bowl of ice-cream sounds amazing when you’re sweating under the sun. However, the relief frozen foods provide only lasts for a few minutes, and after that your body will actually start raising its core temperature to make up for the sudden change.

If you want to fight the heat, it’s best to just stay hydrated and eat room temperature or slightly colder than room temperature foods.

Hot drinks and foods can also help bring your body temperature down. At first, they will make you feel warmer, but this will actually make your body start sweating (which will refresh you) and your core temperature will decrease. However, if you do go for this tactic, make sure you have the hot food and drinks while in the shade.

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