It may be foolish and signify poor planning to run out to the store during dinner prep to grab a dozen eggs or a pound of ground beef, but everyone knows that if they’re in a bind, they can do just that here in the United States. The eggs and meat will always be in stock.
Have you ever walked into your grocery store only to be greeted with a sign saying, “No eggs until spring; out of season,” or “Out of bacon until November; pigs still growing?”
Everyone knows that strawberries in October will be less than ideal and that apples are least expensive in the fall because they’re “in season,” but did you know that even meat and eggs are seasonal in the natural world? (source)
Large (and small) farms have learned how to trick the chickens into producing eggs all year round, and artificial insemination takes the seasons out of a cow, but if left to the cycles of nature, we would all have to learn to cook seasonally – and likely a more unprocessed food diet.
“The fattened calf” isn’t only a Biblical celebratory meal, but also sensible meat harvesting. Farmers slaughter their animals after they’ve had time to “fatten up” eating their natural healthy foods in the right season.
Both cattle and hogs ought to be grazing on grasses (and other things, in the case of hogs) all summer long, basking in the sun, and getting as fat as they can just as the temperatures start to drop. Before the virtual “famine” of the winter is the time to slaughter those beasts that are ready that year.
Most cattle should take at least two years (if not 4-5) on pasture to reach a proper slaughtering weight; corn-fed and grain-fed cattle fatten much more quickly, heading to slaughter in about 14-16 months. That’s one reason why hamburger meat is always available in the supermarket.
If we depended on free-ranging pigs for our bacon, we’d enjoy it in the fall, and unless we stocked up and froze some, by spring, and definitely by summer, we’d be greeted by “out for the season” signs. No one would slaughter a pig who had just been through the wintertime; you wouldn’t get enough meat to make it worthwhile. When we bring animals inside and control their environments, we control our food supply and take the seasonality out of our meat.
In the past, people learned to dry meat or preserve it by freezing in the cold north, so that they’d have pork and beef throughout the winter.
That doesn’t mean you don’t get meat all summer, you just might not grill as many hamburgers or hot dogs as we expect in modern day U.S.A.
Chickens born in the spring take only about 8-12 weeks to slaughtering age, so most farmers slaughter chickens from mid-summer through the fall. I bet you can guess when the traditional seasonality for turkeys is, can’t you? November sounds just about right…
Chickens get pretty scrawny in the winter, and they wouldn’t be as tasty in the roasting pan. For the pot, mature egg layers make a good stewed chicken and healthy chicken stock, and they can be slaughtered whenever the farmer decides they’ve done their egg duty long enough. For some, like Aimee of Simple Bites, the decision to slaughter the laying hens is a simple one: it’s too expensive to keep them fed and warm in the winter (warning: that’s a pictorial post).
Anyone who has raised backyard chickens will tell you they don’t lay the same all year round. Hens will go on strike and stop laying completely when it’s too hot, too cold, or they get fussy about something. (Hens are females, after all!)
Most of the time, eggs are more prolific in the spring and summer, because hens only lay eggs when they have a certain number of hours of daylight. In the winter, egg production generally slows down or stops, unless farmers add artificial lighting to the henhouse to force higher production. There IS a supply and demand with eggs, and it’s not based entirely on Easter.
It’s fascinating to me that our local health food store owner tells me that eggs are more in demand in the fall and winter, when they traditionally would be out of season. My theory is that people are baking more, and perhaps thinking of hot breakfasts and hosting company for brunch more often, especially during the November/December holiday time. If seasonality were intact, we’d be out of luck!
An even more interesting fact about seasonal eggs is that the eggs themselves behave differently in the summer and in the winter. When chickens are free ranging and eating grasses, bugs, and vegetables, their summer eggs typically have a much deeper yellow or even orange yolk. This may be because of the chlorophyll in the grasses or may be because of the exercise they’re getting, but either way – those yolks actually cook differently than the lighter colored winter yolks.
Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, a self- proclaimed “grass farmer,” tells a story in one of his books about delivering eggs to a local restaurant where a Frenchman was the head chef. Salatin apologized for the lower number of eggs and their different color, and the French chef waved his hand, saying that he was trained to make summer egg recipes and winter egg recipes, and he would expect nothing less. (Are American chefs trained this way? I doubt it – supermarket eggs are the same every day of the year because of the hens’ controlled indoor environments.)
Interestingly enough, it’s difficult to find information about this via a Google search. My Facebook community had a fascinating discussion about summer/winter eggs right here, but this forum poster decides after a while that the farmer was mistaken, and there is no difference. As you can see in Gluten Free Girl’s pasta story, she discovered that free ranging eggs made such a difference in her pasta that the recipe completely failed when tested with supermarket eggs. (How to find healthy eggs)
What Does the Seasonality of Meat Mean for Us?
The question I’m left with is this: if the natural world’s seasonality has been forced off the page by our modern factory “have it now” mentality, what else are we missing? If we ate perfectly in sync with the seasons according to our location – and perhaps even according to our ancestral region – would we find that our bodies would be more in sync as well?
Perhaps the nutrients in natural, organic food available at different times of year are perfectly aligned with the needs of our systems as we change from extended periods of darkness back to longer days, for example. Do we need a time in the spring between meat sources when we eat a meatless real food diet and feast on the abundant eggs? Perhaps our bodies would feel the rhythm of the seasons and do their own “spring cleanse” as the protein and vegetable sources change. Cooking seasonally may have benefits beyond variety, an unprocessed foods diet, and freshness, something like a nutritional map that scientists have yet to discover.