The holidays are a time for tradition, togetherness, and of course, delicious food. But with so much to think about, paying attention to the ingredients we buy to make our holiday feasts is not a priority. Many may not realize, but most people actually already use perennial crops in their holiday recipes! Perennial crops, like apples, pears, and pecans, provide us with vibrant flavors and festive ingredients year after year, making them the perfect foundation for your holiday feasts.
Perennials are crops that do not need to be planted and cut down to be harvested every year. They stay in the ground for at least two years, and even upwards of hundreds of years. This is beneficial for many reasons; one being that this disturbs and erodes the soil less than annual crops, which are planted and cut down every year. Perennials can actually provide the opposite of annual crops, and protect the soil from erosion and improve soil structure.
Perennials, especially tree crops, have deep roots that can sequester carbon dioxide from the environment. Plus, they can increase ecosystem nutrient retention and water infiltration. Overall, they help ensure food security and climate change mitigation over the long term.
In addition to starring in traditional festive dishes, perennial crops keep on giving back to the soil and environment. The best part is that you often do not need to change the way you eat to incorporate perennials into your diet - you’ve already been eating them for most of your life. Here are 7 easy-to-find perennial crops with recipes for the holiday season:
Crisp, juicy, and boasting many different colors, apples are a true fall and winter staple. Apples are one of the most widely cultivated fruit trees in the world, and there are thousands of different apple varieties; however, they all belong to the same scientific genus and species: Malus domestica. This means that every apple you've ever eaten, whether it's a Fuji apple or a Granny Smith, is genetically related and belongs to the same species. From pies and crumbles to cider and salads, apples add a touch of sweetness and crunchy texture to any dish.
Unlike many other fruits that ripen on the tree, pears are typically harvested when they are still firm because they ripen best off the tree. The ripening process for pears involves a period of cold storage followed by a period of ripening at room temperature. During cold storage, pears undergo biochemical changes that make them more flavorful and less gritty in texture. Once placed at room temperature, pears will gradually ripen, becoming sweet and juicy. Their delicate sweetness and buttery texture make them perfect for poaching, baking, or simply enjoying on their own. Don't forget to include them in your salads, cheese board, or charcuterie platter.
Pecans are the only major tree nut native to North America, and they are grown primarily in the Southern United States and Mexico. This crop is not as common in Europe but can be grown in the warmest areas of Spain. The pecan tree is a species of hickory and can live for centuries, with some pecan trees still producing nuts after 300 years. These crunchy nuts add a touch of richness and earthiness to holiday dishes. They're perfect for toasting, snacking, topping salads, or incorporating into stuffings, breads, and desserts like the iconic pecan pie. If pecans are difficult to find where you live, walnuts are the next best thing.
Sugar plums are referenced in the classic Christmas song - but these are actually a type of candy. Fruit plums however, can still be used in seasonal dishes and be the star ingredient in jam, desserts, salads, or even cheese plates. One interesting aspect of plum trees is their ability to cross-pollinate with other closely related fruit trees in the Prunus genus. This means that plum trees can sometimes crossbreed with cherry or apricot trees if they are planted close to each other!
You’ve heard the line “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”, but have you had the opportunity to eat roasted chestnuts? Roasted chestnuts are a nutrient-dense snack, and the unique flavor of chestnuts can also shine in stuffings, salads, soups, and even pasta dishes. Chestnuts were once a more commonly eaten food in the United States, but in the early 20th century, chestnut trees in North America faced a devastating blight caused by a fungus which drastically reduced their numbers. It is the most balanced perennial carbohydrate you can find, it’s almost like wheat growing on trees.
Rosemary is well adapted to grow in regions with limited water resources and poor soil quality. It has deep roots that can access water from deeper soil layers, making it relatively drought-tolerant. Rosemary adds a touch of herbal elegance to roasted vegetables, breads, soups, and even cocktails. It pairs nicely with other holiday flavors like garlic, citrus, and cranberry. Plus, its evergreen nature makes it a fitting festive garnish.
These jewel-toned fruits are a burst of sweet-tart flavor and vibrant color. The seeds, called arils, add a sweet crunch to salads, yogurt parfaits, and cocktails. Pomegranates are ancient fruits with a rich history dating back thousands of years. One remarkable feature of pomegranate trees is their longevity and resilience - they can live for a long time, with some specimens known to have survived for over 200 years.They are adaptable to various climates and can withstand drought and high temperatures.
Often, you don’t need to change your diet to eat perennials - chances are you’ve been eating many of them already! Every corner of the world has local perennials, see what you can find locally and incorporate them into festive, holiday dishes.