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And when an ingredient is at its peak, it is easier to cook. With great produce, simplicity is best - you just want to let those flavours speak for themselves.

Rick Stein

I am in the middle of filming a new series of Food Heroes, and what strikes me as we travel all over Britain is how rich this country is in produce and producers of the highest quality - cheesemakers, pie makers, butchers, bakers, brewers, distillers, vegetable growers and farmers who keep alive threatened varieties of pigs, cattle and sheep - you name it and we've got it.

Our food culture is beginning to flourish in a way that it probably hasn't for a hundred years. Farmers' markets, local shops and selling via the internet have all helped make a difference to the commercial survival of these dedicated people. But many of them carry on in the face of great difficulty, and they need all the support they can get from consumers, particularly the active support of buying their products.

And that's something we can all do. Most people live in towns, but even in the largest metropolis, you are not as removed from the countryside as you might like to think. We have got so used to the habit of supermarket shopping, and to the availability of certain foods all year round, that we have forgotten the pleasure of cooking and eating seasonally. Don't get me wrong: supermarkets have made a great contribution to awareness and knowledge, but for too many of us, our shopping begins and ends there. We tend to ignore wonderful fish, meats, fruits and vegetables that may be under our noses.

Recently I visited a farmers' market in the West of England. March is not the best time of year for fruit and veg, but there was organic purple sprouting broccoli, brilliant, carmine new season's rhubarb and chunky, tasty carrots. There were fat Aylesbury ducklings and free-range chickens, and one stallholder selling ribs of Gloucester Long Horn cattle told me that it was the last beef that he would be supplying until the autumn, because the season was over. A season for beef! You never hear that in a supermarket.

You might find that lack of availability made you annoyed, or you might say that properly reared beef was something to look forward to. After all, there's always something else coming along. Lamb is right in season now. That's when it's at its best, and that's when we ought to eat it. That way we get the most out of it in terms of flavour, nourishment and value for money. If you buy ingredients when they need all the resources of agricultural technology to bring them to the table, who ends up paying for the herbicides, irrigation, fertilisers, processing etcetera? We do. But if you buy when something is plentiful because it is in season, then the price comes down.

And when an ingredient is at its peak, it is easier to cook. With great produce, simplicity is best - you just want to let those flavours speak for themselves.

So we need to shop more discerningly. We need to cook and eat with the seasons. And we need to appreciate and support our own local producers.

Notes

Rick Stein's Food Heroes is back for another series on BBC2 this Autumn and what a wonderful series it is. If you missed it last time you missed a gem of a programme.