Spring Seasonal Produce

Spring is here, and that means it’s time to move the parka to the back of the closet and break out the flip flops again. It also means we get to welcome some old favorites back onto our plates. Stash that hearty stew in a freezer back and make room for the light, delicate fare of March, April, and May.

The convenience of existing in an international marketplace is undeniable. Having the world’s bounty at your fingertips provides innumerable options for the at-home chef. But the hefty, ripe, nutrient-rich produce that grows in sustainably farmed soil preserves the integrity of the land as well as the flavor of the food. It’s true that our big-name grocery stores offer seasonal fare year round, but many fruits and vegetables—and meat—naturally only ripen at certain times during the year. Eating local produce that is harvested in the season in which it grows best leaves the most minimal footprint on the environmental landscape. Tree-hugger arguments aside, local farmers tend to have the best-tasting produce that retains the greatest amount of vitamins. By purchasing locally harvested, in-season produce, you can feel good about your purchase, while giving yourself something to look forward to as the seasons change.

What’s In Season

In the coming weeks, we’ll see an abundance of soft-skinned, pitted fruits like nectarines, peaches, apricots, and cherries. We can also look forward to snacking on tart treats like raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Spring also brings us the most succulent oranges, and with Valencia oranges lasting into the Summer months. Look for Spring vegetable staples like asparagus, peas, rhubarb, and eggplant, as well as salad favorites such as crisp lettuce, baby carrots, cucumbers, and scallions. Certain seafood is seasonal, too, so run to your local fishmonger and nab some clams, crabs, crawfish, and mussels.

Tips and Tricks

The traits to keep in mind when shopping seasonal is “soft, delicate, vibrant.” Some veggies, like arugula, artichokes, cilantro and parsley, leafy greens, and cooking greens can be harvested throughout the year but are at their peak at this time annually. Chard and other greens, for instance, get bitter when it becomes too hot, so be sure to catch them when they’re at their full flavor potential. Similarly, onions, particularly sweet onions, are best Spring through Fall, even though we can find them on the shelves year round. Remember, just because you can find them in your grocery store’s produce section doesn’t mean they’re in season.

Say Goodbye to Winter Favorites

While farmers are making room for the new variety of crops, Spring marks the last time for you to walk into your local farmers market and see piles of your cold-weather fruits and veggies. Produce with hardier flesh like Brussels sprouts, pears, squash, cabbage, cauliflower, and celery will be more scarce. However, some roots like turnips, rutabagas, and carrots can last well into the season. Other Fall and Winter mainstays that spill all the way into Summer include apples, avocados, grapefruit, mushrooms, and spinach. In California, because the climate hovers on the warm side, seasons start earlier and last longer, so certain traditionally Summer or Winter foods might still make it onto our plates.

Keeping track of which food is in season when can be overwhelming for the at-home chef, so as a guideline, try to remember: delicate fruits, leafy greens, and bright, vibrant colors. And finally, don’t be afraid to talk to the growers. Who knows their product better than they do? And they’re usually extremely friendly and forthcoming about which of their produce is best. Growing food is a farmer’s livelihood, so these folks take pride in what they’re selling and want to showcase their best goods.

Keep these tips in mind on your next trip to the market, and for a full rundown of California’s seasonal eats, check out this website by the Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.simplesteps.org/eat-local/state/california.