We’re crazy about summer produce, which is why we’re delighted to have Everyday Health visit us and share their very best tips for picking the season’s finest fruits and veggies.
Summer has finally arrived and with it comes the best choice of local produce of the whole year. This is peak growing season for most farmers, but every year is always a little bit different. Temperature, rain, amount of snow fall, and insects all effect the timing of when produce is available, as well as yield. Rain and snowstorms this winter, along with more temperate spring weather has set this year up to be a good season for corn and tomatoes from the plains to the Northeast.
With the increase demand for local, fresh produce by consumers, many farmers are easily finding buyers. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s), where you purchase a “share” of the bounty of the season have become more popular – leaving less to be sold at Farmer’s Markets. It will be interesting to see how this trend plays out in the coming years. As for now, it still pays to grab your reusable bag and head to your local farmer’s market early.
Popular items like berries and peaches sell out quickly, so you will want to be one of the first to arrive. Even as the early bird, I did not spy any raspberries or blueberries at my local farmer’s market this morning. Regardless, things were a buzz – and with good reason! Fresh coffee, yummy breads, and home made jams – not to mention the vibrant colors of flowers and a variety of vegetables were a treat for the senses. You might find yourself a little overwhelmed by the amount of choices before you. Here are the items I recommend you prioritize this summer at your local market:
Every stall at my local market had beautiful bunches of aromatic basil for sale. Sweet Basil is the classic Italian basil used to make tomato sauce and pesto. You can also chop up Sweet Basil and sprinkle over heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil for a delicious appetizer. Round Midnight Basil is very fragrant, purple leaf basil that has a mild anise flavor. It provides striking contrast to lighter dishes. Look for vendors selling fresh pesto, as it is typically to die for (just be wary of added cheese)!
Here are the varieties that are most prevalent today:
Garden cucumbers are the most common in North America, and are dark green with smooth skin. Grocery store varieties will have wax on the skin to retain freshness. Waxing is not necessary when purchased locally – so you can eat the skin, where most of the nutrients are contained.
Kirby cucumbers are short and bumpy. They range in color from light green to yellow. Kirby’s are crunchy, making them yummy to eat raw, but flavorful enough for pickling.
Persian cucumbers are very similar to English cucumbers, but they come in different lengths and may have bumpy skin like the Kirby. They are excellent in salads and perfect to pair with dips.
Almost every booth at the local farmer’s market was over run with beets! I think of beets as a spring and fall crop, but baby beets can be harvested through most of the summer as well. Especially exciting are the baby white beets, which are more tender than red beets with their hearty yet mild flavor. Try sauteing baby white beets with their dark green tops, along with basil, dill or chives to enhance the flavor. White beets are also excellent for pickling. Baby white beets do not have the same storage quality as the red beet and should be used shortly after harvest.
Yes, you read that right – salad greens! Lettuce and tender vegetation used to be only available in the spring and early summer because once the hot weather arrives, lettuce becomes bitter and inedible as it goes to flower. However, new techniques involving transplanting lettuce to grow in the shade of other crops, such as corn or tomatoes, have allowed farmers to grow salad greens from spring through fall. The use of shade cloth to keep greens out of the harmful sun, as well as burlap bags over the soil to keep it cool and moist, have extended the summer growing season for these crops.
Need some inspiration when it comes to how to whip up these ingredients? Ask the farmers! They usually know how best to prepare the freshest picks of the season. Here are some recipes that we love:
Taking advantage of your farmer’s market and their locally grown produce means taking advantage of the freshness and increased nutritional value of recently harvested vegetables. Eating them raw can decrease the amount of calories and/or nutritional gain than by steaming or sauteing, as seen using Everyday Health’s My Calorie Counter tool and their tips.
The best part of summer season is that there is always something new each week at the market. I am looking forward to August, when the first tomatoes and corn will arrive, as well as fresh, plump raspberries! No matter what you choose at your local market this summer, you can’t go wrong when it comes to freshness and taste.
Jennifer Stinson is a contributor to Everyday Health and its healthy living, nutrition, and calorie counter tools. She visits her local farmers’ market every weekend.