Most of us think of spring as the time when things start growing, but a visit to any springtime farmers’ market will reveal the fact that some plants have been waiting all winter to get edible. Early spring is a very exciting time to hit the farmers’ market. Not only have we made it through the winter and back into fresh fruit and veggies, but also we are getting access to some special produce that often only occurs at this time, when the weather is moving from cold to warm.
Before strapping on the shoes, or with any luck just slipping on the flip-flops, get the lowdown on what’s best and fresh in early spring. Some of these fruits and veggies won’t be available again until — at best — fall or possibly even until next spring rolls around. In other words, start getting them while the getting is good.
Hitting their stride in March and coasting until June, artichokes are available for a limited time only, and done fresh, they are something to relish. They are a labor of love, but they are really worth it. They can be steamed, grilled, roasted, braised, stuffed, and dipped. The prized part of the artichoke is the heart, and once you’ve tasted it, it will likely capture yours.
Asparagus is only in season for a short time, generally late March into April, and once that’s over, the only asparagus available has been flown in from somewhere else. Those food miles are problematic for the environment, and they reek havoc on the quality of the flavor. Asparagus works best eaten within a couple of days of being picked. It’s a vegetable that does very well when messed with minimally or wrapped in eggplant “bacon”.
Beets are actually available a bit more readily than some of these other vegetables, but that is no reason to skip out on them in the spring. They do prefer the cooler weather in spring and fall, so that’s the best time to get them. They are fantastic pickled, grated fresh onto salad, formed into rockin’ burgers, and lots of other ways.
4. Baby Carrots
Most baby carrots we get in the supermarket are actually baby “cut” carrots, which equate to larger carrots being cut into small pieces and shaved into a specific shape. However, baby carrots are a real thing, and they are really small carrots, picked early. Since carrots are much more of a cold weather crop (best in fall-winter), baby carrots are the right choice for early spring, before the temperature has us sweating.
Maybe a little later — technically — than early spring, cherries begin coming into their own in April, and fresh cherries are just too damned delicious not to include on a spring farmers’ market list. They aren’t around for all that long each year, so it’s important (and very rewarding) to buy them in bulk in the spring. Eating them as they come is probably the best option, but recipes abound.
Fennel season is actually nearing its end in early spring, and it is definitely another in the list of underappreciated vegetables. It has a really unique flavor, with a bit of anise to it, and it goes well braised or sliced nice and thin for raw salads. Often tossed out, the leaves of fennel make for an attractive garnish for the fresh spring dishes.
Like fennel, and other citrus fruits, grapefruit’s season stretches through the winter and begins to decline at the close of spring. In other words, early spring is a great time for grapefruit. While oranges and lemons get a little more love, grapefruit has its own notably distinct and delicious flavor. It can step up smoothies, make a wicked sorbet and works fantastically for breakfast.
Another late fall/winter yield, fresh kiwi is best found over the winter months and into springtime, when they are nice and sweet. After that, they begin to fade away. While it’s around, the rather hairy and unassuming kiwi fruit is absolute stunning color inside. Not only does bring a tart twist to dishes, but kiwi adds a flash of green that steals the show. Try them in all sorts of sweets: popsicles, tarts, chocolate, etc.
Peas have to be planted early in year, even before the frosts subside, and this is because they are not great fans of the summertime heat. So, they are a spring farmers’ market favorite, and they can star in a wide assortment of dishes. They are a boost of protein and a blast of freshness. Don’t, for a second, confuse canned peas as the same thing as fresh. It’s a completely different experience.
With a body like celery and a flavor like sweet delight, rhubarb is not something we get to enjoy all that often, but for those who dig it, we know this dulce in disguise makes for some real treats. Rhubarb pie and jam are discreet favorites that’ll put smiles on faces. For those not accustomed to it, rhubarb is worth familiarizing yourself with.
Well, that was fun. Now, it’s time to hit the market and make the most of what’s there.
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