When you eat seasonally, there is a buildup of excitement as each new vegetable becomes ready to harvest. Every year I wait with bated breath for the first tomato of the season, which is funny because I’m not too fond of raw tomatoes. The only way that I usually eat tomatoes raw is sandwiched between bacon and mayonnaise.
While we are still several weeks away from harvesting our first tomato, many vegetables are only available in the spring.
The lengthening daylight hours, cool nights, and warming daytime temperatures bring particular vegetables that only appear once a year. These vegetables come and go, and you can miss them if you are not watching the changing seasons.
Of course, if you aren’t growing these yourself, the best place to find them is at your farmers market or community-supported agriculture subscription basket.
The farmers market seems like a weekly fair, that shouldn’t be happening in with social distancing measures in place, but it is the best way to find produce that comes straight from the farm.
Community-supported agriculture produce boxes, or CSA’s, are an even better way to get your hands on quality fruits and vegetables. Your produce is grown and packed at the farm, and then you can pick up at the farm or a distribution site or pay a little extra for home delivery.
These farm boxes are scary for some because you don’t usually get to pick your produce, but with some internet research, you can find out how to cook all those unique vegetables, and you might find one that you didn’t know you liked.
Many farmers with small farms depend on the ability to sell direct to consumers and avoid the added costs that come with trying to supply a distributor. And the added benefit for us eaters is that there are vegetables that you won’t find at the grocery store. They usually have to be harvested by hand and take more space, time, and labor to grow.
Fava beans are related to peas and are a treat that only comes once a year. They have a long growing season, and we plant then in late fall. They originated in the Mediterranean and need a moderate climate where the ground doesn’t freeze. Like peas, they grow in pods, but in addition to having to open the pods, you have to remove the skin from each bean. My experience with fava beans started in the restaurant business, where we had a handful of prep cooks to do the tedious work of shelling the beans from the pod and then removing the skin that encloses each bean. Now, if you can get your hand on some favas, the rustic way to eat them is to grill the whole pod and transfer the work of shelling and peeling to each eater at the table. If you get a box full, you can enjoy the meditative experience of shelling them ahead of cooking, and then I recommend blending the beans with some olive oil and garlic scapes to make a smear for some toasted bread.
What are garlic scapes? You ask.
Garlic scapes are the emerging flower of a hard-neck garlic plant that is growing under the ground. After planting cloves in the fall, the flower starts to form in the spring to continue the reproductive cycle of its being. When you cut the scape (the flower and its stem), you can take advantage of eating the whole plant while also causing the plant to send its energy back into the bulb, resulting in a 30 % larger bulb.
Garlic scapes taste like garlic. Some people will come up with a nuance or two, describing the difference, but, for all intents and purposes, just chop them up and sauté.
When garlic is grown on a large scale where they only grow one crop, the farmers don’t take the time to harvest each scape by hand. They will choose to grow a soft-neck variety that has no scape and, therefore, less work to manage the plant.
The harvest of the scapes is part of the growing process that we get to enjoy as eaters, and the farmer gets to enjoy as extra cash and an enhanced product.
Sugar Snap Peas, Snow Peas, and English Peas grow best with the cool spring conditions. Once it becomes too warm, the plants slow down. These are all good to grow at home, although now it’s too late to plant for this year where I am. They will trellis up a fence and save space, and they are easy to harvest a few each day for dinner. They all freeze well too if you grow too many.
In the spring, green leafy vegetables, like kale, chard, and spinach grow quickly, which helps them be mild in flavor and tender, just a quick sauté in a hot pan, or you can even eat them raw, letting a dressing marinate and infuse its flavor. You will learn that this is the best time of the year to enjoy eating your greens.
Spend a few minutes to search out seasonal produce and you will get to enjoy these tastes of spring that only come around once a year. Here is the best resource to find a local farm, https://www.localharvest.org/
By choosing to eat fruits and vegetables when they are in season, you get to eat better produce, learn about how your food is grown and where it comes from.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her blog at The Wooden Cutting Board on Twitter @juliehouse and Facebook @thewoodencuttingboard