Across the U.S., days are (finally!) getting longer, and farmers’ markets are opening back up for the season. Before the summer produce season is in full swing, there are tons of tasty spring treats waiting at the market, from tart rhubarb to leafy greens.
The best vegetable for sweets
In cold northern climes, perennial bunches of rhubarb are some of the first food crops to pop out of the ground. Rhubarb originates from southern Siberia, and was introduced to the US by European settlers by the 1800s. Interestingly, rhubarb is a vegetable, though it’s usually eaten sweetened in pies or preserves.
When picking rhubarb look for firm pink stalks and make sure you always remove all of the leaves if this hasn’t already been done; they are extremely poisonous. Strawberry-rhubarb pie is a classic, but just plain rhubarb pie is an old-fashioned forgotten treasure. Rhubarb is also delicious in blondies and coffee cakes. If you have extra, rhubarb freezes well and makes an excellent jam.
Get your fill of folate with asparagus
Asparagus is another crop that is perennial in most climates, but this one originates from the Mediterranean. Thinner stalks are usually the tastiest and most tender, but thicker ones do better on the grill. Instead of trimming your asparagus, snap it by hand. It will naturally break wherever the woody part of the stalk ends. Don’t toss the ends - they’re delicious in soup.
It’s hard to go wrong with fresh asparagus. It tastes great grilled, roasted, or pan-fried, and makes a tasty addition to quiches. Once frozen and thawed, asparagus can be unpleasantly mushy due to its high water content. If you do decide to freeze asparagus, plan on using it for something like soup, where you won’t mind the texture. I prefer to skip a step and freeze the soup directly.
Strawberries are the season’s first fruit
For centuries, strawberries grew wild around the world. The varieties we eat today were largely the result of a cross of two North American varieties created by Charles Hovey in Massachusetts in 1834. Cultivation of strawberries ramped up in the 19th century as they were exported to Europe.
Fresh strawberries are delicious on their own. If you can resist eating the whole box, you can slice and macerate them and eat them with shortcake, make a strawberry cake, or eat it in spinach salad with feta and pecans. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh, local, in-season strawberries, but look for the ones with fresh-looking green tops and shiny red skin. Don’t wash your berries until you’re ready to eat them - this introduces moisture and causes them to spoil more quickly. I don’t hull my strawberries so I waste as little as possible, but just pull the tops right off and compost the green bits.
Strawberry season lasts just a few weeks, so if you want your berries local and fresh, buy as many as you can and freeze them up! Give them a wash, dry them, then slice them and pack them in plastic bags. When thawed they are soft and juicy and perfect for oatmeal or yogurt. Strawberry jam is another classic, and can be made for the freezer if you don’t have experience canning.
Sprinkle some scallions on everything
Onions are said to be one of the most ancient foods, with origins in Central Asia. In the spring, overwintered spring onions are available at the farmers’ market, and further into the season, fresh scallions start popping up too. Scallion, green onion, and spring onion are often used synonymously, but spring onions tend to have bigger bulbs. They are not to be confused with leeks, which are delicious but should be prepared and eaten differently.
Green onion can add panache to pretty much any dish. They’re great raw in salads and sandwiches, stir fried or charred. You can use them in biscuits, rice, and more. Green onions can be chopped up and dried like other herbs, and you can also store them in water on your windowsill to keep them growing. You can regrow green onions from the bottoms with some dirt or water.
Enjoy fresh arugula
Arugula is a delicious and hardy mediterranean salad green that starts popping up in the early spring. It’s tasty sprinkled on top of warm pizza or pasta, where it gets just slightly wilty. It also adds a great texture and peppery flavor to sandwiches and salads. Arugula doesn’t preserve well, so pick up a small batch of it every time you hit up the farmers’ market! And if you’re not big on the flavor, try out some other spring greens like baby spinach, bok choy, and kale. Some farmers even make their own spring mixes.
What are you finding at the farmers’ market? Share with us on social media!