The Nice Things Guide to Spring Produce

I haven’t eaten any burgers recently.  I haven’t ate anything worth writing about – aside from how much of a fucking steal Frankie bottomless brunch is.  What I have done is practically live inside of a farmers market for the past few weeks. So I’ll write about that.

One day I will have a big old house on a sprawling piece of land.  There will be a forest where I can forage for morels. There will be a stream where I can catch rainbow trout.  There will be acres of arable farmland where animals graze around the things I’ve planted. There will be the long dead corpse of the houses actual owner buried under the shed.  This is my dream.

Since I’ve yet to actualize my long con agri-murder, I get satisfaction from occasionally going to farmers markets.  I have something of a green thumb from years of working at nursery – plants, not babies – but haven’t got around to making garden boxes at my new apartment.  Due to a recent work location change, I now have access to Union Square Farmers Market any time I want, given that any time is not Tuesdays or Thursdays.

So, in a departure from talking about boners and diarrhea, I’m going to give you my guide to buying some good seasonal produce that should be in any farmers market in May and June.  Here’s the best stuff currently in season and how to go about buying it.

Asparagus

These are best right now, they typically go until end of June. You want dry, tender tips.  No ooze. Even spears will be better for cooking. The less white on the bottom the better because you just throw that shit away. Sure you can save it for a stock, but are you really going to do that? These should be standing upright from whatever vendor you get them from, ideally in some cool water. Store them the same way. If you’re getting them from the farmers market you should buy and eat within 48hrs to avoid any oxidizing funk.  From the supermarket you have more runway. Gus isn’t meant to be kept around.

Easiest way to show someone you know what you’re doing is to shave ‘em . Roast or grill them and finish with some lemon and olive oil, a little bit of shaved Pecorino.

Spinach

I like these right before the weather gets hot, but they’ll go into the the end of summer/early fall. Don’t buy any yellow shit. Look for firm green leaves that aren’t droopy. When possible, buy them with the root crown attached.  The root crown, the base of the spinach where everything is attached, is fucking delicious. Its like a sweeter spinach with the texture of a broccoli stalk. Steam or roast them. Obviously, don’t eat the actual roots.

Beets

Are evil and I don’t like them.  Ask around for what to do here.  They apparently elevate the nitric oxide levels in your blood and could give you stronger erections.  So there’s that.

Lettuces

Buy over the next few weeks before the weather gets hot.  The cooler the temps, the sweeter the lettuce. The hotter it gets, the more bitter it becomes.  Look at the base, you want something that looks like its been cut recently. No limp leaves, no ooze, no discoloration.  Vibrant, green and firm. Eat as soon as possible, but you can also wrap in paper towels and keep em in the little drawer at the bottom of the fridge.  T

Rhubarb 

First, rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so don’t eat them.  If they haven’t been removed you can avoid buying any that are gross and wilted. Red, red, red.  You want the reddest fuckers you can find. More important than the color is the luster, or how shiny they are. You want something something that looks like it grew from between the legs of a Labrador instead of soil. They should be plump and juicy, but snappable.  If you can’t snap off a piece of rhubarb its trash. Apparently the best way to store rhubarb is to loosely wrap them in tin foil and keep ‘em in the fridge. Make as many deserts out of this as you can. When you’re tired of that, you can elevate your chicken salad or stuffing.  You’ll get great rhubarb til July so don’t rush out and settle for store bought or sub-par crop yet, but you’ll see more green rhubarb the closer you get to July.

Ramps 

I’m a little late on this, but you might still be able to find some around.  Ramps are wild leeks that typically pop up briefly for the month of May. You want a fragrant plant with no wilting.  Most importantly, you want the roots attached. These go fast so get them early or you could wind up like me and wait till the very last minute and have to settle what Whole Foods has to offer. You could make a pesto with the leaves and pickle the bulbs.  I bought some kimchi ramps, which are pretty fucking gnarly. These pretty much grow out back behind grandma’s shed, so wash the shit out of them.

Garlic Scapes 

These are the big scallion looking shoots that erupt from the tops of garlic.  You can’t really go wrong on buying these, just avoid any floppy scapes. Don’t worry about dry, tan tips.  Worry about gooey floppy tips. Add them to stir-fries or grind them into pestos and sauces. If you like steaks with onions and mushrooms on top of it, throw these into the mix for a little fun.

Spring onions 

Nom nom nom. These are fucking awesome.  They basically big, mellow scallions that typically run a little sweeter and have a nice grassy finish.  Buy roots attached, look out for soft spots. Picking these isn’t rocket science, let your eyes do the buying.  I like to puree these into a risotto if I’m being a fancy boy. If I’m being a savage, I’m charring these on the grill, dipping them in a romesco and pouring $14 Rioja down my gullet.

Chard 

Chard is the try-hard attention whore of leafy greens.  You’ll find it aggressively trying to speak its truth to all unfortunate vegetables in earshot. We get it, you’re colorful and flamboyant – YAAAAS. But this is just a facade to hide the fact that underneath those rainbow stems is just a boring, run of the mill leafy green from the burbs trying to hide its completely average history.  Buy crisp stems and firm, shiny blades. Or don’t. Eat it raw in a salad for something sweeter, cooking them bring out a bitter and funkier flavor, in my opinion.

Strawberries

You’re buying these from a farmers market in June, so you’re already upping the berry game by 4000%.  The stuff you buy in the store are usually pumped up with water and dilute the flavor. They, like most grocery store produce, are ripened after theyve been picked on the long plane ride to where ever the fuck they’re going.  This doesn’t add to the deliciousness.

As Ice Cube once said “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice”, this is equally true for strawberries. Look for fire truck to maroon red berries, but draw a line when they start getting into purple territory. You want full red berries with no white or green towards the stem. Unlike your Friday night Ashford thirst prowl, size does not matter here.  Small and medium sized berries are equally delicious.

Last tip, use your nose.  If there are multiple vendors who are selling these delicious little fuckers you should always pick the ones that have a stronger, sweeter smell.  Take some of these fragrant gifts from god and cook them down into a compote with your rhubarb.  Use it for deserts, or your oatmeal in the morning, or you can get real weird and throw this on some duck breast or spice up your prison analingus by subbing out jelly or syrup for this delicious compote.

Blueberries

New Jersey blue berries are fucking awesome. Its still early for them, but you’ll know there in season because they’ll be everywhere. You really can’t go wrong with buying on the early side if you start to see them in the next week or so, but I like firm, pale purple berries with high acidity, so I might not be the best person to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the person selling you something – that’s how you learn things.

Peas

It’s all about the pods.  Avoid any dry or cracked pods. Just take one and give it a snap, if you get that sweet fresh cut lawn smell – buy it.  I don’t cook too much with actual peas, but pea pods are the shit. Steam white rice with lap chong, then slice the sausage (ON THE BIAS LIKE A FUCKING PROFESSIONAL) and briefly sautee with a little soy sauce, sesame oil, and pea pods.  This is a meal that will cost about $2 and I guarantee you’ll make it all the time.

Fiddleheads 

These are probably gone in most places, but I found a vendor at the Union Square market who had some on Wednesday that looked pretty nice.  If you want to out maneuver your foodie friends who are already hitting the seasonal produce hard, grab some fiddleheads. These are the young, furled fronds of a type of fern and are super delicious. It’s grassy, nutty and with a nice firm to crunchy texture that you’ll really like. You’re not going to find these a lot of places, so set your bar low for picking out your bounty.  You’re looking for these to be tightly curled and vibrant green. Don’t be turned off by any brown papery bits that may be on the fiddlehead, this is a part of the fern that’s usually trimmed before its sold at market and is totally normal and easy to remove.

Make sure you blanch these, about 1 to 2 mins in boiling water then immediately into an ice bath.  If you don’t do this you’re getting mushy olive colored fiddle heads which is not EVERYTHING and is certainly not #springlife.  Sautee them in butter, throw them in a cacciatore, or hit em with some home made Hollandaise.

Broccoli

Honestly, I buy this shit at the super market.  If you’re buying fresh try not to get anything that has already bolted, which are the little yellowish/brownish flower looking things on the top of the broccoli.
If you enjoyed this little produce guide I’ll make another one for July.  In the meantime, use this handy little chart to see when things are supposed to come into season.

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