12 Fruits and Vegetables That Peak in the Spring
Here's what to buy, cook, and eat from the farmers' market in the season of renewal.
Spring has returned, meaning you don't have to eat another root vegetable for months if you don't want to. If you eat with the seasons (and hey, even if you don't), few events on the food calendar beat when those first asparagus spears appear at the market. They signify that you have a wonderful stretch of fresh produce ahead of you; a months-long run through a rainbow of fruits and vegetables about to begin.
In reality, that run begins as more of a walk. Spring produce comes into season slowly—one here, one there, one delicate vegetable or allium at a time. What's available when and where will vary, to some degree, by region. But here's what to look for, generally, now that the season has turned and spring's first crops are arriving.
Depending on where you live, the mighty artichoke might flash into season for a brief moment in spring. The intimidating thistle is one of the great vegetables, its edible parts including the inner stem, heart, and yellow tips at the leaf bottoms. True, artichokes take some work to prepare. But with experience, the ritual of trimming them can become fun.
The arrival of asparagus marks the coming of spring produce in full force. Buy thin spears if you can; they’re more tender and won’t require peeling. Store your bundles upright in a jar of water. Asparagus has serious versatility, thriving in both star and supporting roles. Its delicate season typically lasts into June.
These broad beans in plump green pods would get a seat in the bean hall of fame if there were such a thing. Favas are wide yet thin and almost meaty in the way that vegetables can be. They are popular in the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Middle East. In the States, they appear in mid-to-late spring. Favas excel with little more than a blanching, steaming, or a similarly tender cooking method and some salt. They can also anchor more intensive preparations, like falafel.
A watershed moment in the progression of spring produce is the end-of-season arrival of tiny strawberries that actually recall berries, not the watery monsters from the supermarket. Though you can do a whole lot with strawberries, you probably already know that you don’t have to do more than rinse and eat right from the crate.
In late spring, plain old green peas drop again, reminding the world of how much more delicate and all-around better they are than their frozen cousins. You probably already know that peas can be used in many ways, but here are a few more ideas. The pairing of peas and mint creates one of the great spring flavor teams.
One of the most versatile and underrated greens out there, watercress makes its debut in late May through early summer. It has a peppery edge and is very good raw, as either the single green in a salad or part of a greater blend. Watercress also holds up to a sauté nicely and makes a welcome addition to some soups. Like many beloved spring vegetables (see ramps and fiddleheads), you can also buy this one foraged.
A dark horse among spring produce, radishes are great because they are affordable and come in many forms, flavors, and colors. Farmers market vendors might carry several varieties, with the peppery sizzle coming through in slightly different ways. Look for French breakfast, lime, black, and Easter egg radishes. Better grocery stores may carry varieties like watermelon. Subjected to heat, the peppery notes mellow (and the leaves can be nice cooked). Slivered and used raw, a pound of radishes can go a long way.
Mushrooms (Especially Wild Morels)
Though excellent mushrooms can sprout in climate-controlled indoor growhouses year-round, some truly fantastic wild mushrooms start to pop in spring. Morels, which have a dark, earthy nuttiness, are some of the very best. They have smooth pale stems and tall caps that look like elongated nectarine pits. But don’t forage them yourself, as mushrooms are highly dangerous unless identified by a pro. Instead, rely on your local market farmer or forager.
For a very brief moment in spring, fiddlehead ferns appear. They are one of the coolest-looking vegetables, long green stems coiled almost like a butterfly’s tongue. These are prized by chefs and locavores, many of whom preserve much of their bounty to prolong the season. Fiddleheads can be simply cooked (steaming or sautéing works) and finished with butter or oil and salt. Be sure to cook them, as you can get sick from eating fiddlehead ferns raw.
There aren’t many greens like sorrel, with its wildly tart, almost citrusy tang. Sorrel leaves bring brightness to salads so long as you counter the punch with similarly big flavors (like goat cheese, spicy radishes, or fruit). Look for sorrel in late spring and early fall.
The bundled, leafy ramp might be the one spring crop to rule them all. At farmers’ markets, towers of ramp bunches often sell out within minutes of opening. Ramps grow wild, and the particular warm fragrance they bring, a soft fire halfway between onions and garlic, can enhance just about any savory dish.