There are so many reasons we love spring. Besides putting away the parkas and getting pedicures, we also look forward to some of our favourite local produce that we’ve been waiting for all year long. You’ll be sure to see lots of fiddleheads, ramps and morels popping up on gourmet menus, so why not add them to your repertoire at home?
Eating fruits, vegetables and herbs in season means supporting local farmers and enjoying foods at their best flavours. But it can also make for a long winter if you live in an area that is not lucky to have a long growing season—that is, most of the country.
Luckily, farmers’ markets around the country are starting up over the next few weeks, and though it’s still early into spring you should still be able to find plenty of fresh produce to buy. Aside from the last of the winter and early spring crops, including beets and cabbage, you’ll have your pick of plenty of newly available fruits and veggies, including some that are only found for a few weeks every year. So grab your shopping basket and bon appetite!
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When you think radishes you probably think of the round red variety with a white centre. (Or Fraggles!) But these crunchy vegetables actually come in several varieties, including white Snow Belles, that start to come into season in May. Add radishes to a salad for a nice crunch.
Baby Bok Choy:
Bok choy is part of the cabbage family and is used in Chinese cuisine — it was originally cultivated in China during the Ming dynasty. Baby bok choy is smaller and more tender, and can be steamed, boiled, or sauteed whole.
Popeye bulked up on spinach for a reason: this green powerhouse is a source of iron, calcium, fibre, vitamin A, and vitamin C. It starts to come into season in mid-spring, and is equally delicious raw in salads or sauteed or wilted, perhaps on top of pasta.
You're probably familiar with rhubarb in pies and other desserts, but this early spring crop is actually a vegetable and not a fruit. It blends well with fruits like peaches and strawberries, and freezes well for use throughout the year.
Asparagus begins to show up at farmers' markets in May and is the perfect vegetable for kicking off grilling season. To change things up, try milder white asparagus, which stays pale because it's grown under a mound of dirt that covers the entire stalk.
Artichokes are actually flower buds from a thistle plant. Most of the large, scaly veggie is inedible, except for the fibres off the petal-like leaves around the bud and the heart inside. The crop is largely grown in California, but are also grown in Ontario — look for baby artichokes for a less intimidating intro to this vegetable.
Morel mushrooms are a favourite of foragers, who hunt for this amazingly flavourful fungi in the wild because it cannot be cultivated. You can find them dried year round — for a pretty penny that is — but they're best fresh. If you lack the patience or expertise to hunt for them yourself — and never eat mushrooms that you are unsure of — look for them in season in May at markets and in specialty food stores.
Nettles are actually a collection of forty different plants that are used for medicinal purposes — they're a good source of iron and are used by some to treat anemia. But they can also be used where many other greens are, in pesto, for example or dried to make tea. Watch for them at markets through the spring and early summer.
Dried herbs are definitely convenient, but there's nothing like cooking with freshly cut plants like basil or mint. Different herbs are at their best at varying points in the growing season, but look for chives and parsley starting in April and dill, thyme, and sage starting in May.
These rounded fern tips are a gourmet favourite, and only available for a limited amount of time in the spring. Fiddleheads are the unfurled fronds of the ostrich fern but once they uncurl, fiddleheads are done, so enjoy them while they're available in late April or early May. They're easy to make as well`: wash to remove dirt and brown scales, boil or steam, and serve with olive oil or lemon juice.
Fennel is at the end of its season in the spring, so it's a great time to enjoy this anise-flavoured bulb before it's available again in the fall. Slice it up to use in salads or slaw or bring out its sweeter flavours by roasting.
This green, also called rocket, is perfect in cooler months because long days and hot temperatures make the plant bolt and take on a bitter taste. The dark green, peppery leaves are great in salad, and can also be foraged wild.
Ramps are otherwise known as wild leeks, and they are appropriately shaggier than the thick and solid leeks you see in grocery stores. The green leaves and white roots are both edible when the plant is picked early enough. and they have a flavour similar to green onions.
You probably grew up thinking of dandelions as weeds, but the greens are actually delicious. (Don't take them from your yard, however, unless you are sure of the safety of your soil and the absence of pesticides.) They can be eaten raw to enjoy their strong flavour or mellowed out by cooking, and they add a nice hint of spice to salads. If you prefer a less bitter taste, get the young leaves.
Shallots may look like tiny onions but they are closely related to multiplier onions and have a unique flavour on their own. The small bulbs are commonly associated with French cuisine, where they are used both raw and cooked. Cooked shallots have a flavour that is more delicate than typical onions, but when left raw they are actually quite pungent.