Late spring and early summer usually remind people of warmer days, trips to the pool, the beach, and vacations to Disney World, but for some people, the sweetest summer memory is a trip to their local farm, or farmer’s market, to get a taste of some of the freshest produce around, grown locally and healthfully.

You can’t beat slicing up a freshly picked cucumber or a juicy watermelon for a cool and refreshing salad, or a handful of plump blackberries to add to a smoothie or top off a cup of Greek yogurt. Here’s a list of when and where you can expect some of your favorite summer veggies to become available.

Avocados:
Known in health markets as a superfood, avocados offer a large number of nutrients and vitamins in a flavorful green package, with the good kind of fats that help your heart and your blood work as effectively as possible. They are an extremely fickle fruit, growing whenever they please, in warm climates, particularly in Florida, where many people have them in their backyards. Farmer’s markets all over the south will usually start to have them available toward the middle of the summer, but the earliest crops are likely to be hard. Let them ripen on the counter or in a paper bag until soft, peel them, slice them, and mash them into guacamole for your kids favorite Friday night Mexican dish, or chill the slices, sprinkle them with salt and pepper for a nutty flavored snack right and an energy boost right before your 3PM crash at work.

Berries: Another healthy favorite, the blue and the black berries offer antioxidants and a sweet burst of flavor, especially when picked right at the height of the season and allowed to sweeten in the warm summer sun. They grow wild all over the US, from New York to Florida, and farmers markets nationwide could feature these delicious fruits, or offer signs saying “Pick Your Own”. Use the berries to spice up a boring green leaf salad, or freeze them for pancakes during the fall and winter months. Canning is also a great way to preserve sweet fruits, blackberry and blueberry jam were perennial favorites in my Mom’s pantry as a kid. Try not to handle your berries too much before you eat them, the riper they are, the easier they bruise and become mushy, and their high water content makes them very susceptible to mold in the fridge, so be sure to use them or freeze them as soon as possible.

Cherries: Spring marks the arrival of the cherry blossoms in our nation’s capital, and those bright fragrant pink flowers offer up sweet red fruit as the summer arrives. Cherries are another great source of energy, and nutrients, and many varieties, be they sour or sweet, are available between the months of May and August.

Corn: There’s a anecdote that helped farmer’s gauge their corn as it grew in the early days of our history, “knee high by the 4th of July.” Summer picnics and barbecues often herald giant ears of sweet white, yellow and multi-hued corn with juicy kernels and bright green husks. This is the time of year where it is most often found down to $0.10 cents an ear or even less at your local grocery, but visit the farmers market for the best corn, I’ve found it to be particularly tasty in the areas of Iowa, Central Florida, and Virginia. Its available through most of the summer, but the best crop usually comes after the Independence Day holiday. Look for fresh green husks, plump ripe (not hard) kernels, and a sweet smell, with soft white floss. It was BBQ tradition in my house growing up that the kids would drag big boxes of corn out to the yard and strip every last strand of corn floss from the ears, while the adults had a chance to mingle and prepare the rest of the meal without us underfoot. It worked like a charm. We would inspect our individual ears like quality control officials, critiquing each other’s techniques and racing to see who could get the most corn shucked in the smallest amount of time.

Garlic: Globally, China is the world’s largest producer of garlic, growing more than 3/4’s of the world’s garlic (23 billion pounds) every year, but the United States has just the right climate for garlic as well, it is grown in every state except Alaska, and can grow often throughout the year depending on the climate, but the sweetest and most flavorful garlic comes during the summer months, particularly in Gilroy, California, which is the biggest garlic growing city in the US. If you are substituting fresh garlic for your normal garlic powder, 1/8 of a teaspoon of powdered garlic usually equals a single clove of the fresh stuff.

Limes:
Limes are the only citrus fruit that are in full ripened flavor in the summer, and grow best in tropical weather in the state of Florida. The tangy fruit makes a great topping for fish on the grill or addition to marinades for your favorite chicken dish. Before peeling a lime to use it for its juice, roll it around on your counter-top under the palm of your hand with heavy pressure, breaking up the membranes inside the fruit and releasing the flesh from the rind.

Peaches: I love anything and everything peaches, (really….anything, perfume, the color peach, peach scented fabric softener sheets) but my SO and I experienced the best peaches ever during a drive through Georgia, (after staying at a great friends house!). When I hear peaches, I think Georgia, and for good reason. The best, most plump, sweetest fruit come from from trees that have full sun and WARM weather. Avoid peaches that are not just a little soft to the squeeze, or have yellow or green near the stem. Buy a bushel or two, or even a laundry basket full and make a months worth of peach cobbler! I’ll be sure to drop by for a taste.

Strawberries: Another of my favorite fruits, since I live just a few hours from Plant City, Florida where the land is dominated by strawberry farms. I am willing to walk, bend and lift, for HOURS just to pick my own perfect strawberries, and the ones sold in the grocery stores, while good, I find are often moldy, mushy, or still too GREENish, which leads to sour berries in my experience. Greenish strawberries never taste right, they only ripen to the best flavor while still attached to the plant and enjoying that sweet Florida sunshine. Pick your own, or be very scrutinizing when selecting “strawbs” at the farmer’s market.

Tomatoes: My grandfather had a green thumb for tomatoes. He grew them every summer, and I am still drawn back to those childhood memories at his house on Long Island New York when I crush a tomato leaf between my fingers and smell the spicy sweet scent. The delicate yellow flowers turn into hard green balls which deepen in color and flavor until a sweet, juicy and tender tomato is born. Make sure and see if you can try a tomato at the market before you buy it, even the prettiest tomato might be a little on the sour side, which isn’t always bad, since different meals and different flavors require different ages of tomato.

Watermelons: Available in 44 of the 50 United States, watermelons are a staple of summer fun. Their pink sweet flesh and sharply contrasted black seeds bring on memories of 4th of July fireworks and summer carnivals. Look for a fruit that has a solid “thunk” when you knock on it, with no serious dents or bruises to the rind, but they are the only melon type fruit that does not smell “melony”, even when at it’s ripest. The sweetest fruit comes from regions that have a good amount of difference in temperature between days and nights. Most melons planted in May are ready to harvest by the end of June.

Remember that most farmer’s markets, especially larger ones, follow some regulation, but most are considered “Mom and Pop” organizations, particularly roadside stands, so be aware of things like worms, fungus, and imperfections that you may not be used to seeing while in your local supermarket.And just like you would at the regular supermarket, be sure to wash and fully inspect any produce that finds it’s way into your home, before adding it to your recipes.

Click here for a link to help you find Farmer’s Markets all over the US, and check with your local school district or your local newspaper for information about co-op growing areas, or community gardens that will have produce available, sometimes as an even exchange program, or for work done at the farm!

One Response to “Farmer’s Markets and Summer Veggies”

  • Mama Cat says:

    What a LOT of great information! Georgia peaches ARE divine, but I also had some yummy peaches from a roadside stand in Arkansas one year. And what can I say about Iowa sweet corn, except that it wasn’t ready yet on my visit last week. And hubby & decided the corn was at least waist or chest high on the 4th of July.