Late spring and early summer are a time of beauty and bounty. After a season of rest, everything in nature is in full bloom. Trees are lush with vibrant green leaves; the air is filled with the floral scents of nature and seasonal farmer’s markets are finally in full swing. Whether you love strolling your local farmer’s market for seasonal produce, or you prefer to dig your hands in the earth and garden your own fruits and vegetables, this time of year offers the perfect opportunity to attune your body with nature and reap all the benefits of eating seasonally.
Eating according to Mother Nature’s schedule is one of the best things that you can do for your body, your wallet and the planet all at the same time. Eating seasonally simply means that you choose fruits and vegetables, preferably locally grown, that are currently in season in your little corner of the Earth. Wondering what the benefits are to this philosophy of eating? Here are just a few for starters:
Seasonal produce offers the most in terms of nutritional content. Those fresh greens that you pick up at the produce market on the weekend have come directly from a local farmer, meaning that it wasn’t that long ago that they were still in the ground, rich and abundant in nutrients. Once produce is picked, it can begin to lose nutrients quickly, and unfortunately, antioxidants such as vitamin C and carotenes are among the first to begin to deteriorate. If your fresh produce is traveling hundreds, or possibly thousands, of miles to reach you, by the time it lands in your salad it has likely lost significant nutritional value. Eating seasonally means that the fruits and vegetables on your plate contain the highest possible nutritional content.
The taste is unbeatable. Have you ever had the experience of craving strawberries in the winter, only to go to your supermarket, dig through the packages of lifeless looking berries until you find one that looks semi-decent, then you bite into it and savor the flavor of…nothingness? Fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and enjoyed in season actually look and taste like they are supposed to, and often even exceed your flavor expectations.
You will notice the difference in your weekly grocery bill. The process that produce that is not locally sourced goes through to reach your table is costlier than you might realize. If you live in a colder climate area, or at least somewhere that experiences long winters, then you are probably all too familiar with the price of produce during those cold months. When fruits and vegetables come from other regions, you are paying not only for the tomato’s travel expenses but also the fact that the food must be stored long term under certain environmental conditions that will prolong freshness for as long as possible. When you choose locally sourced food, you get to skip all the middle man cost and you know that the hard-earned money that you do spend is going directly to support your local economy.
Eating seasonally is what nature intended. There is a harmony between the human body and Mother Nature, and it can be honored by eating seasonally available foods. Each season brings with it harvest foods that are nutritionally designed to support your body through the coming months. For example, spring is the perfect time to enjoy fresh greens which are excellent detoxifiers and alkalizing agents. This is perfect for recovery after a wintery season of indulgence and useful if you are looking to shed a few unwanted pounds so that you feel more comfortable in your summer wardrobe.
Consuming out of season produce can put additional stress on the environment. We already mentioned the fact that out of season produce uses resources for storage and travel. However, how often do you really put thought into where your food is coming from? When you consider that food is a necessary life staple, consistently choosing foods that must travel thousands of miles to reach you can contribute to the deterioration of the environment. Additionally, locally grown, seasonal produce generally requires much less in terms of pesticides or genetic modification. Pesticides are one of the major contributors to ground pollution. You can help keep the Earth clean by eating wholesome, seasonal foods.
Eating seasonal is good for your mind, body and spirit. Choosing locally sourced produce connects you to your community and you become part of something larger. Roaming a farmer’s market or digging into a community garden is the perfect opportunity to form new friendships. Then there is the fact that if you choose to eat seasonally, your culinary staples are going to change every few months. Gone is boredom in the kitchen, and in its place, is a chance to explore new and exciting ways to prepare healthy, seasonal meals.
Are you excited to dig your hands, and your fork, into the abundance of spring? Here is a list of seasonal produce to enjoy right now and the months to come.
- Apricots: Apricots are in season in late spring and early summer. When choosing apricots, look for ones that are golden orange in color. Apricots are not by nature overly juicy fruits, so do not naturally gravitate towards extra soft ones that look like they would be juicier. While you do want a soft apricot, make sure that it still has just a bit of firmness to it.
- Honeydew Melon: While honeydew is known as a winter melon, it is at its peak harvesting season in late spring and early summer. When choosing a honeydew melon, look for one that is as smoothly round as possible and free of dents and blemishes. It should feel a bit heavy for its size and smell a little sweet.
- Mango: If you live in a warmer climate, late spring is the perfect time of year to enjoy sweet, juicy mangoes. Contrary to popular belief, the reddish color that develops on a mango is not a sign of ripeness. To find the best mango in the bunch, give it a gentle squeeze. It should give a little and then spring back. The stem end of a fresh mango will also have a slightly sweet, tropical smell.
- Strawberries: These ruby gems come into season from late April until August. While you want to look for strawberries that are completely red, one of the best ways to identify a tasty strawberry is by smell. Give your berries a whiff. There should not be even a hint of musty or moldy smell. What you should experience instead is a light scent of pure sweetness.
So, now you have your basket overfilling with fresh picked, local fruit. What are your plans for your bounty? There are endless ways to enjoy the fruits of spring and early summer. Here is just one idea of a unique way to tantalize your taste buds with the flavors of the season, perfect for a healthy snack on a warm day.
Fruity Springtime Spring Rolls
½ honeydew melon
1 cup strawberries
½ cup fresh mint, chopped
8 rice paper wrappers
1 tablespoon orange blossom honey (optional)
- Begin by removing the seeds and the outer skin from the honeydew melon. Next, carefully slice the melon into long matchstick style slices and set aside in a bowl.
- Next, slice each mango in half, remove the inner pit and scoop the mango flesh from the skin. Do this over a bowl to reserve any juice that comes from the mango. Cut the mango into matchstick style slices, like the honeydew melon. Add the mango to the bowl with the melon.
- Slice the top off each strawberry and carefully slice each strawberry into thin slices, no more than 1/8 inch in thickness. Set aside.
- Next, take the lime and, using a zester, scrape off about one teaspoon of zest from the outer skin. After you are finished zesting the lime, cut it in half.
- Add the lime zest and the juice from one half of the lime to the bowl with the honeydew melon and mango. Add in the fresh mint and stir gently, taking care to not mash or break apart the fruit.
- Put cool water in a bowl and soak the rice paper wrappers, working one at a time. Once the wrap has softened, remove it from the water and smooth it out on a cutting board or other flat surface.
- Spoon a generous portion of the honeydew/mango mixture into the center of the wrap, and then cover with an overlapping layer of strawberries.
- Fold the wrap, burrito style, making sure that the ends are tucked in. Set aside and repeat with the rest of the wrappers until all have been used.
- If desired, whisk together the honey and the juice from the remaining lime half and drizzle lightly over the spring rolls before serving.
- Artichokes: Although you can find artichokes later in the year, the peak growing season is from March through May. To spot a perfectly ripe artichoke, look for tightly packed, intact leaves.
- Asparagus: The harvesting of asparagus begins in the late winter and continues through about June, with April and May being the peak months for quality asparagus. Size generally isn’t a great indicator of fresh asparagus, although thicker stalks are a bit more mature and might not be as tender. For the freshest asparagus, look for color that ranges from vibrant green to purplish at the tips. Speaking of tips, they should be tightly closed and the entire stalk from tip to end should be reasonably firm.
- Mustard Greens: If you like your greens with a bit of a peppery bite, then you definitely want to reach for this variety, which is one of the first to come to harvest in the spring. Peak harvest season for mustard greens is from April until early June. Picking the best mustard greens depends on what you intend to do with them. For chopping and sautéing or putting into soups, larger, more mature greens are perfect. If you plan on eating them raw, such as in salads or as a sandwich wrapping, go for greens that are younger, smaller and more tender.
- Radishes: While radishes are a supermarket staple all year round, you can find the best ones at their peak in the springtime. The perfect radish is crisp, not spongey and has a flavor that balances being peppery with just a hint of sweetness.
- Rhubarb: I can’t think of my grandmother’s garden without thinking about rhubarb. The prime season for rhubarb is between April and June. When picking out rhubarb look for stalks that are strong and firm, with leaves that are free of wilting and blemishes.
- Vidalia Onions: Vidalia onions offer the perfect combination of the peppery pungent-ness that you expect from a good onion, but they are balanced with a sweetness that makes the irresistible to even those that typically shun off onions, which makes them incredibly versatile. Vidalia season begins in late spring and continues throughout the summer.
Eating seasonally is a choice that easily blossoms into an experience. There is so much to discover about the bounty of spring and all the delicious ways that you can use it to nourish your healthy lifestyle, support your local community and encourage harmony with our environment. Yes, eating seasonally is great for your physical health, but it offers just as much nourishment for your soul. The next time you are at the supermarket, reaching for produce that you know has traveled too long and too far to reach you, stop and put it back. Then head over to your local farmer’s stand and treat yourself to some local, seasonal freshness.