Written by Diann Leo-Omine & Lisa Lin, Photos by Lisa Lin. This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated to include produce-picking tips and more photos.
In Sacramento, early spring is marked by 70 degree temps and the beginning of t-shirt weather, easily peaking to about 90 degrees in late April. Spring here gives way to summer at the blink of an eye. Talk about a short season! Luckily, regardless of how hot it gets, the local produce proves that it’s still April.
Artichokes are thistles in the sunflower family, and the vegetable we eat is actually the flower bud. Full of folate, vitamins C and K, fiber, and antioxidants, there’s extra incentive to eat artichokes beyond a pizza topping. I describe how to prepare artichokes here but Kitchn has a visual guide as well. Like potatoes and apples, cut artichokes are prone to oxidation, so have a lemon ready!
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE ARTICHOKES
Pick artichokes that are heavy for their size. The bracts (the pokey, pointy outer leaves) should be fairly tight with minimal gaps, and should make a squeaking sound if you press on them. Keep artichokes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper and use within a few days.
Though asparagus can be found in grocery stores year round, there’s nothing like finding asparagus at your local farmer’s market in the springtime. Rich in vitamin K and folate, you’re likely to see asparagus in green but also in purple and white varieties.
There’s even an asparagus festival that has been held in Stockton since 1985! Deep-fried asparagus or asparagus ice cream, anyone? You might not be ready to go that far, but start by trying the recipes below!
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE ASPARAGUS
Choose asparagus spears that are firm with closed tips. Keep the asparagus in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper and use within a few days. Kitchn even suggests trimming the ends of the asparagus off and then putting the spears in a jar with water, like a bouquet of flowers. I personally don’t do this, but you can give it a try!
Do you need me to tell you why you should eat creamy and sweet avocados? Let me count the ways. Avocados are packed with vitamins K, E, D, and A. On top of that, avocados also boast good-for-the-heart monounsaturated fats. Aside from topping toast and smashing into guacamole, there’s plenty of creative ways to get your daily dose of avocado.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE AVOCADO
Choose avocados that are heavy and without any hollow spots. Keep your avocados at room temperature. To speed up the ripening process, place in a paper bag until the skin just starts to yield. They ripen before you know it, so check every day! If you’re not ready to use the ripened avocado just yet, you can pop them in the refrigerator for an extra day or two.
Nutrition for value, nothing beats beets. Bad food puns aside, it’s no surprise why earthy yet sweet beets are touted as a superfood. They’re chock full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium. Beets are also a natural source of nitrates.
Don’t forget about the leafy green tops, either – they’re loaded with B vitamins. Sauté the greens and their stems like you would spinach or rainbow chard, or even blend them into a smoothie – see below for a smoothie recipe that puts those beet greens to work!
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE BEETS
Choose beets that are heavy for their size and unblemished, preferably with taproot intact. Keep beets loose in a plastic bag in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. The beets should stay fresh for up to a month.
If you happen to find the beets with their greens, trim the stems about two inches from the top of the beet. Keep the greens and stems in a bag in the refrigerator crisper, and use within a week.
It might be spring, but the carrots are not just for the Easter bunny! The humble carrot often gets thrown into the base for a soup or tossed as an afterthought into a salad. Rich in vitamin A and potassium, it’s long been said that carrots are excellent for promoting eye health.
Carrots aren’t just orange – they also come in white, yellow, purple, and pink, which makes it all the more worthwhile to include in your spring recipes. We often think of using carrots just for their roots, but like beets, the feathery green tops are also edible.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE CARROTS
Choose carrots that are firm and unblemished. Keep carrots in a bag in your refrigerator’s crisper. The carrots will keep for several weeks.
If you happen to find carrots with their tops, separate the greens from the roots and store in a separate bag in the crisper. Use the greens within a week.
English peas, also known as shelling peas and garden peas, are the same peas you likely have stored in your freezer right now. If they’re the same, why are fresh peas worth the effort of shelling? The fresh, sweet taste of these springtime treats are incomparable to any frozen or canned pea.
Peas from earlier in the season are sweeter than those picked later, as they become more mealy and starchy the longer they sit on the vine. That said, the earlier season peas are fantastic raw, while the later season peas are better cooked. Note that unlike snow peas or sugar snap peas, these pods are inedible as they are very tough.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE ENGLISH PEAS
Pick English pea pods that are unblemished, firm, and with seeds (peas) on the smaller side. Cook and eat these peas as soon as possible after harvest. If you can’t cook them right away, keep the pods in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. For longer storage, I shell the peas and store them in a vacuum sealed bag in the freezer so that they don’t develop freezer burn.
Typically a spring exclusive produce, green garlic has been seen at the local farmer’s market as early as late January, especially with the warmer winters and drought conditions! This allium resembles a cross between a leek and a green onion, with straight, flat stalks and a wide bulbous base. The bulbous base grows larger as the stalk matures.
Green garlic tastes more mild compared to conventional garlic, shining in salads and other recipes where raw garlic is used. Feel free to replace green garlic for any recipe that calls for conventional garlic.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE GREEN GARLIC
Choose green garlic bunches with sturdy, bright green leaves. Store green garlic in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week.
Have you passed up kohlrabi at your local farmer’s market just because the extraterrestrial-like stalks look intimidating? Fear not! This bulbous, cruciferous veggie is related to cabbage and tastes like – surprise – cabbage and broccoli. Kohlrabi is rich with vitamin C. Peel the bitter skin away from the bulb, and you’ve got some delicious peppery crunch to your salads, stir fries, or a great candidate for roasting in the oven. For more information on preparing kohlrabi, check out this how-to guide from Kitchn.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE KOHLRABI
Pick kohlrabi that still looks green (or purple) and is firm and unblemished. Wrap the kohlrabi in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to a week or two. If you find kohlrabi with its greens, cook the greens like you would kale or spinach.
The Sacramento area is abundant with citrus. As if Sacramento needs more sunshine, these wintery oval gems provide a burst of sunshine well into the spring. The most conventional variety you’ll find in grocery stores is the Eureka lemon, which is perfect for brightening up fish dishes or garnishing roasted asparagus. Meyer lemons, which you’re more likely to find at your local farmer’s market, are sweeter, less acidic, and perfect for baking like in the recipes below.
Those on a plant-based diet take note: while lemons themselves are not heavy on iron, they are full of vitamin C and citric acid, both of which help improve iron absorption from kale, spinach, and other plant-based sources of iron. Something healthful to think about when you spritz on the lemon juice to brighten up your leafy greens!
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE LEMONS
Choose lemons that are firm and feel heavy, but have a little give to indicate its juice.
Store lemons in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Lemons can last up to a month this way.
The appearance of rhubarb at the farmer’s market is the surest sign that spring is here. Resembling a reddish-green celery stalk, rhubarb is officially classified as a fruit by the USDA, though its stalks and leaves botanically make it a vegetable. How confusing! In any case, rhubarb supplies a good source of fiber and vitamin K1.
Rhubarb is so commonly baked with strawberries, it’s considered a “pie plant.” However, rhubarb’s sour tartness is also a great match with proteins like chicken or pork.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE RHUBARB
Choose rhubarb stalks that are firm and unblemished. Keep rhubarb in a plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper for up to a week. Cook’s Illustrated recommends wrapping rhubarb in foil to keep it fresh, but I personally haven’t tried this. IMPORTANT: Trim off any leaves that you might find on the stalks! The leaves are toxic if consumed in large quantities.
April is often the soonest you’ll find local strawberries at your farmer’s market. The sight of strawberries is a sure sign that summer is coming. Strawberries pack a punch of ruby red color but also manganese, folate, potassium, and vitamin C.
In the spring, strawberries are most often paired with tart rhubarb. Adding to smoothies and eating the berries straight from the carton are of course easy enough choices.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE STRAWBERRIES
Choose strawberries with a deep ruby color and without signs of rot. Refrigerate in their carton and use within a week. The Kitchn also tested various methods on keeping strawberries, and suggested soaking the berries in a vinegar solution and then spin drying before refrigerating as a way to preserve the freshness of the berries. I personally don’t do this but you could certainly give this a try if you have the time.
Swiss chard is a relative to the beet and nutritionally similar to spinach, with high levels of vitamins C, K, and A. With stems of many colors, you might have seen the silver (white stalks), ruby (red stalks), and rainbow (red, yellow, green stalks) varieties. Like the beet, the leafy top and crunchy stalk are both edible. The raw leaves are a bit more bitter than spinach but have a wide surface area perfect for wraps. For the rainbow variety in particular, the stems are packed with antioxidants!
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE SWISS CHARD
Choose swiss chard with crisp, bright green leaves and firm stalks. Wrap a damp paper towel around the swiss chard and keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. The chard should last for a few days and up to a week this way.
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