Spring has officially made its way to the Pacific Northwest! Finally! While we’re enjoying longer days, warmer, and enduring the rain that comes with it, so are local plants and gardens. These springtime characteristics foster an environment perfect for the resurgence of hibernating vegetation. Fresh buds, shoots, baby leaves, flowering fruit trees and new sprouts are all distinctive to spring, and they are well represented in the fruits and vegetables that will be locally available in the coming months.
Due to its local accessibility, which means less transport time and less nutrient loss, seasonal produce is packed with more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than out-of-season foods. It tends to be cheaper as well, so take advantage! Here are some tips to ensure that you are purchasing and storing the freshest and most flavorful seasonal spring produce.
- Technically, asparagus comes into season in February, but does not hit its peak until mid April, continuing its season through June.
- When choosing asparagus, look for stalks that are bright green in color with no signs of shriveling and little-to-no odor.
- Tips of the asparagus should be firm and tight; not mushy. The tips may also be slightly purple in color.
- Asparagus can be stored in the refrigerator crisper drawer for up to 2 days before it starts to decline in flavor and texture.
- The thinner stalk will be less woody and more tender.
- While it is possible to find artichokes year-round, their main growing season is in the late spring and into the early summer.
- Look for plump, weighty artichokes that are uniformly green in color, with tight leaves.
- You can also squeeze the artichoke a bit and listen for a small squeaking sound, which is a good sign of freshness.
- To prevent mold from growing on your artichokes, make sure that they are completely dry before storing. You can store an artichoke in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Delicate lettuces such as butter, Mache, arugula, and romaine are at the peak of their season in spring.
- Choose loosely formed lettuce heads with bright, shiny leaves. Look out for brown wilting edges.
- Store lettuce in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- The small leaves, when piled on top of each other in a box, will go bad quickly because there is no circulation. Try using quickly after purchase, and while in the fridge, flip the box to a different side each day.
- Pea shoots, English, snow, and sugar snap peas are all at optimal freshness in early to mid spring.
- It is important to buy peas that have been very recently harvested, the more time that passes the starchier and tasteless peas become.
- Look for bright green pods that are full and not bulging or partially open; bulging pods indicate larger peas, which can end up being starchier and less sweet as they are overly matured.
- Avoid pods that rattle, as this indicates dried peas.
- One pound of peas in their shells is the equivalent to about a cup of shelled peas.
- Store peas in their shells until ready to use, shelling peas causes their natural sugars to deteriorate more quickly.
- Strawberries are the first fruits to ripen in spring and early summer. Their peak season is from April until early June.
- When buying strawberries look for brightly colored, dry, firm, shiny, plump berries that still have fresh-looking green caps attached. The more strongly they smell, the more flavorful they tend to be.
- Avoid soft, dull, blemished, and shriveled berries.
- Strawberries do not continue to ripen once removed from the vine, so avoid berries that don’t appear quite ripe.
- Do not wash or hull strawberries until you’re ready to use them. Store (preferably in a single layer on a paper towel) in a moisture proof container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
- Pair with your strawberries for a perfect sweet/tart dessert, such as a pie or a crumble
- Rhubarb is a long, stalky plant that looks a bit like pink celery and is known for its tart taste which is why it’s often baked or roasted and paired with a sweeter fruit.
- Look for firm, crisp stalks during its peak season, April – June.
- Store in the refrigerator, unwashed, for up to one week.
By Emily K, Bastyr University student intern
Edited by Flannery N., Bastyr University student intern