Written by Emily Whitmore, SEL Intern
Spring has finally sprung! And so will a few crops that we’ve been missing throughout this long, snowy winter. As May and June are approaching, lets look at a few crops that will be available fresh at the markets!
One delicious ingredient that is very popular during the spring is rhubarb! Rhubarb is a vegetable, although it is commonly misidentified as a fruit due to its popular use in pies, jams and sauces. Rhubarb’s crisp stalks taste sweet/tart and serve as the perfect refreshing snack to munch on as the days get warmer. The stalks can range in color from reddish pink to green and the difference is in the taste – the redder the stalk, the sweeter the taste. However, you must remember that the stalk is the only part of the plant that should be consumed. Rhubarb leaves must be avoided because they are poisonous and contain oxalic acid. This can be very damaging to the body if consumed in large quantity, eventually causing kidney failure.
Rhubarb isn’t just tasty, but it also provides many health benefits. It is notably high in fiber and also contains potassium, vitamin A, calcium and more. In fact, one cup of cooked rhubarb has an equal amount of calcium than a glass of milk (although it is less bioavailable than calcium from dairy products)! Rhubarb is a perennial crop that is very low maintenance as it rarely suffers from disease or pests. It is typically harvested between April and June; so don’t miss your chance to pick up some fresh rhubarb at the market.
Another perennial vegetable that is available this time of the year is fresh asparagus. Many are probably familiar with green asparagus and its mild, earthy taste. However, some may be unaware of the different varieties of asparagus: purple and white. The purple varieties tend to be sweeter in flavor and less fibrous, however are more susceptible to disease. White asparagus is grown using the process of etiolation. Etiolation is the deprivation of light, and the absence of light disables the stalks from producing chlorophyll. Without the production of the pigment chlorophyll, the asparagus will not be given its green color, resulting in white asparagus. White asparagus is described to be more tender and subtle in flavor than green varieties. Something that all varieties have in common is their nutritional content. Asparagus is very high in fiber, vitamin K and folate, so be sure to keep a look out for this nutritious vegetable in the upcoming months!
Lastly, towards the end of June we can expect to see the return of fresh strawberries! This popular member of the rose family is one of the first fruits to ripen in the spring. Strawberries can be confusing because despite their name, they are not a berry.
By definition, a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from
a single plant ovary. Strawberries, on the other hand, are made up of several ovaries that were separate in a single flower. This is called an aggregate fruit, and another fruit that shares this characteristic are raspberries. Although they are not berries, strawberries are still exceptionally high in vitamin C and contain powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients. They are enjoyed in many ways including raw, cooked in desserts, jams, sauces, and more! Pair some fresh strawberries from Sugar Momma’s Maple farm with fresh rhubarb from Two Farmers Farm and make a pie, muffins, jams or even compote. See the recipe below for some ideas!
Servings: makes about 3.5 cups
- 1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered lengthwise
- 1 pound rhubarb, stalks only, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and serve warm over vanilla ice cream, angel food cake or waffles.
Asparagus and Strawberry Salad with Balsamic and Basil
Makes 2 appetizer sized or 1 sizable salad.
- 5 large stalks asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 cup halved or quartered fresh strawberries
- 6 cups fresh greens (mesclun, baby spinach, romaine, mache — all of these will be just fine)
- 1/4 cup tightly packed fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 tabelspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp agave or maple syrup
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
Bring a small pot of water to boil. Add the asparagus and blanch for 1-2 minutes till the stalks are still crunchy, but bright green and just tender enough to be palatable to you. Slice the basil into thin ribbons and, in a large bowl, combine the greens, asparagus, basil, and strawberries. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, syrup, and salt/pepper. Toss with the greens. Serve.