Your Seasonal Produce Guide: Summer!

Summer is the season for raw, cooling foods, refreshing salads, salsa and slaw. It’s also the grilling and barbecue season, where cooking is taken outside of the kitchen and served to a crowd, sometimes theatrically (yes, even before the fireworks!). Break out the pitcher of iced tea (we’ll take ours sweet, thank you), relax on the front porch, and enjoy the night air, whether it’s placid and calm or stricken with a wicked summer storm.

Todd Richards' Coffee-rubbed wings with corn on the cob and grilled peaches

Entering your farmer’s markets at this time of year, you’ll be dazzled by the canary yellow of summer squash, the crimson of sweet peppers, and lush green of snap beans. You’ll pass bins filled with corn that shines like gold through their string husks and tomatoes in various shapes, colors and sizes (all of which are perfectly paired with a smear of Duke’s mayo and toasty bread). Blushing peaches and plump blackberries tempt you with sweetness, and fresh-cracked melons teem with vibrant juices. It’s no mistake either; many plants intentionally grow colorful, sweeter and even more nutritious at their peak, when they’re ready to be harvested by your local farmer.  Remember, what grows together goes together (which is quite literal in terms of the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash), which explains why just about every Summer crop can be tossed in together as a salad or saute for a mixture that’s always delicious.

Nightshades

This family of plants seems unlikely as its fruits and vegetables seem vastly different from one another. You may have heard of deadly nightshade, which is highly toxic when consumed, and yes - it’s in this family, too. With this association in mind, it may be more clear as to why we don’t eat tomato or potato leaves (although we can eat sweet potato leaves since they aren’t a nightshade!). Look for the following to start appearing in late spring, and enjoy them through the end of summer:

Tomato- Juicy, plump and slightly sweet, tomatoes can come in all sizes and colors, especially their heirloom varieties. Although smaller, sweet varieties come around in the spring season, the bigger beef steak that arrive later on are prime for good ol' tomato-n-mayo sandwiches.

Potato- This humble tuber is the perfect blank slate for flavor. You can enjoy them a variety of ways, like fried, roasted, baked, mashed or in a stew.

Eggplant- Also called “aubergines”, these egg-shaped fruits have a glossy, purple skin and thick, almost spongy flesh that welcomes rich, savory flavors when cooked. They are best enjoyed baked, grilled or fried.

Peppers- Crisp, colorful and versatile, these fruits can be sweet and mild or very spicy. They make up one-third of the Cajun Holy Trinity (beside onion and celery) and are the key ingredient to chili.

Okra- This edible seed pod belongs in the mallow family, and is related to cotton and durian fruit. Its “slimy” mucilaginous properties are a turn-off to some picky eaters, but makes okra an excellent thickener for soups, stews, and even risotto. We also enjoyed them lightly dredged and fried or roasted in the oven as “okra fries”.

sliced tomato on a plate sprinkled with seasoned salt

Curcubits

This is a family of refreshing and fun fruits like cucumber, zucchini and watermelon. They tend to grow low to the ground or along any surface their vines can cling to. As one third of the Three Sisters in a Southern garden, the squash has the job of deterring weeds and pest as well as blocking sunlight and retaining soil moisture which allows all three plants to thrive.

Cucumber- Refreshing, light and invigorating, cucumbers are for more than just spa days. Serve them sliced and with a pinch of salt, in salad or as part of a crudite platter.

Summer Squash- Zucchini and yellow summer squash are different from their winter counterparts in that they can be eaten raw and don’t need to be peeled. Saute them with onion and butter for a satisfying summer side dish.

Melon- Once you carve into their hard outer rind, these fruits reveal their cool, sweet flesh. Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon have a high water content, making them especially refreshing in the summer heat.

Sweet Berries

The botanical definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from the flower of a plant that contains seeds… which includes unlikely subjects like tomatoes and cucumbers while excluding strawberries and raspberries. A more loose definition - the one we’re following here - defines a berry as a small, rounded fruit that can be sweet or sour and doesn’t contain a pit or stone.

Strawberries- These red gems have only  a short season at the end of spring and beginning of summer, so enjoy them quick once you see them at the market! Freeze any that you can’t finish for desserts and smoothies later in the year.

Blueberries- Just like strawberries, gather all the blueberries while you can! Ever noticed how blueberries are actually purple? Anthocyanins, which are known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits, are responsible for that rich hue.

Blackberries- These sweet, juicy berries are worth the trouble of scraping through the brambles they grow in. Each berry consists of about 100 smaller “drupelets” that arrange themselves in a circular clump, sort of like a bunch of grapes but much, much smaller and tighter.

Stone Fruits

These fleshy fruits are named for their large stone seed, and are also known as drupes. In botany, a drupe is an fruit where the outer flesh of the fruit part surrounds the shell of hardened “endocarp” ( or inner part of the shell) with a seed inside. Some varieties are cling-stone, which means you’ll have to carve the pulp away, while others are free-stone, which means the stone easily falls away from the sweet, edible flesh. All are sweet, juicy, and nectarous (like a nectarine!), and they get sweeter as they ripen.

Peaches- Our namesake, and the state fruit of Georgia. The peach can be enjoyed on its own just fine, but it’s a favorite for cobbler around these parts.

Plums- These fruits have a fleshy sweet inside and glossy purple outside. We call them prunes when they’re sold as dried fruit.

Nectarines- Almost identical in genetic makeup to the peach, these fruits have a smooth - not fuzzy - skin, and tend to be a bit more fragrant.

Apricots- They may look more like a peach, but these fruits are more closely related to plums. They’re bright and sweet, but much firmer than a peach.

Cherries- On the more petite side for a stone fruit, cherries can range from sweet to sour in flavor. They grow on trees that are tricky to propagate, and have a very swift growing season… so snatch ‘em up when you can!

Corn

This sweet and versatile grain that was first cultivated and domesticated over 10,000 years ago in Mexico, where it’s more often referred to as maize. One third of the “Three Sisters” in the southern garden, it gives the squash vines something to cling to when growing. The corn plant is a type of grass, related to wheat, rice, barley and sorghum, among others, and it’s a staple food in many regions around the world. The kernels can be eaten on or off the cob, in soups, salads or on their own. Soaking the kernels in lye, a process called nixtamalization, yields hominy, which can be dried and ground into masa harina (used to make tortillas, tamales, sopes and pupusas!). Corn is especially valuable in modern times as animal feed, and because it can be refined for the production of cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, grain alcohol, beer and even biofuel. The favorite way to enjoy corn in the summer is probably the simplest; right off the cob, perhaps grilled and with butter, salt and pepper. It’s worth noting that fresh corn is a key component of a good Low Country Boil.

Legumes

Bean there, done that. Beans, peas and even peanuts fall under this category, all of which offer a wallop of plant-based protein and fiber as well as other essential nutrients like iron, calcium, and B vitamins. They’re also relatively inexpensive and easily stored, so buy in bulk and you’ll have plenty to enjoy over winter. As you plan your summer garden, keep in mind that beans are one-third of the Three Sisters, so be sure to plant them alongside corn and squash for a most successful harvest.

Snap beans- Also called greens beans, string beans and long beans, this family of legumes is harvested before maturity; the entire pod is eaten while the seeds inside are still tiny and soft.  

Fava beans- Also known as broad beans, these legumes are an important part of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. A time-consuming shelling process yields great, flavorful rewards.

Field peas- There are many varieties of this legume, which can be considered a staple in the South. We like to simmer them with smoky ham hocks, and serve them alongside cornbread, greens and potlikker.

Peanuts- Botanically speaking, a peanut is not a nut at all, although it’s used as one in the culinary world. It can be refined into oil or flour, but is also commonly eaten as peanut butter, dry-roasted, or - a southerner’s favorite - boiled!

spread of grilled burgers and hot dogs and potato salad and dessert on a checkered cloth lined table with h make their plate

Anything Else?

Summer is a magical time  where it seems like just about everything is in season. In addition to being in season in the summer, the following fruits and vegetables are in season throughout other parts of the year! They include several of your root vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and greens.

Radish- Radishes are crisp and peppery, perfect for salads or hors d'oeuvres. Their colors can range from red to white to striped.

Turnip- Turnips are crunchy and mild, and play well with other vegetables (ever blended turnips in your mashed potatoes?). Turnip greens, the leafy tops, can be reserved to use in other dishes, giving you the most bang for your buck.

Beets- Beets are deeply nutritious and colorful. They are even used to make organic dyes! Beets are one of the few root vegetables that you really should peel- their peel tends to be tough and holds a bit of dirt.

Carrot- Carrots are one of the ingredients in mirepoix- the French base for cooking. Their sweet, earthy flavor balances a number of dishes. Of course, raw carrots are a delicious snack!

Arugula- Arugula is tender, with a strong spicy bite. This vitamin-rich green is delicious in a salad, but substantial enough to enjoy lightly wilted.

Spinach- Spinach is a culinary favorite. It’s slightly grassy flavor lends balance to salads. Cooked, it’s a popular addition to pastas, quiches, soups and more. To “florentine” a dish, simply add spinach!

Spicy mix- Spicy mix is a beloved lettuce blend from our local farmers. True to its name, this blend has some peppery heat; arugula is a common inclusion.

Cabbage- Cabbage’s large leaves make beautiful rolls. This leafy vegetable is very dense and tightly packed, so it’s a great choice for feeding a crowd.

Broccoli- Broccoli is known for its tasty florets that are delicious raw or cooked. The majority of this plant is too tough to eat, making it a difficult sell for small farmers.

Cauliflower- Cauliflower has enjoyed a lot of recent popularity. Its white florets are tightly packed, and can be broken down to resemble rice! A tasty choice for low-carb eaters.

Kale- Kale isn’t just a fad; it’s been on the menu since the Middle Ages. Numerous varieties of kale grow well in the South, from classic green to dinosaur kale.

Mustard Greens- Mustard greens are harvested from mustard plants. Like the spice, these leaves have a bit of kick to them.

Collard Greens- Collard greens and black-eyed peas is a New Year’s classic known as Hoppin' John. Collards are typically stewed down with pork, though vegetarians can use seasoned or smoked salts to achieve a similar flavor profile.

Mushrooms-  The only fungi on this list, mushrooms have been used medicinally and in culinary preparations for thousands of years. They provide intense savory flavors to recipes, giving vegetarian meals an umami punch to make them more satiating.

Fresh Corn, Herb & Potato Soup with Tomato-Basil Sandwich

Because we collaborate with our local farmers who harvest and deliver their produce just days before it arrives on your doorstep, you'll find the only the most seasonal fresh ingredients in your meal kits! Enjoying a year-round variety of what the South has to offer is both delicious and exciting (and healthful, too!).

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