Although the weather has been hot and cold during the past several weeks (I think it listens to Katy Perry wayyy too much), the spring season has arrived. And with it comes an array of new fruits, vegetables and herbs for you to cook with and eat.
Say goodbye to the heavy winter squashes like butternut, acorn and pumpkin, and say hello to a whole new array of bright and vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables.
We spoke with Tyler Horne, market manager at Urban Harvest Farmers Market, about the spring produce available now and in the coming months at the farmers markets in Houston. After a few freezes and frosts this winter, as well as a recent week of rainy days, many farmers are bringing the first wave of their spring harvest to the markets.
"The rain is pretty much needed right now," Horne says. "It's the time of year that we really need it so the farms get everything planted...These frosts have pushed the harvest dates two weeks later than they normally are. They got all of these late-season frosts, and so the farmers were having a hard time keeping up. So, tomatoes are in the ground later than they really should be. A lot of the peaches won't be here because they got such a bad freeze. My poor farmer that grows tomatoes ended up putting them in the ground and lost a ton of plants; he didn't expect to have a hard freeze."
Horne explains that the farmers in the northern portions of Houston have a more difficult time during freezing conditions. Fortunately, central Houston's temperatures are moderated by the Gulf of Mexico.
"We are going to start seeing in the springtime blackberries," he says. "We will continue to have strawberries -- that's one of the best things for the market, are our strawberries...We will start to see basil appear. Basil doesn't really like the cold weather, so we will start to see that. We will get sugar snap peas."
Recipe: Enhance strawberries with fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and honey in this recipe from Epicurious. Simply mix sugar, balsamic vinegar, black pepper and honey in a bowl, then add basil leaves and fresh halved strawberries. Serve cold for a refreshing and sweet snack or dessert.
As you make your trips to the markets and grocery stores, you'll see a lot of blueberries alongside the blackberries and strawberries. Citrus season is basically done. Horne explains that all of the citrus trees have already produced all of the fruit that they are going to grow. The spring season is typically when citrus trees begin to bud again.
Houstonians will also be able to purchase leeks, bok choi, Swiss chard and kale -- four items that transfer over from the winter.
Get ready for spring onions, too. Horne says this is the best time of the year for spring onions. You'll also be able to add radishes, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower to your refrigerator.
Recipe: Encompass a variety of spring ingredients with Rocco DiSpirito's recipe for seared salmon with onions and rhubarb. He creates a sauce with sugar, rhubarb and sherry, then cooks spring onions with chicken stock, thyme and butter, and adds shelled fava beans. He then sears the salmon fillets in a cast-iron skillet and serves it with the cooked rhubarb sauce, onions and fava beans.
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"Artichokes will be in season as well," Horne says. "They take nine months to reach maturity, so very few farmers actually want to plant them because most crops have a 60-day cycle. So, you plant and then in 60 days you're ready to sell at a farmers market. Artichokes are like babies. You've got nine months for them to get ready. There's a couple people that grow them, but they'll be for sale at our market here in a month or so."
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Other spring-season produce includes asparagus, fennel, rhubarb and apricots.
If you want to grow your own produce or herbs at home, check out "Year Round Gardening for Metro Houston," written by Dr. Bob Randall, founder of Urban Harvest. Horne says it is like the bible for planting and growing plants in Houston; it contains planting charts illustrating when to grow certain fruits, vegetables and herbs, as well as what to expect. You can purchase it at any of the Urban Harvest farmers markets.
Get those herbs planted outside now, because it is the perfect time to grow mint, oregano, parsley and cilantro along with basil. Of course, you can continue to grow rosemary because it grows year-round. As Horne says, it's hard to kill rosemary.