May 4, 2011
Spring has finally arrived and Farmer’s Markets and grocery stores across the country are blossoming with flowers and fresh spring produce. By picking fresh produce at its peak ripeness, you’re sure to not only have a delicious and healthy treat but it is also more likely that you and your co-habitants (like those kids who simply refuse to eat anything even remotely resembling a vegetable) will get the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Here we highlight some of the season’s most nutrient-dense and tasty fruits and vegetables and how you can pick for maximum flavor and nutrition.
In-season in winter and spring, the blood orange is at its best near the end of the season. The blood orange owes its crimson color to its anthocyanin antioxidants. The flavor of the orange has more to do with the weather while the plant was growing than any particular strategy to pick a ripe fruit (warmer temperatures during growing season lead to a sweeter fruit). Try to pick oranges that are firm and heavy for their size. You can store them in a fruit bowl for just a couple of days but up to a few weeks in the refrigerator.
Mid-spring is peak strawberry season. Look for completely red berries with no dulling or soft spots. Small or medium berries tend to taste best. Store them in a paper towel-lined airtight container in the refrigerator for peak freshness and flavor. Rinse with little water just before serving. Serve at room temperature.
Making their entrance near the end of May, cherries are the first stone fruits to arrive in grocery stores and markets. The cherry peak season lasts only about a month so get them while you can. The best cherries are slightly firm to touch and are a dark, even red color. If a cherry still has some pink, it’s not ripe. On the other hand, if the cherry is soft when you pinch it, it’s over-ripe and will be unpleasant to eat.
While artichokes are available all year round, they are at their peak flavor and availability (and lowest prices) during the spring. Whether large or small, the best artichokes are firm with the leaves closed. The artichoke heart is the tastiest part of the vegetable, so you want to choose artichokes with a large heart – do this by going for heavy artichokes with fat stalks. Store artichokes in the coldest part of the refrigerator (typically the back of the lowest shelf). They’re best within a couple of days but will still taste good for a couple of weeks.
Fresh and ripe avocadoes are a great nutrient-dense spring snack, sandwich addition, or guacamole base. While different types of avocadoes are available year-round, Spring’s fuerte avocado is California’s most commercially-available avocado. Avocados are harvested mature but they don’t actually ripen until after they’re picked. Early in the season, avocadoes have a lighter flavor and less oil while late in the season they can start to taste stringy or have an off-color. Pick an avocado with slight give when cupped in your hand. A ripe avocado can be refrigerated for a few days.
Sometimes referred to as the “aristocrat of the forest,” morels are a spring delicacy savored for their woody flavor. The best morels are firm and tan. Store them in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator for a couple of days to a week at most. Like other mushrooms, morels are low in calories in high in B vitamins and some minerals.
Loaded with vitamins, asparagus is a great spring-time addition to your dinner menu. Pick the most flavorful asparagus by choosing stalks that are firm with tight heads. Thin spears are best steamed or boiled while the fatter spears which are sweeter and meatier are great roasted. Purple asparagus are particularly sweet while the more temperamental white asparagus (which also requires peeling, a longer cooking time, and rapid refrigeration after harvest) has a mild nutty flavor. Asparagus are best used within a couple of days of purchase.
Fava beans are an underrated spring pleasure. The beans burst with a buttery, bittersweet flavor. But to get a taste, it’s going to require a bit of effort. Fava beans come “doubly wrapped”. To eat them you first have to string and shuck the beans, then parboil them, and finally remove the waxy coating. The best beans are bright green, firm and have slightly fuzzy pods that are heavy for their size and show just a bit of the shape of the beans inside. For best taste, avoid beans that are yellow and bumpy.
Natalie Digate MuthContributor
Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, FAAP is the Senior Advisor for Healthcare Solutions for the American Council on Exercise, a board-certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Diplomat of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, and ACE Certified Health Coach. She is the author of "Eat Your Vegetables and Other Mistakes Parents Make: Redefining How to Raise Healthy Eaters" and the textbook "Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals." She has been ACE certified since 1998.