Strolling through my urban neighborhood, it’s not hard to see what the season has to offer. The limbs of a neighbor’s peach tree threaten to snap under the weight, plums splatter the sidewalk, and apples on my tree are getting crisp. Summer is well under way. But while backyard gardeners and hungry foragers know what’s ripe and what tastes best now, sometimes knowing what to buy when can be confusing. Supermarkets offer us a year-round supply of things we’re only supposed to get during certain times of the year, so we’ve lost our sense of seasonality. While it’s convenient to be able to get tomatoes in December, they just don’t taste like they’re supposed to.
The best place to start recognizing seasonal goods is at, of course, the farmer’s market.
Although skilled farmers can lengthen the season of certain fruits and vegetables longer than that of a backyard gardener (tomatoes, grown in a hothouse, can be ready as early as June; apples, normally a fall crop, kept in a cool cellar can stay crisp well into spring), their bounty still largely adheres to the seasons.
So as late summer approaches, what should you stock up on, freeze, eat, or can, during the dwindling summer months and into September?
Though people start looking for tomatoes as soon as June hits, they’re ripe well into August, September, and in warmer climates, October. Look for dark color and a soft, but firm, texture. Try them chopped with basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper on baguette slices.
Harder shelled squash, like butternut and pumpkin, are fall or winter crops, while other squash, like zucchini, crookneck, and pattypan, are in abundance during the summer months. Their sweet flavor pairs well with herbs and they cook deliciously on the grill. Look for them until September.
Peppers, both sweet and spicy, ripen during the summer and you’re likely to find a good assortment of types at most markets. Bell peppers are especially sweet and colorful from the farmer’s market and chili peppers will pack a hot punch during the Indian summer.
These are best during the summer, but will continue producing until late fall.
Sweet and crispy, cucumbers are ready in June and continue until about November. Look for the round yellow cucumbers, which are especially sweet.
Though I’m sad to report the Japanese eggplant in my backyard has yet to set fruit (which likely means, it being August as I write this, I won’t see any crop), most real farmers should be hauling in the long and thin or the short and rotund vegetables from the field from July through October.
Sweet corn is the quintessential summer food; great boiled or grilled. Varieties include sweet, white, yellow, and bi-color. Although corn is at its peak between June and August, you can find it as late as November in warmer climates.
Okra peaks from June through October, and can be fried, used in soups, or canned.
Rhubarb, whose leaves you can’t eat but whose stalks you can, is available during the warm months. Rhubarb pie and pickled rhubarb are favorites.
A classic summer herb that is often paired with tomatoes, this is the best time to indulge in as much basil as possible. Although sweet basil is always a hit, look for lemon, Thai, and lime basil, which can add interesting nuances to dishes.
Stone fruit, which include peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots, are ripe and luscious during the summer. Talk a walk through your neighborhood to see if someone needs help relieving some of their excess fruit.
Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries start to trickle off at the end of the summer, but you’re still likely to find hefty amounts at most farmer’s markets. Hardy blackberries keep going well into September; look for them growing roadside.
Watermelons, which take a long time to mature, are in abundance during the summer, as are cantaloupes, honeydew, and muskmelons.
Figs ripen later in the season, and you’ll find them around June until November. There are many types of figs, and they come in shades of purple to green.
Though often eaten in Thanksgiving desserts, pears start to hit the market in August and are in season throughout the fall and into winter, depending on variety.
Like pears, many types of apples don’t ripen until the fall, but plenty are ripe in the beginning of August and on.
Many other crops will be available at your farmer’s market, depending on where you live. Potatoes, carrots, lettuces, beans, and broccoli are sold at the market near me, but certainly not everywhere. Part of the fun is discovering what’s new and happening at fresh markets. And luckily, there are usually lots of samples.