It seemed to jump from a rainy, early spring here in Northern California straight to the heat of summer. Though it comes as a surprise each year, the heat is normal and it encourages the ripening of some of our favorite summer fruits. In the span of a couple of weeks, the farmer’s market changes from green, green, green, to red, blue, purple! The variety in color, taste, and texture is so consuming that my farmer’s market mornings get longer and longer as I walk and dream of all the delicious possibilities. Here are some of my favorite picks for May:
Apricots: Available from May through September, apricots are an Asian fruit, first brought to Europe by the Greeks who called them “golden eggs of the sun.” Like most orange hued plants, apricots are an excellent source of vitamin A and carotenes. Select fruits with a uniform golden-orange color and rich aroma. Ripened apricots are very delicate and should be handled with care. Store them in the fridge in an egg crate where they won’t get bruised.
Blueberries: These little nutrient powerhouses contain the most antioxidants of any fruit and are good sources of fiber and vitamin C. Though their peak season is July, blueberries start appearing in May, in time to usher in the first days of summer. Look for berries that are vibrantly colored, taut, and shiny. Use your berries in salads, desserts and as part of a delicious breakfast or snack. Stock your freezer with bags of unwashed blueberries so you can enjoy them throughout the year.
Cantaloupe: Another orange fruit high in vitamin A and carotenes, cantaloupe is also a great source of vitamin C and potassium. Available from May through September, this juicy summer fruit is delicious on its own and its sweetness pairs well with salty meats, like prosciutto, and fresh herbs, like mint or rosemary. Choose cantaloupes that feel heavy for their size with a spongy, sweet-smelling stem.
Eggplant: Eggplants, or aubergines as they’re known in France, are a delicious member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes. They’re an excellent source of fiber as well as vitamin C and potassium. Select eggplants that are firm with green leaves as they can become bitter when they’re over-mature. As a tropical fruit, they’re best kept at room temperature so store them on your countertop and enjoy within a few days.
Bell Peppers: A fantastic source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and antioxidants, bell peppers are a blood-sugar-sparing vegetable perfect for adding crunch and sweetness to your meals. Peppers should be vivid in color with firm skin and feel heavy for their size. Enjoy them raw, dipped in hummus, roasted, sautéed, or in soups or chili. They’re a member of the nightshade family, so they’re best avoided if you’re sensitive to other nightshades.
Peaches: Nothing says summer more than stone fruit, and to me, peaches are the jewel in summer’s crown. They start ripening in late spring, but may not reach their peak sweetness until mid-summer. A good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, the early Chinese would use the pit for medicine and call the fruit the “longevity peach” as it was believed to extend life. Choose peaches with a sweet fragrance and are soft, but not mushy. Firmer peaches should be left on the counter to ripen, and ripe peaches should be stored in the fridge and eaten as quickly as possible.
Plums: Known mostly for their antioxidant content and ability to increase iron absorption, plums are another sweet summer treat that begins to appear in May. Look for plums that have a rich color and feel slightly soft to the touch. Consume plums at their ripest for highest antioxidant content and avoid buying plums that are underripe as they probably won’t develop a good taste and texture profile.
Tomatoes: As one of the most commonly consumed fruits, tomatoes tend to be available in markets year-round. Tomatoes are a fabulous source of lycopene and studies have shown the nutrients in tomatoes to support heart health and bone density. Look for smooth-skinned tomatoes with vibrant color and be sure to enjoy different varieties which range in color from light yellow to deep red. Tomatoes are sensitive to cold, so be sure to store them at room temperature and avoid cooking with aluminum cookware as their high acid content can interact with the metal in the cookware.