The unofficial start of summer for the produce business is the week leading up to Memorial Day. This is a crazy busy time for us and this year seems to be even busier than most as we scramble to adapt to a wet, blustery, and (in many growing areas) cool spring growing season. Whole Foods Produce is a beehive of activity as we enter into the time of year where we enjoy the greatest abundance and variety of domestic production. Late May also marks another major transition in the types of produce we sell (and eat) as Mother Nature provides another big push away from the warm comfort foods of the winter and early spring into what I loosely define as "picnic season favorites."
The overlapping seasonal transition from spring to summer almost never goes smoothly for buying and transportation. What you expect to happen almost always differs from reality and this adds to the time we spend with each order. Product size and grade, actual harvest amounts, and loading locations can all change more frequently this time of year and the task of transportation takes on the air of a treasure hunt as trucks crisscross growing regions chasing after the best product to load. Regional and local vegetable and fruit production is underway in many of the lower southern states though, so trucks once full often do not have as far to travel to reach their final destination. In the U.S., the seasonal lines are blurred by import product and improved long term storage, but here are a few items that make an appearance now where the quality and flavor difference is really noticeable.
Corn: Nothing says "Hey, I'm out of season" more than corn that has to travel too far. The best tasting corn is eaten only a few days after it's picked and while we are several weeks away from local harvests in the northernmost parts of the US, steady production on both sides of the country mean transit times are greatly reduced. Look for corn with pale translucent silk and bright green exterior husks- it's also best to keep the husk on until right before you cook it (to prevent dehydration). Truly fresh corn needs only a few minutes steaming (really just heating up) to eat.
Melons: A cool spring has slowed but not stopped domestic harvests in melons throughout the U.S. Watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe (including the east coast favorite, the Athena melon) have all begun and while other interesting varietals will follow later in the summer, the warm southern growing areas in the country are already producing some exceptional specimens. Reports from Dana, our Southeastern field buyer, have been glowing on the early harvests out of Florida, particularly on that picnic season standby - the seedless watermelon.
Onions: So maybe this is only romantic to me - but after a winter of storage onions and a spring of short supplies and ugly high prices, nothing is sweeter than the first onion arrivals of the spring. Far from my home but no less exciting because of it, the Georgia Vidalia Onion is enhancing the flavor of every dish they are a part of. The Texas 10/15 is also starting to show up in grocery stores throughout the southwest, and west coast sweet yellow and red harvests are not far behind.
There are many more new crop items that are just getting started (cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, peppers, squash and cucumbers to name a few). There are also many spring production commodities that continue well into summer (like berries and asparagus). As May fades into June and summer takes hold, the bounty of our wonderful planet and efforts of our fantastic farmers shift into high gear. And we are only getting started…
See you next year, spring. Hello summer!