Globalization has made many food products available throughout the year, but some of us still yearn in springtime for the delicacies that once were found only at this time of year.
By Paul Hicks
Globalization has made many food products available throughout the year, but some of us still yearn in springtime for the delicacies that once were found only at this time of year. It doesn’t matter that a favorite item grown in Chile or New Zealand can be bought here in the dead of winter. It is just more satisfying if it appears in the stores in spring while the supply lasts for only a brief period.
Here are some of the traditional favorites that are starting to arrive in stores locally or may be available at farmers markets and elsewhere in the next few months:
Artichokes: Almost all of the artichokes grown in this country come from California and are at their peak from March to May. Baby artichokes are the low-sprouting buds of ordinary globe artichoke plants. They are mature but are still quite tender and have no hairy choke.
Fava beans: A favorite food in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, fava beans are also at their peak between March and May. Buy smooth, firm, bright green pods; then shell, blanch and remove the husk from the beans.
Fiddle heads: These are the early-growth of certain ferns, mainly the ostrich variety. Their shape resembles the heads of violins or fiddles (hence the name). Some say they taste like a cross between spinach and asparagus. Look for ones that are bright green with tightly coiled tops and rinse in several changes of water.
Garlic scapes: The flower stalks, called scapes, are cut from garlic bulbs normally in June in this region. When they are still in full curl, they are tender and succulent. With a mild garlic taste and the snap of asparagus, they are good in soups, salads, stir-fries and much more.
Maatjes (new) herring: Whether you have been introduced to this delicacy as a child in Holland, Germany, or Scandinavia or are just a herring lover, plan a trip to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal in June for the arrival of the first 2014 shipment in the U.S. You can sign up on the Oyster Bar website to receive notices of when the herring and your other favorite seafood are on the menu.
Morels: The growing season for wild morels varies across the country, but it typically occurs in the spring in most regions. An entry on the Whole Foods website reads, “In the spring, the morel emerges for a few precious weeks when we see sporadic availability of this exceptional foraged mushroom.” However, dried morels are available throughout the year.
Ramps: These are wild leeks that taste like a combination of onion and garlic. They mellow as they cook, and every part of them can be used as a substitute for onions or leeks. Their growing season is March through May, and although West Virginia is the Mecca of Ramps, you can find them on menus in some New York City restaurants.
Vidalia onions: A recent article in The New York Times reported on the big business of growing these sweet onions in Georgia, and a fight over when the first shipments will go out this year (April 21 it seems). It included this recipe: cut a hole in the top of a peeled onion and fill the cavity with butter; add salt and pepper, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.
Shad and roe: Unfortunately, overfishing has diminished the stock of shad (and roe) in our rivers, so it is a rare treat for us lovers of these delicacies to find them in the fish markets in early spring. If you are also a fan, hurry before they disappear.
Soft-shelled (blue) crabs: Traditionally, the season for harvesting blue crabs along the East coast begins with the first full moon in May (May 14 this year), after they have shed their hard shells. However, the growth of farm-raised crabs has extended the season in Florida into November.
White asparagus: The reason for the bleached color and the slightly milder taste of this type of asparagus is because it has not seen the light of day. It is otherwise the same as the green variety, but has achieved something of a cult status in northern Europe and in some restaurants in this country. It is important to peal the bottom part of the spear, because white asparagus tends to have a thick skin.
There are many online resources where you can find recipes and suggestions for buying and preparing these and other culinary harbingers of spring. We should all support the grocery stores and farmers markets that feature locally grown food products as they help take us back to our roots.