Could you go to the supermarket and purchase radishes any time of year? Of course you could, but would the radish taste as lush if not for being just picked, rubbed clean from dirt and smelling of soil? Still warm from the rays of the sun and not chilled by the cold mist and harsh fluorescent lights of a grocery store?
It’s a romantic look at food, but what better way to think about what we eat than with eager anticipation of how the seasons affect what appears on our tables — the juicy tomato in August, the crisp apple in late September, the first fresh pea shoot in May. The following items are in season right now, waiting for you to take a big bite out of the season.
First up, those orbs of vegetable spiciness. Don’t relegate your radish to the salad bar; while radishes are great on a mixed greens salad, they work equally well roasted in the oven, pickled or paired with butter for an easy appetizer or afternoon snack. Look for new-to-you varieties, like daikon (a long white version), watermelon (colored bright pink), Spanish (almost black and rich in flavor) or Chinese white (mild and subtle).
Eat it now: Generously butter slices of baguette and top with thin slices of radish. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Use the leafy tops of radishes in quiches and wilted into a spicy Indian dal.
It’s not just for pie anymore. Rhubarb transcends the sweet side of life and gets savory, too. All the rain this spring has led to an especially juicy crop, so don’t be alarmed if your rhubarb releases more liquid while baking that usual. Use firm stalks in most recipes, but soft past-the-peak rhubarb can be stewed down with sugar and lemon juice to top ice cream and yogurt.
Eat it now: Add slices of rhubarb into muffins for a tart twist on breakfast; braise chunks of rhubarb with shredded red cabbage and serve with medium-rare skirt steak.
June is dairy month in New York State, thanks in large part to the rapid growth of grass that leads to what is called the “spring flush,” or an increase of milk from ruminants. Celebrate it with delicious fresh cheeses, like ricotta, mozzarella and goat cheese. Because the milk has bright, clean flavors from fresh grass, the cheese imparts a mild flavor.
Eat it now: Blend ricotta with torn basil leaves and lemon zest to taste and spread on crackers; pair goat cheese with squash blossoms. (See below.)
Spring lambs frolicking in the fields are a classic vignette of Easter… so is a roasted leg of lamb. At first, it might seem morbid and difficult to consider the meat on your plate coming from such an adorable critter, but we promise you’ll forget that after one succulent bite.
Eat it now: Fire up the grill and swap-out ground beef for ground lamb to make burgers. Season with kosher salt, pepper, and za’atar spice blend.
Herbs are some of the first seedlings to appear in gardens, and many are perennials that flourish after a long winter’s nap. Herbs are an easy way to boost flavor in simple cooking or can stand out on their own in salads and cocktails.
Eat it now: Muddle herbs into cocktails (like rosemary in a Tom Collins); pair complementary herbs (like thyme and sage or basil, parsley and oregano) and mix them into butter. Roll into a log with waxed paper and freeze until needed for bread, sauces, or to top meat; use tender herbs, like cilantro and lemon balm, to compose salads dressed with citrus juice and olive oil.
Are you sure that’s just lettuce in your salad? Maybe it’s mesclun, mâche, watercress, arugula, bronze or red oak or baby chard. Late spring and early summer are peak times for tender greens that are best fresh or slightly wilted. Leave the braising to hardy fall and winter leaves.
Eat it now: Make a simple salad of greens with carrot and radish tops and dress it with lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Use it as a springy topping for pan-fried chicken cutlets.
Garlic won’t be hitting the farmers markets until this fall, but garlic scapes -- the green above-ground portions of the allium that supplies the bulb with energy -- are ready now.
Eat it now: Bring one cup of water and one cup of apple cider vinegar to a boil with a tablespoon of salt. Pour over the garlic scapes in a jar and allow to sit in the fridge, covered, for at least one week; substitute garlic scapes for basil in your favorite pesto recipe.
Delicate baby potatoes are dirt candy. Sweeter than their full-grown counterparts with intense notes of the terroir that nurtured them, new potatoes should be left as unfussy as possible, roasted or boiled and dressed minimally.
Eat it now: Slice new potatoes in halves or quarters and boil in salted water until fork-tender. Add them to a sizzling cast iron skillet with oil oil and cook until slightly crispy. Transfer to a boil and season with sherry vinegar, salt, a bit of Dijon mustard to taste, and fresh sliced scallion greens.
For some, summer starts at Memorial Day. For others, it’s when strawberries come into season. Thankfully those two benchmarks are close together on the warm-weather timeline.
Eat it now: Don’t mess with a good thing. Dress fresh sliced strawberries with fresh thyme leaves and sugar to taste. Allow to rest together for 15 minutes, then spoon over biscuits and dollop with just-made vanilla whipped cream.
Those bright orange and yellow blossoms that open up and greet the sunshine on zucchini or pumpkin (or any other squash) plants are a garden pleasure all their own. Eat them fresh in salads or try a classic frite preparation.
Eat it now: Stuff squash blossoms with goat cheese. Dip the stuffed blossoms into a light batter of flour and seltzer and fry in vegetable oil until golden brown and crisp. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.
Deanna Fox is a freelance food and agriculture writer.