How to shop for seasonal produce in the summertime
While it depends on where in the country you’re living, in most regions around the U.S., there is an abundance of locally-grown fruits and veggies that can be found at your local farmers market. The easiest way to ensure that what you’re eating is in season is to buy directly from farms in your area, but many grocery stores will stock their shelves (at least partially) with local produce during the height of the growing season as well. Just be sure to read labels and don’t hesitate to ask to speak to a store manager if you want to learn more about your grocer’s sourcing practices.
The best part of cooking with fresh, seasonal produce is that the ingredients are the star of the show, meaning the prep work and seasoning should be minimal and fuss-free. All you really need is some good olive oil, salt, and pepper, and you can give veggies a quick steam, grill, or roast—just enough to soften them. Throw together fresh salads with a mix of fruits and vegetables and drizzle on a simple dressing of lemon juice and oil for the perfect side dish at any summer gathering. (And add a sprinkle of salty cheese for an extra flavor boost.)
Bottom line? Don’t be afraid to get creative with mixing and matching summer produce, as it’s hard to go wrong. That said, if you want some tried-and-true recipe standouts, keep reading for all the best in-season produce this August and how exactly you can use each one in your kitchen.
August produce to look out for: what’s in season right now
Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are often what we think of when we long for summer produce, and for good reason. A bowl of unadorned juicy, sweet berries makes the ideal simple ending to even the most elevated summer dinner. For one step up, try berries and vegan whipped cream. And if you’re willing to turn your oven on, this healthy blueberry pie with gluten-free crust can’t be beat.
Shopping tip: Look for plump and firm berries that are fully colored (red, blue, or purple, depending on what you’re buying). Avoid wrinkled berries and check for spots of mold, which can happen if the berries were stored before fully dry from the fields.
Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are all part of the nightshade family of vegetables, and they are all at their tastiest in the hot and sunny later months of the summer. (Read: no mealy tomatoes or bland eggplants here.) All you really need to highlight the best tomatoes of the season is a drizzle of high-quality olive oil and sea salt, or you could throw together this sophisticated tomato galette.
Shopping tip: When it comes to eggplants, you’re seeking a smooth and shiny surface, and a vegetable that feels heavy in your hand and feels slightly firm to the touch. The texture is similar when picking out tomatoes, while paying extra attention to avoid any mushy spots. Tomatoes should have a deep and consistent color, and should smell sweet and aromatic when held up to the nose.
3. Stone fruits
Named for the large “stone” pit inside, the stone fruit family—which includes peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, and apricots, among others—truly shines for its juicy sweetness this time of year. If you can resist eating your fruit raw on the car ride home from the market (pack extra napkins for dripping chins!) there is no shortage of ways to use stone fruit in the kitchen. Toss some chopped cherries or nectarines on top of your salad, make a classic fruit pie, or try this vibrant vegan, gluten-free peach cobbler. If you’re feeling like a cold treat, this one-step vegan cherry coconut soft-serve couldn’t be more refreshing.
Make the world’s best peach cobbler alongside Sashah Handal here:
Shopping tip: Avoid squeezing stone fruit to check for ripeness, which can bruise the delicate flesh. Instead, use your sense of smell; the fruit should smell floral and sweet. Looking for smooth, unwrinkled flesh, and look for cherries with the stems still attached—they’ll last longer once you bring them home.
Radishes can have an undeserved rep as being a throwaway salad topper, but an in-season radish is surprisingly sweet and refreshing. Try slicing up for crudité with a fresh dip or layer them on crusty bread with salted butter as the French do. Or, try roasting up halved radishes with sea salt for a delicious side dish.
Shopping tip: Look for radishes with greens that are still attached and are fresh-looking, not wilted or brown. The globes themselves should be brightly colored, smooth, and free of blemishes and cracks.
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Watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew are all mouth watering at this time of year. These standouts don’t need anything other than a simple slice and dice to shine for any meal or snack. Try combining a combination of melon chunks with yogurt and granola for protein-packed breakfast, or make a watermelon cake that manages to impress without being fussy.
Shopping tip: Ripe melons will feel heavy for their size and should have a deep, hollow sound when given a light knock. Watermelons won’t smell like much, but honeydews and cantaloupes give off a sweet aroma once they reach ripeness.
6. Summer Squash
Zucchini and yellow squash are quintessential summer produce (not to be compared with their harder-skinned relatives, winter squash). A simple sauté or steam is an excellent way to bring out the natural flavor of these nutritious and tasty veggies, or try them raw in salads. Have a bumper crop to get through? Make zucchini bread and freeze for a taste of summer all year-round.
Shopping tip: Look for zucchini that are small to medium-sized, meaning no longer than eight inches. The squash should feel firm and be free of nicks and cuts. Pro tip: really fresh zucchini will bare tiny hair bristles.
When you start seeing fresh ears of corn popping up at farm stands, it really feels like summer. Boiled, steamed, or grilled, you can’t go wrong with these tender, sweet stalks. A touch of butter and salt is all you need—anything else overcomplicates one of nature’s most perfect flavors. If you need a recipe to make and freeze, try a corn and ginger soup for an unexpected twist.
Shopping tip: Corn husks should be bright green, wrapped tightly, and slightly damp to the touch. Avoid anything that’s starting to yellow, go dry, or feels slimy. As tempting as it might be, don’t peel back the husk to inspect the inside, as it causes the kernels to dry out and start to lose their sweetness.
This article was originally published here