Exciting days have arrived in area Greenmarkets, the network of farmers markets that reaches across all five boroughs of New York City. There is probably no week that boasts a broader range of farm-grown edibles — you’ll be able to make one of the year’s best salads with the tender lettuce and purple snow peas available. Here’s a rundown of what to expect, based on my three or four weekly visits to the Union Square and other Greenmarkets (yes, I’m obsessed). What’s available at your local Greenmarket will vary tremendously based on the size of the market, the mix of farmers, and where they come from.
The earliest summer fruits and vegetables, especially from farms upstate with shorter growing seasons, are accounted for. And South Jersey farmers, who have a warm microclimate at their disposal, are already offering vegetables and fruits that might be associated with midsummer or later, and even blueberries and cherries. Though no corn has yet appeared, the first ears may be expected in a couple of weeks.
Note that I haven’t listed prices because they vary tremendously, with strawberries ranging from $6 to $9 per quart, for example. And it’s no secret that if you don’t like a price you see, you’re welcome to try and bargain it down. If you go later in the afternoon, farmers will be more likely to come down at least a little or discount bulk purchases. I particularly like to make gazpacho, and at the end of the day, bags of overripe tomatoes can go for a pittance compared to the prices they usually command.
Read on for the markets’ new finds, the items that you won’t see around in a month, and the best deals to be had.
The Newest Arrivals
I saw my first raspberries at the Union Square Greenmarket this past Wednesday, and whole heads of cauliflower arrived at about the same time. As happened last year, many of these heads are in unexpected colors, including yellow, orange, and sometimes purple. Cucumbers have also just shown up; I counted four varieties, namely kirbies, Persian, common cutting cucumbers, and seedless (sometimes called burpless, though who burps when they eat cucumbers?).
Strawberries have been here for a couple of weeks already, but this is the time when multiple varieties arrive. Remember that strawberries do not do well in summer’s heat, so plan on eating them immediately. Wednesday I saw a variety called Tribute that were almost as small as Tristar, a type bred in part from wild strawberries, which have a particularly delicious flavor and are sometimes known as day-neutral because the plants mature later and the fruit appears all summer.
I’ve been seeing broccoli for a couple of weeks, and it is often a very good deal. It grows in profusion, and farmers often want to get rid of it. Romanesco broccoli — that crazy green, cone-shaped vegetable with fractal geometric patterns — appeared for the first time this week. Another first-timer was celtuce, a form of lettuce that is all stem, sometimes seen in Chinese restaurants in the city.
On the Way Out
While some vegetables and fruits are newly arrived, others are in their last days. This spring, alliums in the onion and garlic family have held sway. We’ve seen chives, garlic chives, garlic scapes (the top of the plant that produces heads of garlic), green garlic, ramps, spring onions, and scallion, both white and purple, some of them foraged. These are all fun to cook with, because the flavor varies between specimens, even within a single category.
Sugar snap peas are another vegetable you won’t see for much longer, so grab some now. Don’t shell them but eat them raw, as a snack or in a salad. Shelling peas and snow peas remain relatively rare, but you’ll still be able to find them for a month or so. At the Tompkins Square Greenmarket on Sunday, I stumbled on some miniature snow peas that varied from purple to bright yellow to the usual green, and made a spectacular addition to a crisp salad. And if you’re into making pies, the end of the rhubarb season is upon us.
Some Good Deals
We’ve had hothouse tomatoes for about a month now, both traditional Jersey varieties and the usual sprawl of heirlooms, but at relatively high prices. The hothouse tomatoes that are grown in dirt are generally better than the hydroponic ones, but that’s not always the case. If you’re making sauces or cold soups, buy the ones nobody wants because they’re too soft. Sometimes those are thrown in a box under the counter; look for it. Simply cut out the bad spots.
As field tomatoes appear, the price of all tomatoes will be driven downward, and bargains become available (though tomatoes rarely dip below $3 a pound). Lettuce — about 10 varieties are currently available — is a particularly good deal at this time. Many farmers have it, and heads are big. But be careful: A humongous head of lettuce that seems like a good deal (heads are often sold by the piece rather than by the pound) may prove to be tough when you get it home. Accordingly, look for smaller, more delicate heads of oak leaf or butter (Boston) lettuce. Think about paying a little more for hydroponic lettuce; it doesn’t have to be washed as thoroughly and is tenderer, with less waste.
And, like me, excitedly await the appearance of the first stone fruits, especially sour cherries and apricots. Then we’ll know summer has really arrived.