There’s no denying it- summertime in Central Texas is HOT! But when it comes to eating seasonally and locally, we’ve got it made. Local farms, community gardens, and backyard gardens are exploding with a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables, many of which can’t be found on any supermarket shelf. Here’s a rundown of what we’re most excited about this season, along with some tips for putting these veggies to good use:
Peppers – Oh my, are there some lovely sweet and hot (!) peppers to enjoy right now. Our favorites are the shishito (aka the Russian Roulette Pepper – you never quite know which ones will be spicy) and the sweet red carmen (aka Italian Frying) pepper. Currently we’ve got all the TexMex staples- plump jalapeños, the gorgeous and long cayenne, spicy serranos that leave a lingering heat in your mouth, bell peppers in every color of the rainbow, and poblanos that can be eaten fresh now or dried into smoky ancho chilies to savor once the season is over.
Squash – Summer and winter squash abound this time of year! The soft skinned summer varieties can be eaten raw, sautéed, steamed, grilled, stewed… you name it. There’s an acknowledged double-edged sword to the abundance of squash come summertime, though. Squash plants (cucurbita) are (in)famous (depending on how you look at it) for producing a LOT. Try this tasty zucchini fritter recipe to get you through the summer’s harvest. The hard skinned squash – acorn, butternut, spaghetti – though referred to as “winter squash” are also abundant now. They garnered the name “winter squash” for their storage capabilities. Spaghetti squash is one of our favorites; here’s a great way to prepare them.
Fruit – Melons melons melons! Watermelons, honeydews, cantaloupes, and countless heirloom varieties are thriving in the heat. It’s prime picking time for blackberries and peaches, too, with figs and persimmons just around the corner. Though strawberries are traditionally thought of as a summer fruit, ’round here they peak in mid-spring and taper off by the time the heat settles in.
Tomatoes - Here’s another classic “summer” veggie that has a different kind of life cycle in the heat of Texas. Right now we’re enjoying the abundant and beautiful first harvest, with second plantings going in the ground now for a second crop in the fall. The big heirlooms coming off the vine now make for a decadent caprese salad, and sweet cherry tomatoes are wonderful tossed in a pasta salad or just as is.
Eggplant - Like peppers, eggplant is one of the few veggies that can persist through most of the summer’s heat. Black beauties are the largest, most common variety, and do great on the grill or as eggplant parmesan. Other varieties grown here include the long asian eggplants great for sautéeing in curries and the beautifully striped graffiti eggplant.
Eating according to what’s locally available isn’t always easy, but right now in Central Texas, it’s about as good as it gets. Before we know it, we’ll be limited to the heartiest of veggies and storage crops, but it won’t be too long until the next season of abundance rolls around in mid-late fall. Happy cooking!