When the first, slightest hint of a warm breeze stirs in early Spring, I find myself waking at what some would consider an ungodly hour on a Saturday. Actually, it's more of a wildly enthusiastic bounding out of bed. I'm up like a child on Christmas morning, and in a flash washing my face and getting dressed. Casual, but entirely chic, naturellement, and with a flick of a brow brush, a dab of sunscreen, and a swipe of lipstick, I grab my straw bag and head for what will surely be an adventure of some kind, yes? Yes! The Ritual has begun.
This seasonal sensation is a gourmande's bliss: a wander outdoors to procure the very freshest of beautiful bounty, discovering the sexiness of the daily harvest, and chatting with the farmers for all the inside secrets. Though my brews at home are by far the best (really, if you were to obtain an invite, you would know how unparalleled they truly are) I stop to buy a coffee en route - don't ask me why, it's just part of the ritual. Walking along, I smile at the Sun, say hello to the breeze, engage a bird in conversation, and flirt with all the dogs out for an early morning jaunt. Possibly a few of their humans, as well. The market itself is always brimming with excitement, bustling with questions, and an overall prevailing atmosphere of jauntiness. These are the moments, mes amis, where even stress-bomb urbanites take a beat. It's such a joy to see.
After I have selected my gorgeous greens, mysterious mushrooms, fabulously fresh flowers, and perhaps picked up an organic levain baguette (the boulanger isn't always there) I am unbelievably happy. Peaceful. Rested, somehow. This is the magic of the marché.
Once the season gets fully underway, farmer's markets - or greenmarkets - usually pop up around the city on several days each week, to truly indulge those of us who "shop like a French housewife" as a former lover used to note about me. It's fabulous! A few fresh things mid-week, a few on the weekend, and a plant-powered femme is in her glory.
So, mes chers, if the impossible beauty of the le Printemps has arrived,
then it must be time for a list of what to look for this season. The mantra is always this: buy local, by organic. Produce that has to travel a long distance is invariably picked too early in order to look good upon arrival, so we end up with flavorless, nutrient-deprived food. Of course, depending on where you dwell, some things will never be in season, so when you crave, say, a mango in winter, just follow these tips to enjoy the best possible version of your plant loves. Go ahead, enjoy your old favorites, and make a few new friends while you're at it. And use your senses! Does it smell luscious? Does it look vibrant and alive? Does it feel good in your hand?
After seemingly eons of tubers (no offense, little underground darlings) the new Spring collections are officially in. Let's see who's strutting down the runway:
ARTICHOKES - Look for tightly packed, intact leaves. Splayed leaves are a sign of not-so-fresh chokes.
ASPARAGUS - Once harvested, asparagus deteriorate rapidly, so place them in cool storage to retain freshness and nutrition. Look for firm, slim stalks and beautifully formed tips. Thick stalks can taste woody and kill your experience.
BELGIAN ENDIVE - Choose endive with tips that have a pale, yellow-green color, and avoid wilted or browning heads.
BROCCOLI - Broccoli should be heavy for its size. Steer clear of dried or browning stalks and yellowing florets.
BUTTER LETTUCE - Bring home heads that look full of life -no wilting or browning.
CHIVES - You want graceful chives, uniform in size and color. Stay away from any wilting or yellowing.
COLLARD GREENS - Oui....collard wraps, my raw food enthusiasts! Pick dark green leaves, but eat them quickly...once they turn yellow they're done.
CORN - Look for bright green husks, and don't be shy about peeling their clothing off. The corn beneath should be unblemished and juicy looking.
FAVA BEANS - If you are able to snag fresh favas, grab them! Young favas can be shelled, are usually small, and smell like damp, sun-drenched earth.
FENNEL - Though famously Mediterranean, fennel grows wild all over the globe. Choose bright green feathery leaves and white, even bulbs. Add it to salads and raw savory dishes for a sexy kick.
GREEN BEANS - These should be crisp, firm, and vibrant. Stay away from dark spots and dried-out ends.
MUSTARD GREENS - Look for pretty, lacy green leaves, sans browning or wilting. And eat them quickly!
PEAS - Fresh English peas just dazzle, yes? Fresh English men, well...that depends. Look for pods that are full, but not bulging. As soon as they mature, they become starchy and way less flavorful. Try to find ones at that have been just harvested.
RADICCHIO - Choose compact heads with tight, fresh-looking leaves.
RADISHES - Go for bunches that are deep in color with solid roots. You want them firm and blemish-free. Avoid cracks.
RED LEAF LETTUCE - Select the ones that have fresh-looking, tightly packed leaves. Red leaf gets wilty quick, so enjoy it the day you market.
RHUBARB - Rhubarb (only eat the stalks) are quite tart, but when sweetened actually work as more of a fruit. Select unmarred stalks.
SNOW PEAS - You want the ones that are a bright green with flat, small seeds. They should snap when you pop them. Put them back if they look shriveled, dry, or discolored.
SORREL - If you haven't tried this delicious, citrusy green, do it now. Same rules of thumb as apply to all lettuces and greens. But these, in particular, need to be eaten the day you buy them. Let them sit and they become compost.
SPINACH - The younger the plant, the sweeter the leaves, so go for bright baby spinach. Hint: check the stems. If they are flexible, it's young.
SPRING BABY LETTUCE - So many gorgeous greens! Again, look for vibrant leaves, no wilting or discoloration.
SWISS CHARD - Grab dark green leaves with bright stems. And eat them fast.
VIDALIA ONIONS - The flatter the onion, the sweeter. Try it.
WATERCRESS - Choose bright green watercress that isn't yellowing or slippery. A delicate addition to your retinue.
APRICOTS - Choose ones that are rich in color, firm, and plump looking. These little ones bruise easily, but those can be used in jams, sauces, and purées, so don't dismiss them. Their feelings will be hurt.
CHERRIES - The best ones are large (an inch or more in diameter), plump, firm, and rich in color. The deep, black cherries are always the sweetest.
CHERIMOYA - You really have to strike while this baby is hot. This absolutely delicious, tropical temptation shouldn't be missed - but has a short shelf life, so seek it out, in all it's dragon-skinned glory.
HONEYDEW MELON - The skin should be a an even cream, yellow, or white color, it should smell fragrant, and a tap should ring a hollow, not dull sound. Also, press into the area where the stem was. If it's mushy, bid it adieu.
JACKFRUIT - Another exotic treasure. A ripe one will have a beautiful fragrance and yield to the touch. An unripe one will be hard with no perfume.
LIME - Easy: give them a squeeze. If they yield, they will be juicy.
MANGO - Color doesn't matter here. A ripe mango will give slightly when gently squeezed, and often a lovely sweet aroma. If it's hard as a rock, let it be.
ORANGES - Here's another example of a fruit that doesn't give it away by color. A ripe orange will look and feel juicy, like it's about to burst. Go for the plumpest ones.
PINEAPPLE - Smell the base of the pineapple. If it is ripe, it will grace you with its signature scent.
STRAWBERRIES - These beauties should be plump, firm, well shaped, and uniformly colored. Avoid white tops, a tell-tale sign of being picked too early.
Enjoy the riches of the season, mignonettes! I am off in search of the purrfect ingredients for my cauldron tonight...and perhaps will bump into a suitable dinner companion.
Is that... a rhubarb in his pocket...or...?