Right now I'm munching on some strawberries. That is one reason why late spring is exciting. Who doesn't love strawberries? And a fresh, ripe local strawberry is like the queen of strawberries. Those giant ones you see in all grocery stores year round can't compare, they aren't even the same thing. And that is most likely because they aren't local, and they need to be picked before their delicious fibers have fully ripened to peak edibility.
A little snippet about the science of ripening:
"The way fruits ripen is that there is commonly a ripening signal...a burst of ethylene production. Ethylene is a simple hydrocarbon gas (H2C=CH2) that ripening fruits make and shed into the atmosphere. Sometimes a wound will cause rapid ethylene production...thus picking a fruit will sometimes signal it to ripen...as will an infection of bacteria or fungi on the fruit. This ethylene signal causes developmental changes that result in fruit ripening.
New enzymes are made because of the ethylene signal. These include hydrolases to help break down chemicals inside the fruits, amylases to accelerate hydrolysis of starch into sugar, pectinases to catalyze degradation of pectin (the glue between cells), and so on. Ethylene apparently "turns on" the genes that are then transcribed and translated to make these enzymes. The enzymes then catalyze reactions to alter the characteristics of the fruit.
The action of the enzymes cause the ripening responses. Chlorophyll is broken down and sometimes new pigments are made so that the fruit skin changes color from green to red, yellow, or blue. Acids are broken down so that the fruit changes from sour to neutral. The degradation of starch by amylase produces sugar. This reduces the mealy (floury) quality and increases juiciness (by osmosis, a process we will study later). The breakdown of pectin, thanks to pectinase, between the fruit cells unglues them so they can slip past each other. That results in a softer fruit...at an extreme, pectin losses may make a fruit "pithy". Also enzymes break down large organic molecules into smaller ones that can be volatile (evaporate into the air) and we can detect as an aroma."
-Ross Koning, 'Plant Physiology Information Website'
So nice, juicy ripe fruits are one reason that I love spring. But the point of this post is not to gush on and on about how amazing fruits and vegetables are and talk about the chemical changes that make them so wonderful. Although if I can ever find a talk I heard on OPB a couple years ago on the subject that talked about it in a way that was... like syrupy ear candy... we can talk about this further.
But yes, LATE SPRING.
It is the greatest, because we just came out of winter with a sad bundle of root veggies... to early spring with tender greens that arrived just in time. After a couple weeks, the tender greens are alright, but the weather is warming up, it feels more like summer, and I start looking towards summer with greedy eyes.
And just in time, strawberries, asparagus, zucchini, and an assortment of herbs make their appearance known. See, the problem with winter is that all the veggies need to be cooked for a long time. Spring, the leafy veggies are great but they are so delicate, and I'm afraid to do more than gently saute them if anything.
But late spring, oh boy. Here come delicate fruits and berries that are just as tasty baked as they are raw, and veggies that can take a light saute or something as heavy as being baked or grilled. This is multi-use produce here.
Some things to expect soon:
-Strawberry and spinach salad.
-Grilled asparagus. Baked asparagus. Asparagus tacos.
And trust me, as soon as there is something new at the farmer's market, YOU WILL KNOW. Also, morels are in season but they are so beautiful and perfect and amazing and expensive, and I'm scared that I'll buy them and not know what to do with them and end up making something mediocre. We shall see...