It’s hard to believe spring is almost over and summer is just around the corner. We’ve been enjoying the longer days and warmer weather, and are getting excited about the local products we’ll soon be seeing in the Produce department! As always, we take time in the winter months to plan our local product selection for the upcoming season. Typically, we do not deviate much from the previous year, especially if things went well. Having well-established relationships with experienced growers, the process gets easier every year.

There’s something special about spring crops

There’s the anticipation of getting fresh, local product after a long, cold winter. For some, there is the association of fond childhood memories; for others, spring harvests indicate the change of seasons. As a Produce Manager and avid gardener, it’s all of this and more. Not only does the cool spring weather produce exceptional quality domesticated crops, it also bears some prized wildcrafted gems. In Wisconsin, you can find wild asparagus, onions, leeks, watercress, and the highly sought after morel mushroom!

Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for many of spring’s offerings is fairly short. As soon as temperatures start to climb in to the 80s, many of these crops are beyond their peak. So keep your eyes open and enjoy springs offerings. You’ll be supporting local agriculture and economy, as well as treating yourself to some of the best Wisconsin has to offer.

List of local produce

To help you plan ahead, here’s a list of what the Produce department will be offering, our sources, and some tips on quality and use. Availability is dependent on the weather, but if all goes well, we should have good supplies. Look for purple inserts on our signage as indicators as to what is local through the season.

Asparagus

Once again, Mathew Smith of Blue Valley Gardens will be supplying us with this perennial. Asparagus is commonly sold in bunches that average around a pound. Fresh asparagus should be smooth and brightly colored with tight, compact heads. Once home, treat asparagus as you would a fresh cut flower: put the bunches in lukewarm water, tips up, and refrigerate. To prepare, grab the stalk with both hands and snap it; it should break just above the point where the stalk will be tender. Asparagus can be steamed, stir-fried, sautéed, or boiled. No matter what you do, do not overcook it. Overcooked asparagus turns grayish in color, and becomes tough and stringy. Overcooked asparagus is common, and is the source of many people’s dislike of this delicious spring treat. Good, fresh asparagus is tender raw, and needs only a few minutes of cooking. I like to bring mine up to temperature just enough to melt the butter I’m putting on it!

Arugula

Harmony Valley will be supplying us with arugula. Spring cuttings of arugula are relatively mild compared to the strong peppery flavor of the summer cuttings. Spring arugula goes great in a salad, and can be sautéed for pasta dishes and stir-fries.

Dandelion greens

Dandelions are symbolic of spring. It’s not rare to see the sea of yellow flowers in yards, parks, and along bike paths throughout May. This year, Keewadyin Farms will be supplying us with the bitter but highly nutritious greens. Look for lively, dark greens on our shelves around the end of May!

Kale

We can’t make any promises, but we’re hoping to see some over-wintered kale from some of our farmer friends. Over-wintered kales tend to be sweet and tender, and are great lightly steamed or sautéed.

Mustard

This pungent, peppery green will be supplied by Tipi Produce. The smaller, mildly flavored leaves can be used in salads or sautéed. The larger the leaves, the stronger the flavor. Mustard greens are commonly used in Southern and Asian cuisine.

Morel mushrooms

Morels are another definitive sign of spring. Alan Stramm and Wayne Ewers have been hunting morels and supplying the Co-op for over 20 years. Initially, the market starts high, and, as the season progresses, will either hold or drop depending on yields. Last spring produced a bumper crop, and we’re hoping this spring does as well.

You will find a couple of specimens at the Co-op: the black morel, and the common, or yellow, morel. Both are hollow, with elongated, conical caps irregularly honeycombed on the outside. Morels should be firm, not too dry but not too wet. Morels can be stored for a few days with good circulation. Store them in a paper bag, not in plastic (they will sweat and rot).

Morels have an earthy, nutty flavor that goes well with other spring vegetables: asparagus, peas, ramps, and green garlic. They are also excellent on their own, sautéed in a little butter. If you’re interested, get online and google morel festivals. There are a couple around the state.

Radishes

Tipi Produce and JenEhr will be supplying us with these tasty spring treats. Cool weather radishes are crisp, juicy, and mild, and require no more than a quick wash and a sprinkle of salt. They’re a great snack, beautiful garnish, and they add striking color to a veggie tray. Growing up in central Wisconsin, not only did they garnish every potato salad I’ve ever eaten, they were also one of the ingredients. They added a little kick and something crisp.

Ramps

If you haven’t indulged in these wild leeks yet, make a point to do it this spring. Ramps are available from early May to early June. They have a small scallion like bulb at the base, and elongated, flat leaves at the top. They are extremely pungent, taste a bit like onion and garlic, and are entirely edible. Use the leaves in salads and stir fries. Use the stems and bulbs as you would garlic or scallions. I’d suggest sautéing with asparagus or morels, or both—truly a spring delicacy. Avalanche Organics and Harmony Valley will our source for ramps, and we can’t thank them enough.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable, more often than not used as a fruit. Rhubarb makes great tarts, preserves, and pies. Rhubarb is available from Tipi Produce from late May through June. Look for firm, medium stalks. Color is irrelevant to quality, though as the season progresses, stalks can become tough and stringy. We’ll be getting into local strawberries at the end of June, so get ready to make some strawberry rhubarb pie! In fact, you can make the filling and freeze it for a taste of summer in winter.

Salad and sauté mix

Harmony Valley and Avalanche Organics will be supplying us with these staples throughout the season. Springs cuttings tend to be especially tender and sweet. Salad mixes consist of baby lettuces and mild greens. Sauté mixes consist more of hearty and spicy greens. For those who enjoy these bold flavors, sauté mix can be eaten as a salad, or as the name suggests—sautéed.

Spinach

Oh how we love our spring spinach; sweet, tender, and juicy. Harmony Valley and Avalanche Organics are our sources for this delicious spring crop. Just like other spring greens, quality on spinach declines with increasing temperatures. A light spring frost provides the best spinach you can find. Look for crisp, dark green leaves and eat it as soon as possible. You can store it for up to a week, but all spring greens start losing their sweetness once they’ve been harvested. Use it in salads, steam it, whatever. Don’t overcook it (unless, like Popeye, you like the taste of canned spinach)!

Watercress

Watercress grows wild in streams and around springs in all the state of Wisconsin. It is a pungent, spicy member of the mustard family, and has a tender, buttery texture. The British often accompany tea with watercress sandwiches. The most common uses in the States are in salads, purees, and soups.

Avalanche Organics will once again supply the Co-op with wild watercress. Look for bunches with small leaves and thin stems. Cress that has begun to flower can be extremely peppery and bitter. Feel free to taste a leaf before you buy it.

Coming up

So come in and see what we’ve got. Keep an eye on the “Coming Soon/Last Chance” chalkboard as well. We’ll be increasing the number of local product available, and there should be some big changes in the world of fruit as well. Peaches, nectarines, domestic grapes, and plums are all just around the corner. Enjoy!