Sweet SummertimeNothing says summer like juicy peaches, ripe tomatoes, or fresh basil. Seasonal produce from your local farmers market or backyard garden has a taste, smell, and uniqueness that gives recipes a flavor that's hard to match. Here's the season's bounty of produce options and ways to use in your home-cooked meals.
Editor's note: For more seasonal produce tips and recipes, purchase the Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook.
BasilSelect: Look for leaves that show no signs of wilting. Colors vary from shades of green to purple.
Store: Store basil in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
BlackberriesSelect: Select plump, well-colored berries with hulls detached. If hulls are still intact, the berries were picked too early.
Store: Fresh blackberries are best stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Choose a wide, shallow bowl to store berries, and cover with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.
BlueberriesSelect: Pick plump, juicy berries with blooms that have no trace of mold or discoloration. Look for firm, uniformly sized berries with deep color and no hulls or stems.
Store: If eating blueberries within 24 hours of picking, store them at room temperature; otherwise, keep them refrigerated in a moisture-proof container up to 3 days.
CantaloupesSelect: Pick a cantaloupe with a soft stem end. Look for a light yellow ridged or smooth outer shell. Avoid cantaloupe with a green cast.
Store: Store unripe cantaloupes at room temperature and ripe cantaloupes in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.
CarrotsSelect: Choose carrots that are firm and brightly colored, avoiding ones that are cracked. If the leafy tops are attached, make sure they are not wilted.
Store: Remove tops if attached; place carrots in plastic bags, and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.
Cook: Honey-Roasted Carrots
CelerySelect: Choose celery that is bright in color, firm, and brittle. Avoid stalks with wilted leaves.
Store: Store celery in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, leaving the ribs attached to the stalk until ready to use. It will typically keep up to a couple of weeks.
Cook: Celery and Parsley Salad
CherriesSelect: Choose cherries with firm, smooth, unblemished skins with stems still attached.
Store: Fresh cherries should be eaten as soon as possible; they can be covered and refrigerated up to 4 days. After opening canned cherries, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to a week. Maraschino cherries last up to 6 months in the refrigerator.
Cook: Fresh Cherry Pie
CilantroSelect: When choosing cilantro, make sure you see no signs of wilting on the leaves.
Store: Store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag up to a week.
Cook: Cilantro Rice
CollardsSelect: Young collards with small leaves are more tender and less bitter. Avoid collards with large leathery leaves that are withered or that have yellow spots.
Store: Wash collards, and pat dry. Place them in a plastic bag, and refrigerate up to 5 days.
Cook: Quick Collards
CornSelect: A fresh husk is the number one thing to look for. Deep brown silk tips or ends mean it's ripe, but the whole silk shouldn't be dried up. Open the tip of the husk to see if the kernels are all the way to the end of the ear; kernels should be plump and milky when pinched.
Store: The sugars in corn begin to turn to starch as soon as it's harvested, so plan to eat it as soon as possible. You can store it in its husk in the refrigerator up to a day.
CucumbersSelect: Choose cucumbers with a deep green color. Avoid soft patches or shriveled ends.
Store: Refrigerate cucumbers up to 2 weeks. Use pickling cucumbers soon after picking.
Green BeansSelect: Look for small, tender, crisp pod beans with bright color that snap when you bend them.
Store: Fresh beans should be washed before being stored in the refrigerator in plastic bags up to 3 or 4 days.
Honeydew MelonsSelect: Fresh, ripe honeydews should have a soft, velvety texture and be heavy for their size.
Store: Ripe honeydews will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place. Seal in plastic wrap or an airtight container; they readily absorb odors and flavors of other foods.
LavenderSelect: When choosing fresh lavender, look for herbs that show no signs of wilting.
Store: Treat fresh herbs like a bouquet of flowers. Douse the leaves with cool water, and wrap the stems in a damp paper towel. Place the towel-wrapped herbs in a zip-top plastic bag, remove as much air as possible from the bag, and refrigerate up to a week.
Lemon BalmSelect: When choosing fresh lemon balm, look for leaves that show no signs of wilting.
Store: Douse with cool water, and wrap the stems in a damp paper towel. Place herbs in a zip-top plastic bag, remove as much air as possible from the bag, and refrigerate up to a week.
Cook: Lemon Balm Simple Syrup
Lima BeansSelect: Fresh limas are available from June to September and are usually sold in their pods.
Store: Store dried beans at room temperature in tightly covered containers up to 1 year, or freeze up to 2 years.
NectarinesSelect: Nectarines should be plump, rich in color, and have a softening along the seam.
Store: Speed the nectarines ripening by placing them in a paper bag for several days at room temperature. Once ripened, store nectarines in the refrigerator, and use within 2 or 3 days.
OkraSelect: Choose tender, bright green pods free of damage.
Store: Store okra in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
Cook: Charred Okra
OreganoSelect: Choose fresh oregano that is vibrant green in color with firm stems. They should be free from dark spots or yellowing.
Store: Keep fresh oregano in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. You can also freeze oregano, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers.
Cook: Fresh Herb Mayonnaise
PeachesSelect: Look for peaches that are firm with a taut, unblemished skin and no signs of bruising or wrinkles. If you smell peaches when you walk up to the stand, you know they are ripe.
Store: Ripen peaches at room temperature. If ripe, put them in the refrigerator; they'll keep for a few days.
PeasSelect: Fresh peas have a good green color.
Store: Store fresh peas in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
PlumsSelect: Choose plums that have a little give when you squeeze them and a sweet-smelling aroma.
Store: Firm plums can be stored at room temperature until they become slightly soft. Refrigerate ripe plums in a plastic bag up to 4 to 5 days.
RaspberriesSelect: Fresh, ripe raspberries should be plump and tender, but not mushy. Raspberries are sold in clear packaging, so make sure to check all sides for signs of poor quality.
Store: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
Summer SquashSelect: Choose small, firm squash with bright-colored, blemish-free skins.
Store: Refrigerate in plastic bags up to 5 days before cooking.
TomatoesSelect: Smell them – a good tomato should smell like a tomato, especially at the stem end.
Store: Place tomatoes at room temperature in a single layer, shoulder side up, and out of direct sunlight. To store ripe tomatoes for any extended period, keep them between 55º and 65º.
Cook: Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes
WatermelonsSelect: Choose a firm, symmetrical, unblemished watermelon with a dull rind, without cracks or soft spots, that barely yields to pressure.
Store: Store uncut at room temperature up to 1 week. Refrigerate 8 to 10 hours to serve chilled.