The coattails of spring welcome additional responsibilities for the gardener as the temperatures rise and as the air becomes drier. The gardener must be sure their crops are drinking enough water but not drowning in it. The gardener also must not let the crops burn in the mid-day sun. Needless to say, the work of the gardener becomes much more rigorous and demanding. But early summer also brings its gifts: the spring harvest vegetables such as lettuces, radishes, snap peas, and Swiss chard.
Here are some tips to get the most out of your spring harvest vegetables.
This time of year, leaf lettuces are ready for harvesting, and on Sundays, my mother-in-law picks what is ready in her garden and we enjoy the freshest salad I’ve ever had. The trick, she says, is to not immediately wash in cold water, but to let it sit in a bowl of room temperature water for a minute. What this does is open the tiny pores on the surface of the lettuce, allowing the leaves to rehydrate. After a minute, rinse the lettuce in chilled water. The cold will cause the pores to close up, retaining the moisture inside the leaves. You are left with that familiar, cold, crisp texture of lettuce that people love.
Same rinsing instructions as the lettuce but fold the leaf in half lengthwise and remove the stem. What makes Swiss chard such a gem is its diverse cooking applications. You can eat the greens of Swiss chard fresh in salads or eat them sautéed with other savory vegetables. But something I learned that I thought a great use of this unique vegetable is use the thick red stems (also called veins) in soups or stir fries. Just slice the stem into small bits (like carrots) and use accordingly. It will add a fresh, mild bitter flavor and a nice red color.
The trick to adding extra crispness to your radishes is to soak them in ice water BEFORE you trim their greens. Soak them for up to two hours and then trim the greens.
Radishes are also known as one of the quickest producing vegetables, so you may end up with more radishes than you bargained for. But the good news is that radishes are ideal for pickling. And it is super easy too: create your own brine out of sugar, salt, and vinegar (and any other spices you’d like); cool the brine and drop thinly sliced radishes in; serve immediately or later. These radish pickles will last several weeks.
Who doesn’t love picking a fresh pea pod from the vine and crunching down on its enduring sweetness? If spring had a flavor, I think it would taste just like that. But the pea plant can be used for more than its pods. The shoots and greens are edible also! Pea shoots and greens used as salad greens is a delightfully unexpected ingredient that adds character and depth of flavor.