Summer fruit and vegetables are at their very best right now—and if you want to know when everything from strawberries to tomatoes is in season, this summer produce guide is a handy cheat sheet, with ideas on how to use your bounty too.
There’s nothing like that first bite of juicy watermelon in the dog days of August. When the seasons turn and the sun comes out I find myself wanting to spend more time outdoors, to grab my picnic blanket and create a smorgasbord of goodies to share with friends and family. Although there may be more socially distant picnics than packed backyard BBQs this summer, it’s still a great time to explore which delectable produce is being offered in your area to help get into the summer spirit.
CSA SUBSCRIPTIONS9 Produce Delivery Services You Should Know AboutWhen you consume seasonal produce you get richer flavor and full nutrient composition because your produce is picked at peak ripeness. Buying produce seasonally allows you to buy locally and support local farmers with a nod to sustainability. Buying seasonally is also lighter on your wallet (have you ever seen the price of strawberries in the dead of winter!?) because there is more produce available.
Below, my intern Sarah Johnston and I (Rachel Naar MS, RD, CDN of Rachel Naar Nutrition), share our favorite summer produce and include some tips on how to incorporate these summer sweethearts into dishes for your next socially distant gathering. We’d love to see what you create. Tag @naartrition and use the hashtag #summerproduce so we can see your delicious dishes.
Get more in-depth info on each precious bit of produce you’ll see this season, including ideas on how best to use them while you can. You might find these summer produce hacks helpful when preparing them. And this guide to storing fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs will ensure they last as long as possible.
One of the first stone fruits available in summer, these fade pretty early in the season, but while they’re available, they’re a great source of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. They’re also naturally low in sugar, yet not too tart to enjoy out of hand. Try drying them in a low oven to add to homemade granola, or slicing them fresh for desserts like a clafoutis or to simply serve over yogurt. They pair well with savory foods too, and can be preserved as jam if you can’t finish them all before they go bad. See these apricot recipes for more ideas.
Believe it or not, this is a species of melon! The Armenian cucumber can grow up to a yard long (whoa), and thrives in the hot summer climate. Maybe you’ve heard its appropriate nickname: the snake melon. Sweeter than a general cucumber and a great source of vitamin C, these will add that extra delightful crunch to any salad. Our go-to? Combine with grape tomatoes, crumbled feta, and some extra virgin olive oil. See more cucumber recipes for other ideas.
If an apple and a pear had a baby it would be the delightful Asian pear. One of Rachel’s absolute favorite fruits, it has a crisp texture and oh-so-refreshing taste, and can be stored up to three months in your refrigerator. It also has a high water content making it very hydrating for the hottest months of the year. Rather than putting them into pies or making jams, the Asian pear is most commonly served raw and peeled, making it a go-to, fiber-rich snack. Be warned, they can fill you up pretty quickly, so start with half! Try using it in a salad too.
Meet watermelon’s (and mostly everyone else’s) best friend. This aromatic herb with a spicy kick is a staple in many Italian recipes, but basil is one of the most versatile herbs to cook and create with. Blend it into your own homemade pesto, add on top of pizza, and tear to add some glam and garnish to your beverages. Watermelon basil margarita, anyone? See this bevy of basil recipes for more ways to use it in everything. If you grow your own, learn how and why to prune basil.
Beets can really do it all. They are there for us for all our juices, soups, sides, and more, because they’re available during all seasons! What some may not know about beets: their leaves are also edible. Have the beet greens be your next salad base; they have a similar taste to Swiss chard but sweeter. See these beet recipes for more delicious ideas.
Taste the rainbow. No really, what vegetable has more colors than bell peppers? Green, yellow, orange, red, sometimes purple and white, each color reflects its individual ripeness. The longer the pepper stays on the vine, the sweeter it becomes and the more antioxidants it has. Antioxidants help provide protection against free radicals. Your red bell peppers are going to be the sweetest (with the most vitamin C), followed by orange, yellow, and green being the most bitter. Roast them, grill them, saute them, stuff them, or simply chop and enjoy with hummus at a picnic.
Blackberries are one of the highest fiber-containing fruits. A handful of these will easily contribute eight grams to daily fiber intake (we recommend 23-35 grams of fiber total per day). The fiber is packed in the blackberry’s tiny seeds, and can help regulate your bowel movements, lower blood cholesterol, and control blood sugar levels. Top off your salads and yogurt with these delicious bursts of juicy goodness, or have them go center stage in a blackberry cobbler and your stomach will thank you all summer. Get even more ideas from these blackberry recipes.
Just like blackberries, blueberries are a great source of fiber and packed with loads of antioxidants. Contrary to their notable name, blueberries are actually more of a purple fruit because they contain the antioxidant anthocyanin, which contribute to their blue-purple pigment. Combine all the fiber-rich berries—blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries—to make a wholesome fruit salad. Or, pick up a new hobby this summer and preserve blueberry’s tart taste in a jam to enjoy even after the season has passed! See a bunch of blueberry recipes for more ways to enjoy them.
Butter lettuce leaves are sweet and smooth, and usually sold with the roots still attached to preserve freshness. A great source of vitamin A, (which is important for the immune system) butter lettuce should be stored in its original container, and only washed immediately before using. Butter lettuce has its name because its leaves are so tender, they melt in your mouth like butter. That they’re also one of the healthiest salad greens you can eat is a wonderful bonus.
People have loved cherries for…we don’t even know how long (but records indicate they’ve been cultivated since at least 72 BC). A wholesome snack, they are perfect while working at home because you can spit the pits out as you please! Cherries also have a high amount of potassium, a mineral necessary for normal cell function and keeping our hearts healthy and beating strong. Check out these cherry recipes for some uncommon ways to use them (plus classics like cherry pie, of course).
Popcorn, street corn, or just old reliable corn on the cob, this starch-filled vegetable is a great source of nutrients. Grown on every continent on the planet (except Antarctica), corn is packed with vitamin C and other minerals, while also providing an honest amount of fiber and protein. Its flavor really erupts when an acid, such as lime juice, is squeezed on top, or a spicy or earthy seasoning, such as tahini, is tossed in. Try in raw in corn salads, grill it, or check out more corn recipes.
Anyone else find eggplant a little intimidating? Well, you’re not alone. This rather large member of the solanaceae (nightshade) family boasts a daunting spongy texture with a mild, bitter taste. However, this means eggplants have the ability to soak up cooking oils and other flavors like a sponge and take on a savory essence. This vegetable can be grilled (our fave!), baked, or fried (cover in breadcrumbs for a satisfying french fry imposter). We recommend marinating with avocado oil or coconut oil prior to cooking because of its high smoke point. See these eggplant recipes for specific ways to prepare it.
Just as nutrient-packed as their older brother (the regular tomato), grape tomatoes are one of the richest sources of lycopene, a valuable antioxidant that may have a blood pressure regulating effects and provide protection from certain types of cancer. Store your grape tomatoes at room temperature out of direct sunlight and try to eat within the first three days for the finest flavor. Try them in all sorts of salads, roast them, smoke them, or use as a no-cook pasta sauce. You can even turn them into a tomato vinaigrette.
Green beans are one of the most functional vegetables, and the flavor opportunities are endless. Embrace a classic, savory taste by cooking in butter and adding minced fresh garlic. For a sweeter alternative, saute with brown sugar (and maybe add a handful of bacon nibbles). These green bean recipes will give you even more inspiration.
Why does honeydew always play second fiddle to cantaloupe? We know it deserves better. Honeydew is actually the sweetest of all melons, with more natural sugars than both cantaloupe and watermelon, making it a tasty dessert or the right fruit to infuse into beverages. Try having chopped honeydew melon with vanilla Greek yogurt, combine it with cucumber in a refreshing salad, or make it into ice pops. After cutting, it should be stored in the refrigerator and can last up to two weeks. As with all fruits and veggies, be sure to wash the outer rind well before cutting it.
Although too sour to eat on their own for our taste, limes are the perfect petite citrus fruit to squeeze over any protein (chicken, beef, fish, turkey, or tofu) offering a refreshing aroma juxtaposed with BBQ flavors. While your meats are on the grill, take half a lime and squeeze directly over, letting the juices sear with the smoke. Grilled limes are good muddled into cocktails too. See more lime recipes that use both the juice and zest. Additionally, a slice of lime is the ideal garnish for some added antioxidants!
Having trouble staying hydrated in this summer heat? Make drinking water a bit more enticing by infusing it with mint. Drinking mint-infused water can be soothing to our digestive system. Mint may not add too notable a taste, so don’t be afraid to throw in other seasonal natural flavors to your water bottle like cucumbers, limes, or grapefruit. We recommend filling up your water bottles with these ingredients the night before and taste the freshness the next morning. Of course, mint is also great in cocktails—and see more mint recipes for lots of other uses, including grilled watermelon with feta and mint and shredded kale salad with mint and tomatoes.
Nectarines are pretty similar to peaches, minus the fuzzy exterior. The riper, the sweeter in this case because nectarines are climacteric, meaning they continue to ripen after harvest. It can be a race against time, so don’t wait! Storing in a paper bag at room temperature until ripe and eating within two to three days is a good guideline. You’ll know it’s ripe when it loses firmness. Try slicing a nectarine with some ricotta cheese and arugula for a fresh summer salad, or make one of these nectarine recipes.
When you take your first bite of a ripe peach, you know it’s really summer. Just like nectarines, peaches are climacteric, therefore the same goes for storing in a paper bag until ripe and eating within two to three days. Another antioxidant and vitamin trove, peaches will also add a syrupy enhancement to any summer salad. Pro tip: They are even more amazing when grilled. Throw halved peaches on your grill at the next BBQ, drizzle on balsamic glaze, and prepared to be wowed. Try these peach recipes too.
As the weather gets hotter, keep up and stay hydrated by not only drinking your water, but eating your water too! A lot of the fruits and veggies on our list have considerable water content along with valuable nutrients, including plums, which are 87 percent water. So while you’re planning your next walk around the neighborhood or other outdoor activity, bring a couple of plums along to stay hydrated—and with the excess, try some of these sweet and savory plum recipes.
In the case of raspberries (and really any berry), we recommend not to wash them until just before using or eating. Better yet, take the amount you intend to use out of the container and replace your unwashed raspberries quickly back in the fridge. Raspberries absorb water fast, so it will only take a couple of hours before they turn into raspberry mush, which no one wants. Pair raspberries with fellow summer fruits, eespecially cantaloupe and peaches. Make fun, fruity popsicles by adding one, two, or all three of these chopped into ice cube trays with a small amount of juice and freeze for four to eight hours, or grab some popsicle molds and take them to go! See more raspberry recipes to enjoy while they last.
Consider shallots a milder version of your typical onion. Shallots grow similar to garlic, in clusters with the head composed of many cloves. Shallots add a gentle tang to salads, sauces, and side dishes. Try caramelizing your shallots with herbs such as rosemary or oregano with olive oil to create a marinade for any main dish—or browse these shallot recipes for more ideas.
They are here for us in the spring and through the summer. They are here for us in breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and dessert). Strawberries add the perfect accent to a number of dishes, including our favorite: cheese boards. Try pairing your strawberries with cheeses such as a gruyere, feta, parmigiano reggiano, and goat cheese (my favorite). Transform these pairings into salads as well with the right dressing. We love balsamic or citrus vinaigrettes that don’t eclipse the strawberry taste. See even more strawberry recipes, both sweet and savory.
Summer is squash’s time to shine. Although normally available all year round, the variety of squash at the grocery and farmers market explodes during the summer. Summer squash includes zucchini (round and long), along with multiple other varieties such as tatuma, pattypan, and crookneck squash, all with their own unique texture and flavor. These squashes are all harvested prematurely, so their skin is still tender and edible. Play around with all the interesting shapes squash come in and make fun boats or bowls stuffed with your favorite protein or veggies, or try these summer squash recipes.
Also known as a “husk tomato,” tomatillo has a tart flavor and is often found as a key ingredient in fresh Mexican and Central-American green sauces. But tomatillos aren’t a one hit wonder. These little green guys can be enjoyed raw, jammed, in soups, or as a side dish! Be sure to remove the brown husks (these are inedible) before using. Pro tip: If the flavor is too tart for your liking, add a little sugar prior to cooking to bring out its distinctive, citrus taste. Check out some tomatillo recipes.
Antioxidant-packed tomatoes are at their very best in summer, from unblemished beefsteaks to gnarled heirloom tomatoes. Store them, like their smaller grape and cherry tomato counterparts, at room temperature and eat ASAP to take advantage of their perfect flavor and texture. It shouldn’t be a problem since they’re delicious raw with a sprinkle of salt, but see some heirloom tomato recipes for other ideas.
Last but not least, our favorite summer staple. Watermelon has come a long way since being enjoyed only by the classic triangular slice. Watermelon pairs well with a multitude of flavors (think: mint, chili pepper, and savory cheeses such as goat cheese, feta, or halloumi). In addition to its versatility, it is also a great source of our favorite antioxidant, lycopene (just like tomatoes)! Get creative with watermelon this summer; throw this fruit on the grill and have the heat caramelize the natural sugars for a refreshing and hydrating sweet treat. See more watermelon recipes to keep you happy.
See: summer squash. But see these zucchini recipes too!
If you want to make these precious produce specimens last longer, be sure to see our beginner’s guide to canning, essential canning supplies, and helpful canning tips for those who are just getting started with home preserving.