Warm weather has finally arrived, and eating fresh and local is an exciting part of the season. Whether you’re planting your own backyard garden (it’s not too late) or searching out a neighborhood farmer’s market, here are some tips from grower Brittney Rooney, who runs Beaverland Farms in northwest Detroit with her partner Kieran Neal, on what summer produce is flourishing locally and how to enjoy it.
It’s glossy, vibrant, and appealing to bring home, but what to do with it next? Rooney grows an Orient Express Long variety that’s super creamy and a cinch to cook. She cuts it into noodle shapes served with tomato sauce and mushrooms, or she tosses it into a stir-fry. The key for flavorful eggplant, Rooney says, is salting the vegetable to remove excess water. Salted pieces should be left in a colander or on a towel for 30 minutes before cooking.
Often mistaken for a fall crop, turnips grow year-round in Detroit. This savory-sweet friend of the radish can be sliced over summer salads or dipped into garlicky hummus. Rooney plants a Japanese variety called a Hakurei that’s sweet and crunchy. “I sometimes tell people, ‘prepare yourself to bite into an apple,’” she says, “because that’s much closer to what this tastes like.” Cutting off a turnip’s greens and storing those separately will give the root and its foliage longer life.
Berries start in June here, and you can pick your way through the season. Making room in the yard for one or two raspberry plants is a great choice for new gardeners, says Rooney. If pruned, they won’t take up much space, and their fresh flavor is hard to beat. Strawberry plants also flower in the summer. It’s best to collect berries in the morning shade, Rooney says, as the cool weather will hold their form. Whether you’re bringing them in from the yard or the market, store berries in the fridge and only rinse them when ready to eat.
Greens pack a vitamin punch, and Rooney’s favorite variety is rainbow chard. With its spectrum of deep color that holds even after sautéing, rainbow chard greens can be a gorgeous dish. Don’t toss those crunchy stems, Rooney says. Cook them alone for a few minutes before adding leaves to the pan. As for salads, Rooney recommends wild greens. On her farm, she picks lambs quarters, dandelion, French sorrel, and chive blossoms. Edible weeds and flower mixes can often be found at farmer’s markets. Cooling all greens in water and air-drying them well makes them last longer.
Tomatoes are at their peak in Detroit from late July into September, but they can show up earlier if started in a greenhouse. Yellow and orange varieties will generally taste sweeter than red. While there are endless local options to choose from, Rooney says the cherry tomato is perfect for snacking, salads, and sauces. For in-season vegetables, like a tomato, Rooney recommends first seasoning with no more than a light salt and pepper. “See what it tastes like,” she says. “I think people are often surprised at how much flavor vegetables have just completely on their own.”