May: It’s a revelation, even after the mild winter of 2016, to feel sun, smell grass, hear rain, and feel a warm wind. No spring is ever the same around these parts—sometimes it comes early and doesn’t let up, and sometimes it seems like it will never arrive. This year, it opened up suddenly and early, then clamped back down with a preposterous snow storm. The buds on the magnolia, peach, and apple trees had only just opened when they froze solid again.
But c’est la vie, in this land of many seasons. At this late date, we’re likely in the clear—the last frost is hopefully past, and the leaves, stems, fruits and flowers of our short growing season are all to come. May is early, but not too early to enjoy some locally grown and foraged foods. Here’s a basic list:
- Ramps. These wild baby leeks may not look like much when you pass them in the woods, but they are a gourmand’s dream. Whipped into a pesto, folded in an omelette—there are literally entire festivals based around their fleeting flavor. As with all wild-harvested foods, be careful: Check a field guide or reliable website to identify the plant you’re looking for, and never harvest all of what you see—in order for the plant to thrive, some of it needs to be left behind.
- Asparagus. Though it might be available from far-flung places all year long, nothing beats the flavor of freshly-snapped asparagus. A perennial plant, it grows in wet places and increases its yield every year. Delicious raw or steamed, the thinner stems of young asparagus aren’t woody in the way that long-traveled or thick, late-harvested ones become.
- Greens, of many sorts. Arugula, mizuna, baby lettuces… the list of salad greens is long and lovely. Plant your own, in window boxes or shallow containers. They love the cool evenings of early spring, and will last much longer than their boxed or bagged counterparts.
- Peas. Sweet little miracles, they taste quintessentially like spring. Sugar snap, snow, shelling—each variety has its own uses and its own chapter of this season.
- Fiddleheads. These curled up little ostrich ferns are a bit like asparagus, but with a distinct texture and flavor all their own. Available for a short time, and growing only in the wild, they are an exciting find. But be careful harvesting and cooking them! Only the ostrich fern’s curl is edible, so do a bit of research before you pluck.
- Green garlic. Some farmers over-plant their autumn cloves, and pull early garlic plants to cook and eat like spring onions. Spicier than scallions, but sweeter than garlic, its uses are many.
- Garlic scapes. Not the same as green garlic! A garlic scape is the flower-stem of the garlic plant. If left alone, it will form a big allium-like flower. Farmers snap these stems off to encourage development of the garlic bulb, and we reap the benefits.
- And, finally, weeds. Yes, weeds. Garlic mustard, violet, lambs quarter, dandelions, colt’s foot, purslane, and many other garden weeds are edible, delicious and incredibly nutritious. Okay, maybe they’re not as delicious as the tomatoes and cucumbers they’re trying to crowd out. But when you pull them from your garden, put some aside for a salad or stir-fry. You might be surprised!