Spring has many signs to remind us that winter is nearing its end—new growth on the trees, crocuses popping their cheery blossoms up through the frosty ground, bird songs filling the morning air and, of course, the lengthening days that just seem to make everything a little better.
Most of us who work with organic produce also have signs that hint when spring has arrived—artichokes start appearing with more regularity on our order sheets, California strawberries are more abundant as the crop continues moving from south to north and lovely, tender stalks of asparagus show up with their fresh, grassy smell and wonderful, unique flavor.
But while these harbingers of spring are constants, some things have changed in the organic produce world over the past several years.
Mandarin oranges and tangerines, previously reserved for the winter table, now have a regular place in our spring displays. You can find Lee mandarins and Page tangerines through March, and Gold Nugget and Dancy tangerines through April. The small but tasty Pixie tangerines are available from March through June. I now look forward to spring just so I can enjoy the intense orange flesh and delicious flavor of these new favorites.
If your customers like something with a sweet yet tart taste, late-season tangelos that run through June are a really nice treat.
Blueberries used to be available only in early spring as imports from the Southern Hemisphere, but now with more regions growing them in different microclimates, organic blueberries can be found domestically even as early as March, and boy, are they tasty. They tend to be higher priced than imported blueberries, but if your customers are looking for domestically grown fruit, these are worth every penny.
We can count on fresh crops of kale, chard and dandelions when spring rolls around, but what about some of the other greens that are oh-so-tender and delicious? Mizuna has fringed leaves and a pleasantly fresh, crisp taste, and sorrel has tender leaves and an almost lemony flavor. Encourage your customers to try these spring greens—they’re in for a treat.
Kumquats are another springtime pleasure. The two most common varieties grown in the U.S. are Meiwa and Nagami. Meiwas are round, sweet kumquats with fewer seeds. Tart, oval Nagamis produce an excellent marmalade. If you want to generate more sales for these distinctive fruits, show your customers the “Kumquat Roll and Pop.” Since most of the sweetness is in the skin and the flesh can be a bit tart, it’s best to roll a kumquat between your palms until it gets soft and the oil is released onto your hands. Then pop it in your mouth and bite down. The oil makes the first part of your bite sweet before you reach the tart flesh. It works every time and is a fun way to get your customers to try what is sure to become one of their favorite spring fruits.
Mark Mulcahy has more than 25 years of experience in the produce industry and is the founder of Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. Contact him at [email protected]