Everyone knows produce has a season. But what about eggs? Or chicken?
Obviously, you can get both year-round, but there are foods that hit their peak in April and May that we don’t typically think of as being seasonal.
Chef Cassidee Dabney of Blackberry Farm in the Great Smoky Mountains explains.
“Eggs are awesome in the spring because the chickens have just gotten out of their pens and started eating bugs and plants and things,” she says. “The yolks are richer, in color and flavor, which means anything you do with eggs — fried or soft-boiled or scrambled — will taste better.”
The reason: the bird’s egg-laying cycle is triggered by daylight.
As days get longer, birds are more likely to lay eggs. Factories keep birds indoors under artificial lights for year-round production, but many chickens only naturally lay eggs when there are 10-plus hours of daylight. Also, birds have high metabolisms, so in cold weather, they use most of their energy to stay warm and don’t have enough left over for egg production. If you buy local, organic eggs in spring, you should be able to taste the difference.
The same goes for the chicken itself. In the spring, a hen has more access to its preferred diet of insects and grubs, so the meat tastes better. The same goes for goose, duck and turkey.
If you think about what milk is used for — to feed an animal’s babies — it makes sense that dairy is seasonal because most cows give birth in the spring. When a cow makes milk to feed its offspring, the milk is richer and has more fat (cream), which makes it taste better. As the weather cools, the cream begins to dry up. So when you see calves in pastures, you should be able to find better butter and milk in markets.
Of course, there are also tons of fruits and vegetables in season in spring in Tennessee. (Learn what to plant when in this Tennessee spring gardening guide.)
You can find the full list and tips from Chef Dabney below, but first, she offers a few general pieces of advice for making the transition.
“If you’re going to have a garden and you’ve never done it before, start with pots, just to see if you can invest the time it takes to grow one. Do herbs, tomatoes and cucumbers for sure, and make sure you consider where the water source is when locating your pots or plants. When I lived in Boston, I had a rooftop garden and I spent half that summer schlepping water upstairs because I didn’t plan that!” she says laughing.
“As far as cooking goes, you really can’t go wrong with blanching most vegetables and topping them with a little bit of butter, salt and pepper,” she says. (Blanching is a cooking method where you briefly boil a vegetable and then plunge it into ice water to keep its color bright and texture firm.)
“Go to the farmers market, stop at the stands on the side of the road, and pick whatever looks the best,” says Dabney. “In-season food is tastier and connects you to what’s going on around you. Don’t cover it up with too much stuff.
“The key to cooking in spring is to go light, keep everything fresh and let flavors do their job.”
Here is the produce that’s in season in Tennessee in spring:
- Snow Peas
- Turnip Greens
In season year-round
Here is Chef Dabney’s advice for preparing it:
Dabney serves arugula raw in salads or dresses it lightly and serves it on top of meat for some brightness. If she is going to cook it, she makes sauce.
“I love making arugula pesto,” says Dabney. “It’s a nice, peppery change from typical basil pesto.”
Find an arugula pesto recipe here.
Dabney serves asparagus raw by shaving pieces with a vegetable peeler or mandoline slicer. Because the smaller pieces are more tender, they don’t need to be cooked. Toss them with a favorite salad dressing or use them in pasta salad.
Find a shaved asparagus salad recipe here.
Grilled or roasted cabbage can take on a rich almost artichoke-like flavor, so grilling is one of Dabney’s favorite ways to prepare it.
“One thing I’ve started doing recently is taking the leaves apart and marinating them in garlic, oil and herbs,” she says. “Then I’ll grill them individually, which gives the leaves a super savory flavor.”
“Using the tops to make sauce is a great way to use all of the vegetable,” she says. “For pickling, I love a carrot because it’s sturdy, so it holds its crunch but gets very acidic.”
If you’ve never pickled before, Dabney has one piece of advice.
“Start simple!” she says. “Start with refrigerator pickles and make sure you really like it before you get a pressure cooker — that kind of pickling is a lot of work.”
For smaller cauliflower, Dabney likes to shave the stems and heads to keep it simple.
“I serve them raw with creamy dressing or vinaigrette and lots of nuts,” she says. “It’s something that looks fancy but is actually really simple.”
“I love when green onions are big enough that you can use both parts,” Dabney says. “When I have leftover tops, I char them on the grill. Once they’re dry, I grind up the grilled, dried tops to make a powder. You can use that in everything — on top of vegetables or mixed into cream cheese or sour cream with seasonings as a dip. The powder has a lot of flavor.”
“I drizzle honey on roasted turnips to help balance out their bitterness,” she says. “I also love using it with spinach because the leaves are really bumpy, and the nooks and crannies hold a lot of flavor. Drizzling honey on spinach and sprinkling it with crispy bits of onion or bacon is great. Really anything bitter or foraged or green can always use a drizzle of honey — and a fried egg!”
“I like to do creamed kale with onions just like you would spinach,” Dabney says. “It’s not something I have every day because it is rich, but with good cream, it’s unbeatable.”
For a similar recipe, click here.
“I put mint in everything savory because it adds brightness against the other elements,” says Dabney. “Plus it’s one invasive herb, so you’re always going to have a lot of it!”
Dabney likes to shave raw radishes and to grill or roast whole ones, but she warns: “Don’t put them in water unless they’re funky or spicy. If you do that, all of the flavor will seep into the water and out of the radish.”
Dabney pickles rhubarb and serves it with fatty meats or sweet items.
“Pickled rhubarb is great with desserts and pastries,” she says, “but it’s also good shaved thin and left raw. Once I shave it, I dip in water so it curls up, and it’s this beautiful pink outside. It’s really great in salads or as a garnish.”
Find a recipe for shaved rhubarb salad here.
Snow Peas / Snap Peas
Snow peas are the flat pods often used in Chinese dishes. Snap peas (aka sugar snap peas) are a cross between snow peas and garden peas. Both can be eaten raw or cooked.
“I like to throw snow or snap peas on the grill using a grill basket to give them a little char,” says Dabney. “And here’s a tip: I’ve tried numerous grill baskets and they all work just the same, so there’s no need to splurge.”
“I like to wrap seafood in turnip greens and roast it at a high temperature,” she says. “The seafood steams inside and then you get this beautiful, soft green you can eat with your fish.”
Find a similar recipe here.