By Kaci Yoder
Keeping an eye on what’s fresh each season is crucial. What’s a backyard barbecue without some fresh peppers and mushrooms to slide onto your shish kabobs? What’s a Fourth of July picnic without a cake decorated in the patriotic colors of strawberries and blueberries? There are plenty of resources in Baton Rouge for locally grown produce, and summer is the perfect time to pick up the freshest seasonal fruits and vegetables. Drop it in a drink, freeze it into popsicles—fresh is always refreshing.
We’ve compiled a guide to many of Louisiana’s summer goods, so get your grocery list ready and clear a spot on your calendar for a dinner date.
BASIL: Beginning in May, these flavorful leaves can add richness to summer salads and be muddled in drinks. Try the Franco panini at La Divina, which serves up a homemade basil pesto on top of oven roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
BEETS: The most vibrant of the root vegetables is in season April through July. The Root Awakening at The Big Squeezy mixes together beet juice with green apple, carrot, lemon, and mint for one complex and tasty cleanse juice.
BLUBERRIES: Perfect for picnic snacks, lemonade additions, and patriotic potlucks. Head a little north of town to Ethel and pick your own blueberries at Berry Sweet Orchards.
BLACKBERRIES: Sweet and tart, these beauties are in season from late June to early September and make great additions to any citrusy cocktail. For a delicious spread, try the blackberry merlot jelly by local canner Amy Erwin, available via IndiePlate.com
CHILES: With a season beginning in June, now is the best time to spice up your life. The Tequila Old Fashioned at Mestizo brings together tequila, bourbon, and ancho chile (poblano) for some memorable heat.
CORN: Don’t be fooled by all the ears of corn in autumn decorations—the season for this crop lasts from late May to August. For the best of two Louisiana summer staples, try the crawfish cornbread at Capital City Grill.
CUCUMBER: Nothing keeps you cool like cucumber, which sees its best time of year beginning in late May. A classic mix of cucumbers and yogurt comes in the tzatziki at Zorba’s Greek Bistro—the ultimate match for a fresh pita and a hot summer day.
EGGPLANT: Ah, the aubergine. The season for this nightshade runs from late May to early October. Glaser’s Produce Farm based out of New Roads grows eggplants and much, much more—find them on Saturdays at the Red Stick Farmers Market.
GREEN BEANS: A classic of southern cuisine, the green bean comes into season in Louisiana in late May. The latest menu at Table Kitchen & Bar includes some creative fermented pepper and citrus green beans—but you have to hustle if you want to get some before their menu changes again.
LEEKS: Similar to a giant green onion, the leek’s season lasts from April to August. If you’ve never had a taste, give the Lombardia pasta at Nino’s Italian a try—it comes with gulf shrimp, capers, leeks, and tomatoes in a lemon garlic butter sauce.
MELONS: Melons come into season in late June, so keep an eye out at the fruit stand in the next few weeks. If you love melon, you’ll adore the melon salad at MJ’s Café, which combines it with two more summer seasonals (cucumbers and apples) in a jalapeno vinaigrette for an ultra-fresh dish.
NECTARINES: Nectarines are basically peaches without the fuzz, so you can use them in all the same pies, cobblers, and ice cream toppings. Pick some up at Southside Produce throughout June.
OKRA: It may not be cool enough for gumbo, but okra season begins in June. For something cool but still packed with plenty of okra, try the heirloom tomato salad at Restaurant IPO, which comes with green goddess dressing, Covey Rise Farms heirloom tomatoes, and fried okra croutons.
PEACHES: These fuzzy guys are fresh from late May to early September. The Vintage Peach at The Pelican House masters this seasonal fruit with a mixture of peaches, peach schnapps, and champagne.
POTATOES: Though potatoes are available from storage year-round, they’re freshest from late May to August. The potato comes in many forms, but one of our faves is the parmesan and duck fat fries at Fat Cow Burgers.
RASPBERRIES: Who doesn’t love raspberries? June and July are the best time of year to get your fix. For a more savory spin, order the smoked duck tacos at Coyote Blues, which come with a raspberry and blueberry chipotle sauce drizzle.
SHALLOTS: A small, sweet onion alternative, they’re great for adding flavor to roasted veggies as well as sauces and vinaigrettes. Get them at their freshest in June and July. If you’re looking to get a little fancy, try the Pork Porterhouse with crispy fried shallots at Stroubes.
SPINACH: Who doesn’t love some of this leafy green in their salad or on their sandwich? Spinach is in season from late March to early July. The fettuccine alfredo at Souga Pizza Factory lets it shine with homemade spinach fettuccine in a parmesan cream sauce.
STRAWBERRIES: In season late March through early July, the strawberry has earned its place as one of Louisiana’s most famous crops. For the definitive strawberry experience in Baton Rouge, order the wildly popular fresh strawberry cake at Ambrosia Bakery.
ZUCCHINI: This summer squash is seasonal late April through August, and it’s a great fit for everything from salads to the grill. The Bella Lasagna at Pinetta’s European Restaurant offers a gluten-free version of the traditional dish with layers of eggplant, squash, and zucchini instead of noodles.