BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
VIRGINIA BEACH — When strawberry season starts to wind down, local food afficionados look forward to sweet corn and homegrown tomatoes that arrive with the dog day heat. While I love the summer vegetables, the late spring’s peas and leafy greens are equally tempting.
Right now, I’m sampling something that I’ve waited a long time to get — tender young May peas, as sweet as candy and fresh from a local farm market.
May peas are just one of the spring offerings, and, in the coming month, local produce growers will feature a variety of leafy green vegetables, including lettuces, kale and cabbage, as well as broccoli, cauliflower and – depending upon the weather – perhaps even sweet corn or squash in June.
A mini-heat wave earlier this month caused some asparagus to bolt, but I was lucky enough to find some on a recent trip to Cromwell’s Produce, and I also found May peas, kale and sugar snaps.
Broccoli and cauliflower are also coming into season soon. This year Cromwell’s Produce will offer a rainbow-mixture of white, purple, and yellow cauliflower, owner John Cromwell said. Cabbages will also be available soon, as well as orange and red beets, turnips and radishes.
Bruce Henley of Flip Flop Farmer also expects to have broccoli about the third week of May, and romaine lettuce will come into season soon. In addition to this spring fare, Henley expects to begin picking young squash and zucchini soon. It’s a little early for that, but a mild March encouraged him to plant early.
“And it looks pretty good,” he said.
Robbie Vaughan of Vaughan Farms’ Produce expects some early summer crops, including early sweet corn, to start coming in about the third week of June. Right now, he’s featuring spring offerings, including May peas, but he doesn’t expect a long May pea season this year. Wet weather in late February, when May peas are normally planted, slowed planting and germination.
“We were all laughing and saying that we’d need a pontoon boat to get into the field,” he said, “and the cold, wet weather was a problem for seed germination.”
In addition to the spring produce, Cindy and Steve Barnes of BayBreeze Farms, like some other growers, have some special treats for customers this year. Barnes is offering local baked goods, including pound cakes, as well as locally made guacamole and chips from Pelon’s Baja Grill.
Seafood, including crabs and oysters from the Eastern Shore as well as seasonal fish and, when available, North Carolina shrimp, are also offered, Steve Barnes said.
Henley also offers bloody mary mixes and sauces from Lendy’s Café and Virginia peanuts from Newsome’s Peanuts. Meats, ice cream, jellies and cheeses are also offered at some farm markets, and a food truck, owned by Cuban Coffee Company, sometimes offers coffee and sandwiches at Vaughan Farms’ Produce.
My favorite – the locally made Sloane’s cheese dips, formerly sold at The Creative Wedge – are back in stock at Cromwell’s, and I’ve already sampled the savory container of Smoked Gouda Dip that I just bought.
There’s a lot of local fare out there and more just over the horizon, but, as always, everything depends upon the weather.
This year, growers say the weather’s been a mixed bag. While May pea planting season was wet, a mild March helped Henley to get squash seeds in early. The weather unexpectedly turned a little dry, and there was a surprise mini-heat wave early in May followed by cooler weather.
That is good for some things and not so good for others.
Cool, dry weather extends strawberry season, but sweet corn likes it warm and wet, Vaughan said.
“These 49-degree nights aren’t helping the corn,” he said.
“It’s a little on the dry side right now,” Henley said during a conversation in May, before a dry spell was broken by wet weather. “A little shower would be good.”
The author is a contributor to The Independent News. Her journalism has also appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.
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