Summer produce is a cause for celebration! Learn how to make the most of these warm-weather ingredients while they’re ripe for the picking.
Canada might be famous for its chilly winters, but its inhabitants know just how glorious the summers can be. Produce stalls across the country, once sparse (and cabbage-focused), are suddenly resplendent with fresh produce. All that extra heat and sunshine concentrates the flavours in plants as they grow, resulting in the best, most flavourful produce of the year. Below, we share some of our favourite summer fruits and vegetables, with tips for buying, storing, and cooking them.
If there’s one thing to be grateful for in the summer, it’s fresh berries (a.k.a. nature’s candy). We’re lucky to grow a wide variety in Canada, including blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, salal berries and saskatoon berries.
What to look for: Look for berries that are intact (not crushed); the ripest ones should have an aroma if you give them a sniff. Store berries somewhere at room temperature, and rinse them just before consuming. Consume them within a day or two. You can also freeze them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and then transfer them (once they’re firm) to a resealable plastic bag to enjoy for months afterward.
Try them in a recipe: If you ever tire of eating them as-is, try using berries in an Eton mess or in miniature trifles or to adorn an elegant sponge cake. They also can have wonderful savoury applications, like this mixed green salad with strawberry salsa.
Any fruit with a large stone (which we often call the "pit") inside of it is a stone fruit. Common types in Canada include peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and cherries.
What to know: When shopping for stone fruit, it’s helpful to give them a little nasal appraisal: ripe fruit will have a rich, heady scent. Avoid squeezing stone fruit to appraise its ripeness, as you might end up damaging the produce. Check fruit for any blemishes before buying, and store them at home in a single layer on the counter, stem-side-down.
Try them in a recipe: Each type of stone fruit is delicious on its own, but they can also be combined with one another for delicious effect, as in this summer orchard tart. Other sweet suggestions include this cheesecake tart, a simple snacking cake and these adorable mini galettes. For a savoury twist, you can’t beat this chicken and peach cobb salad.
Summer tomatoes include the more traditional roma and vine tomatoes you see year-round in store, as well as gorgeous, colourful heirloom varieties. They can come in a wide assortment of shapes, colours and sizes.
What to know: Choose tomatoes that feel heavy and firm; the skin should be smooth but not overly taut or soft and wrinkled. Near the stem, tomatoes should have a strong aroma if they’re ripe. Store tomatoes at room temperature and consume them within two days of purchasing.
Try them in a recipe: You can pair tomatoes with just about any fresh herb, a wide variety of cheeses, and most alliums. Enjoy them in a savoury crumble, a lemony summer pasta or make pico de gallo with them and use them to top grilled meats all summer long.
Boiled, grilled, or even fresh off the cob—it doesn’t get much better than summer corn. The most common varieties have either all yellow or yellow and white variegated kernels; whichever you choose, the flavour won’t vary greatly from one to another.
What to know: When buying corn, look for cobs that have light brown, slightly sticky tassels (but not dried out or black ones; that happens when the corn is old). Corn husks should be a bright green and might even feel slightly damp to the touch. As soon as corn is picked, it starts converting its internal sugars into starch, so if you’re looking for sweet corn, consume it the day that you bought it. Otherwise, store your corn in its husks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a day or two.
Try it in a recipe: If pure corn flavour is what you’re after, you’ll love this quick-pickled corn. It’s also excellent as a salsa paired with grilled chicken, grilled to perfection and served with aioli and in this elegant savoury tart.
One of life’s greatest pleasures is to enjoy a fat wedge of melon on a hot summer’s day. There are a number of common melon varieties in Canada, the most common being watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew.
What to know: When buying melons, check for any visible bruising or soft spots. Melons should feel firm but not overly hard, and should ideally be heavy for their size. So long as you haven’t cut into them, you can ripen melons for a few days on the counter at room temperature. Sliced melon should be covered in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Try them in a recipe: Melons are terrific in a refreshing granita, as ice pops or in a nice, cold smoothie. They also work well in more savoury meals, such as in the relish for these beef brochettes, or as a fish replacement in this vegetarian poke bowl.
Zucchini (and summer squash)
Towards the end of summer, there’s always a glut of zucchini and its squash cousins at the markets. Common varieties include green, yellow and eight ball zucchini, as well as pattypan and zephyr squash. Despite their differences in appearance, they all have a similar, mild flavour.
What to know: Massive zucchini, though impressive to behold, are often mealy and less flavourful, so choose them in the small-to-medium range. Look for unblemished, taught skin. Store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days if you aren’t using them immediately.
Try it in a recipe: You might not have guessed it, but zucchini actually pairs beautifully with chocolate in a sweet application, such as this double chocolate bundt cake. They’re more common in savoury cooking, and are terrific when grilled, shaved thinly and used instead of pasta or baked into a one-pan brunch.
Oh...and don't forget the herbs!
Brimming with flavour, herbs are a terrific way to add punch and freshness to any meal. They're easy to grow yourself, and many colourful heirloom varieties are available in addition to what you can usually find year-round in stores. Terrific herbs include basil, mint, dill, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, rosemary, chives, thyme and sage.
What to look for: When buying herbs, look for ones that are perky (not wilted), and to store them for maximum freshness, wrap them in a paper towel and place your bundle in a plastic bag in the fridge. Hold off on washing herbs until just before you use them to add to prolong their shelf-life.
Try them in a recipe: Once you try this chimichurri sauce, you'll want to put it on everything. Herbs are also terrific for making pesto, vinaigrette and mint sauce. If you’re unable to use all of your herbs right away, try transforming them into these flavourful ice cubes for future use.