The 50 Best Summer Foods: A State-by-State Guide
Healthy eating across the U.S.
While the rest of us are dreaming about summer vacation, Mother Nature is working like crazy—and there’s no time like the present to fill your plate with healthy, delicious seasonal eats. Keep your eyes peeled for these local stars when you’re at the farmers’ market or skimming a menu.
Garlic is cured and stored for sale year-round, but it’s harvested in Alabama in June—and the difference between the sad, wrinkled bulbs you see on the shelf at the grocery store and the potent crop that grows through the hot Gulf Coast spring and hits farmstands in the summer is like Dorothy’s world before and after she steps out of her house in The Wizard of Oz. Take advantage of garlic’s heart-healthy properties by crushing a few cloves in olive oil and sautéing local shrimp; nutrients in the allium will actually help your body absorb the iron in the seafood. In this video, learn how to mince garlic quickly and neatly with a chef's knife so you can add it to a variety of dishes.
Alaska: Wild salmon
Peak salmon fishing season is May through September in Alaska, where the local catch provides high levels of omega-3 fatty acids with low levels of environmental contaminants. Try this grill-ready glaze from Michael Ferraro, executive chef at New York City’s Delicatessen: Blend 1/8 cup harissa paste, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tsp chopped thyme, and 1/2 tsp brown sugar for about 30 seconds. Season both sides of your salmon with salt and pepper. Over high heat, grill the fillets flesh-side down until crisp-golden brown. Flip the fish, brush the seared side with your glaze, and transfer to the broiler until the glaze caramelizes. Or you could try this summery salad recipe with salmon, grapefruit, and avocado.
Arizona: Sweet bell peppers
Peppers love Arizona’s desert heat, and they’re plentiful and available in a kaleidoscope of colors there between July and October. “Sweet bell peppers are a tasty, simple snack, and they’re one of the best sources of vitamin C; you can also cut them in half and fill them with seasoned fish or chicken,” says Katherine Zeratsky, RD, an associate professor of nutrition at the Mayo Clinic.
Arkansas: Pink-eyed purple hull peas
These psychedelic-looking legumes have Technicolor-bright hulls, delicate greenish skins (with pink eyes, of course), and a flavor that’s more delicate and a bit less earthy than that of black-eyed peas. A staple of traditional southern cooking that translates beautifully into succotash, salads, and stews, the pink-eyed pea is spectacular source of protein, fiber, and folate. In Arkansas, it has its own celebration—the PurpleHull Pea Festival and World Championship Rotary Tiller Race, held each year in Emerson on the last Saturday of June.
More than 90% of America’s figs come from California, where the first harvest of the season—the breba crop, which is collected from branches that sprouted the previous year—starts in June, and the main harvest gets underway in August. “Figs can be enjoyed as-is in a salad, or they can add moisture and sweetness to baked goods,” Zeratsky says. They’re also dynamite on a cheese plate. Fig lovers compare the fresh varieties’ unique flavors to those of different wines (because, you know, California). In the summer, we love this super-simple recipe for melon with fig and prosciutto.
Colorado cherries are at their loveliest in June and July, and you can pick your own, if you’re so inclined, at orchards all over the state. In a 2012 study, researchers from Boston University found an intriguing association between cherry consumption and a reduced risk of recurrent gout attacks; the nature of the link isn’t yet understood, but we know that cherries have high levels of anthocyanins (hence their vivid colors), and those flavonoids have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. After you've learned how to pit a cherry the easiest way, try one of these 20 cherry recipes.
Raspberries are fragile and very perishable, so the closer you can get to the source, the better. Between early July and mid-August in Connecticut, you can cut out the distance between you and the crop completely and pick ‘em yourself (here's a county-by-county list of pick-your-own farms from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture). A Japanese study found that an aromatic compound in red raspberries was able to prevent and improve obesity in animal subjects; additional research on the effect is needed, but we know enough to conclude that a handful of fresh raspberries sounds like an excellent summer snack.
Delaware’s leading fruit crop reaches ripeness beginning in July, and those delicate “early summer” varieties (like Galas, Ginger Golds, and Paula Reds) are best eaten fresh. Researchers have found that apples have nutrients in their skins that protect them from UV rays—and those same nutrients benefit us when we eat them. Rinse one off and eat it plain, or try one of these healthy apple recipes.
Florida: Star fruit
The main star fruit (or carambola) crop matures in late summer in Florida, where bartenders and chefs use it as a showstopping garnish and salad ingredient. A single fruit has just 30 calories—far lower than many of its tropical pals—and is full of fiber, antioxidants, and flavonoids. It's also a food that can help you stay hydrated.
The first peaches were planted in what is now Georgia soil in the 18th century, and locals feel that they’ve had a special relationship with the fruit ever since. “Peaches’ orange color comes from beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A and has antioxidant functions,” Zeratsky says. For a simple side dish, try this recipe for honey-roasted peaches with lavender. Or you could try this salad recipe recommended by chef Steven Redzikowski of Acorn in Denver, Colo.: Arrange wedges of a peach and an heirloom tomato on a plate, garnish with 4 mini mozzarella balls, 6 pieces of torn basil, and 2 pitted and crushed green olives, then sprinkle with salt and fresh cracked pepper and drizzle with 1/2 tbsp olive oil. Georgia’s peach season tends to fall between early May and early August; be prepared to stop early and often at local farm stands.
The tough-looking, sweet-tasting lychee thrives in regions where it rains more than 80 inches a year, which explains why it’s so fond of Hawaii, where it floods the farmers’ markets from May all the way through September. A one-cup serving of the fragrant fruit takes care of your daily requirement of vitamin C and is a solid source of B vitamins and potassium.
Don’t tell California, but some varieties of table grapes (such as Ralli, which are an eye-popping fluorescent red-orange color) actually grow better in southwestern Idaho than they do in the Golden State. Look for Idaho’s crop beginning in September; if you’re anxious to get a jump on grape-related summer fun, head to Savor Idaho in Boise to sample local wine and food (and try your hand—er, foot—at stomping on grapes). The resveratrol in grape skins is associated with an array of health benefits, including longevity—so you can plan to eat them for many years to come.
Heat-loving eggplant thrives in Illinois’s steamy summer weather, where local farmers begin to harvest them in June and keep on going through October. It’s extremely low in calories—just 20 per cup—and a healthy source of vitamins, minerals, and energy (in the form of carbohydrates). It’s also full of chlorogenic acid, a plant compound that, according to the USDA, can help lower LDL cholesterol. Grilled eggplant is a summer staple, and baba ganoush (a Middle Eastern dip made of roasted eggplant, olive oil, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice) deserves a berth in your warm-weather party snack rotation.