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.
Ripe cucumbers begin to arrive in Indiana in late June, peak between early July and mid-August, and are harvested into mid-September. Many of the thinner-skinned cukes take on a briny new character at the annual pickle festival in St. Joe, home of Sechler’s Pickles (which dishes out 54 varieties of relishes, pickles, and salsas). (Learn to pickle your own vegetables with this step-by-step demonstration.) Half a cup of raw, sliced cucumber has 8 calories, nearly 50 grams of water, an array of vitamins, and 76 milligrams of potassium.
Iowa: Sweet corn
Corn has been Iowa’s leading crop for 150 years, but most of that is field corn; the sweet stuff, which is full of phytonutrients and fiber, is sold locally at farmers’ markets and roadside stands. To get your fill, head to the West Point Sweet Corn Festival, where hot, buttered sweet corn is free. Trying to cut down on unhealthy saturated fats like butter? Whip up this party-perfect salad from Michael Armstrong of Bodega Negra in New York City: Toss the kernels from 2 grilled ears of corn with a glug of olive oil, a squeeze of lime juice, a pinch of sugar, 1 sliced scallion, 1 tbsp corn nuts, 11/4 tbsp queso fresco, and 1 thin-sliced red chile. Season with salt, transfer to a bowl, and top with another 11/4 tbsp of queso fresco; garnish with a lime wedge, chopped cilantro, and chopped mint. (Here's an easy way to cut the kernels off your cob without making a mess.)
Chard comes to Kansas in May and appears at farm stands through September. The veggie's crazy-nutritious leaves contain 13 different polyphenols, which are micronutrients that aid in the prevention of degenerative diseases. Cultivate Kansas City suggests pairing wilted chard with white beans, onions, and olives, and we love this recipe for two-bean chard salad. Either way, sounds like a summer staple in the making.
Though the many juleps served at the Derby in May might lead you to believe otherwise, mint is at its best in Kentucky between June and September. Research shows its aroma may actually improve cognitive performance; at the earthier end of the spectrum, the oil in its leaves ease digestive distress and might increase the effectiveness of yeast-infection treatments. For a more virtuous version of the celebrated julep, muddle mint in a glass of lemonade or iced tea.
Louisiana: Gulf shrimp
Nearly half of all U.S. Gulf shrimp are caught in Louisiana, where they’re synonymous with summer. A single serving of shrimp provides 50% of the protein you’ll need for the day, and they’re rich in selenium and vitamin B12. Best of all, shrimp can be prepped in a cinch, like this quick Mediterranean shrimp pasta recipe.
Maine: Soft-shell lobster
Hard-shell lobsters are trapped year-round and don’t have a “season,” per se. Soft-shell or “shedder” lobsters—that is, adult lobsters in the yearly process of molting—hit Maine’s markets in June and become more plentiful as the summer wears on. They don’t ship well, given their weakened shells, and are best enjoyed close to where they’re caught. “Lobsters are an excellent source of zinc and copper, which may play an important role in skin health and wound healing,” Zeratsky says.
Maryland: Blue crabs
“Crabs are a lean source of protein and vitamin B12, both of which are especially important for healthy aging,” says Zeratsky. Chesapeake Bay blue crabs get their celebrated buttery flavor from the fat stores they accumulate during hibernation, according to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources; locals call those fat deposits “mustard.” Look for restaurants that display the True Blue certified logo, which means at least 75% of the crabs and crab meat they use comes from Maryland.
Once-rare currants ripen mid-summer through September and peak in Massachusetts in the month of August. Red currants make gorgeous, intensely colored juice, and white currants are sweet enough to eat whole. A cup of red currants contains more than half of your daily requirement of vitamin C; white currants are missing a few of the red variety’s antioxidant pigments (since they’re an albino variety of the same fruit), but they’re just as nutritious.
Each summer, South Haven, Mich.—the state’s epicenter of highbush blueberries, the most widely planted variety in the world—plays host to the National Blueberry Festival, a 50-year-old celebration of “the king of berries.” A one-cup serving of fresh blueberries contains 4 grams of fiber, 24% of your daily requirement of vitamin C, 36% of your daily vitamin K, and 25% of your daily manganese. There's no shortage of blueberry recipes out there, but one of our favorites is blueberry oat pancakes with maple yogurt.
If you find yourself in Minnesota this summer, scoop up some gooseberries, which look a bit like veiny green grapes and pack a serious punch. “Like other berries, gooseberries are a good source of vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants,” Zeratsky says. Gooseberries are often found in jams and preserves, but chef Todd Mitgang (of Crave Fishbar in New York City) fancies how their kick of flavor works with avocado in a salad. “Gooseberries are incredibly dynamic—they have a great texture and are both tart and sweet. Typically, avocados like acidity—think of lime in guacamole—and gooseberries lend themselves to flavor the avocado in the same way.”
Mississippi: Sweet potatoes
July marks the beginning of the sweet potato harvest in Mississippi, the second largest sweet-potato-producing state in the United States. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene and vitamins A and C. The sweet spuds are also one of the best sources of potassium—even more so than bananas. When in Mississippi, keep an eye out for sweet potato bread (a healthier version of the sweet potato pie served during the holidays).
Artichokes come into season in July in Missouri. A member of the milk thistle family, artichokes are full of fiber and nutrients that aid digestive health. Local restaurants serve gut-busting, breaded and fried versions of the veggie; to reap its benefits at a lower-calorie cost, try steaming your next artichoke and dipping the leaves in a yogurt-spice mix. Or try this arugula salad with shaved artichokes, which just screams summer.
Fast-growing, frost-hardy kale can mature as quickly 40 days after it’s planted, so it’s ideal for regions with harsh winters. In Montana, it’s available from July until October. A cup of cooked kale has more than 10 times your daily requirement of vitamin K (which plays an important role in blood clotting). In a smoothie with berries, kale is a valuable source of vegetarian iron; the vitamin C in the fruit helps the body absorb iron (here's an easy kale-berry smoothie recipe).
Nebraska: Lima beans
Ripe for the picking in Nebraska between June and October, fresh lima beans are delicate and buttery—and a source of molybdenum, a trace mineral with a detoxifying effect that’s especially helpful for people who are sensitive to sulfites (preservatives found in prepared foods). For a healthy twist on Nebraska baked beans (which are heavy on bacon and brown sugar), try baking limas with tomatoes and red peppers; the natural sugars in those three ingredients plus the beans’ texture add up to a satisfying summer side.
July, August, and September are the high season for tomatillos, or husk tomatoes. They’re an excellent low-calorie source of vitamin C, fiber, and niacin (and a fine way to get started on a Mexican green sauce). For a fresh, potent salsa verde, place half a pound of raw tomatillos, 1-2 raw green chiles, a handful of cilantro, and 1/4 cup water in a blender; whiz to combine, then stir in salt and 1/4 cup finely chopped white onions.
New Hampshire: Mussels
Mussels are one of the most sustainable seafoods you can buy—their numbers are plentiful, and they play a vital role in filtering toxins and bacteria from the ocean—and they’re beloved in New Hampshire, where they’re synonymous with summer. A 6-ounce serving of steamed mussels has a whopping 40.5 grams of protein; with a single seasonal entrée (like mussels served over pasta), you can get most of your daily requirement out of the way. Now that’s old-fashioned New England practicality.
New Jersey: Tomatoes
Few local crops inspire passion quite like Jersey tomatoes, which are at their peak between July 10 and September 15. Rutgers University actually has a Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato Project, a working group that has vowed to research taste, assist growers, and reintroduce beloved heirloom varieties. Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which is linked to reduced risks of heart disease and cancer—and when you’re in the Garden State, you’re encouraged to crunch into them like apples, or work them into one of these mouthwatering tomato recipes.
New Mexico: Hatch green chiles
The beloved chiles from New Mexico’s Hatch Valley tend to come into season in August and early September, but they’re anticipated and treasured all year long (they’re FedExed fresh to far-flung fans at their peak, then frozen and rationed out afterward). Ounce for ounce, one medium chile has as much vitamin C as six oranges. Chile verde is the crop’s best-known dish, but Hatch chiles also make cameos in frittatas, on sandwiches, in salads, and even in desserts; as locals would say, a recipe that starts with them can’t go wrong.
New York: Honey
Get your hands on a bit of liquid gold at summer’s end on the Rockaway Boardwalk in Queens, where NYC Honey Week will conclude its yearly September festivities celebrating bees, beekeeping, and the sweet stuff itself all over the city. Honey is rich in antioxidants, and New York beekeepers are understandably proud of their harvest, which hails from urban rooftops, upstate gardens, and everywhere in between. Try topping grilled stone fruit with a drizzle of honey for a double hit of summery nutrients.
North Carolina: Blackberries
Each July, Lenoir, N.C. hosts the North Carolina Blackberry Festival; in 2016, the community will attempt to create the “World’s Largest Blackberry Cobbler” (and servings of cobbler will be free, of course). Blackberries are a fabulous source of fiber—with almost 8 grams per cup, they edge out most other fruits—and the natural sweeties hit their peak in the South in July.
North Dakota: Rhubarb
Rhubarb is a tart and tangy summer staple in cooler prairie states like North Dakota; it’s usually picked in June, before its red stalks become stringy and tough. Though it's best known paired up with strawberries and baked into pie, that's not the only way bakers and cooks love to use it; it's also great for vinaigrettes, jams, and sauces. Vintners and distillers also produce rhubarb wine and vodka. Rhubarb was considered a medicinal plant long before it became a “pie plant,” with good reason: It tackles inflammation, allergies, and bacteria, and it’s full of antioxidants. Steer clear of the leaves, though; they’re toxic.
Ohio: Summer squash
While hardy winter squash can be picked and stored for long periods of time, their delicate summer cousins are at their best immediately after they’re harvested. Per the Ohio Farm Bureau, scan stands for small- to medium-sized squash (8 inches or shorter for zucchini, and 4 inches across or smaller for patty pan squash). Pick squashes that are firm and feel heavy for their size—and per nutritionists, leave that skin in place! It’s particularly high in antioxidants. “Summer squash’s mild flavor pairs well with tomato sauces; it can be baked into breads, grilled, or turned into zucchini noodles, Zeratsky says. Bonus: “The summer varieties are higher in water and about half the calories of their winter relatives.”
Since 1967, the town of Jay (the “Huckleberry Capitol of the World”) has put on an annual festival to celebrate the wild little berries, which resist cultivation and have to be foraged. Like the tamer blueberries they resemble, they’re an excellent source of antioxidants and fiber; if you find yourself at the festivities in Jay, order up a huckleberry lemonade or smoothie to sip while watching the turtle derby.
Native Pacific plums grow wild on bushes at elevations of 4,000 to 7,000 feet—and they're ultra-rare, so if you find them at a farmers’ market, pounce! Oregon’s wild plums and its more domesticated varieties (which tend to grow in orchards and ripen at the end of the summer) help the body absorb iron and are known to help regulate digestion. Look for plums with flesh that yields slightly to the touch and has a slight white bloom (which means the fruit hasn’t been overhandled).
The chile harvest begins to peak in Pennsylvania in mid-July, which gives local chefs time to practice their recipes for the Keystone Regional chili cook-off (held the first Saturday in September in Camp Hill) and the state cook-off (held the next day in Hanover). Why face the fire two days in a row? The capsaicin in peppers triggers an endorphin rush that can provide effective relief for arthritis pain, neuropathic pain, and even itching and inflammation.