AUGUST IN THE GARDEN
August is prime time for luscious tomatoes, sweet peppers, robust eggplant, summer squash, and sweet corn. Their colors are beautiful and their healthfulness is plentiful. It pays to make the most of enjoying these veggies in-season when taste and nutrition are at their peak.
During much of the year, off-season supermarket tomatoes are often pale and lacking in taste. Most come from Florida where they are grown and then trucked to other parts of the country. Unfortunately, Florida’s warm weather allows pests and bacteria to grow year-round resulting in the need for farmers to use large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers. Moreover, the soil is mainly sand, lacking in nutrients, and yielding a lower quality product.
The peak season for tomatoes is August when they can be found fresh from the garden and local farms. Tomatoes are rich in folate and potassium, as well as Vitamins C and K, and the antioxidant lycopene. Antioxidants are linked to many health benefits such as lowering the risk for heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. The largest amount of lycopene is found in the skin of the tomato, and the redder the color, the higher the concentration.
Tomatoes are low in calories and provide about 1.5 grams of fiber in a medium tomato. The fiber is the insoluble type, which aids in gut health. Tomatoes can be eaten raw or cooked and processed into sauce, juice, or a variety of tomato products such as ketchup.
The sweet peppers found in supermarkets in the winter come from as far away as China, Mexico, or Indonesia, and more locally from California, New Mexico, and Florida. They are trucked or flown to all parts of the country days after they are picked. To extend their storage life, many commercially produced peppers are coated with wax. While it is edible and not harmful, the waxy coating is not natural and some find it undesirable. Green bell peppers are the least expensive and easiest sweet pepper to transport as they are essentially unripe and less likely to bruise. Unfortunately, peppers are more nutritious when allowed to ripen to yellow, red, or orange.
Peppers are most abundant in August and are best when allowed to fully ripen on the vine. The more colorful they are, the higher the concentration of the antioxidant lycopene. Peppers are also a rich source of Vitamins A, C, B6, and E, as well as good sources of folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium. They are low in calories and provide about 2 grams of fiber in a medium-sized pepper.
Peppers can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be pickled, smoked, roasted, stuffed, or processed into a paste. They can be cleaned, seeded and cut into strips, and frozen for enjoying later.
Eggplant is only in season from about August to October and ripens best between August and September. In the off-seasons eggplant is grown primarily in Mexico, Florida, and New Jersey. Shortages occur when frost or unusually cold weather affects these areas and results in eggplants being picked too early and under-ripe. If picked too soon, the fruit can taste bitter.
Eggplant is best when it is allowed to fully ripen on the vine. It should be harvested when the fruit is firm with glossy and unwrinkled skin. The color should be uniform and the seeds inside should be soft.
Eggplant is low in calories and high in fiber. About one cup contains only 20 calories and 3 grams of fiber, as well as potassium, folate, and Vitamins C and K. Eggplant are abundant in the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is also responsible for the rich, dark color of the vegetable.
Eggplant is usually cooked before eating. It can be baked, roasted, grilled, or sautéed. Eggplant spoils quickly once it is cut, and should be stored in the refrigerator.
The majority of summer squash is grown in Florida and Arizona during the winter. The most common are yellow summer squash and zucchini. Summer squash is fragile. The lifetime of a freshly picked squash is only about 14 days. However, by the time the vegetable reaches the supermarket, it is likely to already be 10 days old.
Taking advantage of in-season freshness is best for enjoying delicious summer squash. In most states. Planting after any danger of frost in early spring yields ripe fruit in late July and August. The best summer squash is harvested between 6 and 8 inches in size. Large summer squash is less tender and the seeds become tough.
Summer squash is low in calories and a good source of fiber. Both yellow squash and zucchini have only 17-18 calories per cup and provide 1-2 grams of fiber. Yellow squash is high in Vitamins C and B6 as well as potassium. Zucchini contains a healthy amount of Vitamin A, manganese, Vitamin C, and potassium. and is a good source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, beneficial for vision.
Both yellow squash and zucchini have large water contents and do not need much cooking time to be soft and tender. They can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, stuffed, or grated and added to baked goods.
Corn is one of the largest commercially produced vegetables in the country. It is cultivated in almost every state, with the highest concentration grown in the Midwest. The ears are boxed up, chilled, and shipped off to grocery stores where they are available year-round. However, corn starts to lose its sugar content quickly, making it less sweet and leaving out-of-season corn often lacking in taste, texture, and quality.
Prime corn season runs from June to September, with the peak in August, when the freshest and sweetest corn can be found at roadside stands or from local grocers. Corn begins to convert sugars to starch and loses flavor in a matter of days. The quicker it goes from just-picked to eaten, the sweeter it is.
Corn is a starchy vegetable with natural sugar and higher carbohydrate content than other summer vegetables. There are about 88 calories, 19 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of fiber in a medium-sized cob. Corn contains Vitamins C and E, and is a good source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Corn also provides magnesium, potassium, and folate.
Fresh corn on the cob can be grilled or broiled. Off the cob, corn can be added to a variety of dishes or dried and made into popcorn.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fresh is best when it comes to summer vegetables. The more time between picked-from-the-vine and the kitchen table, the more quality is lost. Taking advantage of in-season varieties yields optimal taste and nutrition. Home or locally grown produce usually has fewer additives as well, such as pesticides and waxes used in large-scale production and transportation.
Shopping locally has the added benefit of supporting the local economy and community and may help to reduce food insecurity by providing neighborhoods with fresh produce. In addition, locally grown produce has a short travel time from farm to table, reducing the carbon footprint generated by long-distance transportation.
Take the time to visit local farmer’s markets to enjoy summer vegetables at their peak. Visit nearby farms to pick your own when possible, and be sure to thank them for making these summer beauties available!