It’s fall to you, but some veggies think it’s spring

Field Notes
(To receive our local foods column and other culinary tidbits directly in your inbox, sign up for our weekly dining newsletter.)
The transition is nearly complete. Just a few weeks ago, area farmers markets were still brimming with late summer’s bounty: beans, eggplants, basil. Now, those crops are increasingly rare, and instead stands are displaying winter squash, dark leafy greens, turnips.  

But listing the autumn harvest is a little more complicated than that. That’s because many farmers are pulling an annual magic trick, growing spring crops alongside traditional autumn crops.

Lettuces, radishes, fennel, cilantro–these tender delicacies of early spring are making special-guest-star appearances in markets right now. Soon you’ll find spinach, carrots, celery, raddichio and broccoli, too.  

“Here in Georgia, because of our climate, you can do it because our winters are a little bit milder,” explains Brennan Washington, owner of Phoenix Gardens in Lawrenceville. “Actually, we have better success growing lettuce in the fall than in the spring.”

Lettuce hates heat, he says. “It’s not unusual to hit 90 degrees in April, and the lettuce will bolt. In the fall, we have cooler days, and it’s easier for us to deal with the cold instead of the heat.”

What does all this mean to market shoppers? Bottom line: Really great salads. This is the one and only time of year when you can toss all-local delicate greens and spring roots with late-summer and autumn fruits. It’s the perfect marriage of tender and crisp, peppery and sweet.

We’re talking about some really amazing spring-fall combos: arugula, fig and goat cheese; baby kale and Swiss chard, radish and apple; butter lettuce, fennel and pear. You can get creative with herbs, too: sage and apple go well together; so do carrot and mint, and fennel and parsley. It’s all mix-and-match, so if you can’t find one ingredient, substitute another.

The only nonlocal ingredients I use are in my dressings, which I keep simple: light olive oil, lemon or orange juice, a splash of cider vinegar, salt and pepper.

You can find Washington and his Phoenix Gardens produce at the Lawrenceville and Whistle Stop farmers markets. And you can find “spring” produce, along with traditional autumn fare, at markets all around town. To find one near you, check out our market list.