Dear Dannielle, I’m ready to go whole hog on the eating seasonal and local foods thing, but I never know what to expect at the farmers’ market and the whole thing kind of intimidates me. Help me reap the crazy delicious harvest I know awaits—what should I look for this week, and what do I do with it? 

Future Friend of a Farmer

Dear Friend, It’s always a good time to climb aboard the tasty wagon of seasonal produce! The first thing I hope you’ll do is just forget you’ve ever heard the word “nettles,” because this time of year, especially in the Northeast, they’re a prickly harbinger of spring that people pretend to be all excited about, but for us mere mortals, they distract from all the easier-to-manage fruits and vegetables that don’t have “stinging” in their names.

If you’re in the South, strawberries are coming like gangbusters right now. Eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: in oatmeal; sliced thinly in a spinach salad with almonds and vinaigrette; over ice cream; or just whole on the drive or walk home. You’ll also start to see nice asparagusThe ultimate (and easy!) preparation is with pecorino

Nationwide, lettuces are arriving. Where it’s colder, more prevalent will be the bitter and spicy Asian greens like mizuna. It’s easy to snub these less glamorous leaves at first, but once you have them dressed properly, you will crave them in salad. A dressing of olive oil, lime juice as your acid, and a sweet note like the tiniest bit of mashed strawberry or pomegranate juice to balance the greens’ peppery notes will become a staple.

On both coasts, and around the Great Lakes, it’s time for all sorts of mushrooms, which is either really good or really awful news, I know, but if you’re in the former camp, get really, really into ‘em this weekend and plan all your meals around a simple sauté with shallots and garlic in olive oil. The person at the market selling mushrooms is usually the most interesting to talk to, so ask for his or her opinion and prepare to learn.

In the northeast, late April means the short window for rhubarb is upon us, and you shouldn’t miss it. These beautiful stalks can be washed and sliced, no peeling necessary, stirred with sugar and strawberries, and baked in a pie crust. No dessert screams, “Spring!” more voraciously. 

This past weekend in New York at our neighborhood farmers’ market I found dark cucumbers that had been grown in the farm’s (unheated) greenhouse. Their thin skin—never waxed—shouldn’t be peeled, and they’re seedless. Delicious all on their own, they’re also perfect in this spring-tastical salad we made for dinner. Enjoy!

Tom’s Yard Cucumber Salad:

  • 10 Armenian or English cucumbers, washed and thinly sliced
  • 6 spring onions, thinly sliced, including pale green part
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch sugar
  • Several grinds of white pepper (black’s fine if you don’t have white)
  • 3/4 sour cream
  • As much fresh dill as makes you happy (the more the better!)

Toss cucumbers and onions with vinegar; sprinkle with salt, sugar, and pepper. Stir in sour cream and dill. Keep cold and serve with slotted spoon.

More sage advice from Dannielle:

Dannielle Kyrillos is a series judge on Bravo’s Top Chef: Just Desserts and an expert home entertainer. She’s here to address your pressing concerns about domestic hospitality matters great and small. You can follow her on Twitter.

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