Welcome back to my monthly ‘what’s in season’ blog post series. Here is my July guide to seasonal produce in Illinois.
What’s in Season in Illinois in July?
Several foods from last month will still be in season and available throughout the month of July.
Illinois Fruits In Season in July
- Black Raspberries (July only)
- Blueberries (new this month)
- Blackberries (new this month)
- Peaches (new this month)
- Watermelon (new this month)
- Cantaloupe (new this month)
- Honeydew Melons (new this month)
Illinois Vegetables In Season in July
- Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale and Cabbage
- Zucchini, Squash
- Cucumbers (new this month)
- Sweet Corn (new this month)
- Bell Peppers (new this month)
- Onions (new this month)
- Garlic (new this month)
- Green Beans (new this month)
In July you will see an increasing variety of produce available at local farmers markets each weekend. Click on a link to jump to a specific item or continue reading to see them all.
Reminder That Seasonal Is Local
In case you didn’t see my first article this spring, I am focusing on northern Illinois specifically with this series. Many of these same foods are in season in other areas across the northern tier of the United States. However, local climates are so variable it is hard to write about seasonal produce in a broad way.
You can get a sense of the regional variances by reviewing the seasonal produce guide from the USDA. You might notice for example avocados are in season in the summer but do not grow in Illinois. Neither do limes or pineapples.
Although not regionally specific, the USDA guide can still be used to help guide your grocery shopping decisions. Foods that are in season will be cheaper than those that are out of season even if they do not grow in your immediate area.
This is why strawberries are $0.99 in the summer and $4.99 in the winter. Including in season produce in your weekly meal plan will help you save money at the grocery store.
Eating produce that is in season is the best way to start eating local. Eating local is the best way to start improving your health.
The first step to eating local is to understand what produce is in season. Why?
Locally Grown Produce is More Nutritious
The nutrients in fruits and vegetables begin breaking down fairly quickly after harvest. This is not mean to scare you away from supermarket produce; there are still measurable levels of nutrients that provide health benefits. It’s not as if all of the vitamin C in strawberries is gone after a week.
Locally grown, freshly picked produce is more nutritious and better for your health.
It will taste better because it was harvested when fully ripe. Being fully ripe and more recently harvested means it will have a higher nutrient content.
Then, you can properly store these freshly picked, ripe fruits and vegetables to maximize the nutrient retention until you get a chance to eat them.
As we’ll see in a moment, some items need to be consumed quickly, others can be stored for a bit longer.
Watching Out for Farmers Market Fraud
When you know what to expect before you arrive at the farmers market you might occasionally notice items that are not in season quite so early in the year or that do not grow in your area at all.
While not common, review my article on farmers market fraud for more tips to make sure you are truly buying fresh local produce from honest vendors. When in doubt ask.
Let’s jump in to what you can expect to see in July, starting with fruit.
Seasonal Produce in Illinois: July Fruits
Raspberries, blueberries and cherries will appear around the beginning of July and are often available at the end of last month.
One of the best ways to experience seasonal produce in Illinois this July is to participate in the hot summer activity: blueberry picking. Check here to find a great listing of u-pick farms within driving distance of the Chicago area.
Peaches and other stone fruits should start to show up toward the end of the month as will summer melons. Let’s dive into the July guide to seasonal produce in Illinois, starting with fruit.
Black raspberries have a very short season in Illinois. You will likely only see them for a couple of weeks, usually right around the 4th of July.
In my experience they are highly perishable even in the fridge so if you do buy them, eat them within a day or two. This shouldn’t be a problem because of how delicious they are.
Some varieties of black raspberries are native to Illinois. I have seen them growing wild in several of the forest preserves and woody areas around northern Illinois.
Black raspberries are very nutritious. They have the highest antioxidant content of any berry. The compound that gives them a deep and rich purple color is the same that is found in blueberries and has been linked with many health benefits including brain health and lowering of blood pressure.
If you have never had black raspberries before you are in for a treat. The season is short so enjoy them while you can. I’m going to try freezing them this year, I will add an update if that is successful.
Blueberries are nutritional superstars. They are a great healthy addition to your morning cereal or oatmeal. They are also delicious when consumed by themselves as a sweet snack.
Fresh blueberries are a great snack for children. Their natural sweetness can help encourage picky kids to eat more fruit. Try putting them out in a bowl for a mid-morning snack.
When buying blueberries make sure they are fresh. Visually look them over and if you see any soft, damaged, shriveled, or purple colored fruits, avoid those. These are signs the berries are either over or under ripe.
Sometimes, whether from blueberry picking or just over zealous buying, you will end up with more blueberries than you can possibly eat.
Blueberries can be stored in the crisper with the humidity set on high. They will last for at least three days in the fridge. In my experience they last a bit longer and you might be able to stretch them out over the course of a week.
Another great option is to freeze them. Freezing blueberries helps retain their nutritional value and gives you a tasty option when fresh berries are no longer available later in the fall and winter.
Like other local berries, blackberries will be in season starting in July. Of all the berries I have the hardest time picking sweet blackberries.
If parts of the berry are red, or each individual piece does not look plump and juicy they are probably sour. Even then I have had sweet tasting berries with red parts and sour berries that appeared very ripe.
Blackberries spoil very quickly. Enjoy them fast as they will only last a few days in the fridge. Keep them in the crisper with the humidity on high for the best results.
Peaches should be available mid to late July, and the rest of the stone fruits (plum, nectarines and apricots) will arrive early next month. My personal favorite are nectarines.
Most supermarket stone fruits are very low quality. They are chilled during shipment which causes something known as chilling injury. This makes them turn brown and the flesh becomes mealy.
Fresh local peaches are ripe when they yield slightly to pressure. They will be very juicy so prepare for a mess the first time you cut one open.
Be sure to eat the skins of all stone fruits as most of the nutrients and about half of the fiber in fruit is in or just under the skin.
Stone fruits continue to ripen after being picked so buy them when they are still hard. Keep a close eye on them as they can go from delicious to rotten very quickly.
You can refrigerate ripe stone fruit but try and eat them within a day or two as the cold causes the same chilling injury that makes supermarket peaches so disappointing.
Next month is officially watermelon month but you could see them available in late July. I’d love to tell you how to pick the perfect watermelon every single time but honestly I still do not always get it right.
Here is how I try.
Look for a watermelon that is dull in overall appearance, not shiny. Find one with a larger yellow ground spot. Pick one that feels heavy for its size. Watermelons always feel heavy but you’ll know it when you pick up a truly heavy one. And look for one with a darker green rind, in my experience they tend to be sweeter.
Store fresh melons outside of the fridge until you are ready to eat them. Always rinse melons before you cut into them. Otherwise you could contaminate the fruit with bacteria from the soil as you cut.
I generally cut up half of a watermelon then cover the cut section with plastic wrap and store it in the fridge. A cut watermelon will last for at least three to four days in the refrigerator.
Cantaloupes also appear toward the end of July.
To select a ripe cantaloupe, look for one with a small depression on the end where the stem is. The bottom opposite the stem should yield slightly to pressure when ripe. Ripe, uncut cantaloupe will have a sweet smell when ready to eat.
Just like with watermelon, rinse the outside well, preferably with a clean brush to remove any residual dirt. If you will not use the whole melon, cover the cut section with plastic wrap and store it in the fridge.
Honeydew melons are actually the sweetest tasting melon if they are ripe. To ensure your honeydew melon is sweet do not cut into it until the outer skin turns cream colored and is no longer green. The stem end will also depress slightly when it’s ripe.
Cut, wash and store honeydew melons just like cantaloupe or watermelon.
And be careful to only buy as many melons as you can realistically eat in a week. I have been guilty of buying too many then still having them on the counter during my next farmers market trip!
Seasonal Produce in Illinois: July Vegetables
Many vegetables will be available at the farmers market as the calendar turns to July. The variety will continue to increase as we move into the warmest part of the summer. From July through the end of fall I can generally purchase all of the vegetables I need for the week at the farmers market.
We continue our July guide to seasonal produce in Illinois, moving on to cucumbers.
Cucumbers are a great low calorie nutritious snack. I started seeing cucumbers available toward the very end of last month so you should be able to find these for the next few months.
You might see two types of cucumbers at the farmers market; slicing cucumbers and pickling cucumbers. Slicing cucumbers are longer and bred to have thinner skins. These are traditionally the ones added to salads.
Pickling cucumbers are smaller and meant to be pickled. However both have a very similar taste. I actually prefer the smaller pickling cucumbers. Because of their size we can use up an entire cucumber and generate less food waste.
As I mentioned above, do not peel your produce, this is where many of the nutrients and much of the fiber is located.
Nothing is a better representation of seasonal produce in Illinois in July than sweet corn.
Once fresh sweet corn is available it feels like summer has truly arrived. Corn is technically treated as a starch not a vegetable because it is so sweet. I often point out that if a sugar replacement (corn syrup) can be made from corn it must have a pretty high sugar content.
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid corn on the cob in the summer. Just make it a treat, not part of the regular rotation.
The best way to cook corn on the cob is actually in the microwave. Boiling corn, as well as other vegetables, leads to a loss of nutrients into the cooking water.
To microwave corn, simply trim the silk at the top and some of the stalk at the bottom, making sure to leave enough husk so that the entire ear is covered then place on a microwave safe plate.
I microwave two ears at a time for six minutes. If I am nearby I will try and turn the ears once about halfway through.
Remove the plate when finished. Use caution as the plate will be HOT, then put in your next batch. After a few minutes carefully remove the husk and enjoy.
Keep unpeeled corn in the fridge to prevent the sugars from turning to starch until you are ready to eat it. Corn will taste best if you eat it within one to two days of bringing it home.
Green peppers tend to show up first at local farmers markets. Red, yellow and orange peppers are really just fully ripened green peppers. As they change color they turn sweeter.
Peppers are pretty easy to shop for. Look for bright, firm peppers. There should not be any wrinkles on the skin and the stem should be bright green. Skip over any peppers with soft areas or black spots.
Fresh peppers will last for about a week in the fridge. For the best results, seal them in a plastic bag and put them in the crisper with the humidity on high.
Peppers are probably my favorite vegetable to freeze. When I get home from the farmers market I rinse off the peppers, slice and dice them and store them in freezer safe containers.
They last at least a couple of weeks once frozen. The best part is when you have a recipe that calls for peppers you pull out the container, grab a handful and cook them with the rest of your meal. Super easy and saves time on a busy weeknight.
One last tip, I love to roast red peppers.
To be honest, early in the summer red, yellow and orange peppers are harder to come by and tend to be more expensive. Around mid September farmers will have a surplus and they tend to get really cheap for a week or two. This is when I really stock up and buy some to freeze and some to roast.
Onions are generally available whenever farmers markets are open because they have such a long storage life. However, they are truly in season starting around the end of July.
Yellow and red onions are more nutritious than white varieties. White varieties tends to be milder and include sweet walla walla or vidalia onions. Because they are mild, white varieties are the best if you are planning to eat them raw.
The “hot” onions tend to be round while the milder varieties are oval shaped. One interesting fact about onions – the more they make you cry the more nutritious they will be. Cooking them actually enhances their nutritional value.
When buying onions look for firm and intact outer skins. Onions will last for weeks if you store them in a cool, dry place like the basement. Milder onions can go in the fridge but avoid the crisper drawer. It is too humid and they will rot.
Much like with peppers, I like to chop and freeze an onion all at once. This allows me to grab a couple of handfuls of frozen onion on a busy weeknight and easily add it to a meal.
My trick for using frozen onions is as follows:
I saute a few handfuls of frozen onion on half of the skillet while the protein cooks on the other half. Start both at the same time, and coat the frozen onion with a little olive oil or avocado oil. After 10 minutes your onions will be nice and brown and you can mix them together with your protein.
Fresh garlic will also be in season starting toward the end of July. I have actually written quite a bit about garlic in the past.
When purchasing garlic at the farmers market, look for firm bulbs with no brown spots or soft areas. You also want to be sure the wrapping is intact and not frayed or loose. This is a sign of old garlic.
One neat trick; if you buy truly local garlic you can plant a couple of the cloves in your home garden this fall. Mid September is a good time as you want to be about four to six weeks ahead of the first frost.
Bury an individual clove about six inches deep with the pointy side facing up. Next spring watch for the shoots to break out of the ground. The garlic shoots will eventually flower then the greens will die. This is when it’s ready to harvest.
Magically that one clove will have transformed into a full head of garlic.
Whenever I think of green beans I think of farmers market fraud. Here is why.
A stand at a local farmers market always has green beans in the early part of spring each year. I never really thought much of it until a couple of years ago a friend who worked at a local grocery store told me a story.
A customer had ordered a large amount of green beans. This customer specifically mentioned in the order that they were going to sell them at a local market.
This is what sparked my interest in learning more about seasonal produce in Illinois.
Green beans are truly in season in starting in July. They tend to wilt quickly and do not store well in the fridge, so if you buy fresh green beans plan to use them within a couple of days.
You really only need to trim the top part of the green bean where the stem is. The rest is completely edible.
The best way to cook green beans is either to steam them for five to ten minutes, or to blanche them. Blanching involves dropping fresh green beans in a pot of boiling water for about two minutes. Personally I prefer steaming as it helps retain the most nutrients.
That’s it for my July guide to seasonal produce in Illinois. Hopefully you start to find some items you like at the farmers market.
We are now in the peak summer months and virtually everything is in season at the same time. Make an effort to try something new every week, and please report back and let me know how it went.