A key part of eating locally grown foods is understanding what is in season in your area and when. Seasonal produce in Illinois starts off slowly in May. As the month progresses more become available. It just gets better as we get closer to summer!
Each month between May and October I will post a new guide to help you understand what is currently in season. These guides will be available on the first day of each month.
They will include tips about selecting fresh produce and how to store it.
What’s in Season in Illinois in May?
Seasonal produce in Illinois really starts getting going in May. Here is what you can expect. Fruit likes warmer weather so we’ll have to wait a couple of months for the fruits to kick into high gear.
Illinois Fruits In Season in May
Illinois Vegetables In Season in May
Seasonal Is Local in Illinois
Generally May in northern Illinois brings the season’s first stretch of warm weather and hope that summer is indeed just around the corner. Farmers markets start to open. Area farm stands start offering limited spring hours.
These articles will focus on seasonal produce in northern Illinois because climate can vary across the United States. Items in season in other areas of the country may not even grow in Illinois. Thus eating seasonal means you have to eat local and vice versa.
Some items listed below may be available as soon as mid April in some years. Other years they may not be seen until mid May.
Anyone living in Illinois knows how hit or miss our spring weather can be. Generally by the end of May all of these items will be available on a regular basis.
Watch Out For Fraud
You also have to be careful when you shop at farmers markets. Some stands sell items that are obviously not local or in season in Illinois. I have actually seen avocados at the farmers market in Wheaton for example.
What can you do? Read my recent article on identifying farmers market fraud to learn more.
What Seasonal Produce Can You Find in May?
What can you expect to find when you venture out for a spring trip to the farmers market? Seasonal produce starts slowly in Illinois. Each week in May you should see more and more items available.
Quick note for 2020: With the ongoing shutdown due to the coronavirus many farmers markets are not yet open. Per the Governor’s guidance farmers markets are considered essential businesses in Illinois.
Hopefully farms stands will soon be able to open and allow for proper social distancing while still providing the opportunity to support local farmers. I will provide updates as I can, follow me on Twitter for the latest updates.
Usually one of the first vegetables available in season in the Chicago area each year is asparagus. Asparagus has a season that will last about a month to month and a half. It will done for the year in Chicago by mid to late June.
You may find green and purple varieties available in bunches with spears that are both thick and thin. Look for spears that are straight with tight tips and moist ends.
Purple varieties have slightly different levels of antioxidants due to the purple coloring. Though purple to start it actually turns green when you cook it. The taste is very similar to the green variety.
Ask the farmer when it was picked. Asparagus is something you will want to plan into your week and eat as quickly as possible once you get it home. Freshly picked asparagus is naturally sweet but those sugars begin breaking down almost immediately.
Fresh asparagus has four times as much natural sugar as day old asparagus does. If you let it sit around in the fridge too long much of the flavor and nutrition can be lost within two to three days. Try to buy it and cook it for dinner the same day.
Here is an easy roasted asparagus recipe that is quick, easy to make and delicious. I love to add a bit of minced garlic before it goes into the oven too! You can also add a tsp of grated Parmesan cheese right when it comes out of the oven.
The first in season fruit available each year in Chicago will be bright red strawberries. Upon tasting a local strawberry you will notice several differences compared with those available at the grocery store.
Most strawberries sold commercially are harvested when 75% ripe. This is most evident when the tops and insides are still white. Unripe strawberries ship better but unfortunately they have less vitamin C, antioxidants, and flavor than ripe strawberries.
Anyone who has bitten into a strawberry with a white top can attest to this disappointing fact.
Local strawberries are sold within a day or two of being picked. They should be bright red, juicy, sweet, and full of nutrients. The season is very weather dependent but typically you can find them throughout May and most of June.
Strawberries will last two to three days on the counter or in the fridge and will not ripen after being harvested. They break down rapidly, so buy and enjoy as fast as you can. Never a problem in my house as my children devour them in minutes!
Make an easy mixed salad with cut up strawberries, a small handful of raw pecans, arugula and mixed salad greens. Then add some chopped up radishes and a little feta or blue cheese. Make it a meal by adding some shredded chicken breast and top with a good balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
A vegetable that prefers the cool days and nights of spring, radishes will be readily available in northern Illinois by the time the calendar turns to May.
Separate the bulbs from the greens. Then place radishes in a sealed ziplock bag and keep them in the crisper drawer in the fridge. They will last for one to two weeks.
Radishes make a great addition to salads when chopped up raw. The greens are edible too and have a similar peppery taste. You can use them to make radish pesto or try sautéing them with olive oil until slightly wilted.
Snap peas are another cool season vegetable to add to the list of seasonal produce available in Illinois during the month of May. The pods are edible and they make a great high fiber, low calorie snack with a bit of ranch or hummus.
Look for pods that are not too thick as the peas will be hard and the pods will be tough. When ripe the pods will be fat but you should not see the outline of the individual peas inside.
Keep them in the fridge in a plastic bag and eat within three to four days of purchase as the sugars start to break down after being picked.
In May you should see both heads of lettuce and bagged loose leaf varieties available at markets and farm stands in Illinois. Darker green and red varieties are more nutritious compared to iceberg.
Lettuce is very easy to grow and tastes amazing when freshly picked, rinsed, then eaten at home. You can plant lettuce starts or seeds in very early April or even March if you can work them into the ground and have a small, bunny proof area to plant.
Here is the best way to store lettuce. Rinse the leaves, soak them in cold water for 10 minutes, dry in a salad spinner and store in a large plastic bag. Make 10-20 pin holes in the bag and keep it in the crisper for three to four days.
What is interesting is that if you tear the leaves in half the day before you eat them you can actually increase the nutrient value!
Easy to grow at home and a great addition to salads, arugula is something you can start in your garden as early as March. Technically a member of the same family as broccoli and kale, arugula has a peppery taste, is full of nutrients, and will be widely available by the time most markets open in May.
Final Tips to Eating Seasonal Produce in Illinois
Remember to plan ahead at least a few days before you shop. Eating seasonal produce in Illinois in the month of May may require you to shop often as items could sell out quickly. Enjoy these spring treats before they disappear in the summer heat.
I hope you found this article helpful, please share any extra tips or advice you may have!