In most areas of the United States, spring has sprung; trees and flowers are in bloom, pollen is making everyone sneezy and wheezy. It’s also time for cleaning and gardening, but for food lovers Spring delivers fresh, seasonal foods again.
Springtime brings us spinach, lettuce, peas, artichokes, fava beans, beets, berries, cherries and asparagi, oh my! So what tools do you need to be ready for these wonderful Spring treats?
When it is time to wash the farm market berries, what do you use? An old metal colander? Those work, but what about a colorful berry bowl?
The collapsible silicone berry bowl from Progressive is great for washing berries, yetis stylish enough to take to serve at the table. One really useful design feature is the detachable base which comes off for washing and rinsing, then pops back into place to prevent water dripping everywhere. When not in use, the colander stores flat to save cabinet space. The bowl is useful for any rinsing or washing.
This square corner colander from Joseph Joseph has two nice features. First, the single vertical handle provides a steadying leg to ensure it remains upright and stable when placed in a sink. When held, it is sturdy enough to free the other hand to stir or work the faucet. Second, the squared corners create a nice pouring spout, providing a more targeted, less messy way to transfer rinsed foods.
For those of you who hand pick or buy large quantities of fruit, you should consider an over the sink colander. This expandable colander from KitchenAid can strain large batches of fruits or vegetables, pasta and more – right over your sink. The colander expands so the handles will rest securely on the edges of most sink sizes.
Prepping and Pitting
A good paring knife is an essential Springtime tool when peeling or cutting vegetables. The knife of choice for me is a 2-3/4″ blade known as a peeling or birds beak. It has a short curved blade that is perfect for tight precision cutting. The shape makes it ideally suited for peeling, coring or shaping any fruit or vegetable.
When prepping strawberries, place your thumb on the stem, and move the peeling knife in a tight circle around the top and – voila – out comes stem and bitter pith.
If you aren’t comfortable, or adept, with a knife, there are a myriad of strawberry hullers on the market. One of the more effective and popular models comes from Chef’n Corporation called the StemGem Strawberry Stem Remover.
The claw is made of durable stainless steel, strong enough to tackle the job easily, yet won’t stain. It’s easy to use – insert the open StemGem into the strawberry, release, twist, pull – the stem and pith are removed, yet the strawberry remains whole. The StemGem has a fun decorative berry design, and is easy to find in a drawer of other kitchen tools.
The StemGem also cores similarly soft foods, like tomatoes, making it a versatile tool throughout the growing season.
It is challenging to remove pits from cherries, but surprise, there is a tool to help.
Cherry pitters are simple to operate, reduce the mess, and come in a variety of styles to suit your needs.
Single cherry pitters have basically the same design, a hand held scissor device that pushes the pit out using a sturdy metal pin. Even one equipped with a splatter shield, like this one from OXO, can be a bit messy but if you only need to pit a few cherries then you why spend more?
The Progressive cherry pitter can pit four cherries at once and has a reversible tray to accommodate large and smaller cherries. It’s easy to use, line the cherries up and with one spring loaded push, four cherry pits are extracted. The pits are collected in the non-skid base that when full, easily slides out making for quick disposal of the cherry stones. This cherry pitter keeps counters and clothes free of stains and makes the job of pitting cherries faster. The spring loaded mechanism locks for compact storage and the whole device is dishwasher safe.
And finally, you can work in true rapid fire mode with the Leifheit cherry pitter. This product allows you to load a large bin with cherries and pit them quickly one after the other. The Leifheit cherry pitter can process 25-pounds of cherries in one hour, meaning more time for cooking or baking and less time fussing with cherry pits. A stainless steel plunger removes the pit from the cherry and captures it in the container. If you preserve, bake or cook with cherries in any volume, this is the cherry pitter for you.
An annual frustration when grocery shopping is the seasonal sale guidelines that limit the types of products available. For example, bowl-shaped shortcakes – perfect for serving berries – are only sold for a limited time. Grocers stop selling the yummy cakes, yet there are still scads of fruit to be eaten. I got so frustrated by the lack of available shortcakes that I bought a pan to make my own. Now I can have tasty little sponge cakes with my fresh fruit whenever I want – take that retail guidelines.
The Nordic Ware shortcake pan is a quality cast aluminum baking pan that includes a wonderfully delicious shortcake recipe portioned to fill the tray perfectly.
Now how about those fresh leafy spring greens? The spinach, lettuce or baby arugula need to be washed; a salad spinner will quickly rinse and spin them dry.
Many people are fans of the Oxo Salad Spinner and certainly it is a well designed, quality model that operates with one hand using a push button drive mechanism.
Another excellent model is the Zyliss Salad Spinner with the rip cord pull control. This style can generate a lot more spin and is capable of removing as much water from the lettuce or herbs as possible.
Two of my favorite spring vegetables are asparagus and artichokes, and the preferred cooking method is steaming.
A vertical steamer will cook asparagus perfectly, just remember to peel the stalk of the asparagus to remove the fibrous skin. These pans is that they can double as steamers for corn or any “tall” vertical vegetable, even artichokes.
My favorite vertical steamer is the AllClad asparagus steamer. No matter which brand you buy, the spacing between the wires in the bottom of the basket is key. If there is too much space between the basket bars, thinner produce will fall through into the water.
For preparing artichokes, I recommend the artichoke cooking stands by Supreme. These stands allow you to steam artichokes without letting them come in contact with the water. You can even serve the artichokes in the steaming stand at the table.
Now, get cooking!