While Labor Day was created as a tribute to the American laborer, it has since also become synonymous with the end of summer—one more weekend, extended by this glorious extra day, to grill, sip cold drinks, and take in some of the (hopefully sunny!) final days of the season with friends and family. When you plan that perfect picnic dish to share at Labor Day celebrations, you’ll want to use in-season produce to unlock the best flavors in your sides, dips, and desserts. Let’s savor these last days of summer and take advantage of these fruits and vegetables that are at the top of their game, right now!
In the U.S., we have easy access to produce throughout the year, but off-season, these foods might as well be called by another name. Have you ever eaten wintertime strawberries? They are nothing like their juicy, bright red summertime counterparts. It’s like comparing apples to…well, potatoes! Super-flavorful in-season produce can often stand on its own at a barbecue—fresh strawberries are a welcome accompaniment to savory grilled fare. But, if you want to dress up strawberries a bit, a dessert is the way to go! Get our recipe for Strawberry Shortcake Parfaits, a handheld take on the classic strawberry shortcake, and let the fruit be the star!
If my latest CSA box chock-full of tomatoes is any indication of what’s in-season, then I’d say it’s prime time for tomatoes! Heirloom, beefsteak, cherry, grape, and so many more—a slice of ripe, red (or sometimes green or yellow) tomato is the perfect addition to any variety of burger (unlike that pale pink tomato-of-the-winter). A flatbread or tart is an ideal way to showcase tomatoes—so easy to slice and share with friends and family. Get this recipe for Cherry Tomato Tart with Anchovies and Garlic Confit (though I know some of you might opt to ditch the anchovies!).
Growing up in a Midwestern suburb (the next stop for my family after the Polish Southside of Chicago), I have to admit I did not have much exposure to eggplants. But, as I encountered first eggplant parmesan, then Thai spicy eggplant dishes, followed by baba ganoush, I’ve grown to embrace this funny-looking purple “fruit.” Approaching Labor Day, you should embrace it, too, as it’s in peak season. If you don’t go full-on baba ganoush at your barbecue, a similarly delightful appetizer can be made with eggplant and hummus (store-bought, if you’re tight on time). Get our recipe for Eggplant and Hummus Pita Crisps.
Nothing says summertime like a sweet, juicy peach! “Cling” to the final days of summer (see what I did, there), with a salad that highlights everything fresh and wonderful about the season. Basil and mozzarella play a co-starring role to two kinds of peaches, all dressed simply with olive oil and white vinegar. Get this recipe for Peach Caprese Salad.
Cucumbers—so boring, right? Wrong! Think of all those wonderful Asian salads, those Mediterranean falafel bowls—heck, they’ve got a whole “water” dedicated to them. This Labor Day, bring a tangy salad that allows cucumbers to take center stage. When produce is in season, there’s no need to hide your vegetables —let them shine! Get our recipe for Creamy Cucumber Salad.
Peak-of-season blueberries are a whole other ballgame. Bursting with flavor, they thoroughly put their bagged, frozen cousins to shame. While frozen berries do have their place (it’s hard to deny the convenience!), fresh blueberries deserve the full attention of your tastebuds. As with the other recipes, a tart allows the produce to take the spotlight—let the blueberries do their thing, and the happy murmurs of munching guests will soon follow. Get our recipe for Rustic Blueberry Tart.
Corn is so ubiquitous at summertime barbecues, how could you not include it in your Labor Day celebrations? As is the case with all the other produce mentioned, summertime corn is on a completely different level than its canned and off-season counterparts. And if it’s sweet corn? Forget about it! This is another food I’ve underutilized throughout my life, having only recently learned this quick way to microwave it. When you can prep corn this easily, you have a delicious addition to so many dishes, especially ramen and veggie bowls. For a barbecue, you can bring back the cherry tomatoes, and put together a salad that lets corn show off. Get our recipe for Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad.
Presented without recipe, I give you: watermelon. A crowd-pleaser at any summer gathering, you’re a hero if you remember to bring the sliced watermelon. It’s sweet, it’s juicy, and it’s about 92 percent water, providing lovely hydration to counterbalance any summertime imbibing. If you’re not sure what to bring to Labor Day’s last hurrah for summer, do yourself (and everyone else) a solid, and make it watermelon.
Related Video: How to Slice Watermelon with Dental Floss
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