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A to Z guide to spring vegetables


The English asparagus season is short, but imported asparagus is available throughout the year. Asparagus is a choice, but expensive, vegetable. It is sold loose or in bundles, and graded according to thickness of stem and plumpness of buds. Look for asparagus with tight, well-formed heads and avoid any with thin, woody, dry and dirty stems.

Season: May and June.



Oblong and almost round varieties of these distinctive, purple or white vegetables are available. Prime quality aubergines have a slight bloom to the shiny tough skin; the slightly fibrous flesh is pale creamy yellow.

Season: May to September.



These fruits are shaped like pears. They are used as a vegetable rather than a dessert fruit. Avocados have green to purple skins. The oily, pale green, soft flesh surrounds a large stone. Avocados are not always ripe when bought: test them for ripeness by pressing the flesh gently at the rounded end – it should yield slightly. Avoid avocados with blotched, dry skins.

Season: throughout the year.



Two types of beetroot are available: long beetroot and globe-shaped. Small globe-shaped beetroot are sold in bunches fromJune onwards, but maincrop beetroot is sold by weight, either cooked or raw. Buy cooked beetroot with fresh skin which looks slightly moist, and avoid shriveled beetroot which is usually tough and woody. Uncooked beetroot bleeds easily, and care must be taken not to tear the skin when preparing beetroot for cooking. Plain, vacuum-packed cooked beetroot (without any vinegar or acid-based preservative) is an excellent vegetable to keep in the store cupboard as it has a long shelf life and a good flavour.

Season: throughout the year.



While cauliflower has one fused head of curds, broccoli develops into numerous shoots, each terminating in a small floret. There are white or green sprouted broccoli, as well as purple broccoli. Choose broccoli with small, fresh-looking heads and brittle stalks which snap easily in the fingers.

Season: throughout the year.



Young and slender carrots are available in bunches with the foliage intact; they are tender and need only scrubbing before cooking. Maincrop carrots are larger and coarser; they are  sold without the leaves and by weight. Maincrop carrots are  available washed and unwashed, but require scraping or peeling. Avoid pitted and broken carrots.

Season: July to May.



Both summer and winter varieties are available; on winter cauliflowers (sometimes wrongly called broccoli) the dark green leaves are folded over the white curds, on summer cauliflowers the leaves are opened out. Choose cauliflowers with the creamy-white heads not fully developed and with clean white stalks. Avoid any cauliflowers with limp leaves and loose, brown, grey or damaged curds.

Season: throughout the year.



Hothouse cucumbers are the ones usually seen in the shops and supermarkets, although small numbers of ridge or outdoor cucumbers also appear. Choose straight, firm cucumbers with a diameter no greater than 5 cm/2 in; the skin should have a bloom to it.

Season: January to November.



The broad leaves vary in colour from dark green to purple. They are heavily crimped and have prominent pale green or white mid-ribs. Avoid kale with yellow, drooping or damaged leaves.

Season: October to April.




These are composed of tightly packed skin layers which branch at the top into dark green leaves. The stems are white with an onion flavour. Look for wellshaped, straight leeks, trimmed at the top and avoid those with yellow, discoloured and slimy leaves.

Season: July to May.



These are sold either as buttons, open cup, open or flat according to age. White and brown types are

available, with brown, or chestnut, mushrooms having slightly more flavour than small white mushrooms. Large flat mushrooms have more flavour than the young button mushrooms. Choose mushrooms carefully as they turn limp quickly and soon lose their flavour. Avoid limp, broken mushrooms.

A good selection of specialist mushrooms are available from supermarkets. These may include oyster mushrooms, pale cream or yellow in colour with a delicate mushroom flavour; and shiitake, a dark, fairly small and closetextured mushroom with a strong flavour and used in oriental cooking. Wild mushrooms are also sold in some larger supermarkets, and the following are  examples of those currently available. These must be cleaned carefully to remove all dirt and to ensure that the mushrooms are free from maggots (look for tiny holes).

Trompettes des morts are slim, black horn-shaped mushrooms with a rich flavour. They are also known as horn of plenty or black trumpet mushrooms.

Chanterelles are a pale golden colour and have a slight hint of apricot in their flavour.

Pied de mouton are also known as hedgehog fungus, and have pale creamy yellow caps that are pale underneath. The fins or spines do not grow from the stem out to the edge of the cap, but vertically, giving the underside of the mushrooms a spongy appearance.

Pied de mouton have a delicious ‘savoury’ flavour which is not too strong. The raw mushrooms can taste bitter, but this bitterness disappears when the mushrooms are cooked, unless they are very large, in which case they may still taste bitter even after cooking.

Season: throughout the year.


Mustard and cress (salad cress)

This is another misnamed vegetable, because boxes of mustard and cress usually contain salad rape only. Buy mustard and cress in punnets; it should have a bright green colour.

Season: throughout the year.


Okra, ladies’ fingers

These vegetables are curved seed pods up to 23 cm/9 in long. They are usually eaten green, pod and seeds, when they are slightly under-ripe, and are served either whole or sliced, quickly sautéed or long braised.

Season: throughout the year.



Ordinary onions vary in shape and colour from flattish bulbs with brown skins to round bulbs with red-brown or pale straw-coloured skins. As a very rough guide, the smaller the onion, the stronger the flavour. Large ‘Spanish’ onions have a mild, sweeter flavour than the traditional small British types. Choose onions which are firm and regular in shape and have feathery skins. Onions with shriveled skins and softness around the neck are likely to be bad.

Red or white salad onions are also available. These have very fine skins and a lighter, slightly sweeter, flavour than the average ‘cooking’ onion. They can be cooked as well as eaten raw.

Season: throughout the year.



Many varieties are grown commercially in Britain, and the name of the potato has to be displayed or included on the label when these vegetables are offered for sale. There is more emphasis on varieties which are good for baking these days, especially as there is a year-round supply of ‘new’ potatoes or small, interesting, varieties which boil well and have a superior flavour.

As a general rule, King Edward potatoes are an excellent ‘all-round’ potato, giving good results when cooked by boiling, frying or baking. Both maincrop and early potatoes are now available throughout the year, and home-grown varieties come into season in May.

Season: throughout the year.



Small, pungent vegetables, used fresh in salads. Radishes may be round and red, tapering and white, bright red with white tips or black with white flesh. Choose crisp, young, not too large radishes.

Season: throughout the year.


Spring onions

The term spring onion is a misnomer, as this vegetable is in season throughout the year. Spring onions are essentially salad vegetables, but they are also popular for stir fries as well as for use in lightly cooked dishes or mixtures in which ordinary onions would taste very strong or ‘raw’.

The mild-flavoured bulbs have thin skin, which peels off easily. Choose spring onions with small bulbs and fresh green foliage, and avoid any with traces of worms or wilting or dark leaves.

Season: throughout the year.



These winter vegetables are similar to turnips, but the yellow flesh is milder in flavour. Avoid roots which are forked.

Season: July to May.


Sweet potatoes

These are not related to ordinary potatoes, the only resemblance being that they are both tubers. However, sweet

potatoes are cooked by boiling, peeled or in their skins and they take about the same time to cook as large ordinary potatoes.

Season: throughout the year.



This small-leafed vegetable is mainly used in salads, soups and for garnishing dishes. Avoid watercress in flower or with a high proportion of yellow or wilting leaves. Use watercress within 24 hours of purchase.

Season: throughout the year.

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