pro­duce in season

  • A Mixed Bag

    A ran­dom sur­plus of sea­sonal veg­eta­bles may pose a prob­lem worth solv­ing.

    Com­ing out of a flush hol­i­day pantry or work­ing through a fat CSA box, par­tic­u­larly with seem­ingly incom­pat­i­ble or unusual fresh ingre­di­ents, may trip us up at first.

    Take a sec­ond look at what there is to work with in the kitchen. Fen­nel, cele­riac and but­ter­cup squash…then what?

    After a bit of head scratch­ing, turn to an inter­net search for a blog post spout­ing the ben­e­fits of that pecu­liar ingre­di­ent. A recipe pos­si­bil­ity is cer­tain to fol­low.

    A wide spec­trum of menu options will be pre­sented. Decide first on which meal solu­tion to tackle. Break­fast, lunch or din­ner? Snack or appe­tizer? That answer will clear a path to the next hur­dle.

    Cooked or served raw will be the next line to cross. Var­i­ous cook­ing meth­ods will pro­duce com­pletely dif­fer­ent tastes and tex­tures. Com­pare a crisp, crunchy car­rot to that of one, moist and soft, roasted in a hot oven.

    Roast­ing ver­sus grilling pro­duces dif­fer­ent results. Sautéing ver­sus pan fried yields takes it in yet another direc­tion.

    The pop­u­lar­ity of fresh pick­les lends itself to con­vert­ing some of these more obscure veg­gies.

    Thinly shaved, juli­enned and whole items brined or soaked with sweet and sour spices make for good snack­ing and gift giving.
  • Bare Fruited

    Apples and oranges are great.

    No one refutes their solid nutri­tional value or culi­nary ver­sa­til­ity.

    By the time June rolls around, it’s time to mix things up in the fruit depart­ment. We crave the taste of sum­mer in all its stone fruit and berry glory.

    Every trip to the gro­cer or farm­ers mar­ket is a delib­er­ate pur­suit for what’s new in the sea­son.

    Early Cal­i­for­nia cher­ries have found their way to the stands. The sea­son looks to be a short and sweet one with a lim­ited crop this year. North­west cher­ries will quickly fol­low. No need to pout with Rainiers and red vari­eties like Chelan, Teiton and Bings rushed to mar­ket upon harvest.
  • Birth­day Wishes

    It’s not that we hate cake. Most of us have enjoyed a deca­dent slice of choco­late, coconut or red vel­vet cel­e­bra­tory cake before.

    It tasted great as we toasted the bride and groom, grad­u­ate, retiree or anniver­sary couple.

    Birth­day cakes are a bit dif­fer­ent and very per­sonal. Young ones get tur­tles, trains and car­toon char­ac­ter cakes molded and dec­o­rated to their surprise.

    Teens fre­quently bake their own or one for their friend. They choose ice cream cakes, fun­fetti or Oreo cookie cake. Cup­cakes included for teens and sweet­ness is off the charts.

    Adults get the wide open cake range from car­rot with cream cheese frost­ing to molten choco­late lava and every­thing in-​between.

    Birth­day choices run the spec­trum with­out any guilt over bak­ery pur­chased cakes. Bundts and spe­cialty types go over the top on stun­ning designs. Where to place the can­dles might prob­lem­atic between the swirls, curls, rib­bons and fresh flower petals.

  • Blos­som Hill

    The Blos­som Hill orchards are located in Pat­ter­son, Cal­i­for­nia. Some sug­gest this loca­tion to be the world’s best apricot-​growing region.

    Lucich — San­tos Farms have been family-​owned for more than 90 years. For over 35 years, they’ve devel­oped exper­tise in grow­ing, pack­ing and ship­ping Cal­i­for­nia apri­cots and apri­ums under the Blos­som Hill Orchard name.

    Four gen­er­a­tions over­see the daily oper­a­tions. Their over­ar­ch­ing goal is to pro­vide cus­tomers with the best eat­ing, sweet­est, juicy apri­cots.

    Jim Lucich, sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Blos­som Hill, said the 2018 crop in Pat­ter­son is lighter than usual. Weather played a part with the crop set. Chill hours were lower than needed, and some cold and rain that came after the bloom had an effect on the crop.

    The com­pany grows its apri­cots in a sustainable-​minded envi­ron­ment. Lucich and San­tos Farms and Blos­som Hill Packing’s objec­tive is to pro­duce pre­mium deli­cious fruit with food safety in mind.
  • Brent­wood Dia­monds

    Nes­tled between Mount Dia­blo and the Sacramento-​San Joaquin Delta in the East Bay, Brent­wood, Cal­i­for­nia is renowned for grow­ing excep­tional fresh mar­ket pro­duce.

    In par­tic­u­lar, sum­mer cher­ries, peaches and delec­table sweet corn are what local mar­kets and chefs cel­e­brate.

    Hot Cen­tral Val­ley days and cool, off-​shore breezes at night make it the per­fect loca­tion for grow­ing sweet corn.

    The cobs are picked dur­ing the early milk stage of ker­nel matu­rity, when sugar con­tent and mois­ture lev­els are high. This is in con­trast to field corn, which is har­vested in the dry, starchy dent stage. Over the last cen­tury, sweet corn pro­duc­tion in the U.S. has increased as farm­ers and geneti­cists have devel­oped hardier and sweeter vari­eties.

    To clar­ify, most of the corn grown in the United States is the com­mod­ity crop known as field corn. It is used as ani­mal feed, ethanol, whiskey and goes into all kinds of processed foods and food ingre­di­ents. High-​fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and corn oil.

  • Bright Lights

    Color affects both emo­tions and mood. Win­ter is no rea­son to for­feit bright col­ors. It may well be the absolute best time of year to strut the most vibrant hues on the color chart.

    Cit­rus is at peak of sea­son in avail­abil­ity and taste. Use the many vari­eties to lift spir­its, boost immu­nity and improve menus.

    Out of hand snack­ing is made con­ve­nient with portable “easy peel” vari­etals. This includes navel oranges, man­darins and tan­ger­ines.

    Navel oranges have a sunny fla­vor with a touch of acid­ity. These seed­less fruits are per­fect for mak­ing any dreary day a bit cheerier. A fan favorite, they are burst­ing with unreal juicy sweet­ness.

    Cara Cara oranges are very sweet with pinkish-​red fruit flesh. They have hints of berry and flo­ral fla­vors for a cit­rus change of pace. Con­sider seg­ments added to yogurt, com­potes and desserts.
  • Cal­i­for­nia Pears

    Cal­i­for­nia pear farm­ing areas are arguably in some of the most desir­able and beau­ti­ful places in the state.

    The beauty of his­toric pear orchards con­tributes sig­nif­i­cantly to the appeal of com­mu­ni­ties such as Court­land and Clarks­burg, located in the Sacra­mento River Delta grow­ing region.

    Lake­port and Kelseyville rep­re­sent the Lake County pear grow­ing dis­trict. Ukiah, in the Men­do­cino grow­ing dis­trict, rounds out the real estate.

    Together these grow­ing areas pro­duce approx­i­mately 150,000 tons of pears each year. The vol­ume of pears pro­duced in Cal­i­for­nia has declined in recent years, as has the num­ber of pear farm­ers.

    Even so, the Cal­i­for­nia pear indus­try remains a lead­ing sup­plier of pears to the world.

  • Cheer­ing Up

    The Spring Equinox, also called the Ver­nal Equinox, has long been cel­e­brated as a time of renewal and rebirth.

    March 20th marked the first day of spring in the north­ern hemi­sphere. In nor­mal times, this gives peo­ple a chance to gather and focus on the sea­sonal events that lift us up.

    Cul­tures cel­e­brate spring fes­ti­vals and hol­i­days – like Easter and Passover – around the equinox. Sport­ing events, con­certs and the like boost our social inter­ac­tions and spir­its.

    We are not liv­ing in nor­mal times. How­ever, there are some things we can do to ease our psy­che dur­ing this chal­leng­ing period as we fol­low the edict to dis­tance our­selves from oth­ers.

    As self-​quarantines and man­dated restric­tions are fol­lowed, there is cheer­ful work to be done. Take this time to pre­pare gar­dens, flower beds and planters.

    The ground soft­ens and the dirt becomes warmer. If it’s too early to plant, take this chance to pre­pare. Groom, weed, hoe and turn the soil.
  • Cinco de “Stay at Home“

    Amer­i­cans love to cel­e­brate with food. While it may be still be risky to come together in num­bers, we can use hol­i­day meals to lift our spir­its.

    Cinco de mayo bashes dur­ing lock­down orders is unique. Restau­rant and bar fes­tiv­i­ties have always given the per­fect excuse to rally around the gua­camole, chips and mar­gar­i­tas.

    Place hold­ers for social gath­er­ings have been shared pho­tos of spec­tac­u­lar food prepa­ra­tions. Warmer weather means a greater selec­tion of Cal­i­for­nia grown pro­duce to uti­lize in solo meals.

    Spring tran­si­tion is com­plete for the grow­ing sea­son return­ing to the Sali­nas Val­ley. Salad ingre­di­ents, fresh veg­eta­bles and straw­ber­ries are back on home turf.

    With­out the full return of the restau­rant dining-​in expe­ri­ence, retail, take out and meal deliv­ery options are keep­ing us fed.

    Salad is stay­ing on the menu. Romaine, spinach, endive and other ten­der greens sup­port every iter­a­tion of spring salad com­bi­na­tions. The base can be sin­gu­lar or blended leafy com­po­nents. We are for­tu­nate to have so many locally grown options.
  • Crush­ing It!

    Lime juice, lime zest and lime wedges are a pre­mier cov­eted player in sum­mer bev­er­ages, dips, cock­tails, dress­ings, mari­nades and desserts. Oh yeah!

    Never under­es­ti­mate the power of lime to uplift or trans­form the most mun­dane to be the absolute best.

    Fra­grant and refresh­ing, there is some­thing dis­tinc­tively lime that can­not be repli­cated.

    Limes are inte­gral to many Mex­i­can, Thai and Viet­namese dishes. They com­pli­ment part­ners like coconut milk, cilantro, mint and chili pep­pers.

    Count on lime for tor­tilla soup, corn con crema, fresh salsa, and street tacos. Leche de tigre (tiger’s milk), is a Peru­vian cit­rus mari­nade that relies on fresh lime juice for its super base.

    This cit­rus fruit’s high acid con­tent and bright tart­ness make it a pow­er­ful cook­ing and bak­ing ingre­di­ent. From seafood and poul­try to fresh fruits like mango, papaya and mel­ons, the smart addi­tion of lime kicks every­thing up a notch.
  • Eat, Drink & Be Cran Merry

    No one likes to get pushed around. Some­how, the early retail pres­ence of all things Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas and Hanukkah in Octo­ber feels like we are get­ting nudged. Stop the push­ing.

    In the orbit of fresh pro­duce, we take our cues from truly sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and fruits.

    Import pur­chases make eat­ing avo­ca­dos, corn and toma­toes a year-​round culi­nary pos­si­bil­ity. There are still a few Amer­i­can grown items that com­pletely set a tone for “here today, gone tomor­row” enjoy­ment. Fresh cran­ber­ries are indeed a sea­sonal har­bin­ger.

    Native to North Amer­ica, cran­ber­ries are a pow­er­house of nutri­tion with sub­stan­tial health ben­e­fits. Antioxidant-​rich, they hold the magic for a mul­ti­tude of con­di­tions from pre­ven­tion to rem­edy.

    This fall fruit dar­ling is har­vested begin­ning in Sep­tem­ber and goes through mid-​November in states like Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Michi­gan. Wis­con­sin and Mass­a­chu­setts are the two largest pro­duc­ers in the United States.

    Cran­ber­ries grow on low-​lying vines in imper­me­able beds lay­ered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These beds are known as “bogs” or “marshes” and were orig­i­nally cre­ated by glacial deposits.

    Com­mer­cial bogs use a sys­tem of wet­lands, uplands, ditches, flumes, ponds and other water bod­ies that pro­vide a nat­ural habi­tat for a vari­ety of plant and ani­mal life.

    Most cran­ber­ries are wet har­vested when grow­ers flood their bogs. They then use har­vest­ing machines that loosen the cran­ber­ries from the vines. Air cham­bers in the cranberry’s cen­ter allows it to float to the water’s sur­face. The berries are then cor­ralled and trans­ferred to a truck for transporting.
  • Fall For­ward

    There is no deny­ing the visual cues of Autumn. Trees and leaves are turn­ing color. Darker morn­ings greet us with fewer day­light hours left for leisure. Farewell sum­mer.

    Crisper, cooler night­time and morn­ing tem­per­a­tures are just what is needed to bring on our most favorite fall fruits.

    A wide array of veg­eta­bles, décor items and flo­ral selec­tions vie for atten­tion this time of year. Think about col­or­ful and tasty first fall bites.

    Crunchy and crisp, juicy and sweet are descrip­tive words for the Hol­i­day Seed­less grapes that are just on the scene. They make grape fans of those look­ing for a sweet tooth solu­tion.

    Eat­ing pat­terns and cook­ing meth­ods fol­low the steady pro­gres­sion into fall food choices. Bak­ing, broil­ing and brais­ing, segue nicely from out­door bar­be­cu­ing and grilling. Cal­i­for­ni­ans will con­tinue to cook out­doors year-​round.

    Glide back into the kitchen with new crop apples, Brus­sels sprouts, pump­kins, per­sim­mons, hard squashes and pomegranates.
  • Flower, Veg or Duo?

    The word veg­etable is based on culi­nary and cul­tural tra­di­tions, not science.

    Edi­ble plants used to make savory dishes are typ­i­cally con­sid­ered vegetables.

    Herba­cious plants that have edi­ble leaves, stems, flow­ers, or roots all claim the veg­etable moniker.

    We exclude some plants that bear fruits, nuts, legumes, pulses and grains. Iron­i­cally, we then arbi­trar­ily deem cour­gettes (squashes, pump­kins, cucum­bers, and the like) in the veg­gie group.

    As Spring emerges, flow­ers are in bloom. There are some veg­eta­bles that tech­ni­cally are flow­ers too. We’re eager for them as the shift of sea­sons hails to locally-​sourced Cal­i­for­nia vegetables.

    Aspara­gus– Cal­i­for­nia pro­duces more than sev­enty per­cent of the nation’s fresh mar­ket aspara­gus. Peak of sea­son depends entirely on weather. This flow­er­ing peren­nial blooms and sprouts on cue depend­ing on the elements.

  • Food­i­men­tary

    There are ten cel­e­brated national hol­i­days in the United States, so named by con­gress. After those stayed hol­i­days, peti­tions get intro­duced to local, state and national offi­cials for com­mem­o­rat­ing other wor­thy days.

    Fewer than 150 are granted in an aver­age year, across all cat­e­gories, by the pres­i­dent of the United States. Still oth­ers get invoked at a more local level procla­ma­tion.

    Even so, that still gives us every­thing from National Pome­gran­ate Month and National Cherry or Pecan Pie Day to draw atten­tion to the pro­duce indus­try and ingre­di­ents wor­thy of a food hol­i­day.

    How­ever man­u­fac­tured, some of the food related hol­i­days make per­fect sense. National Bar­be­cue Day and National Ham­burger Day coin­cide with the upcom­ing Memo­r­ial Day Hol­i­day week­end.

    For most of the coun­try, Memo­r­ial Day week­end launches the sum­mer out­door cook­ing sea­son. We build mem­o­ries around shar­ing food and cre­at­ing food events in more casual environment.
  • Glam­our Shots

    The cal­en­dar page says Novem­ber so all bets are off. The imme­di­ate feel of this new month takes on a more fes­tive and impres­sive aura.

    Maybe we start to pay closer atten­tion to every detail of the plate. Is it pos­si­ble to have even more col­ors avail­able when using fresh ingre­di­ents this month?

    The shift towards apples, pears and cit­rus is evi­dent as they crowd out peaches and nec­tarine dis­plays. Hard squashes and root veg­eta­bles make their way to menu selec­tions at food­ser­vice venues.

    Besides pump­kin every­thing (food and bev­er­ages), there are some easy ways to add drama to the plate. Take Sat­suma man­darins, com­ing on region­ally through­out Cal­i­for­nia, are a good start to glam­our.

    These delight­ful hand fruits have a zip peel and make the per­fect any­time snack. When the indi­vid­ual seg­ments are sep­a­rated, they brighten up a morn­ing break­fast and do more than dec­o­rate a sup­per dish. They perk up a ho-​hum serv­ing right away with a pop of color.
  • Hol­i­day Cheer

    Fes­tiv­i­ties of the sea­son yield to indulging in hol­i­day cheer. Hot and cold bev­er­ages, alco­holic and non, have grown up by using bet­ter ingre­di­ents.

    Craft cock­tails dis­tin­guish them­selves by their bold inclu­sions of fresh, well-​balanced ingre­di­ents.

    Happy hour has got­ten more cheer­ful by elim­i­nat­ing pre­dictable canned juices and pow­dered mixes.

    Try fresh blood oranges, tan­ger­ines, lemons, limes, grape­fruits, and even mel­ons for the body or base of a cock­tail or hol­i­day bev­er­age. With purer fla­vors and col­ors, there are no addi­tional addi­tives and preser­v­a­tives to weigh down or mask the drinks. Antiox­i­dants and polyphe­nols from most fresh fruits are just an added bonus.

    Small batched drinks using house-​made syrups and infu­sions are keep­ing it real. Shaken or stirred, even the ice mat­ters more these days. Pre­ferred are the large, clean cubes that don’t rapidly melt and dilute the drink.
    From mulled wines to sparkling drinks, unpack a lineup of good sips through fresh, sea­sonal and bold fla­vors. Fresh herbs add excite­ment and awaken the senses. Mint, rose­mary and thyme, whole or mud­dle, impart a unique taste pro­file. Pome­gran­ate juice and arils come to mind.
  • Juicy Fruits

    US demand for stone fruits has been con­sis­tent but not grow­ing much in the past five years.

    The 2020 sea­son looks to improve demand with a longer sea­son and even some new vari­etals on the hori­zon.

    Exclu­sive nec­tarine and plum vari­eties grown in California’s Cen­tral and San Joaquin Val­leys have farm­ers excited about this year’s pro­duc­tion.

    The oppor­tu­nity is there to intro­duce stone fruits to new and next gen­er­a­tions. An empha­sis on fresh foods and ver­sa­til­ity in use can bring a new audi­ence to the table.

    Stone fruits are a type of drupe, thin-​skinned, fleshy fruits con­tain­ing a sin­gle large seed (hence the name stone) encased within a tough outer shell. They can be cling­stone or free­stone, fuzzy or smooth, sour or sweet.

    The dru­pes we call stone fruit come from about 15 species of the genus Prunus, a mem­ber of the rose fam­ily, and include peaches, nec­tarines, plums, apri­cots and cher­ries.

    Stone fruits are highly sea­sonal. Most vari­eties won’t ripen after they’re har­vested and are picked at their peak of ripeness or readi­ness. This is often a small win­dow for har­vest crews.
  • Late, Great, Grapes!

    Cal­i­for­nia farm­ers have been cul­ti­vat­ing grapes for well over two cen­turies. The fresh grape boom struck the golden state in 1839 when a for­mer trap­per from Ken­tucky, William Wolf­skill, planted the state’s first table grape vine­yard in the once Mex­i­can colo­nial pueblo now known as Los Ange­les.

    An agri­cul­tural entre­pre­neur, Wolf­skill was the first farmer to ship fresh grapes to North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. From there, the idea was expanded and the first twenty two pound box of Cal­i­for­nia grapes shipped to Chicago in 1869, via the then “new” transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road.

    The gold rush may have ended, but the grape rush con­tin­ues. Today, over 99 per­cent of com­mer­cially grown grapes in the United States come from Cal­i­for­nia.

    With over 70 vari­eties grown, and more on the way, these vari­eties include seed­less and seeded grapes in the green, red and blue-​black color cat­e­gories.

    The Cal­i­for­nia table grape har­vest sea­son typ­i­cally begins in May, but more than half the crop is shipped from Sep­tem­ber and after­wards. Out of the 65+ com­mer­cial vari­eties of fresh table grapes, 49 of them are avail­able dur­ing the September-​through-​December time period, includ­ing 14 major vari­eties. That’s a lot of late, great grapes.
  • Mak­ing the Cut

    Sure, there are more ways than one to accom­plish any given task. Or cut a melon, pineap­ple or mango.

    When ama­teur knife skills clash with more expert tech­niques, there is a lot to be learned.

    Any­one can wield a knife blade. Exact­ing just the right cuts to extract every bit of fruit with­out waste can be tricky. Doing so safely is yet another feat.

    Round-​shaped fruits are espe­cially unruly. Pic­ture a large can­taloupe or hon­ey­dew melon rolling around the coun­ter­top. There is a ten­dency to judo chop it dead cen­ter to stop that action.

    Deft hands will exer­cise patience and exe­cute a plan.

    One clever move is to first cut both ends of the melon off. This cre­ates a flat base on which to stand the melon on end.
  • Marme­lada

    Food his­to­ri­ans credit Por­tugese cooks for the tasty spread we’ve come to know as mar­malade.

    Orig­i­nally made of quince (marmelo is the fruit’s Por­tugese name), the sweet/​tart gel like paste is used in desserts, breads and cakes.

    Quince are a rel­a­tively unusual fruit in that they are rarely, if ever, eaten raw. Mak­ing them into a jelly/​preserve/​compote allows them to be savored well past their sea­son.

    In Brazil, most marme­los are boiled, sweet­ened and then reduced to a thick jelly-​like paste called marme­lada.

    Quince are very tart and tan­nic, mak­ing them almost impos­si­ble to eat in their nat­ural state. Dur­ing cook­ing, their tan­nins mel­low and change color, giv­ing cooked quince a lovely pink-​to-​reddish hue.