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Fresh produce up for grabs at farmers markets

May/June 2005 California Country magazine

Andy Powning offers recommendations for late spring and early summer fruits and vegetables.




Andy Powning, Produce Specialist

It is that time of year again-- time to gather family and friends and make a trek to the community farmers' markets where California growers offer a large supply of fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables.

"The months of May and June are a produce guy's dream. Mother Nature's larder is bursting with late-spring and early summer fare. What better way to celebrate her bounty than by a visit to your local farmer's market," said Andy Powning, produce specialist for GreenLeaf Produce in San Francisco and a segment reporter for the California Farm Bureau Federation's television program, California Country. "Take some kids and make it fun. Do your part to help set healthy diet habits from early on. And by supporting your local farmers markets, you are supporting family farms."

Powning's recommendations for this time of year include:

Sweet corn
Sought after at farmers' markets, roadside stands and at local supermarkets, sweet corn is grown in four main production areas in the state: southern desert valley, South Coast, Central Valley and the Central Coast.

"The super sweet and sugar-enhanced corn varieties are a super addition to the older heirloom varieties such as Silver Queen and Silverado, which feature small, delicate kernels and a fabulous corny flavor," Powning said. "The downside with heirlooms is that for optimum sweetness and flavor, they must be used very close to harvest."

Powning recommends cutting kernels off of shucked ears over a kitchen towel so that the errant kernels are easy to collect. Sauté onions in a large frying pan with a little olive oil and salt and pepper, over medium-low heat until translucent (about 6-8 minutes). Add the corn kernels and in minutes you have a delicious side dish.

Avocados
California growers produce about 95 percent of the nation's avocado crop, with San Diego County producing about 60 percent of all avocados grown in the state. There are seven varieties of avocados grown commercially in California, but the Hass variety is the most popular, accounting for approximately 80 percent of the total crop volume.

"California Hass is in full summer swing, and they're laden with natural nutty goodness and richly-flavored. Why not whip up some guacamole? So easy, so delicious…perfect for these warmer days," Powning said. "I like mine a little chunky and packed with minced garlic, fresh chilies, cilantro and a healthy thwack of fresh lime juice."

Snap beans
Produced in many areas of the state, snap beans, also referred to as green beans or string beans, are bursting forth this time of year. The flat bean-pod types are referred to as Kentucky Wonders and the round or oval types are known as the Blue Lake variety. Powning suggests stepping outside of the usual meal routine box, and try some less familiar varieties such as yellow wax beans, Italian/Romano beans, or some Chinese long beans.

"Go hot or cold! Blanch beans in salted water (salt helps preserve vibrant color). Don't cook too long, 3-5 minutes should do it," Powning said. "To serve warm, simply drain and finish with a nice olive oil or butter, a spritz of lemon juice and fresh or dried herb of choice."

To serve cold in a salad, blanch in boiling salted water, then plunge into icy water to arrest cooking and preserve color. Drain, dry on a dishtowel and dress with a sassy vinaigrette. In either application, add coined carrots and/or julienned red or gold bell peppers for a color splash.

Cherries
Leading off the season's stonefruit parade are cherry varieties grown in the orchards of California's fertile San Joaquin and Santa Clara valleys.

"Early varieties commence in mid-May, but all cherries are very weather-dependent season to season," Powning said. "The first varieties usually include Brooks--light in color, subtle in flavor--and also Burlatt, another early variety. But when it comes to cherries, Bings are king--deep mahogany hued orbs of stonefruit deliciousness. Perfect eating straight up!"

Purchase a couple of pounds of cherries and remove the pits. Then find a favorite crisp or cobbler recipe.

Berries
Packed with powerful antioxidants, berries--whether it be boysenberries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries--are perfect this time of year.

"Look for boysenberries, a happy raspberry-blackberry hybrid notable for its large size, meltingly tender texture and perfect balance of sweet and tart.


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