For a former New Yorker there's a lot to get used to about Southern California life. For the first eight years I lived here I felt like a winter kale wilting in the summer sun. It took leaving and moving all over the country before I figured out that there's something truly special about Southern California. Rest assured it's not Lindsay Lohan.
While to most people California is a postcard of beaches and palms trees, much of the Golden State is actually farmland, a fact that is reflected by the more than 50 certified farmers' markets in Los Angeles County alone. Perhaps the most famous of these markets is the one held on Wednesdays in downtown Santa Monica, where you can spot the city's top chefs picking through dandelion greens and squash blossoms.
Fruits Galore: Cherries, Stone Fruits, and Blackberries
This last Wednesday was cool and grey, the characteristic "June Gloom" draped over the market like a wet blanket. Like cherries, June Gloom marks Southern California's transition from spring to summer. At their peak here in California from Mother's Day to Father's Day, the Bing and Rainier cherries glistened like crimson and citrine gemstones at a half-dozen stands. I tried as many as I could and finally settled on a tangy-sweet bag full of Bings from Linden's Barbagelata Farms. Cherries are the summer's first stone fruit and, according to Russ Parsons, author of How to Pick a Peach, the darker the cherry the more likely it is to be sweet. A good cherry should be slightly crisp and shiny. Great eaten out of hand, cherries' also work as a counterpoint in a goat cheese salad, with grilled duck or baked into pies and cobblers.
While the best of the season's cherries may be on their way out, more stone fruits are on their way in. The season for peaches, nectarines, pluots, apriums, and plums generally starts in mid-May and lasts through August, though it got off the ground about a week late this year because of cooler temperatures. I counted at least 10 varieties of peaches and nectarines available already, including sunlit snow, artic star and, my favorite, spring snog. Ripe peaches and nectarines should have an orange-y hue and a good perfume. If you buy them firm, let them ripen on your counter. Store ripe peaches and nectarines in the fridge.
My favorite find at this week's market was definitely the blackberries from Burkart Organics, who grow everything from plums to jujubes in Dinuba, California (between Visalia and Fresno). Plump, with the perfect balance of sweet and piquant, I went back for tastes three times before snagging a pint. The blackberry season at Burkart usually lasts through June, though it ends sooner if it gets too hot. Still, you should be able to find blackberries at the area farmers' markets through the end of the summer. When picking berries, you want fruit that's uniform in color and not sticking to the bottom of the basket (too much moisture will cause your berries to mold). Blackberries are great in crisps and grunts and with fresh cream. Or, celebrate summer with my recipe for Blackberry-Ginger Sorbet with Grilled Peaches.
Seasonal Produce Guide
Also in season now
Favas Asparagus Squash blossoms Collard greens Strawberries Blackberries Cherries Peaches Nectarines
Raspberries Blueberries Melons Summer squash And much, much more!
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