A few weeks ago, I went to a market in a small town where I saw something that saddened me – farmers re-selling products from warmer-climate states (i.e. Florida, Georgia, California) “because people want their” fill-in-the-not-in-season-yet blank. Out-of-state tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, squash, beans, and potatoes were all for sale by local farmers who displayed these produce interlopers side-by-side with their own grown zucchinis, shelled peas, onions, ‘creamer’ potatoes, and asparagus.
This on a day where the sky threatened and eventually opened to pour rain yet again, making this one of the wettest planting and early harvesting seasons on record. A spring season which left flooded fields and Maryland crops like sweet strawberries swollen and succulent beets anemic in its wake.
Perhaps the weather was overwhelming me, but the fact still remains: we as consumers are not asking farmers the right questions. more “rainy day, re-sale blues”…
Just about every year, in late May or early June, I indulge in a guilty pleasure – one that I can’t help myself from committing, unable to resist the siren call of those delicate orbs blushing golden and calling to me with their perfectly ripe sweetness. Even though they come from the other side of the country and sell for what seems to be an exorbitantly indulgent price, I can never resist: Rainier cherries.
One of a slew of sweet cherry cultivars, Rainier cherries were developed at Washington State University and thusly named for that noble mountain which dominates the Evergreen State’s Cascade Range. A cross between Bing and Van, these cherries are golden inside with a tinge of red on the outside, and are as delicate as they are sweet. Susceptible to rain (which causes the fruit to split), wind (which can lead to bruising when the fruit bumps against others close-by), and temperature (the hotter the temperature the shorter the ripeness window) these are the princesses of the cherry crop and bring princely prices along with them.
So after eating a whole bag of Rainiers over the course of a few days in May – and after ‘accidentally’ forgetting to tell anyone in my house that they were in the refrigerator – you can only imagine my glee to see our East Coast equivalent appear at markets this week. Queen Anne has arrived!
While Washington State dominates in overall cherry production, with the USDA predicting a crop that will outpace California by 125,000 tons this year, there are some orchards in the mid-Atlantic region that grow beautiful varieties. There are the sour Montmorencys for pies and tarts, sweet ruby red Bings for eating out of hand or enjoying with ice cream, and last but not least the leading lady for snacking: Queen Annes. Often destined for the maraschino jar, this cultivar is considered to be one of the older varieties and has been subject to various names since the 1800’s including Napoleon, White Napoleon, and Royal Ann. Some even posit that this cultivar spawned the most-popular and most-selling Bing cherry.
Regardless of its jumbled history, the names all capture the singular quality of the fruit: that it is worthy of nobility. Fortunately for us common-folk, our farmers bring us this distinct treat every June to savor and celebrate. So go enjoy these luscious sweet treats with their crisp skins and enticing tenderness – and eat like a queen today!
What to do when confronted with a slew of spotted strawberries?
Recently the market opened with one sole customer willing to brave the morning downpour, no doubt propelled by her vegetable needs for brunch taking place in a few hours.The rain’s dampening of customers and our clothing was eventually overcome by warming temps and drying sunshine, but not before droplets doused the most fragrant crop of the day – strawberries.
When rain lands on berries – or any porous, pockety fruit for that matter – it is quickly absorbed, leading to swollen segments. While still on the plant protection and rescue occurs, in the form of leaf umbrellas and root plumbing piping away water prior to berries bursting.But without their leafy sidekicks strawberries are no longer impervious to water, implode from water spots, and quickly decompose.
In order to avert wasted berry tragedy, one of the farmers and I made a deal that I’d take the two flats of spotted strawberries that remained after filling pints with undamaged goods.
With the market breakdown behind me, a light lunch of spinach quiche (thanks be to bakers) in my belly, and some restful reading accomplished, I was ready to face the flats.
First off – a disclaimer: I love pizza.Whether thin crust or thick (although I have yet to taste an authentic deep-dish in Chi-town), white and sparse or saucy and heavily laden with toppings, I delight in the endless varieties and possibilities which are only limited by one’s imagination.
A quick check of theusualfoodiesuspectsonline and inprintresults in scores of currentrecipesfor asparagus. This is proof positive, and provides credence to the notion that there is a burgeoning desire to reconnect with knowledge about proper seasons for unprocessed foods which is inspiring.
So in keeping with the general frenzy over fresh and local asparagus, but wanting to avoid rehashing covered ground, here are a few fun asparagus facts and a quick and easy recipe take advantage of their abundance: