Eat Good Food, Preserve the Season

Macerated Strawberry Jam

Late-season strawberries are almost upon us, and there’s no better way to capture their tender sweetness than with a macerated jam. This technique, adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s new book Jam Session, separates the strawberries from their juices partway through the cooking process. This allows the berries to retain more of their fresh character than they would in a long-cooked preserve. It contains a mix of ripe and underripe strawberries, as the latter provide natural pectin to help the jam set. If you can only find ripe berries, your jam will be looser.

Everbearing strawberry plants bear multiple crops over the course of one season, starting in late spring and continuing into September or even October. Some popular everbearing varieties include Eversweet, Quinault, Seascape, Tribute, and Albion.

Macerated Strawberry Jam
Makes 7 half-pint jars

6 cups ripe strawberries
2 cups not-quite-ripe strawberries
4 cups granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, optional
Pinch of salt

Place a few ceramic plates in the freezer for testing the jam’s set.

Rinse, dry, and hull strawberries. In a large preserving pot, gently combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice and toss to mix. Set aside to macerate overnight. The next day, add scraped vanilla bean or extract, place over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, watching closely to ensure berries do not boil over. Remove pot from heat and let it sit, uncovered, for 1-2 hours.

Sterilize jam jars by submerging them in boiling water for 10 minutes. Sterilize lids in a smaller pot of boiling water. Leave jars and lids in pots of hot water on the stove until ready to use.

Bring strawberry mixture to a boil again over medium-high heat and cook for 3-5 minutes, until berries are tender. Strain strawberries through a colander, reserving juices. Return the juices to the preserving pot and add lemon juice to taste, plus a pinch of salt. Reduce syrup over medium-low heat, stirring frequently,  until thickened.

Slightly mash the strawberries and return to the pot. While stirring, bring to a boil and cook the jam briefly. To test if preserves are adequately set, drop a spoonful of hot preserves onto a frozen plate and turn the plate vertically for a second or two. If the preserve is finished, the jam will run very slowly, if at all. To double-check, run your finger through the dollop—if the jam wrinkles, it is set. Remove the pot from the heat, and remove vanilla bean, if using.

Bring the water baths back to a boil, and place a baking sheet near your stove. Prepare a ladle, a jam funnel, if using, a wet kitchen cloth to clean jar rims, and clean cloths to protect hands from heat. Using tongs, place jars on the baking sheet. Ladle jam into jars, leaving 1/4″ clearance. Wipe rims clean and set the lids on the mouths of the jars. Twist on the rings.

Using a jar lifter or tongs, gently lower jars into the water bath. Return water to a boil, then decrease to an active simmer and let jars simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave jars in water for a minute or two. Transfer jars out of the pot with tongs and leave at room temperature for 6 hours. Check to make sure that lids are depressed in the center. Any improperly sealed jars will keep in the refrigerator for up to three months. Sealed jam will keep for up to two years.

Eat Good Food

In Season: Winter Produce

Winter produce, despite the shorter days and colder temperatures, boasts plenty of seasonal delights, from hearty root vegetables to robust bitter greens to bright, sweet citrus.

Beets

Not all winter produce is pale or green. Besides the familiar purpled red of the common round beet (Beta vulgaris), there are golden beets the color of carnelian as well as pink beets, white beets, and even two-tone beets, such as the Chiogga variety, which resemble a red and white bull’s-eye in cross section. They come elongated as well as round, can be small or big, and vary in flavor, from the mild Chiogga to the stronger, rather bitter big red beets. What they all have in common is a high sugar content for a vegetable. They belong to the goosefoot family and their closest relatives — chard, spinach, and lamb’s quarters — are cultivated for their leafy greens. It’s not surprising, then, that beet leaves are delicious, and some varieties are grown just for their greens.

How to Buy

Beets are most plentiful from June through October, usually with their bright green tops still attached, but late beets, topped and stored properly, will keep well from late fall through winter. Select beets that are firm, with regularly shaped roots; a misshapen root is a sign the beet struggled to grow, and may be tough and woody.

How to Store

Beets are best stored loosely in the crisper of your refrigerator, stalks removed. The tops wilt quickly, turning yellow and slimy, so it’s best to cut the greens off a little above the root bulb, and cook within a day or two. The bulbs will store for another week or so.

How to Prepare

Beets are best cooked until tender but not mushy. We prefer to roast them as this concentrates their flavor. Choose bulbs roughly the same size (leaving the skin on so they don’t bleed), place in a shallow pan with a splash of water, cover with foil, and cook at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until they can easily be pierced with a knife. Once cooled they can be lightly pickled in red wine vinegar as a component to be used in a composed salad. In winter they pair especially well with fennel, orange slices, Belgian endive, and watercress. The greens can be slowly braised as you would other sturdy greens.

 

Broccoli Raab

Broccoli raab, or rapini, belongs to the same species (Brassica oleracea) as kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, kale, collards, and all the cabbages. It is grown for its greens, which resemble sprouting broccoli that has started to flower. The vegetable’s leafy stalks and tender buds taste like a delicious hybrid of broccoli and mustard greens, with a robust, slightly bitter flavor that works great in pastas, on top of pizzas, or slow-cooked as a side dish.

How to Buy

Broccoli raab is available all year around, but is at its best in the cooler months. Look for tender, fleshy stems with the flower heads still closed. Yellow flower buds is a sign of age and poor quality.

How to Store

Wrap stalks in a damp towel and store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Avoid storing it near ethylene-emitting produce such as apples or pears.

How to Prepare

Wash and trim tough ends of stems if needed. Coarsely chop for pastas and pizzas, or trim according to recipe.

 

Brussel Sprouts

Brussel sprouts are a variety, gemmifera, of the cabbage species Brassica olecera. Because of selective breeding done in Belgium in the 13th century, brussel sprouts do indeed look like tiny, perfectly formed cabbages. They grow on a heavy stalk, several feet high, with a few leaves on top. Their prime season is late fall and early winter, especially after the first frost when they develop their delicate nutty flavor. Tender and sweet when roasted, sautéed, or steamed, they only release their infamous sulfur aroma when overcooked.

How to Buy

Look for small sprouts, about an inch in diameter, as the smaller buds are sweeter and more tender. Sometimes you can buy entire an stalk of brussel sprouts that you cut off at home. Avoid those with yellow or wilted outer leaves.

How to Store

If the buds are still on the stalk, simply keep in the refrigerator. For loose sprouts, remove any damaged or wilted leaves and keep in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Though they will keep for weeks, once they’re off the stalk the flavor begins to deteriorate after a few days.

How to Prepare

Rinse the sprouts with cold running water and remove any loose or damaged leaves. Pat dry, then trim the stem close to the bottom of the sprout. If using whole, slice an X into the bottom of each to help them cook more evenly. To use the individual leaves, cut out the core of the sprouts with a sharp paring knife and carefully tease the leaves apart with your fingers.

 

Cabbage

Like its cruciferous siblings (kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli), cabbage belongs to the species Brassica oleracea. With an astonishing variety of strains propagated by plant breeders over the years, cabbage comes in many shapes, colors, and sizes; the most familiar variety in the U.S. is the Dutch cabbage, with smooth green or purple heads that change shape with the seasons. Savoy cabbage features crinkled leaves and a sweeter flavor, while Napa, also known as Chinese or celery cabbage, has an oblong shape and ridged leaves. Cooked well, cabbage has wonderful texture and spicy, sweet flavor, and is worthy of the most refined preparations. Known for its versatility, cabbage is an important ingredient in kitchens around the world and takes many forms, from fermented preparations like Korea’s kimchi and Eastern Europe’s sauerkraut to spicy coleslaws, stuffed cabbage leaves, braised sides, and stir-frys.

How to Buy

Generally speaking, the best of the cabbages come in early fall and last until truly cold winter weather. In California and the South, cabbage can be harvested throughout the winter into early spring. When looking for most types of cabbage at the market, look for heads that are tight and firm, with shiny, crisp outer leaves. Loose-leaved cabbages such as Savoy and Asian cabbages are the exceptions; these should look bright and fresh, with no signs of wilted or yellowing leaves.

How to Store

Whole heads of cabbage can be wrapped in a damp towel and stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for about a week.

How to Prepare

Rinse in cold water to remove dirt, then remove any loose or wilted leaves from cabbage, whether it is to be eaten raw or cooked. Depending on preparation, you can then cut the head in quarters and slice off the core from each segment  to shred the cabbage for slaws, salads, or stir fries. If making stuffed cabbage, remove the outer leaves and trim the core but leave the cabbage whole.

 

Cauliflower

A member of the Brassica genus, which also includes broccoli, brussel sprouts, and kale, cauliflower originated in Asia and has been a European favorite since the 1500s; the vegetable was introduced in the U.S. in the early 1900s. In addition to the familiar large white heads, there are colored varieties that produce smaller heads of purple cauliflower, or chartreuse green, such as the striking romanesco, which grows in a swirling, fractal-like pattern. Available year-round, cauliflower is most plentiful in the fall and early winter. Cauliflower’s mild, sweet, delicate flavor lends itself well to both raw and cooked preparations. Try it as a crudité, perhaps with Bagna Cauda; combined with garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and hot pepper flakes for a zesty pasta; fried and bathed in lemon juice; or as a smooth creamy soup.

How to Buy

Select cauliflower with fine-grained, compact curds and bright green leaves, a sign of freshness. Avoid cauliflower with brown spots.

How to Store

Cauliflower will keep for several days stored in a closed container in the refrigerator.

How to Prepare

Before using trim off any discolored parts and rinse with cold water. If the cauliflower is tender and fresh, the stems will not need peeling. To ensure quick cooking, separate the head into flowerets.

 

Celery Root

Celery root, or celeriac, the knobby, pitted root vegetable related to common celery, is Mediterranean in origin. First introduced to the United States in the early 19th century, it has only recently become commonly available here. Though not particularly beautiful, it is fantastically versatile. The rhizome’s punchy, herbal flavor and crunchy texture shines when served raw, either by itself, or combined with other vegetables, and dressed with mustard-flavored mayonnaise (celeriac remoulade for example); when cooked, its mellow earthiness accentuates other vegetables for complex hearty soups and purées, or baked as a gratin to accompany grilled or roasted meat.

How to Buy

Celeriac needs careful inspection before buying as it has a convoluted exterior which means that you can have quite a lot of waste when you remove the outer part. For this reason, choose the smoothest celeriac you can find. Choose small roots that are heavy for their size, with vibrant green leaves on the stem ends.

How to Store

To store, cut off the stems and wrap the root in a damp towel and place in the crisper. Kept this week it should stay fresh for a week or two.

How to Prepare

Celery root  must be peeled for all preparations. First slice off the top and bottom of the root, then peel away the sides to remove the tough skin and the many small roots attached to it. To prevent discoloring, submerge in a bowl of acidulated water. If it is not to be used right away, leave sliced, diced, or julienned celeriac in water and refrigerate.

 

Leeks

The leek (Allium ampeloprasum), a member of the garlic and onion family, is grown for its blanched, white stems. Called the “poor man’s asparagus” by the French, leeks are prized for their succulence and sweet, delicate flavor. They can flavor chicken and vegetable stocks and soups, and be integrated into tarts, pizzas, and foccacia. They have a special affinity with fish, and add a rich flavor to chicken and beef. Most abundant in the fall, mature leeks can be left in the ground and harvested throughout the winter into spring.

How to Buy

Leeks should have firm, unblemished stalks with stiff, green leaves. Any attached roots should be firm and white. Smaller, younger leeks are more tender and mild.

How to Store

Leeks keep best if they are not trimmed or washed until just before use. Bundle in a damp towel and store in the refrigerator. Smaller leeks should be used within a day or two, but larger ones will keep for four to five days.

How to Prepare

Small leeks to be cooked whole should have their roots trimmed at the base of the stem, being careful not to cut off the basal plate, or the leeks may fall apart during cooking. Trim the tops, leaving several inches of the tender green leaves on the stem, and pull off one outer layer of leaves. Then hold the prepared leeks under cold water and rinse out any dirt or sand that may be trapped between layers. Larger leeks that will be sliced, chopped, or julienned should be rinsed in cold water for a few minutes, separating the layers to remove any grit, and dried with a towel. Save any leafy green tops to use in soup stocks.

 

Turnips and Rutabagas

Members of the cabbage family, turnips (Brassica rapus) and rutabagas (Brassicus napus) are different species. Turnips are usually available throughout the year, but are most tender in the spring and fall. Even so, their mild, sweet flesh and earthy flavor make them a versatile addition to the succession of root vegetables that usually grace our winter tables. Generally larger in winter, the bulbs can be combined with potatoes and celeriac to make a gratin, or mashed together into a purée or soup. When roasted with other vegetables like carrots, celery root, and parsnips, their flavor adds balance. The greens can be enjoyed like any other leafy green: sauté them with olive oil and garlic, or stew them with salt pork as they do in the South. Rutabagas, a hybrid of turnips and cabbage, are best in late fall and winter after a period of cold weather, when their sweetness and flavor have developed. Used very much like large, starchy turnips, try rutabagas boiled and mashed with butter or baked into a decadent and comforting gratin with potatoes and Gruyère.

How to Buy

At the market select turnips that are firm and smooth, with fresh green tops if still attached. Big topless turnips should have fresh cuts where their tops were chopped off. Avoid very large specimens, four inches across or more; they can have a tough, woody texture and unappealing taste. Look for solid rutabagas that feel heavy for their size with unblemished skin.

How to Store

Both turnips and rutabagas should be kept dry and stored in the refrigerator, where they can last up to a month. Turnip greens should be cut off, wrapped in a damp cloth, and stored in the crisper.

How to Prepare

The preparation for turnips depends on their type and maturity. Small, tender-skinned turnips need only a washing of roots and tops to remove any traces of dirt. Larger, thick-skinned turnips and rutabagas need to be peeled.

 

Eat Good Food

In Season: Fall Produce

fall produce

The arrival of autumn brings an abundance of fall produce to cook with, from crisp apples and juicy pears to hearty greens, sweet root vegetables, and sturdy winter squash.

Our guide for buying, storing, and preparing the season’s best produce will help make the most of what you’ll find at the markets this autumn.

APPLES
Perhaps no fruit is more representative of autumn than a crisp, sweet-tart apple. Worldwide, there are over 7,500 cultivars of apples known to exist; of these, at least 100 varieties are produced commercially in the United States, while many more are grown in backyards and on small farms.

Apples are often identified as dessert, cooking, or cider varieties, but trust your own taste and experience when making selections. For salads, choose a crisp apple that’s not too sweet, such as the Sierra Beauty or Newton Pippin. For delicious applesauce, try Gravenstein, McIntosh, or Jonathan. For sautéed apples and tarte tatin, use an apple that holds its shape when cooked and caramelized; Golden Delicious is a reliable choice. For tarts and galettes, Sierra Beauty is a favorite, but Jonagold and Winesap are good too.

Apple season starts in August, really gets going in September, and winds down in October.

How to Buy
Choose organically grown apples that are firm and unblemished. They should have a pleasant, mildly winey aroma, not a fermented or musty smell.

How to Store
Store apples in a cool, dark place away from other ethylene-sensitive produce. Early season apples are best eaten as soon as possible. Mid-season apples will store for weeks, and late harvest apples actually benefit from a few weeks in storage and are good for up to a few months.

How to Prepare
For salads, apples should be quartered and sliced, but not peeled unless the skin is tough — much of the flavor and beauty is in the skin. If not to be used, right away toss in lemon juice or vinegar to prevent browning.

Apples that are to be cooked for pies, galettes, or tarts are usually peeled. It’s easiest to quarter the apple and quickly carve out the core at the same time. You can peel with a knife or a peeler, and slice as needed.

To make applesauce, quarter and core apples, leaving skins on for flavor, and then cut into chunks to simmer in apple juice or cider until soft and cooked through.

BROCCOLI
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable related to cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kohlrabi, and brussels sprouts. Commercially, broccoli is available year-around, although it is a cool weather crop and best in fall, late winter, and spring.

Broccoli pairs well with bold and pungent flavors: roasted broccoli, caramelized with garlic, red peppers, and olive oil, can be served with pasta, on pizza, or chopped and served on grilled bread; stir-fried spears make a quick meal with tofu, ginger, toasted sesame oil, and fish sauce; and long-cooked broccoli —  with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, and sometimes enlivened with hot pepper and anchovies — is a classic garnish for savory dishes. To serve broccoli in a salad or on a crudité plate, briefly blanch it, then shock it in ice water for a brilliant green color and crisp-tender texture before draining thoroughly.

How to Buy
In the market, look for broccoli that is deep green, with tight bunched-up flower heads, and no yellowing. Stalks should be green and firm.

How to Store
Broccoli should be stored, unwashed, in a terry cloth towel in the refrigerator, and eaten within a few days.

How to Prepare
Rinse under cold water, and using a peeler or paring knife, peel away the tough outer skin from the large stem. Cut the flowerets from the main stem; they may need to be broken or cut up into smaller pieces. The peeled stem can be cut in rounds or baton-shaped pieces and cooked with flowerets.

CHICORIES
Chicories are all members of the daisy family, closely related to lettuces and dandelions.

Red-leaved radicchio, torpedo-shaped Belgian endive, lacy green-and-white curly endive, exuberantly curly-leaved frisée, and lettuce-like escarole are few of the many types of chicories found in the market.

When used raw, they bring texture and bitterness to salads; cooked, that bitter note is transformed — the vegetables mellow and take on a nutty flavor. The sturdy leaves take well to braising, sautéing, and grilling alike. We love them added to soups, roasted with root vegetables until sweet, or stirred into risotto.

How to Buy
Look for bright and crisp leaves, with no wilting or brown spots. When buying Belgian endive, choose specimens that are white and tightly compacted, with tips of pale yellow. Exposed to light, Belgian endive starts to turn green, a sign of unpleasant bitterness.

How to Store
Refrigerate all chicories as soon as possible, wrapped loosely in a damp towel. Store in crisper drawer for up to a week. Be sure to protect Belgian endive from light.

How to Prepare
Since Belgian endive bruises easily, it’s best to wash and cut it up just before serving or cooking. Like lettuce, leafy chicories can be washed and dried ahead of time. 

FENNEL
Perhaps best known for its licorice-scented seeds, used to flavor everything from baked goods to sausage, fennel has become widely popular as an ingredient. The crunchy bulb has a delicate anise flavor, delicious sliced and served raw in salads; caramelized and served as a side dish; braised whole; or cooked in vegetable broths and fish stocks. The feathery fronds and tiny yellow flowers add an herbaceous note to salads and soups and we use them as a garnish, too.

How to Buy
The fennel to buy at the market has firm, bright white, unblemished bulbs with stalks attached.

How to Store
Store fennel loosely wrapped in a damp cloth in the crisper drawer. As it has a high water content, it can freeze if temperature is too cold.

How to prepare
To prepare fennel, trim the bottom of the bulb, peel away the outermost, coarser layers of the bulb. The bulbs can be halved, cored, and sliced, crosswise or lengthwise, according to the preparation. Sliced fennel that is not to be used immediately can be immersed in acidulated water to prevent discoloration. Stalks can be saved and added to stocks, and the fronds make a nice garnish.

KALE
An ancient member of the Brassica family, kale is the sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet, usually slightly bitter ancestor of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.

Essentially a bouquet of green leaves, kale come in a variety of shapes and colors. Common curly kale is pale to deep green with large, frilly leaves and long stems. Lacinato kale, an Italian heirloom variety, has long, slender dark blue-green leaves with crinkly texture. Red Russian kale looks like overgrown oak leaves ranging from blue-green to purple-red.  

The first tender leaves of kale are best cooked quickly with a little bit of olive oil and garlic. Later in the season, the larger leaves are favored by longer cooking.

All of these varieties are in season at a welcome time — late fall to winter. Like most of the other brassicas, kale is hardy enough to survive lower temperatures and is actually sweeter when grown in cool weather.

How to Buy
Look for brightly colored, springy leaves with no brown, yellow, or wilted bits. Check the stem ends—they should look freshly cut, not dried out, or, even worse, slimy, either of which betrays that the greens were harvested some time ago.

How To Store
Wrap greens in a damp towel, unwashed, and place in a loose paper bag. Store in the crisper for up to six days.

How to Prepare 
Wash the leaves well when it’s time to cook. The ribs are edible, though they take much longer to cook than the leaves, especially if they’re thick, and you might, therefore, want to remove them: fold the leaves lengthwise with one hand, grasp the exposed ribs with the other, and pull in opposite directions. Most recipes then have you cut the rib-less leaves into strips.

PEARS (EUROPEAN)
The best European pears have buttery smooth, fine-grained, juicy flesh. The flavor is usually sweet, sometimes musky, and nicely balanced with acid.

Pears are wonderful in salads, marry well with walnuts and hazelnuts, and pair well with blue-veined cheeses. Brilliant as desserts, pears can be poached in wine, roasted with spices, or baked into cakes and tarts. A few heirloom varieties on our list of favorites: Comice, rich tasting and juicy, is the most perfect pear for eating fresh; Bosc, which holds its shape, one of the most useful for cooking; and the Seckel variety is ideal for poaching or pickling.

The harvest for most pears peaks in late summer and early fall, depending on the type and region. Pears are one of the few fruits that improve off the tree; pick them while still hard and allow them to ripen on the counter for a sweet succulent addition to all sorts of fall dishes. Because they keep so well, European pears have a very long season, extending from midsummer through the following spring.

How to Buy
Choose organically grown fruit that is firm and unbruised. It is best to buy green pears and ripen at home; this ensures that they were not picked overripe and decreases the chance of bruising. Pears are fragile and even unripe pears can be easily bruised, so handle carefully.

How to Store
Ideally pears should be ripened at room temperature. Very firm green pears may take a week to ten days, while riper ones may only need a few days. A slight softness on the stem end indicates readiness.

How to Prepare
Ripe pears are fragile, so cut and core them with a paring knife before carefully peeling them with a sharp knife. Pears will start to turn brown quickly so use right away or toss with lemon juice or vinegar if prepping for salad. If you are preparing to cook, toss with lemon juice and sugar as you go; if poaching drop fruit in poaching liquid as ready.

POTATOES
A member of the nightshade family, Solanum tuberosum, potatoes originated in South America, and have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. A staple food almost everywhere in the world, the starchy flesh adapts to all sorts of preparations and readily absorbs flavors and seasonings, making the humble potato a canvas for many a meal.

The countless varieties range in color, size, and starch content; potatoes higher in starch, such as russets, and purple or blue potatoes, have a fluffy texture and are great for baking or french fries. Waxy red, white, and yellow potatoes hold their shape better, and are often preferred for salads or gratins. New potatoes, harvested before maturity, tend to be fragile-skinned and small in size. They are best imply prepared — steamed, boiled, or roasted — where their delicate taste and flavor can be appreciated.

How to Buy
Never buy potatoes with even a hint of green skin; green skins indicate the presence of solanine, a toxic alkaloid that the potato develops when exposed to light. Choose firm potatoes, with no soft or discolored spots, and avoid any potatoes that have started to sprout.

How to Store
Store potatoes away from sunlight in a cool dry space with good air circulation. New potatoes are more perishable than mature potatoes, and should be used within a few days.

How to Prepare
When you’re ready to use them, rinse and dry your potatoes, removing any sprout buds or dark spots. If the potatoes are covered with soil you can use a vegetable brush to scrub them.

QUINCE

Like its apple and pear relatives, the quince tree (Cydonia oblong) originated in Central Asia. The fruit resemble very firm, bright yellow, short-necked pears. Quince is known for its distinctive floral aroma, but the raw fruit is rarely eaten because it is hard and astringent, sour and gritty, even when ripe.

Quince is suitable for many cooked preparations and will turn reddish-pink when cooked. Quince can be used for preserves (in fact, the word marmalade is derived from marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince), shrubs, and pickles, as well as Membrillo, a firm paste made of cooked quince, that traditionally accompanies Spanish Manchego cheese. A few quince slices added to apple pie lend a fragrant, perfumed flavor. Look for quince from September through November.

How to Buy
Choose fragrant, organically grown quinces that have bright yellow skin with few traces of green. They should be firm, without soft spots or discoloration.

How to Store
Quinces will keep for a week or two at room temperature if they have good air circulation, and much longer in the refrigerator. Like apples, they emit ethylene gas which will accelerate ripening in produce sensitive to it.

How to Prepare
To prepare quinces for cooking, rinse them under cold water, rubbing off as much fuzz as possible and cutting away any brown spots. Use the entire fruit when making pastes and preserves, as the peel and core add flavor and will be strained out anyway. Quarter, peel, and core when poaching or cooking with other ingredients.

Eat Good Food

In Season: Summer Produce

Summer is a glorious time of year to be a cook.

Farmers’ markets and home gardens are bursting with gorgeous fruits and vegetables at their peak: juicy ripe tomatoes, just-picked sweet corn, jewel-like berries, fragrant peaches, and many more. In fact, summer meals are often more about careful shopping or timely harvesting, than choosing a recipe and sticking to it — and they require far less cooking.

In our guide to summer produce, we offer tips for buying, storing, and preparing the best of the season, plus suggestions for how to use them.

BEANS
Beans — both snap and shell — come from the same plant species (Phaseolus vulgaris) but from different varieties within that species. Snap beans are whole immature pods, still very tender, while shell beans are the seeds inside more mature pods. Any snap bean variety will produce seeds that can be shelled, but the pods of most shell bean varieties are too tough to be eaten.

Both snap and shell beans give substance and texture to summer dishes. Blanched snap beans tossed with shallots and tomatoes or with pasta and pesto make colorful, tasty dishes. A fresh shell bean gratin cooked with tomatoes and greens makes a light, satisfying main dish. And snap beans and shell beans together are essential ingredients for soupe au pistou, the Provencal version of minestrone served with pesto (“pistou” in Provence).

You’ll find good snap beans from early summer until frost. The peak season for shell beans is midsummer into fall.

Snap Beans
Snap greens can be green, yellow, or purple. The slender French green beans known as haricots verts are worth seeking out. Small enough to use without snapping in half, they’re beautiful in salads or as side dishes.

Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake beans are heirloom varieties with a crisp-tender texture. Romano beans and other flat, wide snap beans are especially good in soups, where long cooking coaxes out their sweet, nutty flavor.

Yellow beans are perfect for pickling, as they’ll retain their color in vinegar. They’re also pretty when mixed with green or purple beans.

How to Buy
Look for crisp, firm snap beans that feel heavy and plump. They should break with a good, clean snap when bent. Avoid beans that are dull or limp.

How to Store
Snap beans will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. Store them in a paper bag or wrapped in a towel.

How to Prepare
To prepare beans for cooking, check to see if they are stringy. If they are, snap off the top and tail of each, pulling down to peel the strings. If not, the tops and tails can be cut off. To cook snap beans, boil them quickly in a large pot of salty water until crisp-tender.

• Shelling Beans
Fresh shelling beans are one of the great treats of summer eating. Shell them and cook them in soups or simply braised as a side dish — they have an extra creamy texture and wonderful fresh earthy flavor. Some favorites include flageolets, black-eyed peas, Cranberry beans, cannellini, and lima beans.

How to Buy
Shell beans are at their best when the pods are full and slightly soft, indicating the beans inside are mature but not dry. Avoid pods that are withered or have brown spots.

How to Store
Keep shell beans at room temperature for a few days, or up to a week in the refrigerator in a paper bag to allow for a little air circulation.

How to Prepare
Shelling beans are very easy to shell. Ripe beans should be plump enough so that the pod pops right open with a light squeeze. You can then “zip” the beans out by running your finger down the inside of the pod.

Shelling beans are great in soups and stews. Unlike their dried counterparts, there is no need to soak them before using. Most fresh shelling beans require 20 to 30 minutes to cook, so add them to recipes accordingly. Fresh shelling beans are also delicious braised. If you have pesto, it is a wonderful seasoning stirred into these beans. 


BERRIES
One of the season’s most anticipated delights, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are in season from late spring through the end of summer. Strawberries arrive first, with a season that lasts from April through September, depending on the part of the country; blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries show up at the markets after, with golden and black raspberries usually appearing last.

Versatile and sweet, berries make a bright addition to cakes, cobblers, crisps, pies, sauces, and other cooked dishes, but when berries are truly at their peak, their flavor is perhaps best enjoyed simply eaten out of hand.

How to Buy
Choose brightly colored, plump berries that smell fragrant; avoid soft, shriveled, mushy, or moldy fruit.  Look for strawberries that are deeply red without traces of white.

How to Store
All berries are fragile and highly perishable, especially when perfectly ripe. Store unwashed berries in the refrigerator in a towel lined basket or bowl.

Some hardier berries, like blueberries, will keep for up to five days; more delicate varieties, like raspberries and strawberries, deteriorate fairly quickly after harvest — the culprit primarily being mold, and are best used within two or three days.

How to Prepare
Most berries don’t need washing, but if dusty, rinse them quickly in cold water and gently pat dry with kitchen towels just before using.


CORN
Native to the Americas and brought back to Europe from the New World, corn has played and still continues to play a vital role in the livelihood of many native cultures. It has been utilized for not only sustenance but shelter, fuel, and more.

In the kitchen, corn’s enduring appeal lies in its sweetness — some varieties have nearly 40 percent sugar — and its versatility. We associate fresh corn with the height of summer, as it peaks from mid-summer to early fall.

Corn is delicious in a myriad of preparations: soup, soufflés, salads, or simply grilled and eaten with a smear of butter and a sprinkle of salt. The two most popular varieties are yellow — which tends to have larger, fuller-flavored kernels —  and white, which is smaller and sweeter.

How to Buy
Buy corn that’s as fresh as possible; as soon as it’s been picked the sugars begin converting to starch, which diminishes its sweetness. Freshly picked ears will have a moist stem end where they were cut, and will look full and vibrant, with plump kernels and bright green, tightly closed husks.

How to Store
If you cannot serve immediately, corn should be stored in the refrigerator, unhusked and wrapped in a damp towel.

How to Prepare
Corn should be shucked at the last minute as exposed kernels are prone to drying out. Remove the husks and pull any wispy corn silks away from the bare ears; if the silks are difficult to remove, rub the ears with a soft towel or a small vegetable brush. If serving on the cob, boil no more than two minutes in unsalted water. If a recipe calls for fresh corn kernels, cut off the stem end, rest it firmly on a board, and slice the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife.


EGGPLANT
Eggplant (Solanum melongena), also known as aubergine, is a species of nightshade grown for its edible and highly versatile fruit. The plants, compact with grey-green leaves and small purple flowers, are beautiful at all stages of growth.

Besides the large, dark purple globe variety, eggplants come in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors, from smaller Italian eggplants to slender, mild Asian varieties to meaty, dense white-skinned eggplants and more.

Eggplants are versatile, and can be grilled, roasted, stuffed and baked, sautéed, or fried. The smaller Italian varieties are especially good sliced and grilled, served at room temp with olive oil and basil. The larger globe types can be baked and scooped out for dips or soups.

All eggplants share an affinity for strong Mediterranean flavors, and pair well with garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and basil — all ingredients essential to one of the most well-known eggplant dishes, ratatouille.

How to Buy
Ripe eggplants are shiny and firm. They should feel heavy for their size, with the fuzzy green cap tightly attached.

How to Store
Keep eggplants in a cool, dry place and use them within a day or two. You can store them in the crisper drawer for a few days if needed, but these subtropical fruits don’t generally fare well in cold storage.

How to Prepare
Peel older eggplants; on younger, smaller eggplants, the skin is edible. Rinse them, trim the cap, and cut them just before using — they tend to discolor quickly. Salting them won’t “draw out” their bitterness, but it will help mask the slightly bitter taste of older/larger eggplants, and the salted slices will absorb less oil.


MELONS
Summer produces many different types of delicious, succulent melons, a cool and welcome sight on hot days. Here in Northern California, where our local farmers grow rare and heirloom varieties until perfectly ripe, the sweet and subtle tastes of melons can be savored all summer into early fall. Bursting with juice and flavor, these stars of summer are dead-ripe and delicate, nothing like the bland, hard melons found off-season in supermarkets.

Melons are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, which makes them relatives of squashes and cucumbers. Although often grouped together, most sweet melons fall into two broad categories: Citrillus lanatus, or watermelons, and Cucumus melo, which include muskmelon, cantaloupes, and honeydews. Many of the melons with sweet orange flesh and netted skin sold as “cantaloupes” are actually muskmelons. Real cantaloupes, not widely grown in North America, are smaller and more spherical than muskmelons, and have a harder skin.

How to Buy
Melons need heat to turn sweet, so mid-to-late summer and early fall are their prime seasons. Seek out symmetrical melons with a “filled-out” look. Weight offers hints about taste: a melon that feels heavy for its size holds lots of juicy flesh. Melons don’t become sweeter after harvesting, but the texture and aroma can continue to improve.

For netted (reticulatus) melons like muskmelons that have rinds covered with a netlike tissue, choose ones that are fragrant and give slightly to pressure. Uniformly distributed netting and a musky aroma are signs of ripeness.

Smooth-skinned melons such as honeydew do not give off their aroma until they’ve been cut open. Look for ones that are heavy for their size and feel for a bit of give at the end opposite the stem.

Ripe watermelons have skin with a waxy bloom, dull not shiny skin, and the lighter colored part of the rind, where the melon rested on the ground, should be yellow or creamy, not green or white. Look for smooth, symmetrical melons with no flat sides, bruises, cuts, or dents. A dull, hollow sound when you tap the melon signals that it’s ripe.

How to Store
Store whole melons in a cool spot. If cut, place slices in lidded container and refrigerate up to four days.

How to Prepare
For melons, slice in half and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon. Cut as desired, and serve with or without the tough outer skin. Slice watermelons into quarters and cut the flesh as desired, with or without the rind. Melons can be served very simply, sliced and draped with thin slices of prosciutto, added to salads, or halved and filled with a sweet Muscat wine such as Beaumes-de-Venise. Watermelon makes a refreshing drink called agua fresca when the flesh is blended with ice and a bit of sugar, and the leftover rind can be turned into a sweet pickle.


OKRA
Okra originated in Africa, but is a staple in cuisines across the globe, from the Middle East to the Southeastern U.S., where its seeds were carried to North America on slave ships over three centuries ago. Known in many English-speaking countries as ladies’ fingers, ochro or gumbo, okra is a flowering plant in the mallow family. The vegetable is prized for its edible green seed pods which, when cooked, release a gelatinous substance that serves as a thickener for soups and stews such as gumbo. Okra is also commonly braised, roasted, and — especially in our southern states — fried. It is wonderful pickled and has a flavor that works well when stewed with other summer favorites like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

How to Buy
Choose firm, springy pods the size of your pinkie, no larger than your index finger, about 3-5 inches (larger pods can have a woody texture), with a rich green color and a fine coat of sticky white hairs.

How to Store
Okra is very perishable and should be refrigerated in a brown paper bag and used within a few days.

How to Prepare
Before cooking, wash the pods and cut off the stem ends.


PEACHES AND PLUMS  

Stone fruits, members of the genus
Prunus, consist of flowering trees bearing fleshy, pitted fruits. Nothing says summer quite like the sweet, juicy flavors of stone fruits, and peaches and plums are among our favorites as they flourish here in Northern California. At their peak of ripeness, peaches and plums are delicious simply eaten as is, but they also can be baked into pies and crisps, made into jams, added to salads, and roasted, poached or sautéed for both savory and sweet dishes.

How to Buy
Peaches and plums are at their peak during July and August, and are best picked at the peak of ripeness. Select fruit that yields to the touch and has a fragrant aroma. If the fruit is rock-hard, don’t buy it. Stone fruits will continue to ripen after they are picked, but peaches that are picked too green will never ripen properly.

How to Store
If your fruit is not quite ready to eat, store on the kitchen counter where they’ll continue to ripen off-tree. Perfectly ripe fruit is best eaten as soon as possible, but you can refrigerate for two to three days to slow down the ripening process. Always allow fruits to come to room temperature before eating.

How to Prepare
To pit, cut along the seam in a full circle around the pit; then twist in opposite directions to separate the halves. Remove the pit with the tip of your knife. To remove the skins  from peaches, blanch for 30 seconds in boiling water, plunge into ice bath, and peel skin.


PEPPERS
Peppers are warm season vegetables that belong to the species Capsicum annum, and come in a wide range of shapes, colors, sizes, and heat intensity. Peppers can be divided into two groups, the sweet peppers and the chili peppers. Both of these types are at their peak from midsummer through the fall.

The most well-known sweet peppers are large, thick-fleshed, and mild tasting bell peppers, all of which start out green. As they reach maturity they eventually turn red, orange, black, or yellow, according to the variety, and grow sweeter — the longer a pepper stays on the vine before being picked, the sweeter it is. Besides the common bell pepper, there are small, round, red cherry peppers; heart-shaped pimento peppers; and slender Lipstick peppers, among others.

Peppers can be enjoyed raw in a salad with onions and tomatoes, used as toppings for pizza, or cooked kabob-style on the grill. They pair well with tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. Roasting them over fire enhances their sweetness and adds a wonderful, smoky flavor, especially delicious when marinated with olive oil, garlic, and basil.

Chilies, or hot peppers, are usually smaller than sweet peppers, and less meaty. There are many different chilies, some of the most common being jalapeños, anaheims, and serranos. Whether red or green, these chilies have a clean, hot flavor that tastes good with sweet vegetables such as carrots or corn.

How to Buy
Whether selecting sweet peppers or chili peppers, look for peppers that have smooth, glossy, skin, with no brown or wrinkled spots. Choose peppers that are firm and weighty for their size. Always favor ripe, colorful peppers over the immature green peppers.

How to Store
Unwaxed peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Be sure they are completely dry before storing as moisture will hasten deterioration.

How to Prepare
Wash the peppers. If you’re not roasting them whole, first remove their ribs and seeds, then mince, chop, or slice as needed. To roast peppers, place them as close to the heat source as possible, and turn frequently so the skins blacken evenly. Once charred, place in a container to steam and help loosen the skin, which should slip off easily when the peppers are cooled.

Be careful handling chili peppers as the oil from the membranes, skin, and seeds can be extremely irritating.


ZUCCHINI AND SUMMER SQUASH
The name summer squash distinguishes the more delicate varieties of the Cucurbita (or gourd) family from their heartier and longer-lasting relatives, the winter squash. The entire vegetable, including the seeds and skin, is edible and the soft flesh has a sweet, buttery flavor. While zucchini is perhaps the most common variety, crookneck and straightneck squash, globe squash, and pattypan squashes are just as delicious.

Summer squashes are well known for their abundance in backyard gardens and farmers’ markets. If you grow your own, be sure to harvest the edible blossoms —  they make a wonderful appetizer when stuffed with mozzarella and herbs and lightly fried. Summer squash can be eaten raw as well as roasted, grilled, steamed, pan-fried, and baked into breads and cakes.

How to Buy
Thin-skinned summer squash varieties are harvested when their seeds are small and their skin tender. When buying summer squash, choose small to medium summer squash that are heavy for their size with firm, unblemished rinds with bright color. Large specimens can be woody, bitter, and lack flavor.

How to Store
Yellow squash is more fragile than zucchini, so cook it as soon as possible after buying. In the meantime, store squashes covered in the refrigerator.

How to Prepare
When ready to use squash, rinse and dry with a towel.. Trim the stem and flowering end, but do not peel.

 Learn more with our post: Stocking the Summer Pantry.

Eat Good Food

In Season: Spring Produce

spring produce

There’s nothing more welcoming than the arrival of the first spring produce: nettles and dandelion greens gathered from the wild, earthy morels, slender spears of asparagus, green garlic, fresh peas, fava beans, and piles of bright red rhubarb.

In this, the first of our series of seasonal produce guides, you’ll find tips for buying, storing, and preparing the best of spring’s bounty. We’ll start off with a delicious rhubarb cordial, then continue throughout the spring to add recipes, everything from nettle soup to fried baby artichokes to fava bean and green garlic ragout to risotto with asparagus, peas, and morels.

We wish you good cooking and happy eating!

Artichokes
Artichokes are actually the edible, immature flowers of a thistle, which the Italians have expertly cultivated since Roman times. Generally conical or round, artichokes range from green to greenish-violet to purple in color. Both the petal bases and hearts are edible, and while they require some work to prep, their nutty flavor and meaty texture is worth the effort.

They can be prepared in a great many ways, both raw and cooked, depending on their size and maturity. Steamed whole, artichokes need little more than a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of butter, or a bowl of aioli to dip; trimmed and stuffed with seasoned breadcrumbs à la Provençal, they make a light entrée.

Artichoke’s prized hearts are delicious batter-fried, marinated for a salad, or quartered and browned to use in a pasta. Young artichokes that have not developed their prickly choke take less prep, and can be grilled, fried, or stewed whole, or sliced very thin and tossed, raw, with olive oil, lemon, and shavings of Parmesan.

How To Buy
An artichoke should be harvested before the flower heads start to open, when they’re still immature. Look for artichokes that are unblemished, crisp and dense, with tightly closed leaves, and vibrant color. Check the stem ends to see if the cut is recent, and buy artichokes as fresh as you can.

How To Store
Store artichokes loose in the crisper drawer with humidity on high to slow wilting; don’t wash or peel before storing and do not place in a sealed plastic bag; this will promote rot. Uncooked artichokes are best consumed a day or two after they’re bought, while cooked artichokes will keep for up to a week if refrigerated in an airtight container.

How To Prepare
To prepare artichokes, start by pulling off any small leaves, technically called bracts, attached to the base, until you get down to the lighter yellow leaves. Using a serrated knife, cut crosswise through the top third or so, where the leaves begin to taper in toward the top and trim the very bottom of the stem. Rub trimmed surfaces with fresh lemon to prevent discoloration; then the vegetable is ready to cook.

Removing the hairy, inedible choke from a raw artichoke can be a chore; it’s much easier to do after the artichoke has been cooked, when the choke can be easily spooned out. However some recipes call for removing the choke before cooking. To do this, gently spread apart the trimmed leaves, pull out and discard the pale, thorny, innermost leaves, then scrape out the choke with a spoon and discard it. Drop into acidulated water.

Asparagus
Asparagus spears are the tender young shoots of the Eurasian perennial Asparagus officinalis, which grows into a four-foot-tall, fern-like plant with vivid red berries. In our Northern California area, asparagus starts pushing up out of the ground in very early spring and is harvested when at six to 12 inches tall.

In the U.S., most of the crop is green or purple, whereas in Europe most asparagus is white due to the fashion of blanching, a growing technique that keeps the shoots underground, preventing everything but the tips from turning green or purple.

Early asparagus, usually on the thin side, are suited to sautés and sauces or a simple pan-sear with salt and pepper. Thicker, juicier spears come later in the season and are often served whole — either steamed, boiled, or grilled until crisp-tender.

How To Buy
Like many vegetables, asparagus begins to lose its sweetness as soon as it’s cut, so inspect the ends; if they are dried out, they are not freshly cut. Look for newly harvested spears with compact heads and firm, unwrinkled stalks. Thicker asparagus resulting from a later harvest can be bitter and woody. Wrinkly, limp stalks mean the asparagus has been sitting on the shelf for too long.

How To Store
Asparagus is best eaten as soon as possible after harvesting, but to store it, treat it like a bouquet of fresh flowers: put the freshly cut stalks into warm water with the tips up and store in the refrigerator. Since asparagus has a higher respiration rate (meaning shorter shelf life) than other vegetables, avoid storing it next to ethylene gas-releasing fruits like apples, apricots, melons, and figs.

How To Prepare
To prepare asparagus for cooking, hold each spear with both hands and snap it. It will naturally break at its most tender point. Save the ends as they can be used to flavor soups or stocks. If you have asparagus that is thicker than your pinkie finger, peel the stalk with a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to remove the fibrous skin.

Dandelion Greens
The common dandelion belongs to one of the largest plant families – Asteraceae – which include more than 22,000 species, of which daisies and thistles are also members. All parts of the plant are edible, though the leaves and the flowers are the most delicious. Dandelion greens are high in iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, K, and B2 among other vitamins and minerals, and contain more protein and iron than spinach.

How To Buy or Forage
Look for greens with no wilted, yellow, or brown spots on them, preferably the younger, paler leaves. If you are foraging, the best time to harvest wild dandelion greens is before they flower, after which the leaves become markedly more bitter. If you do forage, make sure to do so in an area that is not sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.

How To Store
After gathering your dandelion greens, gently rinse, pat dry, and store wrapped in eco-friendly plastic bags in your crisper drawer for 2-3 days.

How To Prepare
Dandelion greens are eaten both raw and cooked, while dandelion flowers can be used for garnish. When young they add a pleasant bitterness, rather like radicchio, to green salads, and can be chopped up and mixed into such cold grain salads as farro or wild rice. A great complement to this bitter green is to sauté it with olive oil, and lots of garlic. For a softer texture, braising with chicken stock and perhaps a little pancetta is delicious. You can add the greens to a salad, stew, or soup (with creamy white beans for example) for extra flavor and nutrition.

Additional Tip
Blanching dandelion greens removes some of their bitterness. To blanch: remove any thick stems from your dandelion greens. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the dandelion greens; blanch for 1-2 minutes. Remove and plunge into an ice bath. Remove from the ice bath and squeeze as much water from the leaves as you can. Use as you would any cooked green.

Fava Beans
Fava beans (Vicia faba), known in much of the world as “broad beans,” are one of the oldest domesticated crops, cultivated in Syria and Turkey before spreading to the Mediterranean and Europe. While they resemble such shell beans as lima and butter beans, fava beans are actually in the legume family. The bright green beans form inside slightly hairy five- to seven-inch pods, approximately a half dozen to each pod. Fava beans are still a staple of the Mediterranean diet.

How To Buy
Select fava beans with firm, bright pods, avoiding any with wrinkly skins or blackened tips. The pods of early favas are a pale green and rather smooth, while more mature favas will yellow and look lumpy. To check for freshness, open a pod: the downy lining inside should be moist and the beans tightly enclosed in their skins.

How To Store
Unshelled fava beans will keep in the refrigerator in an eco-friendly plastic bag or paper sack for about a week.

How To Prepare
Unless very young and small, in which case they can be enjoyed raw and unpeeled, fava beans require a two-step process. First, open the pods along the seams on each side as you would a string bean. Then put the beans in boiling, salted water for 30-60 seconds, drain, and plunge into ice water to stop further cooking. Using your nail, break open the skin and squeeze each to pop out the bean.

Green Garlic
Green garlic is very young, immature garlic (Allium sativum), harvested when the heads are just beginning to form. The natural result of farmers thinning their garlic stock, an increase in popularity has turned green garlic into a crop in its own right. Although not typically grown on a large scale commercially, green garlic can often be found at farmers’ markets. The sweet, delicate flavor pairs well with other spring vegetables such as peas, fava beans, and asparagus.

How To Buy
Green garlic looks similar to small leeks — lots of green stalk with a slightly bulbous white or rose-streaked root end. Select bunches with long white or purple bases, dark green leaves, and intact roots. Avoid plants with any bruising or wilting, and those with an off-putting pungent odor.

How To Store
Green garlic should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel, where it will keep for 5-7 days.

How To Prepare
To prep, trim off the very bottom of the bulb (the roots are actually edible too, once the basal plate – the part that holds the roots to the plant – is removed), and use all of the tender white and light green parts. Dark green stalk can be saved to flavor stocks, soups, or poaching liquids.

Morels
The first mushrooms to appear in the spring, morels are in season from late March through June. Hollow from stem to crown, instead of a cap they have rippled, honeycomb-shaped spores throughout. They grow wild in many areas of the U.S., though they’re foraged most extensively in the Midwest and in the Appalachians.

These delightful fungi have a meaty, earthy flavor and an intoxicatingly woodsy aroma; they’re wonderful sauteed or stewed and compliment the sweetness of other spring vegetables. Keep in mind: morels contain trace amount of toxins that can only be removed through cooking, so never eat them raw.

How To Buy
Look for fresh, plump mushrooms with cut ends that aren’t too dried out. Avoid bruised or softening morels, since they tend to rot quickly.

How To Store
Remove any crushed or rotting morels and refrigerate the rest in a paper bag.

How To Prepare
It’s best not to clean morels until you’re ready to use them. Brush off any excess dirt, wash in cold running water, and use soft towel to dry them.

Nettles
The nettle, a perennial herb and member of the extensive Urticaceae family, is named after the Latin word “uro,” which means “I burn.” While not all nettles burn, the most well known form has stingers on its leaves which prompts its name, stinging nettle.

In a shade of deep green, the nettle leaf is broad and pointy with edges like a fine-toothed comb, resembling an oversized mint leaf. Nettles grow wild in forests and woodlands, often near streams and rivers, throughout North America, Europe, parts of Asia, Russia, and northern Africa. Nettles have long been used as a medicinal herb, treating arthritis, anemia, hay fever, and kidney problems.

How To Buy
The best time to harvest nettles or buy them at farmers’ market is when they’re young and the stems are tender, before flower buds appear. Young plants will be shorter, about a foot tall (approximately knee high); older, tougher-leaved plants will be bushier and as tall as six feet. If foraging, choose locations that are less likely to be sprayed with chemicals or contaminated by car emissions. When buying nettles, avoid signs of decay, such as browning or soggy leaves.

How To Store
Once picked, nettles are extremely perishable. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for just a few days. Wrap in a towel then in a loosely tied eco-friendly plastic bag — the double layer is a reminder of the stingers.

How To Prepare
Stinging nettle definitely lives up to its name – it will sting like crazy, so be sure to wear gloves when handling. To wash, place the nettles in a large bowl of water and cover with cold water. Swish the greens, then lift out of the water. Discard water and residual dirt, and repeat until the water looks clean. With gloves still on, remove the leaves from the stem per your recipe. Once you get through the cleaning, you can quickly blanch the greens and use in a multitude of ways. Cooking removes the stinging chemicals from the plant, which allows them to be handled without gloves and eaten without injury.

Like spinach and chard, the nettle is a quick-cooking green and presents many opportunities to get creative in the kitchen. Nettle soup is the perfect spring tonic, and nettle pesto, nettle frittata, or nettle-filled ravioli are delicious. At SHED we like to add nettles to pizzas.

Peas
The pea is one of the major groups within the vast legume family. Peas can be divided into three general categories: whole pea pods eaten young and fresh, shelled peas eaten fresh, and shelled peas that are dried.

In spring it’s the arrival of freshly picked and eaten peas that we crave. The whole pods include the broad, flat snow peas that star in Asian stir-fries and the plumper, rounder, bright green sugar snap peas. The most common variety for shelling is the English, or garden, pea. Baby peas, or petits pois, refer to tiny, sweet English peas, while so-called early, or June, peas are larger and have more starch.

Pea shoots, with their soft leaves, curly-cue tendrils and watery stems offer the flavor and nutrition of the pea, and can be harvested in a quarter of the time it takes for peas to mature.

How To Buy
Choose fresh peas with crisp, smooth, glossy, bright green pods. Avoid any that are wilted, dried, puffy or blemished. For the sweetest flavor, try to purchase them from a farmers’ market. Pea shoots are available for a short window in early spring, so grab them when you see them.

How To Store
Once picked, peas’ high sugar content starts to decline, causing them to lose much of their sweetness and become starchy and dull, so it’s best to eat them as soon as possible, within a couple of days of purchase at most. In the meantime, store pods and shoots separately in eco-friendly plastic bags in the crisper drawer.

How To Prepare
For whole pea pods, snap off the tips of the pods, pulling down the length of the pod to remove any tough strings as well.

For English peas, shell them just before cooking to prevent them from drying out. Work over a large bowl, check for and remove any strings as described above, then squeeze the pod and press your thumb against the seam to split it open and pop out the bean. If needed, refrigerate the peas for up to 1 day. Cover with damp paper towels or cold water to keep them moist.

Whether pods or shelled, very young peas can be eaten raw, but most are best steamed or blanched very briefly to retain their crisp texture and vibrant color.

Pea shoots are delicious eaten raw in salads, in a stir fry flavored with sesame oil and garlic, or brightening a spring pasta dish.

Rhubarb
Rhubarb’s intensely tart flavor and velvety texture when cooked make it a popular ingredient in pie fillings—so popular, in fact, that in some regions of the U.S. it is also known as “pieplant.” Rhubarb is the vegetable stalk of a large perennial herb (Rheum rhabarbarum) growing from short, thick rhizomes. The leaves of the plant are mildly toxic and inedible; the colorful, celery-like stalks are usually cooked and combined with sugar to offset their tartness. While it is most often treated as a fruit in the U.S., it can be used in savory preparations or pickled as well. Rhubarb is famously paired with strawberries in pies and crisps, bit can also be cooked down into compotes, tart sauces, or syrups. We like this recipe for rhubarb cordial.

How To Buy
Rhubarb stalks should be a vibrant pink or light green, glossy, and firm. Stalks that have been pulled, rather than cut (look for uneven, craggy ends) will last longer. Deep red stalks tend to be sweeter than paler ones.

How To Store
Discard the leaves and store the stalks in an eco-friendly plastic bag in the crisper drawer or with freshly cut ends in a jar of water in the refrigerator. Wash rhubarb when you’re ready to use it. Both fresh and cooked rhubarb freeze well, wrapped tightly in freezer bags.

How To Prepare
Wash with cold running water. Trim off leaf ends, roots, and any blemished areas of the stalk. If the stems are too fibrous you may need to peel some of the tougher layers.

Eat Good Food

Plum Varietals and History

Shown above, clockwise from 11 o’clock: French Plum, Italian Plum, Flavor Queen, Flavor Grenade, Howard’s Miracle. Center: Elephant Heart.

 

Plum varietals and history are varied and fascinating, particularly in our climes. Midsummer is peak plum season in California.

Part of the genus Prunus, plum varietals share characteristics with other stone fruits such as apricots, cherries, nectarines, almonds, and peaches.

Typically harvested in August, plums prefer a warm but dry climate, but need winter’s chill (trees exposed to temperatures under 45 degrees Fahrenheit) to produce fruit.

The American plum industry developed largely due to the efforts of 19th century Sonoma County botanist Luther Burbank, who traveled from the coast of Cape Cod to Santa Rosa in the 1870s and developed more than 100 varieties of plum.

As one of the nation’s largest producers of plum varietals, Healdsburg’s history is interwoven with the success of the plum. Once known as the “Buckle of the Prune Belt,” today Healdsburg’s former plum orchards are mostly re-planted to grapes. Today the plummy legacy lives on in the local collegiate Prune Packers baseball club.

Below are some of our favorite plum varieties, with ideas on how to best capture their flavor right now, at the height of plum season.

Bavay Green Gage
Considered the ideal dessert plum in Europe, the Green Gage was developed in 19th century Belgium. The smooth-textured amber fruit with rich candy-like flavor is excelled fresh, dried, or cooked. Not to be confused with an Asian plum called “Green Gage,” on this continent the Bavay varietal performs best in coastal California.

Catalina
Catalina plums are large, juicy, sweet, and deep purple in color, in both the skin and flesh. A market favorite with very little tartness at skin and pit, they are one of the best plums for fresh eating. This vigorous, productive tree does not need much winter chill to produce springtime flowers.

Elephant Heart
This plum’s given name is a direct reference to its shape, noticeable weight, and deep purple red color. Elephant Heart plums yield a short shelf-life when ripe and are thus best utilized for fresh eating. Complementary flavors include vanilla, nutmeg, tropical fruits, figs, berries, citrus, and chiles. Savory pairings include cured pork, roasted lamb, and crudo-style fish and shellfish, cumin, basil, cilantro, hazelnuts, and cheeses such as burrata and manchego.

Utilizing hand-pollination,  Luther Burbank created the Elephant Heart plum from a Japanese variety in the early 20th century. It remains a boutique variety still grown by a limited amount of small farms, as it requires being hand-picked and -packed.

Emerald Beauty
With bright red skin and amber-colored flesh, the Emerald Beauty is known to produce large crops of fruit. Ripe fruit continues to sweeten on the tree, becoming exceptionally sweet, but remaining crisp and crunchy.

French Prune
California’s leading dried plum variety, the French Prune is a dark red-to-purplish fruit with tender, dark amber flesh. Medium-sized and egg-shaped, this fine-textured fruit has a rich, sweet flavor. These prune plums are also excellent for drying in the oven or electric dehydrator, or outside using our solar dryer.

Howard Miracle
Howard Miracle trees bear good crops of large crimson and yellow sweet juicy fruit with notes of grapefruit or pineapple.

Italian Prune
Italian Prune plums are considered a multi-purpose fruit, as their ability to create a high concentration of fermentable sugars makes them the ideal candidate to create prunes. For more on drying plums, please read Drying Herbs and Fruits. They are also a commercial fruit crop used for the processing of cheeses and distilled alcohols, including brandy and wine. When cooked, the flesh turns fuchsia pink in color.

Shiro
Early blooming, yellow Shiros belong to the category of plum trees known as Japanese, and can be substituted for ume in preparing umeboshi. The medium sized greenish-yellow fruit is juicy and moderately sweet with a pleasing, mild flavor. A heavy bearer, Shiro grows clusters of plums all throughout the tree, and low-chill requirements make this plum well-suited to mild-winter locations.

Pluots
Developed in 1989 by Ziegler Genetics of Modesto, CA, pluots are a result of hybridizing plums with apricots. Called an interspecific cross, pluots have differing amounts of plum and apricot parentage and come in various sizes and colors of skin and flesh. Like most stone fruits, pluots thrive in regions such as the San Joaquin Valley and the eastern Mediterranean coast, where winter temperatures are cool but not cold and the summer season is long, warm, and dry.

Pluots have the initial appearance of a mottled plum. Their colorings range from red-skinned and pale amber-skinned to ruby-fleshed and blazing gold-fleshed. Most pluot varieties are extremely sweet, often spicy, low-acid fruits with a juicy, chin-dripping tender firm flesh.

Pluots, like other stone fruits, are best enjoyed fresh at their peak of ripeness. They may also be baked, roasted, sautéed, puréed or cooked for jams, compotes, ice creams, and reductions. Complementary flavors include vanilla, nutmeg, tropical fruits, chocolate, citrus, basil and chiles. Other favorable pairings include pork, lamb, grilled shellfish, and crudo-style seafood.

Dapple Dandy
The large, firm Dapple Dandy has a distinctive skin color that is pale green to yellow with red mottling and a creamy pink flesh. Dapple Dandy offers a spicy, plum-apricot flavor and a good acid to sugar balance.

Flavor Grenade
As the name suggests, this pluot has an explosive flavor. The pink to red blush of the fruit is most pronounced in colder climates, and the texture is much like an apple, even when the fruit is fully ripe.

Flavor King
This pluot has 70 percent plum and 30 percent apricot heritage, and combines tastes of both parents with a higher sugar content. Flavor King has dark red-purple skin and sweeter, softer, and grainier flesh than a plum. The fruits are juicy and have a fragrant aroma, yet lack the tart flavor many plums have on the skin and near the center of the fruit.

Flavor Queen
Flavor Queen has yellow-green skin and amber yellow flesh. The flavor is immensely sweet — a real treat for dessert. Superb texture with a juicy apricot aftertaste.

Red plums and most pluots make a lovely base for a summer shrub, the refreshing drinking vinegar that we adore. Learn to make your own with the surprising addition of shiso leaves!