My winter produce rant
- Brandon Nelson
Good winter to all!
I've lost count of how many times in the last week I had to talk someone out of buying a cantaloupe. Just when I thoughtI was making a difference the nameless faceless grocery giant I work for runs them on the add. Yummy...not.
It's citrus season kids. Put down that immature melon (upon a quick proofreading session I' realize how naughty that might sound) that will never taste good. Leave those lime green nasty strawberries for the next sucker. Grab on of those funky looking Satsuma mandarins (tangerines). Yes the skin is supposed to be loose and wrinkled that is actually a bonus. A kindergardener can peel it. Nope no seeds. Tastes spendid! You can go nuts on mandarins this time of year. Pixies, fallglos (they are almost over), fairchilds, sunbursts they are all worth a taste. Blood oranges make great juice and sauces. Grapefruits are at their peak. They cousins the oro blanco and the pummelo. Those floral scented Meyer lemons we hounds covet are available. Even those basics, the navel and Valencia orange are good. California grows great citrus, but it's not alone. Texas produce lovely citrus fruit too. The Indian River valley in Florida is, in my never to be humble opinion, the finest producer of ruby red grapefruit.
Eveyone seems to grouse about winter veggies. I like greens and root vegetables though. Celery root makes great winter salads. Parsnips, rutabega, and turnips are great on their own, and add lovely elements to mashed potatoes. I'm less enthusiastic about winter greens though. I must admit Kale isn't my favorite. But I like collards, mustard greens, chard and dandilion greens. I really enjoy brocoli rabe on it's own, or sauted with some pancetta and red pepper flakes.
Take heart hounds asparagus may be below average and expensive, but winter still offers up some fine produce. Buy local if you can. I know that winter is not as kind to agriculture in colder climes as it is here (Napa, Ca.) but the fresher you get this stuff the better it will taste. So support the local sustainable agriculture. You will learn things are very different from the supermarket norm. The older waxed fruit you get at the Gigantomart is shiny and spongy. Wax creates that shine. Fresh oranges and grapefruit are hard. They have lost little moisture. Seek them out and taste the difference!
Love, happiness, and prosperity too all of you in 2002!
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You'll be happy to know I roasted 15 pounds of Yukon Golds, parsnips, carrots and pearl onions for Xmas dinner and got many compliments on them.
I have 2 winter produce questions:
1. I received 2 different gift boxes of Harry and David pears recently. I never understood the appeal of Harry and David. Why should I special order and overpay for produce I can get down the street at the local store or farmer's market (ok, ok, I admit I live in California so I am not geographically challenged). I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the pears--they were great! I can't believe H&D have a lock on good pears. Why can't I get the same quality locally? And are pears considered winter produce?
2. What do I do with a pomello? How do I choose a good one?
My advice to you is to apply the same criteria to a pomelo that you would to any other citrus - namely, heavier means juicier and avoid ones that have obviously been abused. Some varieties are ripe when green, most when yellow, and there are even orange pomelos.
Most of all - buy them when you see them. At least around here, they will sell out for Chinese New Year in a few weeks. They are considered a 'good luck' food and a present to those you love.
Pears are, by all considerations, weird. Very, very few other types of produce ripen well off the tree. I think pears may be alone in that they MUST ripen off the tree - if you leave them on, they get mealy and it's just disgusting (trust me on this). While not exactly a winter produce, we Californians don't exactly have 'winter' as the rest of the country (well, except Miami) have it.
Replying to the original rant... we get awesome strawberries from Oxnard this time of year. Yes, a little expensive, but not terribly so. You're right, of course, about citrus... also persimmons, kiwi and avocados.
I was at home (chez Mom) for Christmas in New Jersey and she had a big bag of Bing cherries in her kitchen. "Mom," I started to explain patiently, "why in the hell would you buy cherries in December?" Then I bit into one. SOMEONE, and I don't know who, has found a way to get tasty cherries to New Jersey in December. Not only that, but they had to be at least reasonably local, at $2.99 a pound they were not going to be Israeli cherries or whatnot.
Nevertheless, I believe you should eat what's in season (makes for constant joys... cherries go out but tomatoes come in, citrus goes out but asparagus comes in, &c.) if for no other reason than to encourage natural farming methods (i.e., non-hothouse methods).
One thing you can do with celeriac (i.e., celery root) is peel it, chunk it, boil it, and mash it. Mix it with mashed potatoes and some fresh black pepper for an AWESOME taste treat.
Pears... So they are not supposed to ripen on the tree?? Interesting. I spent my elementary school years in a house that had bunches of fruit trees planted by the previous owner. The one tree we never got any edible fruit off of was the pear tree. It was taller than the others, so nible kids couldn't scramble up and pick it. And finally the fruit would fall off the tree having started to blacken without ever ripening. Now I will have to go and learn what we should have done.
Yes, pears are odd, If they stay on the tree after they mature they become a mealy mess. Strangely though some apple varities benfit from some time off the tree. They can be very ordinary at harvest, and incredible a week or two later.
I'm 99% the cherries were imports. We got some Chilean cherries about 2 weeks ago that were great. Sadly thats the exception not the rule. That is a great price though. Someone either waited for a killer deal, or was breaking even to get people in the door.
As for Harry and David (earlier in the thread) they buy superior product. I don't know who their source is, but the fruit is of superior quality, and sized well beyond what I see for supermarket pears.
I recently moved to California from Massachusetts and I love all the wonderful produce I can get here. For Christmas I shipped Oranges and Tangerines to everyone I know back east from Pleasant Valley Ranch. They raved about how juicy and sweet they were. I got a box of tangerines for myself and they are wonderful. My 8 year old nephew passed on cake opting instead for 2 more tangerines for dessert.
Their prices include shipping and I thought they were more than reasonable, especially for the quality. They also have a money back guarantee
Celeriac is delicious chunked and roasted along with other root veggies. So are Jerusalem artichokes.
I also like to cut several squash varieties (unpeeled except for the super-thick-skinned ones) into half-inch slices and roast at high heat until tender and caramelized.
Brandon, loved your rant! I was just in Andronicos (a local grocery chain in the SF Bay Area) and a woman was complaining about the cost of asparagus - I had to bite my tongue cause I just wanted to give her a veggie rant of my own but couldn't bring myself to it .... why was it so expensive.... was there a drought.....
I am so glad we get our veggies from a CSA - lots of greens this time of year, turnips and rutabagas, cauliflower and mandarins....mmmm! Tonight's dinner is roasted veggies and sauteed spinach with lots of lemon.