A Plethora of Peas

066The fresh sweet taste of spring is here in little green pea pods! Like beans, peas are divided into two categories, those with and those without edible pods. The peas we know as the green pea, the English pea, and the garden pea fall into the latter category. Most commercial peas are called garden or English peas.

Petit pois are not a variety of pea, but merely green peas that have been picked before full maturity. Thus, they are smaller than normal green peas.

Snap peas look like mini versions of the pods of green peas. The difference is that these pods are edible. Sugar Snap and Sugar Daddy are the two varieties of sugar snap peas, the latter being a cross between a green pea and a snow pea. The Sugar Daddy is stringless. However, even sugar snaps with strings don’t necessarily need to be stringed before cooking.

Snow peas used to be seen only in Chinese restaurants. Now they’re available everywhere. The pale green, edible pods are flat and wide with little bulges – the immature peas inside – rippling throughout the pod. There are often strings, but again, they need not be removed. Snow peas are also called sugar peas, China peas and in French mangetout, meaning “eat all.”

For green peas, the closer you are to the time of picking, the better. Check the pea pods. They should be firm, crisp and bright green with a fresh appearance and a velvety touch. Tough, thick-skinned pods are an indication of overly mature peas. Also avoid pods that have poor color (such as gray specks or yellowing) or show any sign of decay or wilting.

And don’t forget to pick up some beans! Fava beans, green beans, cranberry beans, – they’re all coming into season soon. More on beans next month!

April 2014 Market Thymes Newsletter

April 2014 newsletterApril 2014 Market Thymes Newsletter

April is the month to think green, both at the market and at home. Earth Day is the perfect time to think about water conservation, recycling, and eating local for less carbon footprint. It’s the season for a plethora of pods! Peas and beans are arriving this spring in all their prolific perfectness and freshness for Easter feasting.  Mushrooms are an often overlooked cooking ingredient, but none the less important. There are many kinds like oyster, portobello, cremini, and shiitake, but the common button mushroom is a favorite of our Cookin’ the Market chefs. Tomas Pascual, PCFMA Market Manager extraordinaire, tells us how and why he became a beekeeper. It’s a fascinating story. And Easter is upon us and what better way to celebrate than trying your hand at decorating eggs with natural dyes made from fruits and vegetables. It’s amazing!

How to Make Pickles

Pickling cucumbers

Pickling cucumbers

Although we usually think of pickles as cucumbers, “pickling” is actually a canning term that can apply to vegetables, fruit, or any food that undergoes the “pickling process.” What is the pickling process? Pickling is fermenting in a brine of salt, or vinegar.

picklesPickling offers a flavorful and easy alternative to canning plain vegetables. They do not need to be pressure canned because they are prepared with vinegar which raises the acid content, thereby avoiding the problem of botulism. There are fantastic recipes for all kinds of pickled vegetables, relishes, and chutneys that can tickle the taste buds and brighten a winter meal with sparkling fresh flavor.

Pickled giardineira (assorted veg), pickled beets with onion, cabbage relish, hot onion chutney, and more can be made in a hot water bath canning procedure. All you need is fresh produce from your farmers’ market, cutting and chopping utensils, a large pot, and canning jars and lids.

Here’s an easy recipe for good ol’ dill pickles.

  • 8 lbs of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
  • 2 gals water
  • 1¼ cups canning or pickling salt
  • 1½ qts vinegar (5 percent)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 tbsp whole mixed pickling spice
  • about 3 tbsp whole mustard seed (2 tsp to 1 tsp per pint jar)
  • about 14 heads of fresh dill (1½ heads per pint jar)
    or 4½ tbsp dill seed (1½ tsp per pint jar)

Yield: 7 to 9 pints

Procedure: Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave ¼-inch of stem attached. Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 2 gals water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain. Combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean white cloth. Heat to boiling. Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 tsp mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill per pint. Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process 15 minutes. Remove and let cool, listening for lids to seal.

New Honey Labeling Rules Proposed by the FDA

Penrod honey

Penrod Farms, Camino

On April 8, 2014 the FDA set new draft guidelines for what can be called pure honey. In the past some of the honey on store shelves, either US-made or imported, did not have to have labeling that indicated anything other than that honey was in their product. Now honey would be labeled as having added sweeteners such as sugar, corn syrup, or other additions if these ingredients are used. It must also say that it is a “honey blend” and not pure honey. The Food and Drug Administration also says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.


Marshall’s Farm Natural Honey, American Canyon

The proposal’s aim is “to advise the regulated food industry on the proper labeling of honey and honey products to help ensure that honey and honey products are not adulterated or mis-branded,” the FDA wrote.

It is estimated that the U.S. imports the majority of the 400 million pounds of honey we consume each year. To meet this demand there were concerns that cheap substitutes are being manufactured. Only 149 million pounds of honey were produced in this country last year, so the difference had to be made up somewhere.

The FDA decided to look at the question of adulterated honey after a petition from the American Beekeeping Federation and other groups asked for a standard definition of honey to promote fair trade. The agency did not agree on the fair trade issue, but decided to review labeling.

Honey makers now have 60 days to comment on the proposal before the final rules are issued. And even then, the guidelines aren’t mandatory. It only allows for the FDA to make an official statement on the matter.

If you are concerned about what you’re getting in your honey and want to avoid corn syrup and other sweeteners, look no further than local honey producers who offer pure sweet honey from local sources. Visit your farmers’ market and talk with your local beekeepers to find out how they produce their honey.

Read details on the FDA’s new honey regulations here.

Click here to find out more about filtered and adulterated honey and find out what you’re really buying at the grocery store.

Food Waste

In the U.S. we throw away almost half of our food supply every year! While a significant amount of food waste occurs in the home, food gets wasted long before reaching our plates. The National Resources Defense Council found:

  • Americans trash 40 percent of our food supply every year, valued at about $165 billion!
  • The average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food;
  • Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in US landfills;
  • Just a 15% reduction in losses in the US food supply would save enough food to feed 25 million Americans annually.
  • Food waste is responsible for approximately 23% of total US methane emissions!

Here are five easy ways to do your part to end food waste:
1. Buy Only What Your Need
Plan ahead.
Make a shopping list.
Be realistic about how much you need.
Don’t overbuy foods on sale.
2. Eat What You Buy
Use what spoils first.
Know what food you have on hand.
Don’t prepare too much.
Eat leftovers.
3. Keep Food Fresh
Learn how to store foods to keep them
fresh as long as possible.
4. Don’t Toss It Before It Spoils
Understand food expiration dates.
Know shelf life limits.
Use food preservation techniques: Canning, pickling, drying, freezing.
5. Avoid Using the Trash!
Share extra food before it spoils.
Compost inedible food.

Minimize your environmental footprint by eliminating food waste at home. If you’re interested in a sustainable lifestyle, food waste reduction is the easiest way to start. And write to your local officials to get them to implement food waste prevention campaigns!

Awesome Asparagus!

Louie - CecchiniAn ancient vegetable, many poets have sung its praises and artists have painted it. Called the “King of Vegetables,” asparagus is a beautifully designed vegetable from a gardener’s and a farmer’s point of view.  Asparagus is literally the growing shoot of a perennial plant raised in furrowed fields. Commercial plantings take two or more years to become established and require much hand labor in all phases. Asparagus is harvested when the spears emerge in the springtime. Individual spears are harvested when they are approximately nine inches long with compact, tight heads and good green color. Each day, workers walk the furrows selecting choice spears and cutting them individually by hand.

Over 65% of the asparagus grown commercially in the U.S. is grown right here in the Sacramento River Delta! While the harvest season lasts only a short time in this northern production area, California’s wide range of micro-climates allows for asparagus from February through May.

White asparagus is grown covered in mounds of sandy soil so that it never sees the light of day until the moment it is cut.
Green asparagus grows freely in flat beds, and, exposed to the sunlight, develops the chlorophyll that turns it green.
There are also varieties that are naturally purple or pink but are green inside.

Asparagus is packed with nutrients and easy to make ahead for a crowd. One serving of asparagus is low in calories and sodium. It is a fairly significant source of vitamin C, thiamin, and potassium, and many micro-nutrients.

Select bright green asparagus (or purple) with closed, compact, firm tips.  If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in cold water. The fat spears are just as tender as the thin ones. Tenderness relates to color—the greener the better (for white asparagus, the whiter the better.) Keep fresh asparagus moist until you intend to use it. Make sure you use your asparagus within 3 to 4 days, a week at the most. To freeze, trim off woody ends and freeze whole or cut into 2-inch lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 2 to 4 minutes. Cool, place in freezer bag, and store in freezer. Do not defrost before cooking. Make sure you use asparagus within 8 months.

Pasta with Crab and Asparagus
6 ounces angel hair pasta
1 pound fresh asparagus
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
8 ounces lump crabmeat
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Snap the asparagus, then cut it into 1-inch pieces. When the pasta is almost done, add the asparagus let it cook 2 minutes. Pour the asparagus and pasta into a strainer and drain. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet. Add the lemon juice and crab and stir until the crab is warmed through. Transfer the drained pasta and asparagus to the crab mixture and toss well. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese; add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes four servings. Recipe: PCFMA Staff.

The Drought and Our Farmers

From John Silveira, PCFMA Director:


California almond trees left to die because there is no water for irrigation.

The potential implications of a sustained drought on our state’s farmers and our state’s economy are very worrisome. At the end of February, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story headlined “California Almond Farmers Face Tough Choices,” which addressed the impact of the drought on just one sector of the farming community – almond farmers. The article profiled farmers who are choosing to remove mature, productive almond trees because they don’t have enough water to maintain them. To get additional perspective on this issue, we turned to Les Portello, a founding member of the PCFMA Board of Directors who, after retiring from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, had a successful career as an almond farmer.

Les explained that almond trees must either be provided with sufficient water to remain healthy, or be removed. Trees that are not provided with enough water develop pests that can spread even to healthy, irrigated trees in the orchard. The decision to remove trees is serious as it creates long term financial implications for the farm. Once the drought has ended and an almond farmer decides to replant trees, it will be many years before the harvests from the new trees are equal to that of the mature trees that were removed. Les said that advances in soil and plant science allow new trees to begin producing two to three years after being planted, where it used to take five years to collect a harvest from a new tree. However, even with these scientific advances, it will take seven to eight years for these new trees to fully develop. That means these farmers, even if the drought were to end next winter, will be feeling the economic impacts past the year 2020.

Les also mentioned that the issue for farmers is not just the amount of water that is available, but the quality of the water. Some farms are able to use wells to extract water from underground aquifers, but the high salt content of the water that is pumped up is harmful to salt-sensitive crops like almonds. The water delivery systems that have been built to move water throughout our state’s agricultural regions are important not just for the quantity of the water that they deliver, but also for the water’s quality.

The family farmers that sell in PCFMA’s farmers’ markets are facing these kinds of decisions about their future every day, basing their decisions on factors of water and weather that they cannot control or predict. As someone who enjoys the fruits of their labor, it is important to me that they have the water they need to grow the crops which help feed our families and our communities. And it is important that Bay Area communities have sufficient water to be able to remain economically vibrant so its residents can continue to purchase locally grown fruits, vegetables and nuts.

There are no easy answers to the state’s water issues, but until the drought breaks, I hope we can all do our part to share this precious resource.


Spring Garlic is Here!

mario in gardenChef Mario of Cookin’ the Market says, “I’m not a big fan of dishes that use way too much garlic in them. It tends to overpower other flavors. But spring garlic has a milder and sweeter taste, yet still retains that distinctive garlic flavor. Spring garlic is simply garlic that’s pulled young and before it can form much of a bulb. It looks like a slightly overgrown scallion or green onion.”

He gathered the troops at the PCFMA offices a few weeks ago and showed them how to use this wonderful veggie so they can now inform farmers’ market shoppers how to prepare it. Picked fresh from our office garden, he made an asparagus pasta salad that you’re sure to enjoy. The entire plant is deliciously edible, roots to tip! Chop or slice and use it just like you would green onions or garlic. Just remember that it has a milder flavor. Green garlic complements everything, fish, fowl, or vegetables. You can use it raw in salad dressings or in mashed potatoes or other veggie side dishes. It makes great sauces, too!

spring garlic

Pasta with Green Garlic Cream Sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 stick)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced green garlic (white and light green parts only)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 pound fresh pasta
1 pound asparagus (about 1 bunch), woody ends shaved and trimmed thinly sliced on the bias

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Add the green garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the green garlic is tender but not browned, about 20 minutes.

Add the cream and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer until the green garlic is completely tender and the flavors have infused the cream, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Remove the sauce from the heat and set aside. Add the pasta and vegetables to the boiling water. Boil, stirring occasionally, until asparagus are tender and the pasta is cooked all the way through, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta & asparagus, return them to the pot. Add the reserved cream sauce and 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Toss to coat the pasta and asparagus, adding more pasta water by the tablespoonful as needed to reach the desired consistency. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed; serve immediately.

How I Became a Beekeeper

Tomas Pascual, one of PCFMA’s fantastic market managers, began working with bees in California three years ago, while continuing his work as a market manager at PCFMA. He operates his business in Dinuba with friend Javier Lopez and farm owner Jesus Castellanos. Here’s his story:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having left a farming life behind in Mexico, I never thought I would end up being involved with farming again like I have been these past five years since coming to PCFMA. I grew up farming with my dad planting corn, beans, Jamaica, and squash in Mayatecun, a small village in the state of Campeche, Mexico. My dad is a very hard worker. I would walk the two hours with him to the farm very early in the morning, and as soon as we arrived, we started working with our bare hands; we did not have any machinery to assist us. Each day felt as if it would never end.
I thought deeply about my farming job every day when I was in Mexico. Why did I have to do this? Live like this? Until one day, my friend Abiemael Herrera taught me how to be a beekeeper. After working with bees for a year, I convinced my 643-1dad to purchase our own bees, which was not an easy task. It was one thing to convince my parents that bees would be a more successful business for our family than farming. It was another trying to convince my dad that working with bees would be fun, despite the painful bee stings! However, my dad quickly realized how profitable bee keeping was, and together we bought our first 35 hives, later maintaining 200 to 300 hives a year for honey production, not pollination.

I began working with bees in California three years ago, while continuing my work as a Market Manager at PCFMA. Tending bees is more challenging now than 20 years ago. When we started caring for bees years ago a queen bee was able to live and produce offspring for 3 to 4 years. Now I notice that queens often die within one or two years. One of the greatest challenges of beekeeping is ensuring that there is an active, young queen in every box to maintain a strong colony. Currently, I’ve been reading about colony collapse disorder (CCD) and watching documentaries that feature well-known beekeepers such as David Hackenberg. I often ask myself if bee colony collapse disorder is a real threat. And if it is, how serious is it?
Working with bees on my days off from PCFMA is fascinating. A bee hive colony is much like our PCFMA family, very complex. In the box, there are bees bringing water, bringing nectar from the flowers, bringing pollen, maintaining the right temperature, and numerous other task. On the other hand, bees have also prompted me to have many new questions I have yet to find answers to. I wonder how polluted our air is? What pesticides are being used to spray crops and flowers? And what exactly is the cause for my 150 lost hives this year? Talking to other beekeepers reminds me that I am not alone in my hive losses. Beekeepers from the South Bay like Peter from “All Honey Apiary” and Wendy from “The Honey Ladies” have told me that they have lost hives this year as well. However, it has inspired me to continue my research and investigation to find out more about what affects our essential California bee population.

For the Love of Mushrooms

Where is the love? The love for the common mushroom? Chanterelles, morels, cepes, and the like get all the attention! Button! Button! Button! There’s only so much the common mushroom can take. Liver101807 005

Did you know the button mushroom has just as much nutritional benefit, if not more. than their wild and fancy counter parts? Yeah, it’s true. Research has shown mushrooms provide immune system support, protection against cardiovascular disease and lowering risk of breast cancer. All this and it tastes great.

Look for button mushrooms that are firm, plump, clean, and pale in color. Those that are wrinkled or have wet slimy spots should be avoided. Make sure you don’t keep them in plastic bags because mushrooms breath and plastic will make them deteriorate faster, so grab a cloth bag or throw them in a paper bag. If the mushrooms are dirty, wash them and if not, just take a damp paper towel and wipe away any smudges.

My favorite way to enjoy mushrooms are to slice them thin and sautéed them on high heat with good quality fat, minced shallots , parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice on toast. Yeah, life is good.