Hass Avocados are Here

avosThe most popular of all the California-grown avocado varieties is now available. Today, the most popular variety is the Hass. The mother tree of all Hass Avocados was born in a backyard in La Habra Heights, California.

Today, California is the leading producer of domestic avocados and home to about 90 percent of the nation’s crop. Most California Avocados are harvested on approximately 52,000 acres from San Luis Obispo through San Diego by nearly 5,000 growers. San Diego County, which produces 60 percent of all California Avocados, is the acknowledged avocado capital of the nation.

Did You Know?

  • An avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable! It is actually a member of the berry family.
  • Brazilians add avocados to ice cream.
  • Filipinos purée avocados with sugar and milk for a dessert drink.
  • The avocado is also called an Alligator Pear because of its pear-like shape and green skin.
  • California produces about 90% of the nation’s avocado crop.
  • There are nearly 5,000 avocado growers in California; the average grove size is around 10 acres.
  • A single California Avocado tree can produce about 500 avocados (or 200 pounds of fruit) a year although usually average about 60 pounds from 150 fruit.
  • There are seven varieties of avocados grown commercially in California, but the Hass is the most popular, accounting for approximately 95 percent of the total crop volume.

Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a “nutrient booster” by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit.

How to Ripen an Avocado

  • The best way to tell if an avocado is ripe and ready for immediate use is to gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand. Ripe, ready-to-eat fruit will be firm yet will yield to gentle pressure
  • The Hass avocado will turn dark green or black as it ripens, but some other avocado varieties retain their light-green skin even when ripe.
  • If you plan to serve the fruit in a few days, purchase unripened fruit and review our section on how to ripen avocados.
  • Avoid fruit with dark blemishes on the skin or over-soft fruit.

Visit the Cookin’ the Market website for some great avocado recipes.

Information provided by the California Avocado Commission.

 

 

5 Best Picks at the Farmers’ Market This Week

kuc berriesThe summer season is arriving quickly in Northern California. Due to the drought, many products are appearing at the farmers’ market two to three weeks early. The best seasonal produce, the newest tasty finds, the greatest flavors this week include:

1. Raspberries: Newly arrived at your farmers’ market, succulent and sweet raspberries come in both red and gold, both delicious. Add to spinach salads, toss in cereals, make a raspberry dessert, or blend into sauces and smoothies.

2. Spring Greens: Greens are amazing right now. Green leaf, red leaf, Romaine, and butter lettuce, and mixed salad greens can all be found at the market now. What a perfect way to introduce a big spring salad to your recipe repertoire! Toss with raspberries and blueberries, nuts, and goat cheese -yummy!

3. Apricots: An early sign that summer is fast approaching, apricots are one of the first stone fruits to appear at market (along with cherries); tasty sweet this time of year, lending themselves to canning and preserving, cooking in sauces, and stuffing into lunch boxes.

4. Squash Blossoms: These don’t stick around for long, so pick up a big container and stuff with cheese, or saute and mix in a frittata, or add to a veggie quesadilla. They have a delicate squash flavor that goes well with lighter dishes.

Small-Ashleys-Salad5. Fresh Herbs: Summer herbs are now at the market. You’ll find everything from basil, chives, cilantro, and parsley, to more exotic Asian herbs like lemongrass, mustard greens, amaranth, and more. The late spring leaves are extra tender and more delicate in flavor. Add to pastas, soups and stews, vinaigrette, and more.

Try Ashley’s Spring Salad this week.

Check next week for what’s new and tasty at the farmers’ market. Try some of the products mentioned and learn to cook with them as the seasons progress. Life’s short – try something new!

Blueberry Bonanza

blueberriesConsidered one of the fruit world’s super foods, these little gems are loaded with good things for your body. They rank only second to strawberries in popularity of berries. Could be because they’re sweet, versatile, and highly snackable!

For centuries, blueberries were gathered from the forests and bogs by Native Americans and consumed fresh and also preserved. The Northeast Native American tribes revered blueberries and much folklore developed around them.

Commercial development of blueberries really didn’t begin until the beginning of the 20th century when they were successfully cultivated. Blueberries are now gaining popularity in the marketplace due to their growing list of health benefits, including reduced risk of cancer, prevention of urinary tract infections and improved eyesight.
Selection and Storage of Blueberries

Select berries that are completely blue, with no tinge of red. That natural shimmery silver coating you see on blueberries is desirable as it is a natural protectant. Blueberries that are too large tend to be watery. Purchase smaller blueberries and they will have more intense flavor.

Blueberries must be ripe when purchased. They do not continue to ripen after harvesting. Avoid soft, watery or moldy blueberries. Stained or leaking containers are an indication of fruit past its prime.

Keep blueberries refrigerated, unwashed, in a rigid container covered with clear wrap. They should last up to two weeks if they are freshly-picked. Water on fresh blueberries hastens deterioration, so do not wash before refrigerating.

Blueberries are highly perishable so do try to use them as soon as possible.

blueberry-coulisBlueberries are great for freezing. After thawing, they are only slightly less bright and juicy as in their original harvest state. Do not wash them before freezing as the water will cause the skins to become tough. Rinse after thawing and before eating.

Try this great recipe from our Cookin’ the Market chefs: Blueberry Coulis

What are Nopales?

You’ve seen big cactus plants called prickly pear cactus lining the side of country roads or scattered in empty dry fields. They’re native to California and Mexico and provide nesting and food for birds and insects. Early Californians and Mexicans relied on these cacti when drought left nothing else to grow. They survived on its juices, its leaves, and its fruit.

Nopales are thick, flat, pale green paddle-shaped cactus “leaves” with thorns on the surface from the Opuntia ficus-indica plant. They develop attractive blooms in the spring that eventually turn into cactus fruit called “tuna” or “prickly pear.” We’ve tried to collect these lovely pears from the plant, but always end up with a handful of very painful thorns! So if you want to collect nopales or prickly pear fruit, be sure to wear heavy gloves.

The best nopales are thinner, younger, and not so large. They’re not as tough and pithy when used this way. To prepare, wearing gloves, hold the pad at its base and gently scrape off all the spines and bristle on both sides using a blunt knife. Wash in cold water and dry using a soft cloth. Then, using a vegetable peeler, trim away its excess skin at the nodules. Cut into small cubes or uniform strips (nopalitos) to use. The texture is slightly chewy and the flavor is a cross between asparagus and green beans.

Mix in scrambled eggs, soups, stews, or casseroles. Fry strips for a snack. You can even pickle them. Here’s a simple recipe for pickling nopales to use later in recipes.

Spicy Pickled Nopales
1 pound nopales (fresh cactus paddles)—thorns removed, paddles peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 jalapeños, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 cups water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)

In a large bowl, toss the cactus paddles and jalapeños with the salt and let stand for 45 minutes. Drain well. Transfer the cactus and jalapeños to a heatproof bowl.

In a medium saucepan, combine the water with the vinegar, sugar and paprika and bring to a boil. Pour the brine over the cactus and jalapeños and stir well. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for 2 days before serving.

Best Thing to Buy Right Now – Sweet Cherries!

IMG_4387We love fresh sweet cherries, juicy and full of flavor, and perfect for jams, pies, and salads. The season is typically very short, early May to the end of June, so enjoy them now while they’re in season. California is home to over 600 cherry growers, farming over 26,000 acres throughout the state where nutrient-rich soil, sunny days and mild nights.

California grows mostly sweet cherries as opposed to tart or sour cherries grown in Michigan and the Pacific Northwest states, with Bing cherries having the most acreage. But small farmers grow a nice variety of other cherries with subtle taste differences, varieties that you won’t see in any supermarket! They come from Brentwood, Lodi, Stockton, Linden, down towards Gilroy and Hollister, and other northern California valleys. Try a bag of each and see which ones you like the best!

Bing cherries are the leading sweet cherry. They are firm, juicy, large, and a deep mahogany red when ripe. They have a distinctive heart shape. Bings are intensely sweet, with a vibrant flavor.
Rainier cherries are yellow inside and out, with just a bit of red blush on them, quite large, sweet and firm.
Burlat cherries are an early variety, arriving in the markets in May, and have a mild sweet flavor. It is a large, meaty cherry, great for snacking.
Brooks cherries are a large, uniform, dark red fruit. Flesh is firm and crisp with variable shades of red and pink. The stone is nearly free. This cherry works well for canning and baking.

5 Ways to Enjoy Meyer Lemons

MeyerlemonTrees are loaded with Meyer lemons right now. They’ll soon be disappearing so we have ways to save all this glorious citrus. These lemons are called Meyer because they were identified in 1908 by Frank N. Meyer who discovered they were a cross between Eureka or Lisbon lemons and a mandarin orange. They’re sweeter than other lemons, are rounder and a little more orange in color than others. The pulp is darker than other lemons, too.

Here are five delicious ways to use this fantastic lemon variety.

Lemon Marmalade: Tangy, tart, and sweet.

Meyer Lemon Curd: Awesome on biscuits, toast, or baked goods.

Lemon Bars: Take an old family recipe and exchange a tart lemon variety for a Meyer in your favorite recipe.

Meyer Lemonade: Summer’s almost here so make some homemade lemonade. Two cups sugar, 1 cup hot water, 2 cups fresh Meyer lemon juice, 1 gallon cold water, 1 sliced lemon. Mix sugar and hot water in a gallon container until sugar dissolves. Add remaining ingredients. Chill with ice.

Juice: Juice a dozen lemons and save in a mason jar in the refrigerator. Then it’s ready for adding to dinner recipes, drizzling on fresh steamed vegetables, fresh fish, or salad dressings.

There are so many other ways to enjoy Meyer lemons. Try some of your own ideas. We’ve tried infusing olive oil with lemon peel and fresh herbs, making lemon sorbet or candied lemon peel, adding to hot tea, and a host of other ways. Enjoy!

A New Vision for PCFMA

For over 25 years the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association has been organizing farmers’ markets in the San Francisco Bay Area to help California farmers sell their products and sustain their farm businesses.

When a small group of farmers first got together in 1988 to form PCFMA they never imagined that one day their customers would be able to order fresh produce through their computer for home delivery, that major healthcare and educational institutions would have an interest in buying locally-grown food, or that Central Valley farmers would need to drill wells 100 feet down to have enough water to sustain their crops.

Earlier this year the PCFMA Board of Directors challenged itself to think creatively about how PCFMA can continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of local farmers while adapting to the changing local food system. Despite the evident challenges of the drought and increasing agricultural imports to the state, the PCFMA Board remains committed to an optimistic vision for California: “We envision happy and successful California farmers providing locally-grown food in vibrant markets.”

To pursue this vision the Board also crafted a new mission statement: “We empower California farmers to be enormously successful in Bay Area communities.” The new mission statement, while simpler than the previous one, sustains PCFMA’s core commitment to California farmers and their ultimate success.

Over the coming months the PCFMA Board of Directors and staff will continue to engage in a strategic planning process to ensure that PCFMA is well-positioned to adapt to changes in the food system, the regulatory environment, and the state’s growing conditions. This strategic plan will ensure that PCFMA is able to continue to be a leader in California’s agricultural direct marketing system.

AB 2413 – The Farm to Fork Bill

Governor Jerry Brown has signed a group of bills aimed at promoting the “farm to fork” movement in California that seeks to bring fresh produce and other foods closer to consumers, including many not served by traditional grocery stores.

In September 2014, Brown signed AB 2413, a measure that creates a state Office of Farm to Fork to promote food access and increase agricultural products available to schools and under-served communities. Assemblyman John Perez (D-Los Angeles) authored the bill, which puts the new office within the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

ftf_logoThe new Office of Farm to Fork will work with city councils and county supervisors to identify under-served areas for new farmer’s markets and other non-profit food delivery operations. This office will encourage food hubs, work with regional and statewide stakeholders to identify urban and rural communities that lack access to healthy food, and determine current barriers to food access. The bill will “identify opportunities and provide technical assistance for collaboration between farmers, regional and local food banks, partner agencies, and nonprofit charitable organizations in the gleaning, collection, and distribution of agricultural products for the purposes of reducing hunger and increasing access to healthy foods.”*

If you would like to get involved in the California Food to Fork movement visit cafarmtofork.com. There you will find ways to help and additional resources and publications.

Shelling Peas with Grandma

066I’ve always loved peas. I think it’s because they remind me of my grandmother. Of picking the peas from the field next to the house. Of sitting with her on the back porch with a glass of homemade lemonade and a big bowl of pea pods. Of feeling like we were special. And of course, watching her steam the peas to perfection for Sunday dinner.

Going to Grandma’s house on a sunny afternoon was an adventure for us. We would always join her for what she called a “shelling party.” She would sit in her rocking chair, we would sit cross-legged on the ground, all of us with big bowls of pods. We shelled and talked about what was going on in our small lives. Pull, string, snap, and pop, the peas went into our bowls.

We felt like we were part of the family, a part of helping with the big gathering. There was a sense of belonging. I don’t know if anyone still shells peas on the porch anymore. It’s sad that we have become so used to pulling a bag of peas out of the freezer that we don’t really connect with our food, with the seasons, and with the people who grow the food anymore.

Why don’t you gather family or friends, connect with your food and create your own memories? Visit the farmers’ market this spring to pick up several bags of garden peas and have your own shelling party. Pour a glass of lemonade, have a good gossip, and enjoy!

Grandma’s Spring Peas
1 pound shelled garden (English) peas
1 tablespoon real butter
½ teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
Shell peas. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. When the water reaches a boil, add some salt and the peas. Cook for only a minute or two so they are still crisp but tender. Drain. Put in a warmed bowl and stir in lemon juice, salt and butter.

Debra Morris

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