Califonia Bountiful

Go ahead and play with your food

Sept./Oct. 2007 California Country magazine

California's well-stocked larder of fruits and veggies provides a fresh assortment of choices throughout the fall.

As summer fades and autumn settles in, there's a shift in the selection of seasonal produce. Fortunately, California's well-stocked larder of fruits and veggies always provides a fresh assortment of choices.

"Play with your food!" advises Andy Powning, produce specialist at GreenLeaf Produce in San Francisco and a reporter for "California Country," the California Farm Bureau Federation's weekly television program. "Get out to your local farmers market and drag any children nearby with you for the experience. It's fun, and you'll also have the chance to teach our future generations where food comes from, that it follows a natural seasonal cycle, and to educate them about good nutrition."

Here are a few of Powning's nutritious favorites for fall:

Pomegranates: This intriguing fruit grows on small trees and is loaded with antioxidants, which keep your cells healthy.

"Every child should have at least one try at the fruit, but you can buy pomegranate juice and avoid the potential mess," Powning said. "The juice is very refreshing mixed with sparkling water and a spritz of lime."

To get at the seeds—which are well-protected by a leathery skin—cut the fruit in half and thwack the skin side of each piece several times with a big metal spoon. This loosens the seeds and breaks down the interior membranes, which makes for easy eating. As for a way to enjoy the fruits of your labors, Powning claims the seeds are "stellar sprinkled over salads."

Pears: Another fall favorite, pears are available through November. California produces 60 percent of the nation's total Bartlett pear crop and 32 percent of all pears grown in the United States. Bartletts (red and green) are the earliest varieties to come on, followed by French butter pears. This pair of pears possesses a wonderful delicate flavor when ripe and a soft, tender flesh, Powning said. Then come D'Anjou, Comice, Bosc, Forelle and Seckel.

"Pears are perhaps best eaten out of hand, either over cereal or in a lunch box. Also consider serving them alongside some fine cheeses," Powning said. "For cooking, try pear sauce versus applesauce, served with pork or for dessert. One of my favorite desserts is a pear and raspberry crisp."

Carrots: One of the most popular root crops ever, carrots are grown in California throughout the year but are now at their most flavorful.

"Beyond your basic ‘What's up, Doc?' orange carrot, look for white, yellow, red and even purple varieties," Powning said.

For a stunning salad presentation, Pown­ing recommends grating a few different colors of raw carrots and lining them up alongside one another on a platter. Drizzle with dressing of choice.

"I also like to sauté them in butter and olive oil until they soften and brown a bit, and then add a handful of finely chopped herbs like parsley, chervil, dill or even mint," Powning said.

Spinach: California is the nation's top producer of spinach, with much of the crop grown in the state's cooler coastal climates. With its delicate texture and jade green color, spinach provides more nutrients than practically any other food.

"Spinach is easy to cook and works well raw in salads in conjunction with any number of complementary ingredients," Powning said. "Consider making a salad dressed in a warm vinaigrette, with bacon or pancetta. Add sliced mushrooms and you've almost got a whole meal. For a totally different salad, pair spinach with plumped-up dried cranberries or cherries, toasted pecans or walnuts and your favorite feta cheese."

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