Califonia Bountiful

The Farmer and the Foodie: Bing bling: Cherry harvest sets the tone for spring

May/June 2010 California Country magazine

Glen Ikeda, the farmer, and Gwen Schoen, the foodie, discuss cherries and green beans.

Just when we’ve had our fill of citrus and the apple bin is beginning to bottom out, the most wonderful event happens. Cherries, the first of the early spring fruit, begin making their showy appearance.

Farmer: Mother’s Day is usually when we begin to see the first cherry crops coming in. Farmers grow several varieties of sweet cherries here in California. The first to arrive are Burlats, a cherry used to help pollinate Bings. They are smaller and softer than Bings. Next to arrive are Brooks, which look like a cross between a Bing and a Rainier. Bings show up around the end of June, followed by Rainiers.

By far the most popular and most anticipated, however, are Bings. They are the largest of the cherry varieties and have a dark, mahogany red color. Rainiers are slightly smaller and have golden skin with a pink to red blush.

Foodie: The Bing season is short so when the cherry sign goes up at the produce stand near our house, we stop and pick up a sack almost every day. Usually the sack is empty by the time we get home. In my opinion, the best way to enjoy them is fresh, right off the stems.

Farmer: You know, fresh cherries will keep about two to three weeks in cold storage. No matter what type you buy, they should be firm with bright green stems and should look shiny. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating all those cherries. They are loaded with lycopene, which scientific studies have linked to improved heart health, vision and immunity and also a reduction in cancer risk. Some studies show that cherries might have a positive effect on gout and arthritis pain as well.

Foodie: During the season we buy extra for freezing. It’s easier to use frozen cherries if they are pitted. First rinse them under cool, running water and use a cherry pitter that works like a paper punch. If you don’t have a pitter, you can use a sharp paring knife to slice the cherries in half. Twist the halves apart and remove the pits. To freeze them, just place them in freezer bags. We use frozen cherries to make smoothies. Simply toss them into a blender with some other fruit and a splash of soy milk and blend until smooth.

Chocolate-dipped cherries

Who says chocolate-dipped strawberries should get all the glory? Cherries are wonderful with a little dressing up.

If you have a pound or two of fresh cherries, you’ll need about six ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate or milk chocolate chips and 1/2 teaspoon of shortening. The shortening is optional, but it does help prevent the chocolate from crumbling when it sets up again. Wash the cherries and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Save any cherries without stems for another use. You can remove the pits before dipping or leave them in. If you use a cherry pitter, remove the pits from the side so that the stems stay attached.

Place the chips and the shortening in a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over hot, not boiling water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the hot water. Stir the chips with a wooden spoon until they melt.

One-by-one, hold the cherries by the stems and quickly dip them into the melted chocolate. Place the dipped cherries on a foil-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate is firm.

Dipped cherries should be stored in the refrigerator and used within two days. Note: If you did not pit the cherries before dipping, you should let your guests know before serving them.

Source: California Cherry Advisory Board

Green beans add snap to season

May and June are prime months for California green beans. This crop includes varieties that are long and slender with small beans inside the pods. They are eaten pod and all. The most popular are the snap beans—called snaps because of the sound they make when the pods are broken in half. Until about a century ago, snap beans had a tough string down one side of the pod. Today most varieties are stringless, but they are still often called string beans.

The Blue Lake and Kentucky Wonder varieties are among California’s tastiest green beans. The Blue Lake, a pole bean that is straight, round and dark green, was developed in the Blue Lake region in Ukiah. It’s firm and very sweet. The Kentucky Wonder is flatter and curved, but tender and also very tasty. It is typically lighter in color than the Blue Lake.

When green beans are small, they can be eaten raw and are sometimes diced and sprinkled in with salad greens. For the best flavor and texture, cook them only until they are slightly tender and still crisp.

Select beans that are bright green in color and make a crisp snapping sound when broken. One pound of beans is about three cups of beans prepared for cooking.

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