Califonia Bountiful

There's sheer beauty in the bounty

May/June 2007 California Country magazine

Favorite seasonal California fruits and vegetables.

Produce choices this time of year are varied and abundant. Let's get cooking!

"It's a heady time in the produce world, as our choices expand exponentially outward. With longer growing days and warmer weather, Mother Nature and farmers are quite busy," said Andy Powning, produce specialist at GreenLeaf Produce in San Francisco and a reporter for "California Country," the California Farm Bureau Federation's television program.

Here are a few of Powning's seasonal favorites:

Cherries: While there are two main groups of cherries, sweet and sour, Golden State growers specialize in the sweet varieties. In fact, California produces about a quarter of the nation's sweet cherry crop, with varieties including Lambert, Brooks, Burlat, Queen Ann, Rainier and the king, Bing. Choose brightly colored, plump, shiny fruit.

As for how best to enjoy your selection, Powning offers this suggestion: Make a simple cherries jubilee. Sauté 1 cup of fresh pitted cherries with 1/4 cup of sugar over medium-low heat for five to seven minutes. Serve over vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Peaches and nectarines: California is first in both peach and nectarine production, providing virtually all of the nation's cling peaches, which are primarily used for canning, and more than half of the freestone peaches.

"There are hundreds of varieties of freestones, and luckily for us they come on early and stay late through the season," Powning said, "so we can enjoy this lush, lovely fruit for a long time."

When it comes to nectarines, which are simply fuzzless peaches, California produces more than 90 percent of the nation's supply. In yellow nectarines, search out Fantasia and Sunred, while O'Henry, Suncrest and Redhaven are particularly delicious yellow peach varieties. For those interested in white varieties, note Arctic Queen and Arctic Rose nectarines and Babcock peaches.

Raspberries: These sweet treats do best with a long, warm spring ripening, so now is the time to enjoy them, Powning said. Since California is the top producer, growing about half of the nation's raspberries, we're lucky to live here!

"For a short period of time, you may see some black raspberries," Powning added. "If you do find some, a tasty use is to make ice cream, one of the best flavors in the world." Golden raspberry varieties are becoming more common. While their flavor may not be as intense, Powning said, combining them with contrasting red raspberries on an open-faced fruit tart is beautiful—and scrumptious.

Beans: Snap bean season is in full swing, and California farmers offer scads of crunchy, velvety options in a host of colors, shapes and sizes. Beyond the most popular Blue Lake and Kentucky Wonder, put the Italian Romano types to the taste test. These flattened green snap beans tend to be larger, yet remain tender.

Also note yellow wax beans, Powning said. "These beans are strikingly beautiful and delicately flavored. Try making your own three- or four-bean salad with a combination of these, along with some canned kidney beans. Dressed with a zippy, lemon juice-laden vinaigrette, these beans will sing!"

Summer squash: California leads the nation, producing about one-fifth of the country's supply of summer squash. Aside from the usual crookneck, zucchini and pattypan, Powning suggests looking for a particularly flavorsome, ribbed green variety called Costato de Romanesco. "This one has a nut-nuanced taste and very small seeds," he said. Other interesting varieties to play with include the two-toned Zephyr and the round, emerald-green globe.

The weather's right, so fire up the grill! Halve your squash lengthwise, coat with a marinade of olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and top with a fresh herb of choice ("Oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill—mix it up!"). Grill until tender when pierced with a fork.

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