Produce at its Peak: Poetry from Plums

I heard a couple of days ago via the radio newscast, that, because of the chilly spring, Minnesota’s strawberry crop has been quite delayed.

Indeed. By my calculations, we’re maybe two weeks behind schedule, but we did get a good supply in from Hoch Orchard this week. Hallelujah-there is really nothing like local berries. Fragrant and tender but very fragile, you really have to eat them the same day you buy them or they suffer. Local strawberries, almost more than any other crop, reflect the weather. They need sun and dry conditions as they ripen to be at their sweetest. Too much rain and they turn too soft and the flavor is diluted. Not enough sun and they tend towards tartness. This first flush is slightly on the tart side, so one suggestion is to melt a pat of butter in a pan and sautee them for a moment with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar.



Francique Mangoes (left) are unique fruits, both in flavor and in origin. They are oblong and somewhat flattened, green to yellow skinned, with a superlatively juicy, brilliant yellow-orange flesh. They come from Haiti, often from farmers that may have just a single tree to harvest. By pooling their crop, those farmers can accumulate enough supply to make it worth it to ship to the US. The color of the skin does not necessarily reflect the ripeness of the fruit, so ask a produce worker to help you pick a good one if you have any doubt. I believe they are the only item in the store that comes from the island of Haiti. This American Life has an interesting story from a few years about Haiti and mangoes.

Lettuce is not something that most people think much about, but starting now and for the next month or so, you really should try some of the local lettuces. Sourcing from local farmers really expands the varieties that we can stock. While California sends us the four basics: Romaine, Green Leaf, Red Leaf and, if we’re lucky, Butter, Farms like HeartBeet, Keewaydin, and Featherstone can grow such poetically named varieties as Black Seeded Simpson, Marvel of Four Seasons, Salanova and Red Sails. As it would create quite a labeling hassle, we don’t generally include the variety names on our signs, but you will notice a distinct flavor and texture difference when you buy local. One word of caution-this lettuce tends to harbor dirt and no one likes a gritty salad. As soon as you get it home, pull the leaves apart and submerge them in water four fifteen minutes or so. Swish vigorously and then spin or pat dry. I like to store my prepped salad greens in the salad spinner and use them as I need them.

This week also saw the first appearance of local kale. In particular, we love the Red Russian Variety, which is green with a violet cast to the leaves and stem. It is tender and not at all bitter, and makes for good eating raw or cooked. Lately I have been enjoying a salad made with a julienned Gala apple, toasted walnuts and two torn up leaves of Red Russian with a nice shallot vinaigrette. Although Green, Dino or Red Kale could take the place of Red Russian, the latter will always be my preference in this application.

It seems that in the summer, stone fruit should always be recommended. Nearly all varieties are spectacular right now. But cherries and black plums are my current favorites. I come from a family of fruit lovers. Our summer picnics always included a bag of fat Bing cherries and my mom bought a huge bag of plums every week, which my sisters and I devoured almost immediately. The Red Raven plums we have right now, dusky on the outside, and ruby red inside, deserve this very popular poem (as did my mother, all those years ago):

This Is Just To Say

William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold