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Produce at its Peak: Signs of Spring

If it were a “normal” year, by now we’d have lots of local produce: ramps, radishes, a wide selection of tender herbs, watercress, spring mix, etc., etc., etc. But it is gloomy and chilly yet, the trees in Powderhorn Park just barely showing evidence that leaves will exist again. One hundred years or so ago, we’d have been subsisting on sprouting potatoes and sad storage cabbages left over from autumn harvests, so let’s be thankful for the glory that comes our way from California and other southern locations. The red onions, for instance, are back again, and we have lovely stone fruit and melons filling up about a third of the fruit tables. So, while we wait for the sun to come out and warm up our soil, here are a few particularly delicious treats:

Orange honeydew — Personally, I almost always like orange melon better than green, and at this moment honey is an appropriate term of endearment for these fruits. I’m a bit of a purist, because I don’t think any preparation other than cutting and deseeding improves a melon of any kind. That’s my opinion, though, and a lot of people like to fill the hollow of a half melon with yogurt and berries.

Peas— most of the time there are two choices: sugar snap and snow. Snow peas are flatter and often a little less sweet, and sugar snaps are fat with sweet green peas. The latter are quite versatile — sautéed, steamed, or raw are all delicious; while the former are usually used best in a stir fry. A bowl of sesame scallion noodles with slivered peapods sounds great to me today, or actually any day.

Mexican peaches — It’s amazing to me how early we can source peaches. And these are certainly worth eating. They are smaller and paler than the California ones that come into season later in the year, but the flavor is deeper and more concentrated.

English cucumbers — Most of the time these days we have these guys in stock from Living Waters in Wells, Minn. The skin is tender, which means they don’t need to be peeled, but it also means that they lose moisture very rapidly once harvested, which is why they are always wrapped in plastic. I’ve been cutting them into small cubes and combining them with radishes cut similarly in a miso and scallion dressing. Very healthy and spring-like.

Local herbs — Although the supply of herbs at the moment is much lower than normal, we’ve still been getting a few bunches of mint, tarragon and oregano from Wisconsin Growers. Take it as a sign of hope, and mince the tarragon into eggs, throw oregano into the spaghetti sauce, and make some mint tea. More varieties will be coming in soon.

As a final note, let’s talk about the price of limes. It’s high, getting close to $6/lb. This has come up in conversation outside of work, and I’ve seen a few articles about it in newspapers, so it seems appropriate to address the issue. There hasn’t been much domestic production of limes since 2001 when there was a citrus canker outbreak in Florida, the only area of the United States with a suitable climate for commercial lime growing. Now we get nearly 90% of our limes from Mexico, where, this year, there have been significant weather and disease problems, compounded by supply restrictions caused by drug cartels active in the lime-growing regions. For now, it seems that we will just have to tolerate the high prices. I would suggest that lime juice can be mixed with the much cheaper lemon.