Best of the local bounty
This article was originally published in September 2012
Follow the tradition of harvest festivals that have been held around the world for centuries, often close to the autumn equinox in September, and celebrate the cornucopia of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables brought to you by your local farmers.
Organic Flavor King Pluots
Goosetail Orchard; Chelan, Wash.
and Bartella Farms; Othello, Wash.
The juicy pluot is a complex hybrid of the plum and apricot, with the characteristics of plum dominating. They were first sold in 1989 after being crossbred by fruit breeder Floyd Zeiger. Pluots have the look and feel of plums, are sweeter and less acidic than plums or apricots, and are bursting with fiber and vitamins A and C. These sweet treats are often a favorite with kids.
Buying and storing tips: Select pluots that are firm and plump. They will ripen on the counter and can be refrigerated once ripe for three to five days.
Uses: Use them in the same recipes that you would plums — in tarts and pies or atop cereals or yogurts. For a delightful accompaniment to fish, chicken or pork, make a fruit salsa with pluots, red onions, fresh cilantro, a chile pepper, lime juice and a pinch each of salt and sugar.
Organic White Corn
Rent’s Due Ranch
Enjoy sweet, succulent corn on the cob at the peak of its season. Buying organic corn is all that much sweeter, given that genetically modified sweet corn is now being sold in U.S. markets. Corn, most likely first grown by indigenous people in Mesoamerica, is a good source of folate, thiamin and dietary fiber. It also contains high levels of the phytochemical lutein, which may help protect the eyes from macular degeneration.
Buying and storing tips: It’s best to cook fresh corn the same day or refrigerate it for no more than three days.
Uses: Serve freshly grilled or boiled corn on the cob with lime butter, or trim cooked corn from cobs and use in Black Bean and Corn Salad.
Organic Green Beans
Rent’s Due Ranch
Even vegetable-averse kids often love tender, toothsome green beans. And what’s not to love? Green beans are members of the large legume family that includes peas and peanuts, and they are a very good source of fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, folate and manganese. Be sure to snap off the stem end before cooking.
Buying and storing tips: Look for green beans that are free of soft or brown spots and are crisp when snapped in half. Store unwashed beans in the refrigerator for three to five days.
Uses: Green beans take to simple preparations of steaming, roasting or boiling, and they pair well with fresh herbs such as dill, mint, basil and caraway. Whip up some refrigerator dilly beans to savor the harvest the same way you’d make pickles: Pack blanched beans into clean, pint-size canning jars and top with a blend of vinegar, water, garlic, fresh dill, mustard seeds, a hot pepper and a bit of sugar and salt.
Organic Bell Peppers
Spring Hill Organic Farm
Crisp, sweet bell peppers come in a variety of colors, the most common being yellow, orange, red and green (an unripe red pepper). Bell peppers are members of the nightshade family, which includes eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, chile peppers and cayenne peppers. They are excellent sources of vitamins C, A, B6 and good sources of potassium and manganese. Eating bell peppers raw provides the most vitamin C.
Buying and storing tips: Select bell peppers that are heavy for their size and have a firm skin, without any soft spots. Unwashed ripe peppers can be refrigerated for five days and green peppers will last a couple more days. Uses: Prepare a delectable bell pepper, sweet onion and garlic confit by slowly sautéing the vegetables in oil until caramelized. Add your choice of vinegar and herbs toward the end and serve over fish or pork or atop crostini or omelets.
Rent’s Due Ranch
Popular in French and Asian cooking, shallots are sometimes overlooked by home cooks in the U.S. They are members of the allium family, which includes garlic, leeks and scallions. Shallots have the subtle, refined taste of a mild onion, with a hint of garlic overtone. They look like a small onion but when peeled, have cloves like garlic. Shallots contain vitamins A and B6, manganese and several antioxidant phytochemicals.
Buying and storing tips: Shallots should be firm and free of soft spots or sprouts. For the mildest taste, choose the smallest shallots you can find. They can be stored in a cool, dry place for about a month.
Uses: Shallots work particularly well in salad dressings, sauces and stir-fries. Create a light and refreshing vinaigrette by combining shallots with Dijon mustard, olive oil and your choice of vinegar, such as red wine, cider or rice vinegar. Finish with a dash of salt and pepper and some fresh herbs.
Organic Fingerling Potatoes
Fingerlings are small, narrow, thin-skinned potatoes that have a rich taste and creamy texture. They are members of the nightshade family, which includes peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and tomatillos. Fingerlings differ from new potatoes in that they are fully mature. They are a good source of vitamins C and B6, copper, potassium and fiber.
Buying and storing tips: Choose fingerlings that are firm to the touch, without blemishes or a greenish tinge. Store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator. For the best flavor, use within a week or two.
Uses: Fingerlings are superb roasted or added to salads. Because they are thin-skinned, they don’t need to be peeled. Drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and an herb, such as thyme, rosemary or dill, and roast in a 425° F oven until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Organic Honeycrisp Apples
River Valley Organics
Honeycrisps, a cross between Macoun and Honey Gold apples, were introduced to market in 1991. They are exceptionally crisp and juicy, with a sweet-tart bite. Honeycrisps are high in vitamins A, C and fiber (get the most C by eating the skins). Science supports the old adage to eat an apple a day: The soluble fiber in apples helps prevent cholesterol buildup, while the insoluble fiber keeps things moving in the digestive tract. A recent Dutch study showed that those who ate apples and pears had fewer strokes, possible due to the fiber or the flavonol quercetin.
Buying and storing tips: Select firm apples that are free of bruises. Store in a cool, dry area. Honeycrisps can be refrigerated for up to four months.
Uses: Honeycrisps are best eaten out-of-hand or in salads. Combine sliced honeycrisps and pears with arugula and feta or blue cheese and dress with oil and vinegar.