BY BARBARA KOBSAR
Choosing produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
Want to try picking your own summer produce? East of Mt. Diablo in Brentwood, lots of farms offer the season’s choice fruits and vegetables for picking and much more pre-picked at farm stands. Many of the 50 or so stands are open all week long. Check harvest4u.com to see what’s ripe for picking before heading out for the day. Pack (or pick) your lunch and enjoy it by the orchards in picnic areas at Pease Ranch, Smith Family Farm, or The Farmer’s Daughter Produce.
Look for the tender shoots of green garlic at the market while spring lasts. By June, garlic will have matured into the familiar bulb with individual cloves. Sliced or whole, garlic cloves are mild, but true garlic lovers chop, press, or purée the peeled cloves to release more of the robust flavor of the essential oil.
June is also the time to enjoy the first crop of figs, which grow on last year’s wood. The larger second crop forms on the tree’s summer growth, so look for those in a few months. Black Mission figs garner the most buzz at the market, where shoppers get excited about their rich purple-black skin, deep-pink flesh, and small crunchy seeds.
Summer is when herbs are most abundant. The aroma of fresh-cut basil drifts through the market, inspiring ideas about a Caprese salad made with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and extra-virgin olive oil. The smell of oregano brings up thoughts of roasted eggplant, homemade pizza, or any number of pasta dishes. Rosemary, sage, and thyme make us think of grilling fish, pork, lamb, and chicken. For a a deliciously light salad vinaigrette, mix chopped chives with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Fresh sprigs of mint liven up iced tea and Mojitos for outdoor entertaining.
Pears, peppers, tomatoes, grapes, cucumbers, and melons are some of the highlights of August, but don’t pass up the plums! Japanese varieties such as Satsuma, Kelsey, Black Beauty, and Santa Rosa offer a pleasing blend of acid and sugar that makes them a favorite for eating out-of-hand. You might also find European plums, which are sometimes identified as fresh prunes or prune plums. The most common prune-plum variety is the Italian Empress, which sports a deep blue-purple skin, natural white “bloom,” and green-tinged flesh. Prune plums contain an extra degree of natural sugar, which allows them to dry before fermentation sets in around the pit.