Produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
By Barbara Kobsar | Illustration by Charmaine Koehler-Lodge
Something unexpectedly sweet is at the farmers’ market right now. Known as Sweet Imperial, Vidalia, or Walla Walla—depending on whether your sweet onion hails from Southern California, Georgia, or Washington state—it’s also called a “short-day” onion since it’s grown during the short days of winter and found fresh only during the spring and early summer months. A sweet onion might be red, yellow, or white, but you can always count on its crisp, firm flesh, mild flavor, and somewhat flattened shape. “Long-day” or storage onions contain more pyruvate, a molecule that makes them more pungent, and might cause the cook to get teary-eyed at the chopping board. A sweet onion’s high water and sugar content limits its shelf life to two or three weeks, but during that brief time, there are plenty of salads, sandwiches, and tacos waiting for a sweet onion to join the party! Look for our local favorite—the sweet Italian red onion—to cook and caramelize for savory tarts and pizzas.
Blueberries arrive at market ripe and ready to eat. During their relatively short summer harvest period, we might find several varieties that range in flavor and size. Unlike with most other fruits, size actually matters: The bigger the blueberry, the better the flavor and texture. Color is the other key factor to consider. When freshly picked, blueberries still sport a natural silvery coating, called bloom, which protects the berries from sunburn. The bloom will fade within a week of harvest as the plump, firm, dusty-blue berries gradually turn black, soft, and less flavorful—not something to add to your shopping basket! Blueberries are perishable, so if you are not serving them immediately, store for just a day or two unwashed in the refrigerator. Arrange them in a single layer in a paper towel–lined airtight container.
Discover the diversity of melons this month. First to arrive is the muskmelon, a member of the gourd family. It can be covered with netted skin like a cantaloupe, Persian, or Sharlyn, or smooth skin like a Crenshaw or honeydew. Telltale signs of ripeness for a netted muskmelon are a tan or gold skin under prominent netting and a slight give to pressure at the blossom end. Smooth-skinned muskmelons are velvety and slightly sticky to the touch when ripe. Watermelons, which arrive a little later, may be round or oblong; red, pink, or yellow on the inside; and green on the outside. Seedless varieties are popular, but some think seedy melons have better flavor. How to tell if it’s ripe? Choose a whole melon with a hard skin that’s dulled from its shiny finish. (Have no fear of that yellow patch where the melon was in contact with the ground during growing.) The truth of a melon’s goodness is really only revealed when it’s cut open and sampled, but if you prefer to judge a watermelon by sound, slap it and you should hear a dull thump. ♦
Many Melon Salad with Tomato & Sweet Onion
48 ¼-inch-thick slices of melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, Persian, and Sharlyn)
2–3 tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 small Japanese or ½ Armenian cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced (a crisp, cold onion from the fridge is best)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil for garnish
Place melon on its side and slice a small section off each end to create flat surfaces. Stand it upright on one of the flat ends and slice away the rind in 1-inch vertical strips. Then slice the melon open from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds. Place each half of the melon cut-side down on cutting board and cut into slices.
Arrange melon slices around the edge of a large platter. Top with a layer of tomato and cucumber slices. Arrange another ring of melon slices in the center and top with more tomato and cucumber slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with cheese and onion rings. Drizzle with oil and vinegar and garnish with basil.