BY BARBARA KOBSAR
ILLUSTRATION BY MARGO RIVERA-WEISS
When you’re at the farmers’ market, it’s all about what’s in season. Choosing from items harvested at their peak is your sure bet for fabulous flavor and freshness.
Year round farmers’ markets welcome the first flush of local asparagus in February, as plump spears arrive from near-by Delta farms just in time to pair with fresh sliced leeks. Collards, spinach, and kale continue to entice, and everyone is dreaming about the start of our local strawberry season.
Edible-pod peas are a special springtime treat. Both snow peas and sugar snap peas are harvested immature when the pods are still tender enough to be eaten whole. Snow pea pods are flat and translucent, so you can see the tiny seeds (peas) inside, while sugar snaps have thicker pod walls and plumper peas. Sugar snaps make a tasty snack and work well on a crudités platter.
April is Artichoke Month. California farmers provide 99 percent of these tasty thistles to U.S. consumers, so locavores here can celebrate. Artichokes are actually flower buds that form along the stalks of the silver-green fountain-shaped plants. The large terminal buds form atop the long central stem, medium buds grow from side shoots, and the dwarf or baby artichokes grow at the juncture of leaf to stem. Harvest season is long, since artichokes on the same plant mature at different times. If left uncut, the buds open into impressive flowers with vibrant violet centers. Not to be missed in early spring are spring onions, green garlic, and rhubarb.
Flavorful but not overpowering, fresh or sweet onions are exquisite examples of the Allium genus. Their lack of pyruvate (the chemical that causes eye tearing) makes them sweet and mild, but a high water and sugar content limits their storage capabilities, so all sweet onions are best eaten fresh in salads and sandwiches or in a quick sauté. Local favorites include the sweet Italian red onions. Also good in late spring are fava beans and early apricots.