Story and recipe by Barbara Kobsar
Illustration by Caroline H. Gould
Choosing produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
Now is the time to buy “shellies” (or “shuckies” or “shellouts,” as shelling beans are sometime called), since you might find some at the “in-betweener” stage at which they are still tender enough to be cooked fresh. At your local farmers’ market, look for fresh speckled cranberry beans (borlotto) and black-eyed peas (cowpeas), as well as pale-green French flageolet, Italian cannellini, and the immature soybeans known as edamame. Left to mature, these same beans will become dried beans, but if you find them now, you’ll know you have the right thing if the pod looks a little dried out but still sports a fresh green stem end. Too green and too fresh means the beans inside are not mature enough to provide optimal flavor and texture. You can refrigerate pods in a plastic bag with a lightly dampened paper towel for a day or two, but shelling as soon as possible is better in order to prevent mildew. If longer storage is necessary, shell the beans and freeze them.
What’s that stubby pear with the short neck, knobby bottom, slightly fuzzy golden skin, and alluringly sweet fragrance? It’s a quince! A member of the rose family, quince is related to the apple and the pear, but its hard, fibrous flesh and astringent taste (caused by high levels of tannin) make it inedible in its raw state. As it’s cooking, the flesh turns lusciously sweet and takes on a lovely soft-pink hue. A high pectin content makes quince ideal for jams and jellies, and the fruit adds a special flavor to apple pie.
With any luck, you might still find a few crisp, sweet-tart Gravenstein apples this month, but a profusion of other California varieties are ready to step in. Choose one that suits your taste for eating out-of-hand, but if you are baking, Granny Smith, Pippin, and Rome Beauty are good for holding their shape. Golden Delicious works well for applesauce since it does not discolor so quickly. Never pass up a chance to try heirloom varieties like Arkansas Black, Pink Pearl, or Hubbardston Nonesuch.
As the season cools, the radish becomes a beautiful, tasty, and good-for-you vegetable option, whether served raw, roasted, or cooked in soups and stews. Enjoy those pretty, pop-into-your-mouth French Breakfast and Easter Egg radishes, but look for some adventure with the spicy, turnip-shaped Black Spanish radish, easy to spot with its rugged black skin. The large white daikon radish is good as a crunchy garnish when grated, or try fermenting it as kimchi. Light-green watermelon radishes reveal a bright magenta color when cut open. Thinly sliced, they are stunning on a crudité platter. Roasting brings out a mildly sweet and delicate flavor. Serve as a side dish with lamb, pork, or chicken. ♦
Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each week at the Walnut Creek Farmers’ Market selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Berkeley-based illustrator and musician Caroline H. Gould is a transplant from Brooklyn, New York. She is especially fond of illustrating desserts. carolinehgould.com