Produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
By Barbara Kobsar | Illustration by Charmaine Koehler-Lodge
It’s caneberry season, and if you love those delicious blackberry hybrids—like Boysenberries, olallieberries, and Loganberries—you’ll want to head out to the farmers’ markets or Brentwood u-pick farms right now to get some. Raspberries are harvested longer into the summer, but to be sure they were picked at peak ripeness, look for that hollow center: If the hull is attached, the raspberry was picked too early. Caneberries are packed in shallow containers to prevent crushing, but it’s a good idea to turn the container over to check for telltale signs of leakage. All berries are great candidates for the freezer: Wash and spread out on a tray to freeze berries unclumped. Place frozen fruit in freezer bags and use as needed, whether baking into cobblers or scones or as toppings for pancakes, ice cream, or yogurt.
Dramatic looking in the garden, fig trees typically offer up two crops per year. The early summer harvest is produced on last year’s branches, while the late summer fruits bud out from the new wood. Earliest in the market are the purple-black–skinned, pink-fleshed Mission figs, followed by the brown turkey and yellowish-green Kadota and Calimyrna. A fig is actually a fleshy flower with the blossom on the inside. The whole thing, except the hard stem, is completely edible. Figs must be left on the tree to ripen. When their narrow necks soften and the figs droop slightly, carefully hand pick them before they drop to the ground to create a sticky, seedy mess. Figs are extremely perishable, and fresh ones enjoy only a short market season. The vast majority are dried and shipped worldwide.
Locally grown peppers are arriving now in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Most varieties start out green when young, but will ripen through showy stages of red, violet, yellow, orange, brown, or even streaked when left on the plant. The color is no real indication of whether they will be sweet or hot, so you need to know your peppers. On the sweet end are the common bell pepper and its diverse cousins like the thin and beautifully contorted Jimmy Nardello, the smaller gypsy pepper (a growers’ favorite), as well as pimiento, banana, cubanelle, and the sweet cherry pepper (used for pickling). For mildly hot peppers, choose pasilla or Anaheim. If you’re ready to move up the heat scale, look for jalapeño or serrano. If you dare, try the extremely pungent habanero or off-the-charts ghost pepper. It’s the amount of capsaicin present that makes one variety hotter than the next. That compound is concentrated in the interior ribs and veins near the seed heart, not in the seeds. No question the seeds taste hot, but it’s because they attach to the veins. Always choose fresh peppers that are firm and well-shaped with rich color, smooth skin, and a moist green stem. ♦
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.
Barbara’s Fresh Fig Salsa
Grilled chicken, pork, tofu, tempeh, and fish gain a little gusto when topped with this snappy fig salsa.
Makes 3 cups
2 cups diced fresh figs (about 1 pound or
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¼ cup diced red onion
1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced
Juice of 1 lime
2–3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Mix all ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Let stand at room temperature for about an hour (if possible) to meld flavors. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.