Recent rains and ongoing floods are causing immense worries for farmers, but they are a resilient bunch, and summer is a great time to support them since it’s when more varieties of produce come to market than at any other time of year. Fresh-picked cherries, buckets of blueberries, lugs of peaches and nectarines, and truckloads of corn on the cob arrive in all their splendor over the next few months.
California is the proud producer of over 90 percent of the domestic nectarine crop in the United States. A member of the stone fruit family, the nectarine is actually a fuzz-free peach. I favor the yellow freestone varieties for their juiciness and bright flavors, but the less-acidic white varieties have many fans.
How do you find a ripe nectarine? Handle it gently and use the “sniff” test. The one with fragrance is your perfect fruit. Its skin might be creamy yellow or brimming with blush, but any sign of green means the fruit was picked too early. If the fruit is too firm for your liking, give it a few days at room temperature to become soft and juicy. If it’s verging on too ripe, store it in the fridge or eat it soon! If you see tiny pale speckles (called “sugar spots”), expect a sweet surprise.
A nectarine’s firmness helps it hold up in baked goods or on the grill. For an easy dessert, cut the fruit in half and remove the pit. Brush lightly with oil and place cut-side down on a medium-hot grill. Cook for about 3 minutes, then turn the halves and sprinkle each with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Continue grilling for 3 to 4 minutes until tender. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream or crème fraîche.
According to the California Blueberry Commission, there are 9,000 acres of blueberries in California, and one only needs to know how tasty and nutritious this North American indigenous fruit is to appreciate it. Blueberries do not have much aroma, so look for a solid dark-blue color and a dusty “bloom,” which suggests recent picking and not too much handling. The skin and size of a blueberry don’t always predict its sweetness, which is why tiny wild blueberries can be so exceptionally flavorful.
If you return from the farmers’ markets with more blueberries than you can eat, freeze them to use later. Gently wash the berries in a bowl of cool water and sort to remove the tiny stems and any overripe or crushed berries. Scoop berries out of the water with a sieve and spread them on towel-lined trays to dry. Place the trays in the freezer, and when berries are frozen, transfer to sealed bags or other containers to store frozen for up to nine months.
Sweet corn is the true symbol of midsummer. Choose ears with green, moist, and snug-fitting husks, and resist the urge to peel back the husks (which upsets the farmers). Just feel from the outside to make sure the rows of kernels come all the way to the ear’s top. End silk should be golden-brown and dry, and the stem end should be moist. ♦
Veteran journalist and cookbook author Barbara Kobsar focuses on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. Find her at the Walnut Creek, Orinda, and San Ramon farmers’ markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Artist Charmaine Koehler-Lodge grows most of her family’s food in their rural Pennsylvania garden.
Nectarines, sweet corn, and blueberries make the perfect salsa for any midsummer celebration. Serve with tortilla chips or over grilled halibut or pork tenderloin.
Makes about 5 cups
- 2 nectarines, pitted and diced
- 1 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from 2 ears)
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- ⅓ cup chopped cilantro or basil
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced fine
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a serving bowl and allow the flavors to mingle for about 1 hour. Refrigerate until ready to serve.