The fleeting flavors of unusual fruits, vegetables
If summer is your favorite season it is probably because you like hot weather , the seashore or mountains, light clothing and picnics, and the wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables that will be around, from early spring strawberries through to the apple picking days of fall.
But in addition to the traditionally anticipated foods of summer such as strawberries and sweet corn, baby carrots and green beans, fresh peas and watermelon, there are now more unusual foods than ever before.
The problem, which makes them perhaps even more precious, is that most are around in only a very short season, depending on mother nature's help or lack of it, as well as the market demand. This often means you must search them out and do a bit of hunting around, since many supermarkets don't always include them.
Zucchini blossoms, for example, are available in some markets in early summer and can come from your own garden if you have planted enough. They have a delicate squash flavor when deep fried or dipped into fritter batter or just sauteed in butter and added to omelets.
Fresh fava beans, around most of the season, can be shelled and cooked like lima beans or split and tossed raw into a salad for a crunchy texture.
I've seen purple, cauliflower in my supermarket near the end of summer. It is much like the regular white vegetable, but seems a bit sweeter.
Don't ignore the wonderful snap peas that can be eaten raw, pod and all, or cooked like Chinese snow peas. The snow peas are the flat-podded peas and are also good the same ways. Spaghetti squash is a new one for many Easterners, although it has been around in California for some time.
You might like to look also for the chayote squash, also called the SuSu or vegetable pear. The jicama is another vegetable, familiar in California, but now spreading eastward. It has a texture something like a raw potato or a Chinese water chestnut and adds a nice crunchy texture to salad.
Speaking of crunch, there's nothing like fresh fennel bulbs, usually not in the markets util midsummer. Called finocchio by the Italians, they are great chopped in large pieces and chilled in ice, then served to nibble on as you would celery. Fennel has a pleasant anise flavor. It can also be braised or cooked in any way you would cook celery.
Best of all and most appreciated, perhaps, are the fresh, local tomatoes -- the huge beef- steaks, the full, meaty Italian plum tomatoes that are beautiful in a salad with fresh basil, and the various tomatoes best from a local farmer's stand or your own garden.
Later in the season, after everyone has had his fill of the vine-ripened ones , green tomatoes are just right for pickles, and if you can grow dill to coincide with pickling time you'll have a special treat.
One of the first and most interesting of greens in the spring is sorrel, or sour grass, and it is in the markets all through summer. A tangy green leaf, like uncurly spinach, is used for shav, the Jewish soup, and also in a French sauce for fish. Another green you should try is ruby, or red-tipped, lettuce. It adds a nice change of color to a tossed green salad.
The newer fruits of summer include kiwi from New Zealand, known also as the Chinese gooseberry; sour cherries for cold soups and jam; red currants and raspberries; and local strawberries.
Gooseberries are around for about a week and they make wonderfully tart pies and jams, if you are fortunate enough to find them. Jumbo blackberries are being shipped from California this month, then will follow the season for peaches and apricots and green figs.
Although these fruits and vegetables may not be in your everyday supermarket, it might be worth it to shop around to find something different for a special occasion; something that adds an extra though fleeting dimension to the joys of summer food.