Organic Picks | May 23rd, 2016

StrawberriesBlueberriesRhubarbSeedless WatermelonVidalia Sweet Onions

Best if used by 05/31/16

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Organic Strawberries

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

Strawberries are a family favorite. It is an indulgence that virtually guilt-free for kids and adults, alike!  For all you Strawberry lovers out there – go for it – peak season has arrived! Late May and June is all about organic berries – blue, black, rasp and straw.

Grown without synthetic chemicals, fumigants and fertilizers, Organic Strawberries are the natural choice. While they’ll still be slightly more expensive than conventional strawberries, Organic Strawberries from prime growing regions in the Salinas and Watsonville areas of California will likely be at some of the lowest sale prices of the season this late May and early June thanks to large harvests.

Even better news: the flavor has been excellent on Organic Strawberries from just about every grower I’ve sampled.  Do Organic Strawberries taste better than conventionally grown ones? There are no scientific answers to that question on this site, but in my personal experience and opinion, occurrences of “flavor let-downs” are less common with peak season California Organic Strawberries vs. conventional.

Strawberry Tips


Selecting

  • Look for plump, vibrantly colored berries with healthy looking, green caps.
  • Inspect the packages from all sides, avoiding fruit with dark sunken areas, signs of mold or wet spots on the berries or containers.

At Home

  • Keep them cold in the fridge, but they’ll have better taste and texture if you use them within a couple days.
  • Wash Strawberries under cold water just before use.
  • Have extra fruit that is beginning to become overripe? Turn them into an ingredient for a smoothie or shake.

Eating

Organic Strawberries from prime growing regions in the Salinas and Watsonville areas of California will likely be at some of the lowest sale prices of the season this late May and early June thanks to large harvests.

Organic Blueberries

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

Fresh crop Organic Blueberries are in peak season from Florida, Georgia and California! North Carolina farms are coming into season too. Now through July will be the best time of the year to enjoy domestically grown Organic Blueberries at their best.

Expect plump, flavorful, sweet and just lightly tangy berries that are large in size. The proprietary varieties cultivated on the organic farms of Driscoll’s growers in California have been tasting absolutely delicious! Plus, prices are coming down as the harvest volume comes on, so look for advertised and in store specials during late May, June and July. Whether you’re a fan of Blueberries for health, snacking, baking or flavor reasons – it’s your time to enjoy! I love to much on them by the handful eat them on cereal or blend them into smoothies.

Blueberry Tips

  • Select fresh Blueberries by inspecting the top and bottom of the package to avoid shriveled, smashed-together or wet berries.
  • Look for packs free from light purple or green berries. Those are immature and will taste sour.
  • Seek out Blueberries with the silver, powdery “bloom” on them. Bloom is a naturally occurring wax that forms a protective layer on the fruit while it is growing and is a tell-tale sign of freshness!
  • Store the fruit cold in the fridge, try to use in within a few days of purchase. Wait to wash them until just before using.

How to Freeze: Want to capture the best pricing and best tasting fruit for later? Freeze peak season Blueberries right in the package you bought them in. Be sure they’re completely dry (you can rinse them before use later), place the pack(s) right into a reseal-able plastic bag and freeze. They keep well in the freezer for up to six months and are a convenient way to have healthy, peak season flavor Blueberries handy for baking or to use in smoothies and shakes later in the year.

Recipe Ideas

Seek out Blueberries with the silver, powdery “bloom” on them. Bloom is a naturally occurring wax that forms a protective layer on the fruit while it is growing and is a tell-tale sign of freshness!

Organic Rhubarb

Peak Season

Rhubarb = Spring! Strawberry season = Rhubarb!

Rhubarb is a vegetable that pairs with both sweet and savory dishes, yet has a propensity for hooking up with sweet-tart berries and desserts to bring out its best. Raw Rhubarb stalks are crisp like red-skinned Celery and have a bold, bitter flavor that mellows with cooking and is accentuated by sugar. Use Rhubarb in pies, cobblers, crisps, chutneys, sauces, drink and lemonade recipes and more. I found some awesome rhubarb recipes here.

Organic Rhubarb is now in peak season from Oregon and Washington, plus, local harvest of Organic Rhubarb are in full swing in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. Fresh Organic Rhubarb is in high demand at food co-ops and natural food stores, so keep an eye out for it in the veg section or near the berry display.

Recipe: Homemade Rhubarb Sauces

What’s one of the most versatile things to do with fresh Rhubarb? Make a sauce! Sweet-tart Rhubarb Sauce is perfect for topping oatmeal, cottage cheese, yogurt, pound cake, toast, bagels, or ice cream. Fantastic! Here’s the general recipe:

  1. chop Rhubarb into 1/2 wide pieces, enough for 4-5 cups
  2. put chopped Rhubarb into a large heavy saucepan
  3. top Rhubarb with 1/2 cup sugar (or 1 full cup if you like it sweeter)
  4. add 1 heaping tablespoon of Minute Tapioca
  5. stir the above raw ingredients then allow to sit for 15 min., then stir again
  6. simmer for 15 min. over Medium heat, do not allow to bubble over
  7. simmer for another 10 min. steadily reducing the heat from toward Low
  8. cool at room temp. then refrigerate

 

Raw Rhubarb stalks are crisp like red-skinned Celery and have a bold, bitter flavor that mellows with cooking and is accentuated by sugar.

Organic Seedless Watermelon

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

It hasn’t felt like watermelons season where I live (Pennsylvania) thanks to a cool and rainy May. But warm weather is on its way, AND Organically grown Watermelons are in season from points south. This is a good week to try juicy, sweet fruit.

Organic Seedless Watermelon have been tasting great this week from Florida. You may also finds some Seeded Organic Sangria Watermelons and Seeded Organic Sugar Baby Watermelons at stores with a large variety of organic produce. Organic Mini Seedless Watermelons (Personals) and regular sized Organic Seedless Watermelons are in season from Mexico and California here in late May and early June too, but so far I have not been as impressed with the flavor and texture compared to the Florida grown organic melons.

Orange Flesh? The best-tasting of all have been the Organic Orange-flesh Seedless Watermelons from Lady Moon Farms in Florida. Keep an eye out for this specialty crop during their micro-season in late May.

What is a Sugar Baby? The Sugar Baby Watermelon variety has solid dark-green skin and matures to a small to medium size. The deep-red flesh is sweet, juicy and delicious! They have a medium-crisp texture and classic watermelon flavor. A seeded variety, Sugar Baby melons are planted by some growers next to Seedless Watermelon plants to pollinate that fruit. They’re available just a few times a year in select produce departments and now is one of those times!

How do you choose a good Watermelon?

There’s no magic to selecting a Watermelon, but thump away if you like. I still tap the melons every time, not sure I can explain why. Really, it’s up to the farmers and harvesters to pick them at the right time and for stores/distributors to inspect them well – and good news is that has been going well this season! Still, here a few things you can do to give yourself a great chance of getting a delicious Watermelon:

Look For

  • Firm-shelled melons. The rind should be hard when you squeeze it.
  • Mostly symmetrical melons that feel heavy (watermelons are 92% water).
  • A creamy yellow spot underneath show it ripened in the sun. That’s the spot where it sat on the ground as it grew and ripened.
  • Tapping? You have to really know what you’re listening for so I can’t recommend it as a sure-fire way (even though I almost always tap melons myself).

 

The best-tasting of all have been the Organic Orange-flesh Seedless Watermelons from Lady Moon Farms in Florida.

Secret tap method for choosing Watermelon?

Organic Vidalia Sweet Onions

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

Picnic food demands in May and June demands Vidalia Sweet Onions. Even raw their crisp and mild flavor is perfect for macaroni and potato salad and for topping burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs and sausages. Grilling and sautéing mellows the intensity of Sweet Onions and lets their sweetness shine through in a balanced way with their natural savoriness.

Why are raw Vidalia Sweet Onions so popular and what makes them special?

Sweet Onions have good flavor without the full pungency of Yellow Onions that burns your nose and makes your eyes water. Now don’t get me wrong… it’s still an onion and there will be some “bite” to the taste. Vidalia Sweet Onions are from the rich soils of Georgia in and around Vidalia County where conditions are superb for growing mild, saucer-shaped Sweet Onions. The timing of the crop coincides perfectly with picnic and grilling season during late Spring and early Summer for those of us on the East Coast.

Vidalia Sweet Onion Tips

  • Select Sweet Onions that are free from soft spots. Yes, the outer skin will flake off and may look ugly, but that is what a fresh-crop Sweet Onion is like.
  • Use Vidalias within a week of purchase so they don’t spoil. Since the Vidalia in May and early June are a “fresh onion” (not allowed to cure and form a tough outer skin layer) they will not hold up as long in your pantry as a regular Yellow Onion.
  • Find helpful info and tons of recipes here at VidaliaOnion.org

 

Organic Vidalia Onions from Georgia are in season now through June. Enjoy them while you can!

 

Scrambled Eggs served with Grilled seasoned Vidalia Sweet Onion and topped with fresh Cilantro.

Buy smart. Shop healthy.

The Produce Geek, Jonathan K. Steffy

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