Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Late Summer Bounty

I'd like to preface this post by apologizing to all my readers (assuming I have any left) for my long absence.  It was inexcusable, and I'll try my damnedest not to let it happen again.

That said, I'll dive right in.  What can you find locally right now?  The question really should be, what can't you find.

Summer tomatoes are at their peak.  I will try to do a more in-depth article on them later, but for now, I urge everyone to buy as many as they want, and then buy extras.  This is because, tragically, we will not be enjoying our tomatoes for much longer, at least not here in the midwest, and I am told that the same goes for many other parts of the country.  This is because, due to the unusually wet and cool spring and early summer, combined with a few batches of contaminated tomatoes from big  box stores, late blight has set in on nearly all tomatoes.  This fungal disease is the very same one that caused the great Potato Famine in the 1800's.  I know that most of the people I have spoken with at the farmer's markets tell me that their tomato crops are being decimated by the disease.  My own heirlooms have not been immune to it either, and as they are ripening slowly, I'm beginning to worry that I'll scarcely get to taste them before the plants die entirely.  

However, many home gardeners and market enthusiasts are being deluged with tomatoes at present, and with that in mind, I recommend that you do your best to eat as many raw tomatoes as possible, and that what you cannot eat, you preserve either via the freezer or by canning.  If you feel that you cannot eat that much tomato sauce, remember that there are dozens of fun alternate uses for extra tomatoes.  One of my favorite is salsa, what with the bounty of peppers that is also going on.  You could oven roast the tomatoes to dry them, or go the traditional sun-dried route.  If you really wanted to be different, you could try to come up with some non-traditional uses for tomatoes, such as a tomato-basil sorbet, for instance.

Another thing that I can't get enough of, but will soon be gone is sweet corn, which again, I will be doing a more comprehensive post on later.  The wet spring meant that some farmers got their corn in late, while others got it in on time, which means that the corn season is somewhat extended this year.  But right now, it's cheap and plentiful, so if you are an afficianado of sweet corn, stock up on it for preservation purposes.  Yesterday, R. picked up our CSA delivery, which included a massive amount of corn, and I've been working out what to do with it all.  One of my favorite methods is to cook it on the grill, in the husk, along with whatever meat I'm using.  I found this recipe, which uses a slightly different method of roasting, and which I intend to try soon, as well as the recipe that follows for corn salsa.  But obviously, there are more uses than this.  Simply cooking extra corn and freezing the kernels for later use is always a good way to preserve excess corn.  I love skillet cornbread with fresh corn kernels in it, like this recipe.  Don't throw away your corn cobs!  Simmer them for an hour or so to make an absolutely wonderful corn stock, which can serve as your base for all sorts of great corn soups.  Or try making corncob jelly.  

If peppers are your thing, they're plentiful now, from mild bells in every color (including purple) to jalapenos (smoke them to make your own chipotles) to the scorching orange habanero (for the brave of heart, only).  Whatever level of heat you prefer, chances are you'll find what you want right now.  And don't be afraid to take advantage of rarer varieties from the farmer's market.

Melons are peaking now as well.  Watermelons, seeded and seedless, are everywhere, as well as fragrant canteloupes and muskmelons, honeydews, and a number of other rarer types.  Enjoy them while they last, whether you wrap a piece of ham or prosciutto around a juicy orange slice of muskmelon, squeeze lime over your honeydew, or make an Indian curry out of your watermelon.

There are still dozens of other vegetables and fruits that are plentiful in your own garden or at the market right now.  Don't be afraid to experiment, as this is the time when ingredients are at their best.  Remember, eating your veggies is good for you!

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