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Springtime brings bounty of fresh California produce

Mar./Apr. 2005 California Country magazine

Andy Powning offers recommendations for spring fruits and vegetables.




Andy Powning, Produce Specialist

Spring has officially sprung, so make a trip to the local farmers' markets, U-pick fields, roadside stands and grocery stores to take advantage of the bounty provided by Mother Nature and the people who represent California agriculture.

"The beauty of eating seasonally is many-fold: to have a tangible connection with our environment, to be aware of where our food comes from and to be in sync with the seasons, which means you are supporting local growers, eating the freshest produce and getting the best nutrition," said Andy Powning, produce specialist for GreenLeaf Produce in San Francisco and a segment reporter for California Farm Bureau Federation's television program, California Country. "By supporting local growers you are doing your part to ensure that land used for agriculture remains so and that family farming continues to be a viable means of living."

Powning's recommendations for this time of year include:

Artichokes: Virtually 100 percent of all artichokes grown in the United States come from California. Each artichoke plant produces a range of bud sizes, with the larger sizes being the main buds and the offshoots the smaller buds.

Powning suggests trimming the woody stem and outer leaves or bracts, and then blanching the artichokes in boiling, salted water for a couple of minutes. Halve or quarter, and sauté with some olive oil over medium heat until soft when pierced with a fork, and slightly browned. Season with salt and pepper, and a spritz of lemon juice.

English shelling peas: With its delicious and delicate flavor, the basic green pea or English shelling pea is another spring harbinger that is grown in the Golden State.

"The plants do not like heat so now is the perfect window to 'a-peas' your appetite," Powning said. "It is critical that they are used when fresh. As soon they are off of the plant their natural sugars convert quickly to starches, so if they are not fresh you are going to think you are chewing up wooden nickels. Freshness is everything."

One of Powning's favorite ways to prepare fresh English peas is to lightly and quickly sauté with a little bit of butter, maybe some shallots, and season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus: Widely cultivated for its tender, succulent, edible shoots, asparagus is available from January through May, according to the California Asparagus Commission. California leads the nation in asparagus production with about 50,000 tons annually.

"When selecting asparagus, always look for ones that are heavy for their size and look for a fairly fresh cut on the bottom end," Powning said. "Asparagus is a grass, so freshness is important. Find them at your local farmers' market, plus you get the added benefit of taking a field trip and engaging your kids in the wonder of nature and her bounty."

Strawberries: California is the nation's leading producer of strawberries. In 2003, growers harvested 1.8 billion pounds of strawberries, which accounted for 88 percent of the country's total fresh and frozen strawberry production, according to the California Strawberry Commission.

The perfect strawberry is red throughout and solid, Powning said. One of his favorites is the Chandler variety, which is very flavorful.

Minneola tangelos: A cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin, the Minneola tangelo comes on later than most cool-weather citrus, and lasts longer, too. Tangelos are now prime--loaded with sugary juice and raring to go. A deep, reddish-orange hue and a knob-like formation at the stem end make Minneolas easily identifiable.

"This winter citrus is virtually seed free, easy peeling and perfect for any lunch bag," Powning said. "The rich and very juicy Minneola tangelo has a distinct flavor and while it has good sugar, it also has a nice kick from its grapefruit heritage. It is a complete pleasure to eat."

Kiwifruit: Fresh California-grown kiwifruit is available during the winter and spring months due to kiwifruit's late fall harvest. With proper storage and handling, California kiwifruit is available for up to eight months--from October through May, according to the California Kiwifruit Commission.

"The interior of the kiwifruit features a firm, green pulp that contains many tiny, black, edible seeds," Powning said. "Rich in vitamin C, kiwifruit carries 10 times more than the similar weight of lemon."


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