Remember the first day of Spring? That was way back on March 21st, a full month after the heaviest rains had stopped, and more than six weeks ago. California’s seasons are so incremental that you really have to pay attention to things like dates on the calendar to ascertain whether they have come or gone. In California strawberries grow year round, but first they must be fooled into thinking winter has come and gone in their mountain nurseries in Oregon before they are planted down here — the land of the never ending growing season.
The winter rains brought forth an abundance of greenery throughout the state. The ensuing cool, clear weather and all the green has turned California’s semi-arid landscape into a tapestry of Spring. Wildflowers are out in record numbers in Death Valley, my roses are blooming like crazy, and Weiser Farms’ stand is still bursting with lilacs. Things have been so downright Spring-like around here that we can all be excused for being a little surprised that summer has just about crept up on us.
The arrival of “summer fruit” is what signals the end of California’s Spring. Seasonal growers of cherries, peaches and nectarines start calling to reserve their selling spaces with the caveat that their actual return date “depends on the weather.” Fruit orchards around the state benefited from winter’s deep soaking, but a late rain the last week of April caused some serious damage to the early cherry crop. Berlats, Brooks and Tulares are the earliest bearing cherries. They have a soft flesh that is susceptible to rain damage, and they were hard-hit over the past two weeks. The high value Bings were still green when the late rains hit, so growers are hopeful that the crop will come through intact.
Farmers try hard to be patient while waiting for their summer peaches, apricots and nectarines to “color up.” They diligently thin the small fruit when it is no bigger than an almond, leaving just three or four pieces per limb so that it will size up for harvest. They are in their orchards every day, tasting the ripest fruit for flavor. And here we were, the first week of May, days before Mother’s day, with some white peaches from Scott Farm in Dinuba. They were delightfully sweet, and they held well at room temperature while they continued softening and developing flavor. The early April Glo and Mayfire nectarines will be delicious, too, as farmers begin bringing them to market.
This week Tamai Farm promises to have some sweet white corn from the Imperial Valley — almost in time for Mother’s Day. This is the first of the Tamai’s several plantings of corn that precedes their Oxnard harvest in July of the variegated yellow and white Calico corn. White corn varieties have become more popular than the standard yellow ones, but some white corn has gone all the way over from sweet to insipid. The Tamais have experimented with several types of white corn, and they have settled on a flavorful old variety that is very similar to the Silver Queen – the one that made white corn so popular in the first place.With corn and peaches in at the markets, one would almost think that summer was almost upon us. One of the highlights of the Mother’s Day milestone is that the threat of damaging rain and hail is past, but tender tree fruit is always susceptible to the ravages of rain. We would all do well to begin dusting off our recipes so that we can take advantage of the first summer fruits of the season. As with all of California’s long and mild seasons, the beginning of the season, when change is perceptible, is a good time to celebrate with whatever produce is new in the markets.