Now that the summer fruit has safely arrived in all its glorious profusion at the farmers’ market following a long, cool spring, shoppers can turn their attention to some of the other things that are showing up on farmers’ tables.
Dawn Birch from Flora Bella Farm in Three Rivers is offering some plump bunches of purslane at her stand. Purslane is a long-stemmed green that resembles watercress but with thicker leaves. Purslane is delicious eaten raw; when cooked it takes on the slimy texture of okra – still good, but sometimes not expected. Purslane is the one plant that contains EFA’s – essential fatty acids – that are so beneficial to health and most commonly consumed in oils from fish. Purslane’s primarily lemony flavor is found mostly in the stems, which are tender and easy to eat. The whole plant – stems and leaves – can be coarsely chopped and added to salads or as an accompaniment to any cooked dish.
Also at the Flora Bella stand you will find armload-sized bales of fresh garbanzo beans, still attached to the stalks and with the roots dangling. Dawn explains that if the plant is cut or if the beans are pulled off they begin to dry out and the tender freshness of the young green beans begins to be lost. It is no secret why more garbanzo beans do not show up at farmers’ markets. On each three-foot long stalk there will be maybe two or three pods containing just two beans each – hence the need to buy fresh garbanzos by the “bale.” Look for the bright green pods among the leaves and pop them open to pluck out the fresh, tender green garbanzos inside. You will be rewarded with an uncommonly delicious treat – a fresh bean that is crisp and tender. You will certainly be advised not to cook these delicate beans and enjoy them in their rare, natural state.
Globe eggplant is making its first appearance at the market. This is the large, deep purple, ovoid variety that renders large slices for breading and baking. The sight of eggplant sends some people scrambling for tomatoes, summer squash and onions to roast or braise and combine in wonderful stews. Harry’s Berries has some sweet SunGold cherry tomatoes – drops of tomato heaven that get even sweeter and more intense when they are oven-roasted. Valdivia Farm has some baby whole squashes like pattypan, as well as tiny zucchinis with their big yellow flowers still attached. You can stuff the blossom end of these diminutive squashes with a cube of cheese, then roll them in egg and cornmeal and fry them till they are crisp and the cheese melts.
Circle C Ranch is bringing in cherries that are just now getting ripe. Clarence Blain has at least a dozen varieties of cherries, including the wonderful sour cooking cherry that is prized by pastry chefs. Some of the cherry varieties from Circle C are unknown even to the farmer but they are identified by taste and color and always delicious. Fans of the Circle C Persian mulberries will have to wait for about another month to get these coveted berries – so rare, so tasty, so unforgettable. A few other farmers including Garcia Organic and Tenerelli Farm have begun to plant enough Persian mulberries to bring to market, but patience is always required to enjoy these incomparable treats.