The Summer of Food
With the first day of summer just a few short weeks away, we’re planning our menus for the backyard cookouts and picnics in the park! Keep your eyes peeled for these delicious fruits and vegetables at your farmers’ market!
Although technically a fruit, avocados are generally considered a vegetable and were first introduced to California in the late 1800s. Today, as Rebecca Wood states in her book, The New Foods Encyclopedia, 90% of the domestic supply in the United States comes from California, primarily San Diego County. Many varieties of avocado are available at the farmers’ markets in Northern California, though Hass is the most popular and has an excellent shelf life.
Avocados are high in fiber and healthy fats (mostly monounsaturated and some omega-3s), which are anti-inflammatory, help to stabilize blood sugar, and improve bowel function. These versatile fruits are a delicious addition to any meal and make a great substitute for dairy in dips, dressings, and spreads.
Most varieties can be stored at room temperature until ready to eat and then refrigerated for up to 2–3 days. To speed ripening, place an avocado in a paper bag with an apple or banana at room temperature. The natural ethylene gas produced by the fruit will help ripen the avocado organically. Cut avocados can be sprinkled with lemon or lime juice, placed in an airtight container, and refrigerated to prevent browning.
In California, June marks the first fig harvest of the year (known as the breba crop), which produces a smaller, more acidic fruit that is best suited for making preserves. The second harvest in September produces a larger, sweeter fruit. Fresh figs are delicate and highly perishable, so most Californian figs are dried before distribution to other states. Lucky Bay Area locals can find fresh figs from local Brentwood seller, Knoll Farms, who has four different varieties of figs available this month.
Figs are low in calories and fat and high in whole carbohydrates and fiber, which are beneficial for digestive support and weight loss. Rich in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and polyphenols, such as carotenoids and anthocyanins, figs can lower inflammation and help the body overcome chronic oxidative stress. According to the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, figs are one of “nature’s most highly alkaline foods” and help to optimize the acid-alkaline balance in the body.
Available in shades of white, green, purple, or red, this versatile fruit is a delicious addition to salads, smoothies, or oatmeal; can be made into jam; or chopped, dried, and added to baked desserts.
Any immature bean harvested in the pod stage before they fully ripen are “green beans”. According to Wood, though generally green, varieties can also be purple and yellow (also known as wax beans), and include string beans (which contain a fibrous string along the pod seam), snap beans (a modern stringless variety of the string bean), and haricot verts (French beans that are long and slender), among others.
Green beans are high in vitamins C, K, provitamin A, and folate, which support the nervous system, immunity, and healthy skin. High in manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, and copper, they also support metabolism function, and the production of healthy blood cells, healthy cholesterol and blood lipids, and musculoskeletal tissues.
Look for crisp, firm beans at the market and use them raw in salads, sauté with other vegetables in a stir fry, or steam them and add to soups or other dishes.
Most likely originating from West Africa, okra is a popular staple in the Southern United States, Africa, Japan, and the Middle East. The okra plant is heat and drought tolerant, which makes it a perfect summer vegetable. Okra has a reputation for being slimy because the tiny pods inside the vegetable contain the same gel (or mucilage) that is found in an aloe vera plant. Some forms of cooking increase the sliminess, and while okra can be grilled or toasted to counteract this attribute, the gel can be leveraged to thicken soups or stews, as it is used in the French Creole dish, Gumbo. As Rebecca Woods mentions, the mucilage also helps lubricate the intestines and eases constipation.
Low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, but high in fiber, okra is an excellent food for weight loss, digestive support, and helps to cleanse the liver. It is high in vitamins K, C, folate, B1, B6, and provitamin A, which support the nervous system, blood clotting, immunity, and metabolism.
In addition to grilling, toasting, and its use as a thickener in soups, okra can be eaten raw or pickled and added to salads or smoothies. Its seeds and skin are entirely edible, crunchy, and have a subtle taste. Though okra grows best in hot weather and much of the okra in California is grown near San Diego in the south, there are several farms in the Central Valley to look out for at the farmers’ markets in San Francisco, namely Capay Organic and Fresno Family Farm.
Originating from China over 2,000 years ago, the plum is a member of the stone fruit family which includes apricots, peaches, and nectarines, among others. Today, California is second only to China in the world’s production of plums. There are thousands of varieties, and no less than 26 can be found at Bay Area farmers’ markets, like the delicious fruits from Blossom Bluff Orchards at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco on Saturdays.
According to the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, plums have phenolic compounds that can have antioxidant and anti-cancer effects. They are also high in fiber, which supports digestive function, cardiovascular health, and prevents constipation and the imbalance of blood lipids. They are high in the minerals potassium, copper, and manganese, which help regulate blood pressure and coronary health. Wood warns to eat plums in moderation, because, due to the high content of oxalic acid, they may deplete calcium from the body.
Plums can be eaten raw as a snack or dessert, and added to salads, yogurt, smoothies, or cereals. Alternatively, plums can be dried (a.k.a. prunes), frozen, baked, or cooked into jams or chutneys.
Originally from Central and South America, there are now over 500 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Ed George of The Peach Farm grows 100 varieties alone on his Yolo County farm near Sacramento. Wood states that, though technically a fruit, this member of the nightshade family was legally classified as a vegetable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893 because it is used as a vegetable in cooking. For optimal flavor and health benefits, it is best to buy local, organically grown tomatoes. Commercial tomatoes are picked before they’re ripe, shipped green, and “hard-ripened” with ethylene gas (which is a naturally occurring gas produced by some fruits and vegetables as noted in the avocado section above). This type of gas treatment removes chlorophyll (the green color) from the skin of the tomato and, with it, the wonderful flavor and aroma that makes tomatoes so delicious.
Tomatoes are high in the antioxidants lycopene and carotene, which protect the body from inflammation. According to the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, lycopene can have anti-cancer effects and has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Cooking tomatoes increases the bioavailability of lycopene by “liberating [it] from the plant cells.” Tomatoes are delicious both raw and cooked. Dried tomatoes add great flavor to many dishes and are best used after being rehydrated in water.
Murray, M. T., Pizzorno, J. E., & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. New York: Atria Books.
Seasonality Charts. (n.d.). Retrieved 4/24/17, from http://www.cuesa.org/eat-seasonally/charts
Wood, R. T. (2010). The new whole foods encyclopedia: a comprehensive resource for healthy eating. New York, NY: Penguin Books.