Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Summer summer summer time: Part 3 in the Produce Series

So, moving on to summertime fruits. Summer is my favorite because that's when peaches come into season and when it's more appropriate and people are less likely to judge your for drinking alcohol during the daytime.
When I was the chef at a hotel in Colorado, I ordered a case of Olathe sweet peaches one June. They were the most perfect looking peaches ever and they smelled amazing. Each one had a tiny green leaf on them and they were so cute. I cooked and baked with them, but I also placed them randomly throughout the hotel because they were so adorable. I think the housekeepers got annoyed with finding random peaches everywhere, but it made me happy. The rest of the stone fruits, like plums and pluots (a hybrid of plums and apricots)also come into season. Cherries and apricots are still in season during the summer. And along with the stone fruits, blueberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, and raspberries are in season.
With peaches, plums, and pluots, you want to find ones that are not bruised and are soft. If you're going to wait a few days before you eat it, buy it firm and it will ripen at home. Stone fruits won't actually ripen after they're harvested, so when you leave it on the counter to soften, the only major change is that the acidity level will drop a little bit. Don't put stone fruits in the refrigerator. They hate refrigerators. Don't even try it: if you put a bag of peaches in the refrigerator, they'll start crying. Plus, they actually have more flavor at room temperature, so do yourself and them a favor and leave them out on the counter. Here's a cool factoid about stone fruits. It works best in peaches and apricots, but if you break the pit open with a hammer, there's a small bitter almond inside of it, called "noyeau," sometimes spelled "noyaux." It's where bitter almond extract comes from, and the French make a liqueur out of crushed noyeau and brandy. You have to roast it for a few minutes in the oven before you use it because there are trace amounts of a not-safe-to-eat enzyme and roasting them will get ride of it. I like to crush up the noyeau and put it in pies for a little extra almond flavor.
With summer melons, you can thump and kick them all you want, but the best way to check for ripeness is by looking at the end of the melon where that little indented dimple is. (The "blossom end." That's where the melon was attached to the plant.) Press it and if it gives a little, its ripe. A ripe melon will also smell like a melon: cantaloupe is the easiest to check for ripeness. Look for melons that aren't cracked and are heavy for their size. And with watermelons, the ones WITH seeds usually have more flavor than the seedless ones. You're trading convenience for flavor in this case. And who doesn't love spitting watermelon seeds at people? I sure do. And if you don't, then I don't want to be your friend.
Berries are usually ripe in the store, but strawberries are easy to tell if they're not ripe: its all about color and the leaves. Strawberries should be a deep red with no green or white on them. The leaves should be green and soft. Definitely pass on the ones with hard leaves that are starting to turn brown. Again, check for smell because ripe strawberries smell divine. It's like smelling the bowl of potpourri at God's house. It's heavenly. Blueberries and raspberries should not be mushy or molded. Don't be afraid to open up the container and check them out. If you're not going to eat them for a few days, spread them out on a plate and put them in the refrigerator... mold is contagious and if one goes bad in the container, they'll all get moldy. And I'm pretty sure that if one jumped off a bridge, the rest of them would too.

And by the way, I totally don't have permission to use that photo of Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff. I hope I don't get sued because I'm pretty sure Will Smith is a Scientologist and nobody likes a litigious Scientologist.

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