Eat This Now | July 22nd, 2014

Heirloom TomatoesRed Seedless GrapesHoneydewEggplant

best if used by 07/29/14

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Heirloom Tomatoes

Peak Season Best Flavor

The most flavorful tomato time of the year is here! For me, Heirloom Tomatoes are one of the pinnacles of flavorful, simple enjoyment. Earthy, robust Russian Black Prince Tomatoes wedges sprinkled with a touch coarse salt and cracked black pepper plus shredded fresh Basil is hard to beat. Maybe a large, meaty slice of juicy, sweet and tangy Pink Brandywine or German Queen Tomato with a slice of sharp cheddar on a potato roll could top it. And homemade Peach Salsa made with Purple Cherokee Tomatoes plus a variety of other Heirloom Tomatoes is sublime.

Heirloom Tomatoes are in peak season this late July from plants protected by high-tunnels and most of August from open field production. The ones from my backyard garden will fill me up, but I also love the care many of the Central Pennsylvania growers give their Heirlooms. Organic Heirloom Tomatoes are in season from small farms in California this July and will be in season in the Mid-Atlantic region in August.

What exactly are Heirloom Tomatoes?

Most conventional, round Tomatoes have been hybrid-bred for consistency of size, shape, color, shelf-life and firmness – all so that they can safely make it through the supermarket supply channel and into your kitchen without getting soft or going bad. Heirlooms, on the other hand, are old and diverse varieties that have been around since WWII. Some have been passed down over the years by a family and others were created through natural cross-pollinations, still others were commercially produced by a seed company or university ag program ¾ of a century ago. With Heirloom varieties you can take seeds from this year’s fruit and plant it year after year and get the exact same tomato plant. Each Heirloom variety has its own special taste, texture, shape, size and color characteristics that make them unique and wonderful in their own way.

Discover the delightful tapestry of colors and flavors from summer Heirloom Tomatoes!

 

Tips

  • Soft? Straight-talk: Heirloom Tomatoes are soft to begin with – you should expect them to have a little give. Since they are not “bred” for shelf-life, do not expect a long shelf-life. Use them quickly.
  • Appearance? Oh, and they’re ugly by most normal standards, …but the flavor, whether sweet, earthy, bold, tangy or bold – is always beautiful!
  • Price? Since Heirlooms are not bred or hybridized for maximum production or disease resistance – yields are typically smaller and they cost more to grow. That is part of why you can expect to pay more. What is flavor worth to you?
  • Selection: Select Heirloom Tomatoes that are free from punctures, water blisters or large decay spots. Avoid Heirloom Tomatoes with open flesh splits or cracks that have not healed over into a scar. Otherwise, buy them and eat them!
  • Storage: Store Heirloom Tomatoes at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Do not refrigerate Tomatoes since it zaps flavor and ruins the texture.

What’s an Heirloom Tomato?

Red Seedless Grapes

Peak Season Best Flavor Value Priced

Seedless Grapes, both organic and conventional, are now in season from vineyards in the Fresno, Bakersfield, Delano areas California’s San Joaquin Valley. These ranches, with blocks of various grape varieties that ripen at different times of the summer and early fall, will produce the fresh Grapes sold now through October. So, what can you expect in late July from Grapes in the produce department? The flavor on the Green Seedless Grapes OK, but will improve in August. Red Seedless are what I recommend for this late July. The variety for the next few weeks is the sweet and tangy “Red Flame” that gives you a little juicy pop when you bit in. Flames are generally small and round. Usually Red Flames are dark red in color, but intense heat in early July caused some of the fruit to not fully color up. Don’t worry the flavor is still good and will get better throughout the season. Stay tuned for more fresh Grape updates this summer.

Tips

  • Select Grapes that feel firm to a gentle squeeze. Lift up the bag or container and look at it from all sides.
  • Look for Grapes with stems that are still green at the thickest parts and appear to still have life in them.
  • Choose packs that have most of the berries still on the vine.
  • Avoid bags that are wet and sticky – a sign that some of the Grapes are going bad – or have berries with splits or cracks.
  • Go ahead… ask the produce clerk for a sample grape or two. Tasting is believing!
  • Keep your Grapes refrigerated until you’re about ready to eat them, since they lose their crunch much quicker at room temperature.
  • Wash Grapes with a cold water rinse just before serving them.

Chill out with some in season California Red Flame seedless grapes.

 

Honeydew

Peak Season Best Flavor

There’s Honeydew. Then, there’s peak season, vine-ripened California Honeydew. Much of the year, it can be hit or miss when you try to find really flavorful and sweet Honeydew, but now through mid-September it will actually be difficult to find one that isn’t yummy! Big sizes are prevalent right now and couple that with the high cost of fuel – it adds up to Honeydew that are about $1-2 higher than Cantaloupes. Nevertheless, rest assured that you’ll get your money’s worth in the flavor department. This is how Honeydew is supposed to taste!

Tips

  • Ripe Honeydew will have a waxy feel and good ones begin to emit a tropical aroma as they ripen and soften at room temperature. Honeydew should give slightly to firm thumb pressure when it is ready to cut.
  • To get the most out of the melon: Slice the melon in half, scoop out the seeds, peel on a cutting board, chunk the flesh and store cut melon in the fridge.
  • Honeydew is good by itself as a snack, to mix into fresh fruit salads, to pair with cheese and add to smoothie recipes like this one.
  • Ever have Spa Water? It is basically flavoring your own water with fruit – a great way to stay deliciously hydrated. Honeydew and Watermelon is great for this! Find Spa Water Recipes here.

The best-tasting Honeydew Melons of the year are coming into season right now from California. Be sure to enjoy one while they’re peaking – now through mid-September.

Eggplant

Peak Season Best Flavor Value Priced

Fresh, local Eggplant will be an excellent choice from farms in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states during late July and August as growers are into their peak summer harvests. Expect nice quality, affordable prices and cool specialty varieties too! Eggplant is great for roasting, grilling, frying and steaming.

Summer Varieties

  • Regular: Regular Eggplant, sometimes called Black Beauty or Black Bell Eggplant, are large in size and dark purple in skin color. They are the all-purpose Eggplant found in most produce departments.
  • Italian: Italian Eggplant, also called Baby Eggplant, looks like Regular Eggplant only smaller and more slender. This variety is ideal for roasting and can be used in ways similar to regular eggplant.
  • Graffiti: Graffiti Eggplant is beautiful! If features a lavender skin streaked with white stripes. Use Graffiti Eggplant the same as regular eggplant.
  • Sicilian Eggplant: Sicilian Eggplant is a round Eggplant with lavender skin color that varies dark to light. Careful, there can be some gnarly spikes on the calyx. This variety is the very best type for making classic Eggplant Parmesan thanks to its firm texture and round shape for cutting.
  • Asian varieties: I am not an expert on the myriad of Asian types of Eggplant other than Japanese Eggplant that is long, slender and lavender, and Indian Eggplant that is purple and has twisted ribbing and inconsistent shape. Most Asian Eggplant varieties are slightly less bitter than Mediterranean Eggplants.

Tips

  • Selecting: Choose Eggplant that is firm, not soft, is free from brown-sunken areas, and has some green color still in calyx around the stem.
  • Storage: Store whole Eggplant at room temperature though in a cooler spot away from direct sunlight. Do not store Eggplant in plastic bags or sealed containers since the lack of respiration will make the fruit decay quicker. You can refrigerate it, but over time cold temperatures make the Eggplant lose flavor and become flabby.
  • Stop S.E.G. To avoid “Soggy Eggplant Syndrome” in your dishes, sprinkle coarse or sea salt on sliced Eggplant and let it set for 10 to 20 minutes. Rinse the slices and pat them dry with a paper towel. This process will draw out some of the moisture to the Eggplant texture and shape holds up better during cooking.
  • Cooking how-to? Click here to learn how to cook Eggplant perfectly using multiple methods.
  • Eggplant Recipes: Check out these 15 Easy Eggplant recipes from Real Simple.

It’s EGGPLANT SEASON in New Jersey.

Buy smart. Shop healthy.

The Produce Geek, Jonathan K. Steffy

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