Eat This Now | July 28th, 2015

Local Sweet CornLocal Athena CantaloupesVine Ripe TomatoesGrape TomatoesCucumbers

Best if used by 08/04/15

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Local Sweet Corn

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

Summer is for Sweet Corn. Sweet, flavorful, juicy, and yeah, you can eat it with your hands – nice features for a veggie. Corn-on-the-Cob is pretty much required eating at picnics, parties and BBQ’s – and nobody is really complaining about that, right? Oh, some may complain about getting kernel skins stuck in their teeth, but that usually doesn’t stop them from enjoying it. Maybe you can keep toothpicks handy for them. If you want to go beyond picnic food, here are some cool Sweet Corn recipes to try.

Tips

  • Selecting: Choose Sweet Corn that feels full up and down the cob and has green husks.
  • Storage: Sweet Corn will last in your fridge for about a week when stored in a plastic bag, but will dehydrate and lose flavor every day it sits – so try to use it right away.
  • Boil: Over-cooking is the #1 MISTAKE people make with Sweet Corn, since it can lead to toughness and less flavor. 3-4 minutes in boiling water is really all it takes for perfectly tender Locally grown Sweet Corn on the Cob.
  • Microwave: Microwave on high in the husk for 4-6 minutes. If fresh corn is already husked, wrap in a damp paper towel and microwave on high for about 5 minutes.
  • Grill: Pre-heat Grill to high. Remove loose outer leaves of Sweet Corn. Rinse the husks with water to add some moisture. Grill for 8-11 minutes, flipping 1-2 times. Remove from heat and husk it just before serving. This method adds a smokey flavor to your corn and makes removing the silk a breeze.

One of the very best things I ate a few summers ago was Spicy Mexican-style Street Corn on the Cob – like you’d find sold from a food cart along the sidewalk next to a park in NYC. The fresh sweet corn was roasted in the husk, then husked, served in foil topped with butter, lime juice, paprika, salt, chili powder and Cojita Cheese crumbles (like a Mexican version of Parmesan or Feta). The combination was sweet, spicy and tangy all at once. I had never tasted anything quite like this. Needless to say, I was floored.

Below is my attempt to recreate some of those flavors. If you can’t get authentic Cojita Cheese where you shop, try substituting plain Feta.

Recipe: Mexican-style Street Corn Salad with Tomatoes

  1. Boil 10 ears of Sweet Corn for 3 minutes, then slice the kernels from cob (about 2lb net) into a glass bowl
  2. Melt 6 tbsp Butter into hot trimmed corn (microwave if needed)
  3. Squeeze the juice of 1 Lime onto the Buttered Corn Kernels
  4. Add 2 Vine Ripe or Heirloom Tomatoes, cored, peeled, diced to bowl
  5. Season with: ½ tsp each Coarse Salt, Chili Powder and ¼ tsp each Paprika, Garlic Powder, Cumin
  6. Fold ingredients together with a spoon or spatula
  7. Top with ¼ Cup Cojita Cheese (or Parmesan, or plain Feta Crumbled Cheese) – re-stir
  8. Serve Warm

Peak season for Local Sweet Corn has arrived in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Mid-West regions and will continue through the rest of the summer. Many growers are now picking their super-sweet varieties daily. In my neck of the woods, Lancaster County, PA grown White and Bi-Color Corn is tasting fantastic – explosively juicy and bursting with sweetness – I can eat it raw!

Mexican-style Street Corn Salad with Tomatoes

Local Athena Cantaloupes

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

A Local Cantaloupe, the type of melon I grew up with, with its rich taste and fragrance still bring back great memories of working on a farm in Lancaster County, PA as a teenager each summer – picking, sorting, counting and selling Athena Cantaloupes. Athena-type varieties, also called Mush Melons, Musk Melons or Eastern Melons, are identifiable on the outside by the subtle ribs on the slightly oblong melon. As they ripen, you can smell them! – a pleasing tropical aroma starts to become pronounced. Inside, the flesh is softer than other traditional Western Cantaloupes with extra juiciness and a sweet, rich melon flavor.

Athena-style Cantaloupes are now into their peak season harvests at the many small farms Mennonite and Amish farms in my area – southeaster PA – as well as from other produce farms in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Mid-West. Now through the second week of August will be the very best time of the year to enjoy these melons at the peak of their flavor and quality. Athena-style Cantaloupes are not popular or available everywhere, mostly because their soft flesh and high sugar content translates into shorter shelf-life at the store and at home. But in my book, I’d take great flavor over shelf-life any day!

Local Athena Cantaloupe Tips

  • Select Athena Cantaloupes with a straw color and plenty of webbing on the rind.
  • Avoid Athena Cantaloupes with: holes, soft spots, sunken areas, large smooth spots, stems still attached the fruit or a squishy feel.
  • Ripening: Most Local Cantaloupes are picked fully ripe and are ready to eat right away. But I typically store Athena Cantaloupes at room temperature until the fruit emits a sweet tropical aroma and the end opposite the stem gives just slightly to thumb pressure. Refrigerate after cutting.

 
 

Select Athena Cantaloupes with a straw color and plenty of webbing on the rind.

Vine Ripe Tomatoes

Peak Season    Best Flavor

That time of year when you have a good-old-fashioned Tomato Sandwich like every other day of the week …maybe even more? It’s here!

Slightly acidic, slightly sweet – thick, meaty and perfect for slicing – it’s Vine Ripe Tomato time! Tomatoes that TASTE like… like, well, Tomatoes. What a concept! Slice away friends, because peak season is rockin’ for local Vine Ripe Tomatoes from my favorite growing regions: Southern New Jersey and Central Pennsylvania. In fact, here in late July and August much of the country is harvesting their own local Vine Ripe Tomatoes – be it from vegetable farms or backyard gardens.

Why is it that Tomatoes are often more flavorful at your favorite supermarket, produce market or stand during the height of summer? Two things: Vine Ripening. Great Varieties. Here’s the deal. Tomatoes soften as they ripen and the longer growers leave them on the vine to become ripe, the less time they have to ship them to stores and the less time stores have to sell them without many of the Tomatoes going bad. So during most of the year a large percentage of Tomatoes are picked at maturity, but are still green and hard to allow for long shelf life needed to over-come shipping time and distance. Those are technically referred to as “Mature Greens” even though the product is sometimes sold as “Vine Ripe” once the fruit ages and colors up to close to red. Time, warmth and ethylene gas ripen the Mature Greens to a dark pink to red color, but the fruit is still firm and lacks flavor.

Vine Ripe Tomato Tips

  • Do Not Refrigerate Your Tomatoes (unless you’ve sliced them) because temperatures under the mid-50s make for poor texture and blunt the flavor. Room temperature, like on your counter out of direct sunlight, seems to work best.
  • Select Vine Ripe Tomatoes with a vibrant red color that are free from wrinkling, black spotting, water blisters (translucent area of skin) or unhealed splits. Scars, healed splits or leaf stains on the skin will not impact your eating experience.  The fruit can feel lightly firm to lightly soft, but avoid spongy feeling tomatoes.

Anatomy of a Summer Tomato Sandwich

  1. Thick slices of Vine Ripe Red Tomatoes or Heirloom Tomatoes (slicer varieties)
  2. Salt and Pepper
  3. More Mayonnaise than you would normal slather on a sandwich
  4. Bread. (Soft Potato Rolls or Thick-cut Toasted Bread are my favorites)
    • Optional Tomato Sandwich Bling:
    • Cheese – Cheddar or Cooper Sharp are winners
    • Dijon Mustard for the other piece of bread not covered with Mayonnaise

True Vine Ripened Tomatoes grown outside in rich soil fields, on the other hand, are picked from the vine when the Tomato is almost light red in color and quickly turn dark red. Vine Ripes are delicate and have shorter shelf life, but man, is the flavor worth it! And for even bigger, bolder flavors try Heirloom Tomatoes this August.

Anatomy of a Summer Tomato Sandwich

 
 

Grape Tomatoes

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

The snacking tomato! Local Grape Tomato farms from the coastal Eastern Seaboard to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to New York are now beginning to pick their peak summer crop. Organic Grape Tomatoes are in season too! With all of these Grape Tomatoes coming on at once, prices are dropping and you can expect them to be on sale frequently. Open a pack, give them a rinse and enjoy! You can expect nice flavor from these local harvests.
 

Cucumbers

Peak Season    Value Priced

Local harvests of fresh field-grown Cucumbers are now in peak season from farms in the Mid-Atlantic region. Expect some in-store or advertised specials during late July and early August. With a cool, crunchy texture Cucumbers are great for salads, snacking and dipping. Excellent for juicing, Cucumbers have anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties, plus they add plenty of liquid volume to juice blends.

Cucumber Tips

  • Selecting? Choose Cucumbers that feel firm and have no sunken areas. A yellow belly is fine – that’s where it sat on the ground.
  • Storage? Keep Cucumbers refrigerated so they hold up longer.
  • Wax? Cucumbers from small-scale local farms typically are not treated with food grade wax to extend shelf life so use what you buy within a couple days. Some local cucumbers from larger farms do have a food wax coating (you can feel it) that can be rinsed off with a hand scrubbing.
  • Peeling? The bitter taste some people dislike in regular salad-type Cucumbers is found in the skin. For a more mild flavor, peel off some or all of the skin.
  • Recipes? Ideas for Cucumbers can be found here.

Selecting? Choose Cucumbers that feel firm and have no sunken areas. A yellow belly is fine – that’s where it sat on the ground.

Buy smart. Shop healthy.

The Produce Geek, Jonathan K. Steffy

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