Eat This Now | July 29th, 2014

Local Athena CantaloupesGrape TomatoesGreen Bell PeppersYellow Nectarines

best if used by 08/05/14

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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 the farm as a teenager – picking, sorting, counting and selling Lancaster County Athena-style Cantaloupes. Athena-type varieties, also called Mush 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. During a good growing season like this year, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania Athena Cantaloupes are exquisite! – extra juicy and sweet rich melon flavor.

Athena-style Cantaloupes are now into their peak season harvests at Mennonite and Amish farms in my area – Lancaster County, 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, quality and value. Yes, I am biased, but everyone I’ve sample Local Cantaloupes with this week has been impressed too. 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!

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.

Late July through Mid-August will be the BEST time this year to enjoy delicious, juicy-sweet Athena-style Cantaloupes from local farms in the Mid-Atlantic.


Grape Tomatoes

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

Local Grape Tomato farms from the coastal Eastern Seaboard to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to New York are now beginning the harvests of 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!

Remember, tomatoes hate the fridge – room temperature is best to preserve their flavor and texture.

Green Bell Peppers

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

What’s your favorite recipe with Green Peppers? Stir-fry, sauté, grill, stuff or slice up for a salad some Green Bell Peppers this week! Why? Farms in growing areas like New Jersey and Pennsylvania are into peak summer pickings of solid, jumbo and extra-large Green Bell Peppers. Select Green Peppers that feel firm and are free from wrinkles. Store them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for up to a few days.

Recipe: Greek Salad with Cucumber & Green Bell Pepper (serves 4)

  1. Wash 1 head of Romaine Lettuce or 1.5 Romaine Hearts
  2. Chop Lettuce across the rib into ¾” thick ribbons
  3. Slice 1 Green Bell Pepper into ribbons
  4. Cut 1 Cucumber (peeled and seeds removed) length-wise then into ¼” slices
  5. Slice ½ Red Onion
  6. Wedge cut 1 Vine Ripe Tomato,
  7. Toss vegetables with 4 tbsp Greek Vinaigrette in a large mixing bowl
  8. Top salad with crumbled Feta Cheese and Hot Banana Pepper Rings (Black Olives optional)

Local Green Bell Peppers are in peak season in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast now through September.

Yellow Nectarines

Peak Season    Best Flavor

Nectarine lovers – it’s your time. Yellow Nectarines, with nice sweet-acidic balance and full flavor, from California tree fruit ranches taste really good and are now the convenient free-stone varieties that separate easily from the pit. Washington growers are set to start picking their high-flavor, high quality Yellow Nectarines in early August and local Yellow Nectarines are available from New Jersey here on the East Coast (though the harvest is small this year).

Nectarine Tips

  • Select Nectarines that are free from soft spots or wrinkles. The fruit should have deep yellow skin with red blush. Avoid Nectarines that have green-color where yellow would be – a sign of immaturity.
  • Nectarines do not gain any sugar content through ripening after they are picked. However, as a Yellow-flesh Nectarine softens and the juices release within the flesh – the fruit tastes sweeter.
  • An ideally ripe Nectarine with give just slightly It only takes a day or two at room temperature to ripen a Nectarine to nicely soft and juicy enough to require a napkin. Yum!
  • Prevent “mealy fruit.” Too many days on your counter or, worse too many days in your fridge, will leave you with a mealy, dehydrated Nectarine.
  • Did you know that unlike their fuzzy cousin, the Peach, smooth-skinned Nectarines don’t need to be peeled for use in recipes? Here is a collection of Nectarine Recipes, in case you’d like to move beyond simply snacking on Nectarines as hand fruit.

Free-stone varieties of Yellow Nectarines with sweet-acidic balance are in peak season during August.

Buy smart. Shop healthy.

The Produce Geek, Jonathan K. Steffy

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