By Herb Gardener.
Summertime, yes, but where temperatures soar the living isn’t easy. Flavors and More organic produce authority Mitch Blumenthal recommends a simple pleasure to beat the August heat—stone fruit.
At a recent visit to his home nestled amongst fields of lemongrass, blackberries and Chinese long beans, Mitch and his family served Flora and me a bowl of chilled Rainier cherries to salute a sultry dusk. The pink champagne-colored fruits were sweet and refreshing, preferable in my estimation to the familiar Bing variety. Mitch said peaches, plums and other stone fruit reach their peak in the summer months, and represent one of your best produce buys.
In response to my question, “what is your favorite organic food/cuisine destination,” Mitch replied that he could name a few in selected cities, but his favorite remains his own backyard. Like the purple string beans I planted years ago as a novelty, burgundy okra turns a pedestrian green when cooked. But according to Mitch, the handsome, tender pods he grows and picks every day are best enjoyed raw. Yes, raw okra.
Where can growers find heirloom seeds? Mitch pointed me to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which specializes in open-pollinated, nongenetically modified varieties grown prior to 1940 (http://www.southernexposure.com/index.html). Commercial agribusinesses rely on hybrid seed lines producing vegetables that ship well, ripen uniformly and tolerate a controlled, chemical growing environment. Heirlooms, however, were selected for their attractiveness, flavor and local adaptability. Tomatoes are the marquee heirloom item, but even heirloom habenero peppers are available. I suggest wearing a Hazmat suit when extracting those seeds.
Mitch has an enlightened philosophy concerning pests. “Sometimes, the bugs win.” Organic farming has developed natural strategies to combat insects, fungus, and the like, yet Mitch concedes that occasionally it is better to start over with a new crop. He prefers fruits and vegetables with quick growing cycles as a means to thwart the worst infestations.
Getting back to Mitch’s pitch for stone fruit, poaching is an overlooked preparation for these summer delights. Give “Betty” and “Melba” the night off and try the recipe below.
(courtesy of Wild Women in the Kitchen: 101 Rambunctious Recipes and 99 Tasty Tales by The Wild Women Association).
2 cups red wine
2 cups water
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
6 ripe peaches, peeled, halved, and pitted
6 lemon slices
In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients except peaches and lemon. Bring to a boil, lower heat, simmer five minutes. Add the peaches and lemon to the pot, cover, and poach on medium-low heat until tender, about 20 minutes. To serve, strain the sauce, place two peach halves in each dessert dish, and spoon the sauce on top. Serves six.