Thursday, August 04, 2011

Back for Summer's Bounty

With trips to St. Louis and Maine over the past month, I've been necessarily neglectful in updating this blog, and more importantly of indulging in the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables now before us.

 This week I aim to remedy the situation.

Maybe by this weekend (or even this afternoon, when I intend to hit the Fairmount farmers' market) I'll be impressed with local tomatoes. So far, I have not. The Lancaster County beefsteak tomato I picked up yesterday at Ben Kauffman's RTM stall was quite disappointing. Clearly, this wasn't a winter tomato: it was red all the way through with plenty of meat. But the taste failed to live up to its promise. Although I didn't buy them, the heirlooms at both Ben's and Fair Food looked lackluster.

Could it have been July's excessive heat that accounted for the wan flavor? I know extreme and prolonged heat can toughen the skin, among other problems, but does it impact flavor?

The nectarines purchased at Fair Food yesterday, however, were wonderful. These beauties, from Beechwood Orchards (which also sells at Headhouse, Rittenhouse, South & Passyunk and other farmers' markets) featured chin-bathing juiciness and full flavor. I've yet to bite into the peach sitting on the kitchen counter.

Local musk melons, a.k.a. cantelopes, are also in season. The one I picked up a couple weeks ago from Bill Weller's Orchard Hill stand at the Fairmount market was decent enough. Perhaps by now the lopes have developed more sweetness and flavor.

Blueberries have pretty much disappeared (though I did buy some wild lowbush berries in Maine a week ago that were superb) but we've got blackberries galore, which I also adore; those I've had have been delicious. Red raspberries are also plentiful and big, if pricey.

The corn I've sampled so far has also been disappointing, but maybe that's because I've not tried enough. The Silver King from Ben Kaufman yesterday had nice kernels, but it should have been sweeter and cornier. Again, could excessive heat been a culprit? We'll keep trying.

Here's the price rundown on what I spied yesterday at the RTM:

At Kauffman's corn was 50 cents an ear for Silver King, with a slight discount for larger quantities. Bi-color was half the price. Beefstake tomatoes $2.49/pound, heirlooms $4.99. Yellow peaches $1.99, whites $2.99. Blackberries $3 a half-pint, red raspberries $5.95.

Fair Food was selling Beechwood's tree fruit: nectarines $2, donut peaches $3.50, plums $3.50, yellow cling and white peaches $2. Fair Food's organic tomatoes were $4, heirlooms $5.  I bought a couple of poblano peppers at a pricey $7.50/pound. Green bell peppers were  thrift 90 cents. New to me in the refrigerator case were sausages from Southwark restaurant, but I wouldn't try one priced at about $37 a pound!

Iovine Brothers Produce, of course, offers the cheapest quality produce at the market, though O.K. Lee can sometimes given them a run for their money. Pennsylvania-grown (Bloomsburg) tomatoes at Iovine's were $1.49. Jersey white peaches $1.49, California donuts 79 cents. Bloomsburg cantalopes were $1 apiece. Among the peppers, local green bells were 99 cents, while commercial peppers were $1.49 for yellows and reds. Banana peppers were 99 cents, fryers $1.49. Although not as tasty as the locals were a month ago, the West Coast sweet red cherries were worth it at $2.99.

L. Halteman also has relative bargains in summer produce. Corn was 55 cents an ear (3 for $1.19, six for $2.85, a dozen for $5.29). Heirloom tomatoes $2.99, slicers $2.29. Nectarines and peaches (yellow and white) $1.99. Huge cantelopes were $2.99 apiece.

Since it's grilling season now may be the time to make some ribs.

Over at Martin's Quality Meats, spare ribs sere $2.69, baby backs $4.89, beef back $2.39 and lamb $4.29. Giunta's Prime Shop had short ribs for $4.99, lamb for $3.89, baby backs for $4.59. L. Halteman's spare ribs were $2.99.

Short ribs are demanding to cook directly on the grill, but if you're willing to braise them first and finish them out-of-doors you're in for a treat. I made them a couple weeks ago using superb beef from Charlie Giunta. I asked for long cut rather than cross-cut, then braised two or three pounds' worth for about three hours in a slow oven after browning. The braise was simple, with some gently saut├ęd onions, salt and pepper, whole garlic cloves added to the dutch oven with plain old tap water. After cooking I let them cool in the pot, then before serving charred them over a very hot fire on the gas grill. They were tender and flavorful, among the best short ribs I've had either made at home or ordered in a restaurant. I give most of the credit to the quality of the beef.

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