The many inches of rain we've received these past few weeks, and perhaps especially this past weekend, have wreaked havoc on a not-a-few crops. Fennel has never been muddier and requires some pretty extensive rinsing before putting it into your mouth. The same for leeks and other grounded crops like carrots and lettuces. Early strawberries seemed to suffer the some of the biggest damage - the rains forced early picking and ruined whatever was left on the plants. So don't be too surprised by berries with a lot of white shoulders on top and not a lot of selection - for many growers, it'll be all they have until things dry out and the plants recover.
Last year at this time a lot of growers were having to irrigate, especially those along the coast thanks to extended drought conditions. So despite the mud and the harvest delays, yes, rain is still a great thing for growing crops. This year, the recent heavy rainfall has swelled Lily Baltazar's thirsty chamomile plants and she says if we get a few good sunny days, she'll be selling her chamomile blossoms weeks ahead of the usual season. She's been watching the skies carefully and if all goes well, we'll see the sunny-headed blossoms on her tables in the next couple of weeks.
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The blossoms are usually dried for making tea, but when used fresh in fruit tarts or to infuse milk before it goes into a custard or flan, it permeates the food with the promise of springtime. The word chamomile comes from the Greek word meaning 'ground apple,' which would make anyone who's had a nice cup of chamomile tea just nod their heads - their fragrance and flavor is resplendent with apple overtones blanketing a more subtle and sweet floral quality that you'd expect from eating something made with, well, flowers. It pairs exceptionally well with lemongrass, lemon verbena (though go light or the verbena could overpower it), and the bright and sunny attributes of a high quality, light honey. We also like it with blueberries in jams or inside a mascarpone-filled crepe with berries, which thanks to a few select micro-climates, are available at our markets pretty much year-round.