Most tree fruit farmers would dearly like to sweep last year under the rug. The last winter frosts nailed several prominent growers hard -- Scattaglia and Tenerelli among them -- reducing or completely eliminating whole crops of apricots, peaches, pears and plums. The cool spring that followed didn't help, delaying ripening and setting back harvest times by at least a week. But this year the ripening calendar looks more on target. Right now the cherry farmers are all eyeing the sky and hoping it stays dry.
"If Mother Nature cooperates, we'll see how the cherries do," said Teri Laughlin from K&K Farms out in Orosi. "Rain at this point will pop the fruit open. We're crossing our fingers."
Even with all the lucky weather, it's a bit early to see sour plums at the market. Mark Boujikian Farms out in Fresno decided these were ready for their 2012 debut, though they admit the early picking made them a bit small. "Next week they'll be bigger," said Freddie (just Freddie) at Mark Boujikian's Hollywood market table. "Still a great snack at this size, though."
He's right -- the fruit is still very crisp and refreshing, with just the right amount of sour juiciness to balance out the recommended addition of a little Tapatio and salt. They also pickle well with a nice spicy brine and a little time.
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Sour plums (various varieties) are a favored springtime snack in Lebanon (jarareng), Turkey (can erik), throughout the Middle East (goje sabz), China (suan mei), Japan (ume) and, for the past few years, here. Fresh eating is best and captures that green spring crunch. But there's also an easy pickle that produces a well-balanced and potent mouthful.
For every pound of fruit -- pitted and halved -- toss in a few tablespoons of fine sea salt or no-additive kosher salt. Adding some heat via pepper -- Aleppo, Chipotle or foraged California red pepper -- is never a bad idea. Set aside for 12 hours in a clean, closed container (glass canning jars are ideal) and then rinse and refrigerate. The pickled plums will keep for a month and are especially delectable when served drizzled with a little honey.
Felicia Friesema is a Master Food Preserver with the UC Cooperative Extension and Co-Leader of Slow Food USA's Los Angeles chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @FeliciaFriesema.