Farmers markets are locavore magnets, true. And we have these absurdly expansive seasons complete with weather-defying microclimates tucked into coastal hillsides. They're like little agricultural Brigadoons, weaving their misty trickery to bring us year-round local blueberries, asparagus and artichokes. So even though it tweaks our seasonal sensibilities when we hear someone asking, in all ignorant sincerity, why nobody has any peaches, we can forgive them for thinking that, here in L.A., anything really is possible.
But it's not. It's February -- albeit an unseasonably warm one -- and we're feeling the itch for spring and summer harvests that are yet to come. Here are our top five farmers market crops that are truly and completely not in season. So, for the love of Amelia Saltsman, please stop asking for them and wait, patiently, for nature to do her thing.
Early plantings out in Coachella will bring us corn harvests earlier than some parts of the country, but that's still way off, and those first ears of corn are rarely as good as the juicy cobs of July and August. If someone has it on their tables, raise an eyebrow and ask questions. To our knowledge, there is no place within 100 miles of L.A. that stays warm enough long enough in winter to yield good fresh corn.
Oh, do we miss our summer grill-smoked baba ghanoush. Prick the skin and set it on the grill whole, off-flame and with ample, well-soaked mesquite or apple wood chips. In less than an hour, you have soft and smoky magic ready for a spin in the food processor with a little lemon juice, garlic, and tahini: IN JULY. Not even remotely in season. Go eat a carrot. They're really good right now.
3. Squash blossoms:
They're the precursors to summer squash. They're big and juicy and sunny yellow and they absolutely hate cold weather. If it's still dipping below 50 degrees at night, they aren't happening. Think early summer -- and that's a bit generous -- and stick to artichokes for your edible flowers.
Those long delicate fingers thick with juicy beads of skin-staining berry elixir drive us to distraction. And there is no greenhouse on this planet that can force them into existence before they're good and ready. Easily bruised and super soft, they do not suffer long transport either, which means they are a truly local crop. Think May, assuming the weather cooperates.
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1. ANY stone fruit:
Cherries, apricots, plums, apriums, pluots, peaches, nectarines -- these trees are JUST now starting to show flowers after a nice winter nap. Yes, we miss them too. Tough it out or grab a jar of cherry preserves, apricot jam or peach pie filling from the cupboard. If you're lucky, Jimenez Family Farms still has a few jewel-like jars of its Blenheim Apricot Jam left. Otherwise, if you want stone fruits, go to Chile, or go the deceptively less complicated route and hit the local supermarkets that still import from the Southern Hemisphere. We won't judge you. Much.
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.