Now is the time to enjoy summer's harvest

Farmers' Market column
By: Billie Jean Salle Special to The News Messenger
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As the thermometer peaks over the 100-degree mark, we are all running for shade and shelter. This weather is also hard on fruits and vegetables but Mother Nature has been preparing for the high heat this year. We have noticed the trees are extra leafy, suggesting we would be having these hot days to contend with. By providing the extra dense foliage, the tree creates more shade - thus cooler temperatures as well as protecting the delicate fruit from sun burning. When working with and being surrounded by living things, we learn their growing habits and indicators. By looking at a tree, Nick (born and raised farming) can tell if a tree is not happy, if it?s thirsty, heat or (cold) stressed or being attacked by aphids. The same is true with fruit. It has a certain ?look? when it is best to harvest. Not all varieties will have the same indicators. But there is a general rule, color being the first indicator. Nectarines for instance are beautiful and shiny almost from the start but are not truly flavorful and sweet until they lose their shinny gloss and start to get dots or lots of freckles. They may not be soft yet but the tree is telling us it is at peak flavor now. Generally with a day or two on the counter, the fruit will be perfect. With peaches being fuzzy, we look for nice color around the stem end, less pale green and deeper rich yellows. Then there is the touch test; this also varies widely depending on the variety. An Elberta peach will bruise even with the gentlest touch and an O?Henry peach that has a denser meat and thicker skin is much more forgiving. Both peaches are excellent but have different signals. This is where your farmers will help guide you and suggest the best method for selecting your fruit. Never be shy to ask for help. Then of course there is the taste test. And that ? well? depends on the taster! Many tasters like fruit firm or crisp while others prefer standing over the sink to eat the juicy soft fruit. If the fruit has sweetness when firm, it will be a winner soft. I must add there is a significant difference between super-sweet fruit and fruit with more acid, which results in bigger flavor. A slightly tart fruit will have a stronger flavor for processing, cooking or canning. The acids compete better with the added sugar resulting in a fantastic finished product. Using a super sweet fruit will result in a bland disappointing pie or jam, unless it is a fresh no-cook recipe you are using. Finally a note for storage, fruit ripens from the tip or blossom end first. The last part to ripen is the stem end, so to avoid bruising, place fruit stem-end down to support its weight without the bruises. A banana or apple will speed up the ripening process. Placing fruit in a brown paper bag helps but this method requires close monitoring for spoilage because of less air circulation. When your fruit reaches the stage of ripeness you desire, then it is perfectly fine to store in the refrigerator to prolong storage. Market news The high heat has driven the farmers into overdrive. The crops are very demanding now with all the watering, weeding and plenty of picking. Timing is very crucial; we need to keep our gardens happy and moist. We?re careful not to overwater. Taking the oxygen supply away from the root systems, plus excess watering, would dilute sugar content in fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. We need to be mindful of our picking cycle. No one likes picking in the mud or during the heat of the day! For better flavor, it is always best to pick in the early morning rather than the late evening. Never pick when the fruit or vegetable is hot. The fruit bruises so easy when hot as opposed to cool morning pickings and the flavor is more intense. Watering yields better results applied in the cool morning hours as well and there is less evaporation. Don?t let plants such as summer squash worry you if it wilts during the afternoon. Again , Mother Nature has devised its own defense system from the heat. By the leaf wilting down, less leaf surface is exposed to the brutal sun rays, thus less evaporation from the plant. Big red meaty tomatoes are finally being harvested by the basketfuls and not just handfuls. The multicolored heirlooms are always a little slower to ripen but, with this heat, it will be sooner than later. Some sweet corn has appeared, just in time for grilling, and I hear melons are close to follow. Eggplants, squash of every color and cucumbers are in abundance now. The season is just starting so pace yourself because we have the whole summer to stock our pantries. Beans are a staple that never lets us down and we?ve been enjoying a very quick and refreshing salad with them. Billie Jean Salle is Sierra Fresh Certified Farmers? Market manager. The Downtown Lincoln Farmers? Market runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays. The market is at F Street between 5th and 6th streets. Salle also runs the Sun City Lincoln Hills Farmers? Market from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesdays. The Lincoln Hills Market is at 965 Orchard Creek Lane.