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A woman in a baseball cap looks over the many varieties of heirloom tomatoes.
Heirloom tomatoes grown in dirt are now widely available.

Plump Stone Fruit and Tender Lettuce Signal Peak Salad Season at the Greenmarkets

No need to turn your stove on this week

Good news from the Union Square Greenmarket: When I arrived around 10 a.m. this past Saturday, there was no line to get in, whereas a couple months ago the wait at the three entrance portals was 15 to 20 minutes. In the hot sun, that can be unpleasant. Part of the reason for the lack of delay is that the market has expanded onto the cobbled street called Union Square West. There are now multiple means of entrance to the Greenmarket, making it easier to get in while preserving social distancing. And everyone I saw was wearing a mask unless they were eating something.

On that new cobbled extension of the Greenmarket, find S&SO Produce Farms from Goshen, New York. Its lengthy counter held more forms of lettuce than I’ve ever seen at a single market stall, including red Boston, green Boston, frisee, red salad bowl, green salad bowl, green leaf, red leaf, lola rosa, romaine, red romaine, and summer crisp (a cross between iceberg and green leaf), in addition to radicchio, escarole, and treviso. Gosh, what a salad you can make.

When selecting lettuce, one is better off picking smaller, younger heads due to the tenderness of the leaves. Since lettuce is often sold per head, rather than by weight, it’s tempting to pick the largest head for the purpose of economy. If going that route, the inner leaves can be used raw, and the tougher outer leaves briefly poached and used in a salad or cooked vegetable melange.

Farmers market wooden trays of plums in several colors.
Several types of plums are available, in addition to plumcots.

This week, stone fruits are at the height of their availability. Freestone peaches, as well as doughnut peaches, are available at multiple stalls, with apricots near the end of their season. Plums are at their peak, and I counted several varieties, including red plums, shiro plums, sugar plums (a relatively modern variety named to take advantage of a Christmas poem), and plumcots, a dark-colored apricot-plum hybrid.

By the way, stone fruits are often hard when bought, and need to ripen a day or two before consumption. If you want to use them right away, the hard fruit does very well cut into small pieces and used in a salad.

Tomatoes have descended somewhat in price, and nearly all that you’ll encounter are field tomatoes rather than greenhouse grown. Don’t miss the so-called Jersey tomatoes, big, bright red specimens that are as at home in a Caprese salad as in gazpacho. These are going for a standard price of $3 per pound, while heirloom varieties — of which I saw a dozen or so, varying in color from purple to yellow to streaky green — are available at a typical price of $5 per pound. Remember to use the heirlooms the evening they are bought, since they are way more perishable than Jersey tomatoes.

Misshapen and colorful heirloom tomatoes.
Heirloom tomatoes come in many colors and sizes, and each tastes different.
Ears of corn tumbled onto a table, green husk on.
White corn is particularly sweet this year.

Corn is just arriving in area farmers markets. There are three common varieties: white, bicolor, and yellow, of which the white appears first. All the corn I’ve seen so far is white, with small kernels and more sweetness than the same variety last year. It is currently a bit expensive at 80 cents per ear, but the price will come down as it becomes less scarce.

A green paper box filled with yellowish husks.
Husk cherries taste like soap, in a good way.
Green vegetable with spikes sticking upward.
Bitter melon in indispensable in Asian cuisines.

Now for some of the oddities I’ve seen in my last couple of farmers market visits — fruits and vegetables seen less frequently, often with short seasons. I stumbled on some cranberry beans, beautiful legumes with an ivory color and undulant, dark pink streaks. They must be shelled and soaked before being cooked, which means boiling at least 10 minutes. Don’t be tempted to eat them raw, since they contain a toxin destroyed by boiling. I’m using mine with fresh corn in a succotash.

Husk cherries are tiny and yellow, filled with seeds, like a tomato, that dribble out when bitten into, and covered with a papery husk that must be peeled off. They taste a little sweet and a little soapy, and at $10 a pint are way too expensive, but if you’re looking for an exotic salad ingredient or an unusual birthday present, consider undergoing the expense.

TriStar strawberries are now available at Mountain Sweet Berry Farm at $5 a pint. Eat them immediately, because they soften and liquefy quickly. The taste is said to be much like that of wild strawberries, with a concentrated flavor. The stall also sells popsicles made of these berries, which concentrate the flavor further and make a nice break from shopping in the hot sun. But maybe step into the park or onto a side street to eat them, so as not to be too close to fellow shoppers.

Other interesting products which should be available for a short time: fresh horseradish with edible greens; bitter melon, an indispensable ingredient in Chinese and Indian cooking; turmeric rhizomes; sansho, green leaves with a peppery taste used in Japanese and Korean cooking; and green millet seeds in their husks, making them difficult to mill for eating, but constituting great bird food or an ornamental green. When dehusked, millet is used to make porridge in many West African cuisines.

A bright red ice pop held by its stick against a black background.
The $4 TriStar ice pop
Plants with big pointy leaves and heads covered with seeds.
Millet: more ornamental than practical, but the birds love it.

Check out what was in the Greenmarkets a month ago.

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