Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rainy Day Musings

It's raining here today, so no lawn mowing on my day off and probably some split tomatoes in my little patch out back. On the commercial scene, Ohio sweet corn is in (and has been for several weeks) and it is delish. Those of you who've followed this blog at all (very few, judging from my follower's list) may remember my surprise at how early southern peaches showed up this year (not long after the California, which is unusual). I'm sad to say the quality of the South Carolina and Georgia peaches doesn't seem to be up to the usual standards. They look great and, after some early concerns about shelf life, seem to be holding up well, but people, the flavor just isn't there! If you have California, or even better locally grown, peaches available, try those compared to the southern. The Cals are, I think, much more flavorful this year, if more expensive (shipping costs and all).

Ohio tomatoes are in, too, with mixed quality, some just good, some really good, some flat amazing. My personal tomatoes are doing just fine, although the weather has conspired to create too many splits and some flower-end yuck. Needs to get hot and dry and stay that way and this summer that just may not happen. But I'm getting good yellow toms (Lemon Boy), Green Zebras, Sweet 100s and Romas, if fewer than I expected, so I can't complain. The best Ohio tomatoes we've been able to get at the moment appear to be coming from Amish farmers in the Ashland County area, a bit north of here. Demand appears to be high and wholesale prices are strong (meaning high), good for the farmers but not so good if you need to buy and re-sell and make a profit too, especially considering the economic situation around here.

Indiana melons (a type of muskmelon/canteloupe for those of you outside the Midwest) are going strong, beautiful and tasty. Remember the keys to picking the best -- slipped off the vine (no vine left), good beige (no green) under dense webbing, a little soft on the ends, strong canteloupe fragrance from the stem -- and you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Berries starting -- hurrah!

Black raspberries came through the door Saturday (from Wooster) and more came in today (Tuesday) from Chillicothe. I expect we'll have the blacks for a month or six weeks, and the red raspberries (due by the weekend, according to our Chllicothe guy) until almost the end of the summer, with a week or so of non-availability between the early and late crops. Blueberries could be a problem, because we don't have a regular supplier who will deliver lined up.

The latter comment, as well as the mysteries of getting local berries on a more consistent basis (difficult in Ohio), seems to me to be the basis for a potential business. I worked this business in Portland, Oregon, for a number of years before moving back home to Ohio, and independent grocers throughout northwest Oregon and southwest Washington really depended on a guy named Patrick Fink for their berries -- and boy did he have them. I think he knew every berry grower in that corner of the world, and he served as their market-maker.

Makes me wonder if I could do the same (or something similar?) here. More thoughts on this sort of thing in the future.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More early stuff

Well, it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry. The past month or so has been busy and work and home, and the blog has suffered. But continuing in the vein of earliness I discussed in the May 19 blog, both local strawberries and corn were early (again, I should add) this year. There are technical reasons for this seeming earliness, because when I was a kid (back in the Dark Ages of the 1940's and 1950's), strawberries were never ready until June 1 or a day or two on either side of it, then lasted until about July 4, and local sweet corn was rare before late July.

Many strawberry growers these days (at least in Ohio) are using a technique called roto-cropping for an earlier yield on their fields. This involves a roughly six-month rotation between strawberries and some other crop, like melons or squash. At the end of the summer season, the late products are plowed under and strawberries planted in their place. In the spring, the strawberries leap from the ground and produce a prodigious first-year crop, almost out of control in quantity and size -- big in both respects. They're pretty tasty, too, although it's arguable whether they're better than the strawberries produce over the four- or five-year time span of traditional growing methods.

Many believe bigger berries aren't as sweet as the smaller berries of the past, but that may just be nostalgia. Certainly, I think the berries grown using roto-cropping are plenty tasty, but I have to say I did my usual freezer jam production a few weeks ago at the peak of the season and it was an utter failure. Anyone have any use for pint upon pint of strawberry syrup? No, me either.

Whether this failure was my fault or something about the berries I can't say, but the same thing happened last year to a lesser degree even though I followed directions to the letter both times. Maybe it was me. Oh, well.

Anyway, once the berries are finished (simply exhausted or beaten up by rain once too many times), the vines are plowed under and a second crop planted.

Sweet corn is a little different story. Corn is one of those crops that can be largely customized by hybridizing, and numerous early varieties have been developed in the last ten years (roughly), pushing the appearance of fresh sweet corn forward by a month or so. Now, this corn is mostly (and maybe exclusively, since all I've seen has been) available in the so-called peaches and cream bi-color format. I think it's a little bland compared to the later bi-color varieties and some -- not all -- of the late summer white and yellow sweets, but it still beats the alternative of corn shipped in from 500 to a thousand miles away.

Summer's here, finally, and we'll have good sweet corn until the end of September or, luck holding, into October. Not to mention the raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and other local yummies starting to show up now. Personally, I'm looking forward to the tomatoes in my back yard, which are setting tons of fruit and should start showing some ripeness by mid-July. Yumm.