Like a new song or album you discover and play over and over, certain seasonal produce items become my obsession. Sumo Citrus is a lumpy, bumpy tangerine with a distinctive “topknot” where it attaches to the tree. It was developed in Japan over 40 years ago, the result of crossing Satsuma tangerines with big, juicy California oranges. Sumos are incredibly sweet, seedless and have a loose, easy to peel skin. The membranes that enclose the segments are very thin, so you are left with basically delicious sacks of sweet, mild juice. Because it is a relatively new variety grown in this country, the season is short—February through April. Whole Foods carries them nationally as do higher-end specialty super markets. I saw Sumos in a Japanese market in West Los Angeles selling for $3.00 apiece!. While they are in season, I probably go through 2 lb. per week. Did you blink? Then you may have missed this year’s Sumo season. But there’s good news—the 2014 crop is starting to blossom. Watch for them next year!
It pays to sample. My local Gelson’s Market was serving slices of Ojai Pixie Tangerines. What a revelation! These are smallish, round, smooth, seedless, not that easy to peel but wonderfully sweet and juicy. They are mainly grown in the Ojai Valley, about an hour northwest of Los Angeles and backed up against the southern end of the Santa Ynez mountains. They are available March through June, which is unusual, as domestic tangerines are mostly available in the winter months. These little beauties are so addictive, that just writing about them makes me have to stop and eat a couple.
Who in the world was brave (or hungry) enough to try eating an artichoke? A member of the less than appetizing thistle family, it’s an imposing food, protected by sharp spines, with a hairy, spiky “choke” guarding the buttery-tasting heart. When you look at the size of the vegetable and how little of it is actually edible, a lot of people think, “Why bother?” A good question. I was introduced to artichokes as a young child by my mother whole dislikes most vegetables. I think she was won over by the effectiveness of artichokes as a vehicle for eating melted butter. To this day I love them, though in a nod to healthier eating, I have swapped the melted butter for balsamic vinegar with a touch of extra virgin olive oil as a dip. I saw globe artichokes on sale at a local store– two for $5.00, which is a pretty good price. That’s because though artichokes are available all year round, the domestic supply are most plentiful and at their peak March through May. The ‘chokes have been so good, my husband and I have shared one every night for a week. I always feel a little virtuous when I eat them– they take so much work, I’m bound to be burning more calories than I consume, right?
It’s a happy irony of the produce business that when items are at their peak of quality, that’s when they’re price is the lowest. In the case of asparagus, one pound bunches which a few weeks ago cost $4.00 or more are now $.99 for the exquisite, pencil thin specimens. That’s because the domestic crop is now in full swing through June. So indulge we will! I particularly love asparagus in pasta primavera or thrown onto a hot griddle with a little olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. Like my new favorite songs, I enjoy them over and over, but the best of the season when they’re irresistible, is over before I can get tired of them.