It’s the Pits!

Spring has sprung, and the farmers’ market shines like a rainbow. Every aisle, brilliant with a kaleidoscope of colors, is also perfumed by the intoxicating fragrance of just-picked produce. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

One tiny bite of a locally-grown strawberry should convince you those Mexican imports found in so many stores are never a bargain at any price; and only a poor imitation of the real thing. And while some produce-lovers obsess over the arrival of summer’s vine-ripened tomatoes and tree fruits like nectarines, peaches, and plums, it’s difficult for the rest of us to think beyond what is in season right now.

And right now features California’s early stone fruits—the ones in season for such a brief period of time. The ones people in some other states consider little more than an urban legend.

Although it’s sometimes difficult to think about eating California apricots and cherries any way other than out-of-hand, occasionally we are blessed with an abundance—like when the price of a flat at the farmers’ market is too good to pass up—and we are suddenly motivated to expand our horizons. Apricots are hardly a challenge, for homemade pies, tarts, jams, and chutneys are perennial favorites, and a delicious way to savor that sweet-tart taste during the months ahead. The same applies to juicy little cherries.

Cherry isolated on white background

If preserving is not your thing, however, consider making a fresh salsa or relish. You and your kitchen stay cool, the time investment is minimal, and the rewards are huge.

I enjoy serving either of the following as a light appetizer, paired with a dab of soft California goat cheese slathered on homemade crostini, or tucked inside a lettuce cup or a crisp leaf of red or green California endive. These recipes also add delicious pizzazz to plain grilled chicken or pork.

Keep these “quick fixes” in mind when planning menus for your Memorial Day weekend. And just about any other day of the week.

Bing Cherry Relish with Fresh Mint
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon local honey
2 cups Bing cherries (about 12 ounces), stemmed, pitted, and coarsely chopped
1 small tart apple, skin-on, cored and cut into a ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)
2 green onions (scallions), sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons thinly sliced or chopped fresh mint leaves
1 small garlic clove, crushed through a press
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
Fresh black pepper

In a medium bowl, mix together the vinegar and honey until blended. Add the cherries, apple, green onions, mint, garlic, salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Toss gently to mix. Taste, adding more salt, pepper, or vinegar if needed. Use at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 6 hours. Makes 1 generous cup.

Two-Apricot Salsa
8 ounces firm-but-ripe farm-fresh apricots, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 green onion (scallion), chopped
1 jalapeño or serrano chile pepper, seeded if desired, finely chopped*
2 tablespoons finely chopped California dried apricots
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Dash of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or mint

In a medium bowl, combine the fresh apricots, bell pepper, green onion, chile, dried apricots, lime juice, and salt. Toss gently to mix. If made in advance, cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

*If you like things spicy, leave the seeds intact and add them to the salsa. For a milder flavor, cut the chile in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds before chopping. To avoid the risk of an unpleasant burning sensation, wear rubber gloves while working with chiles, or wash your hands immediately after handling them.

Homemade Crostini
Baguette (long, narrow French bread), cut crosswise into slices 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick
California olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the baguette slices flat on a baking sheet and brush the tops lightly with olive oil. Bake until golden and lightly toasted at the edges, 7 to 10 minutes. Let cool. Use at once, or store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

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