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The Farmer and the Foodie: Get your red on!

May/June 2011 California Country magazine

Year-round strawberry crop is surprisingly versatile




The farmer: Glen Ikeda grows fruit on 40 acres in Auburn with his brother, Steve. They also manage their family’s markets in Auburn and Davis (www.ikedas.com).
The foodie: For food writer Gwen Schoen, food is about anticipating and celebrating the seasons.

California has bragging rights when it comes to strawberries.

Farmer: Unlike other states, California produces strawberries year-round. In January, they are harvested in the south and as the weather turns warm later in the spring, the production moves farther north. In fact, they are grown all over the state where the weather is mild. They grow really well in the coastal regions and where the summer doesn't get too hot.

Foodie: It seems as though every year I see larger and larger strawberries. Is that my imagination?

Farmer: Well, 20 years ago they were smaller, but now farmers are growing different varieties that are larger, but still have that wonderful berry flavor.

Foodie: Why do I see strawberry patches that look as though they are covered in plastic?

Farmer: There are several reasons for the plastic ground cover. It helps to hold the heat in the soil, which speeds ripening, but most important it keeps the berries from resting on the soil as they grow. That makes them easier to clean and to harvest. They are handpicked, which assures top quality, and at the peak of the production they are harvested about every three days.

Foodie: Strawberries don't last long at my house because we have so many ways to use them, but what is the best way to store them once you get them home?

Farmer: They should be refrigerated and if they are fresh, they should last about a week. If they are covered in plastic wrap, remove that before refrigerating them and don't wash them until you are ready to eat them. That will help them last longer.

What is your favorite way to use strawberries?

Foodie: When I have plenty of berries on hand, I like to make strawberry sorbet. Just puree two pints of berries with 1 1/4 cups of simple sugar syrup and two tablespoons of orange juice. Then transfer the mixture to an ice-cream machine and freeze it according to the manufacturer's instructions. One of my favorite salads is fresh spinach with sliced strawberries, feta cheese and poppy seed dressing. We also love salsa made with strawberries and hot peppers. It's great on grilled fish and pork or just with tortilla chips. I love that hot and sweet combination.

Power to the pepper

When Mom told me to wear gloves while chopping jalapeño peppers, I laughed. After spending the night clutching an ice bag, I now give them a lot of respect. Here are a few more tips and facts about peppers:

  • California farmers grow almost 450,000 tons of assorted peppers every year.
  • Capsicum is the variety of plant that bears pepper fruit. There are two types of capsicum: chiles and sweet peppers.
  • Capsaicin is the compound in chiles that makes them hot. If you are trying to reduce the heat in a chile, removing the seeds and veins, where most of the capsaicin is found, will help.
  • The heat from peppers is measured on the Scoville Scale. Bell peppers are on the mild end of the scale, with jalapeños and habaneros near the top.
  • The larger the jalapeño, the milder it is.
  • The easiest way to peel peppers is to broil or grill them until the skin turns black. While they are still hot, place them in a tightly sealed plastic bag and allow them to cool. The skin will easily slip away.

Recipes


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