by April Lisante
This time of year, Josh Magnitzky gets really excited about produce.
Local berries, watermelons, rhubarb. And don’t even get him started about grilled pineapple.
As the produce manager for Weaver’s Way Chestnut Hill, Magnitzky is a produce lover all year long, but he awaits the spring and summer arrivals — local fruits and veggies at their peak.
“It’s just starting to get really local now,” said Magnitzky, a high-energy millennial who has kept the produce department of the Germantown Ave. co-op humming for more than three years now. “The berries are here, and that’s really exciting.”
Unless you belong to a co-op where you are picking up veggies from the farm each week, few grocery shoppers really know when they pick their fruits and veggies this time of year whether or not they are getting local produce. The month of June marks the real kick off for local summer produce, but there are still some items that won’t be local until summer’s end.
No matter what time of year, the two items that sell the most at Weaver’s Way are avocados and bananas.
“These aren’t even coming from the U.S., but these are the two things people are buying all year long,” said Magnitzky, who must keep them in constant stock.
So what should you be on the lookout for if you want to buy local now? All of the salad-making greens are local right now, from collards, to mustard greens, romaines, spinach and arugula. Kale is pretty much the most sought-after Weaver’s Way green.
Other May and June gems that are ready to eat are rhubarb, as well as herbs and spring onions. The spring onions are a larger version of their relative, the scallion. Radishes have reached a peak now, as have the asparagus.
But if you’re looking for local corn for that Father’s Day grill out, you’re out of luck. Like many regional items, corn takes a track from south to north along the East Coast before we can call it “local.”
“Now, we’re getting Florida corn,” Magnitzky said. “But eventually it will come from Georgia, North Carolina, Delaware, and then by midsummer, to Pennsylvania.”
As the month of June begins, strawberries are among the first local berries to appear at Weaver’s Way, grown nearby at Fifer Orchards in Wyoming, De. Pints filled with the ruby red berries filled a display this week already.
By July and August, peaches, nectarines, plums and blueberries can be tacked on to the local fruit haul.
So what about the mighty summer melons we love so much? Most watermelons, cantaloupes and honeydews are coming from hothouses this time of year. Know how to choose the perfect one? Magnitzky does. If you are looking for a sweet perfect watermelon, pick the heaviest one. You can’t sniff the bottom of a watermelon, so you have to rely on heft.
“Finding the densest one means it is juicy and is retaining the most amount of sugar,” he said.
Cantaloupes can be sniffed at the bottom, or blossom end. The more cantaloupe scent you smell, the riper the melon. But honeydews are “a bit more mysterious,” Magnitzky. Said. “You kind of have to roll the dice and pick one because they don’t smell as much as the cantaloupes.”
Pineapples, one of Magnitzky’s favorite produce choices for the grill, are actually very simple to pick. When they look like they are yellowing or even turning brown from the bottom up, they are ready.
“Actually the rattier the better,” Magnitzky said. “They are amazing on the grill.”
He cuts them into huge chunks, then skewers them and chars them over an open flame.
So if you’re feeling inspired to head out for some fresh produce, here are a few ways Magnitzky likes to serve it up. He offered two recipes to help kick of your summer barbecues.
The Best Homemade Salsa Recipe
Serves 4 to 6
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 jalapenos, stemmed and seeded, (you can substitute 1 to 2 habanero or serrano peppers)
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 ½ tsp. salt
15 ounces crushed San Marzano tomatoes (1 can)
4 ½ oz. diced green chilis, mild, medium or hot (1 can)
Directions: Place fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, peppers, cilantro, lime juice, cumin and salt in a food processor. Pulse until contents are well blended. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and green chilis. Puree until mostly smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Vegan Cauliflower “Wings”
Serves 4 to 6
2 medium heads of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup water
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. paprika
1 cup of your favorite wing sauce
Directions: Preheat oven to 475. Combine rice flour, water, salt, garlic powder and paprika and whisk until blended.
Dip cauliflower in batter and place on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Spray lightly with oil for crispness. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops start to brown.
Pull cauliflower out of the oven and lightly dip into buffalo sauce to coat. Return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes to crisp.
Remove from oven and serve hot.
April Lisante, former food editor at the Philadelphia Daily News, is a resident of Flourtown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org