Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Friday, February 14, 2014

Finding Foods

Recently I was at one of the Markets where I buy fresh produce (and a blend of great beef).  My aim was to buy some oranges since I have fresh orange juice about three times a week, and the oranges there are much cheaper than most markets.  I noticed a woman choosing her oranges.  She would pick one up, look at it, and put it back to choose another.  I was tempted to ask her what she looks for because most oranges look alike to me.  But her system mimicked that of a professional tennis player in choosing which ball to use in serving.  I don't understand that process either, and I have played tennis for years. So, my embarrassment stopped me short.

I do have some ways that I choose my produce for other things.  Mostly this has come from my weekly visits to the nearby Certified Farmers Market.  For instance I pick tomatoes by smell.  If they don't smell like a tomato, I leave them for someone else.  Smell also is a deciding factor with cantaloupe, but I also use weight and depression of the stem on the end.

Mary asked me how I choose grapefruit.  That would be by weight.  The heavier, the  juicier.  Strawberries, peaches and apples?  If you buy them at the market, you take a taste.  BTW, you should buy your strawberries from a farm that is either certified organic or follows organic principles regarding pesticides.  When the seeds are on the outside and there is no skin to peel, rinsing is more a ritual than an effective cleansing procedure.

Not all vendors at the market are certified organic.  The certification process is very expensive and takes a long time.  Many of the farmers have relatively small operations and can't afford high overhead.  I don't think my favorite farmer, Jimmy the Avocado and citrus man is certified, but he knows the oil content of every avocado he sells.  He is the one who told me the genesis of the Haas Avocado, a story well worth reading.

I asked Jimmy if I was correct in thinking weight was the best determiner for citrus and he corrected my opinion.  "Seasonality is what's important.", he said.  "That and carbon footprint." "Oh, and finally, personal taste."

In California, especially in Irvine where  live, we are fortunate to have the hybridized Valencia orange, which comes to market about now and is available through most of the summer.  It's cousin, the Blood Orange, also shares a similar seasonality.  We are also fortunate to have a 12-month growing season of the more common, naval orange to meet my weekly demands through the entire year.
Jimmy says that different cultures want variety of sweetness in their orange, due no doubt to what grew in their country of origin.  Our Mexican and other neighbors to the south seem to like their citrus sweet, while his customers from the Middle East prefer a more bitter taste.

My mother told me that when I was a baby in Iowa I had an allergy to oranges, but after a few years of deprivation, I have been on a quest to catch up ever since.
Choosing vegetables is a developing art for me.  A friend who is a chef and a great foodie, used to tell our Days of Taste students to look for indications that insects have tried the vegetable or apple, because if they liked it, so would you.  Again, the best indicator is what is in season.  For instance, Mary wanted to try a recipe for Root Vegetables Gratin and, while I could find golden beets, carrots and turnips, the parsnips aren't in the market yet.  I suppose I should be grateful that we have a year-round growing season here in Sothern California, especially when I see the winter my mid-western relatives are experiencing.  Not that we don't have our own problems.  Jimmy told me that he literally took of all branches of 1/3rd of his avocado trees because the water was driving his costs beyond what the market would bear.  He says they will grow to fruit-bearing size in about three years at which time he can repeat the process with other trees if we haven't solved our water problem.

I recently visited our state capitol twice for legislative information on California's Exchange, Covered California.  I wouldn't presume to capture the effects of the ACA, but I think in my next post I'll share what I know about Concierge Medicine.  You might find that interesting.

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