At farmers' markets, 'tis the season for tomatoes, sweet corn
While back-to-school days can bring some summer activities to a close, local farmers' markets continue to offer family fun and locally grown foods, said Karen Blakeslee, a Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist and farmers' market shopper.
At this time of year, tomatoes are typically the No. 1 crop, Blakeslee said.
Ripe tomatoes should be used within a day or two, she said. They can be stored on the counter on a plate or in a basket at room temperature, but once cut, should be wrapped and refrigerated for a future meal.
Tomatoes can be picked after the first blush, when slightly orange in color, and will usually ripen on the countertop over a two-to-three-day period, she said.
Blakeslee recommends considering different varieties for different uses, such as a plump tomato that begs to be sliced to top a grilled hamburger, and a plum or Roma tomato with more flesh (and less juice) as the basis for a home-cooked tomato sauce.
Any variety can typically be canned, she said.
Sweet corn also is currently plentiful, Blakeslee said.
"Look for ears full of kernels," said Blakeslee, who recommended blanching (a brief scalding) ears of corn before freezing them. The bi-color varieties, with yellow and white kernels, are sweet and tender. If the kernels are, however, large and dark yellow, the corn is usually overly mature. Always check ears for damage from worms or other insects.
"When freezing corn, blanching helps to preserve the corn's color, texture, flavor and quality," she said. "If not blanched prior to freezing, kernels can take on a cob-like flavor."
Fresh peaches, cantaloupe, watermelon and eggplant are also usually plentiful at late summer markets, said Blakeslee, who offered the following shopping and serving tips:
--Peaches need to ripen on the tree, and should be fragrant, a little soft to the touch, and free of dents, bruises and cuts. Use them soon after purchase as a fruit salad, dessert or snack, or freeze for future use. To grill for a summery meal or dessert, simply wash the peach, slice it in half, remove the pit, and place it cut-side down on the grill for eight to 10 minutes.
--Cantaloupe ripens on the vine and should not be expected to ripen on the counter.
To select, check the stem end for a pleasant, fruity aroma. As with other fruits and vegetables, a cantaloupe should be free of cuts, dents and bruises, soft spots and mold. Scrubbing the melon skin before slicing will protect the food inside. Blakeslee recommends slicing or chunking a melon and storing it in a covered container in the refrigerator before serving.
--Watermelon also is beginning to ripen and can be found at some markets. Like other melons, what you see is what you get. To select a watermelon, look for even color and a melon that is free of dents, bruises, cuts, soft spots and mold.
Thumping a melon works for some, yet Blakeslee recommends looking at the underside spot where the melon was in contact with the ground, which should be a smooth buttery yellow.
--Eggplant is a little like a sponge, in that it soaks up other flavors. It can have a mild, but bitter, flavor, which is why Blakeslee recommends peeling and chunking an eggplant and soaking it briefly in salt water to deter bitter taste.
Not all eggplants are purple, yet a favorite recipe usually involves flouring the chunks or slices before dipping them in an egg wash and crushed crackers and frying. Eggplant can be incorporated in vegetable lasagna, featured as the star in Eggplant Parmesan, or grilled.
Toward the end of the month, shoppers at Kansas' local markets will begin to see locally grown apples, pears, plums and grapes, Blakeslee said.
More information on local farmers' markets and using local foods is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension Web sites: www.ksre.ksu.edu and www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety/.