The summer fruits now abundant in supermarket produce sections are creating a shopping bonanza for Southern Californians. Fruit industry representatives confirm that there will continue to be ample supplies and favorable prices.
This won't be a record crop year for plums, peaches, nectarines and Bartlett pears, but each is estimated to produce an ample harvest according to Robyn Wilk, director of advertising for the California Tree Fruit Agreement, an organization that represents California growers of these fruits.
Plums will be at their peak this month, with many different varieties available. "You'll be seeing lots of different colors and shapes," Wilk said.
It's midseason for peaches. Sizes are getting larger, and some really good varieties, such as Red Top, Elegant Lady and Flavorcrest, will be coming to market during July. Wilk explained that supplies of most varieties typically last about two weeks.
The same is true for nectarines. The Red Diamond, Summer Grand and Flavortop freestone varieties will last through July and the beginning of August then be replaced by clingstones.
Bartlett pear shipments from the Sacramento River Valley will begin reaching our stores about the third week of July. Growers are very optimistic about both supplies and quality at this point, Wilk said.
As for cost, plums are at the lowest prices California consumers have seen in two to three years, according to Jan DeLyser, executive vice president of the Fresh Produce Council, a locally based trade group. Prices for peaches and nectarines also are at historic lows.
DeLyser further reports that raspberries and blackberries are currently at peak availability and quality. Blueberry supplies will be increasing through July, and cherries are still coming in from the Northwest.
Strawberries are an exception in the berry category. They're "currently of variable quality and are no longer as reasonably priced as they were earlier in the season," DeLyser said.
This year's California table grape crop is estimated to be 10% lower than last year, according to Bruce Obbink, president of the California Table Grape Commission. However, 1988 was the state's largest crop. "Twenty years ago this was practically a cottage industry, producing 16 (million) to 20 million boxes of table grapes a year; today 56 million boxes is considered an average crop."
Grape harvesting is already completed in the Coachella Valley and just getting started in the Bakersfield area. Currently they are picking Perlettes and Red Flames; the Thompson variety will be ready next week. "We'll move further into the valley in July, with August and September as our peak months," Obbink explained. He expects overall quality and prices to remain good.
All this adds up to abundant supplies and good prices on summer fruits in the weeks ahead. (For tips on selection and storage, please see story on Page 9.)
And if that isn't enough enticement, there's the additional boon that most of these foods may be enjoyed without undue concern about calories, salt, fat and cholesterol. Such qualities make fruits ideal for combining with other light ingredients in a wide variety of recipes--including the desserts we feature today.
Although these are not diet desserts, they may be prepared using lighter ingredients. Margarine is offered as a substitute for butter; egg substitute for eggs; low-fat yogurt and milk for cream, and sugar may be adjusted to personal taste.
POACHED PEACHES WITH RASPBERRY YOGURT
2 large peaches
1 1/2 cups apricot nectar
1 tablespoon cherry brandy or Kirsch
1 pint raspberries
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
Immerse peach in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove, peel, halve and pit. Bring peach nectar to boil in medium saucepan and cook 2 minutes. Stir in Kirsch, then add peach halves, reduce heat and poach peaches about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow peaches to cool in nectar mixture.
Puree raspberries in blender or food processor. Press through sieve to remove seeds. Stir sugar into yogurt. Place yogurt in pastry bag fitted with fine tip.
Pour about 1/4 cup raspberry puree on each of 4 dessert plates. Pipe yogurt in spiral design on sauce. Draw point of knife from center of plate, spoke-fashion, to create web design. Place chilled peach half, cut side down, on sauce. Makes 4 servings.
STRAWBERRY-NECTARINE PANCAKE PUFF
2 tablespoons margarine
3/4 cup egg substitute or 3 eggs
3/4 cup low-fat milk
3/4 cup flour
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups sliced nectarines
3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 tablespoons honey
Place margarine in 10 to 12-inch cast-iron skillet or skillet with oven-proof handle. Melt in 450 degree oven.
Combine egg substitute and milk or beat eggs with wire whisk until light and lemon colored. Beat in milk. Gradually stir in flour and beat until smooth.
Remove skillet from oven. Pour batter into skillet. Bake at 450 degrees 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking 15 minutes longer or until pancake is puffed and browned.