Wondering what to do with the latest seasonal foods? Here’s a partial record of what we’ve been eating ourselves.

Black walnuts

An American native

By
December 5, 2013

Black walnuts are nothing like their more familiar English cousins. English walnuts are fairly easy to access, with a sweet and mild flavor. Black walnuts feature a virtually impenetrable shell and much smaller nutmeats with a potent, almost industrial twang.

The first time I sampled a black walnut, the taste reminded me of what hardware stores smell like when you first walk in the door — eau de Home Depot, distilled down into one little nut. I did not like it, or the nut, at all.

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Fig fandom

The perfect fresh fig will make you swoon

By
August 23, 2013

Growing up in North Dakota, my only interaction with figs was at my grandmother’s house. She made amazing fig pinwheels, a silver dollar-sized treat with a layer of fig compote swirled up tight. They were immensely better than the Fig Newton cookies passed out at school or friends’ houses. I ate my grandmother’s fig pinwheels by the fistful; buttery and sweet, the seeds crunched in my teeth softly with each bite.

I still love those pinwheel cookies, made with dried figs. But the world of fresh figs is just too seductive to ignore. Early this summer, I found myself at Full Belly Farm in Northern California’s Capay Valley aboard a Kubota tractor whizzing through the fields.

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Leeks

Beyond a supporting role

By
April 23, 2013

I’ve always thought it was fitting that leeks were the national symbol of Wales — not because they share any particular inherent qualities, but because both have a tendency to be overshadowed by their showier, more attention-grabbing companions.

It’s not that leeks are forgettable, exactly. Most people recognize them, and there’s something striking about their sturdy, unglamorous shape. It’s just that they’re often overlooked — relegated to the bottom shelf in the produce section, chopped and cooked beyond recognition into soups and sauces, or puréed alongside potatoes, forever playing a supporting role.

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Escarole

An ideal beginner’s chicory

By
January 2, 2013

I recently stumbled across a magazine article about dieting that asked, “What do you do when you’re so tired of salad you simply can’t eat any more vegetables?”

The question struck me as odd, because I’ve never been so tired of salad that I couldn’t eat any more vegetables. There are so many delicious combinations, so many wonderful varietals, and such a range of diverse tastes from season to season. I simply cannot fathom ever getting truly sick of them.

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Fennel

A wispy, aristocratic vegetable

By
November 27, 2012

The first time I ever tasted raw fennel was, appropriately enough, in Florence, Italy, the namesake city of the plant’s most well-known varietal.

Down the street from my school was a bar that served enormous lunch salads in deep white bowls: bitter greens blanketed in a thick layer of olives, oil-cured tuna, cubes of provolone, tomatoes, and thin green slices of what I thought at the time was the strangest-tasting celery I had ever had.

I ate them near-daily. Only later did I realize those crisp crescents weren’t celery at all, and that there was more to fennel than those little licorice-flavored seeds my grandmother put in her biscotti.

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Asafetida

Even stinkier than garlic

By
July 25, 2012

“Eat no onions or garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath,” a Shakespearean character entreats actors in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Alliums are aromatics, eaten precisely for their smelly qualities. But what if you’re forbidden onions and garlic for life?

Some vegetarians in India are required, for religious reasons, to shun onions and garlic. They have come to rely on a potent resin as a replacement: asafetida.

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The great scape

Curls of green

By
May 29, 2012

In the first few months of the season, the thing I love most about the farmers market is that with each week, the list of available produce grows longer. Every Saturday morning holds new surprises as well as old favorites I’ve waited for since last season.

One of these old favorites is the garlic scape. A tender green shoot sent up from the root of hardneck garlic, a scape stalk looks like a curling, twisting green onion. (It’s similar to but not the same as green garlic, which is just immature garlic shoots.) The taste isn’t as strong as that of mature garlic; I call it “garlic lite.”

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Morels

Pleasure in the hunt

By
April 30, 2012

We’re smack in the middle of spring, the perfect time to grab a mesh bag and a walking stick and go hunting — mushroom hunting, that is.

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Chia seeds

The latest superfood

By
January 11, 2012

Remember the Chia Pet? The kitschy little animal-shaped clay planter that, with minimal care, sprouted a green mop in a matter of days?

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Peachy keen

How to pick a peach

By
September 2, 2011

Anyone who’s eaten a peach won’t soon forget its lusciousness, but the range of flavors among varieties might surprise even the most ardent peach lover. There’s the subtly sweet, white Sugar Lady; the tangy, bright yellow Flavorcrest; and the oh-so-aromatic, orangey Sun Crest. But that’s just a start.

Fresh peaches, of course, are delicious out of hand. But as a pastry cook in Los Angeles, I learned to use every type of southern California peach for cobblers, sorbet, breaded and baked desserts, ice creams, and soufflés. And it doesn’t get any more American than a peach pie; after all, American fruit lovers have picked the fuzzy stone fruit since European colonists first brought the species to the Eastern seaboard. (A native Chinese plant, the peach was introduced to Europe through the Silk Road trade routes.)

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