Be on the lookout for some unique fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ markets this month. In addition to delicious berries and grapes, May signals the arrival of prickly pears, nopales, loquats, and pluots—just a sample of the variety of crops that the warmer weather will bring to Northern California this year.
Organic berries have the greatest antioxidant content per serving, second only to spices, and are high in vitamins C and K, fiber, and manganese—a mineral which helps the body form connective tissues such as bones, blood, and cartilage. Raspberries and blackberries are aggregate fruits, meaning that one berry is actually composed of many small single-seeded mini-fruits or “drupelets” that grow together around a core. Like cranberries, blueberries can be used to help treat urinary tract infections, constipation, and diarrhea (Wood, 2010). Berries are a great addition to meal plans focused on weight management, digestive issues, blood sugar regulation, and cleansing. Look for locally grown berries from Sebastopol Berry Farm at Sonoma and Napa county farmers’ markets.
The cactus pear or prickly pear grows from the Opuntia cactus, which is the same plant that produces nopales (see below). The pulp from the cactus pear can be used in salsas, smoothies, or juiced and used to make jams or sauces. To safely remove the prickles (called glochids), handle the fruit with heavy gloves, slice off both ends, and make a lengthwise cut down the body of the pear. Then use your fingers to gently peel off the outer skin to reveal the fruit inside. Low in calories and fat and high in vitamin C and magnesium, cactus pears can be found at the Yerena Farms stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
In Northern California, the first grape harvests will begin at the end of May, but keep an eye out as summer approaches for greater variety and availability. Organic grapes are high in phtytochemicals such as carotenoids, resveratrol, quercetin, and lutein—which support healthy cardiovascular function, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and strengthen immunity. Resveratrol in particular—found in grape skins and seeds—inhibits cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s (Wood, 2010). Unsurprisingly, Northern California has a plethora of organic grape farmers that can be found at either the Ferry Plaza or Jack London farmer’s markets in San Francisco.
Originally from China, the loquat is a small, sweet fruit about the size of an apricot—grown primarily in California, Hawaii, and Florida (Wood, 2010). All parts of the loquat—fruit, leaves, and peels—have been reported to have health benefits due to their flavonoid content. Loquat tea, made from roasted leaves, contains bioactive phenols with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (Zar, 2013). These tender fruits can be eaten raw, made into jams, jellies, pies, or tarts, and baked or poached. Look for them at the Bella Viva Orchards stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Nopales (Cactus Pads)
Cactus pads, or nopales in Spanish, are the flat, green ‘leaves’ of the cactus plant and are shaped like a beaver’s tail. It is important to handle nopales with thick gloves to avoid spine pricks, but they can be easily peeled with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. High in fiber, nopales can be grilled or roasted, used in salsas, soups, and as a taco filling. Like aloe vera, peeled nopales can be used on burns and bruises to reduce pain and inflammation (Wood, 2010). Find locally grown nopales from Yerena Farms at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco on Tuesdays and Saturdays or order them in bulk from Rancho Charanda Citrus Ranch in Redlands, CA.
A pluot is a hybrid of a plum and an apricot—a result of a selective hand-breeding process developed by plant geneticist, Floyd Zaiger. Unlike genetic modification (GMO), this breeding process does not alter the genes of specific DNA (Slate, 2010). Pluots are slightly more like a plum than an apricot, with smooth skin and a slightly sweeter taste. Look for these unique stone fruits at the Blossom Bluff Orchards stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco on Saturday.
PickYourOwn.org. (n.d.). Harvest calendar for CA. Retrieved 4/24/17, from http://www.pickyourown.org
Seasonality Charts. (n.d.). Retrieved 4/24/17, from http://www.cuesa.org/eat-seasonally/charts
Slate, S. (2010, January 22). The secrets of hybrid fruit. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/01/22/the-secrets-of-hybrid-fruit.html
Wood, R. T. (2010). The new whole foods encyclopedia: a comprehensive resource for healthy eating. (pp. 48–49, 161, 205, 240). New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Zar, P. P. K., Kozue, S., Hashimoto, F., Morishita, A., Fujii, M., Wada, K., & Hou, D. (2013). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of loquat (eriobotrya japonica) tea. Functional Foods in Health and Disease 2013; 3(11):447-461. Retrieved from http://functionalfoodscenter.net/files/78661897.pdf