Donut peaches from the Albany Farmers' Market in Albany, CA.
Back in the day, when my mom and I went to the grocery store we would buy strawberries and peaches and apricots. It never occurred to us that strawberries and peaches and apricots came in all sorts of different shapes, sizes and flavor profiles, and that each of these varieties had its own name. We weren't aware that we could be purchasing a Sun Crest Peach or that the Albion strawberries were in season but the Chandlers were coming soon.
But things are a little different these days, at least where I shop.
One of the pleasures of shopping at farmers markets and small local grocery stores is that I've become more familiar with the many varieties of the fruits and vegetables that I love. They've lost their clunky, generic categories and I've learned to appreciate the nuances and differences of each specific variety. I look forward to the times when these specific fruits and vegetables are in season. This goes for the many kinds of tomatoes, plums, peaches and nectarines, strawberries, squash, herbs ... well, the list could go on.
To some extent, we're already used to this with a few of our supermarket choices. Apples and pears are usually sold by their varietal name, for instance. I wonder if peaches and nectarines could follow? It's true that we are already starting to see yellow and white versions, and those fun donut peaches are showing up, too. Maybe there's hope for more?
Being familiar with varietals has expanded my cooking knowledge, too. I know that Blenheim apricots make the best jam and that the Sun Crests are the best eating peach, at least here in Northern California. Which brings up another advantage of shopping for varietals: most specific varieties tend to be local as they tend to be more fragile. The generic supermarket type made the cut for ease of shipping and lowest common denominator for flavor and texture. But the funky, sometimes charmingly named local varietals often have the most amazing flavor. Their season may be fleeting but the memory of their tastes lasts forever.
Have you found your favorite, most anticipated fruit or vegetable varietal yet? Please share it with us in the comments!
(Image: Dana Velden)