Fresh, Local Produce Attracts Seasonal Shoppers

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Linda Wertheimer muses on eating fresh and local produce. The salmonella scare may be leading consumers to start home gardens or eat seasonal vegetables from local farmers.


July 5th, it's the day after July 4th, and that still makes it a red-letter day for me. My dad was a grocer and he maintained there were certain things that one should never eat until after the Fourth of July, chief among them, cantaloupe. We lived in New Mexico, so he was talking about the cantaloupe raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Those melons were so fragrant that when the first ones came into the store, their sweet smell filled the place. And those cantaloupes were so sweet, you had to salt them. They were well worth waiting for.

Now, here in the Potomac River Valley, we wait for the melons grown along the Chesapeake Bay. They're grooved and taste a little bit more like vegetables, very refreshing but not the same. No salt necessary.

The salmonella scare is what made me think of waiting for summer crops to come in. Grocery stores now work very hard to see to it that we don't wait for anything. Fruits and berries, corn and greens, all available all year round. But since we've been warned off tomatoes, we're finding ourselves waiting again for the tomatoes at the farm stands to arrive, for the backyard tomatoes to ripen, for tomatoes we know personally so we don't have to worry about them.

Here in Washington, D.C. we're still several weeks away from real tomatoes. Even if there are perfectly nice early varieties, you just don't get that musky acid taste until tomatoes have soaked up a lot of hot, hot sunshine. I love all of them: little pear-shaped yellow ones, stripy green ones, humongous beefsteak tomatoes, clean-tasting, mild yellow ones. The best sandwich there is, no doubt about it, is a BLT on good bread with lots of mayo.

Tomatoes are worth the wait. There is a weird new word to describe people who want to eat food produced locally, "locavores." I don't approve of the word but I like the concept of seasonal food coming from close by, picked when it's ready to eat. And I assume that when local tomatoes are ready, we'll slice into them and salt and pepper them and pour dressing over them and forgive tomatoes the sin of making our fellow Americans sick, if, in fact, it was tomatoes. The Wall Street Journal reports it might have been jalapenos, another major favorite of mine. Please, say it ain't so!

In any case, we hope local produce will last long enough for somebody to figure out what happened and fix it.

(Soundbite of song "Cantaloupe Island" by Herbie Hancock)

WERTHEIMER: Herbie Hancock, "Cantaloupe Island." This is NPR News.

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