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Fat Guy

You CAN trust corn in December

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When Vince Staten wrote the excellent book "Can You Trust a Tomato in January?" you couldn't trust a tomato in January. Now, I think you can. Not that every tomato in January is good, but the grape tomatoes I get in New York City in winter, grown in Mexico, are pretty good. Good enough that I don't think it any longer makes sense to take the position that "I don't eat tomatoes except for six weeks in summer." Sure, the peak-of-season heirloom tomatoes are better than grape tomatoes in January. But grape tomatoes in January are better than nothing. They're pretty enjoyable, actually.

Yesterday a friend proposed grilling (we're in the US southwest at the moment, where the weather is conducive to that). I asked if we could supply anything and he asked me to pick up some corn. Corn in December? But I wasn't going to argue with our host, especially when I'd just offered to help. So, I went to a local supermarket called Fry's (nice place) and bought some shrink-wrapped, partially shucked corn from Mexico. I figured it would be awful, but this purchase was about etiquette not gastronomy.

When the corn was ready, I decided I owed it to the world to taste it. Surprisingly, it was pretty good. It was the corn equivalent of a grape tomato. Not as good as the best local corn in season, but quite palatable. I ate two ears, with no butter or anything.

I grew up being taught by my father that out-of-season produce didn't taste good. While there are certainly other valid objections to out-of-season produce, the doesn't-taste-good rationale is no longer universally true. In the past few years I've enjoyed everything from grapes to tomatoes to corn, shipped in from far away, with good flavor. I think there was a time when all the emphasis was on engineering visually pleasing produce that was sturdy enough to ship, but it seems that in the late 1990s there arose an emphasis on also making shippable produce taste good. It seems to be getting a lot better.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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You can almost add CA strawberries to the list. No, not the best. But so improved over the last few years as to be quite amazing!

...or are we 1) lucky? 2) lacking in all sensibilities?


Edited by Darienne (log)

Darienne

learn, learn, learn...

Cheers & Chocolates

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Due to a short and unreliable growing season, there is really no such thing as local produce where I live. Definitely not at a commercial level. I grow a few things in the garden and there is a farmer's market once a week where produce is brought in from a few hours south during late summer/early fall but in general produce here is never anywhere close to local at any time of year. Either the stuff being shipped in is actually getting better or my standards are dropping in response to lack of choice. The stuff I get at the farmer's market is better than the store stuff and the stuff from the garden is even better than that in most cases but neither makes eating some of the stuff I can get at the store unbearable and I can remember a time (not long ago) when that was the case.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I live in southern California. It is hard to discern the seasons here, either from the weather or from the produce department. Everything seems to be available all year round. It usually tastes ok, but not great.

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Due to a short and unreliable growing season, there is really no such thing as local produce where I live. Definitely not at a commercial level. I grow a few things in the garden and there is a farmer's market once a week where produce is brought in from a few hours south during late summer/early fall but in general produce here is never anywhere close to local at any time of year. Either the stuff being shipped in is actually getting better or my standards are dropping in response to lack of choice. The stuff I get at the farmer's market is better than the store stuff and the stuff from the garden is even better than that in most cases but neither makes eating some of the stuff I can get at the store unbearable and I can remember a time (not long ago) when that was the case.

Ditto to just about the entire quotation from Tri2Cook. It seems we can't even get local corn at the corn stands now in August. It's all from

from a few hours south during late summer/early fall

We just muddle on.


Darienne

learn, learn, learn...

Cheers & Chocolates

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I get some good little tomatoes at Trader Joe's, I think they bred a lot of sugar back into them. I'm not a fan of buying stuff from Mexico (or Holland, like a bunch of other rather pale tomatoes at the same store! From Holland! How crazy is that?). Same with those shrink wrapped corns, they seem to be available all the time, have nice color and are ok tasting. But I'm a bit weary of the artificial atmosphere in the package, and can you determine if it's regular corn or some genetically modified thing? When it was picked? What it was treated with to ensure long storage and shelf life?

If in a bind, I buy what needed, but on a day to day basis I tend to go with what is fresh and not in a clam shell or shrink wrap and has not traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, lived in a cool dark space until ripening gases (and sometimes light) were introduced to ship the next batch.

I love the little tomatoes in salads and on simple pasta with pesto dishes though.

Quality has increased as consumers complained about gorgeous tomatoes (etc) that had no taste and the breeders are busy improving on it. But off season I prefer canned over shipped for things like sauces etc. Or my own premade and frozen ones, as long as they last. Hint, go to the farmers market a bit later and ask the tomato guy for a box of damaged or over ripe ones, they're usually happy to sell you those at a discount as they otherwise have to throw them out. And for sauce making they're perfect! Just process them right away.


"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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We live right in the middle of corn fields (grain). Last week I took a trip with the neighbor, who farms hundreds of acres of corn, to Madison, WI. He wanted to do some shopping at a mall and pick up some goodies for the holidays. He insisted on getting some fresh corn.

Nothing beats pulling it off the stalk and into the boiling pot, but in December it can still be a nice treat.

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Some years ago, in a fit of nutritional correctness, I decided I would not eat tomatoes out of season. Where I live, that means no fresh tomatoes from early November to June. My resolve didn't last beyond January. I was dying for fresh tomatoes. These days I've found some good hothouse tomatoes that are locally grown and sold at the farmers mkt. I have also reclassified tomatoes from food to medicine.

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There's a hydroponic operation near me that produces quite decent beefsteak-ish tomatoes year round, much better than any of the imported varieties available locally. Fresh corn in midwinter, though, is something Massachusetts grocers still haven't figured out -- the stuff I've tried has been uniformly nasty.


John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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I live in southern California. It is hard to discern the seasons here, either from the weather or from the produce department. Everything seems to be available all year round. It usually tastes ok, but not great.

I know exactly what you mean. I've all but stopped buying produce from the regular groceries near my house, instead going to farmer's markets, Whole Foods or the local Asian stores. Even those places, sometimes its hard to figure out what season you're in.


"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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Corn would scare me, probably because I had gotten to the point of only purchasing from the local farmstand where I could see the rows in the background. However, I fell through a rabbit hole and was seduced by this incredible looking asparagus from Peru (gigantor bunch for 99 cents). I took a bunch for a test drive and then made it the green at Christmas dinner. It was really good. Family of five adults went through five bunches in two days. That said, I have never had asparagus just cut from a garden, and the local farmers markets have been specializing in this skinny skinny asparagus that I do not care for. Bottom line, within a financial boundry, I will try something that looks good and I crave just to give it a chance. Those little tomatoes discussed earlier, I would eat year round, but since I am going to try to expand my vegetable world even more this year I am giving them a pass.

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I almost can't even wrap my head around this thread...

Buying produce from Mexico? Really?

In a time where our economy has suffered, I would think that more people would want to be more supportive of local farmers. I understand if you may live in an area where there isn't great produce year-round, but there are a number of farms all across the country that grow items that may not be available certain times of the year...

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I almost can't even wrap my head around this thread...

Buying produce from Mexico? Really?

In a time where our economy has suffered, I would think that more people would want to be more supportive of local farmers. I understand if you may live in an area where there isn't great produce year-round, but there are a number of farms all across the country that grow items that may not be available certain times of the year...

I'm with you on this, I just can't get my brain around it and most likely wont either. Tomatoes not until summer, same with Corn etc. and buying imported produce from places like Mexico and Holland - just baffles me.

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As I often say, it's easy for Michael Pollan to insist on all-local-produce-all-the-time, because he lives in Berkeley, where one can get decent local produce year round. But for those of us who live in places where winter happens, it isn't so simple. Where do you "baffled" folks live and what exactly do you eat in midwinter?


John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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My point here is simply:

While there are certainly other valid objections to out-of-season produce, the doesn't-taste-good rationale is no longer universally true.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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John Rosevear said what I was thinking. You can eat locally when you live below a certain agricultural zone. We live on the Canadian shield and are very limited.

But then...The Fat Guy reiterated his point and all was once again clear. Thanks, FG :wub:


Darienne

learn, learn, learn...

Cheers & Chocolates

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As I often say, it's easy for Michael Pollan to insist on all-local-produce-all-the-time, because he lives in Berkeley, where one can get decent local produce year round. But for those of us who live in places where winter happens, it isn't so simple. Where do you "baffled" folks live and what exactly do you eat in midwinter?

I live in Oregon.

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My point here is simply:

While there are certainly other valid objections to out-of-season produce, the doesn't-taste-good rationale is no longer universally true.

I agree with the initial point, that in many instances off-season produce is tasting better than it has in the past.

And, personally, I can't conceive of why purchasing produce from Holland or Mexico would be inconceivable. Surely, there are many valid objections to many of the valid objections. In one recent example, Bayless was taken to task on Twitter for the increased "carbon footprint" of using Mexican avocados. He argued any perceived harm was outweighed by the need to divert water to produce Californian ones...not to mention that they are always in season and he prefers the taste.


True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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I stopped into my local facny pants super market (Central Market in Plano, TX) on my way home from work last Wednesday (December 23rd). In the produce section, I saw fresh, in the husk corn. I thought that was strange. I didn't note where it came from. I guess it wasn't unique to me! Fat Guy saw the same thing.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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If you guys want to bemoan the fact that we buy produce from all over the world, there's a great egullet locavore thread for that..

How Local Are You Really?

edited to add that it was an egullet thread


Edited by Shamanjoe (log)

"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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When I get desperate for a taste of summer during the long New England winter, I find that green beans and asparagus from far away places can be pretty good. When I need to taste a tomato, I find that roasting plum tomatoes (halved, a little evoo, garlic, salt and pepper) makes me happier than the grape tomatoes, though I agree that they can be decent. Actually, roasting out-of-season vegetables, not just tomatoes but also zucchini and peppers, is a good way to intensify their flavors and make otherwise insipid vegetables tastier. Then there are items that are never from the northeast, like avocados, that I buy year round.



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I stopped into my local facny pants super market (Central Market in Plano, TX) on my way home from work last Wednesday (December 23rd). In the produce section, I saw fresh, in the husk corn. I thought that was strange. I didn't note where it came from. I guess it wasn't unique to me! Fat Guy saw the same thing.

I was shopping in my Fresh Market in Little Rock about 2 weeks ago and they were selling "Fresh Corn from Florida"

It was pretty fresh, pretty sweet bi-color. Does Florida have a winter crop???? Nice to have had it.

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I'll agree on the grape tomatoes; for grape tomatoes, they are quite good even when transported a considerably distance. So, not all out-of-season produce is awful. But grape tomatoes are not at all general tomatoes; I use them in the winter for salads and similar, but not much more. I think in some ways they maybe the exception that proves the rule.

Of course, some produce holds up better then others, and it does depend on how it is used. For example, I essentially brains baby bok-choi, and it seems good. OTOH, I've probably never had super fresh bok-choi, so what do I know. Brussels sprouts seem to travel well. Hmm, maybe it is just a cabbage thing :)

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In my region (Vancouver, BC), grape tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and cucumbers are grown under glass, nearly year-round. My favourite is Origin, a moderately sized organic operation, located about 10 miles from my home, and marketed under the OriginO brand. Windset Farms brand of greenhouse produce is also widely available here. The taste is in the "good to very good" range, when compared to the pale "field" tomatoes from Mexico.


Karen Dar Woon

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They had some Mexican tomatoes in my local Whole Foods when I was there last week, I think they needed to be gassed some more. They were more pink than red, and hard as rocks..


"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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