The Foodie

cherries, july produce, whats fresh in july

What’s Fresh in Mid-July: Cherries, Summer Squash and Nectarines

July 14, 2009
by Erin Harris
If the brilliant hues of July’s fruits and vegetables don’t draw you in, then learning about their health benefits should. Before long, you’ll be rushing to your local market to stock up on cherries, summer squash and nectarines to brighten up your diet and your dinner table.

Cherries

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Cherries originated in Europe and western Asia, and belong to the same genus as almonds and apricots. Several varieties of cherry exist, ranging from sweet to sour, with deep red Bing cherries topping the list as the most popular. A Mental Floss magazine blog explains more about the fruit, from the deadly cherry-and-milk myth to the 1,200-pound stainless steel cherry that stands in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Don’t miss the video of cherry trees in blossom at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Cherries are an asset to your health, packing in 19 times more beta-carotene than blueberries or strawberries per serving. Their high antioxidant levels may help alleviate arthritis and prevent heart disease and diabetes. Cherrymkt.org, a site sponsored by the Cherry Marketing Institute, asserts that “Cherries also have been found to help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, prevent memory loss and delay the aging process.” The site’s Smart Snack Swap section offers tips on how to sneak cherries into your diet, like substituting Cherry Trail Mix for Chocolate Party Mix.

Tender cherries burst with juice atop a golden-brown custard-like cake in a recipe from Joy of Baking called Cherry Clafoutis. Traditionally a French dessert, clafoutis makes a perfect breakfast when dusted with confectioner’s sugar and served with a dollop of yogurt or sweetened whipped cream. This recipe calls for pitted cherries, but when it was first made in the Limousin region of France, “cherries were left unpitted so the kernels could release their delicate almond flavor as they baked.”

Summer Squash

According to Hungry Monster, squash derives its name from “the Algonquin ‘askoot asquash’, meaning ‘eaten green.’” Zucchini, pattypan and yellow squash are the three most popular types of summer squash, sharing a family with pumpkins and gourds. Yellow squash is firm and butter-yellow and, in peak season, bears a shiny skin that can feel smooth or “pebbled.” It can grow either straightnecked or crooknecked, although its shape and texture do not affect its slightly nutty flavor.

The vitamin C and beta-carotene found in summer squash have anti-inflammatory properties, helping to relieve arthritis pain and asthma. The vegetable’s fiber content helps clear toxins from cells in the colon and may lower high cholesterol. Summer squash is also an excellent source of magnesium, which reduces high blood pressure and decreases the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to Dr. Joseph Galati of Your Health First.

In a recipe from the blog Tigers & Strawberries, Bengali style summer squash infuses this mild vegetable with the warm spices of turmeric, mustard oil and panch phoron, a five-spice blend. Garlic, ginger and onions add depth to the dish while cilantro and tomatoes lend a burst of color. The flavors are rounded out by the zest of Thai chilies and fuse together in a vibrant, exotic twist on plain summer squash.

Nectarines

Nectarines—the word is derived from nektar,” or “drink of the Gods”—originated in China and were cultivated in Greece for centuries before arriving in America. Despite popular myth, nectarines are not the offspring of a peach crossed with a plum. While they share the same plump figure and blushing orange skin as peaches, they remain smooth and fuzz-free. Earlier varieties were clad in skins of green, red and yellow and bore white flesh, unlike the hearty golden nectarines we enjoy today.

Nectarines are loaded with vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. Not to mention that its skin is rich in bioflavonoids, antioxidants found in deep-colored fruits and vegetables and believed to help fight cancer. Nectarines were featured in MedicineNet’s Fruit of the Month series, which provides suggestions on how to incorporate the fruit into your diet, such as broiling them alongside pork chops or serving them atop pancakes and waffles.

In a recipe from The Worldwide Gourmet, simple ingredients blend together to create sweet, warm sabayon, a French variation on Italian zabaglione. The delicate mousse is poured atop sliced nectarines, enveloping the warm fruit that has been browned in butter and sugar. The dessert is even more elegant when sprinkled with slivered toasted almonds.
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