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Summer Treats

Homegrown Fruits and Vegetables


The best tasting fruits and vegetables are grown to perfection not for the mass market, but as close to home as possible. By buying from local growers, you get produce that has so little distance to travel to the table that it is possible to enjoy fruits and vegetables harvested at the peak of flavor and texture. Homegrown produce is even fresher, coming directly from the garden to the kitchen with maximum vitamins, color and flavor.

Connoisseurs of good food know that it isn’t just about how a dish is prepared, but also the quality of ingredients used. In a world increasingly turning to mass-produced and gene-altered food products, gourmet cooks are turning to their own gardens for more healthy alternatives — organically grown and freshly harvested. In particular, tomatoes and their close relatives eggplants and peppers are some of the vegetables that are unrivaled in taste when harvested only minutes from the kitchen. All are the prize of long sunny, summer days. July is not too late to add some to the garden. In fact, in some areas, earlier planting will just result in disappointment. Now that the fog is more or less gone, these heat-loving varieties will grow by leaps and bounds, producing tasty harvests in mere weeks.

Commercially grown tomatoes are the ultimate taste disappointment. So it’s no wonder that they are the most popular vegetable for home gardens. The supermarket versions are mediocre at best and purely criminal at worst. They have had their sweetness and unique flavor bred out in favor of firm flesh and shippable shape. By planting a few plants at home, not only will the resulting fruits be tastier, but there is also a much wider selection of varieties available than ever appears at the supermarket. Many nurseries and home-gardening centers still have plants in bloom and even in fruit this month. Summer lasts well into September around here, and some years even later, giving tomatoes at least three more months to deliver up their heavenly bounty.

Tasty peppers, from bells of all colors to hot and spicy jalapeños, habaneros, and serranos, are well-represented at the market. Since they travel well, even as fully ripe pods, they are a good value. But there are more interesting and flavorful varieties that can be grown at home. Thankfully, most nurseries are carrying an ever-expanding variety, like poblano, Italian sweet peppers, and the spicy Fresno.

The other major vegetable member of the solanum family is eggplant. Few markets carry more than the standard, large purple eggplant. Home gardeners can expand their pantries with a rainbow of other types. Long, slim Japanese eggplants, egg-shaped white eggplants, and bright red Chinese eggplants all have a subtle difference to their flavor as well as their colorful and varied good looks. Plants may be available still, but planning ahead by starting from seeds may be necessary. Don’t worry; the seed catalogs will arrive all too soon to tempt with their juicy descriptions and seductive photographs.

No room in the garden for these tasty treats? No worries — most of them do just fine in a large container that can be situated in a sunny, warm spot to produce the sweetest, most flavorful crop.

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Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to vahayes@lotusland.org.

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