While the rest of the country shivers and shovels out, the Florida produce-growing season is in full swing. And at the seasonal greenmarkets, the prices are low because production has been good this year. It’s time to take advantage of nature’s current culinary opportunities.
The Fresh From Florida website provides a simple chart explaining what crops are in season by month. Thanks to a relatively steady climate and temperatures that don’t normally venture into the freezing range, very few crops go out of season for the winter. Right now, you’ll find an abundance of tomatoes from Ruskin, a town with more than a dozen tomato growers and a long history of cultivating the fruit and much more on commercial farms, U-Picks and CSAs.
And Plant City is more than the prolific producer of the state’s sweet winter berries; it’s the place to go for the Florida Strawberry Festival. The ten-day event features top musical acts, carnival rides, eating and bake-off contests, crafting competitions, games, kids’ areas and of course, the berry-red star of the show in all guises, from shortcake to chocolate-dipped.
Mushrooms are a year-round crop in this state, but not a product of any underground cavern, since there is no real underground in Florida, due to the soil composition. The humid weather is perfect for mushroom cultivation, with several species of wood used to grow them. Gratitude Garden of Loxahatchee has made an art out of growing gourmet fungi, along with their crops of microgreens, turmeric, radishes and sprouts. This small, family-run operation is all-organic and specializes in growing the most nutrient-dense foods possible.
If you want locally-grown food with a bit of a kick, Cultured Culinaries from West Palm Beach can help. The jars and bottles are packed with a vividly colored spectrum of spices, fruits, herbs and vegetables from local growers, and the contents are left to ferment; when you open the lids, you can hear the fizzy whisper. Both the scent and taste could be considered acquired notions, but those who consume the probiotic mixtures say they help everything from cold and flu symptoms to upset digestion and sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
It isn’t always about the food. Sometimes you need something useful to go along with it. A carved bowl for those microgreens, or a new pepper mill from Richard Chesler’s Woodturnings is not only practical, but an artistic addition to your table. Woodturning is the art of fashioning wood on a stationary lathe while moving the wood to create the desired object. Chesler does not have a website, but can be reached at (772) 349-8002.
And while it’s easy to find healthy food during the winter months, let’s not forget that food is fun, and since you’re walking the markets, it’s fine to indulge a bit as well. The Lisa Pizza Truck’s recent appearance at the Gardens Green Market made quite an impression. The brick oven on wheels produced thin-crust pizza with fresh toppings and garnered a lot of attention. Look for the truck to return; it was parked on the northwest end of the market.
There’s no doubt that one of the great attractions of winter is the excuse to eat all those calorie-laden, heavy comfort foods that keep body and soul emotionally together until spring. But if you’re in the Sunshine State, there’s no reason to miss the fresh produce available virtually year-round.
Check out this for a list of what greenmarkets are open when, where and for how long. Most markets will close for the season sometime in April.