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To Market, To Market

The fruits of summer coming on strong

As graduations are to June, so are peaches, nectarines and plums, summer's ubiquitous stone fruit.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000


As graduations are to June, so are peaches, nectarines and plums, summer's ubiquitous stone fruit.

That's truer this month than in recent years, when weather wreaked havoc on the harvest. This season, though, prime growing areas have no complaints, and for fruit lovers it's a buyer's market.

"Prices should be very good," said Michael Marks, marketing director for J.C. Produce Inc. in California. "I've already seen ads for 99 cents a pound for peaches and nectarines here on the West Coast, which is unusual -- which means there are very good supplies."

Becoming increasingly popular with shoppers are the white flesh peaches and nectarines, which ripen about twice as fast as the yellow flesh variety, Marks said.

"The white flesh peaches and nectarines were the original, but it wasn't until after World War II that the first yellow flesh nectarine was developed in Le Grande, in the San Joaquin Valley," he said.

Since they were so delicate, farmers found white flesh nectarines and peaches too difficult to harvest, pack and ship. Now, however, firmer varieties have been developed.

Besides an abundance of stone fruit, California also is reporting a bountiful harvest of table grapes.

"The bunch count per vine has just been phenomenal so far this year, and the growing season has been heavenly," Marks enthused.

Besides, hot weather has en-sured a crop of sweet grapes, headded.

Look for perlette and red flame seedless grapes this month, with Thompson seedless to follow in a few weeks.

Even as California and other states ship their fruits and vegetables nationwide, in Florida the season is practically over.

Considering the drought, that is fortunate, said Terence McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

"If we had severe weather problems in January or February or March, it would have had a greater impact," he said. "This is the most dormant time."

Watermelons, among the last fruit to be harvested this season, will be marginally affected by the dry weather, McElroy said.

"We think, for the most part, most of them will be all right," he said. "It could be that some watermelons, because they may not be getting the rains and not enough irrigation, may not be as large, but we don't expect any dramatic effect at this point."

Produce

Among the fruits and vegetables in season this month are apricots, beans, berries, cabbage, cherries, chili peppers, bell peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, mangoes, okra, papaya, peppers, plums, peaches, nectarines, summer squash, sweet corn, cantaloupes, honeydews and watermelons.

SHOPPING TIPS FOR PEACHES: "Most people look at the blush of the fruit, but that's the last thing you look at," Marks said.

"Two things you really want to look for. First of all, you hold it in your hand, and, if that piece of fruit feels like balsa wood, then there is no juice and therefore no sugar. The second thing is to look at background color. Don't look at the red; Americans are suckers for red."

A peek at the stem-end of the peach will give a good indication of whether the fruit will ripen properly, Marks said. If the color in that area is green, the fruit will never ripen. On the other hand, if it is yellow and green or mostly yellow, it will.

To ripen, store peaches at room temperature in a paper bag. Leaving peaches and other stone fruit in the open will cause them to shrivel.

Seafood

Grouper, always a favorite, should be plentiful in June along with oysters, clams and several varieties of snapper, said Kenny Daniels Jr., general manager of Family Fresh Fish Market in Madeira Beach.

Shoppers should look for fresh domestic red and black grouper this month, he said, adding that red grouper will cost from $7.99 to $10.99 a pound for fillets and black grouper $9.99 to $12.99 a pound for fillets.

Though red snapper season ended last month, those who enjoy the flavorful fish should not despair. Other varieties abound.

"There will be mutton snapper, mangrove snapper and some vermillion snapper," Daniels said. "Each has got their own distinctive taste to it, and they are very delightful.

"A lot of those will be whole fish ranging from $2.99 to $6.99 a pound, depending on the species."

As in past months, shrimp prices will continue to be high.

"There are shrimp around, but the price is up because of the price of fuel," said Daniels, explaining that the powerful engines necessary to pull trawl nets cause shrimp boats to consume a vast amount of fuel.

Expect to pay $7.99 to $9.99 a pound for large pink shrimp, with 20 to 30 pieces to the pound, and $9.99 to $12.99 a pound for extra large, 16 to 21 shrimp, he said. Jumbo pink shrimp will range in price from $12.99 to $14.99 a pound, a yield of 10 to 15 pieces.

The cost of white and rock shrimp will be slightly lower, Daniels said.

Besides price, there are other points to consider when you are shopping for seafood, he said.

"Look for firmness of texture, a real nice fleshly look to the fish," he said. "It shouldn't be dried out. With the whole fish, there should be nice clear eyes and dark to light red gills."

Fish that has been frozen and thawed will appear jellylike, he added.

"It would kind of just lay there and wouldn't have the firmness of texture that the fresh fish has," Daniels said.

Fresh shrimp should not feel gritty.

"If they feel like there is sand on them, then they're old," Daniels said, adding that reputable markets will not object if a customer asks to examine the catch.

"Check out the product," he advised. "Be a smart shopper."

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