Texas Produce Makes for a Happy Father & a Healthy Family

San Antonio Express News
GARDENING, Etc.
Sunday, June 19, 2005

By Dr. Jerry Parsons

Farmers Market display - Photo: Texas Department of Agriculture

The way to any man’s heart is through his stomach. The best way to approach anybody’s stomach is to tantalize their taste buds with fresh vegetables. Luckily, the best-of-the-fresh are available NOW in this area of Texas for those who know where to look.

One of the few good things Jim Hightower did when he was Commissioner of Agriculture of Texas was to start the Texas Farmer’s Markets. These markets furnish farm fresh produce from small volume, local growers selling directly to consumers in markets distributed all around the area. Before the Texas Farmer’s Markets were started, a longtime vegetable growing family named Verstuyft began selling some of their produce on the frontage road of Interstate 35 South. Thirty-five years later, they still grow and sell the best produce in Texas at the most reasonable prices.

At this time of the year, Verstuyft Farms (Tel: 210-622-3423) have the best-of-the-best vegetables available by the sack-full or the trailer-load. To get to this originator of direct-to-consumer sales in the San Antonio area, travel Interstate 35 South towards Laredo, exit at Loop 1604, stay on the I-35 South access road for another mile and turn right, into a good-eating produce heaven. I checked with these folks to see what is available now. Of course, they are not open on Sundays, but every other day of the week from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. (until 5 p.m. on Saturdays), the following mouth-watering delights are available. What vegetables does this fat-boy-from-Tennessee recommend and what are the best recipes to use? The following fresh vegetables and tried-and-proven recipes are so wonderful that you will be more than glad you read this article and made the trip to the Verstuyft farm or a local Farmer’s Market. Some harvest hints from the Verstuyfts are:

Beans, snap – For maximum tenderness, harvest before maturity when pods are almost full size but before seeds begin to bulge.

Corn, sweet – Watch for signs of ripeness such as corn silks darkening and drying out as ears mature. For more about how to roast corn in your own backyard, see the images at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/june02/roasting.htm taken of the king of corn roasting, Malcolm Beck.

Cucumber – Harvest when fruits are bright, firm and green before they get too large. For the best Bread-and-Butter pickle recipe you ever laid your lips on, see:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/recipes/breadbutter.html

Watermelon – Harvest when fruits are full size, have a dull surface and creamy colored ground spot. Verstuyft Farm is the home of the first seedless watermelons ever grown in this area. For more about watermelons, see: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/june02/june5.htm

Okra – Three to 4 inches is an optimum length for harvesting. For the best onion ring/okra batter recipe and how to make it stick during frying, see:http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers
/recipes/onionring.html

Onion – Ideal bulb diameter is 2 to 4 inches. Pull all onions when tops fall over. For onion recipes, see the section Favorite Onion Recipes at: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plant answers/recipes /recipes.html

Black-eyed Peas – If you expect to shell the peas, harvest pods when they are shiny green and fully developed. The Verstuyfts have a mechanical pea sheller so all you have to do is cook and eat! For more about black-eyed peas, see: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/ june04/1.htm

Peppers – Harvest bell peppers when they are 4 to 5 inches long with full, well-formed lobes. Immature peppers are soft, pliable, thin fleshed and pale. Harvest jalapenos when they are 2 to 2 ½ inches long. For some great hot pepper recipes from retired Bexar County Extension Agent– Home Economist Shirley Johnson, see: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/ tabloid/tab22.html

Potatoes, Irish and “new” – For Irish potatoes, a good tuber size is 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Individual preference is the rule here. Harvest “new” potatoes at any size, but generally do not dig before tubers are 1 1/4 to 1 ½ inches in diameter. For more information about potatoes, see: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/020902/020902.htm

Squash – Harvest when fruit is 4 to 6 inches long for yellow crookneck squash 6 to 8 inches for yellow straight neck. For some great squash recipes, see the listing at: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu. edu/plantanswers/recipes/4hrecipes/fruits/fruitsandvegetables.html

Tomatoes – Harvest when they are fully colored but still firm. Pick slightly pink tomatoes and ripen at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. This will not affect flavor and may save loss due to insect, bird and/or varment damage. While it is true that completely ripened tomatoes will store for a longer period of time in the refrigerator, the absolutely best tasting tomatoes will be ripened as just described and eaten as they ripen, being only refrigerated just hours before eating to chill the tomatoes. Tomatoes become mushy and lose favor in the refrigerator. For more information about tomato taste, see: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/jan04/5.htm

For more tomato recipes, see the category of Tomato Recipes at: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu. edu/ plantanswers/recipes/recipes.html

So, don’t delay, head out first thing in the morning, and discover the easiest way to keep all of the fathers happy while keeping the family healthy. For the long version of this information, see the fourth column listed in the June category at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_columns.htm

Dr. Jerry Parsons is a Professor for Texas A&M University and a Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist for over 30 years in South Central Texas. For more information on this or other horticulture topics, go to www.plantanswers.com and our County Extension website at https://bexar-tx.tamu.edu.

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