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May Day Signals Sweet Farmers’ Market Finds

May 01, 2015 10:54AM ● By Jennifer Neys

by Lesley Stiles

May Day lies flush with fond memories in my mind: new dresses, gloves, and hats for the girls and suits for the boys in my family from Easter. Maypole dances, queens, and flower crowns figured large in the celebrations at Christ the King, where we attended grade school. Ceremony around May Day goes back to druids and the Lady of the Lake, which I identify with every time I go into the magic of my backyard or a beautiful garden around water. Earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the Floralia, a festival in honor of the Roman goddess of flowers, and they are also associated with the Gaelic Beltane, a traditional summer holiday in many pagan cultures.

In the 1500s, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a good luck charm. He generously offered a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was customary to give a sprig of lily of the valley on May first. To this day, we still give lilies to each other at spring celebrations in my family.

Cherries hit farmers’ markets with a slow burn come May Day and continue along through the end of June, joined by cousins blueberries and bosom buddies strawberries and raspberries. Organics are readily available at most of the local markets and are worth the sugar sweet, tongue teasing flavors every bite of the way.

May also offers up prime salad days, with greens going crazy before scorching summer high noon temperatures move in gracing tomatoes, corn, beans, and peppers with rapid growth while challenging lettuce and greens. May is a great time to burrow pumpkin seeds into friable dirt corners and climbing areas for spirited Halloween carving and holiday pies. Japanese cucumbers are incredibly sweet and easy to grow, rewarding gardeners with a tenderly crunchy treat. Eggplants dazzle with brilliant colors, and their flavors are mesmerizing when grilled with olive oil and garlic. If you can find them, get Padron Peppers planted in your garden. You will be blessed with a long, voluptuous crop of small, emerald peppers; one in ten will scorch your mouth and the other nine are so good it’s worth chancing the tenth. Sauté the little gems in hot olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, then devour them hot like popcorn -- seeds, stems, and all.

With the drought at extreme levels, it is even more important to get that drip system in, no matter how simple, to keep a regular water schedule on your veggies while conserving at the same time. I lowered my water bill dramatically a few years ago when I installed my drip system on timers. The timer part is key to the great crop/water conservation part.

Hike early and often!!

Lesley Stiles is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, sustainable caterer and school garden educator. Contact Lesley at [email protected], www. and visit her new website:

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into ½ inch pieces

3 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

¾ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Pastry for a double crust pie 

Directions: Combine strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla in a large saucepan and let sit for 15 minutes. Bring mixture to a boil and stir gently until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375*. Spoon filling into pastry lined pie pan. Place top crust on and crimp edges. Cover edges with strips of aluminum foil. Cut vents into top and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake 30 minutes and remove foil from edges. Bake 15 more minutes until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Strawberry and Basil Jam

2 cups sugar

1 large lemon, zested and juiced

2 large or 4 small basil leaves

2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

Directions: Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for 35 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate, about 30 minutes more. (I keep one in the freezer.) Pour carefully into two, sterile pint canning jars and place either one big or two small basil leaves in each jar. Either process in a water bath for 10 minutes or keep refrigerated. Refrigerated jam will keep for a couple of weeks.


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