A (Plant) Family Celebration

May 26, 2017

Though it’s late May, it’s starting to feel like summer at the farmers market, with Karl the Fog rolling into the Bay Area, and early peaches hitting the stands to bring a taste of sunshine. At CUESA’s Summer Celebration on June 11, we’re challenging more than 40 of the Bay’s talented chefs and bartenders to pay tribute to the season through innovative dishes and drinks based on five star plant families. From savory berry dishes to squash-based sweets, chefs push the limits of deliciousness using the best produce that the farmers market has to offer.

We’ve gathered some fun facts about these plant families (did you know that cucumbers are botanically a berry?), along with some recipes to whet your appetite for the season ahead. Some of these groups are true botanical families, while others are connected by culinary use. From fruits and bulbs to shoots and flowers, get to know the families of Summer Celebration.

Stone Fruit

Stars of summer: Apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums

Character: Juicy, sweet, bright, and bold. These members of the rose family, genus Prunus, consist of flowering trees bearing fleshy, pitted fruits known as drupes. Freestone drupes have flesh that can be easily separated from the seeds, while clingstone (or “cling”) fruits are messier but often juicier and more flavorful. As summer begins, cherry season is winding down, but apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums explode at the farmers market in a rainbow of colors and crosses, such as pluots, apriums, and peacotums, to name a few.

Fun fact: The peach shares the same subgenus with the almond, which is not a true nut but the pit of a stone fruit. Though drupe seeds are usually toxic, almonds are an exception.

Recipe Inspiration: White Nectarine and Burrata with Guanciale Chip Crostini by Carl Foronda, 1760

Summer Celebration 2017 Teaser: Cherry Drowned Pork Taquitos with Pork Adobo, Crema Epazote, Chiles Negro, and K&J Orchards Cherries by Sophina Uong, Mestiza Taqueria


Stars of summer: Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries

Character: Berries are a motley crew, bound together by their sweetness, petiteness, and lack of pit. In fact, most of the fruits we consider berries are not true berries by the textbook definition, meaning a fleshy fruit that is produced from a single ovary and contains many seeds. The strawberry, like the fig, is an “accessory fruit”—a fleshy medium for the actual fruits, which are the crunchy nodules (achenes) that contain the plant’s seeds. Blackberries and raspberries are “aggregate fruits,” or clusters of drupelets (itty-bitty stone fruits). The blueberry is the only true botanical berry among all these pseudo-berries.

Fun fact: Unexpected true berries include grapes, avocados, dates, and watermelons.

Recipe Inspiration: Sweet Corn and Raspberry Shortcake with Basil Cream by Jen Musty, Batter Bakery

Summer Celebration 2017 Teaser: Strawberry Marshmallow by Christine Doerr, NeoCocoa


Stars of summer: Cucumbers, melons, summer squash

Character: Though the name Cucurbitaceae may not easily roll off the tongue, it helps to remember that this family includes cucumbers, along with other fleshy, watery, cooling crops like melons and squash. There’s no shortage of variety among the cucurbits, from fragrant muskmelons in the summer to hardy pumpkins in the winter. They generally start showing up in the farmers market in June and July, but since we have a few hot-house growers and farmers from Southern California, we start to see a smattering of cucurbits on the stands in mid to late spring. Don’t forget the zucchini blossoms, which make a delicious package fried and stuffed with cheese.

Fun fact: The fruits of cucurbit plants are called “pepos.” They are botanically known as modified berries, which are defined by having many seeds and a tough outer skin.

Recipe Inspiration: Chili-Almond Watermelon atop Meyer Lemon Avocado Purée by Erik Aplin, ICHI Sushi

Summer Celebration 2017 Teaser: Compressed Lemon Cucumber “Caviar,” Wild Fennel, Yellowfin Tuna Confit, Lemon Thyme, and Cucumber Aioli by Nelson German, alaMar Kitchen + Bar


Stars of summer: Onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions, chives

Character: Members of the onion family are a pungent bunch, but a bit of heat sweetens their demeanor. The allium’s potency is concentrated in the bulb, while the greens impart a milder flavor. Bulb onions and garlic are used as an indispensable base in many cooked dishes, while scallions and chives can be enjoyed raw. Alliums are believed to invigorate the senses, boost circulation and metabolism, and have antibiotic and antioxidant properties. And while garlic’s biting flavor has made it a vampire repellant in folklore, its warming nature has earned it a reputation as an aphrodisiac.

Fun fact: In older classification systems, alliums were grouped with asparagus and lilies in the Liliaceae family.

Recipe Inspiration: Chilled Spring Onion and Garlic Soup with Salsa Verde and Espelette Peppers by Larry Finn, Scala’s Bistro

Summer Celebration 2017 Teaser: Baby Leek and Mushroom “Tsukune” Meatballs with Parmigiano, Green Garlic Mushroom Tare, and Onion Sprouts by Dennis Lee, Namu Gaji

Leaves and Flowers

Stars of summer: Leafy greens, herbs, edible flowers

Character: Covering everything from spinach to squash blossoms, this category offers a big tent at Summer Celebration. Leaves such as lettuce, arugula, chard, kale, basil, and parsley represent diverse botanical families, but they are united by their chlorophyll-rich flesh that has the ability to photosynthesize—turn sunlight into plant energy. Perhaps the sexiest part of the plant, flowers can make a colorful and flavorful addition to salads and desserts, while flowering herbs bring the seeds of new plants to come.

Fun fact: Calendula, borage, nasturtium, marigold, lavender, rose, rose geranium, dandelion, sunflower, and chive blossoms aren’t just pretty faces—they’re also edible.

Recipe Inspiration: Cherry and Vanilla Bean Shrub with Cherries, Rose Petals, and Mint by Joanne Krueger and Dan Lehrer, Little Apple Treats

Summer Celebration 2017 Teaser: Honey Thyme, Golden Milk (Turmeric, Ginger, Honey), Roasted White Chocolate & Lavender Ice Cream by Jake Godby, Humphry Slocombe

Photos by Amanda Lynn Photography.

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