ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maybe it was the story about Ernest Hemingway’s mojitos that Paul and Barb Prior of Gourmet Gardens told me. Or maybe it was the memory of adding fresh mint to tea last summer.
Something inspired my impulsive purchase of a mojito mint plant at a recent Friday afternoon growers’ market.
Because by the time I got home, I was ready to brew a large jar of ice tea and try my hand at bartending.
Finding the unexpected at your local growers’ market is one of the great pleasures you can count on during the summer growing season. Receiving the extensive knowledge of the farmers who grow the food that they bring to market is an added bonus.
“Did you know this is the real mint used in mojitos?” Paul asked me. He rubbed a leaf between his fingers to release the scented oil. I was hooked.
Is there really a mojito variety, I wondered when I got home. Turns out there is: Mentha x villosa is the Latin name for the variety of Cuban mint that has a particularly mild and warm scent and flavor. It’s neither too pungent nor overly sweet.
If the past few days are any indication, I would add that it also has a mildly addictive quality.
But fresh mint is just one surprise among many that you might find at a growers’ market this time of year. That’s because as we head straight into the middle of summer, a full range of locally grown produce awaits those who get to market for the best-tasting and freshest food available.
The crops can vary by the microclimate of each farm, but here is an overview what you should be able to find at growers’ markets in central and northern New Mexico in early July (drumroll, please):
Squash blossoms, lettuce mixes, English peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas, swiss chard, arugula, dill parsley, basil, cilantro, oregano, young onions, fresh garlic, potatoes, green onions, carrots, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, Russian kale, Tuscan kale, rainbow chard, bok choy, tatsoi (an Asian green), radishes, honey, turnips, eggs, cheeses, milk, butters, meats, breads and more.
As the weeks pass, expect to add more peak season crops to the list like squash, cucumbers, beets, green beans, and of course, tomatoes.
If you’re wondering how the local fruit crop will be this year, unfortunately the answer is not so good. The many late frosts this spring were devastating for early blooming trees like apple, peach and apricot.
According to a number of orchardists from Belen to Velarde, their apple crops are completely wiped out. There are probably still a few trees that escaped the frost (either by location or with the help of large mechanical fans that push warm air toward the ground) but overall, this will not be a repeat of last year’s bumper crop of fruit.
Blackberries and raspberries that bloom later may have escaped the worst frosts, and soon we’ll find out just how these crops are faring this year. Later still, look for wonderful local melons.
When the weather gets hot, fresh food and cold drinks are your friends. If you have some mint on hand, try a mojito or another fabulous drink. If you’re lucky, you might even start to hear the ocean.
The Real MojitoYield: 1 cocktail 10 fresh mint leaves 1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges 2 tablespoons white sugar, or to taste 1 cup ice cubes 1 1/2 fluid ounces white rum 1/2 cup club soda Place mint leaves and 1 lime wedge into a sturdy glass. Use a muddler to crush the mint and lime to release the mint oils and lime juice. Add 2 more lime wedges and the sugar, and muddle again to release the lime juice. Do not strain the mixture. Fill the glass almost to the top with ice. Pour the rum over the ice, and fill the glass with carbonated water. Stir, taste and add more sugar if desired. Garnish with the remaining lime wedge. —From allrecipes.com The Mojito Party 1 cup sugar 1 cup fresh lime juice One bunch of mojito mint (with stems) 1 bottle (750 ml) 3-year-old rum In a blender, beat the sugar, lime juice and mojito mint until you get a greenish liquid and the mint is completely chopped. Add the rum and beat for one more minute. This can be kept in the refrigerator for a month. Fill a tall glass 1/4 full with the base liquid, add 3 ice cubes and then fill the glass with sparkling water. Add a sprig of mint, stir and serve. —Adapted from A Taste of Cuba” by Beatriz Llamas and Ximena Maier (New York: Interlink Books, 2005) Cucumber Agua Fresca This recipe for agua fresca (which is Spanish for “fresh water”) is sweetened and flavored with fresh mint, cucumber and lime. Serves 6 4 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced into 1/2-inch slices (about 5 cups) 1/2 cup water Pinch of salt 3 cups ice cubes 1 small bunch fresh mint or basil (about 1 cup) 1 lime, juiced Agave nectar or sugar syrup (see following recipe) Cucumber spears In a blender, combine cucumber, water and salt. Cover and puree until smooth. If you want it perfectly smooth, sieve mixture, but this is not essential. Add ice cubes and mint; blend until slushy. Stir in lime juice and sweeten with agave nectar to taste. To serve, add a cucumber spear to each glass. Sugar Syrup 1 cup water 1 cup granulated sugar In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar; heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Cool. Pour into a jar and store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. —Adapted from bhg.com