Maybe it was the weather that let summer sneak up on me. A wonderfully cool May felt coastal and breezy, with no hint of the triple digits on the next calendar page. But, suddenly June is back.
My daughters dragged home sad, heavy backpacks stuffed with the remnants of another school year: eraserless pencils, broken crayons, and dry markers. There are no more tests to study for. That last book report was turned in.
Our sweaty foreheads and rows of now empty classrooms tell the truth: Summer is really here. A few precious weeks without uniforms, homework, sports practices, and the rigorous, brutal schedule that holds us hostage during the school year.
And the time to savor the Valley’s 75 best days of food.
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We’ve shopped the Saturday farmers market on Shaw and Blackstone avenues for a dozen years, and summer is the greatest time to go. The fat, shiny San Marzano tomatoes will be harvested soon. They taste like sunshine and even the frailest little grandmas elbow their way into the crowd to get a few before they sell out.
Rows of vendors display boxes of delicate strawberries, fat boysenberries, and the mysterious olallieberries. They’re magical in pies, on shortcakes, or just eaten by the warm unwashed handful in the farmers market parking lot.
Now is the time of year that tourists show up with cameras. Wandering up and down the rows of fruit and vegetable stands, they try samples, and take pictures, overwhelmed by the choices and quality of what is grown here.
I love the summer crops that have a short season and I can only find in the Valley. Fresno State sweet corn brushed with butter, grilled, then eaten typewriter style: Chew to the end of one salted, greasy section, then return to the tip of the ear and start on the next row, leaving a glorious trail of oily yellow kernels from one cheek to another.
Chubby, round farm-stand zucchini to hollow out, stuff with ground turkey and brown rice, then bake in a sauce made from those sweet San Marzano tomatoes, local olive oil, garlic and a few basil leaves from the yard.
There are the foods that my daughters associate with summer events. Thinly sliced prosciutto, mozzarella and mortadella from Sam’s Deli are packed into a baguette warm out of the ovens at La Boulangerie Bakery in Fig Garden.
My husband adds fresh arugula, his roasted red peppers and eggplant, a river of oil and balsamic vinegar, and tightly wraps the whole sloppy, spectacular sandwich in foil. When our girls see this porky silver torpedo sticking out of a cooler on a weekday morning, they know we’re going to Yosemite for a picnic.
There’s the overpriced stale popcorn, cotton candy, and sweaty plastic bottles of lemonade we mindlessly consume in the cool darkness of the circus. I cover my eyes with salty, sticky fingers, squinting in the blinding sun when we walk out of Selland Arena afterward.
Just past the little town of Minkler is the last fruit stand on the way up to the Sequoias. We stop and buy bags of heavy nectarines and furry apricots to eat at Hume Lake.
A chugging sound in the kitchen means we’re running the ice cream maker and preparing frozen custard with the sack of peaches on the counter, so ripe that they ooze when touched.
In the middle of June’s Saturdays, July’s holidays and August’s road trips, there are stretches of wonderfully empty weeknights where my husband and I can hang out in the kitchen with our daughters, teaching them how to cook.
Finally old enough this summer, our almost sixth- and third-graders are learning to safely cut fruit and vegetables with Daddy’s sharp chef knives. They’re mixing marinades for meat, and finding out how to turn on the grill and barbecue while we all swim.
Without homework, basketball practice and tests to study for, there’s time to focus on each other while we enjoy all of summer’s delicious gifts.
For the next 75 days, I’m hungry for the best of our local produce, grateful for this lazier season, and so thankful for an opportunity to slow down and enjoy it all. The Valley’s heat is here again and so is the promise of savoring the food, family and fun of another sweet Fresno summer.
I can’t wait.
Dawn Golik lives in Fresno with her husband and their two daughters. You can email her at email@example.com, and follow her on Twitter (@DawnGolik) or on Instagram (@mommygolik).