Squash blossoms — the edible flowers of summer squash varieties, including zucchini — are among the California-grown specialty items to find a niche on restaurant menus.
“A lot of the fine-dining type places are really big into spring squash blossoms,” said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc. “They like frying them. It’s very Latin.”
When fried, often they’re stuffed with cheese, meat or rice and coated in an egg batter. Alternatively they’re served in salads, adding yellow and orange tones to a bowl of greens.
Better enjoy them quickly, though — the blossoms have a maximum shelf life of two days.
“We’ve seen an increased demand at the foodservice level,” he said. “Squash blossoms are prevalent late March through July, but more in spring than any other time.”
Part of the appeal is to chefs who put a premium on locally grown ingredients.
California’s zucchini season kicks in together with the blossoms. “We get yellow and straightneck in big volume all spring and summer,” Schueller said. “From a commodity perspective, when we see zucchini, longneck and crookneck squashes coming back into season, those are the strong communicators that springtime is here.”
California had an unusually dry winter through January, and a warm one in some growing regions. By the second week of February, though, snow reappeared in the state’s mountains and cooler temperatures elsewhere left it an open question when specialties would arrive in full volume for spring.
World Variety Produce relies on Mexico, including Baja, for winter supply.
Parts of the company’s U.S.-grown lineup are sourced from outside California. Ramps, also called wild leeks, are grown in the Appalachians. They usually become available in March, as do fiddlehead ferns grown in the Northeast.
In May and June, California-grown English peas and fava beans hit the market.
Frieda’s baby vegetables
Frieda’s Inc. top sellers from California heading into the Lent and Easter seasons are baby spring vegetables, said Alex Jackson, communications coordinator.
Big volume comes in small packages at Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s. It offers baby varieties of carrots, radishes, beets, fennel, cauliflower, bok choy, potatoes and artichokes.
The baby carrots are in white, maroon, orange, purple-yellow and round orange. Cauliflower options are white, green, orange and purple.
Frieda’s advises retailers to merchandise baby vegetables on a wet rack with other produce specialties, Jackson said.