Food & Dining

Now's the perfect time for fresh food

These bananas and bell peppers come from Ramrod Key gardens.
These bananas and bell peppers come from Ramrod Key gardens.

This time of year yields all sort of delicious tropical goodies. These are in addition to the greens, tomatoes, beans and bell peppers we can cultivate in our growing season, which runs October to April.

During the summer, if I'm really lucky, a friend on Cudjoe Key with a good-producing mango tree drops off a bag of mangoes on my porch while I'm at work.

Another friend on Ramrod Key who has a glut of bananas might leave a stem with bunches of finger bananas on the patio table. Recently he dropped off so many, we froze them individually and they are a perfect size to throw into a morning smoothie. This same friend has about 30 pineapple plants growing in steady rotation and it's always a treat to get one of those succulent, sweet pineapples.

Then there are those thanks-but-no-thanks gifts.

A friend brought over a ripe papaya recently. I have always been a big fan of green papaya salad, which is shredded unripe papaya tossed in a spicy, vinegary dressing with lime and garlic. Whenever I need a fix of that, I find it at the Good Food Conspiracy health food store on Big Pine Key.

What a difference there is between a ripe papaya and a green, unripe papaya. Cutting into a ripe papaya releases a really pungent odor and reveals deep orange-colored flesh with huge black seeds. For me, the smell is enough to put me off.

Then the taste test. Even if I could get around the slimy texture of the fruit, the flavor is too strong. It's such a shame because it looks so exotic and I want to enjoy it but can't.

More recently, my husband and I enjoyed another treat from the summer -- fresh lobster. Yes, he was one of the many thousands of divers that went out during the two-day lobster mini-season at the end of July. Over the two days, we had plenty to feed the two of us and a few for the freezer.

Living where we do and having a husband who's passionate about free-diving spearfishing means I am spoiled when it comes to fresh fish. Nothing tastes better than freshly caught fish cooked hours later, typically simply pan fried or grilled. If we have too much fresh fish, we offer it to friends who can enjoy it fresh as well. Not so with lobster.

After mini-season, we froze our remaining four lobsters and I looked at recipes that would work with frozen seafood without overwhelming the taste. I found a great recipe with a simple lemon-flavored sauce and sauteed vegetables and that's what we enjoyed a couple of evenings ago.

It's hard to believe after my abysmal growing season this year that my bell pepper plants are still producing, but I suspect I am coming to the last harvest of the summer. I have been able to pick one every few days and I have nine peppers left to harvest.

My husband has a new gardening strategy for me next season that is portable and involves stair runners and 2-by8 planks. As the project unfolds, I will be able to report more.

In the meantime, we are happy to enjoy our friends' summer surplus and the fruits of my husband's productive times in the ocean.

Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education she can be reached at