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While they last, celebrate fresh local cherries

Cherry salsa is delicious on grilled chicken or pork as well as with tortilla chips. Try it with chips that have a hint of lime. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Recipe: This salsa is great for summer meals and parties

The Northern California cherry farmers were looking at a bumper crop this year, but Mother Nature had other ideas. The mid-May storms ruined 50 percent of the cherry crop just as it was ripening, according to the California Fresh Fruit Association.

However, because the season was running late this year, growers with June-ripening cherries should be in good shape, the CFFA says.

All the more reason to enjoy the cherries out there now and in the next few weeks. The Brooks and Rainier varieties give way to Bings, my personal favorite, but they all work well in this salsa recipe.

Yes, pitting cherries is messy. I like my little plunger pitter.
Fruit salsas go so well with grilled meat in the summer, but some of the salsas get too gloppy. This cherry salsa is bright and tasty, and you can give it a little more kick if you want. Set out a bowl of it with some hint-of-lime tortilla chips and watch it disappear. I've adapted this recipe from one I made several years ago for the Sacramento Bee's Food section.

Note: Pitting cherries can be a chore. I use latex gloves (to prevent finger stains) and a nifty little cherry pitter that works like a plunger. But cherries also can be pitted with just a paring knife.

Cherry salsa
Makes 2 cups


2 cups fresh sweet cherries, any variety or a mix, de-stemmed and pitted
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed (keep them if you like more kick in your salsa), minced
1 fresh garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions :

Halve the pitted cherries and then chop them. Place in a bowl, then stir in the lime zest and lime juice. Add the red onion, cilantro, minced jalapeño and garlic clove. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fresh ingredients make a fresh salsa. The jalapeño missed
the picture, but not the final product.
Cover the bowl and let the salsa chill in the refrigerator 45 minutes for the flavors to meld. When ready to serve, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over grilled chicken breasts or grilled pork tenderloin, or with tortilla chips.

Variations : This salsa also is delicious with any of these mix-ins:  1 chopped ripe but firm avocado;  1 chopped white nectarine; 1 chopped ripe mango.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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