In Season: Spring Fling

While one friend has dubbed the past few weeks "Nov-April" and is calling out the next few as "May-vember," farmers across the state are heralding the official start of spring. Farmers' markets in most communities are opening their regular season schedules this weekend, though in some places they will wait until June, so check your local market website for official dates and times.

Ginger Rapport, market master of the Beaverton Farmers Market, is over the moon in anticipation of spring's bounty. "By their very nature, the early vegetables are light, fresh, and delicate, and the dishes made with them reflect these qualities," she wrote in a recent newsletter.

Spanish calçots are a great excuse for a spring fling!

And I wholeheartedly agree with her pronouncement that the star of the spring show is asparagus. From slender varieties to more robust, meatier stalks, you'll find both green and purple asparagus in abundance at market booths. (Here Rapport reminds market-goers that purple asparagus, like purple pole beans, turns green when cooked.)

From risottos to salads to quiche to pizza, asparagus is almost infinitely versatile. Even simply roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of chopped garlic and salt—and sure, throw on some chopped preserved lemon just before serving—it threatens to outshine any main dish in the vicinity.

Alliums, particularly in their springy infancy, are also on display in the form of spring onions, scallions, green garlic and the fabulous Spanish calçots which have entire festivals in their honor in that countrySee my recent post on how to throw your own Calçotada with the traditional red pepper-and-almond salbitxada sauce. And don't forget the curvy whips of garlic scapes, the thin, vibrant green stalks that grow from the garlic bulb and are terrific grilled and chopped for pizza, salads and, well, almost anything!

While local strawberries are only just beginning to appear in markets, and available only to those early birds who grab them before vendors sell out, there are plenty of other stellar finds to make your trip to the farmers market worthwhile.

Tender and delicate spring lettuces are abundant.

On my trip to the Hillsdale Farmers Market last Sunday, I loaded up on the tender redleaf and maple leaf lettuces from Gathering Together Farm that will get a drizzle of my new favorite honey and mustard-infused red wine vinaigrette. I also picked up the cutest bunches of baby bok choy that will get roasted and incorporated into a stir fry, pizza or grain salad in the near future.

Greenville Farms from Forest Grove was full to bursting with stacks of various kinds of raabs and other sprouting greens, from collard to kale to spigarello. I can safely say that next to spring lettuces, these inflorescences are the spring vegetable I most look forward to after the end of my beloved chicory season. Read Ginger's explainer about the various varieties grown locally, along with a recipe for a balsamic reduction that is nothing short of miraculous.

Garlic scapes add zing to spring dishes.

Greens like arugula, spinach and sorrel (see my recipe for a killer sorrel salad) are seeing their day in the spring sun, too, along with local fennel and peas—both sugar snap and snow peas—which should be plentiful through May. Zucchini and other summer squashes like patty pan and the ribbed costata romanesco, all ideal for grilling or roasting, will be around into June.

And don't forget spring herbs like parsley and cilantro, oregano, chervil, thyme and chives are here, too, so chimichurries and other herb sauces are definitely called for. Microgreens and young shoots of favas and peas should also make your list. They will only get more abundant as the season rolls along.

Mmmmm…rhubarb crisp!

And I can't conclude this without mentioning my true heartthrob, rhubarb, that vegetable-masquerading-as-a-fruit, that is one of the first desserts of spring, at least around here. See my version of my Aunt Nell's Rhubarb Crisp below, and be sure to make my spectacular rhubarb syrup for your summer sippers and cocktails.

Excited about spring now? I sure am!

Aunt Nell's Rhubarb Crisp

For the topping:

1 c. flour


3/4 c. uncooked rolled oats


1 c. brown sugar

1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon


1/2 c. butter or margarine, melted

For the filling:


4-6 c. rhubarb, cut in 1/4" slices

1 c. sugar


1/4 c. triple sec, Cointreau or other orange liqueur

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Mix together dry ingredients in medium sized bowl. Pour in melted butter or margarine and stir with fork to distribute. When well-mixed and crumbly, scatter on top of fruit in pan (below).

Slice fruit into large mixing bowl. Add sugar, water, cornstarch and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Put in 9” by 12” by 2” baking pan. Scatter topping mixture evenly over the top and bake in 350 degree oven for 55 min.

In Season: Eggplant is More Than Just Eggplant Parmesan

In the most recent Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter, Market Master Ginger Rapport waxed eloquent about the eggplants grown by one of the market vendors and included some recipes I definitely want to make.

Farmer Eric Hvidsten of Black Dirt Farm was not always in love with eggplant and explained how his opinion changed since he started growing them: 

Eric Hvidsten, Black Dirt Farm.

“Over the past few years, I've come to really enjoy growing eggplant," Hvidsten said. "They are absolutely gorgeous, and it's been fun exploring and experimenting with different varieties.  'Annina' is the variety that first got me hooked. Its flavor is similar to the typical Italian eggplant, but it has beautiful purple and white speckled skin that looks like marble. It looks unreal. I'm growing a long slender Japanese variety for the first time this year. It might be my favorite to cook with. Its tender skin and smaller diameter make it easy to slice into long strips or small coins. A lot of customers have recommended round Thai eggplant this year. I'm looking forward to trying these out next season.

Eggplant bites (recipe below).

"Growing up, I was not a fan of eggplant.  Eggplant Parmesan was the main eggplant dish in our house. I found it mushy and sometimes bitter. As I've experimented with new dishes I've come to really enjoy them. (See recipes linked at bottom.)

"I think its flavor really shines when paired with Greek or Middle Eastern spices like za'atar. I've also found slicing it thin and frying it briefly before adding it to the rest of the dish keeps the eggplant from getting mushy. This discovery was a game-changer for me."

"Annina" got Hvidsten hooked on growing eggplants.

As for what it's like as to grow them, Hvidsten said, "Eggplant has grown well on my farm, but it can be a challenge. They are relatively heavy feeders—home gardeners will want to amend the soil well before planting. The big challenge growing eggplant in the PNW is that they like heat. I always grow eggplant in my hoop house. For home gardeners I recommend planting eggplant in the warmest spot available.”

About how he started Black Dirt Farm, Eric said, “I started Black Dirt Farm six years ago with the goal of growing good food for my neighbors in a way that would benefit my local community, economy, and environment.  I strive to work with nature to improve the soil, control pests and diseases, and grow healthy plants.  Despite the challenges, it has been a joy to grow the farm and build relationships with my customers and other growers in the area.  Growing with the seasons, and working with nature gives me a wonderful sense of connection to the world around me.  I am so thankful for all my customers who support the farm and help me live this dream.“

Simple Eggplant Bites

4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 medium-sized eggplants
4 Tbsp. flour
2 cloves garlic
Dill sprigs, chopped finely, plus more for garnish
2 Tbsp. plain Greek yogurt or mayo

Cut eggplants into ½ inch slices. Pat dry and dip into flour. 

Oil has to be very hot before frying the eggplants. Fry both sides for about 2 minutes each. In the meantime, crush garlic, mix with yogurt or mayo, and add dill. Once the eggplant is golden-brown, set on a paper towel to drain excess oil, sprinkle it with sea salt, and drizzle sauce on top. This makes a perfect quick appetizer!


Check out Ginger's recommended recipes for making Roasted Eggplant Salad, Eggplant Rolls, and Baba Ganoush. And here's my recipe for an out-of-this-world Eggplant Parmesan.

The Beaverton Farmers Market is a stalwart supporter of Good Stuff NW. Photo of "Annina" eggplants from High Mowing Seeds.

Raise the Bar on Your Holiday Gathering with a Butter Board

I'd heard some murmuring on the holiday entertainment switchboard about a new trend that involves spreading butter on a board or platter, topping the butter with condiments from savory to sweet, then handing your guests bread and a knife. Fortunately, Beaverton farmers' market's Ginger Rapport is all over it, so I'm sharing her latest bulletin:

Market Master Ginger Rapport of the Beaverton Farmers Market is a genius when it comes to connecting the latest trends in the food world with our fresh Oregon bounty, particularly when it comes to her beloved vendors at the market. In her last newsletter, she waxes eloquent about a recent food revelation she had while visiting—of all places—Las Vegas:

There are many kinds of meals. There are those that simply feed you, those that feed your soul, and those that are so memorable that they rate right up there with the best experiences of your life. A meal at Joel Robuchon’s in Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel is such an experience. Robuchon was named “Chef of the Century” by the Gault Millau in 1989 and had 32 Michelin stars, the most of any chef, at his time of death from pancreatic cancer in 2018. 

While a meal in his dining room is a series of courses, each a masterpiece unto itself, Market Master Ginger Rapport could have been entirely satisfied with a meal consisting of their mind-blowing bread cart accompanied by a beautiful cloche-covered mound of French butter (above left). Seriously, it is a dream of Ginger’s to one day pull up a chair to the cart and happily spend the evening enjoying fabulous butter on every kind of perfectly baked bread you can imagine.

So it is with great enthusiasm that Ginger embraces the hot new trend shepherded to fame by TikTok creator Justine Doiron: The Butter Board. Most of you are familiar with charcuterie boards—tasty combinations of meats and cheeses, along with complementary accompaniments such as fruits and nuts that make for great snacking and conversation when served among friends and family. Well, a Butter Board is a similar concept, only the main attraction is the excellent quality butter that has been creatively enhanced and surrounded by pieces of bread and crackers.

Doiron credits chef and author Joshua McFadden [of Portland's currently shuttered Ava Gene's]—who shares an “Herbed” Butter With Warm Bread in his book Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables—as the butter board’s creator. The basic idea is to generously spread high-quality butter on a serving board of some type, then let your imagination run wild with toppings. To serve, simply scoop up the butter and spread it on the accompanying bread and crackers. Think of it as a smaller version of the bread cart and cloche of butter at Joel Robuchon’s restaurant.

The thing that is so wonderful about this idea is that it is relatively simple to prepare, and you can get as creative as you want with the combinations of ingredients. First, you start with fabulous butter. Do not skimp here! Here at the Beaverton Farmers Market, we are lucky to have the gorgeous butter made by our friends at Lady Lane Farm using their jersey cow milk, Garry’s Meadow Fresh milk. (Their butter comes unsalted or salted, and in two flavors, garlic, or honey.)

For starters, choose salted butter over unsalted. Unsalted butter is excellent for baking and general cooking but will taste bland when eaten as a topping for bread. Spread your choice of softened, room-temperature butter on a board. Doiron’s original post shows butter topped with flaky salt, lemon zest, herbs and edible flowers. You can find a gorgeous assortment of edible flowers at Campo Collective Farm and Cartwheel Community Farm, and many of our growers will have cut herbs if you don’t already have some in your garden.

From there you can let your imagination have free rein. Here are some of our favorite butter board ideas, all made with Lady Lane butter. Of course, you will need an excellent assortment of bread, rolls, and crackers to accompany your butter board so make sure that they compliment the type of butter you plan on serving: 

  • Figs, nectarines, flaky salt, and Marcona almonds on honey butter with slices of brioche bread.
  • Salted butter topped with red pepper flakes, hot honey from TbeeS Honey, and candied pecans to be served alongside little corn muffins.
  • Kimo’s Dips recommends mixing a packet of their Garlic Herb and Cheese dip into salted butter and serving with slices of focaccia from Henry Higgins Bagels.
  • Top garlic butter with a mix of sauteed wild mushrooms from The Mushroomery. We would eat this spread on just about anything, but the classic sourdough from Columbia River Sourdough Bakery would be divine.
  • While you are at Columbia River Sourdough, pick up a loaf of their chocolate sourdough and serve it alongside salted butter topped with chopped dried cranberries from Cranberry Kitchen, flaky salt, orange zest and chopped hazelnuts, maybe even some chocolate chips.

We should mention here that creative minds are branching out to make boards with other spreadable cheeses and toppings such as cream cheese with "everything seasoning" blend, flaky salt, finely diced red onions, and tomatoes, and then there's ricotta cheese with sautéed garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil leaves.  

Clearly, the possibilities are endless, and as we approach the busy holiday season, we expect that butter boards, with their show-stopping potential, are going to be on the menus of many celebrations.

Photos, from top: Roasted garlic from Aubrey's Kitchen; French breads from Aloha Epicure; butter cloche from Las Vegas Sun; flower board from Justine Doiron; honey garlic board from Moribyan, all courtesy Beaverton Market newsletter.

In Season, Pt. 2: Peachy Advice

In this week's Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter, Market Master Ginger Rapport sent some very timely advice on choosing and preparing the peaches that are tumbling in from our area orchards. Since I have six of these beauties sitting on my counter slowly ripening, and a promise from Dave that they'll be made into some juicy, sweet delicious pastry item, it seemed appropriate to share her recommendations.

The peach originated in China, and the Chinese believe the peach tree to be the tree of life.  The peaches are a symbol of immortality and unity. In America, we like them simply because they are juicy and delicious. They are the third most popular fruit grown in the States. Here at the Beaverton Farmers Market, they are synonymous with summer, and are at their peak right now!

Among its many attributes, a medium peach is a mere 37 calories and is high in vitamins A, B, and C. Because a fully ripe peach is delicate and easily bruised, you will often find them sold just “under-ripe.” To fully ripen your fruit, place them on the counter in a brown paper sack, folded closed, for two or three days. (Do not try this in a plastic bag. As the fruit respires, it gives off moisture which will collect on the plastic bag and cause the fruit to rot.) The ripe fruit will be soft and fragrant. Refrigerate them at this point. 

Peaches come in two categories—cling or freestone. The flesh will either cling to the pit or easily pull away. Depending on what you will do with it, make sure you know which kind you are buying. A cling variety will thwart your efforts if you plan on cutting them in half to place on the grill.

Like the plum and the apricot, peaches are members of the rose family (Rosaceae), distinguished by their velvety skin. If the peach fuzz bothers you, try rubbing the fruit with a terry handtowel after washing, it will diminish the feel of the fuzz on your mouth. Of course, you could also choose to purchase nectarines instead if the fuzzy skin bothers you. 

Nectarines and peaches are nearly the same genetically, but a gene variant between the two causes peaches to have fuzzy skin and nectarines to have smooth skin. As a result, peaches and nectarines have a similar flavor profile and can be used interchangeably in recipes.

Should you wish to peel a peach, nectarine, or tomato for that matter, either for eating or cooking, we recommend the following method:

Make a small X in the bottom of the peach with a paring knife. Immerse in a pot of boiling water for 20 – 30 seconds or until the skin splits. Be careful not to over-boil, or you will start cooking the flesh. If the skin never releases, your fruit isn’t ripe enough. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water to stop further cooking. Next, remove the skins, which should easily slip away.

Once the flesh of the peach is exposed, it will begin to brown. Keep submerged in the ice water until you are ready to use it. Toss cut peaches with lemon juice to delay the browning process.

 To find a plethora of peachy recipes—jams, tarts, sorbets, salads and even cocktails—just click here and here.

Planting an Herb Garden: Expand Your Repertoire with Chives and Thai Basil

I'm still a little teary at the loss over the winter of the "tarragon hedge" in my raised bed dedicated to herbs, so a trip to get new starts was in order. After picking up replacement tarragon, I also got some chervil, Italian parsley and garlic chives—and came home to find that the Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter had some helpful hints about herbs used in Thai recipes, including those garlic chives I'd just bought!


“A little sprinkle of fresh herbs on a meal can mean the difference between flavors that are just nice, and flavors that are spectacular. And when you have fresh herbs growing in your own backyard, porch planters, or window box, this makes it even easier to boost the flavor of your homemade meals." - Gardener's Path


Beaverton Market Master Ginger Rapport agrees with this advice. Fresh herbs are always an important part of her garden plan. In fact, Ginger grows her herbs in large pots on the patio right outside her kitchen where they are readily accessible. They are both useful and beautiful. Important to note here that growing herbs in pots is also a defense against Ginger’s male grand-dog Jax, who loves to lift his leg on her garden plants. Fortunately, he is a small terrier, but if you have male dogs in the yard you will want to consider this when you plan your herb garden.

Garlic chives have solid leaves and a mildly garlic flavor.

Since Ginger does a lot of Thai cooking, there are two herbs, in particular, she raises in abundance—garlic chives and Thai basil.

Thai Basil and Italian Basil: Thai basil (top photo) is different from Italian basil, which she also grows, in that it has a more anise-like fragrance and smell with a slightly more spicy taste. The leaves are sturdier than Italian basil leaves and can withstand some cooking. Thai basil is an essential ingredient in pho, a Vietnamese soup, but it is used liberally in salads, curries, noodle dishes and stir-fries.

The two herbs, while related, are distinctive enough in flavor that using them interchangeably in a recipe shortchanges the dish you are preparing.  They each have their own distinct flavor notes so it is worth growing both varieties.

Thai basil and Italian basil are tender in our hardiness zone and are treated as annuals in the garden. Chives, on the other hand, come back year after year. In fact, they easily re-sow themselves in other areas of your garden so keep that in mind when planting them.

Regular chives have hollow leaves.

Garlic Chives vs. Regular Chives: The leaves and flowers of both chives and garlic chives are edible. However, regular chives grow tubular hollow leaves that smell and taste mildly oniony, whereas garlic chives grow wide flat leaves that taste mildly garlicky. Most of us are familiar with regular chives which are a common garnish for dishes that need a beautiful green touch and a gentle onion-flavored finish.

While garlic chives can be chopped to use as a garnish, keep in mind that they will have a tougher texture than regular chives. Because they are sturdier they can be treated more like a vegetable and are common ingredients in Asian cuisines including stir-fries, soups, salad, and marinades.


Get recipes for chive blossom vinegar and chive oil, as well as Ginger's favorite recipe for Pad Thai that usesarlic chives.

Photos from Gardener's Path.

Underappreciated Allium: The Shallot

It's allium season in the Pacific Northwest, with wild varieties of onions and garlic appearing in spring meadows and their domestic cousins like leeks, spring onions, scallions, Spanish calçots, garlic and shallots cascading in from local farms. (By the way, if you see ramps? They don't grow here and are imported from other areas of the country.) Ginger Rapport, Market Master of the Beaverton Farmers Market, shares her love of these ubiquitous bulbs.

Shallots are an underappreciated member of the allium or onion family. While they are an essential ingredient in many cuisines like those of Southeast Asia and Vietnam, most Americans fail to appreciate all they have to offer. 

Shallots have a delicate, sweet flavor without the intense heat of an onion. They are preferable over onions in raw applications such as salad dressings and vinaigrettes. Finely diced, they provide a subtle bite to pan sauces and are delicious roasted whole, or pickled as a garnish. Shallots are ubiquitous in Vietnamese cooking, especially pho, where they are combined with ginger to give pho its unique taste and fragrance. 

In the past shallots were mainly imported from Europe which made them somewhat expensive when compared to onions. This is probably one reason why they are not as widely used here in the States as they should be. Domestically grown shallots are becoming more common, which is also making them more affordable. Fortunately for us here at the Beaverton Farmers Market, Farmer Yo Tee Telio grows huge, gorgeous shallots and you can find them in his Salmon Creek Farm booth at the market.

Fried Shallots

Frying shallots turns them into crispy, flavor-packed clusters that are good on almost anything. (This is not an exaggeration.) Beaverton Farmers Market Master Ginger Rapport keeps a container of them in her refrigerator at all times. Their caramelized flavor and crunchy texture adds sparkle to salads, potatoes, roasted or steamed vegetables, grain bowls, omelets, steaks, deviled eggs and avocado toast. Chopped, they can be added to dips or combined with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. Bring cottage cheese to life with a sprinkling of fried shallots on top. They are also delicious eaten by the handful, and making them is super easy. 

When we said that they are good on everything? We meant it. 

8 small shallots
1 c. peanut oil (or vegetable oil like canola)
Salt

Peel shallots of their papery coverings, slicing off the root and papery tip. Slice shallots crosswise into very thin (1/16" or so) rings.

Heat oil in a frying pan until it shimmers. Check the temperature by taking one of the rings and tossing it into the pan. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Put sliced shallots into the pan and move them around with a spatula to keep them from sticking. Moderate heat to keep them sizzling but not burning. When they are golden brown remove them to racks set over paper towels to cool and crisp up.

Use immediately or store in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two months.

Guide to Peppers: Some Like It Hot!

A recent newsletter from Ginger Rapport, Market Master of the Beaverton Farmers Market, featured this guide to the peppers that are tumbling into local farmers markets right now.

Chile versus Chili

If you like it hot, then this is your time of the year because it is chile season.

According to Chef Mark Miller, author of the The Great Chile Book, the generally accepted convention is that chile refers to the plant or pod while chili refers to the dish made from meat and chiles. The name pepper is a misnomer that has existed since Christopher Columbus saw his first capsicum and erroneously thought that he had found the plant that produces black pepper, which has no relation to capsicum. However, the name pepper is still used interchangeably with chile.

Peppers, from hot to mild, are available in abundance right now.

The chemical in chile peppers that gives them heat is capsaicin [pron. cap-SAY-uh-sin] which is technically a neurotoxin. It stimulates the adrenal glands to release hormones, which theoretically create an energy rush. The fiery sensation you feel also triggers the brain to produce endorphins, natural painkillers that promote a sense of well-being and stimulation. They can also make you sweat, which is your body’s natural air conditioner. This would explain why chiles figure prominently in cuisines in and around the tropics.

Depending upon whether you like them hot, mild, or somewhere in between, you will want to make informed decisions when purchasing chiles. The first thing that you should know is that the heat level in a chile is rated on a scale known as the Scoville Heat Index. Invented by Wilbur Scoville, it ranks chiles in order from mildest to hottest with zero being the mildest and the hottest being over a million. In general, the smaller the chile, the hotter it is.

Scoville ranking for bell peppers? Zero.

We’ve included the Scoville ranking* for each. Most of the heat is located in the seeds and white ribs inside. Removing the seeds and ribs, using only the flesh of the chile, will give you all of the flavor and less of the heat. Keep in mind that you should use gloves when handling the hottest peppers to avoid irritating your skin.  It is important that you do not touch anything, especially your face, before disposing of the gloves and washing your hands thoroughly. 

Bell Peppers: Scoville 0. Bell peppers are sweet peppers. They add flavor but no heat to your food.

Anaheim Peppers: Scoville 1000. Big and mild, perfect for stuffing. The skin is a little tough but peels easily if you roast it first.

Poblano and red bell peppers.

Poblano Peppers: Scoville 1,000-2,000. The classic chile for Chiles Rellenos. The have great flavor and enough heat to be zesty but not scorch anyone. As they mature, the skin reddens at which  point they are dried and sold as Ancho chiles.

Jalapeno Pepper: Scoville 2,000-8,000. This is the most commonly used pepper in the U.S. It is spicy but not overwhelming.

Serrano Pepper: Scoville 10,000-25,000. Similar in flavor to the Jalapeno only much hotter, Usually small, about 2” and green in color. A general rule of thumb is that the smaller the serrano, the hotter it will be.

Ayers Creek Farm cayenne peppers.

Cayenne Pepper: Scoville 25,000-50,000. When you want to add heat to food this is a good choice. Red in color, the Cayenne is usually dried and used in powdered form.

Thai Chile: Scoville 50,000-100,000. This pepper is classified as “very hot." It is a very small pepper and is commonly called for in Thai recipes.

Habanero Chile Pepper: Scoville 150,000-350,000. Of the hot peppers most commonly used, this is the hottest. Its color ranges from green to yellow to pink. It is very short but don’t let that fool you, this chile is scorching hot!

Other peppers you will find in the market:

Small, boxy padron peppers.

Padron Peppers. Originally from Spain, they are harvested young and small and they typically have no seeds. This makes them mild, perfect for eating whole. Farmers tell us that about one in every 12 will be surprisingly hot and there is no way to know which one packs the extra punch. [Tradition dictates that getting the hot pepper brings luck.] Sauté in olive oil until blistered and shower with salt. Serve hot.

Shishito. Popular in Japan, these are very similar to Padron peppers, but are more consistently sweet and mild. Serve them sautéed like Padrons, or drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil. Very tasty in tempura.

The Dozen Spiciest Cuisines

Chiles play a prominent role in the dishes of many countries. According to Eater.com, the dozen spiciest world cuisines are: Chinese (Sichan), Ethiopian, Ghanaian, Liberian, Nigerian, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Peruvian, Senegalese, Southern Italian and Sicilian, Tibetan and, last but not least, Thai.

Creamed Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and Chiles.

If you are looking to spice up your life, make sure to look beyond Mexican food. While we love the spicy south of the border cuisine, chiles traditionally pack a punch in curries, stir-fries, rice and noodle dishes, salads and condiments from all over the world.

We love a good comfort dish like Chinese-American General Tso's Chicken and this West African one-pot favorite, Creamed Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and Chiles

Roasting Red Pepper Primer

Many recipes call for roasting your peppers and roasted red peppers are a great addition as a condiment to sandwiches or added to hummus. We found two foolproof methods for roasting and skinning your red peppers, no matter your kitchen setup. 

Our favorite method is charring over a gas burner. It's quick and easy with very little cleanup. If you have an electric stove, the next best option is to roast the peppers in the oven under the broiler.

* Scoville rankings are often given in a range because varieties and growing conditions vary.

Farmers' Markets Adapting to New Normal: Mask-Wearing, Social Distancing

"We are lucky to live in a state with relatively low numbers of
COVID-19 cases, however, the recent increase in cases has shown us how easily
that could change if we do not remain vigilant." Ginger Rapport

Oregon's farmers' markets are open and, as always at this time of year, over-flowing with strawberries, blueberries, cherries, summer squash, beans and all the incredible produce typical of early summer in the Pacific Northwest. What's not typical are the behind-the-scenes gymnastics that have been required to keep the markets open as Oregon officials and farmers' market representatives wrestled with establishing guidelines to keep both vendors and shoppers safe.

Farms have innovated to provide services the public wants.

Local farms and ranches were hit hard by the closure of restaurants that bought in large volume and prominently featured locally produced meats, seasonal produce and grains on their menus. Many quickly pivoted to offering CSA subscriptions, online sales and home delivery to make up for some of the lost revenue. But the closure of the state's more than 120 farmers' markets would have been the death knell for many farms and ranches, not to mention a potentially crippling loss of revenue for communities, since farmers' markets return more than three times as much of their revenue to the local economy than do chain (grocery) competitors.

State guidelines for farmers' markets require vendors and staff to wear masks and practice safe distancing, as well as limiting the number of customers onsite and designating "social distancing officers" to enforce social distancing policies. The guidelines also require making aisles wider and spacing market booths six to 10 feet apart.

Vendor booths are spaced apart per state regulations.

Hillsdale Farmers Market manager Eamon Molloy said that vendor placement has been his biggest challenge.

"I need to place vendors, particularly large farms, in a spot where I can give them enough space for a line that is safely spaced for customers," Molloy said, adding that, for the most part, vendors have been helpful and cooperative.

"Social distancing remains our biggest challenge," said Ginger Rapport, market master of the Beaverton Farmers Market. "Managing the lines that form with customers standing six feet apart, and managing the flow of traffic is something that requires our constant attention."

Signage helps remind customers about mask-wearing, distancing.

The need to maintain distance between booths and allow customers room to social distance while shopping has decreased the number of spaces available at markets, most of which operate within a limited footprint. This means that many markets have seen a decrease in stall fees—being forced to pare down to "essential" vendors, or having some at-risk vendors choosing to skip this season—which has created challenges for markets in terms of generating income for paying staff and overhead, according to the Oregon Farmers Market Association's Melissa Matthewson.

As one of the largest markets in the metro area, Rapport said that her market has had to reduce the number of usable spaces for vendors by about a third, a significant number in a market of that size.

"This means a loss in income to the market which, as a 501(c)(4) [nonprofit that promotes social welfare], doesn't operate on large margins," Rappot explained. "It's a balancing act to reduce expenses while trying to be understanding of vendors needs at such a difficult time."

Masks and social distancing don't have to be unpleasant.

"The market is one of the few outlets for income for many of our small businesses and farms whose wholesale outlets (i.e. restaurants) have dried up, or whose fairs and festivals have been cancelled," she said. "For many we are the only game in town. There's a lot of pressure to keep the market functioning while trying not to completely drain our reserves."

In the pandemic's early days back in March, it wasn't at all certain that markets would be allowed to stay open at all. Strong advocacy on the part of the OFMA and the state's farmers, along with a willingness to collaborate with state regulators and remain flexible as policies shifted, turned the tide in favor of keeping markets open.

As for the rest of this season, Hillsdale's Molloy is cautiously optimistic.

"We are playing it week to week. We know how to run a pre-order market and are ready to turn it on if we have to do that," he said. "As long as customers comply with our mask rule and we work at keeping safe physical distancing, we will be running the way we are now."

The OFMA's Matthewson said the public will play a big part in helping markets survive. "The best way that customers can support these markets is to continue to shop there if they are able, and also to consider donating to the market as an investment in their long term viability," she said.

Farmers' Markets: Cultivating Community

I've been covering farmers' markets in the Northwest for more than a decade, starting with my weekly Market Watch column in the Oregonian's FoodDay to regular posts right here on Good Stuff NW about what's coming in from our region's fields and forests. One thing that's always impressed me about our market scene is the sense of community that exists not just between farmers and their customers in the market, but among the farmers and vendors themselves. This month's Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter brought that to mind again, and I thought I'd share with you market manager Ginger Rapport's reflections on that topic.

Our mission at Beaverton Farmers Market has always been to cultivate community. Yes, we believe that bringing fresh local foods to the Beaverton community is a large part of our mission, but without building strong relationships with community members, vendors and farmers we cannot succeed in delivering the other. We believe that’s what keeps you coming back to the market even more than the growing number of fresh food choices you can choose from (we’re very fortunate to live in an area that has many). We foster community.

Building relationships with customers and each other.

This past weekend proved that we have been successful in our efforts, as the community came together to help one another out. Long before shoppers hit the market our crew and vendors are busy setting up in the early hours of the day. While the market may open at 9 a.m. in the fall, our staff and vendors are already on site at about 6 a.m. preparing for the day. Last Saturday began when one of our vendors had the misfortune of having her car break down in the market. After vendors and market staff moved her car out of the way in the market, Ron Lilienthal of More-Bees, sprang into action to troubleshoot his neighbor’s car. He didn’t want her to be stranded once the market was over. Being the handy guy that he is, he borrowed some tools from the market, ran out for a part and was able to make repairs so that she could leave the market at the end of the day.

Building relationships cultivates community.

Early in the day on our staff had received word from both Denison Farms and Gathering Together Farm that they were stuck in standstill traffic on Interstate 5 North with all lanes blocked. Sadly, there was a multiple car accident with injuries and a fatality. We were saddened by the news, but grateful that our vendors were safe, just delayed. Both vendors were able to make it to the market some time after opening. Once the farms arrived, the Beaverton Farmers Market really rose to the occasion—vendors, market staff, and even customers chipped in first to unload Denison Farms’ truck. After Denison Farms was set up, Tom Denison came over to help pitch in at Gathering Together to get their booth set up as well. Customers, employees, market staff and other vendors were stocking produce in baskets and unloading boxes and pallets. We appreciated the patience of our customers and the camaraderie of our community as we worked through the rocky start.

We like to think of our market as a microcosm of a small town—some days are rougher than others, but we’re all working together to make this market the best it can be: a place to gather with neighbors, new and old alike, providing fresh local food and relationships.

Salad Smackdown: Nectarine and Cherry Salad

Ginger Rapport's newsletters for the Beaverton Farmers Market are worth getting for the information and recipes she shares (click here to subscribe). Her deep knowledge of produce shines through, helped by her passion for cooking and education. Here she talks about the luscious Northwest peaches and nectarines tumbling into midsummer markets.

What is the difference between a peach and a nectarine? They are genetically almost the same with the exception of one gene, the one that determines if it will have a fuzzy or  smoothskin. A nectarine is basically a bald peach. They may be used interchangeably in recipes but as far as fresh eating goes, people can have strong opinions about which is best. Many people prefer nectarines because they don’t like the fuzz on a peach. It is more of a textural thing than it is about taste. However, nectarines tend to be firmer, sweeter and more aromatic than their fuzzy cousins.

To peel or not to peel?

Both peaches and nectarines come in “freestone” varieties, which means that the fruit separates easily from the pit and “clingstone” varieties where the flesh clings tightly to the pit. Freestones are better for freezing while clingstones are better for canning.

If you are making a recipe that calls for removing the skin of a peach or nectarine, we recommend the following method:

With a paring knife, make a small "X" in the skin on the bottom of the fruit. Then drop it into a large pot of boiling water for 10-20 seconds. You may do multiple fruits at a time as long as you are able to get them all out of the boiling water within a few seconds of one another. You want to loosen the skin, not cook the fruit.

Roasted nectarines, anyone?

Immediately place fruit in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Starting at the X on the bottom, lift the skin away from the fruit. It should peel easily if your fruit is ripe. If your fruit is under-ripe, peeling will be more difficult and may require a paring knife. (This is also how you peel tomatoes.)

Peach and nectarine season has a very small window where it overlaps with cherry season. One of our favorite—and totally easy—recipes that features both is this nectarine and cherry salad with roasted hazelnuts featuring Baird Family Orchards nectarines, Kiyokawa Family Orchards Bing cherries, and Ken and June's dry roasted hazelnuts.

Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts

1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced
1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.

Get more fabulous peach (or nectarine) recipes for desserts, jams, salads and even cocktails! The Beaverton Farmers Market is an advertiser and supporter of Good Stuff NW.