Seven years ago I touted the opening of the food emporium Providore Fine Foods on NE Sandy Boulevard as "a whip-smart move" on a street formerly known more for its drug dealers, dive bars and ladies of the night than gourmet delights. Partnering with a roster of providers who have deep relationships with local farmers and suppliers, customers have found the kind of high quality, thoughtfully sourced products they can't find anywhere else.
To celebrate, Providore is pulling out all the stops this weekend, showcasing the sunniest of the season's produce, a Citrus Fest that includes:
A wide-ranging citrus tasting at Rubinette Produce with every kind of sunshine-y mandarin, tangerine, kumquat, pomelo, orange, lemon and lime they can get their hands on.
Two x Sea will be sampling their McFarland Springs trout spread, and will have citrus-inflected mignonette available to accompany their impeccably fresh oysters, plus citrus-marinated fish to take home and enjoy.
Revel Meat Co. will be offering samples of their beef hot dogs and a selection of their house-made sausages, all made from meats sourced from local small farms.
Lovely lemon curd brûlée citrus tarts, along with Meyer lemon madeleines from Pastaworks, plus Meyer lemon sheet pasta. The salad case will be filled with citrus-inflected grain salads—the orange, tinned-octopus and chorizo salad looks crazy good—and Pastaworks head baker Kathy High is making her legendary birthday bread pudding, servings of which will be given away on Saturday. And don't forget to look for the free tasting of Hungarian wines in the Wine Room!
I sat down recently with Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce to get the skinny on what's coming in from local fields this fall and he just shook his head. "Everything is two to three weeks late," he said, with farmers finding late summer crops like nectarines and peppers ready for harvest at the same time as apples and winter squash. (See below for Rubinette's fall apple tasting event.)
The weeks of cool temperatures this spring practically ruined some crops like plums and severely limited others. Northwest cherry growers experienced the first-ever snowstorm in mid-April, right in the middle of bloom, resulting in the region's smallest harvest in 14 years.
Other crops, however, have been loving the long, sunny, not-too-hot temperatures we've had this summer, and farmers' market stalls should be bursting with greens like kale, chard, rapini, mizuna, mustards, spinach, arugula and spigarello. Look for the brassicas to come charging in, too, with brussels sprouts and cabbages aplenty, along with roots like celeriac, beets, kohlrabi, turnips and garlic. Sweet local carrots will benefit from cooler temperatures to come, and you'll start to see brilliantly colored watermelon radishes and blushing shades of daikon making an appearance.
Late fall salads will benefit from one of my absolute favorites, the chicories—think radicchio but in all the colors of the rainbow from deep red chioggias to the palest yellows and pinks, and others speckled and striped, in shapes from fluffy heads to spear-shaped—all benefitting from a creamy vinaigrette or Caesar-type dressing, especially when you throw in a shower of crushed local hazelnuts.
Josh cautions that winter squash yields could be tight this season. "If there's something you like, get it now," he warns, especially if it's an heirloom like Koginut or Futsu. Others to look for include red kuri, baby blue Hubbard and kabocha, plus standbys like delicata, butternut and acorn. (You'll find a plethora of recipe ideas at EatWinterVegetables.com)
In terms of what's coming in the next few weeks, look forward to persimmons, quince, grapes, and Asian pears. And, of course, apples. Which brings us to the Providore Apple Fest coming up this weekend!
Providore Apple Fest
Sat.-Sun., Oct. 22-23, 11 am-3 pm Providore Fine Foods, 2340 NE Sandy Blvd.
This weekend is your opportunity to taste and take home your favorite apples from among a hand-curated selection of 18 varieties, from Old World classics to brand new open-pollinated varieties—not a (TM) or GMO in sight—all grown by small orchardists in the Pacific Northwest. Plus you can sip and savor other fall flavors such as:
Apple pies and pastries from Little T Baker
Ciders from Son of Man & Dragonshead in the Providore wine room
Apple sausages from Revel Meats
Oysters with apple mignonette from TwoxSea
All the decorative gourds your heart desires from Hillary Horvath Flowers
It may have been prescience that inspired me to check in with Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce to get the skinny on what to expect from local farms and producers in the coming weeks. After all, the wet, cool spring had delayed many of the region's spring crops and even flooded out whole fields of emerging vegetables on some farms, which then made it difficult to get tractors into the fields to replant, being as they got mired up to their axles in the saturated ground. Yikes!
According to Alsberg, it's meant the season for many fruits and vegetables is two to four weeks behind what we would consider normal—helloooo climate change. For instance, he pointed out that the three-week season for marionberries and boysenberries would usually peak around July 4th but this year they were hitting their stride on July 25th and will be done around the end of the month.
Stone fruit is experiencing a great summer, with peaches, apricots and nectarines pretty much on time and readily available—he said to expect peaches to be available through September. Alsberg said this year's gigantic blueberry harvest is "off the hook" and the flavor has been stellar, with local bloobs sticking around through the end of August. Despite a major area grower quitting the business, cherries have been relatively abundant, though you'll see them evaporating like a morning mist within a week or so.
Tomatoes, while also delayed, have been appearing and Alsberg is particularly excited about some new heirloom varieties like Marvel Stripe and Berkeley Tie-Dye (right), along with reliable standbys like Purple Cherokee, German Stripe and Brandywine. Look for sky-high stacks of summer squash—think zucchini, costata romanesco, crookneck and more—on farmers' market tables, along with cukes of all kinds for salads, hot and cold soups, pickles and lots more.
Local corn and peppers are already making an appearance—personally, I'm looking forward to making salsa verde and fermenting my own hot sauce again this year. Lettuces will be struggling in the heat, but brassicas like kales, cauliflower and broccoli are able to withstand a certain level of blistering summer temps. Alsberg said the bean crop, including string, bush, and pole, are looking good, and I'm excited to pick up both meaty romano beans and dragon's tongue shelling beans on my next trip to the market.
For those mourning the loss of Ayers Creek Farm and its famous Chester blackberries, Alsberg assures us there will be Chesters available from other local sources along with his personal favorite Triple Crown blackberries, so ask at your farmers' market. There are also local growers cultivating descendents of Ayers Creek's Astiana tomatoes—as Anthony and Carol did when they brought the original seeds here from Italy's Piedmont—though the new paste tomatoes may be appearing under a different alias. Again, always ask!
"For people who love greens, this is the best time of the year." - Josh Alsberg, Rubinette Produce
I've said that the only thing that keeps me from weeping crocodile tears at the end of chicory season every year is the appearance of those bundles of flower sprouts called, variously, raab, rabe or rapini at my farmers' market.
"Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables of the family Brassicacae, known as Brassicas or Crucifers. They include: cauliflower, broccoli, mustard greens, arugula, bok choy, kales and cabbages to name a few. Rapini and broccoli rabe are close cousins and are often used interchangeably. They are in the same subspecies as the turnip, hence they have the characteristically slightly bitter taste of this group. They do not form the large heads that we see in broccoli.
"The flower buds of brassicas from the turnip family are often referred to as rabe, or raab, derived from rapa, which means turnip in Italian. This time of the year, you will find the rabes of many types of brassicas in the market—kale, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, turnips, bok choy and Chinese cabbage."
While it feels a bit early, Josh said we are seeing local asparagus appearing, albeit in limited quantities until Easter weekend, so those who simply must have some, get thee out of bed at the crack—or "butt-crack" as my friend Clare Carver refers to it—of dawn to wait in line at your preferred farm's booth, because it will sell out quickly. Alsberg got 250 pounds of early asparagus into the shop from Middleton Six Sons Farms in Pasco, Washington, and it sold out almost immediately.
And those early spears? He said they had marvelous flavor, "nice'n'snappy," and admitted that early season asparagus, as with many crops, is usually the best in terms of having more robust flavor. And if you see spears that have a slight kink or bend in them? Alsberg said it's most likely caused by windy conditions in the field—spears will bend into the wind rather than swaying with it, causing them to have a bent appearance. Who knew?
In addition to green asparagus, the purple version will also be available, along with purple sprouting broccoli—aka PSB—an overwintered crop that is planted in the fall. Like many purple-tinged vegetables, the color will disappear if it's boiled or steamed so, next to serving it raw, either roasting or sautéing is your best bet for retaining that gorgeous color.
Other greens to look for include arugula, sorrel, fava tops, pea shoots, and mizuna and other mustards. Gorgeous, vibrant heads of green, red and speckled lettuce will be showing up by the end of the month for your spring salads, and herbs like cilantro, parsley and chervil have already started popping up.
Alsberg notes that spring alliums are appearing on local farms' lists, so start pulling out your recipes for green garlic, spring onions and their Spanish cousins, calçots (left). (Get a recipe for grilled calçots with salbitxada sauce from a calçotada we attended.)
Foragers are already finding nettles, miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), fiddleheads, wild flowering onions and oxalis in their favorite hunting grounds, so those wild delights will be showing up by the baskets-full at local markets soon, too.
And because it comes up every year, I dutifully asked Alsberg when we might be seeing the first decently flavored local strawberries of the season. "Possibly by Mother's Day [May 8]," he said, noting that he's heard rumors the season may be delayed because of "weird" spring weather patterns. "But definitely by Memorial Day."
It was just a few weeks ago at the tail end of January that my tipster about all things fruit and vegetable-y, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce, said, "If I see one more rutabaga or turnip, I'll kick it!"
I knew exactly how he felt.
When we talked again just a couple of days ago, he was, not surprisingly, in a much more jolly frame of mind. After all, wild greens like nettles, fiddleheads, watercress and miner's lettuce were starting to appear on forager's hot sheets, and farmers' markets are inundated with bundles of the shoots of overwintered brassicas. Whether you call them raab, rabe or rapini(top photo), they're all packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals including antioxidants and phytochemicals, which have been shown to lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease and may help reduce the risk of cancer.
What's not to love about that?
Other greens like mustards are in plentiful supply, including new-to-me Asian varieties like hon tsai tai, also known as kailaan; komatsuna, aka Japanese mustard spinach; and shungiku or crown daisy, which all have that familiar mild-to-medium mustard bite that is leavened with cooking or can add bite to a salad. Another Asian green popping up at local farms is Tokyo bekana, a soft, loose-leaf Chinese cabbage with frilly, pale green leaves that add loft to salad mixes.
Speaking of salads, Josh said that baby lettuces are beginning to appear along with early spinach varieties, and of course you can still find chard and kale aplenty, still sweet from lingering cool temperatures. Spring roots like radishes are coming in early due to our relatively mild winter, and bundles of sweet little hakurei turnips that add to any roast vegetable platter. And don't forget to use the greens from these roots—I love to roast them in a pan with other vegetables until the leaves get crispy.
Purple sprouting broccoli—a celebrity so cool it's identified by its acronym PSB—is also a star of the oven-roasted vegetable firmament. Josh said you can't go wrong searing it in a 400-degree oven, sprinkled liberally with salt and smoky urfa pepper. (Hint: Like many purple-hued vegetables, PSB will keep its purple hue as long as no water is used, so make sure it's roasted dry. Otherwise it'll fade to green.)
Local alliums are starting to arrive, too, so look for chives, green garlic and scallions, with spring onions coming just around the corner.
All of the above can be found at local farmstands and markets right now, and Josh said that full-on spring won't be far behind, with its fat spears of asparagus coming in late April and May, and local strawberries making their usual appearance starting at the tail end of April with our beloved Hoods holding off until June to make their debut. Rhubarb, often used with those strawberries, will be available starting in mid-April.
Also look for herbs like mint, tarragon and thyme, which are beginning to trickle in and should be plentiful in the next few weeks, along with sorrel (green and red-veined), lettuces and summer squash. Wild mushrooms are on the way out, and Josh cautions that while morels can be found, prices are astronomical, so it'd be wise to wait a bit for the season to peak and for prices to come down before buying them in any quantity.
Me, I'm stocking my vegetable bin to the brim with sturdy greens for roasting and braising before grilling season gets going in earnest. Join me, won't you?
If Josh Alberg of Rubinette Produce has any advice for the height of the summer produce season, it's don't procrastinate.
"When the season starts, get your favorites early," he said. "Because if you wait, they'll be gone."
The time is now to get your heirloom tomatoes at the farmers' markets, and there's a plethora of peppers, eggplant, beans, corn and peaches tumbling in from local farms. Strawberries and cane fruit like raspberries and blackberries are nearly done, as are summer squash and cucumbers, so if you haven't got around to making your grandma's favorite dill pickles yet, you'd best get cracking.
Alsberg shook his head when talking about this summer's weather.
"It's been kinda strange," he said, recounting cooler temperatures early in the summer that got everything off to a late start, with some early crops experiencing a short, not-very-robust season. Tomatoes were delayed early on, and then 100-degree days like those we've had lately "put the kibosh" on some varieties that are normally prolific in midsummer, so expect a slightly shortened season.
He may have caught my sharp intake of breath, since he quickly reassured those of us who might be expecting to preserve a couple of hundred pounds to last us through the winter. Late summer and early fall cooking varieties like Romas and Astianas should be fine, as long as temperatures remain moderately warm and we don't get early rains. Whew!
Ground vegetables like carrots, beets and turnips are plentiful, as are greens like kale and chard. As mentioned above, pepper people will find piles of Jimmy Nardellos, bell peppers in all colors and Italian sweet peppers at the markets for the next month, and peaches, nectarines and corn should be around for that long, too.
Plums and table grapes are just getting started, as are local melons, and kiwi berries and ground cherries should start appearing soon. We can also look forward to freshly dug potatoes and onions by the end of the month, as well as winter squash like delicata and butternuts. Local apples and pears will be arriving from orchards by the end of September, though Alsberg said he's seeing a few local Gravensteins listed on his farmers' hot sheets, along with Zestar, Ginger Gold and Pristine varieties.
As usual with apples, though, Alsberg—whose social media handle is "fruit monkey"—warns that most of the varieties you'll see at the big grocery store have been in storage since last November or imported from places like Australia, Chile or Argentina, so make sure you check the country of origin if you want fresh, crisp apples for your table. He winced when mentioning one in particular, called Williams Pride, describing it as "mushy and mealy." Blech!
There is one word this time of year that Oregonians wait with bated breath to hear, and that word is…strawberries! Earlier this year, as we were coming out of an extremely mild winter, farmers were expecting the season to start as much as four weeks earlier than last year. Then came a spate of our usual cool, rainy spring weather that put the kibosh on that kind of talk.
So here we are at the end of May, with strawberry season finally starting to kick in just in time for Memorial Day weekend. Whew!
Though Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce cautions if you're planning on getting some of those treasured Hood strawberries for your shortcakes, don't think you can casually stroll into the farmers' market after brunch, because those precious jewels will be long gone. Better yet, he advised checking your farmers' market's newsletter to find out which farms might have strawberries and see if you can reserve them for pick-up at the market.
Alsberg said we're likely to see the first flush of raspberries around the end of May, too, which will signal the beginning of full-on berry season—loganberries and tayberries first, followed by marionberries around the end of June. Cherries should be coming on soon, too, starting with big sweet Chelans and the delicious Royal Brooks and Brooks, which should be around for three to four weeks.
The seasonal avalanche of vegetables has already begun, first with wild greens like nettles and fiddleheads, then the more domesticated asparagus, which is beginning to wane, Alsberg said. But fear not, since lettuces are "full on" right now, with romaine varieties coming soon, along with those cute, grillable Little Gems that make perfect individual servings drizzled with a classic Caesar dressing or a creamy miso vinaigrette. You'll also find baby butter lettuces and eye-catching speckled-leaf varieties like Flashy Trout Back developed by Oregon plant breeder Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed in Philomath.
Spring onions are also exiting stage left as they grow into their mature size, which will be dug up and cured for winter. Alsberg scoffs at so-called "onion scapes" as "glorified green onions" and instead advises getting the solid-bodied scapes of garlic and leeks, cooking them on the grill or roasting them in the oven, then drizzling with olive oil, a scattering of salt and a splash of fish sauce.
(Side note: Alsberg said that elephant garlic is more biologically akin to leeks than garlic. Who knew?)
Greens like arugula, spinach and sorrel 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 for the next three weeks or so. Zucchini and other summer squashes like patty pan and the ribbed costata romanesco, all ideal for grilling or roasting, will be around for the next few weeks, with cucumbers coming on strong by late June.
Shoots are on the way out, said Alsberg, so if you see some, grab 'em. And look forward to fresh favas soon—with "to skin or not to skin" being the hotly debated topic. (I've come over to the "leave the skins on" camp, especially for the smaller beans.) The sprouting versions of broccoli, broccolini and cauliflower should be available aplenty, with the new crop of potatoes coming in soon, with more later. Herbs, too, if my garden is any indication, are going gangbusters, which will call for making pestos, chimichurries and infused vinegars.
Alsberg inserts a last caution about tomatoes: Wait to buy farmers' market tomatoes in season. There are apparently some year-round hothouse tomatoes that are showing up, so he advises holding your horses until the end of June, with July being the the prime time for the red orbs of deliciousness to arrive for their annual three-month summer sojourn. I can't wait!
Last night about 9 pm my phone alerted me that I'd received a text. I went over and checked it. It read:
"It's Jared with your meat delivery. It's been a loooong day but finally toward you with two quick stops. Prob by 9:30. That pushing too late?"
My boxed order of a chuck roast and five pounds of pork sausage from Nehalem River Ranch arrived on my porch about 20 minutes later. Rancher Jared Gardner, sitting in the cab of his truck and tapping the address of his next stop into his phone, said he'd left his home in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range at 6:20 that morning and had been on the road ever since. He had four more stops to make before he headed back.
In the shadow of a global pandemic, local farmers and ranchers, while they've lost a major revenue stream due to the shuttering of the restaurants that had made Portland a must-stop on the short list of national food scenes, seem to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts among locals looking to source food that hasn't been shipped long distances and handled hundreds of times before it hits store shelves.
Farms offering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions are reporting record sales far exceeding previous years, many even selling out ahead of the start of the season. Many of the farms that depended on restaurants have pivoted to offering CSA subscriptions, or setting up online ordering systems with delivery at drop-off points around the city, or even making deliveries to customers' homes.
Farmers' markets themselves are adapting to the new rules and regulations surrounding the coronavirus, some going so far as to switch to online ordering and drive-through pick up, with others spreading out vendors and policing social distancing, all in the interest of supporting local farms while keeping shoppers and vendors safe. The Oregon farmers' market association has worked with state regulators on a set of guidelines and policies intended to keep markets operating as essential services, similar to grocery stores and gas stations.
Older folks, who find shopping in their neighborhood stores untenably stressful, are among those flocking to home delivery or curbside pick-up. With many supermarkets pushing out delivery of orders for a week or longer, and socially distanced lines of shoppers waiting to get into stores stretching around the block, online shopping is becoming an increasingly sought-after solution.
Businesses like Milk Run, a marketplace and distribution system for products from local farms and producers, and greengrocers like Rubinette Produce and Cherry Sprout, have seen a huge increase in customers looking for high quality local food. Perhaps for the first time, people are perceiving it as an attractive attribute that farm-direct produce and meats haven't gone through the massive system of transportation, packaging, warehousing, distribution, store warehousing and in-store stocking, at each stop needing to be handled by workers.
Local fishing families are getting on board, too—no pun intended—offering a variation on the traditional CSA that is being called a CSF (for fishery). One, Tre-Fin Day Boat Seafood, offers a years' subscription of two sizes of boxes of their sustainably sourced fish (there's also a one-box "trial" offering). "This is the food we wanted to feed our families, and it just wasn't available," said co-owner Barrett Ames about why he and Mike Domeyer started the company.
Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Eastern Oregon has recently begun offering home delivery in Portland of six different boxes of pasture-raised meats designed to fit the needs of a wide variety of customers, from traditional chuck roasts and steaks to other boxes offer chicken, pork or their own custom-cut "lady steaks," which are small steaks from premium cuts like the tenderloin, ribeye and New York strip. (Read my profile of Cory for Civil Eats.)
Like Jared of Nehalem River Ranch, Cory is working within this "new normal" that we're all learning to navigate while still maintaining her commitment to a food system that works for her business, her community, the environment and the soil. Rather than worrying about what's coming next in this uncertain time, she wrote, "It seems better to imagine the world we want to emerge from this chaos, and to lean into it. Strangely enough, for me, that world isn't dissimilar to the one I’ve always imagined with vibrant community and nutritious food at its center."
Like many farmers I've talked with in the last couple of weeks, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce seemed shell-shocked at how quickly summer has left the scene. "It fell off the cliff real fast," he said, recalling how our usual leisurely stroll from summer into fall seemed more like a bad writer's solution to tying up the loose ends of a messy script.
A high mountain pass, a hairpin curve, screeching brakes and a looping, slow-motion tumble into the canyon. (Like one person's summary of the voluminous Anna Karenina: "Anna. Train. Squish.")
It's certainly not all doom and gloom, though. Alsberg emphasized that farmers' market shoppers will find that some peppers are still available, as are some local table grapes that weren't mush-ified by the cold rains, but you'd best catch them now or say sayonara until next year.
What you will discover at farmers' markets are a panoply of apples and pears from local orchards, along with fresh ciders by the gallon. And, on October 19th at Providore Fine Foods, Alsberg is hosting a tasting of more than two dozen varieties of heritage, heirloom and hard-to-find apples—specially priced for the event—as well as local ciders and a variety of apple-y treats from Tim Healea at Little T Baker. Another reason to go? Five percent of the day's sales will go to benefit the Sauvie Island Center, which provides local children with unique experiences that helps them make the connection between the food they eat, farming and the land.
Look for squash to come on strong—Alsberg hates the term "winter squash," preferring instead the term "hard squash" to differentiate it from the softer-textured summer squash like zucchini, costata romanesco, crookneck and pattypan. He rattles off delicata, acorn and butternut as the more common exemplars of the hard squashes, but gets a gleam in his eye when he talks about his fondness for more unusual (and usually better-flavored) varieties like Black Futsu, Tetsukabuto, Gill's Golden Pippin and Robin's Koginut, an organic variety developed by rock star vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek of Cornell University.
If you're looking for the best flavor, it's always better to know your local grower, Alsberg believes. "When it's industrially grown the flavor goes out the window," he said. Big growers are looking for yield and an ability to sustain less-than-ideal shipping conditions; flavor is way down the list of their priorities, he says.
Chicories are also going to be abundant, and you'll find local farms offering not just radicchio, escarole and frisée on farmers' market tables, but pale green-speckled-with-red heads of Castelfranco, the long green romaine-like Sugarloaf (known as Pan di Zucchero in Italy) and the pink-to-deep-rose Rosalba. Tardivo is another variety that's gaining popularity, with its long, thin, arching leaves and thick white ribs. (Alsberg claims to have created the hashtag #ChicoryIsTheNewKale, and who am I to argue?)
Local mushrooms are going strong, plentiful enough that you can look for good pricing on chanterelles in the coming weeks. Persimmons are also looking plentiful, and you might begin to find pawpaws from a couple local farms. Pawpaws, also called the Indiana banana, are the largest edible fruit native to North America with a flavor that tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana, and breeders have been adapting them to the Northwest's maritime climate.
When I exclaimed at the bunches of purple sprouting broccoli that I saw on his shelves, Alsberg launched into the glories of brassicas, saying that they're just beginning their season and should be abundant for the next few weeks. The bottom line is, don't mourn the passing of summer, because there's plenty to be excited about in the chilly days to come.
Providore Fine Foods, which includes purveyors Rubinette Produce, Pastaworks, Flying Fish, The Meat Monger, Little T American Baker and Hilary Horvath Flowers, is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.
It wasn't an auspicious beginning to a meeting. As I sat down to talk with Josh Alsberg, aka "Fruit Monkey" and proprietor of Rubinette Produce in the wondrous land of food that is Providore Fine Foods, he said he had sad news.
"Strawberries are done," he deadpanned.
My shocked expression caused him to quickly add, "I mean Hoods. The heat cut them off." Then Alsberg assured me that we will be seeing other varieties like Seascapes and Albions through the summer and into September, though the harvest this year is looking slimmer than usual—the word he used was "trickle"—so he's advising you strawberry addicts out there to get to the farmers' markets on the early side to get your fix.
In happier news, he said the bounty of other berries is about to bury us, and he's started to see raspberries, blackberries, tayberries and loganberries on farmers' fresh sheets. He expects marionberries and local blueberries to appear en masse by the 4th of July, and the "bloobs," as we refer to them here at home, should stick around well into August.
A caveat: Alsberg emphasizes that the summer's heat will affect all the berries—it can make strawberries more woody. He said the best time to buy berries at the markets is on the early side while they're still cool, then process them soon after you get home so they're not sitting around in the heat. As for freezing, his advice is to spread the berries out on sheet trays—the industry refers to it as "IQF" or "Individually Quick Freeze"—before freezing and bagging. (I hasten to add that Monsieur Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm would disagree…)
Alsberg also crows that "cherries are on!" and we should be seeing local—he includes Washington's Yakima-area fruit in that definition—red-fleshed varieties like Attikas, Royal Brooks and Chelans at farmers' market stalls. Pro tip: Alsberg shares that local cherries tend to be more expensive at the beginning of the season when the harvest is just getting going, so if you can hold off until after July 4th, you should see prices begin to drop somewhat. (Wink wink, nudge nudge.)
It's not all fruit out there, either, and despite his Fruit Monkey moniker, Alsberg is equally excited about the coming avalanche of vegetables about to bury us in local green (and yellow and red and…). We're in the throes of squash season, he says, with zucchini, crookneck, eight-ball (a type of ball-shaped zucchini), pattypan and costata romanesco (a ribbed green summer variety) flooding in. You'll also find alliums in abundance, with scapes of all sorts—leek, shallot, garlic, etc.—sticking around for a bit, soon to be overshadowed by fresh, as opposed to cured, Walla Wallas, red onions, scallions and fresh shallots.
There is the slightest whisper about local tomatoes starting to appear, but Alsberg said that it'll be mid-July before they'll be available in any quantity. Peas, asparagus and favas, those fleeting bright green delights of spring, are on their way out, as are the spring roots like radishes and turnips, but cucumbers are coming and local lettuces are in their glory right now. Romano beans and their compatriots are just starting to appear, as are all the herbs, including my favorites, basil and tarragon, along with local celery and carrots, as well as newer faces like sprouting cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli (referred to as PSB in certain circles).
Alsberg didn't realize he'd made "ze leetle joke" when he said that "new potatoes are starting to turn up" (ha!), but shoppers should find yellow, red and fingerlings aplenty. With warming temperatures, rhubarb will be getting scarce, but don't despair, local eggplant is coming, as are melons (by the end of July) and apricots.
Other bits and bobs to look for include orach, a red-leaved plant in the same family as spinach and chard, and arugula. Local corn will be coming around the end of July, as will the plethora of peppers from sweet to hot. You'll start seeing plums in mid-July with the full panoply appearing in August along with table grapes.
My advice? Boot up your spreadsheets and make a plan to use some of this local goodness now with schemes to preserve some for winter!