In Season: Chill Out with Cool, Miso-Inflected Zucchini Soup!

Summer and zucchini go together like Dizzy Gillespie and his trumpet, Einstein and relativity, Dorothy Parker and snark. Eaten raw right off the vine, lightly steamed, grilled, pickled or pulverized, their mild flavor and chameleon-like ability to mimic their surroundings makes them a ubiquitous choice for summer meals and snacking.

Ridiculously inexpensive to buy and so abundant in the garden that they've earned a reputation for midnight distribution on neighbors' porches, my CSA had a "take all you want" sign over a bin of them at the farmers' market last week. And since I have a hard time not taking advantage of that kind of offer, I came home with several pounds of green, yellow and striped versions.

The blistering heat of the last few days made the idea of turning on a burner a complete non-starter, but I had the good fortune to run across Hetty Lui McKinnon's recipe for a cold zucchini soup—her inclusion of miso definitely intrigued me—involving nothing more than plugging in a blender, plus I had enough of the ingredients to be able to riff on her basic instructions.

With minimal chopping and a few snips of garden herbs, within 30 minutes dinner was on the table and the house was none the hotter for the effort. I'm now secretly hoping for some middle-of-the-night donations to mysteriously appear on my porch (hint, hint).

Chilled Zucchini Soup with Miso

1/2 c. raw cashews
2 c. vegetable stock (or 1 c. chicken stock 1 c. water)
6 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 lbs. zucchini, roughly chopped
1 c. herbs, roughly chopped (I used a combination of parsley, mint, cilantro and lemon basil)
1 c. fennel, roughly chopped
1/2 ripe avocado
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3-4 Tbsp. white (shiro) miso
Salt, to taste
Condiments: Quartered limes, pickled onions, sliced green onions, extra-virgin olive oil

Place the cashews, lemon juice and just 1/2 cup of the stock in the blender or food processor. Blend thoroughly to create a creamy liquid.

Add remaining ingredients to the blender and puree; depending on the size of your blender you may need to work in batches. Adjust salt and lemon.


Get three more of my favorite cold soup recipes that'll raise the bar on your summer entertaining. And I've heard nothing but raves for Hetty McKinnon's vegetable-centric book, Tenderheart. Definitely worth checking out!

In Season: Garlic Scapes, A Primer

This week Market Master Ginger Rapport of the Beaverton Farmers Market sent out a primer on garlic scapes, the curly green whips that are the flowering stems of the garlic plant. They are at their tender best in late spring and early summer,  when they still have their signature curl—if they're not harvested, the stems will straighten out and point skyward, by which time they also get hard and fibrous.

Rapport quotes market vendor Emma Rollins of Sun Feast Farm (top photo), who waxed eloquent about her favorite allium:

"Solstice time feels like the right moment to talk about garlic. This is when garlic scapes, the flowering stalk of garlic, curls and twirls its leek-like body in the most fantastic way! For me as a farmer, garlic scapes mark our true turn toward summer, always arriving right around the longest days of the year.

Curly whips of garlic scapes "mark our true turn toward summer."

"As days lengthen, plants respond. Onions size up and the garlic needs you to pick the scape so its energy can go into the bulb, not up to the flower. If you left it, the garlic would flower in a purple pom-pom of little blooms. Each of these flowers turns to a bulbil, a little garlic seed, which is how garlic propagated itself before people began harvesting the bulb or head of garlic and breaking it up into the cloves to replant and propagate more that way.

“Why is garlic MY timekeeper? We plant garlic as the season closes, [at] Halloween time. Tucking cloves into the dark cold wet soil as so much of the field wilts back with frost for the season, garlic begins to turn the wheel toward the promise of next season. We finish the year planting into the next. We follow the sun by looking to the garlic that sprouts in the depth of winter, and come February, with the Persephone—when we enter over 10 hours of light a day, what a plant needs to actively grow—garlic marks this time and comes to life. There is green garlic before the bulb starts to form, then scapes for solstice [with] harvest come July when the stalks begin to dry out and sometimes tip over.”

So once you get your garlic scapes home, then what?

These flowering stems of the garlic plant present myriad delicious opportunities.

The simplest way to prepare them is simply throwing them on the grill after trimming off the end of the stalk. (Some recipes will have you coat them in oil, but I find that the oil drips off and causes the coals to flame up, which deposits a bitter film of burnt oil on your vegetables.) After a couple of minutes the scapes will brown over the fire, so turn them over and brown the other side. Then put them on a plate and drizzle with a good olive oil, salt and maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon. The easiest side dish or appetizer ever!

Just this last week I made a pesto from fresh scapes, processing five or six with a big handful of parsley from my neighbor's garden along with the requisite garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts or hazelnuts) and enough olive oil to make a smooth paste. Stir in some finely grated parmesan and you're ready to stir it into pasta or garnish a piece of salmon.

Rapport reports that her assistant market manager, Sue Poff, received a jar of garlic scape powder "made by her son who grows a ton of garlic every year" and she describes the flavor as "milder than regular garlic powder but used in much the same way." Easily dried if you own a dehydrator—drying them in the oven at its lowest setting is just as simple, though it may take longer—just slice the scapes into one to two-inch pieces and, once dried, grind them to a powder in a spice grinder or blender.

Garlic Scape Frittata

I love frittatas because they can be made from whatever vegetables or meats you happen to have on hand, sautéed and combined with eggs. Quick and easy, forgiving and always delicious, it's almost the perfect meal!

2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
1/2 each green, red and ancho peppers, or about a heaping cup of any peppers, finely chopped
4 green onions, sliced into 1/8" slivers
4-6 mushrooms, halved and sliced thinly
5 garlic scapes, sliced in 1" pieces, leaving the bulbs intact
6 baby Yukon Gold potatoes (1 cup) chopped in 1/4" cubes
12 eggs
1/2 c. cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat until it sizzles. Add potatoes and sauté briefly till slightly tender. Add rest of vegetables and sauté until very tender. While vegetables are cooking, break eggs into a mixing bowl and stir until well-mixed, adding salt to taste. When vegetables are done, pour the eggs over the top, sprinkle on the cheese and cover the pan, reducing the heat to low.

When the eggs are cooked on the bottom but still runny on top, put the pan under the broiler briefly (just don't walk away or get distracted like I sometimes do!). When lightly browned on top, remove the pan from the broiler.

To serve, run a spatula around the inside of the skillet to loosen the eggs. Then invert a serving platter over the skillet and, holding them firmly together, turn the platter and skillet upside down. The frittata should plop out of the skillet onto the platter.

Top photo from Beaverton Farmers Market, a generous sponsor of GoodStuffNW.

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.

Height of Summer Nectarine Galette (And a New Family Member)

There's a new member of the family I've been meaning to introduce, and now seems like the perfect time. And no, we didn't add another Cardigan to our two-dog herd, much to Kitty and Silas's relief.

A happy man.

A few months ago Dave mentioned that a gas and wood-burning pizza oven he'd been eyeing was on sale. Not cheap, but on sale. Now you have to know that he's been talking about wood ovens and reading books on them for years—at least a decade or more—from building a cob oven to constructing a brick oven to buying one of the newer portable pizza ovens made by companies like Ooni and Roccbox.

Several friends we know have invested in them, with varying degrees of satisfaction. Most are okay for pizzas, but what Dave wanted was an oven he could use for baking, in particular one that would be big enough to fit the cast iron lidded cooking pots he uses for baking his sourdough bread.

Success? I'd say so!

The idea was to make it feasible to bake bread in the summer, since running the oven at 500 degrees for several hours had a tendency to heat up the house to Mojave Desert levels. Plus I wanted to be able to use the oven's residual heat for roasting squash or braising meats once the bread was baked.

Oh, and it had to be one that wouldn't break our fairly limited budget. Good luck, right?

It turned out that Ooni had just come out with its Ooni Karu 16" Multi-Fuel oven that ticked all those boxes. And while it would cost several hundred dollars, the price was less that what we had estimated for the fire bricks to build our own. So I convinced him to put in an order, and it arrived a couple of weeks later.

The galette of my dreams.

Since then he's been baking bread, of course, but also making galettes, cinnamon rolls, biscuits and, yes, pizza, too. I've been roasting squash, making platters of roasted vegetables from our CSA, and roasting meat for stock—the Ooni's ceramic floor fits a full-sized sheet pan. It holds the heat quite well and it's easy to stoke the fire if the temperature starts dropping.

All in all, we're looking forward to more adventures with our new family member, like the nectarine galette below that Dave made last week. I've included the instructions for baking it in the oven, but using the wood-fired option in the Ooni is almost as simple.

Nectarine Galette

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (Dave used 5 medium-sized nectarines)
2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 c. sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and process until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds; you should still be able to see small pieces of butter in it. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour. (You can also roll out the pastry and use it right away or make it ahead and refrigerate overnight.)

Cut nectarines in half and remove pits. Cut each half into thirds. Set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 12-13"" square and transfer to a large parchment-lined baking sheet.

In a medium-sized bowl mix together flour, sugar and salt. Add nectarines and toss to coat. Arrange coated nectarine slices skin side down and close together onto the rolled-out crust, leaving about 1 1/2" border around the edges. Carefully fold and pinch the edges up around the nectarines.

Bake the galette for about 35-45 minutes, until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp and the nectarines are tender. Transfer to a rack and let the galette cool. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream if you like.

Herb It Up: Bulgur Tabouli Makes the Most of Summer's Fresh Herbs

This tabouli recipe, from this week's Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter, is intriguing because it calls for literally bunches of several herbs—always irresistable in my book—and also because the grain is not presoaked or cooked but simply absorbs the liquid from fresh lemon juice and oil. Try it yourself!

We are at the peak of summer which means our farms and gardens are in high gear providing us with an abundance of all the foods we love to eat. For those of us who planted herbs in the spring, this is the time of year when we need to be looking for ways to use the armfuls of fragrant leaves our plants are producing. One of our favorite ways to showcase our herbal bounty comes from none other than our own Bruce Lindner from Pony Espresso.

An accomplished cook and cookbook author, Bruce’s riff on tabouli salad is exciting because it is packed with flavor from all of the herbs he uses. Give it a try and we promise you will never make a different tabouli recipe again.

Bruce Lindner's Tabouli Recipe 

Yet another recipe that I’ve taken credit for by cobbling together several others. This one is a combination of the classic Lebanese version, an Israeli version and an Iranian version, with a few extra tweaks of my own thrown in—so now I claim it as mine! This is one of those recipes that you have to sort of eyeball the measurements, but in time it’s like riding a bike.

3 c. bulgur wheat (dry; do not presoak)
1 large bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 large bunch cilantro (if you don’t like cilantro, you can leave it out and add additional parsley)
1 large bunch fresh mint
10-12 scallions
1/2 c. chopped fresh dill
1 small bunch fresh tarragon
2 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and finely ground
10 lemons
1-2 c. olive oil
2-3 Tbsp. coarse salt
Pepper to taste
1 head Romaine lettuce

Wash and dry all the herbs and the scallions, then chop them finely with a food processor, being careful not to liquify them. Scrape into a large bowl. Take two of the lemons and zest them, then add the zest to the herb mixture. Toast the cumin seeds until fragrant, and allow to cool. Then pulverize in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and add to the bowl of chopped herbs.

Juice 8 of the lemons and add to the bowl, being careful strain out any seeds.

Bruce Lindner of Pony Espresso.

Notice the level in the bowl where the mixture is, then slowly dribble in the olive oil until the volume has almost doubled (this may seem like a lot, but it isn’t; the dry grains will absorb most of it). Stir it all in, and then again take note of where the level of the mixture is within the bowl—you’re now going to add the dry grains of bulgur to double that.

(NOTE: Virtually every recipe for tabouli I’ve ever seen requires that you first soak the bulgur in water before using it. Don't do that! This recipe is unique because the lemon juice and olive oil soaks into the dry grains, and isn’t displaced by water in previously soaked grains. Besides, when you soak it first, it usually turns pasty after the first day—I like to live off my tabouli leftovers for a few days.)

At this point, stir the mixture together and taste for seasoning. It’s going to need a lot of salt, so stir it in now. I use around two or three tablespoons for a batch this size, but you can adjust it to your liking. Add pepper too.

Remember, as the grains absorb the liquids, they also absorb the saltiness. You might need more later. If the tabouli seems too dry, stir in the juice of another lemon or two, and add another splash of olive oil.

Put the tabouli into a covered container and refrigerate for at least two hours while the grains absorb the liquid. Once you’re ready to serve, taste again for seasoning, and adjust with more lemon juice and olive oil if necessary.

Spoon a serving into a Romaine lettuce leaf for each guest. For a little added color, sprinkle on a little paprika or sumac.

Warning: This recipe serves a small army!


NOTE: [From Kathleen] I made this recently and the flavor was stunning, though with the bulgur from the bulk aisle at the supermarket it was definitely a make-it-the-day-before type of grain salad—the bulgur was much too chewy after two hours and needed an extra few hours to absorb the olive oil and lemon juice. I ended up adding about 3/4 cup of water about an hour before serving for dinner the next day because it seemed like the grain needed some additional softening and the amounts of olive oil and lemon were already sufficient. And it really does make a lot—I'd say around two quarts, so halve it if you're not serving a crowd!

The Beaverton Farmers Market is a generous sponsor of Good Stuff NW. E-mail through the newsletter link (on the upper right of this page) if you'd like to join them in bringing more information about our food system to our community.

Following Summer's Lead: Fried Squash Blossoms a Fleeting Pleasure

My neighbors Bill and Jen, as I may have mentioned before, have an amazing garden where, on a typical Portland city lot, they grow enough herbs, vegetables and even fruit to pretty much last them through the winter. They also ferment a fair amount of the onions, beets and cukes in their raised beds, as well as canning and smoking albacore and salmon.

Stuff and twist tops to close.

Needless to say, I'm gratified when they ask me to babysit their garden in the summer when they're out of town, harvesting whatever looks good—which is, needless to say, just about everything.

This last week they were visiting friends in Alaska who are fishing for salmon this time of year, so I was told to help myself to the beans, zukes, tomatoes and anything else that was ripening. The costata romanesco, a ribbed zucchini, my favorite type, and another variety, the rampicante, also delicious, were putting out flowers with abandon, so I snipped a dozen of the male flowers—not the ones that eventually grow a squash but are simply a flower on a stem—and brought them home.

I had a few padron peppers that had come with my CSA share from Cully Neighborhood Farm, so stuffed squash blossoms with blistered peppers sounded like a perfect snack for a leisurely happy hour on the patio. No recipe was required, just zhuzhing some cream cheese for stuffing into the blossoms, rolling them in flour and egg, then frying in hot oil. You could make a schmear with smoked fish, too, or combine herbs, chopped hot peppers and a melty cheese—think jalapeño poppers—or any other combination that appeals at the moment.

Inspiration is what this time of year is all about, so my advice is to get creative and make the most of the season. Time's a-wastin'!

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

10-12 squash blossoms
2 oz. cream cheese
1 green onion, green parts only, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed (or mashed and finely chopped)
1-2 Tbsp. parmesan, finely grated
Salt
1/2 c. flour
2 eggs, whisked well
1/4 c. canola oil

In a small mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, green onion, garlic and parmesan. Salt to taste. (As noted above, you can make the stuffing with whatever soft filling suits your fancy.)

Put the flour on a plate or flat-bottomed pan (like a cake pan or wide pasta bowl). Whisk the eggs in another cake pan or wide pasta bowl.

To prepare squash blossoms, take a paring knife and make a slit from the base to the top of one side of the blossom. Open the blossom carefully in order to remove the hard yellow anther—it is edible, so this is not strictly necessary, but I'm not fond of its texture. Then, depending on the size of the blossom, use anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon to fill the base of the blossom. (It will take less than you think, and a little goes a long way.)

Fill all the blossoms, twisting the flower tops to help close the blossom, then heat the oil in a large frying pan until almost smoking (300° is the target temperature). While the oil heats, take four blossoms and roll them one at a time in the flour to coat, then roll each in the egg, then roll in the flour again. Make sure the slit in the blossom is closed so the filling won't leak out—this is why you don't want to overfill with stuffing—and place the blossoms in the hot oil. Fry until golden on one side, flip over with tongs and fry the other side. Repeat with remaining blossoms.

Shower lightly with salt and serve.

Bane of Summer's Bounty: Fruit Flies!


Personals: ♀ FF, Se/E/Dp, seeks ♂ FF, / / for short term relationship.
Enjoys romance, fermentation and long walks on the peach.*


It's the annual curse of having all that gorgeous fruit and that fresh-from-the-garden (or farmers' market) produce, not to mention that all-too-tempting bucket of compost: fruit flies. It doesn't matter that a fruit fly has just as many genes as we do and that we share nearly 60% of the same genes, not to mention a susceptibility to diseases like cancer. 

Ripe targets.

I still don't want them buzzing around my kitchen.

The cure for this seasonal fruit fly infestation is a simple one. Rather than flinging my hands around trying to swat them out of the air, I simply pour a little cider vinegar, about a quarter-inch or so, into a bowl, then tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and punch a few holes in it with something sharp, like a pen. 

Just today, within an hour, I had more than two dozen of the %&#@!s drowning in that cider, and I couldn't be more pleased. Take that, little cousins!

* From "The Wonderful Fruit Fly."

A Little Goes a Long Way: Fermented Shiso

Okay, so this recipe is hitting on several cylinders at once for me. It's Korean, a cuisine I'm exploring these days—see the recipes for Kimchi and Gochujang I've written about recently—and it fits into the category of banchan, a collective name for small, pungent side dishes served with rice. And, like kimchi, it's a fermented food, a category that scared the dickens out of me for most of my life due to the dire warnings of my mother, who had the misfortune to major in dietetics in college at a time when anything that wasn't cooked within an inch of its life was sure to kill you on the spot.

It's made using shiso leaves, halfway between a leafy green and an herb that the New York Times described as "a mysterious, bright taste that reminds people of mint, basil, tarragon, cilantro, cinnamon, anise or the smell of a mountain meadow after a rainstorm." (Ooooookay…?) I'd say it's flavor is on the same spectrum as cilantro: definitely pungent, with a slightly minty twang. Shiso is, for me, a little strong to use in a salad, for instance, but the process of fermentation and the other ingredients in the brine—soy, ginger, garlic and the Korean ground peppers called gochugaru—seem to tame its somewhat, shall we say, overpowering personality.

The recipe is adapted from a book I absolutely love, Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes by Ikuko Hisamatsu, a collection of quick, easy recipes for everyone from beginners to masters. It was recommended to me by Kevin Gibson of Portland's Davenport restaurant when I asked about good books on pickling, since I'd known about his fascination with the art from his days at Evoe, where he had a literal bank of large, colorful jars of pickled items displayed on the front counter.

Another nice thing about this particular ferment is that it only takes overnight to work its magic. Plus it only makes a small amount, since the leaves shrink mightily in the process, so you're not stuck with jars and jars of the stuff hanging around in the back of the fridge.

So far a small chiffonade has accented rice dishes, a curry, grilled fish and even deviled eggs. I'd say that's a darn good start!

Fermented Shiso Leaves in Soy Sauce

Adapted from Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes by Ikuko Hisamatsu

30-40 shiso leaves
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp. gochugaru (Korean ground red pepper)
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. green onion, minced
1 tsp. ginger, finely grated
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. sugar

Gently wash leaves under running water and pat dry with paper towels.

In a small mixing bowl combine soy sauce, sesame oil, gochugaru, garlic, green onion, ginger, fish sauce and sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar.

Lay leaves in several layers in a small flat-bottomed dish. Spoon pickling liquid over the top. Place a slightly smaller dish on top and put a weight in it (I used a can of beans) to press it down. Let stand for one hour and remove the weighted dish, scraping off any pickling liquid that sticks to it. Cover with lid or plastic wrap and let the dish sit on the counter overnight. The next day put it in the refrigerator. It should keep for at least a couple of weeks, if not longer.

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.

In Season: Hot Fun in the Summer Sun!

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!

Marionberries have a short but oh-so-sweet season!

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.

Berkeley Tie-Dye tomatoes.

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.

Missing my Chester blackberries!

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!

Photo of Berkeley Tie-Dye tomatoes from Fruition Seeds.