Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In Season: Eating Well in Winter

Despite what you think, true winter in the Pacific Northwest, at least as far as most of the country is concerned, is a fleeting thing. Yes, we may have a few freezes and snowstorms, but not like New England where snowplows—what are those, you might ask?—pile up banks of the stuff that last well into spring. And thank goodness we don't have the hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme flooding that many areas experience on a regular basis.

My six-foot-tall mother-in-law next to a snowbank in northern Maine.

Of course, with the unknowns brought on by climate change (and our denial of it), all of that could change in the future.

But this year, at least according to produce guy and self-described Fruit Monkey, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce, we can look forward to spring things like nettles, wild mushrooms and fiddleheads, plus herbs like sorrel and chervil, to start appearing as early as March, a mere eight weeks away.

Until then? "Roots and citrus!" says Alsberg.

Beets, yes, but don't waste those greens!

By which he means colorful varieties of beets—red, gold and stripey Chioggia—as well as the knobby Gilfeather turnip, a half-rutabaga, half-turnip hybrid that is a favorite of local chefs, tracing its lineage to Gilfeather Farm in Wardsboro, Vermont. Rutabagas, turnips, celery root and storage potatoes will also be appearing on farmers' market tables over the next few weeks, as will onions, kohlrabi and locally grown white and purple daikon. Winter radishes will also be available, like the watermelon radishes from Black Locust Farm and black radishes from several farms, including Sauvie Island Organics.

There are plenty of seasonal greens available, too. Think mustard greens, cabbages, beet greens, kale, collards, local chicories and gorgeous, deep red heads of radicchio. Gathering Together Farm and Groundwork Organics are growing Kalettes, purple-green, rapini-like florets that are a hybrid of kale and brussels sprouts, with a flavor that shines when roasted or stir-fried.

On the citrus front, I have big bowls of tangerines and Meyer lemons sitting on my counter right now, as fragrant as any store-bought potpourri or essential oils (and not as toxic to pets) and they're edible, to boot! The Meyer lemons will be used for my yearly batch of preserved lemons, to be parceled out in savory dishes, relishes and salads over the next few months, and if I can manage to spare a few, maybe some lemon sorbet.

Alsberg is in hog heaven right now, gleeful at the prospect of citrus season. Several varieties of mandarin oranges and tangerines are beginning to appear, varieties like Shasta Gold, Murcott, Pixies and the teensy Kishu, with blood oranges, navel oranges and Cara Cara navel oranges rolling in now. He's also starting to see a rainbow of grapefruit on distributors' lists, and said that word on the street is that the white grapefruit called Mellow Gold is super juicy and sweeter than most. Pomegranates and kumquats have been in stores since Christmas, and we should be seeing local kiwis making an appearance soon.

Kabocha squash is a personal fave.

Winter squash is starting to clear out of his lists, but he said local growers should have plenty of kabocha, Kuri, butternut and acorn squash through mid-February. After that, though, he warns that the squash you see in stores will be from Mexico. "Enjoy them now" is his mantra. Look for recipes in my Squash Chronicles series.

Rubinette Produce is a vendor inside Providore Fine Foods, an advertiser on this blog. Josh gives his advice quarterly on what's coming in from local farms and what we can expect to see on store shelves.

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