Saturday, September 15, 2018

In Season: Late Summer and Fall Bounty

As Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is fond of pointing out, we here in the Northwest live in a maritime climate, on the same latitude as Italy's Piedmont and, interestingly, Hokkaido, the northernmost of the islands that comprise Japan. Which means, fellow travelers, that we have a relatively mild climate moderated by its proximity to the ocean, with a fairly long growing season that can extend well into the fall.

So here we find ourselves, on the cusp between late summer and autumn with the harvest still pouring in from local fields, and I thought it was a good time to chat with Josh Alsberg about what we can expect to find at farmers' markets (as well as at local greengrocers like his own Rubinette Produce).

His summary? "Apples, pears, squash, roots and greens. 'K, bye!"

Price and canadice grapes.

Pushed for just a teensy bit more detail, he added that local table grapes are just coming into full bloom and should be available for the next three or four weeks. One of his favorite farms for grapes, aside from Ayers Creek Farm, is Farmers Table Grapes, owned by Bill and Karen Farmer in Rickreall. Certified organic, they grow more than 30 varieties of grapes like Interlaken and Eisenstadt.

As for apples, he suggests getting them at farmers' markets, since most apples found in supermarkets come from large corporate farms. Whether at the market or the store, he said the best way to know if you'll like a variety is to ask for a taste. His mantra? "You have to be brave enough to ask questions," whether for a sample or to learn more about a farm's practices. Fresh local apples—as opposed to storage apples, which tend to be "older and more tired"—should be available until the end of November.

Forell pears.

Alsberg noted that pears are also going to be available in abundance, at least through the end of October. He said the early pears like Bartlett, Starkrimson and Cascade tend to have a slightly more astringent quality, and that as we move into October dessert pears—think Comice, Bosc and Taylor's Gold—will start appearing along with Seckel and Forell pears.

Local plums and pluots, which hang to ripeness on the trees and tend to have a more nuanced flavor than those imported from outside the Northwest, will be available through September. He said that melons are on the way out, so enjoy them now because they'll disappear from the scene.

There's still time to make corn salsa!

Sadly, I am obligated to report that the supply of local tomatoes is also waning rapidly (personally, I'm eating as many tomato sandwiches as I can) and the window for corn and eggplant is closing quickly. Peppers will be strong through early October, and a few farmers' markets are featuring fresh-roasted peppers for sale.

The good news is that local potatoes, onions and winter squash are beginning to appear. Some sage advice Alsberg shared is to pace yourself when it comes to winter squash. "You don't want to burn out before the good stuff gets to you," he said, and suggested referring to the Winter Squash Cooking Chart that lays out the four categories of winter squash—Simple, Saucy, Sweet and Salad—and easy recipes to take advantage of each variety's unique flavor profile.

Fresh shell beans are a fleeting pleasure.

Asked what excites him about this time of year, he mentioned different onion varieties that are being grown by area farmers. "It's more than just red and yellow," he said, and suggested trying Tropea, a sweet red onion often labeled "Torpedo," along with cipollini, shallots and elephant garlic.

Greens are still available in abundance but Alsberg said that we're moving away from leaf lettuce and into the hardier varieties like kale, chard, radicchio and other chicories, as well as frisée, all of which he says are best in late September when cooler temperatures cause the plants to put out more sugars to protect them from frost. Green beans are also going strong, and we should be looking for shell beans and brussels sprouts in October and November. Roots like beets, turnips and rutabagas will come on in October, too, so check out some recipes for roots and belly-warming soups to whet your appetite.

A quick note that Rubinette will be holding it's annual Apple Tasting on Oct. 20 that will feature at least a dozen heirloom and hard-to-find varieties like the Oregon-bred Rubinette—not surprisingly Alberg's favorite—Crimson Crisp, Ashmead's Kernel, Pippin and more for sampling as well as for sale.

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