In Season: Hear That? Spring is Sproinging!

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.

Nettles.

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?

Shungiku (chrysanthemum greens).

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.

PSB (aka purple sprouting broccoli).

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.

Red-veined sorrel.

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?

In Season: Broccolini, Raab, Rabe, Rapini

Since I'm jonesing for some lively greens and saw kale starting to flower in my neighbor Bill's garden, I thought this post from market master Ginger Rapport of the Beaverton Farmers Market would be great to keep on hand for market shoppers who might be asking, "What are those bundles of greens and why are they all called something different?" 

Do you get confused when you hear the words “rabe,””raab,” “rapini” or “broccolini” used in recipes? Let us help you sort this out because you will find tons of these green vegetables in the market very soon.

First, a little taxonomy: 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. Now, a little clarification:

  • Broccolini is not baby broccoli. It is a cross between regular broccoli and Chinese broccoli with long stems, larger florets, and less leaves. It is less bitter than some of its relatives which is why it is often thought of as baby broccoli.
  • 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 raps, 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.
Whatever you call it, it's delicious!

While each of these are from a common family there are slight differences in taste between them. With each, you are meant to eat the stems, buds and leaves, making them very easy to prep for cooking. Don’t be alarmed if the buds have begun to show their yellow flowers. Some feel that the flowers are a sweeter version of the parent plant.

All of the aforementioned brassicas are excellent roasted, sautéed or lightly steamed. We don’t recommend boiling because it is easy to overcook the leaves in boiling water. The usual additions of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes makes for an easy and delicious preparation. Finish your dish with salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

We also suggest that you try tossing your raabs with a balsamic vinegar reduction. The reduction’s sweet finish balances the bitter quality of the greens. We like to keep a balsamic reduction in the refrigerator to have on hand as needed. It is delicious drizzled on salads, fresh vegetables, fish and meats.

Basic Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

2 c. balsamic vinegar*

Boil in a small saucepan until reduced by half (one cup). You can continue to boil for a thicker glaze type consistency. You may add a clove of garlic, minced, or fresh herbs such as thyme. Be sure to strain those out before storing.

* Note: Bottles of balsamic vinegar on store shelves labeled "Balsamic Vinegar of Modena" are a commercial grade product made of wine vinegar with the addition of coloring, caramel and sometimes thickeners like guar gum or cornflour. Authentic balsamic vinegar, labeled "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena," is produced from the juice of just-harvested white grapes (typically, Trebbiano grapes) boiled down to approximately 30% of the original volume to create a concentrate or must, which is then fermented in a slow aging process which concentrates the flavors.

In Season: Get In While the Getting's Good

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!

Spring Bulletin: Strawberries, Asparagus and More!

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.

Hoods on the vine.

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.

There'll be berries aplenty soon!

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.

Lettuce season is upon us.

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.

"To skin or not to skin?"

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!

In Season: Despite the News, Spring is Here with Much to Look Forward To

The world has changed. Things are different, and scary, too, certainly more so than at any time in my life. Which is why I'm clinging tightly to those things I can count on, that are beautiful, that are constant.

Spring is definitely one of them. Flowers blooming, trees leafing out, good things to eat emerging from the ground and beginning to come in from local farms. Which is why I wanted to check in with Josh Alsberg at Rubinette Produce to get an update on spring at this particularly strange time in our world.

"The whole point is, how can we support local farmers and keep people safe?" he said when I asked what he was focused on. He said that buying at farmers' markets and from greengrocers like Rubinette, which get most of their produce directly from farmers, is the best way to keep our local food system strong. Now is a particularly critical time because a number of area farms depended on restaurants, many of which are now closed, for at least a portion of their sales. Buying direct also means that your food is going through fewer hands. At supermarkets, food is packed at the farm, shipped, warehoused, shipped again, then unpacked at the store and stocked by store staff.

Alsberg also suggested that getting a CSA share from one of our outstanding local farms is a good way to get the freshest seasonal produce, support farms and reduce handling issues. (Go to the Portland Area CSA Coalition for a list of local farms and what they offer to subscribers.)

And what is that seasonal produce, right here, right now?

Alsberg said we're almost at the end of the season for raab, rabe or rapini or, if you're botanically inclined, "the inflorescence of plants" (above right). Personally some of my favorite spring greens, for a short time you should still be able to find the sprouts of bok choy, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kale sprouts, mizuna, red choy, spigarello, tatsoi and turnips, among others.

All of the alliums and wild onions, as well as green garlic, spring onions and the Spanish type called calçots (left)—meant to be grilled and served with a romesco-like sauce called salbitxada—are beginning their season. You'll also find local fiddleheads from Southern Oregon available, along with ramps, which don't appreciate our Pacific Northwest maritime climate, imported from the part of the country that Oregonians call "Back East" (basically anywhere east of the Rockies).

Heads of local cabbage are rolling in, too, as well as a regrowth of winter greens like chard, mizuna (below right), tatsoi and winter arugula. There are root vegetables kicking around, including shallots, storage onions, potatoes and leeks, but Alsberg said that with the warm spring weather we've been having, early spring roots like radishes and spring turnips are beginning to appear, along with fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, sorrel, chervil, mint and chives. (Looking at my garden, tarragon and lovage won't be far behind.) And don't forget chive flowers—I'm excited to make a bigger batch of stunningly pink chive vinegar!

And for nutrient-dense greens, you can't do better than hearty spring greens like arugula, dandelion greens, spinach and early lettuces so fresh they practically vibrate.

Oh, you want to know when strawberries will arrive?

Alsberg says that though the season is running three or four weeks ahead of last year, you'll need to hold your horses until mid-April when Albions will begin appearing. Incidentally, Alsberg assures us that strawberries will be abundant by Mother's Day this year.


Read Oregon Farmers' Markets Innovate to Provide Food, Support Local Farms.

Eggplant Parmesan My Mother Would Love

Nothing's better on a crisp, blustery fall day than something cheesy, melty and creamy. Grilled cheese sandwiches with a steaming bowl of cream of tomato soup. A multi-layered lasagne infused with sauce, mushrooms and meat, its edges crusted with caramelized cheese. An eggplant parmesan, the meltingly tender purple-rimmed slices stacked in their casserole as carefully as a fieldstone wall, held together by roasted tomatoes and parmesan.

The definition of comfort.

My go-to recipe for eggplant parmesan was one from "The Cooking of Italy," part of the Time-Life "Foods of the World" series that my mother had subscribed to when I was a child. It calls for salting the sliced eggplant to draw out moisture, then frying the slices in olive oil. It says to somehow limit the amount of oil, a task I've found impossible since the slices soak up oil like a shaggy dog in the rain. Plus it takes way too long to do, at least for this impatient cook.

That was when I started searching online and found a recipe by Food52's Nancy Jo that called for roasting the slices in the oven, which made much more sense since I could cook all of them at once. (Thanks, Nancy!)

Roasting, not frying? Brilliant!

The Time-Life recipe is extremely simple—other than its time-consuming eggplant prep—only calling for five ingredients: the eggplant, salt, flour, tomato sauce and cheese. I dispensed with the tomato sauce recipe it uses, since at the time it was published, cooks like my mother would have used little cans of not-very-flavorful industrial tomatoes that required some "doctoring" (another common phrase back in the day). I had my roasted Astiana tomatoes that require no zhooshing other than a few slices of garlic.

I had picked up some aged provolone to accompany the Parmegiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano we always have on hand, so those were mixed and layered with the roasted slices and sauce. The result was a bubbling, rich, gooey, hearty casserole that I think my mom would have approved of.

Eggplant Parmesan

3 lbs. eggplant
6 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano and/or aged Provolone, grated*
1 qt. roasted tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
Flour
Salt

Preheat oven to 450°.

Slice eggplants lengthwise into 1/4" slices. Salt both sides and place in single layer on paper towels to drain, at least 30 min. Pat dry and dredge in flour, knocking off extra flour that may be clinging to the slices. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment and lay the eggplant slices on the sheet in a single layer, lightly drizzling them with olive oil. Bake eggplant slices for 15 min., then flip slices over and bake another 15 min. Remove from oven and reduce oven heat to 400°.

While eggplant bakes, slice garlic cloves thinly. Heat olive oil in small skillet over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add garlic slices and heat briefly, then add roasted tomatoes. When sauce just begins to boil, reduce heat and simmer.

Oil casserole or baking dish. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. Place a single layer of eggplant slices on it, then a thin scattering of grated cheese, then another layer of sauce. Repeat until all the eggplant is used, then top with a final layer of sauce and cheese.

Bake for 30 min. at 400° until bubbling.

* Can be a mix of any of these cheeses, though I used roughly half provolone, half Romano/Parmesan. Also (note to self) a smoked, aged provolone might be, as they say in Italian, perfetto!

In Season: Fall Has Fell? More Like Exploded!

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.

Espelette peppers make a fabulous fermented hot sauce.

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.

Josh's favorite apple? The Rubinette, of course!

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.

Black futsu.

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.

Castelfranco chicory.

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.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

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.

Summer Essentials: Berries Call for Shortcakes!

It's high season in Oregon for berries, folks, and while I don't have an argument with pies, crisps or cobblers—drop one off any time, really!—in my family's opinion there's no higher or better use for fresh berries than finishing a summer's feast with fresh berry shortcakes.

The buttery, lightly sweet shortcakes, which can also do double duty as breakfast scones, come together quickly in a food processor. Shower them with a scattering of lightly sugared berries and a plop of whipped cream (or ice cream, depending on your druthers) to make these ephemeral seasonal delights shine.

Whether you've got raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, tayberries, strawberries, boysenberries, blueberries or—I know I'm forgetting some—a mixture of two or more, save a couple of pints out of your next flat of berries to make this startlingly simple and stunningly delicious classic.

Berry Shortcake

For the shortcakes:
2 1/2 c. flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) frozen butter or margarine, cut up
1/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. whole milk

For the berries:
2 pints berries
1/4 c. sugar (adjust according to sweetness of berries)
Whipped cream or ice cream

Preheat oven to 425°.

Put flour, balking powder, salt and sugar in bowl of food processor. Pulse four or five times to combine. Add butter or margarine and pulse several times until the mixture resembles cornmeal. With processor running, add milk in a stream. Keep processor running until the dough comes together in a soft mass.

Remove dough from processor, place on floured surface and form into a soft ball shape. Divide dough ball in half and gently pat out each half with your hands into six-inch disks (they will be about 1/2"-5/8" thick). With a butcher knife, slice each disk into six triangle-shaped wedges. On a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, place wedges slightly apart for crispier sides, touching for soft sides. I usually separate them by 1/8" and they puff up into wedges that break apart easily. Bake about 12 minutes or until tops are medium brown. Remove to racks to cool.

While the shortcakes are baking, put the berries into a large mixing bowl and add sugar. Using a spatula, gently fold the sugar into the berries. Allow to macerate for at least an hour (you can also place berries in the refrigerator until assembling). Using one wedge per serving, slice wedges in half lengthwise and place on individual serving plates or bowls. Scatter berries over the top and drizzle with juice that collects in the bottom of bowl. Top with whipped cream or ice cream as desired.

In Season: Summer Avalanche Warning

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.

Hood strawberries.

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.

Blueberries ahoy!

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…)

Cherries aplenty.

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.)

Costata romanesco squash.

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.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

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.

A rainbow of potato varieties.

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!

In Season: Shungiku, or Chrysanthemum Greens

When wandering through the stalls at the farmers' market or in the aisles of my local greengrocer's, I pick up the usual salad greens and vegetables (including those for my dogs), but I'm always drawn to any unusual seasonal gems that might be tucked into the displays. Chicories? Garlic shoots? Espelette peppers? Any new raabs?

On one of my last trips to Rubinette Produce, I ran across something called "shungiku" grown by Katie Boeh at Fox Bear urban farm, who last year expanded her offerings through a collaboration with Willow Bar Farm on Sauvie Island. (Check out Fox Bear's impressive CSA offerings!)

Shungiku, while it sounds exotic, is actually the leaves from a type of chrysanthemum, Glebionis coronaria, a native of the Mediterranean that became a popular part of Japanese cuisine. The young leaves of the spring plant are often used fresh in salads, but it is sturdy enough to stand up to being blanched and chopped in dishes like sukiyaki. (I'd probably mix it into pasta dishes or layer it in a quiche, or maybe stir it into risotto.)

My copy of Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji, effuses that "its fragrance and distinct, light, astringent flavor harmonizes with meat or fowl, onion, and other vegetables," but warns to "take care not to overcook in one-pot dishes—a minute or two in the seasoned broth is enough. If overdone, chrysanthemum leaves tend to develop a bitter aftertaste." When purchasing, Tsuji advises looking for bright green leaves and stalks that are strong and perky. If they're showing buds or flowers, they're too old and may be tough.

Janis Martin, former owner of the idiosynchratic Tanuki izakaya—now chef at East Glisan Pizza Lounge—said that for a hot weather refresher, place a few sprigs of shungiku in a large pitcher of water along with a sprig of Chinese celery and a strip of yuzu rind (or lemon, if yuzu is not available). She lets it infuse at least three hours and serves it ice cold. (Thanks, Janis!)

Only available for a very short season in the spring, it's a plant that gardeners should check out for their spring gardens. Organic seeds are available from Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger of Adaptive Seeds in Sweet Home, whose seeds are bred specifically to thrive in the maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest. Even better, they're dedicated to making available public domain, open pollinated (OP) seed, none of which are genetically modified (GMO) or grown with chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.

So get out there and find your own hidden gems, and maybe a new favorite garden green!