If you're planning on going to your farmers' market this weekend, be aware that markets will still be under state mandates that require mask-wearing and social distancing, despite the new guidelines issued yesterday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We have confirmation today from Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) that markets and other businesses should not be making changes before getting new guidance from Oregon Health Authority," according to Rebecca Landis, market director of the Corvallis-Albany Farmers' Markets.
Governor Brown announced in a press conference that updated guidance will comefrom OHA in the next few days for businesses, employers, and others to allow the option of lifting mask and physical distancing requirements after verifying vaccination status. "Some businesses may prefer to simply continue operating under the current guidance for now, rather than worrying about verifying vaccination status," she said.
For the time being, that includes Oregon's farmers' markets.
It's allium season in the Pacific Northwest, with wild varieties of onions and garlic appearing in spring meadows and their domestic cousins like leeks, spring onions, scallions, Spanish calçots, garlic and shallots cascading in from local farms. (By the way, if you see ramps? They don't grow here and are imported from other areas of the country.) Ginger Rapport, Market Master of the Beaverton Farmers Market, shares her love of these ubiquitous bulbs.
Shallots are an underappreciated member of the allium or onion family. While they are an essential ingredient in many cuisines like those of Southeast Asia and Vietnam, most Americans fail to appreciate all they have to offer.
Shallots have a delicate, sweet flavor without the intense heat of an onion. They are preferable over onions in raw applications such as salad dressings and vinaigrettes. Finely diced, they provide a subtle bite to pan sauces and are delicious roasted whole, or pickled as a garnish. Shallots are ubiquitous in Vietnamese cooking, especially pho, where they are combined with ginger to give pho its unique taste and fragrance.
In the past shallots were mainly imported from Europe which made them somewhat expensive when compared to onions. This is probably one reason why they are not as widely used here in the States as they should be. Domestically grown shallots are becoming more common, which is also making them more affordable. Fortunately for us here at the Beaverton Farmers Market, Farmer Yo Tee Telio grows huge, gorgeous shallots and you can find them in his Salmon Creek Farm booth at the market.
Frying shallots turns them into crispy, flavor-packed clusters that are good on almost anything. (This is not an exaggeration.) Beaverton Farmers Market Master Ginger Rapport keeps a container of them in her refrigerator at all times. Their caramelized flavor and crunchy texture adds sparkle to salads, potatoes, roasted or steamed vegetables, grain bowls, omelets, steaks, deviled eggs and avocado toast. Chopped, they can be added to dips or combined with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. Bring cottage cheese to life with a sprinkling of fried shallots on top. They are also delicious eaten by the handful, and making them is super easy.
When we said that they are good on everything? We meant it.
8 small shallots 1 c. peanut oil (or vegetable oil like canola) Salt
Peel shallots of their papery coverings, slicing off the root and papery tip. Slice shallots crosswise into very thin (1/16" or so) rings.
Heat oil in a frying pan until it shimmers. Check the temperature by taking one of the rings and tossing it into the pan. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Put sliced shallots into the pan and move them around with a spatula to keep them from sticking. Moderate heat to keep them sizzling but not burning. When they are golden brown remove them to racks set over paper towels to cool and crisp up.
Use immediately or store in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two months.
"We are lucky to live in a state with relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases, however, the recent increase in cases has shown us how easily that could change if we do not remain vigilant." Ginger Rapport
Oregon's farmers' markets are open and, as always at this time of year, over-flowing with strawberries, blueberries, cherries, summer squash, beans and all the incredible produce typical of early summer in the Pacific Northwest. What's not typical are the behind-the-scenes gymnastics that have been required to keep the markets open as Oregon officials and farmers' market representatives wrestled with establishing guidelines to keep both vendors and shoppers safe.
Local farms and ranches were hit hard by the closure of restaurants that bought in large volume and prominently featured locally produced meats, seasonal produce and grains on their menus. Many quickly pivoted to offering CSA subscriptions, online sales and home delivery to make up for some of the lost revenue. But the closure of the state's more than 120 farmers' markets would have been the death knell for many farms and ranches, not to mention a potentially crippling loss of revenue for communities, since farmers' markets return more than three times as much of their revenue to the local economy than do chain (grocery) competitors.
State guidelines for farmers' markets require vendors and staff to wear masks and practice safe distancing, as well as limiting the number of customers onsite and designating "social distancing officers" to enforce social distancing policies. The guidelines also require making aisles wider and spacing market booths six to 10 feet apart.
"I need to place vendors, particularly large farms, in a spot where I can give them enough space for a line that is safely spaced for customers," Molloy said, adding that, for the most part, vendors have been helpful and cooperative.
"Social distancing remains our biggest challenge," said Ginger Rapport, market master of the Beaverton Farmers Market. "Managing the lines that form with customers standing six feet apart, and managing the flow of traffic is something that requires our constant attention."
The need to maintain distance between booths and allow customers room to social distance while shopping has decreased the number of spaces available at markets, most of which operate within a limited footprint. This means that many markets have seen a decrease in stall fees—being forced to pare down to "essential" vendors, or having some at-risk vendors choosing to skip this season—which has created challenges for markets in terms of generating income for paying staff and overhead, according to the Oregon Farmers Market Association's Melissa Matthewson.
As one of the largest markets in the metro area, Rapport said that her market has had to reduce the number of usable spaces for vendors by about a third, a significant number in a market of that size.
"This means a loss in income to the market which, as a 501(c)(4) [nonprofit that promotes social welfare], doesn't operate on large margins," Rappot explained. "It's a balancing act to reduce expenses while trying to be understanding of vendors needs at such a difficult time."
"The market is one of the few outlets for income for many of our small businesses and farms whose wholesale outlets (i.e. restaurants) have dried up, or whose fairs and festivals have been cancelled," she said. "For many we are the only game in town. There's a lot of pressure to keep the market functioning while trying not to completely drain our reserves."
In the pandemic's early days back in March, it wasn't at all certain that markets would be allowed to stay open at all. Strong advocacy on the part of the OFMA and the state's farmers, along with a willingness to collaborate with state regulators and remain flexible as policies shifted, turned the tide in favor of keeping markets open.
As for the rest of this season, Hillsdale's Molloy is cautiously optimistic.
"We are playing it week to week. We know how to run a pre-order market and are ready to turn it on if we have to do that," he said. "As long as customers comply with our mask rule and we work at keeping safe physical distancing, we will be running the way we are now."
The OFMA's Matthewson said the public will play a big part in helping markets survive. "The best way that customers can support these markets is to continue to shop there if they are able, and also to consider donating to the market as an investment in their long term viability," she said.
"Milwaukie had its second market of the season on Sunday," wrote Milwaukie Farmers' Market market manager Brendan Eiswerth about the normally packed Mother's Day market. "I was having nightmares about there being too many customers, the opposite of the nightmares I had for the past 21 years about no one showing up."
That was the signal worry on most farmers' market managers' minds in this era of COVID-19: how to keep shoppers and vendors safe while supporting small family farmers and producers.
Most markets in Oregon have made adaptations to follow statewide guidelines from Governor Kate Brown's Executive Order that designated farmers' markets as essential services. The Oregon Farmers' Market Association developed its own resource list to guide farmers' markets in adjusting their operations to minimize risk to the public of transmission of COVID-19.
A previous post outlined how local markets were innovating to provide food and support local farms during the pandemic, including experimenting with setting up systems for pre-ordering from vendors online and then picking up on market day. Others tried switching to a drive-through model where shoppers could pull up to a vendor's stall, choose items and then have the vendor place them in the shopper's car.
Ginger Rapport, manager of the Beaverton Farmers Market, said that the drive-through model, implemented during the smaller winter market, got them through the early months of the pandemic, though she knew it wasn't sustainable in the busier spring and summer months.
"At the beginning of the pandemic when people were not sure how to deal with the whole situation, the drive thru provided some customers a measure of comfort that allowed them to continue shopping with us," she said.
Markets were also observing distancing requirements, placing booths from six to 10 feet apart, with one person at each stall assigned to reinforce social distancing. Other measures included encouraging shoppers to come alone, if possible, and to make a shopping list in advance of their trip in order to limit the time spent at the market. Most had already canceled classes, activities and music performances, and were asking people to refrain from extended interactions with other shoppers to shorten the time spent at the market.
Hillsdale Farmers' Market initially piloted online pre-ordering with drive-through pick-up where shoppers simply had to pull up to the vendor's booth and their purchases could be loaded into the car. Initially there was some resistance. "I definitely received complaints from vendors and customers," said manager Eamon Molloy. "But it worked pretty well. We had well over 300 households move through the market between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on May 3rd."
But by mid-May a construction project next to the market site and the increasing number of shoppers necessitated pivoting to another model. Molloy tried curbside pick-up, but site constraints made it too hard to implement. "It is unfortunate, too, because we still had over 150 households who wanted to just pick up and keep safe distance by being in their cars," he said.
Molloy is now sketching out plans for a restricted-access pedestrian market (above left), only allowing 65 shoppers at a time into the market site with a suggested time limit per trip of 20 minutes. For the safety of shoppers and vendors, masks will be required for everyone onsite, with handwashing at designated stations strongly suggested before entering and after leaving the market.
The Hollywood Farmers Market, a neighborhood institution since 1997, operates year-round and has had an open, accessible site with six main points of entry, an unmanageable situation when it comes to limiting access.
"Our market-day crowds had generally been well below capacity," wrote market coordinator Ari Rosner. "But we knew that the nice weather, strawberry availability and the Mother's Day holiday would mean bigger crowds."
Liberal use of caution tape stretched around the perimeter reduced those six entrances to just two, which were staffed with volunteers tasked with monitoring the number of shoppers in the market at any one time and keeping those waiting properly distanced. "At the peak of the market, we had probably 60 shoppers waiting in line between the two entrances," said Rosner. "But talking to shoppers at the front of the line, it seemed like no one had to wait more than about 10 minutes to get into the market."
Asked how the pandemic has affected her market, which was established in 1988 as a gathering place for the community, Rapport said that COVID-19 has upended the way that she runs the market. "I have managed this market for 25 years and in each and every year before this, my focus was on maximizing the real estate available to me," she said. "Social distancing has redefined how we operate. It [has been] stressful to reinvent the wheel every week but, like everyone else, we are in survival mode.
Having to give up the social component of the market experience breaks her heart, Rapport said, but providing vendors and customers with a safe shopping experience while keeping the market going for its small businesses and farms has to be the priority now.
Like most of the market managers I spoke with, Rapport said she tries to keep her eyes on the prize as she navigates the obstacles presented by the pandemic. In her words: "To give our customers the opportunity to shop for farm fresh products and artisan foods with the promise that we will be here for them when they are once again able to join their family and friends for a long, leisurely day enjoying the market and one another’s company."
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."
"The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves has changed how we define normal. And that new normal may be the status quo for weeks or even months ahead."
In announcing that the Beaverton Farmers Market was planning to offer a drive-through option for shoppers, manager Ginger Rapport put it bluntly, writing, "To say that these are difficult times is an understatement. The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves has changed how we define normal. And that new normal may be the status quo for weeks or even months ahead."
On Tuesday, March 16, Oregon Governor Kate Brown released an executive order addressing the health threat from coronavirus (COVID-19), stating that all food establishments that offer food or drink are prohibited from offering or allowing on-premises consumption of food or drink. The order also prohibited public gatherings of 25 people or more.
In seeking clarification on the order, the Oregon Farmers Market Association (OFMA) presented the case to the governor's office that farmers' markets should not be classified as gatherings or events but are, rather, open-air grocery stores and a vital lifeline for local farmers and producers. Closing them would be tantamount to cutting off a critical food source for the community, and could force many family farms out of business. In addition, the case was made that the food in farmers' markets is subject to much less handling, since it does not go through warehouses, distributors, or store staff.
So it was with great relief that, in a bulletin on Thursday, March 18, updating the Governor's statement, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) clarified that the prohibition "does not apply to essential businesses and services, including workspaces, grocery stores, retail stores, convenience stores, farmer's markets, banks, gas stations, hotels or motels, health care facilities, pharmacies, childcare facilities, state or local government or schools."
In advance of the ODA bulletin, two markets, Beaverton Farmers Market(top photo) and Hillsdale Farmers Market, decided to pivot to new models including a drive-through option at the Beaverton market where market shoppers can shop from the safe distance of their vehicle. Hillsdale canceled its regular market stall set-up and is offering online pre-ordering direct through farmer vendors, with pick-up at its regular location on market day. Both markets have mobilized to help vendors set up online ordering systems.
"COVID-19 has disrupted our routines," wrote Hillsdale market manager Eamon Molloy in the market's newsletter. "In order to keep people healthy and maintain the recommended safe social distances, we will not conduct a regular market. Farmers and food vendors are setting up pre-order portals and taking orders by email."
In a notice on the OFMA listserv, Kelly Crane, the organization's Executive Director, said that she would begin discussions on purchase of a group license for an online ordering system for interested member markets.
Pritha Golden, Market Director at the Hollywood and Lloyd farmers' markets, outlined the reasons that her markets would remain open as usual and described practices that have been instituted to keep shoppers and vendors safe. "Farmers' markets are essential," she stated. "Despite the current health crisis, food remains a basic human need, and we provide access to nutrient-dense food. With our ability to space out our vendors, provide an open-air market, and relieve stresses on grocery stores, we aim to support the safest food shopping options."
Even with relatively few cases of coronavirus in Oregon, the state's farmers' markets are serious about keeping their customers safe.
"I think that we need to do everything we can to show customers that we care about their health and [that we] are doing everything within our power to help them protect themselves," according to Ginger Rapport, market manager of the Beaverton Farmers Market.
Market managers have been sharing information, resources and training strategies for their vendors through the Oregon Farmers Market Association listserv. Most are planning to increase the number of handwashing stations and will have hand sanitizers available for customers and vendors to use. Bleach wipes will be available to use on porta potty doors, ATM screens, credit card machines, tables and other common surfaces, and at least one manager said that market staff will be required to wear gloves when counting tokens and cash.
Most are planning to remind vendors to wear gloves if they are handing out samples, and will be sharing information on social media about the precautions the market is taking to keep customers and vendors safe.
"Seeing others take extra precautions often makes all of us be a bit more careful," said Eamon Molloy, market manager of the Hillsdale Farmers Market.
I've been covering farmers' markets in the Northwest for more than a decade, starting with my weekly Market Watch column in the Oregonian's FoodDay to regular posts right here on Good Stuff NW about what's coming in from our region's fields and forests. One thing that's always impressed me about our market scene is the sense of community that exists not just between farmers and their customers in the market, but among the farmers and vendors themselves. This month's Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter brought that to mind again, and I thought I'd share with you market manager Ginger Rapport's reflections on that topic.
Our mission at Beaverton Farmers Market has always been to cultivate community. Yes, we believe that bringing fresh local foods to the Beaverton community is a large part of our mission, but without building strong relationships with community members, vendors and farmers we cannot succeed in delivering the other. We believe that’s what keeps you coming back to the market even more than the growing number of fresh food choices you can choose from (we’re very fortunate to live in an area that has many). We foster community.
This past weekend proved that we have been successful in our efforts, as the community came together to help one another out. Long before shoppers hit the market our crew and vendors are busy setting up in the early hours of the day. While the market may open at 9 a.m. in the fall, our staff and vendors are already on site at about 6 a.m. preparing for the day. Last Saturday began when one of our vendors had the misfortune of having her car break down in the market. After vendors and market staff moved her car out of the way in the market, Ron Lilienthal of More-Bees, sprang into action to troubleshoot his neighbor’s car. He didn’t want her to be stranded once the market was over. Being the handy guy that he is, he borrowed some tools from the market, ran out for a part and was able to make repairs so that she could leave the market at the end of the day.
Early in the day on our staff had received word from both Denison Farms and Gathering Together Farm that they were stuck in standstill traffic on Interstate 5 North with all lanes blocked. Sadly, there was a multiple car accident with injuries and a fatality. We were saddened by the news, but grateful that our vendors were safe, just delayed. Both vendors were able to make it to the market some time after opening. Once the farms arrived, the Beaverton Farmers Market really rose to the occasion—vendors, market staff, and even customers chipped in first to unload Denison Farms’ truck. After Denison Farms was set up, Tom Denison came over to help pitch in at Gathering Together to get their booth set up as well. Customers, employees, market staff and other vendors were stocking produce in baskets and unloading boxes and pallets. We appreciated the patience of our customers and the camaraderie of our community as we worked through the rocky start.
We like to think of our market as a microcosm of a small town—some days are rougher than others, but we’re all working together to make this market the best it can be: a place to gather with neighbors, new and old alike, providing fresh local food and relationships.
The Portland metro area has a wealth of farmers' markets stretching from suburban communities like Beaverton and Hillsboro to Gresham and Oregon City, with dozens scattered throughout the city itself. On almost every day of the week during harvest season there's a farmers' market brimming with local produce, meat, cheese and products made from the bounty of Oregon's fields, streams and oceans. Almost a dozen operate year-round, made possible by our mild maritime climate and farmers willing to adapt crops to cooler growing conditions, as well as educate shoppers about how to incorporate winter produce into their diets.
But not every neighborhood has equal access to these markets, which are generally located in the more central areas of the cities. So what do you do when you think your neighborhood would benefit from more access to fresh, local food but the nearest farmers' market is miles away?
In the case of the area near Rocky Butte—an extinct cinder cone near Northeast Broadway and 82nd Avenue, part of the Madison South, Roseway and Sumner neighborhoods—a group of neighbors started by surveying their community to gauge whether they would support a farmers market. When the survey came back with an overwhelmingly positive response, the group then spent two years working on strategy development and planning, which also involved finding a location and sponsors.
Discussions held with Portland market veterans and others who had been in the trenches for decades largely discouraged organizers, saying that the city was oversaturated with farmers' markets. Not to be put off, the new market's organizers argued that while there may be a saturation of markets in closer-in neighborhoods, communities in farther-flung areas were hungry for their own market that they could walk or bike to.
Organizers formed a steering committee, then implemented an innovative strategy to launch the Rocky Butte Farmers Market with two pop-up events at the height of the summer harvest in 2019. At the first, held in mid-July at the Dharma Rain Zen Center, it was an open question as to how many people, if any, would show up.
"Our opener blew our expectations completely out of the water," according to Hillary Barbour, one of the organizers and a resident of the neighborhood, as well as Director of Strategic Initiatives for Burgerville. "We had no idea if we would get 50 [shoppers], or 500. And we ended up with darn near close to 1,000." The relatively small number of vendors sold out of seasonal produce, pasture-raised chickens and farm fresh eggs.
Exit surveys from that first pop-up showed a strong demand for more seasonal produce and prepared food options. In response, the market team added almost double the number of vendors to the second pop-up, scheduled for August 3. It included several farmer vendors who are part of the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District’s Headwaters Farming Incubator program, as well as Mudbone Grown’s Pathways to Farming Incubator program. Student participants of Mad Roots, a youth-led sustainable agriculture program at nearby Madison High School, offered produce from the program's gardens. Vendors also came from many of the diverse populations in the neighborhood, including Latino, African-American, Vietnamese and Queer-owned businesses, among others.
"For many vendors these pop ups were their first farmers market experience," said Barbour. "We have long sensed that a new and emerging market in our neighborhoods—Madison South, Roseway, and Sumner—could be an important opportunity for new and beginning farmers who have neither the experience nor scale to enter a more mature metro-area farmers market. These two pop-ups appear to be confirming our theory."
Volunteers counted attendance at the second pop-up at more than 800 shoppers. These volunteers were key to both events, doing everything from distributing flyers to posting on social media to helping with set up, directing traffic at the event site, staffing and break down. Several came from the neighborhood branch of OnPoint credit union, which also supplied a $500 grant to cover some start-up costs. More support came from other nearby markets.
"I cannot say enough good things about the support we've received from other neighborhood markets [and] market managers," Barbour emphasized. "Especially Cully, which loaned us tables, chairs and canopies for both pop ups. Also the managers from the Hollywood and Montavilla markets were tremendously helpful and generous with their knowledge and experience. It's never felt competitive or discouraging" unlike, she added, the reaction from some of the larger markets in the area.
With the success of the pop-up events, organizers are committed to a series of regularly scheduled markets in the 2020 season. Fundraising is underway through a combination of grant requests, local business support, and a GoFundMe campaign, with one of the goals being to hire a part-time market manager for next season.
Another challenge facing organizers is finding a new site for the market, since the Dharma center is not able to host the market in 2020. But that challenge brings opportunity, according to Barbour.
"One thing to keep in mind about [the neighborhood] that's interesting is that the entire look and feel of Northeast 82nd between Siskiyou and I-84 is changing over the next three years," she said, citing a major upgrade scheduled for Glenhaven Park as well as the rebuilding of Madison High School. "The entire composition of our area is changing as more first-time homebuyers move in and houses turn over. I've lived in Roseway since 2004 and I feel like this year represents the second major wave of turnover I've seen."
Which means that a new farmers' market can be ground zero for this emerging area, a place to gather and build the community they want, based around supporting a vibrant local food system.
Ginger Rapport's newsletters for the Beaverton Farmers Market are worth getting for the information and recipes she shares (click here to subscribe). Her deep knowledge of produce shines through, helped by her passion for cooking and education. Here she talks about the luscious Northwest peaches and nectarines tumbling into midsummer markets.
What is the difference between a peach and a nectarine? They are genetically almost the same with the exception of one gene, the one that determines if it will have a fuzzy or smoothskin. A nectarine is basically a bald peach. They may be used interchangeably in recipes but as far as fresh eating goes, people can have strong opinions about which is best. Many people prefer nectarines because they don’t like the fuzz on a peach. It is more of a textural thing than it is about taste. However, nectarines tend to be firmer, sweeter and more aromatic than their fuzzy cousins.
Both peaches and nectarines come in “freestone” varieties, which means that the fruit separates easily from the pit and “clingstone” varieties where the flesh clings tightly to the pit. Freestones are better for freezing while clingstones are better for canning.
If you are making a recipe that calls for removing the skin of a peach or nectarine, we recommend the following method:
With a paring knife, make a small "X" in the skin on the bottom of the fruit. Then drop it into a large pot of boiling water for 10-20 seconds. You may do multiple fruits at a time as long as you are able to get them all out of the boiling water within a few seconds of one another. You want to loosen the skin, not cook the fruit.
Immediately place fruit in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Starting at the X on the bottom, lift the skin away from the fruit. It should peel easily if your fruit is ripe. If your fruit is under-ripe, peeling will be more difficult and may require a paring knife. (This is also how you peel tomatoes.)
Peach and nectarine season has a very small window where it overlaps with cherry season. One of our favorite—and totally easy—recipes that features both is this nectarine and cherry salad with roasted hazelnuts featuring Baird Family Orchards nectarines, Kiyokawa Family Orchards Bing cherries, and Ken and June's dry roasted hazelnuts.
Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts
1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced 1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved 1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.