Walla Walla Valley Summer Produce: More than just onions and cherries!

With the Fourth of July behind us, summer is in full swing in the Walla Walla Valley. The weather has started to heat up and with it, availability of a variety of tasty local produce. Ever since I was a child, growing up in Maple Valley, I look forward to this time of year, not only for the break from school, but foraging for blackberries in overgrown back alleys and blueberries off the bushes in the green space between my grandma’s house and her neighbor. In actuality, the bushes belonged to the neighbor and I was told this over and over, and that I should ask before picking, but how could I resist plucking those luscious plump purple berries, sweet and warm from the summer heat? Popping them into my mouth, one-by-one, I’d savor each berry. Filling my cupped hand with as many as I could carry, my hands would be empty again upon reaching the house. Luckily there was always tomorrow, to pick more and enjoy the sun-sweetened fruits of summer.

Not only does summer bring a delicious variety of berries and fruit, but also a spectrum of vegetables, at their prime from the summer heat. Nothing compares to a freshly harvested tomato, with that sweet earthy scent of vine still lingering, and it’s rich sun-drenched sweet juiciness. After your first taste of a summer tomato, left to ripened on the vine in the warmth of the sun, you will never look at a off-season grocery store tomato the same again. There is no comparison between a fresh summer tomato and it’s tasteless grainy counterpart. In our family, we can’t wait for the season to begin and savor the summer tomatoes, as we prefer to only eat tomatoes when they are in season.

Though the tomato season has not yet begun , there are still many wonderful delicious locally-grown produce items to enjoy. At the farmers market this week, we have snap peas, cherries, salad greens, beets, chard, kale, garlic scapes, and asparagus. The Walla Walla sweet onions just recently became available, along with cucumbers and zucchini. As the season moves forward, some of these items will be replaced with more hot-weather foods, such as basil, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and green beans. Very exciting!

With the influx of all these wonderful, delicious, and so-good-for-you produce items, the key is to get them while they are available locally and enjoy them straight away. For you novice cooks, this may range from a bit of a challenge to quite overwhelmingly stressful and not worth the trouble. But this should not stop anyone from getting out there, picking up some fresh produce and making delicious food. The wonderful thing about local fresh produce is there isn’t much that needs to be done to the food to make it amazing. It contains all the elements within itself to be delicious, it just needs a washing, and to be prepared simply. Some need to be cooked, while others only need a quick trimming, chopping, and sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Here are a few simple recipe ideas for produce in season right now:

Garlic scapes (available from May to July): Actually the flowering top of garlic, these resemble a curly green onion and can be used similarly. Cut and add to salads, or any dishes you want to add a soft garlicky flavor to. Recently, I topped our homemade olive oil and cheese pizza with these and the flavor was amazing! Even the kids liked it! Nutritionally, the garlic scapes are a good source of antioxidants.

Snap peas(from May to July): More than just a quick and healthy snack, cut these into diagonal thin pieces and add to salads, or toss with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper and make it a dish on it’s own. My daughter loves the crunchy sweetness and asks for more every time. They also contain high amounts of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, folate and iron, which is great for kids and adults alike.

Beets (from late May through December): Not a big fan of beets? Change it up a bit and try another variety! Chioggia beets, with their interior candy cane stripes, are more mild than there standard counterpart and maintain beautiful coloring when cooked. Can be shaved raw, for a nice crunchy addition in salads or coleslaw, roasted or cooked and tossed with a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Beets also have high amounts of fiber, folate, and iron.

Cucumbers(from late June through October): Just recently available, they are a welcome addition to our summer table. Cucumber can be prepared in a number of ways, from a refreshing addition to drinking water, blended with avocado and tomato to make a cold gazpacho soup, shaved and combined with yogurt and mint to make a Greek tzatziki, or simply chopped, tossed with your favorite fresh herb, lemon, salt/pepper to make a delicious salad. They are generally low in nutrients, but their skin contains a good amount of lutein, a carotenoid that has been linked with eye health.

Zucchini (from June through October): A summertime bounty, there are always more zucchini than we can figure what to do with! Think beyond zucchini bread and sauteed zucchini, with dishes like grilled zucchini, Parmesan-crusted baked zucchini rounds(kids love!), shredded and mixed with flour, egg, and salt/pepper to form patties, or hollowed and filled with meat, onion, and herbs for a lovely stuffed baked zucchini. Zucchini contains fiber, potassium, and magnesium. And similar to cucumbers, the skin contains good amounts of lutein and other carotenoids, helping to protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.

No time to get to the farmers market on Saturday and want to support local farmers on a more consistent basis? Consider joining a CSA(community-supported agriculture) program, like the one at West End Farm or the co-op’s “Made in Walla Walla” box. Each week you will receive a box of what’s in season, along with additional items of your choosing like eggs, flowers, bread, milk, meat, and/or grain. For more information, contact your local farmer.

Can’t get enough local produce and want to take it a step further and grow your own? Join our local community garden and get yourself a space to plant and grow your own food! My husband and I just recently joined the Rees-Sumach Community garden and are loving getting our hands in the dirt and cultivating our little vegetable seedlings. Soon we will have a flourishing abundance to harvest from all summer!

Want to learn more hands-on techniques on how to prepare local seasonal produce? Sign up for a farmers market cooking class. We will be walking through the market, picking up some fresh produce, and have fun preparing new delicious dishes to inspire and add to your cooking repertoire. Contact me directly for more information.

Enjoy your summer!

(also published in Walla Walla Valley Weekly and Wine and Dine Walla Walla )

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2 Comments on “Walla Walla Valley Summer Produce: More than just onions and cherries!”

  1. marcia
    July 29, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Well done Melissa!
    love from Kalispell

  2. steve
    July 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Saliva is dripping out of my mouth! Nice writing!

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