Caroline Cummins is the managing editor of Culinate. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and their two daughters.
Wondering what to do with the latest seasonal foods? Here’s a partial record of what we’ve been eating ourselves.
When you pull a rutabaga out of the ground, it looks a bit like the fabled Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, all gnarly, feathery roots and floppy leaves. Topped and trimmed, however, it’s just a plump root vegetable, cream-colored at the bottom and a blushing purple on the shoulders.
Continue reading Rutabagas »
By late August, the many tomato plants my husband grew from seed this spring were finally fruiting. Paste tomatoes, little round cherry tomatoes, large yellow Lemon Boy tomatoes, plump orange Persimmon tomatoes, and red-and-green blushing tomatoes that we have no name for since my husband has grown them, for three years, from a now-forgotten tomato purchased at a farmers’ market. And that’s just the start of the harvest.
Last year’s harvest, due to drab summertime weather, was accordingly blah. But this year — despite the intense 105-degree heat waves we’ve had — is looking like a red tsunami of tomatoes. Which means that, while we’re eating plenty of them in their natural, fresh state, we’re also looking for ways to preserve them for the winter.
Continue reading Tomatoes »
Continue reading Strawberries »
Slim and straight and easy to cook, asparagus has become one of those vegetables sold year-round in supermarkets. It always looks so pretty, so elegant and firm. And the taste is such an addictive combination of grass and mushroom, green things and meaty ones. But that’s only if you get it when it’s in season locally — not in the fall and winter, when it’s shipped in from South and Central America.
As Deborah Madison has pointed out on these pages before, we may think of asparagus as an early-spring treat. But asparagus season varies: January in the hottest parts of California, May in Michigan, even July in Canada. So figure out when asparagus is local to you, and buy it then.
Continue reading Asparagus »
Despite its soft, tender leaves, parsley is a tough herb, overwintering just fine next to the sage, rosemary, and thyme. The seeds my parsley plants scattered last fall are just coming up, filling the vegetable beds with a soft carpet of sweet green. But I’m still clipping new growth from last year’s plants, showering minced parsley leaves over pretty much everything savory.
The parsley I grow is the kind referred to as “flat-leaf” or “Italian” parsley; this parsley is easier to clean and sweeter-tasting than the frizzy parsley called “curly.” If you’ve ever munched the curly parsley garnish that comes on the side of most diner blue-plate specials — you know, the fuzzy mop next to the orange slice — you’ll realize why flat-leaf parsley is now king: the curly stuff isn’t just crunchy, it’s downright bitter. Keep the bitterness for winter’s big-leaved greens (kale, mustard, etc.) and grow or buy the Italian parsley instead.
Continue reading Parsley »
The beauty of beets is that they’re in season practically all year long. You can eat them small and big; you can discard their greens or eat them, too. It’s all good.
You can tackle beets in two ways: classic and adventurous. Beloved beet dishes in the classics department include roasted beets, a reliably delicious side dish, and borscht, an easy, classic soup whether served hot (in winter) or cold (in summer). Salad also benefits from a scattering of beets, either grated raw on a box grater (don’t grate your knuckles off) or steamed and sliced into circles.
Continue reading Beets »
The pickup: Long, wrinkly black roots at the grocery store. They were labeled “salsify,” but they might’ve been more accurately labeled “black salsify.”
Both salsifies, Harold McGee points out in On Food and Cooking, are members of the lettuce family and related to Jerusalem artichokes and burdock root; they’re also often called, interchangeably, oyster plant, oyster root, and vegetable oyster. Salsify is pale in color, like a parsnip, while black salsify (also known as scorzonera) is, well, grungy-looking. But both are cream-colored in flesh and faintly evocative of oysters in taste; their texture goes from firm to somewhat mealy in cooking, rather like potatoes.
Continue reading Salsify »
The pickup: Long, spindly parsnips from the garden, their cream-colored bodies caked in dark, wet dirt.
The results: Years ago, I learned the hard way — literally — that parsnip cores aren’t really meant to be eaten. I peeled and chopped some parsnips and roasted them, only to be unpleasantly surprised when I tried to bite through the tough cores. Some things even roasting at high heat can’t cure.
But the delicately sweet flesh of the parsnip — the part surrounding the woody core, that is — makes a worthwhile alternative to potatoes or squash in the winter. These days I simply slice around the cores and cook parsnips down into thick soups or toss them into root bakes.
Continue reading Parsnips »
The pickup: Some CSAs are predictable, offering lots of the tried-and-true, the tomatoes and lettuces and carrots recognizable to most Americans from any supermarket. (Some folks like this; it makes the concept of the CSA feel familiar.) Other CSAs like to go seed-catalog crazy, cultivating heirlooms and obscurities for their color, flavor, or fun factor.
My CSA this year, Dancing Roots, blends these two approaches to farming. So, yes, there have been many tomatoes and peppers and onions and carrots and squashes in the bins at my weekly pickup. But the variety can be literally overwhelming, spilling out of more than three huge cloth shopping bags.
Continue reading Potbellied pumpkins »
The pickup: Cranberries, frankly, are kind of a funky berry. Far too tart and crunchy to eat raw, we nevertheless down buckets of them every year, mostly in the form of sweetened cranberry juice; many also swear by the cranberry’s prophylactic and healing powers when it comes to urinary-tract infections.
The results: The season for fresh cranberries, of course, coincides with Thanksgiving, which is when we like to make all those gallons of cranberry sauce. Cranberries are also delicious baked into muffins and quick breads; you can chop them up as little tart treats or leave them whole as juicy little balloons of sweetened acidity.
Continue reading Cranberries »
The pickup: It’s root season, that time when gardens and CSAs proffer up a wide selection of edible things that grow underground. Parsnips, turnips, kohlrabi, fennel bulbs, carrots, potatoes, leeks, onions . . . it’s all down and dirty, at least until it hits the kitchen sink.
The results: Roasted root vegetables, also known as root bakes, are one of the easiest ways to tackle a pile of hard, bumpy tubers and bulbs. Wash, pare, and chop the veggies. Toss everything in a baking dish with olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe rosemary and a few cloves of garlic, and roast for half an hour at 425 degrees. Done.
Continue reading Down to the roots »
The pickup: Ever since our CSA started in May, we’ve been enjoying a weekly box of eggs from Wooden Bridge Farm, just north of Portland in Washington state. (The farm supplies our CSA, Dancing Roots, with eggs from its pastured hens.)
These irregularly sized, oddly shaped, all-varieties-of-brown-colors eggs are the real deal: they come from chickens that eat not just chicken feed but live bugs and green grass, and incidentally get to spend plenty of time in sunlight and fresh air.
The results: At the start of the summer, we made what felt like several gallons of ice cream, plus angel food cake (the yolks went into the ice cream, the whites into the cake). But a dozen eggs can disappear fast that way. And, really, the eggs are so delicious — and their yolks such a vivid orange — that it seemed a shame to not eat them all on their own. Now that CSA season is winding down, the eggs are getting smaller, and soon they’ll be gone.
Continue reading Fully rounded »
The pickup: Bushels and bushels of figs, from the fig tree (fig variety unknown) that grows outside my house. Actually, most of them are eaten by birds, which is just fine since there’s no way I can pick them all.
The results: In previous years, I ate mountains of fresh figs out of hand, mixed with yogurt and granola, or wrapped in ham or cheese. I also made jam, which (perhaps due to the low acidity of figs) never seemed to have much pep.
Then I adapted a recipe for plum chutney that I found at the back of an issue of Saveur magazine; the vinegar, mustard, and chile flakes in the fig chutney I cooked down in my stovetop cauldron lent a tart and spicy balance to the mellow sweetness of the figs. It’s good on, say, a turkey sandwich, and smooshy-perfect on a grilled sandwich of cheddar and, hopefully, a few leaves of mâche.
Continue reading A festival of figs »
The pickup: Way, way too many eggplants, dangling in the garden. Who knew four leafy plants grown from seed mere months ago could produce so much in one season?
The results: A whole lotta eggplant slung on the barbecue. (Helen Rennie has a nice recipe for grilled eggplant on her blog, Beyond Salmon.) Mountains of baba ganoush, that eggplanty twist on hummus. Chunks stirred into countless Indian and Thai curries.
Carrie Floyd, Culinate’s food editor, makes a satisfying version of ratatouille, the classic southern French dish of simmered eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes; for extra oomph, she serves it over polenta. (It’s also tasty served over baked potatoes.)
Continue reading Excellent eggplants »
The pickup: The Culinate backyard sports a gazebo, a holly bush, a very dead fir tree, and a very alive Italian plum tree. Seldom (if ever) pruned, this last bit of greenery is currently sagging under the weight of hundreds of plums. The small fruits are chalky until you pick one, rub the bloom away, and eat the fruit underneath: bluish-purple on the outside, greenish-yellow on the inside.
We’ve been watching the fruit for weeks now, waiting for the plums to transition from slightly too firm and tart to just soft enough and sweet. Impatient, we decided to hurry the poky plums along with the aid of refined sugar and an oven.
Continue reading Sugar plum fairy »
The pickup: Several slices of fresh salmon, troll-caught off the Oregon coast.
The results: Back in my college days, I played waitress one evening at a professor-hosted dinner party. On the appetizer table was a slab of homemade cured salmon, beautiful to the eye and richly unctuous in the mouth. Over the years since then, I’ve tried to replicate it.
Seattle chef Tom Douglas offers a cured-salmon recipe featuring juniper berries in his book Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen, but the gin flavor of the berries is a little, well, potent. Last week I tried a recipe by San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardins (originally published in the September/October 2005 issue of Chow magazine, now available online at the Chow webzine.) This was more like it: smooth, creamy, and tangy, with salmon (not gin) as the dominant flavor.
Continue reading No-cook fish »
The pickup: Mounds of blushing apricots from farms east of the Cascade Mountains.
The results: Apricot dumplings, an annual treat. A friend taught me how to make them, and when a summer goes by and I haven’t had a chance to make them, I always feel a slight pang of regret.
The dumplings are essentially entire apricots (pits and all) wrapped in a dense, unsweetened dough, boiled like gnocchi until they float, pan-fried for a bit, then served warm with powdered sugar on top. They make a lovely dessert on a warm summer evening, especially if served with an apricot-perfumed bottle of Riesling.
Continue reading Apricot apotheosis »
The pickup: Peaches at the downtown farmers’ market, plus several pounds of raspberries, blueberries, and marionberries at a local U-Pick farm.
The results: Rather than wait for the (quite firm) peaches to ripen fully, we blanched, peeled, sliced, and baked them in a lattice pie. The berries presented the opposite problem: on a hot day, all those fresh berries quickly started to turn into mush.
So, first, a cookie sheet of washed raspberries went into the freezer for a few hours; when frozen, the berries were flipped off and put into a freezer bag for future smoothies, baked treats, or to serve as fruity ice cubes in lemonade.
Continue reading Fruit for the future »
The pickup: More spinach, delicate and delicious. A small head of greenleaf lettuce. More braising mix. More carrots. More eggs. Two pounds of fava beans. Garlic chives, except that I arrive too late on pickup day and they’re all gone. Bummer.
The results: The spinach and lettuce still make killer salad. The braising mix gets braised again and served with salmon and mashed potatoes — a much better match than pasta. The eggs are tasty fried and boiled. The favas are fabulous served over pasta with shallots, bacon, and Parmesan. The carrots get roasted with some potatoes and served with steak. They’d be nice with some garlic chives, too. Too bad.
The pickup: This is the week my CSA, Dancing Roots, starts up. I head to the dropoff house and, along with assorted parents, hipsters, children, and dogs, fill bags with young spinach, teenaged lettuces, mature braising greens, leafy-topped carrots and radishes, and a Sungold cherry tomato plant. And oh, yeah, a dozen pastured eggs.
The results: The radishes, spinach, and lettuces go into salad. The carrots, along with some other leftover carrots, celery, and onions, become a spicy soup. The braising greens get, well, braised, and eaten with pasta. The tomato plant goes into the ground, where it struggles confusedly for a few days and then recovers. And the bright-orange yolks of the eggs go into a wickedly caffeinated coffee ice cream.
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