CSA boxes are sitting on door steps, farmers markets are open every day around the Sound and backyard gardens are finally offering something for harvest. Summer is here, do you know what to do with the bounty?
This is the time of year to enjoy a hefty dose of daily fruits and vegetables. Here are five tips for taking full advantage of fresh produce while it is local, in season, and at peak flavor:
1. Pre-wash your salad greens
You will be much more likely to throw together a salad for lunch if your ingredients are ready to go. As soon as I harvest salad greens from the garden or bring them home from the farmers market, I wash and spin dry my salad greens and store them in a ziplock bag with a paper towel to keep them fresh. To keep from getting bored of plain lettuce salads, I add as much flavor as possible with mint leaves, cilantro, thyme blossoms, basil, mustard greens and any other herb and spicy green that is available.
What is your favorite spot for berry picking? The Snohomish County tourism website has a sizable list of u-pick farms, which can be found here. Raspberries are ready to be picked right now and will only last a few weeks. Blueberries come next, followed by blackberries. Berry picking is a great family activity and a very affordable treat to enjoy by the hand-full. I have picked berries with a curious baby on my back, with excited toddlers by my side, and with motivated older children. Be sure to bring sunscreen and water so one gets overheated if the sun is out.
3. Can while you can
Canning is the new hot thing! Whether you have been canning food for eons, or you are new to this useful skill, there is a lot of information, assistance and camaraderie out there right now for canners. Check out the website Can Across America, written by a team of Pacific Northwest writers, gardeners and cooks, “committed to the revival of the lost art of ‘putting up’ food.” Their website posts canning articles, hosts giveaways, shares recipes, and is gearing up for the national Can-it-Forward day on Aug. 13 with lists of local events.
British Columbia blogger Emily of Well Fed, Flat Broke says that she likes to make meals in the summer and freeze them for winter. Last winter she was grateful for the summer flavors of ratatouille when the heat of the sun was a distant memory. To freeze vegetables for the best flavor and texture later, blanching is recommended. Simply bring a pot of water to a full boil, add the vegetables, cook for about a minute, or until the color becomes bright. Drain the vegetables and immediately dunk the vegetables in a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Drain thoroughly before freezing.
5. Treat yourself to a new cookbook
If you need fresh inspiration for vegetable recipes, treat yourself to a new cookbook. Even though I eat meat, most of my cookbooks focus on vegetarian cooking, so I can be sure to continue inspiring myself to keep vegetables at the center of the meal.
A culinary adventurer, Lara Alexander grows, cooks and writes about food from her home in Edmonds. You can read about her garden and kitchen fun on the blog Food-Soil-Thread.