celebrating local bounty

We are nearing the autumnal equinox and, in true fall fashion, I am typing this while munching on an apple (also some walnuts and some dark chocolate).

Indeed, it feels like fall here in the Methow Valley. The air is finally clear after weeks and weeks of wildfire smoke, and the skies are alternately an expanse of the brightest blue – and dark, broody storm clouds.

Despite the less than ideal summer weather, the local harvest does not disappoint. This is the season of true abundance, when the last of the delicate, juice-dripping summer produce – peaches, tomatoes – overlaps with the hardier storage crops like apples, pears, cabbage, and potatoes.

My culinary business may have been largely dormant this year, after a single (but wonderful!) class here in Twisp in January and the very fun Dumpling Fest in Seattle in March, but recent months have been filled with simple and satisfying home cooking, thanks in a large part to our small garden and the connections I’ve made with others who grow food in the valley – and do so much better than me.

Sorrel and chives from our back yard, which came back full force almost as soon as the snow melted in the spring and are still going strong, have become salad staples for me, mixed into both green and grain-based salads. We were able to grow enough tomatoes and cucumbers to enjoy them sliced and sprinkled with salt as a fresh accompaniment to at least a couple of dinners a week for about two months. For a short window of time in late July and early August, the cucumbers were plentiful enough that I turned a bunch of them into pickles, both the lacto-fermented kind that are known in Russian as “salted cucumbers” and the vinegary kind. Most recently, I’ve been digging yellow and purple potatoes, scrubbing them well under running water while taking care not to scrape off the delicate skin, cutting them into chunks and boiling them until tender. Topped with butter or olive oil, sprinkled with fresh garlic and chives, and accompanied by fresh or pickled vegetables, they make a plain but incredibly flavorful meal that really hits the spot.

Just before sitting down to type this post, I was using this same kitchen counter where I now write to slice about a pound of jalapenos purchased from a local farmer, which I then packed into a quart jar and drowned in a pungent vinegar solution spiced with bay leaf, black peppercorns, and mustard seed. I have Anjou pears and Red Delicious apples ripening in the pantry, the pears purchased from the same farmer, the apples obtained as a trade for a couple dozen eggs from our chickens. There are more pears, as well as a box of local onions, sitting in our sunroom out back that has become our temporary cold storage, since the late September sun no longer packs enough power to warm it.

Getting back to chickens, they have become an ongoing source of entertainment and worry – much like children would be, I suppose? Mostly it is the former, but one or another does act “off” or gets sick from time to time, plus there are raccoons to worry about, and the minutest gaps in the fence through which a chicken, improbably, manages to escape into the neighbor’s yard once in a while. Still, despite all the tribulations, the girls do reliably provide us with brightly-yolked, rich-tasting eggs, each one producing her own unique shape and eggshell color.

Lately, there have been fewer eggs, due to both the shorter hours of daylight and our hens going through their first molt. Still, the girls give us enough eggs that they remain my main source of protein, since meat or fish are not options for me as a vegetarian. Most days, I have a couple of eggs for breakfast, generally soft-boiled so that the white is set while the yolk attains a honey-like texture, or fried sunny side up, steamed briefly under a lid to thicken the yolks a bit. There is also plenty left over for baking, for use in fritters and such, and for occasional trading for produce or gifting to friends.

We also continue to buy ground beef and pork from a local rancher; this is high-quality meat that, according to my husband, makes excellent pelmeni filling. Purchased directly from the source, it costs only slightly more than the cheapest kind of ground beef and pork of dubious origin at the store, and only a fraction of the price that a supermarket would charge for humanely raised, top-grade meat.

To sum up, it’s been a year of good eating, with an ever-increasing share of what we consume made up of homegrown and local products, and for this, I am thankful. Wishing you all a bountiful, delicious harvest season, filled with good food and good people to share it with.

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