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Archive for October, 2011

Here’s my second post from the Portland Farmers Market blog, from October 17, 2011.

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First Pears, Last Tears

Eternal Summer of the Bosc-less Mind

While picking Italian plums in a friend’s North Portland backyard recently, I angered some yellow jackets, climbed up a light pole, and ingested part of what might have been insect larvae. Besides the rain and increasing cloud cover, the last urban plums provided one more sign that summer was over.

Remember summer?

I don’t have a problem with change. Although the end of things can make me sentimental sometimes – the end of romance, the end of a vacation – I don’t wallow in it. But for some reason, this year the end of summer really hit me hard. Why can’t we Portlanders live the golden dream referenced in that surf movie Endless Summer? I like pants as much as shorts, but do I really have to fish out my beanie already? As many wise people have said in numerous ways over the millennia, the end of one thing is the start of another thing, or something – close a door, open a window, etcetera – so I’m trying to remember that. Example A: the dwindling of peaches means the arrival of pears.

The markets have tons of pears right now. There are the bright, flavorful Starkrimson, and the tiny, super sweet Seckel. There’s the bodacious, curvy Comice, the variety which pairs so well with soft cheeses and that I always imagined would wear booty short were it bipedal (you’ve heard the term “apple bottom?”). There’s the aromatic red Anjou, so juicy and crisp and nice on a salad that I’ve actually woken up some mornings thinking of their taste. And there’s the boring old Bosc which I think of as a tree potato.

Despite my disdain for Boscs, I will eat any pear, but my love is not equal. (Will that make me a bad parent?) Starkrimson is one of my favorites. They have a floral aroma, and their smooth flesh contrasts nicely with their firm skin. They also just look gorgeous. That luscious red exterior is beautiful. Another favorite is the Forelle.

Not to try to be eccentric or feel superior to the uninitiated (my teenage self: “What? You haven’t heard this obscure 7-inch from this obscure band?”), but a few of the varieties that I think have the best flavors also aren’t the most widely available. Forelles are sort of the Northwest’s “secret” pear, which is unfortunate because they’re so good they should be dangling off trees in the middle of every American city. (Seriously, why is the Bosc the ubiquitous pear? Then again, why is white bread so popular?) For whatever reason – probably narrow growing requirements, poor insect or frost resistance, tendency to bruise in transport, and so on – their production is one of the most limited in the Northwest. Thankfully, you can find them around town between October and March.

Forelles are an old variety from Germany. Their name translates as trout, referring, mostly likely, to the way the pear’s freckled skin resembles that of a Rainbow trout’s. Forelles are tiny. They don’t have the Bartlett’s classic pear shape; they’re more of a bell. And their flavor is just what the pear snob in me wants in a pear: elegance, fragrance and texture without being too sweet. Maybe all I’m saying is is that there’s life beyond Bartletts. Just as I have to remind myself that there is life after summer and fruit

after peaches.

After an hour of picking in my friend’s backyard, I filled two plastic grocery bags with Italian plums. I considered turning them into jam, but I’m currently dedicated to marionberry jam, so I just ate them fresh. Also, it was obvious what I really wanted: to preserve the fruit in jars in order to prolong the season that produced them, the season I always tell myself that I love best. Then fall arrives and I remember, oh yeah, around here, every season’s good. Sunlight’s overrated.

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In the spirit of literary composting, I thought I’d gather the posts I’ve so far written for the Portland Farmers Market blog, here in my blog. As the inconsistent blogger says: why let material go to waste? Here’s my first post, from way back in October 3, 2011:

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Squashing

My favorite fall food, you ask? Hands down, the delicata squash. Admittedly, I love pears. I can eat pumpkin pie all day (and I do), and I look forward to fresh chestnuts with such intensity that summer can feel like a form of gastronomic tantra. Still, few things taste more like fall to me than this simple squash.

Named, I assume, for its delicate flavor, and given the –ata suffix to sound sexy yet sophisticated, this slender heirloom bears the green-on-yellow stripe pattern of a classic, 1960s Hang Ten shirt, the firm shell of a pumpkin, and the flavor of corn and sweet

potato. On the spectrum of popular squashes, it might have a lower profile than the ubiquitous butternut and meatier acorn, and sure, its name might not be as cute as the adorable sugar loaf, but the subtle flavor and creamy texture is what earns it devotees.

Some people seem to treat all squashes like spaghetti squash, carving out the meat and tossing the skin. Not me. I bake my delicatas whole, at 350 °F for about forty-five minutes. Then I slice them in quarters and serve the wedges hot, on a plate, like some sort of glowing orange, raw food pie. Delicatas do contain some seeds and fibers to be scooped, but there’s no need to ditch the skin; these aren’t prickly pear cactus pads. Once baked, the skin turns tender, offering those of us in the “skin-on set” a perfect firmness that yields to each bite with the softest snap. It’s a nice counterpoint to the velvety sweet meat which, when I’m feeling hyperbolic, I like to call “Nature’s mousse.”

Meat and skin, smooth and firm – the delicata’s combination of textures is as scintillating as its flavor, a mix far more interesting than ordinary old butternut. Sure, you can go the typical American track and slather it with butter, drizzle it with maple syrup, or sprinkle on cinnamon and brown sugar. Or you can season it with salt and pepper, herbs or olive oil. I don’t. Not because I’m so healthy (I ate a whole bag of dark Guittard chocolate chips over the last three days), but because it’s unnecessary. When you

get a good one, adulteration only hides the delicate(ata) flavor. To my mouth, this is one of those cases where less is more and the best approach is a hands-off one. (Though you should eat it with your hands rather than a fork.) It’s also one of those cases where, when I’m chewing, I realize that another sign that you’re getting older is when the flavor of a single, perfectly ripe fruit or vegetable can momentarily relieve the ache of being persistently single. Momentarily. I said the same thing about Maryhill, Washington peaches last month.

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