August 23rd: Fish Eggs, Shelling Beans, Native Potatoes & Wild Berries

Loki Keta Ikura. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons. Ballard Farmers Market offers many delicacies unique to the Pacific Northwest this time of year. Beautiful keta ikura -- salmon roe -- from Loki Fish can add a little pop of briny deliciousness to many dishes, or just enjoy it atop a cracker on its own.

Washington's only native potato -- the Ozette -- from Oxbow Farm. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Washington may be the #1 potato producing state, but did you know that only one potato is considered native to Washington? Yep. It seems almost all potatoes, which are ultimately indigenous to South America, made their way to North America via Europe. But a handful of potato varieties travelled with the Spanish directly to North America up the West Coast in the late 1700s. One of these is the Ozette potato, named for the Makah Nation that has called them a staple of their diet for over 200 years -- since the Spanish hastily abandoned their Neah Bay outpost after only one year in 1792 because the great conquerers couldn't handle our Northwest winter. (Sissies. I mean, could you imagine Mayor Nickels doing that? Uh. Whoops.) Anywho, the result is we have our very own native potato now that is even recognized by Slow Food for its importance, and you can get some from Oxbow Farm today.

Wild blue huckleberries from Foraged & Found Edibles. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

It's wild huckleberry season, and Foraged & Found Edibles has plenty of them. In fact, this is the time of year these folks really get cranking with all sorts of goodies they find just growing out there in the mighty forests and wildlands of Washington. For instance, with the help of our recent week of rain, they've now also got chanterelle and lobster mushrooms, too, with more fun stuff arriving over the coming weeks as our days grow shorter.

Cranberry shelling beans from Alm Hill. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Okay, maybe they aren't so much unique or wild, but some fine researchers at Washington State University have been carefully testing shelling bean varieties over the last decade to see which ones grow best here. After all, different crops will succeed or fail based on a region's climate, soil conditions, etc. The result is that many of our market farmers now offer all sorts of shelling beans to us at the Market. This was not the case just five years ago. Above is an example of cranberry beans from Alm Hill. And below are black turtle beans from Growing Things. And, of course, you can usually get many of these beans dried from Stoney Plains or Alvarez.

Black turtle shelling beans from Growing Things. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Fine research, or perhaps mad science, has led to an extraordinary proliferation of incredible stone fruits in recent years, and with farms like Tiny's, Collins and ACMA diversifying their orchards, we get to enjoy many of them. In fact, while it is not so much the case, as some would have you think, that crops like tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes change every week, when it comes to tree fruit, succession is the name of the game. Every fruit has is day, literally, so market farmers diversify not just to wow us, but more importantly to extend their season. If they just grew two kinds of cherries, one apricot and a couple of peaches, their Market presence would be very short lived indeed. Instead, they plant all different kinds of fruit that is constantly coming into and going out of season. The result is that you must, in fact, come to the Market every week to see what's new. From plums and pluots to apricots and apriums; from apples and pears to nectarines and peaches, there are literally dozens os varieties, with Market displays changing constantly. For instance, these Sun Plums, below, from Tiny's will be in season just a few weeks at most, and then they will be replaced by something else.

Brilliant sun plums from Tiny's. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Another family of crops being championed by WSU researchers are melons, and in particular, the small melons categorically referred to as "ice box melons."  Again, the result is that we are seeing many more melons in the Market than we used to, because local farmers have many more reliable seeds to work with, courtesy of WSU. Take these French Mush melons from Full Circle Farm, for instance. They are so small, they fit in the palm of your hand.

French Musk melons from Full Circle Farm. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Finally today, this has nothing to do with WSU research, wild, native or unique crops, or even fruits and vegetables, but it does have to do with embracing old-world meat-curing techniques to produce superb products for our kitchen and table. I speak of Sea Breeze Farm and their latest example of animaliciousness: pancetta. Ah, the sweet, dry-aged ripeness of pork bellies salted, seasoned and preserved as they have been for centuries in Italy. Thankfully, the boys from Vashon are making it closer to home, and bringing it to us at the Market. Enjoy!

Pancetta from Sea Breeze Farm. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

So spread the word far and wide. It is time to descend upon Ballard Farmers Market for another glorious week to revel in the bounty of Washington, one of the truly great food regions on earth. Of course, you might want to get a head start on your family and friends before you tweet, just in case.