Willie Green's

The 411 on Local Strawberries

Seascape Strawberries at Willie Green's

For a brief, bountiful moment, we are swimming in strawberries. Real strawberries. Meaning, ones with sweetness and flavor that require no added sugar when sliced over ice cream. I treated myself to these Seascape Berries at Willie Green's because I personally subscribe to the smaller-is-better philosophy when it comes to strawberries and blueberries, and the Seascapes were tiny. I was not disappointed. "Sugar bombs," we call them at our house. So ripe we are obligated to eat them the day of.

As I mentioned last week, I've been reading a book about the horrors of commercially-grown tomatoes, which I'll eventually cover in a detailed review, but in the meantime, author Barry Estabrook argues that the "focus on making the [commercially-bred] tomato bigger and firmer" has come at the cost of flavor. "They've essentially taken the package and added water. Strawberries are the same story, but tomatoes are probably the worst example" (p. 149). The strawberry mention caught my eye because I couldn't agree more. Several years ago, when the Washington State strawberry crop was hit hard, I was horrified to find California commercial strawberries being served up at the Bellevue Strawberry Festival. Over-sized, hard, flavorless, and tart, conventionally-grown California strawberries are not a reason to celebrate. Especially when you consider those unappealing Frankenberries consistently make the "Dirty Dozen" list of pesticide-laden produce. To my nine-year-old's dismay, our family goes without fresh strawberries until we can have the real thing, locally and seasonally. Ask our farmers about varieties and whether their berries are grown spray-free!

Besides being delicious, our local Market strawberries are also geographically educational. I asked Kai at Hedlin Family Farms why Shuksan strawberries were called Shuksan strawberries.

Kai: Because of Mount Shuksan. [Manages not to say, "duh!"]

Oh, *that* Mt. Shuksan. Not exactly Mt. Baker.

UFJ: What?

Kai: Mount Shuksan in Skagit County. You know, like Hood, Rainier...

UFJ: I never heard of it! I think one of these is not like the other.

Kai: Have you ever climbed it?

UFJ: Maybe it's because I'm from California.

Other Customer: I've never heard of Mount Shuksan either.

Sure enough, when I asked Market Director Lori Taylor if she'd ever heard of Mt. Shuksan, she looked at me like I'd asked her if she ever heard of Issaquah. "Of course I know Mt. Shuksan! You Californians!" In my defense, my husband, born and raised a Washingtonian, went totally blank over this supposedly-famous, strawberry-inspiring mountain: "Hood, Rainier, and Shuksan? It's not exactly Mt. Baker!" I guess "Baker Strawberries" didn't have quite the same ring. And Not-Exactly-Mt-Baker Strawberries also got the big Veto somewhere along the line.

In any case, we can all agree the variety is delicious and worth grabbing over the next couple weeks, along with the fleeting Rainier and Titan cherries.

A quick review on freezing berries:

  1. Wash gently.
  2. Hull (or just cut off the stem)
  3. Set them individually (not touching) on a cookie sheet in the freezer.
  4. When frozen, pick them off and put them in a freezer bag. Ready for use, the rest of the year 'round.

See you this Thursday and Saturday, rain or shine. And grab those half-flats while you can!

New Things at the Market!

Wonderful, wonderful, to find ourselves at the start of another Market season! And although I could only grab half an hour between kids' sports and another kid's pick-up time, it was a half-hour well-spent.

There were plenty of familiar and new faces, as well as familiar faces with new offerings or ideas. A quick run-down:

  • Hedlin Farms had whole wheat flour for sale. 2 lbs for $4 or 5 lbs for $9.25. Can't wait to try this, especially since I've discovered my kids will eat biscuits made with a mix of graham and whole-wheat flour. Kai also had brussels sprouts plant starts and says they grow pretty well here.
  • Itala of Willie Green's  recommends pulsing some baby bok choy into your smoothies (!). A favorite combo of hers: frozen raspberries, baby bok choy, apple or pear, and fresh ginger. Somehow I see my children hesitating over this one, but I'm game to try.
  •  New-to-us vendor Hooting Owl Granola sells a wide variety of tasty cereals, including gluten-free options. All fruit is either unsweetened or sweetened with apple juice, honey, or agave. Had to rip the second-grader away before she chowed down all the samples...
  • Speaking of samples, we also hit up new House of the Sun "raw organic vegan cuisine." If you haven't worked up the energy to make your own kale chips, give theirs a try. Delish. Light and crunchy and perfectly seasoned. House makes entrees and sides and desserts. Have no idea what the "Incan-Goji Torte" tastes like, but it looks very tempting. Not only do they sell at the Market, but they also offer a raw food delivery service to home or office. Check out www.houseofthesunrawfood.com for more information.
  • Finally, Philip Lee of mobile bookstore Readers to Eaters had a great table set up, including many books I've read and written about for this blog. He carries cookbooks, children's books, foodie-type memoirs. Good stuff. If you've got children's birthday parties up the ying-yang this time of year, think what a great gift a picture book and a food item would make. My second-grader, for example, got wildly excited by all the "baby" vegetables, with Willie Green's baby turnips sending her into squeals of delight. Move over, stuffed animals!

If you didn't make it opening day, plan on coming by this Thursday. Parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue (1717 Bellevue Way NE) from 3-7 p.m. The forecast is for sunshine!