When I go to a farmers market I generally do a "walk around" before I start making purchases, so I can get a feel for what's available, compare prices, etc. It also gives time to simply enjoy the ambience and the experience.
One recent sunny Saturday, I was doing my walking tour at Bellingham Farmers Market. As I turned the corner and arrived at the Rabbit Fields Farm stand, I was overwhelmed with the warm earthy scent of fresh basil. Turning to the side, the spicy fragrance of peppers was added to the mix.
"It smells so good!" I couldn't help exclaiming.
Farmer Roslyn McNicholl smiled knowingly. "It's the smell of summer," she said.
And that's exactly what it was.
Summer in Whatcom County is the very definition of rich abundance when it comes to food. There are so many iconic flavors, smells, and ingredients that peak during this warmer season.
Eating as a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown foods, as much as possible) has made me more sensitive to the seasonality of foods. It has deepened my awareness and appreciation of seasonal differences.
For me, the experience of summer begins in early summer with berries. Succulent strawberries, bountiful blueberries and - my personal favorite - rosy red raspberries are signs for me that spring has matured into summer. Individually or mixed together, these berries are all a colorful party for the eyes and a sweet pleasure for the palate.
Later in summer, is there anything more satisfying than the first bite of the year's first perfectly ripened tomato? The acidity on your tongue, the feel of the juice running down your chin, the distinctive fragrance, and the bright, saturated colors of the tomato are an archetype of summer sensory delights.
Combine tomatoes with fresh basil and you lift your senses to a whole new level of gladness. Add some fresh cheese made with the milk of cows or goats that have been feeding on the lush summer grasses, and you have the paradigm of summer taste combinations - caprese. Made with truly fresh ingredients, it's unforgettable.
I find myself eating differently in the summer to take advantage of what's available. I eat more foods raw that I would normally cook later in the year - peas, for example. Right out of the pod they have sweetness that cooking only dulls. I remember my daughter as a small child standing in our garden telling me how much she hated peas, while simultaneously eating them fresh from the pod as fast as she could pop them open.
Fresh salads are also found more often on our table - not just the blends of spicy and pungent greens, but slaws and fruit salads and marinated peppers and herbed cucumbers.
Pickles are another flavor I associate with summer. When the cucumbers ripen, I start packing them into half-gallon jars to use through the rest of the year. However, those first pickles, ready just a few days after I put them in the jars, have a zesty flavor and crispness that will never be surpassed as the months pass.
Especially in a summer as warm as the one we've been having, I like to enjoy chilled soups made with ingredients not found as easily during other seasons. Gazpacho is a classic chilled summer soup, and I sometimes have cold fruit soups made with yogurt or cream for a nice summer breakfast or dessert.
Below, I've given you a cold tomatillo and cucumber soup that I think you'll enjoy. Blended with fresh mint and basil, and including a couple kinds of locally grown chile peppers, the soup has a little kick to it that has made it one of my summer favorites.
Other seasons have their flavor icons, too - asparagus in the spring, for example, or the first apples and pears of fall. However, to my mind, summer tastes are hard to beat! I hope you'll take some time to relish them for yourself before the seasons change.
HERBED TOMATILLO AND CUCUMBER SOUP
1 poblano chile (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1/2 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1 cup chopped onion (Broadleaf Farm, Everson)
1 clove garlic, finely minced (Terra Verde, Everson)
1 cucumber, chopped (about 2 cups) Spring Frog Farm, Everson)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1 teaspoon dried jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped (home garden last year, Lummi Island)
2 tablespoon fresh basil, minced (home garden, Lummi Island)
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced (home garden, Lummi Island)
4 cups chicken broth (homemade with chicken from Cedarville Farm, Bellingham)
1/2 cup whipping cream (Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
Char poblano chile and tomatillos over gas flame (or under broiler) until thoroughly blackened on all sides. (I put a couple of skewers through each vegetable to make it easy to hold it over the flame.)
Place charred peppers into a paper bag while still hot and roll the top to seal. Let pepper cool 10 minutes. Rub off the skin to peel. Seed the chile, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
Cool the tomatillos (bagging not necessary), and chop into 1/2-inch cubes.
Heat oil in heavy, medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté 5 minutes, until onion just begins to brown. Add garlic and sauté for one more minute. Add poblano chile and sauté a couple more minutes. Add tomatillos, cucumber, vinegar, and dried jalapeño. Cook until tomatillos are tender (about 10 minutes). Add basil and mint, and sauté a couple more minutes until herbs give off fragrance.
Add broth and bring to boil.
Remove from heat. Cool completely. Working in batches in a blender (or using stick blender), puree soup. Stir in cream.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill soup at least 3 hours until completely cold.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.