Thursday, August 28, 2008

Northwest Harvest

This morning I was driving up Pine Street to work and for the second day saw a herd of goats in the dog walk park on Capitol Hill. They have been brought in to control the rampant wild blackberries that appear all over the Puget Sound region and grow 25 hours a day.

The first time I saw this “organic” means of pest control employed was during a visit to the sprawling campus of the Overlake School over in nearby Redmond (home of Microsoft.) Btw, parallel tangent factoids: when navigating our streets a few things to remember: Pine is north of Pike Street, so remember the N in Pine. Second navigation tip: the local adage to remember other streets’ configuration is that “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest.” The streets in question move from south to north in the following order: Jefferson, James, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, and Pine.

Okay, back to goats and berries. I am a devoted gardener, and moved from Zone 4 in the Northeast to Zone 7 here in the Puget Sound region (gardening vernacular) where a broad new world of gardening opened (i.e. I could grow things).

Shortly after I arrived I was at a picnic at a park in Kirkland with some friends and one got up and said, “I’ll get some blackberries for dessert.” He shortly returned with a bowl filled with massive blackberries and explained that they grow wild everywhere. When he and his wife moved from Ohio to Seattle they were astonished to see posted signs by landscapers indicating “blackberries: removed permanently.”

When walking the dog in August, I am assured an ongoing snack by the rampant ripe blackberries everywhere – even the birds can’t keep on top of them. People in the region will pay landscapers thousands of dollars to get their property cleared of blackberries originally “dropped” by birds. Other seemingly benign plant species carefully cultivated elsewhere, which in the Puget Sound are eradicated with a vengeance are English and Baltic ivy (which grows rapidly and destroys houses and strangles trees), and holly, as well as a scourge imported by some demented Englishman called Scotch Broom, which when it blooms fills allergists offices with patients each spring, and then is just ugly the rest of the year.

Enough of the local horticulture lesson. Suffice it to say this is a climate hospitable to blackberries, and they are robust and excellent. Raspberries are superb as well, as are blueberries and local huckleberries and, as any of you know who have read David Guterson’s jewel like novel Snow Falling on Cedars, this region produces outstanding strawberries. All but local strawberries should be available during the NACAC conference.

Unfortunately, the asparagus season is long over. If you have eaten asparagus from the United States, and it was good, it surely came from eastern Washington State where it grows in abundance. Similarly, if you have ever eaten great cherries, they came from Washington State (factoid: the very sweet Rainier cherry was originally cultivated at Washington State University – “Go Cougs!”) And of course there is the superb sweet regional onion named after Walla Walla (a city “so nice they named it twice”, also home of Whitman College, and some of the richest farmland in the United States). East of the mountains is Washington’s bread basket, and besides wheat, asparagus, and cherries, they grow potatoes (Washington is only second to neighboring Idaho in potato production), apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and our signature crop, the apple: Washington is the leading producer of apples in the United States. (Btw, another Guterson novel you might want to check out is East of the Mountains.) If you are looking for local gifts to bring back to the office from the conference you might want to consider Aplets and Cotlets. The Liberty Orchards description reads:

“The blossom-fresh flavor of crisp Washington apples, the tangy goodness of ripe apricots, and the nutty richness of crunchy English walnuts have made our namesake Aplets and Cotlets our top sellers since 1920!”

Our neighbors to the south in Oregon produce immense volumes of excellent hazelnuts, which out here are known as filberts. Oregon produces amazing produce as well, and is noted for its many artisanal cheeses.

But surely you want to know about fish, which with good reason every visitor seeks to enjoy (unless they have a fish food allergy or are vegetarian or vegan – we have lots of so described locals and be assured they manage here quite nicely on the local bounty.) My earlier blogs have outlined our many varieties of salmon, and people here are mighty particular and opinionated about what they consider best. Personally I prefer king and coho. Fortunately for you it should be readily available fresh in restaurants (as opposed to “fresh frozen”). If you like salmon you really must have it here – the flavor is incomparable, but best prepared – and enjoyed -- SIMPLY. By the way, smoked salmon here (and I don’t mean lox) is really fine. You will probably see it listed as an hors d’oeuvre or in starters.

A white fish that is considered a local delicacy is halibut. It is dense and has a mild flavor and again will be available fresh. Don’t be surprised to see halibut cheeks on the menu (they are savored by connoisseurs.) By the way, there is white salmon as well, and it truly is excellent, but rarely seen on the menu.

Sine qua non for shell fish lovers are local Dungeness crabs/Dungies (hard shelled) with a delicate and slightly sweet flavor. Order some because when you go home as everyone will ask you if you had some.

Other local seafood of note: spot prawns, cod, Dabob Oysters (from the Hood Canal), Penn Cove mussels, snapper, sea bass, mackerel, albacore. You have got to check out the ocean’s bounty beautifully arrayed on crushed ice at the Pike Place Market, later to appear on Seattle’s tables and in its fine restaurants.

So what do you wash this down with? Connoisseurs of salmon passionately argue about the right wine, but one of Oregon’s superb Pinot Noirs will perfectly balance the oil in the salmon. If you are a devoted white wine drinker, then a Washington State chardonnay is an ideal choice. With other seafood you’d be wise to consider a Oregon Pinot Gris, or Washington State Semillon (L’Ecole 41 Semillon, from Walla Walla, is excellent.) If you are eating beef or pork Washington State produces world class cabernets and merlots (merlot is an excellent varietal, despite the pejorative comments in Sideways.) The Columbia valley region contains Washington’s Yakima, and Walla Walla appellations (AVAs: American Vinecultural Areas).

And, after dinner, you know you will be assured a great cup of our much discussed coffee to enjoy with a berry tart, or some outstanding locally produced chocolate.

Bon Appetite!

Michael K. McKeon
Dean of Admissions
Seattle University