Strawberries, Japanese Cucumbers, and More

Strawberries are getting better and better; look for the sweet early- to midseason varieties like firm, tart-sweet Rainiers (mostly wedge-shaped, with huge tasselly hulls) and softer, darker, musky-fragrant Puget Reliance (smaller, pointy-shaped, less tart). Ask for them by name, and if your produce clerk says s/he doesn't know what variety s/he's selling, ask why. Raspberries are still lagging behind, but cherries are in full space; you can even find sour pie cherries some places, but they're in short supply, so let your grower know you're in the market. Veggies: eggplant; new potatoes; tiny, slender green beens (blanch 'em in boiling water, then sauté them with a dab of bacon fat for maximum French-bean flavor). Some growers are selling baby zucchinis with blossoms still attached; chop the tiny squash, sauté with a little onion, herbs, and bread crumbs, and stuff those blossoms for a tasty side dish. On the immediate horizon: early peaches, apricots, and red currants. Can gooseberries and local cauliflower be far behind? Among growers selling at Pike Place, look up Evergreen Station for their epazote, the herb that makes refried beans taste like refried beans (of course, the lard helps, too . . . ). On Wednesdays, you'll find those incomparable Japanese cucumbers, thanks to Wapato's Mair-Taki Farm. If you've never tasted baby fennel, check out the sweet tender bulblets sold on Sundays by VCY Farm. Also on Sunday, look for shiitakes (fresh and dried) from Grandview Mushrooms of Arlington.

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