Story and photos by Polly Keary, Editor
The Sky Valley is full of fertile farmland, and during the summer season fresh local fruits and veggies can be found at area farm stands.
Many of the offerings found at those stands are familiar to most, such as summer squash, raspberries and corn, but there are also a few less common items on the tables that can add interest to a summer meal.
Here is a look at what’s fresh at local farm stands right now, as well as tips on how to prepare some of the more unusual items on offer.
Stocking’s Garden and Nursery, Sultan
Cutline A: Stocking’s Garden and Nursery has been owned by the same family since the 1980s, and most of the produce is grown on 33 acres that surround the Sultan store.
Locals have been shopping for farm-fresh produce at Stocking’s Garden and Nursery, just west of Sultan on U.S. 2, for decades.
The stand, which starts early in the season selling vegetable and flower starts, has been family-
owned since the ’80s, and most of the fruits and vegetables sold in the large barn-like building are grown right outside on 33 productive acres.
Those items grown on the premises are identified on signs throughout the store, and currently they include thick stalks of rhubarb, green and yellow summer squash, pale green patty pan squash, eggplants, little pickling cucumbers, Swiss chard, pak choi and more.
One of the more unusual veggies for sale are long, lumpy Spanish musica beans. Resembling large green tamarind pods, they aren’t shelled but are rather cooked and served whole and eaten, pod and all, said Gretchen, who works at the counter.
Spanish musica beans with almonds and paprika
1 1/2 pounds of Spanish musica beans, trimmed and snapped into quarters
1 cup shallots, sliced thin
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. sugar
2/3 cup blanched almonds, slivered
1/2 tsp. hot or 1 tsp. sweet paprika (smoked is preferable)
Blanch the beans in boiling water and rinse with cold water. Set aside in colander.
Sauté the shallots in the olive oil over medium-high heat until beginning to caramelize, then add the almonds and briefly toast. Stir in sugar, followed by the beans and paprika. Salt, using kosher salt if possible, and serve.
In June of last year, local residents were excited at the opening of a large new farm stand in the Tualco Valley just south of Monroe on SR 203.
The stand is back this year, and some of the produce for sale at Sweet Deal Produce is from very far afield, such as starchy plantain bananas, a staple of Central American cuisine. But a lot is local, and those items are identified daily on a white board next to the register and on hand-lettered signs taped to the glass doors of refrigerated cases.
Last week, local offerings included cherries, corn, cucumbers, varieties of lettuce, green beans and snow peas.
One of the more exotic of the lettuces that fill one entire cold case is rosso lettuce, a robust and frilly red lettuce that is relatively hard to find.
Fans of local fare can find more than vegetables and fruits at Sweet Deal. Also for sale are half-gallons of raw milk in old-fashioned glass bottles from The Art of Milk, a Monroe farm. There are also cartons of fresh salsa made at Hendrickson Farms in Marysville, including varieties such as peach and mango and pico de gallo.
And local honey is available, as well. Honey is not only tasty on toast, it can help combat allergies, many believe, because it contains small amounts of the same local pollens that make you sneeze, and it can help the body build resistance to the allergens.
Rosso lettuce with tarragon dressing
1/2 Tbsp. whole-grain mustard
1 shallot, chopped fine
4 tsp. white vinegar
3 tbsp. minced fresh tarragon
1/3 cup quality olive oil
8 cups of torn rosso lettuce leaves
Thoroughly rinse the lettuce and spin it dry or pat on paper towels.
In the serving bowl, whisk all remaining ingredients, adding the oil gradually until the dressing is uniform in color. Add the torn leaves and toss. Serve at once.
Rosario Nursery and Fresh Produce
Right across the road from Sweet Deals Produce is another picturesque farm stand, this one a Tualco Valley landmark, until recently called Kurt’s Produce for Kurt Biderbost, who sold his fresh fruits and veggies there for many years.
Biderbost sold the stand to Rosario Hernandez, and she and her family, one-time employees of Biderbost, now sell the produce they grow on 20 Tualco Valley acres, as well as fresh eggs.
Jesus Gonzalez, whose mother owns the store and who has worked on the farm since he was a young boy, now fills baskets each day with fruits and veggies grown just feet from the door.
“We got cucumbers just coming in, blueberries, broccoli, green beans, tomatillos, zucchini, beets,” said Gonzalez. “Everything here is grown here.”
Not everything grown outside is found on the shelves, though. For those in the know, Gonzalez will go into the field and pick flavorful and colorful tiga beans, a large green bean that cooks up soft and that he likes when his mom fixes them with eggs.
Another unusual bean found in a basket inside is the dragon’s tongue, a nearly-black, long-podded bean that loses its color when cooked.
And on the counter near the register are organic eggs in a variety of pale hues, laid by Americana and Rhode Island Red chickens that wander the premises and that are fed on the leftover vegetables from the stand.
To finish off the table, Rosario’s has vibrant fresh flowers for sale, as well.
Authentic Salsa Verde
Tomatillos, the small green tomato-like vegetable that grows in a papery husk, is a staple of Mexican cooking but is not as common in Caucasian kitchens.
But any devotee of authentic Mexican restaurants, especially taquerias, will recognize the green salsa offered as an option next to its more familiar red kin.
This recipe is for the most ubiquitous of green salsas.
10 fresh tomatillos
1 Walla Walla Sweet onion
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded for those who want a less spicy salsa
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Cover tomatillos with water and bring to a boil, simmer until soft and beginning to crack.
Drain and put in a food processor with the chopped onion, garlic, chopped peppers, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth. Serve with chips, or with any Mexican favorite dish.