It’s Memorial Day …
… and among many other things, that means it’s the official start of the Willamette Valley Eat Local Challenge, which asks those of us fortunate enough to live in Oregon’s most bountiful valley to make an effort to work local ingredients into our meals at least once a week all summer long.
As a long-time fan of eating what’s fresh, local and in season, I’ve been excited about this ever since I learned about it. What a great, fun way to put some mindfulness into our shopping, cooking and eating, and to learn more about the many good things that grow right in our own back yards – for some of us, literally.
So when I started planning for what seems to be turning into an annual Memorial Day weekend barbecue, I thought it was a great opportunity to kick off my personal effort to meet the challenge, and to do so with locally grown variations of traditional barbecue dishes, based on what I could find at the farmers’ market and local farmstands.
With apologies to my vegetarian friends, “barbecue” means meat to me: Baby-back pork ribs from Wood Family Farms, encrusted with a rub of ground mustard seeds, brown sugar and spices, slow-smoked on my trusty Weber grill by the ingenious method described here and then glazed for the last few minutes on the grill with pure local honey from the farmers’ market. They turned out falling-off-the-bone tender, sweet-smokey-tangy – and disappeared so fast when I passed the plate around that I was glad I’d also bought some local bratwurst!
On Saturday I’d picked up cabbage and carrots from the Heavenly Harvest farmstand, along with a couple of beautiful bulbs of fennel and some irresistable rhubarb from the farmers’ market. Those inspired me to put together a fennel-scented coleslaw and a big pan of rhubarb-pear crisp laced with candied ginger. I wasn’t sure how the fennel or rhubarb would go over with my guests – some people are averse to the licorice taste of fennel, and rhubarb tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing. I needn’t have feared – both the slaw and the crisp disappeared so fast that I didn’t even get a chance to photograph the dessert!
Here are the recipes. They’re both great ways to introduce unfamiliar flavors to finicky or skeptical eaters. Adapt them as you please to make them your own:
- 1 small head of cabbage (or half a large one), finely shredded.
- 2-4 carrots, scrubbed and shredded
- 2 bulbs of fennel, sliced in quarters, cored and then sliced into thin shreds
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup of real mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
- 3 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 3 Tbsp honey
- 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley
In a large bowl, combine the shredded vegetables and toss well
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients to form a dressing. (You may need more, depending on how large your cabbage and fennel bulbs are. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss until thoroughly coated. Refrigerate until time to serve. Makes enough for a pretty good-sized barbecue, or a large hungry family, so feel free to improvise smaller proportions.
- 4 cups rhubarb, cut into half-inch slices
- 4 cups red Anjou pears, cored and cut into half-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest, minced
- 1 Tbsp vanilla
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup whole oats
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
Preheat oven to 375F.
In a large bowl, mix the rhubarb, pears, vanilla and lemon zest. Stir together the sugar and flour, add it to the fruit and toss well to cover. Transfer the mixture to a 9×13 glass baking dish; dot with butter. (Tip: Putting a baking sheet under the dish will make it easier to handle and avoid oven spills if the fruit gets too juicy and bubbles up over the sides during cooking).
In another bowl, combine all topping ingredients except the walnuts and candied ginger, and cut the butter through (I use a pastry blender, but two table knives work well, too) until the mixture is coarse and pebbly. Stir in the walnuts and candied ginger, and then carefully distribute the topping to evenly cover the fruit.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is browned but not scorched. Cool, and serve either warm or at room temperature with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream. (I chose Tillamook vanilla bean ice cream – that’s almost local, right?)
So I’m off to a start. In coming weeks, I plan to write a bit about farm stands, a sausage maker and other great sources for local foods. If you have any suggestions or questions, I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment – and let me know if you’re taking part in the Eat Local challenge, and just how challenging you’re finding it to be. And that goes for those of you whose “local” is a long way from Oregon, too!
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