In retrospect, we could have called this the "food and wine issue." While our primary focus is on the wines of the Pacific Northwest, we always try to keep in mind the kinds of food they will go with, focusing especially on fresh regional cuisine.
And this issue of Wine Press Northwest probably does as good a job of exploring that as we've ever done.
We start with the cover story by Braiden Rex-Johnson, whose exciting new book, Pacific Northwest Wining and Dining, comes out Oct. 29. In her article, Braiden talks about her exploration of Northwest wine country cuisine and shares stories she learned along the journey. We include two recipes in the article, and more are available at winepressnw.com. Jackie Johnston, whose photography and feature design are hallmarks in each issue of Wine Press Northwest, took the photos for Braiden's book.
Braiden has contributed a column for us since 2000, focusing on simple-to-make recipes using in-season ingredients she finds at the Pike Place Market, which she could hit with a tomatillo from her condo in downtown Seattle. Each of these recipes is paired with Northwest wines.
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Also in this issue, Managing Editor Eric Degerman looks at the best efforts by restaurants in our ninth annual Great Northwest Wine Lists Competition. Interestingly, we see more restaurants embracing regional wines in a big way, and those that do usually are doing the best job of cooking with locally produced ingredients.
Since Vol. 1, No. 1, Eric has written our Match Makers feature, in which he sends a bottle of wine to two chefs somewhere in the Northwest and asks them to pair a recipe. In this issue, he takes a Zinfandel from The Pines 1892 in The Dalles to Hood River, Ore., and to Ellensburg, Wash., where our guest chefs got especially creative.
While eating has always been an important function for me, where the food came from has not. I grew up in Bremerton, Wash., and like many city kids, I thought food came from the grocery store, not a farm. The closest I came to understanding there was something to fresh, locally grown ingredients was picking wild blackberries with my grandmother in south Seattle. They were as delicious fresh as they were in the pies and cobblers she made with them. Grandma grew up during the Depression on farms in Nebraska and Colorado, and she had a deep appreciation for the land and those who worked it.
Even after moving east of the Cascades - where a lot of our food is grown - I lived in relative ignorance for years, not taking advantage of the roadside stands and farmers markets that provide asparagus, onions, corn and apples as fresh as those Seattle blackberries. In the past few years, however, I've tried to be more aware and now look forward to certain times of the year. When Cinco de Mayo rolls around, I know it's asparagus season. In June, I can count on fresh cherries, followed quickly by Walla Walla sweet onions through July. Sweet corn and Hermiston melons come along in August, as do peaches and nectarines. In September, apples show up en masse, followed by squashes in October. I now have access to three good-sized farmers markets in town, which combined are open four days a week. I have no excuse for not supporting them.
This summer as we had friends over for dinner, it struck me just how important local produce has become for us.
We started the meal with appetizers, including pesto I'd made an hour earlier from four varieties of basil grown on the back porch and Cougar Gold cheese from Pullman. The baba ghanoush I made used eggplants purchased the day prior at the Pasco Farmers Market, and the salad course included raspberries from the farmers market. For fun, we served a palate-cleansing sorbet whose primary ingredient was a bottle of Thurston Wolfe Petite Sirah from the Horse Heaven Hills. The main course included a side of caramelized Walla Walla sweets. The dessert was ice cream topped with syrup made from Sangiovese grapes grown in our backyard. Of the four wines we opened, one was from Washington and two were from British Columbia (the fourth was an aged Brunello).
Like wine, some of the best produce we can eat is local because it's fresh from the farm, not trucked in from who knows where. Seattle residents are fortunate to have the Pike Place Market, which celebrates its first century this year. And I always marvel that fresh oysters are available in season at farmers markets in downtown Portland.
According to the Washington State Farmers Market Association, there are more than 100 markets open seasonally. Oregon has at least 90, according to the Oregon Farmers Markets Association. British Columbia has more than 100, according to the B.C. Association of Farmers Markets. And Idaho has at least 25. This does not include the abundance of roadside stands open throughout the Northwest or the hundred or more artisan cheese producers dotting the landscape.
In other words, for at least six months of the year, we Pacific Northwesterners have the bounty of the land laid at our feet. We have access to food that is fresher - and often less expensive - than anything we can find through typical channels. As with wineries, when we go to a farmers market or roadside stand, the hands that take our dollars probably sowed the seeds and harvested the produce.
For these small farmers, cheese producers and winemakers, I am becoming more and more grateful. Life runs at such a hectic pace that it is refreshing to occasionally slow down so we can enjoy and appreciate the food our region has to offer.