Arrival of cherries a red-letter day

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The kids are out of school, the sun is shining, summer officially begins with Wednesday's solstice - and local cherries are ready for eating!

With the arrival of my long-awaited favorite local foods, I look back at the spring that passed so quickly. After a long cold winter short on fresh local produce, the first vegetables of the season were much anticipated and treasured. They were the highlight on my dinner plate and appreciated more than ever before.

First the arugula, with it's fresh, vibrant spiciness, added interest and life to a boring salad or pasta dish.

Then the asparagus arrived and it never tasted so good. We did an asparagus tasting at the Walla Walla Farmers' Market featuring white, purple and green varieties, and made believers of people who thought they didn't wouldn't like it.

Soon to follow were the spring onions, young Walla Walla sweets, with their delicious, mild taste. Along with the onions, came sweet and tender pea shoots, their curly green sprigs making beautiful additions to salads and vegetable dishes.

More recently, snap peas, green garlic, garlic scapes and strawberries have hit the market. Snap peas are my kids' favorite snack. So easy to grow and so much fun to eat, they pick them straight off the vine, pop the end off and giggle as they peel the string off - a sweet, crunchy and healthful alternative to processed snack foods.

Green garlic is a young garlic that I like to slice thinly and toss into sauted veggies. Softer than the standard garlic, a simple peel of the outside layer and they are ready to go.

Garlic scapes are the curling top of the garlic plant and can be used like a green onion or like one would garlic. They are lovely in stir-fries, sauts or processed into an amazing pesto (recipe below).

Strawberries need no introduction. Most everyone's favorite fruit, locally grown strawberries are miles apart from what you find in many markets. Picked when freshly ripe, rather than unripe, they are so sweet they don't need added sugar. So juicy, they burst in the mouth and often leave strawberry juice on children's faces.

And now, cherries!

This week I received my first order, freshly picked from the trees that morning. Anticipating their arrival for weeks, my eyes lit up when they were delivered to my door. I had been watching as my neighbor's cherry tree matured and the fruit grew bigger and brighter. I knew it was just a matter of time before summer would begin and bring with it one of my favorite fruits. Happily, the time flew by and the day has arrived.

Living in Walla Walla, I have come to appreciate each season for what it is and what it offers. Fall brings us respite from the heat, beautiful changing leaves and cooler weather fruits and vegetables, like apples and pumpkins. Winter brings snow, nourishing leafy greens and hearty winter squash. Spring brings fresh brightness in the form of vibrant green vegetables. Summer brings hot days, picnics and a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.

Each season offers something different anazing for our palates and tables. If we truly eat locally and in season, fully appreciating each food when its available and living in the now, we will never be deprived or lacking.

Melissa Davis, a local chef with a bachelor's degree in nutrition, specializes in natural foods. She can be reached at jadenluna@gmail.com. More of her writing is at www.melissadavisfood.wordpress.com.

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