Jerry keeps a supply of applewood for me in a makeshift shed tucked away in a stand of tall cottonwoods that’s barely a hundred feet from the Yakima River. To get to it, I negotiate my car around stacks of orchard boxes punctuated by assorted vehicles: an old city bus, a fire truck, two jeeps, some golf carts and a rusty farm tractor spilling engine parts. There’s stuff piled everywhere, the kind of stuff that might come in handy sometime.
Behind a garage made from cast off building materials, Jerry pulls aside a flimsy piece of sheet metal and guides me into a narrow gap in the chest-high weeds. The wood’s all there, cozy and dry, stacked ceiling high and cascading to the dirt floor from two huge piles. A rough framework holding up the corrugated roof threatens to collapse, but in his can-do way Jerry just props it up with another handy piece of wood. Jerry doesn’t talk a lot, so it took coming here for nigh on six years for me to learn he’s got a son who lives nearby. In all those years, I’ve never met his wife, though I know she’s over there sewing in the big metal-clad house.
As sure as a farmer, Jerry tends his five acres. His leathery hands are constantly on the move, shifting bits and pieces with deliberate movements. Every time I show up to load my trusty Subaru, the yard is different. It’s like watching a slow-moving glacier. Jerry looks up from whatever project he’s busy with and comes to greet me the same way every time. “You’ve got bread for me?” I think for him that’s as important as the modest amount of cash that changes hands.
A horse tethered under the trees watches as we load the car. Jerry works like a machine, sending wood into the hatch at a steady rate until my sweat mixes with the cottonwood fluff that rises in the Yakima heat. I cry uncle and wipe my brow. Jerry’s face creases almost to a smile and looks at me as if I’m some city born specimen.
Later, I catch my breath in the parking lot of the big fruit stand just off of I-90, gloating over my haul. I check the springs on the Subaru to make sure I haven’t overloaded it, and then duck in for my second payload: Yakima Asparagus. Big spears, roughly cut. Fresh and full of flavor, they’re absolutely the best. I go back over the mountains to Seattle humming a happy tune.
Makes one 9” quiche, enough for 6 servings
1 cup of all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
3 Tablespoons each of butter and shortening (I use Spectrum Organic)
3 Tablespoons of ice-cold water
1 pound of fresh Yakima asparagus, untrimmed
½ cup of sliced mushrooms
½ cup of chopped onion
2 teaspoons of olive oil or butter
4 whole eggs + 2 egg whites
1 cup of 2% milk (I use Lactaid)
6 ounces of grated Jarlsberg (best) or Swiss cheese
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Make the pie shell: Preheat oven to 350°. Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or 2 table knives, cut the butter and shortening into the flour until the bits are the size of small peas. Quickly squeeze the bits with your fingers so that the fat is incorporated with the flour and then add enough cold water to make a stiff dough.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured counter to make a 12” round. Fold the pastry into quarters and unfold it into a 9” pie plate. Crimp the edges to form an even crust. Prick the pie shell all over with a fork and prebake it for 12-15 minutes in the oven until lightly brown.
Prepare the veggies: Wash the asparagus to remove grit. Trim the top 6” from the stalks (discard the hard bottom pieces) and steam them for 5 minutes until barely wilted. Chop the asparagus into ½” pieces, reserving some of the spear tips to decorate the top of the quiche. Sauté the onion and mushrooms in oil or butter over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mushrooms are lightly browned and the onion is translucent. Let cool slightly.
Assemble and bake the quiche: Break the whole eggs into a bowl and add the egg whites. Whisk until whites and yolks are thoroughly combined. Gradually whisk in the milk, a little at a time. Add a pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
Put all of the veggies except the reserved spear tips into the pie shell. Add the grated cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the top and – very gently – stir the veggies and cheese to suspend them in the egg. Push the reserved spear tips into the surface.
Bake the quiche for 35-40 minutes at 350° until crust is browned and the egg at the center is barely set. Let quiche cool for 20 minutes before serving.
Copyright ©2012 by Don Hogeland