Though he sells his produce from a walker, his boundless enthusiasm outshines any disability. He cheerily chats with customers and greets returning ones with equal aplomb. Darrell Westover, with help from his wife and other helpers, sells things he grows (hydroponically, as it turns out) on his farm in Maple Valley at the Issaquah Farmers Market, which operates on the Eastside in summer-early fall. While most fruit and vegetable vendors have large canopies, his is tiny by comparison. Most stands at the market sell produce that you can get at any supermarket, except of course that it’s all freshly picked, (at some places) organic, farm-to-table. What makes Westover’s unique are the uncommon items he sells—and at very fair prices. Jovial, gracious and faultlessly honest, he is enthusiastic about everything he sells and even gives you suggestions on how to cook them.
For example, he sells Japanese shishito peppers that I’ve seen only at Uwajimaya. Dark green in early summer and brilliant red by early fall, they make a wonderful snack when sautéed in oil until blistered and sprinkled with coarse salt. It isn’t any wonder Westover’s peppers won first place at the Washington State Fair.
His bell peppers are an Italian variety known as corno di toro (bull’s horn), which are narrower and more flavorful than regular bell peppers. These are terrific when simply roasted in a hot oven with sliced Isernio Italian sausages, all tossed with olive oil, until the pepper edges start charring. Earlier in the summer, there were lemon cucumbers, tiny ( about 1″) and resembling minuscule watermelons, that have a lemony tang and unbelievable crunch. His late-summer cherry tomatoes, whose varieties I failed to note, were so sweet and intensely flavored, they were like candy.
The kamo eggplant, highly prized in Japan, is also available throughout most of the season. Usually dark purple like most eggplants, Westover’s are still green with light purplish highlights and round, but they are no less full-flavored. His suggestion to cut them in half and fry them on the cut sides in sesame oil until browned, then steamed with a bit of water, covered, until soft, finally continued frying in the residual oil, results in a wonderful recipe of creamy succulence, appreciated either as is or sprinkled with soy sauce.
Today, I noticed for the first time British heirloom Ailsa Craig onions that are supposed to be sweeter than Walla Walla onions. I haven’t tasted them yet, but tonight we plan to simply slice them up thickly, paired with slices of Westover’s tomatoes, drizzled with EVOO and coarse salt and pepper and enjoyed with crusty bread.
For now, Darrell Westover sells only at the Issaquah Farmers Market. With good fortune, he’ll be able to shed his walker soon. I consider myself lucky that he’s there so close to home. Alas, the last Saturday for the market is next week.