As summer deepens and temperatures grow throughout the region, so too do the vegetables at Frog Hollow Farm.
Under the blazing summer sun, a rainbow of tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, squash, greens and basil ripen, generating a tantalizing array of culinary possibilities. From a concert of tomatoes in every hue and expression of color, to rarities like tiny Mexican gherkins resembling peanut-sized watermelons and tasting of lime and pineapple, to black mint used for pesto and added to stews, to a heavily warted horn melon used in Asian cooking, row upon row of delicacies give endless potential for chefs to make dishes for the rest of us to enjoy.
Working with chefs has a been crucial part of the development of Frog Hollow Farm, located at 174 Frog Hollow Road, Walla Walla. Amy Dietrich described how Jaime Guerin at Whitehouse-Crawford, a fine dining establishment near downtown on Cherry Street, was one of their first customers, and how his restaurant helped change the culinary scene in Walla Walla.
She says, “When they were budding, it allowed us to bud.”
From one top restaurant came more such as Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen and Brasserie Four, both on Main Street, “then they started popping up everywhere.” She says chefs call and put in orders and are excited about what she grows and want to share it.
“As restaurants are growing, so are three farms: Welcome Table, Hayshaker and Frog Hollow. Without one there is not the other.”
Amy took the idea of growing for chefs and markets seriously and traveled to Stones Barn Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., 30 miles north of New York City. It is home to the prestigious Blue Hill, considered one of the World’s Best Restaurants. Its mission is to “create a consciousness about the effect of everyday food choices.”
Amy describes how Stone Barn’s world-famous chef, Dan Barber, has been instrumental in promoting chefs using farm-fresh produce grown for superb flavors through his food, numerous books, and presentations worldwide. Through him, Amy also discovered Row 7 seeds at Cornell University, a seed company based on “chef + breeder cross-pollination” and “dedicated to nutrient density and deliciousness.” Amy is excited to try the fruits of their new non-hot habanero pepper, habanada, containing no scoville units. Remaining in the pepper are the brilliant orange fruit color and a rich and fruity flavor. One-hundred fifty habanada plants are growing well at Frog Hollow Farm.
Amy also tries to attend the National Heirloom Exposition each September in Santa Rosa, Calif., a festival and celebration of heirloom and rare vegetables from around the world hosted by the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. With three days of educational talks, and halls filled with a brilliantly hued array of mind-boggling vegetable exhibits and tastings, the vegetable extravaganza is the ultimate experience in connecting people with a world of vegetables.
Jason Wilson, a famous chef and consultant (locally for Eritage north of town) based in Seattle is also a Frog Hollow Farms customer. He has been instrumental in introducing them to new and super flavorful varieties like honeynut squash, a miniature, very sweet and rich butternut type, and texts Amy about any enticing varieties he finds during his travels.
Amy has a standing relationship with a number of chefs, many wanting to know what new and cool things she will be growing each year. She says they all approach vegetables differently. Some focus on “the beginning of the food chain, while others the end — like how vegetables will present on the plate or even in the cocktail glass.”
They also make many pickles, chutney, and pestos — all enabling vegetables to express their unique flavors in many ways and all year. Lime basil is a current favorite with a number of chefs and is added into many dishes. Mini-Bella peppers are a favorite for pickled chutney, the yellow, orange and red colors generating a lively appearance.
Besides chefs being excited about the farm’s vegetables, Amy described how people in general are “becoming foodie, buying and cooking like professional chefs.” Frog Hollow Farm sells thousands of pounds of tomatoes each week to Metropolitan Market and Charlie’s Produce in Seattle, bringing the farm-fresh flavors to people far from the blue skies of Walla Walla.
When asked which chefs come out to the farm, Amy describes the most gratifying thing is that chefs come out with their families to wander, linger and picnic in the bucolic culinary landscape strewn with flowers and backed by the Walla Walla River. She says, “The farm is taking a direction she didn’t anticipate. Sometimes the best things plan themselves.”