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A cook's contest

Eat Local Week organizers are cooking up more ideas to inspire participation in the annual event.

A new cookbook, “Cooking With Vegetables in the Rogue Valley,” is the reward for entering Thrive’s Eat Local photo contest between Friday, Sept. 12, and Sunday, Sept. 21. Highlighting more than 50 vegetables and herbs that flourish in Southern Oregon, the 117-page, spiral-bound book was published earlier this year by Thrive, the nonprofit, business-development group that launched Eat Local Week nine years ago.

“I think of it like a resource guide,” says Thrive Executive Director Wendy Siporen. “There’s simple preparation techniques in addition to recipes.”

Numerous sources, including “Food Lover’s Companion,” informed Jennifer Strange, a Southern Oregon writer, marketing consultant and longtime Thrive volunteer. Strange researched and wrote the text to complement other educational efforts by Thrive, ACCESS and the Rogue Valley Food System Network.

“These sorts of guides are happening all over the place,” says Strange, citing a recent project by Bon Appetit magazine.

Subtitled “How to Use Fresh, Local Produce,” the book contains tips for selection, storage, preparation and preservation, with nutritional information. Punctuating each vegetable’s profile is a bit of whimsical trivia based on its historical and religious significance, varieties and methods of cultivation around the world, even literary references.

“I learned so much,” says Strange. “It encourages us to stretch out of our routines.”

Underscoring that sentiment is the book’s emphasis on choosing vegetables when they’re in season locally and purchasing them from farmers markets, farm stands, community gardens and community-supported agriculture programs. A calendar of seasonality, immediately following the book’s introduction, provides a quick, visual reference of month-to-month availability, from the year-round prevalence of lettuce to the fleeting window in May and June for peas.

“The point is for it to be representative of everything grown in the Rogue Valley,” says Strange.

Beginning with arugula and concluding with winter squash, the book also furnishes a glimpse of several obscure vegetables and their byproducts, often sold solely at farmers markets or plucked from home gardens. Strange credits local CSAs with popularizing such foods as lambsquarter and garlic scapes, commonly championed by chefs.

Lambsquarter is a leafy annual that can be cultivated and that also grows wild. Eaten raw, steamed, sautéed or blended in a smoothie, lambsquarter is rich in vitamins A and C and essential minerals, according to “Cooking With Vegetables.” Scapes are the flowering heads of plants in the lily family, including garlic. The 2- to 3-foot-long stems can be chopped like scallions and are delicious with eggs, says Strange.

Funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the book will be distributed free of charge through the ACCESS Cooking Skills Education Program, also born out of the Food System Network, says Siporen. It is otherwise available for $10 at the Thrive office, 340 A St., Suite 205, Ashland.

Or win a copy of the book by posting a personal photo, depicting a local meal or attending an Eat Local Week event, to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Tag local farmers, producers and Thrive and use the hashtag #eatlocalrogue.

The contest’s grand prize is a $100 gift certificate to Larks Restaurant in Medford or Ashland, and the best photo will be featured in Thrive’s 2015 Rogue Flavor Guide. See more details and the full calendar of Eat Local events at www.buylocalrogue.org/eat-local-week.html.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Members of Thrive created pesto during a cooking demonstration at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market to illustrate their new cookbook. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Wendy Siporen