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American REGIONAL FOOD - NORTHWEST. A local family's specialties

By Phyllis HanesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 3, 1987

Tacoma, Wash.

The Pacific Northwest owes its abundance of spectacular fresh fish, wild and cultivated fruits, and home-grown vegetables to its ideal climate and relatively unpolluted waters. Here, there are few special identifying recipes like those that evolved out of necessity and hardship in other areas of the United States. There's no one dish - like Southern grits or New England baked beans or New Orleans blackened redfish - that tells you what's best here.

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It's the food itself, the wonderful freshness and variety of fruits and berries, the greens from gardens and woods, and the seafood from the inlets and bays, that make eating in the Pacific Northwest an adventure. Of all this incredible abundance, nothing says Northwest food to outsiders as much as fresh salmon. This is one of the world's prize fish. There's nothing more special. For the people who live here, it's a staple, readily available and inexpensive, but something that's treated with care and respect.

``We don't have a tradition of cooking a certain way and we don't really have any special dishes - unless it's the fresh salmon,'' says Harriett Fields, who cooks fresh local foods for her family, combining recipes handed down in her family.

Mrs. Fields, who grew up in Texas, says salmon is an all-time favorite with her two daughters and her husband, Ronald Fields, professor of art history and chairman of the art department of the University of Puget Sound.

``Before we moved here, I don't think I'd ever had salmon except for salmon croquettes, made from canned salmon, years ago,'' she says. ``Now during the season, all through the summer, we have fresh salmon at least a couple of times a month. We always serve it for company, and it makes a meal special whether it's served cold or hot.''

Any member of the Fields family would probably tell you their meals are just ``especially good American food,'' but a closer look indicates Mrs. Fields uses the very best of the Northwest's fresh produce, and uses it skillfully.

Cooking with an emphasis on seafood, Fields says dishes from her Texas background figure in her everyday meals, as do recipes from her husband's mother, who lives in Arkansas - for instance, cornbread and chili, grits souffl'e, and guacamole. ``One of my favorite family recipes is my aunt's cheese-grits souffle'. That's a family one I treasure, too.

``I wouldn't dream of serving my family any other biscuit than those from my mother-in-law's buttermilk biscuits recipe,'' Fields says. ``She's an excellent cook and her biscuits are the best.''

``I always want to sharpen flavors if the food is bland, with peppers, or spices and herbs,'' she says.``It's usually an addition of seasoning, a Texas trait, no doubt.

``We're lucky to have so many fresh foods here in the Northwest, not shipped in from other parts of the country. Wild mushrooms such as chanterelles are plentiful in season. They're rich enough to be served by themselves, so I usually saute'e them and have them as a side dish on their own.

``The small white butter clams are another nice food native to Washington. When I can get them, I make an Italian Clam Soup, somewhat like a bouillabaisse, a mixture of several kinds of seafood.''

Washington is known worldwide for its apples and pears, and Fields cooks several apple crisp recipes at a time and freezes some for later .

Hannah, 10, likes to do a some of the cooking. She does a good job with cookies, and one of her specialties is guacamole. Rachel, 14, is not especially interested in cooking, but will occasionally make quiche or pancakes.

When the Fieldses moved to Tacoma from Ohio 26 years ago, they knew little about seafood, except for catfish and trout. They know plenty now. Of the five kinds of salmon, Fields says they like silver salmon best, since it's not as fat. Her recipe for fresh salmon is very simple. She wraps and seals the fish in aluminum foil with a little lemon, onion, Italian parsley, and pepper.