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Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter June 14 2013

Sarah West

We are back again at Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday. The market is located near Wilson High School. Opens at 10:00 AM sharp.

Sour Cherries: Among these cherries, there are varieties with dark juice, generally classified as Morellos, Montmorency Cherriesand varieties with clear juice, classified as Amarelles. This week, we have the Amarelle called Montmorency. Equally satisfying, but a distinct flavor from the dark-juiced Hungarians of last week. In our preserves, we also include about 15% English Morello with its pleasing bitterness, along with Montmorency and the Hungarians.

The Amarelle cherries are particularly popular in France and England, as well as the United States. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Oregon's Willamette Valley are the two important American tart cherry regions. It is commonly asserted that Montmorency cherries are too sour to eat out hand. That is largely a matter of growers picking them when they are still on the acidic side of ripening. Though they have a tannic edge, the cherries this week are running over 16° BRIX, which higher than any of the cane fruit.  

One of the benefits of growing sour cherries is the fact that birds have a tough time pulling them off the tree. Moreover, the limbs are so willowy they cannot peck away at the fruit as they do with Prunus avium, bird (sweet) cherries. Robins, starlings and orioles like them but only as an occasional treat; they soon tire of the task and go back to eating insects. So they are an avian dessert, rather than a main course.

The spotted-winged drosophila or vinegar fly thrives on Montmorency cherries so we have to be careful harvesting the fruit. We have been working with staff on harvesting so we avoid the cherries with larvae. If you all run into a larva, and it is likely, the only thing we can say is that it is natural verification of our gentle approach towards other creatures on the farm. For the most part, the spiders in the orchard, along with the dragon flies, keep the vinegar fly populations at bay. And our restraint keeps the native bee populations and other interesting insect populations robust because we don't use the neonicotinoids and the rest of the arsenal of insecticides recommended for control of the fruit fly. The neonicotinoids are particularly nasty because they are generally applied to the soil and are absorbed into the plant tissues. The fruit is never sprayed, allowing for a plausible "no spray" claim. Many of our native bees are ground nesters, so they get it coming and going. An occasional fruit fly larva among the cherries means there is a bumble bee larva also developing safely underneath the tree.

Correction: Last week, a sharp-eyed reader alerted us to the fact that Lake Balaton is not part of the Danube drainage. More mortifying, Balaton in in the region known as Transdanubia, the woody hinterlands beyond the Danube Valleys. The comeuppance is not total because in the mix of Hungarian cherries last week was another variety called Danube, also introduced by Amy Iezzoni of Michigan State. So there was a bit of the Danube among the Balatons, even if it is not geographically accurate. Interestingly, a third Iezzoni introduction, Jubilleum, bore no fruit this year. It flowered during a brief frosty period which killed the bloom. When we purchased the trees from Cummins Nursery, we paid a royalty which is returned to the Hungarians for further agricultural research.

Soft Fruit: We are in that paradox of high diversity distinguished by general scarcity: a lot of little and mostly unpredictable. We harvest during the day Saturday for Sunday's market, so all of the fruit is in top shape. This is the advantage of buying from a farm that sells at a single market. We are not putting out fruit that didn't sell at Saturday's market. But it also means we are clueless as to the exact nature of the harvest until Saturday evening, long after you have received this.

Unfortunately, the black currants were so badly scorched by the hot spell, we won't have any more this summer. It is not simply aesthetic. The sunburn turns them bitter. There is a lilting song by Sondheim that sums up the bitterness of beauty burned by the summer sun. We will have some purple raspberries, the baby crop from last year's planting. Next year, they will be abundant. They also suffer from the touch of sun, but excel when exposed to a bit heat on the stove, which brings out the complex flavor. Purples are a hybrid between the red and black raspberries.

Greens: Our summer greens program is always an afterthought because our emphasis is on fruit, pulses and grains. Consequently, our greens production is a bit ad hoc. We grow what we crave and can't find from Gathering Together Farm, our primary outside source of greens. This week we will have some purslane, and a mixture of amaranth and orach.

Purslane can be chopped and added raw to yoghurt for a refreshing salad. Mostly we saute it quickly in pan drippings or olive oil. It is more accessible when cooked or pickled, losing its sharp edge. It doesn't sell well, so we eat and pickle what is left over when we return from the market. We pickle the tops with a bit of salt, garlic cloves, peppercorns and diluted vinegar (40 - 50% vinegar). Around the globe purslane is a treasured pot green, but in the United States here is little interest in this nourishing plant, so it is more often treated with herbicides than respect.  Enough grousing. By next week, the weevils will render the planting unsaleable.

Grains & Pulses: Frikeh, cornmeal, popcorn, chickpeas, black turtle and Dutch bullet beans.

We will see you all tomorrow,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm