Feeding the Dog:
A good watch dog is well-fed and cared for, and spends its time protecting the premises rather than thinking about its next meal or wondering whether people appreciate its snarling diligence. This applies to watch dog groups as well as the canine sort. On 25 August, you all have an opportunity to feed the best watch dog on matters pertaining to small farms in Oregon, Friends of Family Farmers, and tuck into a meal prepared by Chef Dave Anderson. Nothing one-sided about that deal.
Shiri Sirkin and Bryan Dickerson of Dancing Roots Farm will host the benefit dinner at their farm in Troutdale. And there is not just a great meal in store for you, Bryan's jazz trio will soften the night air, and you will get a tour of a very different farm. We are not all stamped out of the same mold. Just to underscore this point, we have never been civilized enough to serve cocktails at an Ayers Creek ramble, but you will get them up there at Dancing Roots, and a bit of auction action.
In the thicket of groups claiming to be advocates for family farms, Friends of Family Farmers are the real deal, standing head and shoulders the rest. They are not trying to tell a story, the warm and fuzzy approach that accompanies the usual table in a farm event where people dress up in stylish boots and nuzzle chickens and pigs. This dinner is a celebration of real accomplishments in Salem this session, including a temporary ban on rape seed production in the Willamette Valley, something near and dear to the hearts of seed producers, as well as a vehicle to pump up their coffers before the next session.
It is a tough business being an advocate and lobbyist for the larger public good, and it helps the soul to have friends celebrate successes. Also, Wednesday 14 August, dine at Lincoln Restaurant and they will contribute 10% of the tab to the Friends. A chance to enjoy magic Jenn and her staff create with frikeh. If you can't attend the event or dine at Lincoln, we would endorse sending an encouraging note and a bunch of greenbacks as a fine alternative.
Information on the event is found at their website: http://www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org/?p=2306
Back to business:
This Sunday, you will have yet another sterling opportunity to pick up some victuals for friends and family at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. You have left a big hole your life if you haven't tasted Lis Monahan's new cheeses at Fraga Farm, especially her camembert-style cheese. Lis produces her milk and cheeses just a bit north of us in Gales Creek arm of the Tualatin Valley, and like us she is certified organic, pure and simple. An achievement, not a mere aspiration wrapped up in slogans. We will be up for the tail end of the Perseid shooting stars as they sink over the Coast Range, and ready to transact business by 10:00 AM.
Here are some items for your shopping list: Chester & Triple Crown blackberries, green gage plums, frikeh, summer squash, garlics & shallots and opa. If you need preserves, popcorn or cornmeal, we can bring them in on request. Email us before 10:00 AM on Saturday with your order.
The members of the cucumber family produce a distinctive berry called the pepo. Opa is the immature berry of the calabash or bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria, thought to have originated in Africa and wound up in the Americas through ocean currents. The plant has lovely white flowers and long soft vines. Although bottle gourds are the oldest domesticated plant in the Americas, a couple of millennia before corn, there is not much of a tradition of using them as a vegetable here.
In Asia and Africa, varieties have been selected specifically for their culinary qualities. The fruit has a discrete and pleasant bitterness, similar to the escarole and chicory. The bitterness works well with the combination of sweet and heat offered by Asian and Indian curries, just as the bitterness of chocolate is transformed by a bit of sugar and fat. The texture of these fruits remains firm when cooked. We have been cooking them in Thai style curries with a coconut milk base. There are also many Indian dishes that use them. In the mix, there may be some luffa gourd as well. Used in a similar fashion, they are a lovely change from the summer squash. Luffas are sometimes called Chinese okra because cut up in a curry they look like that vegetable and have similar flavor without the mucilaginous dimension.
There is a tendency among food writers to offer an equivalency when describing unfamiliar foods. In describing the calabash or luffa, people often described them as a zucchini-like vegetables. This is the same as treating another set of berries, the eggplant, tomatillo and tomato as equivalents. If you treat the luffa or opa as zucchini, you will be disappointed and miss the fine character of these pepos. Go Indian, Asian or African, not European.
The Pepo Project is an experiment in terms of growing, selling and using the fruits. The supply will be erratic and unreliable. Any feedback will be most gratefully received. We don't know what we are doing and having fun in the process. We are also working on the Hokkaido Project, which we will describe later in the year.
We look forward to seeing you all Sunday fresh from staring up at the Perseid shower.
Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm