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Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 20 2015 Market

Sarah West

We conclude our summer market season this Sunday, and return on the 15th of November for our last quartet. Looking at the fields and orchards, it is going to be a fine set of holiday markets. Beautiful rows of chicories, escaroles and field greens will join the pantry crops. We will continue to deliver table grapes to both Food Front stores, so if you all buy them Josh has to call us up and order more, and everyone is happy.

Our preserves, albeit in a more limited selection until we get down to Sweet Creek Foods in late October, are carried by the following stores:

City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave.
Food Front, both Hillsdale & NW Thurman
Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave
Our Table, 13390 SW Morgan Road, Sherwood
People's Coop, 3029 SE 21st Ave
Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Vino, 138 SE 28th Ave.

The grapes this week are a touch of 'Autumn in New York' – sparing you all a Billy Joel ear worm, eh? Interlaken, Canadice, Steuben, Sheridan and New York Muscat are the progeny of the New York Fruit Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, New York, part of Cornell University. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Geneva fruit breeding program was at its peak and as you taste these four varieties, we hope you will be impressed with the sheer breadth of their flavors. Even the apple, a paragon of diversity, doesn't come close to the grape. Interlaken, Canadice, nameless and Jupiter are chaste, lacking the biochemical events associated with seed development and maturation, so the flavors resulting from seed ripening, especially the bold spicy and floral notes, are missing. That is not entirely a deficit because other flavors are apparent, no longer masked. Be sure to compare the chaste varieties with the fecund varieties, New York Muscat, Steuben, Sheridan and Price. You can see how the seed creates a consistently larger and more complex flavor.

There is only a teaspoon of farms nationwide who offer such a broad array of such distinctive grape varieties. Due to the early season, this is the first time we have had eight varieties to enjoy as you watch the full eclipse of the "super moon." It is about two hours, so buy enough grapes to savor the convergence of an exceptional season for table grapes and a rare lunar spectacle. And put aside that pointless fussiness about grape seeds, just as you decided that kale is pretty delicious a couple of years ago after shunning it for decades; the seeds are an absolutely delicious dimension to the berry, as is the skin. A few years from now, some researcher will anoint the fecund grape the new superfood and you will feel a whole lot healthier knowing you we ahead of the science.

Interlaken, Canadice, Steuben, Sheridan, and numerous other grapes from that period, are named after towns in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is a wonderful tradition that has fallen by the wayside as the station's public breeding program has stumbled into the morass of "club varieties" and the attendant cheesy commercial names. Club varieties are patented by the breeding program and released to a limited number of growers in order to keep prices high, avoid market saturation and, putatively, to maintain high quality, i.e. uniformity.

There is a tendency to pronounce Interlaken as though it is named after a city in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. No, the Interlaken of the grape is, as noted, a New York Finger Lake town located nowhere near the Alps and the second syllable is pronounced with a hard "a" as in "lake." Goodness sakes, we don't say Loch Oswego, do we? Well, perhaps on the 25th of January after consuming a few too many wee drams in tribute to the great poet, and forgivably, but other times never. And Canadice is pronounced with a hard "i" as in dice. Don't Eurozone them.

The harvest of beans has started and Angelica, who is in charge of their release, has handed over black turtle, Tarbesque and purgatorio for us to package for this week's market. We have given Borlotti Gaston baby eyes, but she is adamant that they need more time. It is very important to defer to staff on these matters.

We produce our own seed for most of the crops we grow, and in the process we have also worked to improve the quality of those crops, and adapt them to our soils and climate. It is a long process, but the results reinforce our efforts. In first few years of growing Amish Butter, Linda Colwell helped us as we carved rotten kernels off the misshapen ears with the sharp end of a church key in order to salvage enough to sell. That tedium is now history, and this year's ears are magnificent is every respect, the result of repeated selection over a decade. Last year, we were frustrated by problems with the black radish and have started the process of selecting roots that have better frost resistance, and working with Ave Gene's staff we are bringing back the hard-skinned storage melons we used to grow about seven years ago. These are true melons, not winter melons of Asian cuisine.

This year we will feature those melons and the mixed barley at the 2nd Variety Showcase put on by Lane Selman and the Culinary Breeding Network. As amateur breeders, we need a bit more adult supervision, so Lane has assigned two restaurants to keep us in line. Sarah Minnick of Lovely's 50/50 is developing recipes to showcase the qualities of the barley mixture. We tried her 'Triple Barley Cookies' yesterday. Made from flaked barley, barley flour and sprouted barley, they are wonderful. Sarah has a roasted barley ice cream in the works to accompany them. Joshua McFadden of Ave Genes will highlight the melon project called 'Ave Bruma' or behold the winter solstice, from the restaurant's first flavor selection. Later, around the solstice, we will bring in another pile of melons for his staff to taste and put aside again the seed from the best flavored.

At market, we will also have a smaller tomatoes (Astiana and Striped German), tomatillos, preserves, chickpeas, lettuce, beets, onions and other alliums. We will also have bunches of thyme.

We hope to see you all tomorrow,

The Boutards
Ayers Creek Farm
Gaston, Oregon

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 8 2015 Market

Sarah West

We still have good supplies of preserves, beans, popcorn, cornmeal, cayennes and pumpkin seeds. The onions, sweet potatoes, spuds and horseradish fill out the bulbs and roots section. We will be slicing Sibley and Musqueé squashes. The sublime Late Treviso chicories will grace the table this week.

Before the Olympian deities took over and bureaucratized the Office of Muses, there were just three muses residing on Mount Helicon: Aoide (expression), Mneme (memory) and Melete (occasion). Linda Colwell is our Melete. Whether it is a ramble or some other occasion, Linda steps in and everything flows smoothly. When Lane Sellman of the Culinary Breeding Network asked us on a hopeful afternoon in April if we could host a lunch and tour at Ayers Creek for Organicology in early February, it seemed like an reasonable idea. With our lovely Melete watching over us, what could go wrong? Nothing, as it turns out, even in week marked by torrents of rain, the sun shone and we all had a good time.

Working with Mark Doxtader and Jason Barwikowski of Tastebud, and Sarah Minnick of Lovely's 50/50, Linda showcased the fruits, vegetables and grains of the farm. While we led a tour in the fields, Linda gave a talk about the various ingredients in the lunch. One participant confided to us that he loved Linda's talk so much that he was tempted to sit through it a second time. Here is the quartet's menu:

Amish Butter popcorn with Aci Sivri cayenne
Black Radish soup
Green Posole made with Amish Butter hominy, pumpkin seeds, and sorrel

Late treviso panzanella style salad with roasted Sibley squash and kakai seeds
Roy's Calais Flint polenta with braised Borlotti beans with leeks and chicory
Oven roasted sweet potatoes
Focaccia with late summer dried green grapes

Sprouted barley toast with roasted winter squash and honey and Ayers Creek jam

Winter field greens as available: rocket, chervil, kale

Adzuki bean ice cream between Kakai pumpkin seed cookies
Chester blackberry ice cream between Amish Butter and Almond cookies

The Tastebud oven has welcomed guests to the Ayers Creek since the first ramble. This Christmas, we received greetings from a former Hillsdale regular, now residing in Portugal, recalling that day. Sami's teenage daughter was convinced rather reluctantly to fritter away a Sunday afternoon at that ramble. The walk went well for her but the high point of the day was walking into the shade of the oaks and seeing her favorite feature of the Hillsdale Market, the Tastebud oven. It always heralds a good event when Mark's truck maneuvers into position.

We hope you all have a moment to stop by the Hillsdale Market tomorrow and enjoy what Tastebud and Ayers Creek haul there.

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter January 11 2015 Market

Sarah West

When the bell opens the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday morning at 10:00, it will herald a kinder market. The board has decreed that henceforth, or at least through April when the climate softens, the market shall close at 1:00 PM sharp.

We hope the market will establish 1:00 PM as a permanent closing time, a sentiment that is gathering steam among the dusty-footed vendors, the piepoudres. After 12 years (245 market days to date), both summer and winter, on the pavement at Hillsdale, we know that 70% of our sales consistently take place in the first two hours of the market, and the last hour accounts for less than 5% of our sales. If the day is rainy, cold or hot, the market is dead as a smelt by noon. No wonder, produce quality is best in the first two to three hours, especially in the summer heat, as most of you know. A 1:00 PM closing time year-round is sensible.

The board should consider other changes over the next year. When market moved across the highway to its current location, it grew substantially and went from a summer fling to a year-round relationship. The ease of access to arterial streets and good parking have been critical assets in attracting farmers and customers. Unfortunately, the addition of bike lanes on Vermont Avenue had a negative influence on traffic at the market by eliminating a long stretch of parking spaces. Rather than grousing about the clumsy transportation planning by the city, as easy as that is to do, it is much more productive to rethink how the market uses the site.

Currently, the market stalls occupy more than 70 parking spaces. It is possible to free up these parking spots by creating a space for the vendors on the flat area to the west of the lot – between the lot and the slope leading down to the soccer fields. This would make shopping at the market much easier. There are minor challenges reconfiguring the area, but none insurmountable. The parking lot is unlovely and in need of repair, so it is a good time address improved utilization of the site. Hillsdale is one of the few markets in the region, if any, that is so well poised for improvement.

As the market has developed into a year-round enterprise and is no longer an experiment, safer shelter is warranted as well. A simple 45' by 180' freestanding structure covered in rip-stop polyethylene costs $30,000, with some bells and whistles available for an additional pittance. (Here is a link to an example: Structure ) Simply put, the neighborhood can have a safe and comfortable covered market for roughly the same price as a plain vanilla family car.

Farmers use these durable and utilitarian structures for a wide variety of uses, including as shelters for farmers' markets, so we recognize them as our preferred habitat. Not particularly posh or elegant, true, but they are engineered to survive heavy snow loads and wind. The sunshine passes through while providing shade and shelter for the fruits and vegetables below. As you will note from the link, these structures are manufactured in 14 days, the cover is warrantied for 20 years, and the frame for 50 years. They are assembled in a matter of days as well. From a farmer's perspective it is a very good value. Aside from leveling and preparing the site, there is no foundation or excavation required, a massive cost savings relative to any other cover option. When the market isn't using the shelter, it can be available for school functions or neighborhood events. In other words, it will be a general community asset rather than a dedicated market space.

Hillsdale has an experienced cadre of farmers, some of whom, like us, have been part of the market since it started in 2002. Having adequate parking and a sturdy covering for the market will make it a preferred destination for both farmers and customers for years to come. With some vision and cooperation on the part of the Hillsdale Farmers' Market board and the neighborhood, the rag tag assembly of tents set up on Sundays can evolve into a defining neighborhood fixture. We hope you all encourage Eamon and the board to think creatively about the future of the market. You voice, encouragement and participation is important.

Here is what we are bringing Sunday:
We still have good supplies of preserves, beans, popcorn, cornmeal, cayennes and pumpkin seeds. The onions, sweet potatoes, spuds, horseradish and black radish fill out the bulbs and roots section. We will be slicing Sibley and Musqueé squashes. This week we will have more chicories. At the moment they are the speckled Lusia types. We have had trouble with the quality of the seed, so there is a lot variation in the field, and we are only able to harvest about 10% of what we planted, which is way below the 90% harvested in the past. We are not happy with the state of seed, to put it mildly. In February, we will have longer meditation about the genetics of chicories, and what we are doing to address the problem.
As with Bette Davis and the lyrics of Sondheim, the bitterness in chicories is always a matter of interpretation and taste, some revel in it, others recoil. Varieties and individual plants vary as well. The bitter compounds are in the white latex of the sap and are water soluble, so the problem is easily addressed. Tearing the leaves lengthwise and immediately soaking them in iced water draws out the latex and eliminates almost all of the bitterness. Soaking for 20 minutes or so is generally enough. If you are planning to braise the chicories, quarter them lengthwise and immediately soak in ice water. As with latex paint, if the plant's latex starts to set up and dry, it is no longer water soluble, so have soaking water ready before you tear or cut the heads is important. The ice is critical to the process because the cold shrinks the vascular tissue, forcing the latex out of the leaf. Luke warm or cool water is useless for the task, so don't skimp on the ice.
For a salad, a lemon-based dressing adds a bit sweetness. Cutting vinegar with a bit of orange juice also works. An anchovy fillet squeezed through a garlic press and mixed into the dressing is another fine addition. As a forage crop for livestock, chicories have higher protein content than even legumes such as alfalfa, as well as a hefty dose of minerals. As a result, in recent years seed companies have been offering a greater range of forage chicories, apparently with better seed quality than we see in the varieties grown for human consumption. Regardless, you can't go wrong eating these fine winter greens, right Elsie.

We will see you all Sunday,
The Boutards of Gaston

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter November 23 2014 Market

Sarah West

All of the beans and grains sold at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market are grown by us on the farm. We do not repackage other farms’ production, or buy bulk beans for resale, and we are certified organic.

A theme running through Ayers Creek’s grains, legumes and vegetables is adaptation to our latitude, the 45th parallel. We look to maritime influenced regions such as the Bordeaux and Dordogne, Galicia in Spain, the Po River Valley, parts of the Danube Valley, and Hokkaido, Japan. We are not bound by such an analysis, but it is a useful vetting mechanism.

Our primary selection criterion is a bean that can be savored on its own, just a bit of salt and olive oil. Over the last 12 years, we have grown a wide diversity of dry beans; the beans below we deem worth growing. Cute stories and pretty color patterns don't carry much water with restaurants or habitual bean eaters; the flavor and texture are everything once it gets to the plate. 

We prefer soaking the beans overnight before cooking. The bean is a dormant, living plant. When you soak it, the plant opens up its toolkit of enzymes and starts to break apart the large protein and carbohydrate molecules that store its nutrients and energy. In our experience, soaking lends the bean a discernible sweetness and a smoother texture than just hamming things apart with heat. We treat soaking as an elegant step in the process rather than an inconvenience. However, with a good bean, it is best to cook it however you want. If the ritual of soaking irritates or crimps your style, relax and follow some other method and hammer away. Regardless, you are not affecting the nutritional value if you soak the beans, and toss out the soaking water.

The next day we drain them, add fresh water, bring to a boil and then simmer until tender. Time varies by variety and age of the bean. You can also add herbs, carrots, onions and celery to season the beans. If the dish calls for meat, we generally cook the beans in water first so they retain their own flavor. Avoid cooking beans in an acid liquid such as tomato sauce because they will not cook properly, remaining tough and grainy. It is fine to add salt whenever you want. We follow the late Judy Rodgers suggestion to salt the cooking water to taste. Refrigerate the beans in their cooking liquid.

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Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter November 16 2014 Market

Sarah West

I will have van loaded for tomorrow's Hillsdale Farmers' Market, set up with winter shoes in case of ice.  The market opens with the bell at 10:00 AM.

Monday, we processed most of the plum preserves, leaving just the green gage after Thanksgiving. The jar were still too hot to handle when Carol left for  Branchport, NY, perched at the tip of the middle finger lake, offering a few weeks of postpartum companionship for our daughter. 

The cold weather has forestalled plans to harvest greens, they are fine but are too delicate to handle. It is a waste of time to even try. Nonetheless, I will have fennel, spuds, sweet potatoes, knob celery, onions and black radish. A couple of other odds and ends as well.

I will also have on hand a splendid assortment of legumes and grains. Cayennes and pumpkin seeds as well. As noted earlier, there is a good selection of preserves ready.

Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 28 2014 Market

Sarah West

Verification I:

On the 18th of April our organic certifier visited the Ayers Creek for our annual inspection. Arriving at 9:30, he inspected our farm and our records without pause, finishing his closing interview at 2:15. Even though we have been through the process 15 times since 1999, it remains an intense experience. The application, submitted in March, articulated our organic farm management plan. After it was reviewed, an inspection was scheduled. The week before inspection, we make sure all of the records, seed packages, certifications and invoices are pulled together. All of the buildings, machines and fields must be open to inspection. The inspection fee is paid on the clock, so we try to make it as efficient as possible. No chit chat or lost keys, and niceties kept to the barest minimum. It is a serious matter because a cavalier decision or mistaken use of a substance will mean loss of certification of the crop or even the land for three years. By the time 2:15 rolled around, we were hungry and tired with a sense of evisceration. To our daughter who goes through the process at their Italy Hill Farm, we can say confidently that it never gets easier or smoother. We never talked to you about Santa either, did we?

Passing the review, inspection and audit allows us to carry the term "certified organic" on our labels and signs. Our second very important review and inspection comes when you all visit the farm on the ramble. We take it as seriously, and fret over details the week before. We are cognizant of the fact that if you are not satisfied with the way we farm, we could lose you as a customer. However, this inspection is much more comfortable because we can digress from the topic at hand and digest Linda Colwell's excellent food. This year's ramble will take place on the 12th of October, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm. Bring friends and family, along with sturdy shoes and a bee sting kit if you are allergic.  

As a reminder, in our irrational New England Blue Law rectitude, we have kept the ramble strictly noncommercial. We won't be selling anything. Please don't try to lead us astray, just enjoy the stay.

__________________________

This Sunday marks our last market at Hillsdale until the 16th of November. By design, our fresh produce kind of peters out by the end of September and we need to spend the next month planting grains and garlics, subsoiling the berry fields and orchard as time permits, moving the irrigation pumps up from the floodplain, and pulling in the corn, sweet potatoes and squash. When the bell rings at 10:00 AM, here is what we will have.

More legumes: Borlotto Gaston, zolfino, purgatorio, Dutch bullet, tarbesque, chickpeas and favas.

Grains: frikeh, hulless barley, popcorn and cornmeal.

Some greens, tomatillos and onions again. With rain, tomatoes are iffy, but we will do our best.

A nice haul of table grapes, and maybe some prunes.

Preserves. Finishing up the 2013 run. (When we return on November 16th, we will have close to a full complement, with some gift boxes as well.)

 

 

____________________________

Verification II:

This year, we will take a little over a ton of fruit, mix it with some sugar and fresh lemon, cook it up and put it into thousands of jars. Both Federal and Oregon laws mandate that we put a label on each individual jar. The law dictates what we put on the label and, as certified organic producers, we meet an additional set of label requirements under the National Organic Program. Labeling of processed food is neither optional nor voluntary. As really dinky players in the processing market, our labels cost more than the food giants, about 20 cents each, or around 3% of the jar's retail price. And it doesn't matter what we print on the label, the price per label mandated by law is the same. A simple fact.

This November, we will be voting for Measure 92 which adds the requirement that processors who use genetically modified ingredients must include that information on the already mandatory label. Same old label, just a bit more information. If it passes, processors like us will have a year to use up our old labels and print new ones that comply with the law. If, like us, they don't use genetically modified ingredients, nothing changes and we can use the old labels. Either way, adding a bit of text will not change the price of the label, nor the price of the food. 

The state's shrinking tabloid of record managed to get into a lather over Measure 92. Shamelessly cribbing from the industry's talking points, and without a shred of critical thinking, the editorial board repeats the notion that this is a mandatory label. No, it is an additional bit of information on an already mandatory label. They also repeat the industry's claim that it will confuse consumers and increase food prices. Obviously, if an ingredient is from a genetically modified crop and the label says so, it is hard to see how the consumer is confused. The hysteria in the larger food industry has nothing to do with consumer confusion; it is the fact that they fear consumers will use that label information to select products made with non-genetically modified ingredients, and that it will force down the price of products labelled as genetically modified. Certainly, as we noted above, adding that language to the label will not add to its cost in and of itself.

Proponents of genetic engineering hold out the promise of crops that will grow nutritious food with little or no water, or fertilizer, offering up a seductive cornucopia of environmental and nutritional benefits. If that were reality, the food companies would be tripping over themselves with extravagant green claims on their labels, touting their genetic prowess in solving the world's problems. The promises have failed to materialize, as the most recent effort shows. Last week, the USDA approved the use of crops that are genetically engineered to survive the application of one of the first commercially available herbicides, 2,4-D, released in the 1940s. Why? Because farmers have sloshed so much glyphosate (Round-Up) across the nation's farmland that weeds have become resistant to the herbicide, so they are bringing back an old herbicide in hopes of stemming the tide. This is dirty old chemistry, and that is why the companies are horrified at the thought of a label underscoring this sad reality. They will slosh a cocktail of the chemicals over the farmland and then come back asking for approval of another herbicide resistance factor.

So you are narrowing your eyes and getting ready to dismiss us as working in our self-interest as organic farmers. Quite to the contrary, the status quo benefits us directly because we have the USDA seal of approval for our GMO-free status. When you see the NOP sticker or "Certified Organic" on a label, that means our seeds are not genetically modified, and that claim is backed-up with inspections and audits through the chain of custody. On the face of it, our support of Measure 92 runs against our self-interest. However if people want to know if their food is grown from genetically modified plants and animals, why not tell them so? 

We will see you all Sunday, or for the Ramble on the 12th.

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 21 2014 Market

Sarah West


The hillside wineries were aglow Monday evening as we made our way back from Elmira. They were scrambling to bring in and de-stem their grapes. We were bitten by the frenzy as well. Our freezers were full with no room for the autumn fruits such as prune, damson and grape, so we had to shift some fruit to Sweet Creek's big freezer. Unsure as to how much rain we would see, we harvested a large amount Wednesday, and Thursday we filling the freezers with plums and grapes. It took six of us about six hours to pit and de-stem the fruit. This year, the fruit is coming on very fast, and there is no room for a leisurely process. The Veepie grapes and Damsons were at their very best and we are looking forward to tasting the preserves. We have only a few cases of preserves left, so it good to fill the freezers for our kitchen time in late October.

Likewise, with the dry beans, almost half have been harvested and cleaned. We will have Borlotti Gaston and Purgatorios at market this week, along with chickpeas. Next week, we will have zolfinos and Dutch bullets. Although they mature and dry in the field, we always leave them on screen for a few days until they click brightly when we run our fingers through the tray. At that point, we feel secure bagging them.

We will bring favas, popcorn, cornmeal, frikeh and hulless barley. We also have a luxuriant patch of dill. Tomatoes and tomatillos.

We are also picking prunes for the market, including Pozegaca which is a famous Balkan prune used for slatko and slivovitz. The flavor is sharp and clean. The last of the mirabelles are coming in as well. Edward Bunyard's description of Coe's Golden Drop in The Anatomy of Dessert (1929) is unmatched: "At its best, it is a dull yellow green with strong frecklings of crimson, and at its ripest it is drunk rather than eaten; the skin is rather tough but between this and the stone floats an ineffable nectar." We will have just a few, another small bonus granted to us with an early harvest.

Friday, we pulled the onions and they are curing in the sun for winter storage. Soon the corn will be dry as well.

The partnership of Jackie Cain and the late Roy Kral remains an inspiration to us. They approached their craft with confidence and creativity, and on their own terms. Their music was of a kind, built on character rather than formula. Cain died Monday. If you get a chance, take a moment reach out into a cloud and listen to her. Maybe Sondheim's "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues," summing up what one of us was suffering last week.

The Boutards - both of them
Ayers Creek Farm
Gaston, Oregon

 

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter January 5 2014

Sarah West

On our first crepuscular Sunday of 2014, we may catch sight of our resident bobcat as we head off to the Hillsdale Farmers Market. The opening chime sounds around 10:00 AM.

The bobcat, Lynx rufus, is a furtive spirit, more often observed by what is left than its actual presence. Our cur, Tito, picks up the cat's scent and has developed the sensible habit of demanding human company and looking over his shoulder when goes out before bed. He is the same way when the coyotes hunt close by. Despite millennia of domestication, he retains the survival instincts of his ancestors. The average bobcat adult weighs about 20# (9 Kg), though individuals can approach 40# (18 Kg). Their diet is mostly rodents, though they can kill much larger animals if the opportunity presents itself, even deer. The bobcats west of the Cascades are distinctly darker than others of the species, and are recognized as the subspecies fasciatus.

We first saw the bobcat in September hunting in the draw, recognizing its feline gait and stalking mannerisms, and an animal obviously leggier and taller than the feral tabby cats that survive being tossed out of cars as kittens by careless souls, but not a positive identification without seeing it face-on. Later in the month, Zenón went out at dawn to pull rocks from newly cultivated field and saw "un gato grande" hunting voles in fresh ground, a more certain sighting. Our neighbor Darwin, a veteran hunter and outdoorsman, made the positive identification in late November when he turned a corner near his blind and came face to face with the cat. As he described it, they both paused, staring at one another for a moment to catch their breath, before the cat bounced away into the canary grass. In the twilight of Christmas morning, we watched the bobcat lope across the field and down the road towards the creek, quarry in its jaws. Evidence points to its denning at times in the briars near the pump station, a hunch with which Tito, his hackles high, concurs.  

Animals that are active during the day are described as diurnal, those at night nocturnal. Crepuscular animals are active at twilight, the edges between day and night. In habitat as well habit, the bobcat is a species that thrives on the productivity of edges. As we have described previously, we are situated where the Tualatin Valley is at its narrowest between the Coast Range and the Tualatin Ridge, providing a short corridor between those two forested foothill habitats. The farm itself is a mosaic of cultivated fields, oak savannah and wetland, offering a lot edges between these ecotypes. The effect of our "edginess" is best seen in the variety of raptors that hunt on the farm. Kestrels, harriers, red-tail hawks, barn owls and great horned owls all nest on the farm, osprey and bald eagles nest in the valley and hunt here. Migrating cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, merlins and peregrines pause to fatten up during migration. Elk, deer, mink and cougar, among others, use the farm as a path between the foothills, but they pass quickly and with purpose beyond our boundaries.

The bobcat is likely a visitor as well, a youngster seeking its own territory. That it has lingered so long explains in part why we have so few chicories this year, even though we doubled our planting. We adhered to our pattern of crop rotation without considering that the planting bordered part of the farm that was in fallow for the past year. Last spring, the population of meadow mice (voles) was low so we paid little heed to them in our planting during the summer; it was an understandable but unfortunate oversight. Unobserved by us, the population in the fallow field skyrocketed over the summer, and there are few crops so well suited as chicories for feeding a hungry hoard of voles through the cold months. By September, we sensed the problem and did everything we could to salvage the crop to no avail. Wave after wave of voles have kept the raptors well fed, and the surplus rodents kept us in the bobcat's hunting territory. The ground is covered with holes barely a foot apart, and the cold snap made the little rodents that much more ravenous. Without a bounty of fat, chicory-fed voles, the bobcat would probably have moved further into the foothills where there is a better cover and supply of prey, and less competition from the coyotes and raptors.

In the popular literature, healthy predator populations are supposed to stabilize prey populations, creating a population equilibrium and thus providing a service to humans. Yes, predators are valuable components of a healthy ecosystem, but it is important to understand that population dynamics in prey populations are driven by many environmental factors. Disease, weather, food and cover availability, for example, all have a far greater influence on rodent populations than the predators. Face it, predators are like us, consumers rather than mere service animals. There is parallel with farming in that no matter how good we think we are as farmers, the weather and other exogenous factors ultimately determine our success. We can plot and plan, but the weather and vole populations defy anticipation for both bobcat and cultivator.

    When you are chewing on life's gristle,
    Don't grumble, give a whistle,
    And this will help things turn out for the best, and
    Always look on the bright side of life,
    Always look on the light side of life .  .  .

Heeding Eric Idle's advise, as you grumble about the sloppy farmers who failed to deliver your chicories this year, maybe it will help to know that a leggy, elegant bobcat is meting out some form of retribution. And a host well-fed raptors as well. And it is, after all, a backhanded compliment to our farming efforts that so many other animals thrive the fruits of our labor.

We will be at the market with the many bits and pieces they left, including:

Dry beans, adzuki beans, dried cayennes, naked pumpkin seeds, stone-ground cornmeal, popcorn, various corn kernels for making hominy, preserves, winter squash, ash gourds, potatoes, and the belle of winter cuisine, freshly dug horseradish.

Look forward to seeing you all tomorrow,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm and Wildlife Feeding Station
Gaston, Oregon

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter December 15 2013

Sarah West

Winter Melon (ash gourd)We are back to slipping and sliding about in the mud today, and the Hillsdale Market tomorrow in time for the opening bell at 10:00 AM.

We will come well-stocked with preserves, including gift boxes, dried cayenne peppers, dry beans, popcorn, cornmeal and kernels for hominy. We will also have spuds, yams, knob celery, beets, cabbage and other sundry vegetables as well. A few good looking turnips as well.

We will also have squash and ash gourd. The ash gourd is also called wax gourd and winter melon. A more apt name would have been winter cucumber, as it it has the same fresh, crisp quality as a cucumber. At the Thanksgiving market, Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans of the Farmer's Feast (thefarmersfeast.me/) sliced the fruit thinly and dressed it with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and some toasted sesame seeds. A fine side dish.

Our best,

The Boutards

Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter November 17 2013

Sarah West

Tomorrow morning, we will pull ourselves together and make slow ascent up Bald Peak, the first leg in our voyage to Hillsdale. Hope to see you all there after the 10:00 AM opening bell.

Ayers Creek Farm PreservesPreservesPreserve production is when we reprise our summer, the good moments and the disappointments. All of the fruit we use, with the exception of lemons, comes from the farm. Many farmers contemplate preserve production as a way to capitalize on surpluses and low grade fruit, throw some sugar and pectin into a big pot and you have something to sell. Extension people call it "value-added." As we warn other farmers, the notion that making preserves is "value-added" is simply poppycock. We must purchase the jars, organic sugar, organic lemons and pay for the use of Sweet Creek's kitchen and staff. We have added an investment and value is added only if and when you sell the preserves for a profit, so there is no sense poking some low grade fruit in glass.

We started making preserves from the opposite end of the harvest. The very first berries to ripen in the field are the highest quality fruit. They set up well without any added pectin and the flavor is brightest due to their higher acidity. For us, taking the better part of the day to deliver ten flats of berries is a waste of time and fuel. So early in the morning, we bring in a few flats each day and freeze the berries. We never crush them; they are packed into buckets whole when frozen. This gentle treatment preserves the aromatics and acidity of the fruit, as many of you know because you handle our berries the same way.

Our preserves are very farmer-ish, just one type of fruit and no secret ingredients or surprising combinations. The preserves are cooked in 2½ gallon steam jacket pots, so the cooking surface is a gentle 270°F (132°C). We cook about a gallon at a time. Paul Fuller has three 275-gallon pots, but at that volume, you have to add pectin in order for the fruit to gel. Several years ago, Carol's brother, Bill, visited the farm and walked us through a series of very carefully documented variations. Tasting the various versions, it was clear to us that adding pectin robbed a vital part of the fruit's spirit, inconvenient and indisputable. Sweet Creek has just two of these small pots, but Paul is adding two more so we can increase production next year. There is no other co-packer in Oregon that would put up with our fussy demands, so as long as Paul and Judy own Sweet Creek welcome us back, we will make preserves.

The most important tool for us is Paul's Omega HH1501AJK digital thermometer. In cooking, the fruit goes through a series of temperature steps. The critical range is 220 to 222°F (104.4 to 105.5°C). The fruit sets up in that range, if you allow it bounce up to 224°F (106.6°C) the fruit has an over-cooked flavor and texture. One year, the cord to the thermometer frayed and we had to use a different one for the last run of the day. The calibration was off and the fruit over-cooked slightly. We now have our own Omega, so if one goes we have a back-up. It also allows us to conduct test runs at home.

As we noted earlier, we see the season reflected in the fruit. The heat wave that came through during our ramble in June destroyed much of the black currant, boysenberry and blackcap crop. We have some, not enough to for the stores. The early raspberry and loganberry crops preceded the heat wave, so they are in good supply. We have done an even better job with the tart cherry preserves, though they are inherently lower in pectin than other fruit and on the runny side. We have yet to perfect pit removal, so there will be an occasional pit in the jars. This preserve is an even greater labor love than the others and we should drop it but we like too much. This year, we have added a small run of grape preserves from the Veepie grape. The goal is a grown-up grape flavor with skins in the mix. The golden gage and mirabelle are back as well.

Speaking of labors of love, Aphrodite is often portrayed holding a quince. Our two small quince trees had such a heavy crop that the trees largely collapsed. We have a small run of quince jelly in memoriam for the efforts of those two unfortunate trees. They will recover eventually and we are planting more because we cannot imagine life without a bit of quince jelly. Eventually, we will add more jellies to the mix. We have several crab apples which should bear good crops in a year or two. The jellies will test Paul's patience even more, which should him some level of beatification among fruit lovers. Though we promise him that we will stop at 19 different preserves, a good prime number, so there are just two more types to go.

In addition to our 17 different fruit preserves, we will have a good supply of beans for the next two markets, as well as Roy's Calais Flint cornmeal and kernels for hominy. No popcorn yet, needs more time to dry.

We will also have a good selection of greens, including sorrel, which is virtually the same as lengua de vaca, the type of sour dock green used in traditional posoles. Kathryn will be demonstrating the fine points of posole construction at this week's market demonstration.

Winter squash has cured nicely and we will also bring in ash gourds, also known as winter melon, for the first time.

The cayenne peppers, Joe's Long and Aci Sivri are ready.

The roots include Yellow Finn spuds, knob celery, black radish, beets and the star of the farm, fresh horseradish. For those disposed towards a libation with Sunday brunch, imagine a Bull Shot or Bloody Mary with good dose of freshly grated horseradish. Might not even need the vodka to enjoy such a fine beverage. The salad and seafood are also improved with a grating of horseradish.

Finally, we will have some chestnuts. Remember, you have to pierce the shell to let the steam escape. There is no need to make a cross unless you want to, a slit is sufficient. When the chestnuts have finished roasting, generally when the kitchen smells like roasting chestnuts, put them in a bowl lined with a wet dishcloth. Cover and let them rest for a few minutes, and then shell while they are still hot. The task is easiest when it is a painful experience. If they get cold, the pelicle or inner skin, is harder to remove. Chestnuts are perishable, difficult to use once they dry. We cure them in our root cellar at 90% humidity where the sweeten up, they will last a few days on the counter, or longer in the refrigerator.

Enough, we will see you all tomorrow.

Carol & Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 8 2013

Sarah West

Mirabelle de NancyTomorrow, as we wend our way Bald Peak, for the first time in two months we will not be immersed in the fragrance of caneberries. Instead, the van will be redolent with late summer mix of onions, plums, grapes, tomatoes and the earthiness of beets ready to be purchased at the Hillsdale Market when the bell rings at 10:00 AM.


People often ask us where they can buy seeds for the our Astiana tomatoes. The fact is, you are buying seeds when you buy the fruits at the market. That is how we started with the tomato, just 15 seeds from a tomato purchased in the market of Asti, a town in the Piedmont of Italy. It is a representative of a cooking tomato landrace from the Po River Valley. The fruits are large, green-shouldered, pear-shaped and often pleated. A landrace is a population of fruits, vegetables or livestock that is shaped by the environment and culture of the region to which it belongs. Representative of the race will vary from village to village, but they have similar qualities. These tomatoes are selected for the quality of their flavor and texture after their encounter with the stove.

We never use the word heirloom in reference to the varieties we grow. We dislike the term, and the last time it was used in this newsletter was to explain our dislike of the word best applied to fragile, inanimate objects handed down generation-to-generation. Beautiful Corn (link) was written without using the word at all. Heirlooms are defined as named varieties that have been around for 25 years. Seeds are living plants, reshaped by their cultivators year-after-year, and landrace is the better term. It recognizes the living organisms are constantly changing and adapting to new environments and cultures, this applies to their cultivators as well. The fact is, we have reshaped that tomato we purchased in Asti seven years ago, but we have carefully kept its fine cooking qualities foremost in our efforts.

Approximately 80% of the legumes, vegetables and grains we bring to market are grow from seeds we produce on the farm. Another 10% are grown from Wild Garden Seeds (http://www.wildgardenseed.com/) in Philomath, about 60 miles south of Gaston. Producing our own seed allows us to draw out traits valuable for successful production in the Willamette Valley.

This month the Organic Seed Alliance (www.seedalliance.org) will hold organic seed production workshops for farmers at Adaptive Seeds in Sweet Home on the 17th and at Ayers Creek on the 19th. Veteran seed producer John Navazio will lead the workshops. He is both practitioner and theoretician, an important source of information and inspiration to those of us who grow our own seed. Linda Colwell will prepare a lunch for the participants that will include the fruits, vegetables and grains we grow at the farm, underscoring the link between the seeds and food. It will be a fun day for all and we expect to learn a lot from Navazio.
Adopting the name Astiana for our tomato, we honor the long tradition of naming varieties after the location of their origin. This week, we will bring to the market a delightful, spicy grape called Canadice. It is a celibate variety from New York State research station in Geneva, New York. Until recently, they named all their varieties after places in New York; Candice is one of the Finger Lakes in western New York. Other varieties that we grow from that program with a New York tag include the grapes Interlaken, Sheridan and Steuben, and the plums Seneca and Stanley. Sadly, they have abandoned this tradition and now names are developed through "consumer testing." Two recent releases are called SnapDragon and RubyFrost. Perils of callow thinking.

This week, we will have an abundance of plums, including Prune d'Ente, Prune d'Agen, Fellenberg (a.k.a Italian), Brooks, Damsons and Mirabelle de Nancy, all bearing the name of their origin. Damson is an English corruption of Damascene; that is, from Damascus – Lebanon, not Oregon. In addition to the grape Canadice, we will have the incomparable Price, named after a real person, another naming convention that meets our approval. Expect onions, garlic, shallots, cornmeal (doubling down on the tradition as it is named after Roy Fair of Calais Vermont), popcorn, chickpeas and preserves, as well. Oh yes, tomatillos and maybe cucumbers.

We will continue to offer the Astianas at $1.75/LB when 20# or more are purchased. We will have some boxes at the market, or bring a milk crate or wine box of your own. We will have a self-service scale on hand. Of course, if you want to purchase them as heirlooms, we will be obligated to charge the going rate for such special tomatoes, $3.50 or more if we recall correctly. Heck, they are certified organic, so maybe more . . .

See you all tomorrow,

Carol & Anthony
Gatson, Oregon

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 7 2013

Sarah West

For Immediate Release
Gaston, Oregon, USA
6 July 2013

The Oregon Chapter of the Frikeh Producers' Council (FPC) announced today that mild, dry weather, and improved efficiency, assured a record frikeh harvest of the highest quality.

Most of us are familiar with grains in their mature, dry state, which allows them to be stored for many years. However, in many places in the world, grains are also enjoyed in their immature (green) state as a seasonal delicacy. Throughout the middle east, from Egypt to Turkey, immature wheat is harvested, burned and threshed to produce frikeh (frik, firik, freekeh). Erroneously called an "ancient grain," frikeh is actually a way of processing wheat, not a different grain at all. Claims of its ancient status are dubious; what is certain is its delicious flavor.

The parching of emmer in caldrons was documented in Roman times by Cato the Censor around 200 BC, and in parts of southern Germany, unripe spelt is still treated this way to make grünkern. Frikeh is very different in that it is exposed to an open flame. There is scant documentation of this method of preparing wheat, and most of it from the 50 years. Some authors have speculated that it was originally produced using barley straw, but that makes no sense as the straw's flame is not hot enough. Anyway the straw was very valuable as bedding and packing material, and would not be wasted burning wheat. Possibly small branches from orchard and olive groves were used. Like our fellow frikeh makers in the Middle East today, we use propane torches, which are easier and safer to use.

The harvest of frikeh is done during the brief interval between the “milk stage” when endosperm is still liquid and the “soft dough” stage when the endosperm is solidifying. Too early and the grains shrivel; too late and the grains are no longer dark green and develop a starch quality. Frikeh of the best character is produced during a three day window in the ripening process. The wheat is cut and the sheaves are stacked on corrugated metal and the heads are lightly roasted. In addition to imparting a smoky flavor to the grain, the heating also stops the maturation of the endosperm. The sweet fragrance of the roasting wheat wafts through the valley. The charred heads are then fed into a thresher to separate out the grain. The grain is cleaned and then dried on shallow trays.

The finished frikeh is rinsed a couple of times and cooked for approximately an hour. Any remaining chaff and stems should be skimmed off during the rinsing or cooking. Frikeh may be used in any recipe that uses rice or bulgar wheat. It is traditionally served with lamb or chicken. The smoky, nutty quality of the grain adds a unique and new dimension to vegetarian dishes. The simplest is as a tabbouleh styled salad, perfumed with lemon and mint.

FPC spokesperson, Carol Boutard, notes that frikeh has different nutritional qualities than mature wheat. It is higher in minerals, especially potassium, calcium, iron and zinc, higher in dietary fiber, and low in phytic acid. Frikeh will be available at the Hillsdale Farmers Market this Sunday, 7 July. The market starts at 10:00 am.

We will also bring the following:

Tart Hungarian Cherries: Balaton, named for the large lake on the Danube.

Dry legumes: chickpeas and beans

Fenugreek and Purslane

Soft berries: In very limited quantities, been horrendous weather for these fruits.

Ribes: gooseberries and black currants

Preserves

We look forward to seeing you all at Hillsdale tomorrow,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 3 2013 Market

Sarah West

We are taking a moment off from filling out the 2012 Census of Agriculture to fill up the van for Sunday's Hillsdale Farmers' Market. We expect the market will start around 10:00 AM because it always does. Ho hum.

For Saturday, the 9th of February, Anna Stulz of Slow Food Portland together with Friends of Family Farmers has put together an evening at the Vintage Design Collective (7126 SE Milwaukie) centered on corn and wine. We will be joined by our good friends Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans and Mark Doxstader, who will cook up some corn treats, and Shari Sirkin of Dancing Goat Farm will enhance the evening with their vegetables. Arcane Cellars will be pouring wine for tasting. It will be a fun evening. Here is a link to the details:

http://blog.oregonlive.com/my-portland/2013/02/slow_food_portland_event_satur.html

Earlier the same day, we will be at Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd, from 3:00 to 5:00 for a Beautiful Corn event co-hosted by Powell Books. A busy day.

Here is what we will bring tomorrow:

Cornmeal: Amish Butter and Roy's Calais Flint
Acres USA is a national magazine for farmers dedicated to "eco-agriculture." The term encompasses organic, biodynamic and permaculture. This month featured an interview with Anthony and it has been interesting fielding the calls from kindred spirits in the corn world. They are scattered across the country, working with traditional varieties similar to ours. We are at the cusp of a re-localization of this wonderful grain. It is also encouraging to hear how our gentle approach to managing the land resonates with other growers.

On Monday, we gave a tour to 170 members of the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association. They were a more skeptical audience, though over the years we have made a modicum progress with people at Oregon State. Nonetheless, they still regard Chesters as an unattractive and unpleasant fruit, and remain mystified that we are able to sell them. The problem is that they push their Chester for high yields as opposed to limiting the fruit and drawing our the best flavor. Funny how people understand the idea of limiting fruit load in wine grapes but reject the notion in berries. The same principle hold for corn as well where high yields and high quality are mutually exclusive outcomes.

Popcorn: Amish Butter.

Pulses: Dry beans and chick peas.

Cayenne Peppers: whole dried.

Winter Squash

Greens: various and chicories.
Treviso types, with their beautiful arching leaves and unsurpassed flavor. Also, some of the Catalogna types with their long green leaves bearing a crisp center rib. If you cut them lengthwise in linguini-sized strips and plunge the strips into ice water, they curl up corkscrew fashion. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil with a couple of anchovy fillets mashed into the mix.

Preserves: The tart cherry is now labeled and we will have it tomorrow.

Sweet Underground: horseradish, lots of beets, spuds, daikon, sweet potatoes, parsnips.

No more dithering, otherwise the van won't get filled.

Our best,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter January 6 2013 Market

Sarah West


Sakes alive, that was a short break! At least the days are getting longer.

We will scrape the frost off the van and navigate our way over Bald Peak this Sunday morning, setting up in time for the opening of the first Hillsdale Farmers' Market of AD 2013. Business starts at 10:00 AM sharp, or a bit earlier if someone's phone chime perfectly resembles Molloy's market bell. When it is cold and windy, it actually takes a little less than perfection to convince us that the ringing in our ears is a cow bell.

At this month's Friends of Family Farmers InFarmation(link), forest owner Peter Hayes and wine-maker Rudy Marchesi will join Anthony in a conversation about the way the Tualatin River links our efforts and lives. Montinore Vineyard, Hyla Woods and Ayers Creek Farm are located along the headwaters of the river. Peter and Pam Hayes started this conversation with us five years ago, later Rudy joined in, and we hope the audience will participate in the conversation as we progress. Bit experimental, but with a good brew in hand what can go wrong?

InFarmation starts at 5:30 at the Holocene Brewery, 1001 SE Morrison, with the program getting under way around 6:30. It is free, good fun and a convivial introduction to an organization working to improve the state's policies regarding family farms. Oh yes, you can join us in a good glass of beer to keep the evening cheerful. Their website is: http://www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org

Thursday afternoon, Anthony will teach a class at the Native Seeds / SEARCH Grain School in Tucson. Native Seed / SEARCH is non-profit that promotes seed conservation. In the evening, from 6:00 - 8:00, there will be an open house at the organization's Conservation Center, where he will talk about corn, the book, and maybe why his favorite Goldberg Variation is #30, the Quodlibet, or why a good log collection makes the farmer. If you have friends in the Tucson area, they are welcome to visit with Anthony. Here is the link: http://www.nativeseeds.org/index.php/events/other-events/164-beautiful-corn

Here is what we will have on Sunday:

The Calendar: As an expression of our gratitude to all of you who brave the elements on Sunday mornings, we have published a simple farm calendar for several years. We will have a stack of them for the coming year at this week's market. Tad tardy but with cause. All of the photos are taken at the farm by us during the month they appear. A bit of rigor unobserved by most calendar makers. If there is a theme to this year's calendar, it is a nod to the creatures who labor with us at the farm. Central to our farming philosophy is the idea that the unpriced bounty of the land is just as important as the fruits and vegetables we sell. We have even found a shapely bunny for the centerfold. Please be sure to grab one as they are only useful on your wall, perhaps an extra for your kid's dorm room.

Cornmeal: Roy's Calais Flint and Amish Butter. We will also have some whole kernels of the flint and blue corn with slack lime available for hominy.

Popcorn

Pulses: Dry beans and chick peas.

Cayenne Peppers: whole dried.

Sweet Underground: horseradish, beets, spuds, daikon, knob celery, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and the tail end of the Hamburg parsley and black radish.

Winter Squash: A good year for the squash.

Greens: leeks, chard, chicories and fava greens.

Preserves: Full complement, including some gift boxes. The Ayers Creek gift box deftly resolves that awkward exchange when you show up for dinner, and your host is uncertain whether to open that $20 bottle of wine you brought as a gift. For the same price, you can bring an attractive package with a jar of raspberry, loganberry, boysenberry and greengage. Your hosts will remember that evening over many breakfasts. As they scrape out the last bit of green gage plum, they may even think about inviting you over again.

Cheers, see you all Sunday

Carol & Anthony
The Boutards of Gaston & Ayers Creek

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter 16 December 2012

Sarah West

For the fourth market in a row, we are expecting some sogginess at the Hillsdale farmers Market. Soggy or not, the market bell rings around 10:00 am.

Here is what we are bringing to Hillsdale, more or less:

Cornmeal: Roy's Calais Flint and Amish Butter. We will also have some whole kernels of the flint and blue corn with slack lime available for hominy.  

Popcorn: Last Friday, we tried popping some and it was still tough. One week later, the kernels pop to a beautiful, billowy flake. Reason enough pull on the boots and raincoat.

Pulses: Dry beans and chick peas. Full complement.  

Cayenne Peppers: whole dried.

Horseradish, beets, spuds, knob celery, gobo, sweet potatoes:  At Ayers Creek, it was a crappy year for most roots, especially the sweet potatoes. They will be small, and in short supply.

Winter Squash: A good year for the squash.  

Greens: Fennel, chicories and fava greens.

Apples: some sort of russet.

Preserves:  Full complement, including the gift boxes. These are attractively packed with a jar of raspberry, loganberry, boysenberry and gage at $20 each.

The last two weeks we have been occupied with myriad tasks, including making the preserves. Happy to say, everything went smoothly. Paul Fuller and his staff at Sweet Creek Foods are fun to work with. Making preserves for a single fruit type with no added pectin at a commercial scale is a challenge. It takes us about thirty hours to make the preserves – three ten-hour days – in two gallon batches. Adding pectin would cut the processing time to a short day, but the added pectin also dulls the flavor of the fruit.

Every fruit has it year, and this is the year of the raspberry and plums. With the raspberry, we started cooking it to 221° and it set up very firm because there is large amount of pectin in this year's fruit. We decided to ease off and run it up to 220°, and it still jelled beautifully. Consequently, there is a bit of variation in the set between the jars. We will have four plum jams: gage, Italian prune, Pozegaca prune and damson. And Robin, we did a better job of chopping up the skins of Pozegaca. We have gooseberry and jostaberry as well. After the New Year, we will have some tart cherry preserves, this year's experiment.

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter December 2 2012

Sarah West

We will set up the stall at Hillsdale this Sunday. Listen for the market bell around 10:00 am.

Briefly, here is what we are bringing to Hillsdale, more or less:

Cornmeal: Roy's Calais Flint and Amish Butter. We will also have some whole kernels of the flint with slack lime available for hominy. We will also have some blue and purple flour corn for hominy as well. Different, but equally delicious and a bit more tender than the flint corn.

Pulses: Dry beans and chick peas. Full complement.  

Cayenne Peppers: whole dried.

Garlic: Near the end, alas.

Horseradish, spuds, black radish, Hamburg parsley, knob celery, yacón, gobo

Winter Squash  

Greens: Cress and rocket, chard. Fennel as well.

Preserves: Still a limited selection. We start making preserves this coming week.

Apples: Ashmead's Kernel and Orleans Reinette.

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter November 11 2012

Sarah West

This Sunday will mark the 200th time we have set up our tent at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, and the 200th time we have sent out a newsletter announcing our presence there. Thee newsletter started as a simple invitation to friends and fellow activists telling them about the new market in Hillsdale and what we hoped to bring, and it evolved from there.  Even with this many performances, we still suffer from the vendors' version of stage fright the night before market, fretting that we might forget something, oversleep, run out of change, or nobody will come because of some much more important event. Around 3:00 am we start waiting for the 5:00 alarm. By 10:00 when the bell rings we are pulled together enough to start the day, and our stage fright dissipates.  

We have wanted to schedule a field day during the autumn harvest, but the timing is difficult because of the mountain of tasks we face in October and November. As good substitute, Cooking Up A Story has a couple of videos filmed at Ayers Creek as part of their food•farmer•earth series:  http://cookingupastory.com/  The series is put together by Rebecca and Fred Gerendasy, assisted by Kathleen Bauer of GoodStuffNW, and covers many interesting subjects. Hillsdale's market chef and pop-up restaurant star, Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans, is also featured. If you subscribe to the series, you will be sure to see Kathryn's upcoming rutabaga and ginger soup episode.

So, for the 200th time (hope this is not getting tedious for you) here is what we are bringing to Hillsdale:

Cornmeal: Roy's Calais Flint and Amish Butter. As usual, we will also have some whole kernels of the flint with slack lime available for hominy.

Pulses: dry garden beans (see below) and chick peas.

Cayenne Peppers: whole dried.

We have Joe's Long and Aci Sivri. These two cayennes are large for the type and fall into the mildly to medium hot when the seeds and ribs are removed. The heat is very pleasant, allowing you to enjoy the excellent flavor. They are substantially hotter when used whole. Interestingly, the heat of these peppers lingers pleasantly in the cheeks and neck for a long time. Aci Sivri is a Turkish pepper that has been grown in the valley for at least the two decades and is well-adapted to this climate. Joe's Long was cultivated Joe Sestino of Troy, New York, and is of Italian origin, and also well adapted.

This year, we have two small cayennes as well. They are much hotter; the heat is sharp and up front in the mouth, and the forehead. These are the traditional peperoncini of Calabria and Campania. As often happens, the cultivators are of differing opinions regarding regarding the subtle differences in flavor. Our now classic debate between the lump them into a landrace (Anthony) and split them into distinct varieties (Carol) points of view.

Garlics and Shallot: We will have our population of hard necks (lumper prevails) and the grey shallot. We will also have some onions.

Horseradish: The Bohemian parmesan. Freshly gated, this precious improves all manner of dishes from soup to salad. And for the very best Bloody Mary or Bull Shot, only freshly gated horseradish will do, so why be disappointed.

Potatoes aka spuds

Winter Squash: Return of the big ones. Musqueé is the classic market squash with dark orange flesh found through Europe, and sometimes exceeds 40 pounds per fruit. Sibley is a lighter, slightly citrusy, banana-type squash that was formerly grown extensively in the western United States as a processing squash, but has been supplanted by the heavy flavored and higher yielding Kabocha types.

Greens: Endive, escarole and rocket. The first of the chicories to develop are endive and escarole. They have the crisp texture of lettuce and are excellent as a salad green. They are also a good olera, or cooking green. In New England where there are many Portuguese fishing communities south of Boston, Progresso soup markets a canned chicken and escarole soup. Rocket is an excellent soup green, as well as adding a pungent snap to salads.

Preserves: Still a limited selection until we make our annual pilgrimage to Sweet Creek Foods. Logistics have delayed our processing this year. If you scroll down a bit, the food•farmer•earth series has two videos of Sweet Creek Foods and its beloved glassery master Paul Fuller. You will see why we cherish our preserve making days in Elmira.

Almost forgot,

Apples: Cox's Orange Pippin and some leather coats. Not just certified organic, but also naturally certified, so you be sharing it with another creature. Don't worry, arthropods have a modest appetite and these are very old varieties, so you will have the same experience as Will Shakespeare, Thos. Jefferson, Jane Austin, Louisa May Alcott or Samuel Pepys when they ate these apples. Few growers are nervy enough to make that claim  .  .  . If it doesn't sound appealing, go eat a 'Pink Lady' or 'Honeycrisp' because we will eat any that are leftover, the food for great ideas.
___________________________________________

Our Bean Primer

Dried legumes have a relatively short life. Typically, after two years, chickpeas and garden beans become stale and eventually they may not even soften up no matter how much they are cooked. They are in their prime for six months after harvest, and good for a year. The bean is a seed and the two halves within the seed coat are storage leaves bridged by a stalk supporting the root and shoot which will grow into the plant. The cotyledons store a mixture of carbohydrates (long chains of sugar molecules) and proteins (long chains of amino acids) that were originally formed in special seed tissue called the endosperm. In grains, the endosperm is retained, but in legumes and many other plants, it is entirely absorbed into the cotyledons. This repackaging of these long molecules apparently makes them vulnerable to tangling, sort of like the way that elastic bands, string and paper clips left in a drawer will eventually form a knotted mass. As the carbohydrates and proteins get tangled up they become harder and then impossible to separate into digestible units by heat or enzymatic action. This repackaging problem is probably why beans have a shorter shelf life than grains.

We always soak our legumes overnight or a bit longer. As the seed draws in water, enzymes are released which start to chop apart its proteins and carbohydrates into smaller units. In our experience, allowing the seed's natural enzymes to start the process yields a sweeter and smoother cooked bean. The next day, we drain off the soaking water. Seeds must germinate in a relatively hostile environment. To fend off hungry invertebrates, fungi and bacteria, they release nasty compounds that make life unpleasant for these creatures and us. There is a myth that the soaking water contains valuable nutrients; taste it and decide for yourselves. We dump the water, rinse the beans and start cooking them in fresh water.

Beans cook best in a nearly neutral pH, which makes water the best cooking medium. In some areas, it is customary to add a pinch of "soda" to raise the pH of  the water. Acidic ingredients such as tomatoes should be added after the beans are cooked. Some people believe salt impedes the cooking of beans. Whether or not this is true, we always salt our beans after cooking. Judy Rodgers' advice in the Zuni Café Cookbook is to salt the cooking liquid to taste after the beans are done and let them rest. This works well for us.

Finally, the cooking liquid of all of our beans is really delicious and, if the recipe calls for draining the cooked beans, retain the liquid for some other recipe or enjoy it as you would a cup of stock.

The Bean Roster

We sell both pole and bush beans. The pole beans (Borlotto, Tarbais, Black Basque) cost more to grow because they must be trellised, so we package them in 3/4 pound packages. Bush types come in 1-pound packages. Over the last decade, we brought more than 50 types to the market. We have settled on this group of ten which provides a manageable level of diversity and includes our favorites.

Borlotto Lamon: This is a classic Italian pole bean from the Veneto. Traditionally used for la jota. The flavor is nutty with a very fine, silky texture, our choice for a desert island bean. Several years ago, a virus brought in by some seeds purchased for a different variety destroyed our crop. We bought new seed but it had declined in quality; the beans were highly variable, with about 90% off-type, and ripened over a five week period. As there is no substitute for the variety, we have spent the last three years reselecting the crop in order to improve its quality. We have invested well over $2,000 in the effort, and we are very pleased with the result.

Tarbais: A flat, white pole bean traditionally used for cassoulet. Also great with kale and cabbage dishes.

Black Basque: A black pole bean from northern Spain. It is a slightly sweet bean with a delicate flavor. Unlike other black beans, it is best prepared with a light hand on the seasonings, and served simply in its own broth with some good bread.

Zolfino: A white bush bean with a yellowish cast. Like the previous bean, go easy on the seasoning, just a sprig or sage or rosemary is enough. We add a splash of vinegar and olive oil before serving.

Purgatorio: A small white bean traditionally served with fish. We have it courtesy of our sister-in-law, Shirin. Many years ago, we had dinner at Al Covo, a restaurant that specializes in fish, and the person serving us noted that she was from Texas and wanted to know where we lived and what we did. We introduced ourselves as bean farmers from Oregon. A few minutes later her husband, Cesare Benelli, came out and told us how much he loved beans. The chef then turn serious and told us that we should grow the bean from Gradoli, as it is the best bean for serving with fish. He checked in the kitchen, but had run out of the beans. A few months later, Shirin sent us a box with several types of beans, including 'purgatorio', the bean of Gradoli. This week, we enjoyed them as a soup in their own broth with some Oregon bay shrimp sauteed with a bit of cumin and lots of freshly ground cayenne.

Black Turtle: The standard black bean for Cuban and Mexican dishes. Holds it own in the company of strong seasonings and whatever else you fling at it.

Dutch Bullet: A golden round bean with a red eye. Good for soup, perhaps with some escarole added. The late Dutch plant breeder, Kees Sahin, recommended  that we grow these beans as they are a favorite in Holland. Our firend, Alice Doyle of Log House Plants, brought Kees to the farm and we spent a whole evening tasting and talking about beans and other vegetables. By coincidence, our neighbors grew several acres 'Bull's Blood' beet for seed this year which is one of Kees's varieties.  

Vermont Cranberry: A red kidney bean with dark streaks. Use as you would other red kidney beans. The common name is a misnomer as cranberry beans are round and red like the fruit. This type of bean used to be called a horticultural bean, and is very similar to the old 'Boston Favorite' bean, and it will be perfect for baked beans.

Soldier: A white kidney bean from Northern New England. Similar to the other white kidney beans, the cannellino and lingot. Good for soups and other dishes that call for navy beans or white kidney beans.

Flageolet: A small, greenish bean traditionally served with lamb. It is also good in a gratin. It is named after a small wind instrument related to the recorder, a reference to its long, delicate pod.

That's it.

We will see you all Sunday,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm