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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.
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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

Pick A Pepper At Gales Meadow Farm

Sarah West

 

Gales Meadow Farm will have starts of sweet and hot peppers this Sunday at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, including some varieties which are not found elsewhere in the Portland area.
 
Aci Sivri is an heirloom from Turkey, a mildly hot pepper which is also intensely sweet and flavorful. The fruit are shaped like cayenne peppers, only longer, brilliant red and a little wrinkled looking.
 
Black Hungarian is similar in shape to Jalapeno, a little larger, a little hotter, and shiny black in color for most of the season. By the middle of September, it starts to turn a deep brick red, and then it is sweet as well as hot. We make one of our hot sauces from Black Hungarian.
 
Purple Glow in the Dark is the hottest pepper we will be bringing to Hillsdale. It’s a beautiful plant. New foliage comes out neon green and darkens to deep purple. The peppers themselves, of which each plant produces a prodigious number, are fat half-inch purple cones.
 
Beaver Dam is spicy rather than hot. It’s shaped like an elongated bell, and good to eat from its early lime green stage. It ripens to a mix of yellow, orange and red. When it’s fried or roasted, most of the spice is gone, and a rich delicious flavor remains.
 
Bull Nose Bell was grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson. He probably did not do the work, but he surely appreciated this sweet bell, which is smaller and more flavorful than newer varieties. The stocky plant produces a dozen or more peppers. It will turn red, but we recommend eating this one green, as there are other peppers which ripen to red much earlier.
 
The earliest bright red sweet pepper is Jimmy Nardello, an Ark of Taste variety. “This variety of pepper was originally from Basilicata, a southern region of Italy.  It takes its name from seed saver Jimmy Nardello, who brought the seeds from Italy while immigrating to Connecticut in 1887.  . .  Jimmy Nardello’s pepper is sweet and light when eaten raw.  It is considered one of the very best frying peppers as its fruity raw flavor becomes perfectly creamy and soft when fried.” –  US Ark of Taste Slow Food USA (link)
 
Two years ago, about 2 % of our Jimmy Nardello pepper plants were noticeably sturdier. These surprised us by producing yellow sweet peppers, which have a lighter, less sweet version of the Jimmy Nardello taste. We saved the seeds, grew them out and of course, we call it Yellow Nardello. Growing this is a roll of the dice, as a small percentage last year reverted to the red color and a few even developed a bit of heat.We selected seeds only from the sweet yellow ones, so they should be more predictable this year.

 
Another yellow sweet pepper is Gatherer’s Gold, a variety developed by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds in Philomath, Oregon. It is bigger than Yellow Nardello, and a bit later to ripen, but well worth the wait for its flavor and beauty.
 
A new one for us this year is Sweet Red Cherry.  The description in the Nichols catalog is not exactly detailed, but we are hoping for a tasty sweet red pepper small enough to pickle whole.

 
We are growing more than fifty varieties of pepper this year; these are the ones which are ready for our last Hillsdale Farmers Market of the season this Sunday. Of course, we will also have more than fifty varieties of tomato plants, and starts of a number of other tasty vegetables.

In between the Rain Showers, Dig up a Patch in your Garden

Sarah West

Gales Meadow Farm will be back at the Hillsdale Market on March 4th. We will bring starts of many kinds of hardy vegetables plants – sugar snap peas, shelling peas, lettuce, kale, broccoli, beets, and others. Even if the temperature were to fall to 22ºF, these little veggies will survive and thrive. They will do even better with a light covering of floating row cover (Reemay or Agribon, available at garden supply shops and online through seed companies).

These early vegetables do need protection from slugs. We have two methods which do not involve poison and which really make a difference:

  • Save your eggshells and crush them up into a fine powder. Sprinkle the eggshell powder around your plants. Slugs just hate the way the eggshells get stuck on their slimy skin and they will not cross egg shell powder.
  • Mix water and flour to the consistency of cream. Add a pinch of sugar and a package of yeast to a half gallon of this mix. Put an inch or two of this liquid in deli or yogurt containers, sink them in the ground here and there among your vegetable plants, and watch the slugs crawl in and die. This is better than the old beer technique because the alcohol, which is what attracts the nasty little creatures, is continuously renewed for up to a week, rather than dissipating within a few hours. About once a week, dispose of the contents in your compost, and do it again.

We use both these anti-slug defenses at Gales Meadow Farm, and we have another one as well: ducks. Our 14 ducks and Sgt. Queenie the goose range around the farm all day. They nibble on some of the winter greens, but their main diet is slugs, grubs, and other pesky things. A wonderful by-product of this slug control technique is duck eggs. We will have rich and delicious duck eggs for sale at the market.

We will also have some winter greens, arugula, and other produce. The amounts will be limited, so come early.

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 19 2012

Sarah West

We conclude our winter season at Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday. The market runs from 10:00 to 2:00. As Carol is out of town, Linda Colwell and Kathleen Bauer will help me prepare, and Linda will cover the second till on Sunday. Thanks Kathleen and Linda.

First a few administrative details.

1.    We will return to the market on the 1st of July. If all goes well, we hope to have Field Day at the farm on 24th of June. We will send out an email confirming the event.

2.     Here is our annual disclaimer: if you tire of hearing prattle about life in Gaston, send an email and we will drop you ever so gently from the recipients' list.    

3.    If you run short of our preserves and Brand X disappoints, our preserves are available at City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave, Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave, Cheese Bar, 8031 SE Belmont, People's Cooperative, 3029 SE 21st Ave, Woodsman Tavern, 4537 SE Division, and R. Stuart Tasting Room in McMinnville. In addition, Gwen Vilches at Give Portland (www.giveportlandgifts.com), puts together lovely gift baskets that include our preserves and a broad range of other things made in Portland.

Our market pantry is getting low, but we will have enough to justify pausing at our stall. Here is what we will have:

Grains: Frumento (soft red wheat), Jet Barley (naked), Roy's Calais Flint and Amish Butter cornmeal and whole kernels for hominy. We will have pickling lime and instructions on hand if you need them.

Popcorn: Amish Butter

Legumes: Chickpeas and beans.

Roots & Tubers: Potatoes and rutabagas, and a bit of horseradish as well.

Winter Squash: Sibley and Musquee, whole or by the slice.

Greens: Chic chicories, luscious leeks, marvelous mustards and other gratifying greens.

Preserves: Full selection.
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Who's Minding the Frogs?

Fourteen years ago this month, we made an offer on the 144 acres that has become Ayers Creek Farm. We followed the excellent advice of Cato the Censor regarding the most important considerations in purchasing a farm: water, roads and neighbors (aquam, viam, vicinum). Although Cato was thinking of the other farms as the neighbors, for us the Y-shaped draw that cuts through the farm is now an important part of our neighborhood. Flanked by ancient Garry oaks, Douglas firs, a couple of madrones, big-leaf maples, hawthorns and service berries, this is the marrow of the farm. In using "marrow," both senses of the word apply, the life sustaining core of the farm's bones and, in old English vernacular, a partner or spouse.

When we arrived at the farm, the draw was choked with blackberries and used for decades as a dump. Water heaters by the dozens, engine blocks, stoves, refrigerators and other appliances, along with great coils of barbed wire, had been been pushed into the thorny mess. Over a two year period, we cleaned it up, hauling out the blackberries and appliances. It took longer for draw's function to return, but over time native plants reestablished themselves. Each year, we see improvements as we patrol, shovel in hand, for surviving blackberries.

This marrow of the farm now supports a pair of red-tailed hawks, three or four kestrel families, and a pair of great horned owls. The owl laid the first of her eggs last Wednesday, and is brooding. The second egg will be under her soon. The kestrels and red tails are amorous and will join the broody owl in their nesting tasks. Over the summer, flickers, wrens, brown creepers, orioles, acorn woodpeckers, nuthatches, tanagers, various warblers and juncos will all raise clutches in the draw and on its flanks. The engine that supports this diversity is the complex mixture of grasses and broadleaf plants that grow on the ground once choked off by blackberries and appliances. The grubs and caterpillars that eat the leaves in turn feed the growing chicks. And some of those growing chicks will fatten the young owls, hawks and falcons.

In the wet soil at the base of the draw, a healthy population of red legged and tree frogs developed. They migrated out into the oak savannah and the cropped fields during the summer and early autumn. Dozens made their home around the house, seeking shelter in the shiplap siding during the day. They were constantly underfoot. Many came inside with the house plants, and we enjoyed their calls during the winter. The large, phlegmatic salamanders (Pacific ambystomas) also started appearing in the fields. The increasing populations of these amphibians validated our management efforts. We have come to terms with the fact that farming is necessarily disruptive of natural communities, but having the reinvigorated marrow of the farm offsetting our activities is a balm.

Late last April, following the release of radiation from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors and its detection over the Pacific Northwest, we corresponded with a customer regarding its effect on our food. Our response was that lighter radioactive isotopes carried by the wind have a short half-life and by the time our fruits and vegetables are growing the weather pattern would shift away from the Pacific storm pattern. As I responded I thought to myself that if there was a problem, the frogs would be the first affected. We heard the peepers through the spring.

In July, when we started harvesting greens for market, we noticed the frogs had almost disappeared. Where we would disturb a dozen or more frogs any other year, we were lucky to see just one, and it was invariably small. The fields were silent, none of their rasping calls. In the evening we noticed that even the bull frogs in the wetland had ceased calling. We searched the siding, the smudges where the frogs crawled in and out remained, but there were no green faces staring at us – an erie Mary Celeste moment. We asked Zenón if he noticed anything different with the frogs. He shrugged his shoulders and said he thought there were plenty. Two days later, when he was working in the sweet potatoes, prime tree frog habitat, he called us over and said we were right, they had gone. When I had a moment, I went down the the ditch below the poplars, another reliable frog habitat, and the Leopard and Bull frogs were also missing. We decided to wait and see if things changed; it was a cool spring.

For months we have been watching and listening. Friday afternoon, we heard a single frog calling in the draw, a hopeful sign, but a far cry from previous years. Over the past decade, a chytrid fungus has decimated frog populations around the world, including high altitude populations in the Cascades, maybe it has encroached upon the valley floor. Perhaps frog populations are naturally cyclic and the cold spring was at fault. However, it was hard to shake off the knowledge that as our frogs were drawn by vernal rites to the water, the storms over the Pacific were delivering a radioactive welcome. Salamanders are also missing from their usual haunts. Like the frogs, these are fragile amphibians who must leave their protected lairs and travel, sometimes miles, to the ponds and wetlands where they mate, and the larval stages mature.

Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring warned us to pay attention to the damage we do to world around us. The book was elegantly written, and carefully research and documented. Sadly, half a century later, Carol and I are waiting anxiously to see if the frog ponds remain silent this spring. We seem to be alone in this vigil, getting blank stares when we raise the matter, and I have hesitated to even broach the subject in a newsletter though it gnawed at me for months. Bees have their beekeepers and birds have their birdwatchers to sound the alarm when all is not right. Someone has to mind the frogs.

Hope to see you all Sunday,

Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 5 2012

Sarah West

For the Hillsdale Farmers' market, Sunday promises to be clear but windy. We will be leaving our tent in Gaston, saving a bit of work for the roustabouts. Otherwise, the cheery sales staff will be in place by 10:00 am.

 

Grains: Frumento (soft red wheat), Jet Barley (naked), Roy's Calais Flint and Amish Butter cornmeal and whole kernels for hominy. We will have pickling lime and instructions on hand if you need them.

Popcorn: Amish Butter

Pumpkin seeds: The seeds are delicious when dry roasted in a hot skillet or frying pan. They will pop and jump around in the pan. The gently toasted seed are excellent in salads, as a snack or for garnishing squash dishes.

Legumes: Chickpeas and beans.

Roots & Tubers: Potatoes, rutabagas, scorzonera

Winter Squash: Sibley and Musqueé, whole or by the slice. Nice way to accompany the pumpkin seeds.

Greens: Chicories, leeks, rocket and other small greens for salad enrichment.

Preserves: Full selection.
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Filling The Compost Bucket Is An Agricultural Act

The midden heap, the proto-compost pile of prehistoric settlements, is the first stop for archeologists. The bone fragments, chewed plant remains called "quids," shells, obsolete tools, and seeds tossed upon the heap provide insights on a culture's food habits, trade and other aspects of life before we started chronicling it all on tablet and paper. The midden was also the likely first stop for agriculture – a fertile incubator for the domestication and cultivation of plants. The concentration of organic matter and minerals yielded tender and flavorful vegetables close at hand, initially by chance and later by design. Those of you who have been tossing this winter's squash seeds into your backyard compost may have a knot of vines emerging among the potatoes and other kitchen scrap survivors. Composting is, in some respects, a reenactment of early agriculture.  

In archeological excavations, the squashes and pumpkins that emerge from your compost show up as the oldest domesticated plants in the Americas. In the neolithic age, before the development of pottery, they were collected at large for use as vessels for water, seeds and fruits. Around 6,000 to 9,000 years ago, cultivated forms of these cucurbits start to enter the archeological record. They were still the hard shelled cultivars used as containers, but the selection, planting and cultivation of the now larger fruits also yielded much larger seeds, one hallmark of domestication. Even with the advent of pottery production, light and durable squash hulls remained important vessels.

With domestication of the plant, squash and pumpkin seeds found their way into the American diet. They are flavorful and very nutritious. In Mexican and Central American cookery, the seeds are still used extensively in stews, soups and sauces, most famously in moles and pozoles. In Mexico and Central America there are dozens of local varieties with a range of flavors and seed sizes.

Members of the Cucurbitaceae contain extremely bitter toxins called cucurbitacins in their foliage, flowers and fruits which delayed the use of the other parts of the plant as a food. In addition, the early pumpkins had very fibrous flesh, essentially the unadorned vessels leading from the plant to the seed.  Eventually, in the protective custody of the plants' cultivators, the toxins no longer conferred an advantage and non-bitter cultivars emerged. These developed into the modern zucchini, crooknecks and winter squash we bring to market, where the vessels are surrounded with soft pulp. The squash and pumpkins bearing edible fruit were favored by the indigenous people of North America. Further south, the seeds, tendrils and flowers are still preferred over the fruit.

Like potatoes, peppers, corn and tomatoes, American squash found a place in European and Asian cooking. For the most part, the fruits and flowers are used. In the Austrian state of Styria, special pumpkins are grown for their seeds, which are roasted and pressed for oil. Towards the end of the 19th century, a Styrian pumpkin without a tough seed coat appeared, making the task of pressing oil more efficient. Although they are typically called naked seeded or hull-less, a papery vestigial seed coat remains. Kakai and Lady Godiva are the naked seeded Styrian pumpkin varieties commercially available in the United States.  

Three years ago, we purchased a package of "Brand X" pumpkin seeds for pozole and we were disappointed by their quality. They were expensive, stale, and most of the seeds were broken. Our disappointment led us to conclude that, as we were growing all of the other pozole ingredients, why not the pumpkin seeds? The following spring, we planted both hull-less varieties. Mice managed to find every seed in the Kakai row, but a few Godiva were missed and we harvested a small crop. The harvested seeds were orders of magnitude better than the Brand X sorts, but still expensive as the seeds were time-consuming to extract and clean. This year, we planted Kakai again and we refined the extraction process. We will have some of this year's pumpkin seeds this Sunday, close to Brand-X pricing.

The commercially available seed for Kakai is not well maintained, posing a challenge to the farmer. There is a huge amount of unproductive variability in the grex (breeding population). Some fruits have a high percentage of split seeds and their size varied tremendously. Some of the plants were bush types, and others vining. As we worked through them, we noticed the giant fruits had no more seeds than those a quarter of their size, just more useless pulp. There was variation in seed flavor from fruit to fruit, but for the most part it was consistently good. The serious problem was the number of fruits with split seeds, roughly 50%. The split seeds had started to germinate in the fruit and had an unpleasant bitterness.

We now have a rough idea of the beast at hand, and next year we will be working on selecting the best pumpkins for seed. We will plant the Kakai in an isolated section of the farm so there is no cross-pollination with other squash types. At harvest, we will mark the fruits with a plant number and, after they have cured, start the process of selecting seed from those with good characteristics. Initially, we will focus on small fruits without split seeds. We expect it will take several years to rework the variety. If we are successful, we will sell a very good pumpkin seed that makes financial sense to grow and harvest.

The process of drawing out favorable qualities from seed as described above is just the same as when a person selected the better seed among the plants sprouting on the midden heap, or the sharp-eyed Styrian farmer who happened upon a fruit with naked seeds and worked on its improvement. Patience and careful observation is what it takes. We have a big advantage because we will be building on dedicated work and expertise of the midden heap and Styrian farmers.

We will see you all tomorrow.

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm