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Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 13 2015 Market

Sarah West

Back in the days of John Cage and Frank Zappa, and Stephen Sondheim finding his voice, there were families who had an uncle or neighbor who owned this weird car called a Citroën DS, maybe they owned one themselves. Viewed with either love or distain, the car grabs the eye and mind. The philosopher Roland Barthes in Mythologies (1957) discerned something profound about the car: "It is obvious that the new Citroën has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object." The 1964 Car and Driver review for the car had it parked under a billboard for Carl Reiner's Enter Laughing. Ultimately, Barthes could not fully accept the Déesse's divinity whereas automotive critic was converted. The two of us both come from families who had an uncle with a Citroën, and count ourselves among the faithful. Our courtship 39 years ago started with the purchase of 1972 Citroën DS21 Pallas. So what the devil does this obsession have to do with farming?

The connection starts in 1936, when Pierre Boulanger, the chief of Citroën, started a project coded TPV for toute petite voiture, or a completely small vehicle. It was conceived as a car for farmers. The design team included Citroen's Italian sculptor, Flaminio Bertoni, and André Lefèbvre who arrived at the company with a background in engineering airplanes. The team was under the stern direction of Boulanger.

The so-called War to End All Wars had decimated the male population, a whole generation of French farmers were buried, so the efforts of women and their children were important for feeding the nation. Boulanger's design brief called for a car that could be "drivable by a woman or by a learner driver." The brief also called for vehicle that could haul four people and a 110 LB sack of potatoes at 36 mph, and travel 78 miles on a gallon. The sculptor was told that appearance didn't matter, merely an umbrella with wheels would suffice. Most importantly and famously, the suspension had to be gentle enough that the farmer could carry market basket containing a gross of eggs (144) to market without breaking a single one, even after passing over the roughest farm roads and cobble stone streets. A fabric top could be rolled back to accommodate bulky items such as a ewe or calf. Early brochures featured livestock in the car, as well as eggs and baskets of vegetables.

The design was driven by a economy, practicality and simplicity. The original was minimalist in every respect. The prototype started out with a two-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine. After several other sorts were tried, the air-cooled engine based on the BMW design was adopted, giving the car its characteristic whine. Every part was repeatedly weighed and pared to make sure it was as light as possible.

The gearbox reflects Boulanger's fixation on farmers. He was insistent on a three speed gearbox, but his design team developed a four speed box. He was indignant, what does a farmer need with so many speeds? Stymied for a while and on the verge of loosing the argument, the team came up with a farmer's story. After market, the load is light but a farmer needs to get back to feed the chickens and milk the livestock; night is hastening and she needs a supplemental speed to reach to her farm by the last shred of light. The chief relented and the early models were marked 1, 2, 3, S, retaining a modicum of deference to his plan. The lawn mower style starter cord was dropped in favor of a starter, preferred by the team, when the women testers complained. Bertoni created a spacious car with an abundance of constant radius curves friendly and gentle in spirit, not an inkling of aggression. In various languages it quickly became known as the snail or duck.

Development was interrupted by the war, and the first 2CV (Deux Cheveaux) was finally introduced in 1948. The models in the 1950s had a 14-horsepower engine. The French authorities taxed cars by the engine's fiscal horsepower – equivalent to seven horsepower in the US and elsewhere – so at two fiscal horsepower it was very cheap to license. Despite the design emphasis on the farmer, the car was universally accepted and produced continuously until July 1990. That final car was still effectively an umbrella with wheels, with hammock seats and an underpowered, whining two-cylinder engine. Along with that artfully tuned suspension that would never hurt an egg. The car was still easy to service and repair.

There was a collective groan from 2CV owners when Richard Dreyfus in American Graffiti could not start his 2CV. All he had to do was open the trunk and pull out the hand-crank that Boulanger insisted should be included, and was until the very last car rolled off the line. When James Bond ignores the switchbacks and careens straight down a slope in a 2CV, escaping his would-be assassins in their fancy, high-powered cars, we chuckle approvingly. Indeed, Citroën produced a limited edition 007 model, and ignored the Dreyfus faux pas. A 2CV, a farmer's car, without a hand-crank, never.

Although Citroëns are singular cars, ownership is not always so. In our case, a 2CV edged its way into our lives 25 years ago, and is still used by us at the farm. Chances are, the tomatoes, onions or other vegetables you all bought at market were hauled out of the field in that 'tin snail', keeping Boulanger's vision alive in Gaston of all places. On occasion we make delivery runs to Portland in the car. Even though we use a piece of history to bring your tomatoes from the field, you still get them at the same great price. Imagine that.

Times have changed, though. The first decade we had the car, veterans would come up to us and recount a similar warm memory. They and a buddy borrowed or rented a 2CV, packed some sausage, bread and wine and took a trip into the European countryside with a couple of . . . the memory trails off into a wistful smile when it no longer relates to the car, nor did it ever. Shades of the Gary Gentry classic The one I Loved Back Then " . . . the old man scratched his head, and then he looked at me and grinned, he said son you just don't understand, it ain't the car I want, it's the brunette in your Vette . . . "

__________________________________

Again, you can pre-order the 20# lugs of Astianas ($35), as supply permits. Yep, the price hasn't changed even with the touch of the classic. Weather has been kind so we have a good number. Please try to place your order before 3:00 PM Saturday. We will not confirm, but we will tell you if we cannot fill your order. That seems to work all around.

We will also have grapes, tomatillos, hulless barley, chickpeas, onions, beets, a few plums. We will have preserves as well, we promise.

Until Sunday,

Carol and Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter 10 August 2014

Sarah West

We have been caught in the riptide of the season where the harvest of the Chesters continues apace and we are sowing our winter crops. Hence less prolix than usual. The seedling chicories, including our first re-selection of the late Treviso type, are emerging. Barely visible, they show up as a thin green line when viewed down the row rather than as individuals. To make up for last year's disaster, we have doubled the planting, such is the thing of a farmer.

Into this mix, we are restoring a 1941 Allis Chalmers All Crop 60. We dragged it home ten years ago and we have tackled the project bit by bit, with progress measured in its disassembly. Our son-in-law and his kid are visiting in late August, and the goal is to have it up and running by then. Otherwise we won't have chickpeas and barley this year. Every restorer's nightmare, nurtured by the hapless coyote in Roadrunner, is that a single bolt is forgotten and, upon starting, the machine collapses into a pile of rubble. If it is oddly missing during the Ramble, that is what happened.

We will take a moment Sunday to bring you lots of Chesters, cucumbers, summer squash, long red onions, garlics, along with dry favas, popcorn and Amish Butter cornmeal. The first of the Astianas are ripening and we will have a couple crates, and maybe a few green gages. All this will be available for purchase once the Hillsdale Farmers Market bell rings at 10:00 AM.

Best,
Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 15 2013

Sarah West


Each summer has its own character and pace. After a few years where summer languished long after its official end, this year summer reminds us of James Dean, running fast and furiously to an early end. Fruit ripening is truncated, a matter of missing it if you blink. Already, we are starting to bring in the first flint corn and dry beans, preparing the ground where the garlic and wheat will be planted. In past years we have irrigated into October; next week, a month earlier than normal, we will dismantle the smaller pump and move it out of the floodplain.

This has been a particularly good month for the tomatoes as the night-time temperatures have been unseasonably mild. Tomatoes fare better with warm nights, and with chilly nights held at bay the quality is high. We will have another good harvest of Astianas for tomorrow. Once again, we will have the scale and boxes available, or you can bring your own boxes and fill them, either way for the great price of $1.75/LB.

The grapes include the celibate Canadice, and the fecund Price and New York Muscat. The latter is best characterized as an adult grape, to be savored one by one. It is a hybrid between a muscat and an American grape. It has a good measure of the muscat complexity. The skin is a tad thick, but that means we can grow it organically without it succumbing to mildew.

We will also have our stone ground flint corn, chickpeas, preserves, onions, beets, tomatillos and some fenugreek. The plums are nearly at their end, but we will have some golden transparent gages and damsons. And yes, Damacus is in Syria and Oregon, not Lebanon. The saber rattling earlier this month, now muted, left us unable to think straight.

We will see you all tomorrow,

Anthony and Carol

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 August 25 2013

Sarah West


For years, we have strongly suspected that Tito was once a dog model who finally chucked the fast life and, after a streak of hard luck, wound up in the Newberg pound where we met him. The chief bit evidence of his former life was a spread on urban picnics in the New York Times fashion supplement. The dog in the Open Bar picnic is sitting on a $495 Luxembourg bench with an open bag of chips next to him, and looks just like our lovable cur, except he lacks Tito's black toenails. There were also some chips left uneaten, very un-Tito. But you can never trust digital photos completely, maybe they added the chips later or he was more disciplined in his modeling days.

Regardless of his past, Tito's modeling chops can be seen in this month's issue of Cucina Italiana ( http://lacucinaitalianamagazine.com/article/this-thing-of-ours ), where he appears with the Cameron Winery's Jackson. The article is about a special tradition we have enjoyed since Cathy Whims and David West opened Nostrana, the farmers' dinner. Every October, Cathy and David invite a group of us for dinner and we meander our way through their menu and wine list. They, along with the staff at the restaurant, make it a fun and relaxed evening for the gang that spends most of it time at the back door. Nostrana is comfortable place for a farmer at either door, and that is due to the respect Cathy and David have for our ilk.

We deliver to a variety of restaurants. Each place has its own culture and expression of generosity. A container of tart cherry ice cream from Lovely's, a bit of cured pork from Greg Higgins, a jar of miso from Chef Naoko, or a pastry with our plums from Giana at Roman Candle, these gestures all make the effort a little bit easier and fun. Good restaurants also make us better farmers by drawing us into the process. For example, the incomparable Borlotto Lamon is one of Cathy's contributions.

Shopping list for Hillsdale Farmers' Market:

1 bag of frikeh
1 bag of the newly harvested chickpeas
1/2 flat of Chesters
1/2 flat of Mirabelle plums
1# ea. Seneca & Doneckaya Konservnaya prunes
1# tomatillos
2# of those really tasty cucumbers
2 heads garlic and a handful of shallots
Couple of Astianas, if I get there when the market opens at 10:00
2# of the Grape with no Name

When we settled into the trailer at Ayers Creek, we decided we would be there for a long, long time so, heeding Malvina Reynolds' advice, we planted an apple tree and a couple of grape vines. One was Interlaken and the other was sold as 'Sweet Seduction'. We hated the silly name. In grapes as in other fruits, the character of the grape is defined by the blend of acids in the fruit as opposed to simple sugars. We felt if cute was needed, then 'Acid Assignation' would be a more apt name.

When we decided to scale up our table grape production, we retained the late Lon Rombaugh to give us advice on varieties to plant. We mentioned Sweet Seduction as one variety we would plant. Almost two years ago, we enjoyed a early autumn dinner in the Hungry Gardener's yard and had some time to visit with Lon. That evening, he told us the grape we were growing had been mislabeled, was not Sweet Seduction, and he would get back in touch with us with the correct name. We were glad to be rid of a name better suited to chocolates or lingerie than fruit. Winter descended and Lon died too young. You can call it what ever you want, but for us it is now a grape with no name, a bittersweet remembrance of an inquisitive and kind fruit grower who we were lucky to have known as an advisor and friend.

We will see you all Sunday,

Carol & Anthony

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 23 2012

Sarah West

We will return to Hillsdale this weekend with a good complement of late season fruit, including tomatoes, table grapes, and prunes. Bell rings when Eamon says it rings, but generally at 10:00 AM.

Of special note this week are the table grapes. The fecund grapes will include some muscats and the extraordinary Price which is the grapiest grape of the grapes. The crunchy seeds are essential part of these grapes, and have a pleasant hint of pepper and clove that lingers on the palate. Price is to the grape what Chester is to the blackberries, a singular and stunning parcel of perfection. The celibate sorts will be represented by Canadice and a mixed ensemble of green grapes. Good grapes too.

In the region's agricultural weekly, Capitol Press, there is an article about how Idaho table grape growers are trying to achieve the large berries found on California table grapes. Apparently, they have convinced themselves that small grapes are uncompetitive against big blobs from industrial vineyards. Happy to say our grapes are dinky, and look and taste nothing like those giants from the Sequoia State. Table grapes keep well in a cool place or on the kitchen counter. Refrigeration kills the flavor. Better to freeze them.

Again, we will have an abundant supply of Astiana, our culinary tomato. As we did last week, we will have some boxes and a scale next to the tomatoes for bulk purchases. There will be some Striped German tomatoes which are excellent sliced raw.

We will have a good supply of prunes and some damsons. Chick peas, preserves and other odds and ends as well.

Been a busy and productive week, so that's it.

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 16 2012 Market

Sarah West


Sunday, 9:59 AM, we will be standing in the midst of the Hillsdale Farmers' Market waiting the 10:00 AM chime.

Earlier this week, we sent out our "Dear Produce Manager" letters informing them that the Chesters are no longer fit eat. Yes, we can pick some reasonable facsimiles, nice black berries, but they have lost their essential character. Fortunately, we have bunch of really good stuff coming to market.

Tomatoes: We will have a generous supply of own sauce tomato, Astiana, at this market and probably the next two as well. Earlier this week, a frost fell on the lower parts of the farm, reminding us that October is getting closer, but the upper bench was spared. We will have some boxes on hand that you all can fill with tomatoes, or you can bring your own box. It will be ideal processing weather for the ideal sauce tomato. If you have room in your freezer, Astiana also freezes beautifully because it is much drier than most tomatoes. In the middle of winter, that bit of fresh tomato makes the saag or stew brighter.

Dry pulses and grains: chick peas, zolfini, and naked barley. We have given up trying to keep our barley varieties separated. It is now a mix of Arabian Blue, Dolma and the black Jet type, and some other long forgotten types. Two-row and six-row all mixed up. Sometimes it is important to keep varieties separate as in the beans and corn, but other crops, such as barley, we have decided are better as a mixture.

Fresh shell beans: flageolet, cranberry and johnson (aka soldier)

Table Grapes: Mostly green types such as Interlaken.

Plums: prune d'Agen, Pozegaca, Fellenberg (Italian), prune d'Ente, Royale de Vilvoorde, Reine Claude violetta, damsons

All four of the prunes dry well. Pozegaca is the prune used to make the Balkan eau de vie Slivovitz and the plum paste Slatko. It has a pleasant astringency and the same distinct fragrance as the eau de vie. Probably the widest selection of plums found anywhere in the United States, so revel in our plummy obsession.

Preserves
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Gathering of Dusty Feet

When the market manager's designated representative swings the bell on Sunday, it is a gesture steeped in history. Markets are regulated places of exchange. The antecedent to the market structure, a big and heavy club in order to whack somebody over the head and exact their goods, was woefully inefficient. The lump on the head approach of unfettered exchange requires double the number of transactions, and headaches all around. People of a libertarian bent rant about the need for "free markets," but that is an oxymoron. From the earliest times, the right to conduct a market or a fair was granted by the reigning monarch to an individual or institution by means of a charter. A critical component of the charter was granting of safe passage to and from the market or fair by the monarch. Without that guarantee from the government, there would be a paucity of vendors and buyers.

Markets must also have rules of trade. When Adam Smith was contemplating his "invisible hand" in the late 18th century, he recognized three conditions necessary for an efficient market. The first is the requirement that buyers and sellers have free will, no coercion, no big clubs. Second, the market is composed of atomized buyers and sellers, in other words everyone is operating at the same scale and no entity can dominate or monopolize the market. Third is the notion of perfect information. These are sweeping conditions impossible to fully meet. Ideally, rules and regulations nudge the market closer to meeting them. For example, standard weights and measures are there to help the market advance towards the third condition, consequently we must use an inspected and licensed scale to conduct trade at Hillsdale. A standardized opening time signified by the market bell is another gesture at meeting the third. In times past, the weight of a loaf of bread was also standardized, giving rise to the extra loaf in a "bakers dozen" to avoid the stiff penalties for coming up short.

As soon as rules and regulations supplant the big wooden club, the need for a means of a club-less resolution of disputes arises. Probably from the time of first organized markets an organic and rational system of justice arose, ultimately giving rise to merchant law. In England during the time of the Saxons, market charters granted the right to "sac and soc and tol" and "infangthef." This meant the owner of the market could investigate (sac) and adjudicate (soc) claims, and exact goods and money (tol) to satisfy a claim found legitimate. The right of infangthef allows the owner of the market to purse and apprehend miscreants within the market or fair boundaries.

With the Norman conquest, these rights evolved into the Court of the Piepoudres. The name "piepoudres," in its various spellings, is derived from the French/Latin words for "dusty feet," a reference to the long distances traveled by the merchants as they walked between markets and fairs. The merchants may have travelled from France, Spain, the Low Countries or Ireland, as well as other parts of England. They were a transient population, and needed to move on as soon as the market ended. Consequently, these courts displayed a streak of practicality. The investigation and trial had to be completed within a fixed time, typically a day, or in the case of seafaring merchants, three tides. The proceedings relied on evidence rather than testimony regarding characters of the plaintive and defendant. The tribunals included merchants and customers. When an alien was before the court, an alien was also seated as a member of the tribunal. We have in these courts the inkling of a jury of peers. The Courts were administered by the market itself, a separate and limited jurisdiction distinct from the town or borough in which they were located.

Over time, a body of merchant law developed and the need for a separate court within markets and fairs faded. The very last of these courts was seated in middle of the 19th century. Though, in the United States, the modern tradition of small claims courts shares the spirit of the dusty foot courts – expedience and practicality. If you are interested reading more, Charles Gross discussed the court in The Quarterly Journal of Economics (1906), vol. 20: 231-249 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/1883654). It includes the proceedings from the mid 15th century case of Thomas Smith vs. the contumacious Cristina van Bondelyng.

Fortunately, the Hillsdale Court of Piepoudres sits very infrequently, and if all goes well this Sunday and there no infractions of the rules, we can hasten home and enjoy a tasty plum cake (Zwetschenkuchen or Pflaumenkuchen) with a mix of the prunes we picked for market. This recipe is adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 11th Edition. As New Englanders, Fannie Farmer is where you go for basic recipes.

Plum Cake

Butter a 9" x 9" pan. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Cream
1/4 cup butter
Beat in
1 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
Sift together
1 &1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Add to the first mixture alternately with
1/2 cup milk
Cut plums in half and place cut side up close together in even rows over batter. The plum flesh should float slightly above the batter.
Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons melted butter
and then sprinkle with turbino sugar, especially over the plums.

Bake about 20 minutes or so until the batter is cooked. Cut into squares.

The original recipe suggests placing the plums in the batter cut side down, and adding cinnamon to the sugar. Wouldn't look as pretty, and who needs cinnamon when you have a good plum.

Style Manual for Market Farm Newsletters (3rd Edition) satisfied, that's it.

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 9 2012 Market

Sarah West

 

A cheerful bell ringing at 10 am will see us tallying up your purchases at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday.
Finished planting the winter crops this week, including turnips and mustards. Next we start planting the first of the summer crops, garlic, shallots and wheat for frikeh. And you expect us to get the correct change every time when our minds are addled by having to straddle whole seasons. Anyway, you might ask why we continue to plant turnips as none of you want to buy them, and sometimes recoil at the mere suggestion. We are waiting for some sharp researcher to illuminate the common link between the great centenarian cultures. Yes turnips. Theories state that secret of longevity is fish in Japan, yoghurt in Georgia, garlic in Russia, and pomegranates in the Middle East. Jiminy cricket, can't they figure out that turnips are enjoyed and eaten with gusto in all of these long-lived cultures? Hope springs eternal, so we pray the turnips grow well and our perspicacity is rewarded as reason returns to your eating habits. You can even start your centenarian regime now because a diet rich in plums is the other common thread among those cultures. The plums may even generate a hankering for turnips as you feel the spring return to your step.

Here is what we will have at the market, more or less, the advertised specials at any rate:

Chesters: They still in good shape and we will have some this week.

Plums: Seneca, damsons, la mirabelle, prune d'Agen, golden gage – What a lovely way to start the centenarian diet.

Tomatoes: Astiana and striped German. In our estimation, two perfect tomatoes. Astiana is the cooking tomato, richly acidic and flavorful. Striped German is the slicer for the mid-morning tomato sandwich.

Preserves

Roots: Beets and spuds, but not many because of space considerations.

Fresh shell beans: flageolet, cranberry and johnson (aka soldier)

One of the earliest vegetable crops we planted at the farm was shell beans. It was one of those odd ideas the got lodged in our heads, yet we were clueless as to how handle them at a commercial scale. A couple of years later we would repeat the scene with flint corn and frikeh. One of the advantages of farm equipment is that you can plow under your blunders and failures, such as summer turnips, emboldening the creative streak. The beans were planted and we began began to practice the pitch. Sitting around on a hot summer's afternoon shelling beans is a great family time, just like shelling peas. Though, truth be told, as children we had regarded shelling peas and beans as a dreary chore taking us away from far better things.


In the spring of 2000 we planted several different varieties. In June, before the craziness of harvest began, Carol took a week off to visit her parents. In a rural country store, she saw a container of freshly shelled butter beans (limas). She joked that it must be a lot of work to shell all those beans. The woman directed her to a shed out back where they had a bean shelling machine. The big green wooden machine had hand-routed on its front panel "Roto-Fingers Pea-Bean Sheller." The manufacturer was Welburn Devices in Laurel, Mississippi. A few weeks later, Larry Welburn shipped his first Roto-Fingers west of the Continental Divide. He quipped that it is highly unusual to find any identifying marks on the machines because, once a farmer had one, the information was obliterated to keep the information away from any competitors.

The Roto-Fingers is a batch sheller. About 20 pounds of beans are shelled at a time, and it is a very gentle process. All of our dry beans are shelled in the machine as well. Fourteen years later, many tons of beans have gone through this contrivance handmade one at a time down there in Laurel, and it still runs perfectly.

Fresh shell beans are the equivalent of new potatoes or frikeh sans the smokiness. They are still developing their starches, and they have more of a vegetable flavor than the dry forms. Initially we harvested them very green, but over time we found they are better when they have a range of maturities in the mix. Not every dry bean is good fresh shelled, and some are very dull indeed. In addition, some shell in a messy fashion and take a long time to clean. The beans, shelled or unshelled, should be refrigerated. Part of the mythology about shell beans is that they keep better in the shell. This is not true, the shells are big chunk of respiring tissue which generates heat and often mold in storage, compromising the beans inside. When harvested, the shell comprises between 50 and 60 percent of the bean's weight.

The soldier or johnson is a white bean from northern New England with a reddish figure around the eye that reminds some of a soldier and others, with a less martial mindset, see a piece of anatomy. Use it as you would a cannellino bean, very good in a cold salad with tuna and some minced shallot. Get a bit of albacore from Robin at Wild Oregon, or a bit of salmon. The flageolet is a small green bean which is often served as a side dish with lamb or in a gratin. The name comes from a French wind instrument similar to a recorder. Vermont Cranberry has the most robust in flavor of the three, yet will disappoint you when the beautiful pink bean turns a muddy brown as you cook it. At that point you are left to enjoy the distinguished flavor. A bit of acid will restore some of the markings.

Chastened after purgatory among the berry flats, the staff writer is even offering a recipe in compliance with the essential style manual for market farm newsletters. If you are inclined to ignore such instruction, there are two things to remember. Never eat shell beans raw. You will suffer a stomach ache that you will never forget. When cooking any type of beans, add any acid ingredients, such as tomatoes, after cooking. Otherwise, the beans don't cook well and stay tough.  In some parts of the country, they add a pinch of soda or slack lime to the water to keep it on the alkaline side of neutral.

Cooking Fresh Shelling Beans

Judy Rogers offers this excellent method in her cookbook, The Zuni Café Cookbook  (2002, W.W. Norton and Co.)    

For about 2 cups:
2 cups fresh shelling beans
1 carrot, peeled, split lengthwise and cut into chunks or minced
1 small, yellow onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
Salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil.

Directions:

Rinse the beans in cold water.  

Place the carrot, onion and bay leaf in a 2-quart pan and add cold water to cover.  Cover and simmer over low heat until the vegetables have softened and flavored the water, about 25 minutes.

Add the beans and enough additional water to cover.  Some varieties may turn the water grey. Bring to a simmer then tilt the pot and skim any foam that floats to the surface.

Simmer gently uncovered until the beans are tender, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the variety and point of maturity. Stir a few times to ensure even cooking and add water as needed to keep everything just covered. To test for doneness, cut a bean in half.  The bean should be moist and tender with no pale, chalky core.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in salt to taste.   As it takes time for the beans to absorb the salt, taste the liquid, not the beans for the right saltiness.  Stir in the olive oil and leave the beans to cool in the cooking liquid.

Cover and refrigerate up to 4 days in their liquid.

See you all Sunday,

The Boutards of Gaston

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 29 2012 Market

Sarah West

Yet another relaxing Sunday morning will be denied us as we hasten to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market in order to be ready for you all at the ding of the bell, around 10:00 AM.

Gage Plums & BlackberriesWe are on cusp of September when the shell beans, prunes and grapes will be ready. We just finshed threshing barley and will begin harvesting the chickpeas next week. Fortunately, the blackberries are still excellent, so we will have a very full van. Here is what we will have:

Plums: Reine Claude aka green gage

Those raised on the salty music hall routines of Stanley Holloway, who also played Albert Dolittle in My Fair Lady, will remember his little ditty about one of Henry's wives:

In the Tower of London large as life,
The ghost of Ann Boleyn walks, they declare,
Poor Ann Boleyn was once King Henry's wife,
Until he made the axman bob her hair,
Ah yes he did a rum glum years ago,
And she comes up at night to tell him so,
With her head tucked underneath her arm,
She walks the bloody tower,
With her head tucked underneath her arm,
At the midnight hour.

So what does Anne Boleyn have to do with Queen Claude, aside from both sharing a tragically short life? Boleyn and her sister were Queen Claude's ladies in waiting. Like Claude — la bonne reine — and the various wives of Henry, the green gages will also have a very short life, so enjoy their rich, acidic charms, barely contained within the delicate skin, while they are here.

Indeed, growing the gages is more of a courtship than actual farming; neither plant nor grower knows what they are doing so nothing happens as it should. You may recall the old Gastonian quip: The green gage will break your heart twice, once when growing it, and again as it enters your mouth.

Blackberries: Chesters & Triple Crown, to the extent we can persuade staff to pick them.

Pole Beans

Beets, Spuds and some Onions

Preserves
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A Queen with a Pearl Collar

It is late summer and, as usual, members of Hymenoptera — the insect order that groups together the wasps, bees and ants — are putting on a show. About two weeks ago, a large cohort of male bumble bees emerged. Fidgety and playfully pugnacious, they fly about just inches above the ground, darting here and there, trying to stay out-of-reach of any remaining barn swallows seeking a quick snack on the way to Capistrano. Their shape, coloration and behavior is very different from the females of the colony — the queen and her daughters the workers. The males do not have a stinger.

The male bumble bee develops from an unfertilized egg. In other words, denied sperm an egg paradoxically yields a male. Fatherless male offspring is one of those peculiar twists that makes the Hymenoptera so interesting. Both the queen and her sisters can produce eggs, but only the queen has mated and produces fertilized eggs which develop into the females of the nest. The sperm from her nuptial flights is held in a special organ, and the eggs are fertilized as they are laid, or not in the case of males. Typically, the males appear towards the end of the colony's existence and may have hatched from an egg laid by either the queen or one of her daughters.

Despite their aimless flight pattern and endless tousling with their brethren, the males are ever alert for the emergence of a newly hatched queen, or gyne as entomologists call her, and the opportunity to mate with her. Apparently, the males identify her by sight not a chemical cue, which may explain why a hapless swallow-tail passing through earlier this week found itself mobbed by amorous bumblebees. Discovering this lek of bees, we shared with the males a keen interest in seeing the queens emerge, pausing to survey the area as we passed at various times during the day. The nest is in an old mouse hole in the heavily travelled lane between the blackberry fields. Monday the show began.

The new queens are genetically the same the worker sorority; there is no special queen gene. They are raised in larger wax vessels than the workers, and they are fed more food during the larval stage. In order to survive the winter and a summer of laying eggs, a more robust body is needed. After emerging from their pupae, these large females linger in the nest and fatten up for a few days. They emerge from the nest, mostly individually, groom themselves and then take flight. In seconds, the males converge upon her and, in a airborne scrum, try to do the honors. Once a coupling occurs, the surplus males drift back to their posts and the job is finished on the ground. After mating, the queen quickly seeks shelter. She mates more than once and, well provisioned with sperm, she will spend some time building her fat reserves for the winter hibernation. If all goes well, she will emerge from her hibernation lair in the spring and start a new colony.

We have at least four bumblebee species on the farm. The white-shouldered, black tailed, yellow-faced and the brown-belted – the latter are the queens emerging this week. The scientific name is Bombus griseocollis and translates into "bumblebee with a pearl-grey neck," probably referring to a fine line of hairs that encircle the neckline of the females. The brown belt of the English name refers to a distinct band of brown hairs on second abdominal section of the males, just behind the wings. The newly emerged gyne is very beautiful. Her coat is much lighter than the male's or worker's. Interestingly, the male brown-belted bumblebees darting about are not merely callow Lotharios; it is one of four bumblebee species where the males actually assist in the nest by incubating the brood, an important task.

The bumblebees can be difficult to identify, prompting one entomologist to call them "morphologically monotonous." The key distinguishing characteristic are differences in the male genitalia, perhaps prompting this observation. Fortunately overall appearance is sometimes enough and Rich Hatfield at the Xerces Society identified the bee for us from a photo. Xerces is based in Portland, and is internationally recognized for its efforts at invertebrate conservation. They have produced many useful publications, both print and on-line, and issue a quarterly magazine called Wings. Xerces is a very important and well-run organization.

See you all Sunday,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm