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Portland OR 97219
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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 July 21 2013

Sarah West


We will rise as the July's waxing gibbous moon sets over the Coast Range. With luck we will arrive at the parking lot at Wilson High School with a bit Ayers Creek to sell. The market bell rings at 10:00 AM.

This is our dreaded berry hole, when the early fruit have gone and the Chesters are offering only a few tantalizing specks of ripening. We will have some red currants and gooseberries. We are beginning to catch up after that wet spell in early June. The fenugreek went to flower in the high heat, but a new planting went in last Saturday and is sprouting nicely. Next week, we plant our chicories so we are thinking of winter as much as summer these days. Here is what we will have tomorrow:

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

Greens: Purslane, and a mixture of orache and amaranth.

Tart Cherries - Once again, we failed at cherry geography. Apparently cherries are not grown on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They are further south in the area around Traverse City, an area we have dubbed "Transpeninsula." They claim the mantle of "Cherry Capitol of the World." Lucky this is the last week for cherries as we have yet to fully explore our ignorance of cherry geography.  

We made our deliveries Friday and walked into a restaurant with the wrong invoice. When the staff saw it was for Lovely's 50/50, they regaled us with how delicious Sarah's tart cherry ice cream is and how she uses the cherry pits to flavor it, giving it hint of bitter almond essence. The next stop was at Lovely's and Sarah's mother greeted us with a tub of the ice cream. The ice cream is made from the Balatons. The next batch will use the Montmorency cherries. If you are in Mississippi area, more specifically 4039 N Mississippi Avenue, stop in and try the Balaton cherry ice cream. It is worth a trek across town. Then return to try the Montmorency flavor when that's ready. We have this geography right because we actually travel that area a bit.

Prunes - The stone fruits have three separate layers surrounding the seed and are what botanists call a drupe. The layers are the skin (exocarp), the pulpy flesh (mesocarp) and the hard layer surrounding the seed (endocarp) that the laity call the stone or pit. These three layers are derived from the mother plant's tissues, whereas the seed inside is the result of the sexual union of the sperm produced by the pollen and the mother plant's egg. The various stone fruit have characteristically shaped endocarps. Cherries have round ones, peaches have a large pitted version, almonds have a softer corky endocarp, and the plums have a very hard asymmetric pit. The seeds have a characteristic bitter almond flavor, and some are toxic when eaten in large quantities. The Boutards have long eaten the seeds of stone fruit without apparent ill effects. In many parts of Europe, it is customary to include some pits to flavor preserves and eau de vies made from stone fruit, just as Sarah does with her ice cream.

The plums are the most diverse of the stone fruits in terms of types and flavor. This week, we start with a prune bearing the regal name of Imperial Epineuse. The prunes are a class of related plums with a very high solid content of sugars and fiber, which allows them to dry well. They are prunes no matter whether they are fresh or dried. The commerce in dried prunes originated in Hungary in 16th century and spread westwards into France and Germany. The original seedling of Imperial Epineuse was found in an old monastery near Clairac, France. It was introduced to Oregon in the waning days of the 19th century as a dessert prune under the name of Clairac Mammoth, but never gained a following here. Not sure why, as it is easy to grow and more reliable than any of our other stone fruit. A steady cropper as the Brits would say. The texture is very fine, and pomologists have suggested that it may have a bit of damson in its background. The skin provides a pleasing and contrasting acidic note.

If you have an over-productive prune in your backyard, you can pick the very young fruit in the spring, before the pit has hardened, and cure them just as you would olives. The whole fruit is edible, no need to pit them, and you them in the dishes as you would olives. We crack the fruits with a mallet and put them in a jar with water, changing it daily until they turn olive green. Last year, we cured them in lye. The cured plums look no different than cured olives; the lye cured plums are dark just like lye cured olives. Publication 8267 from UC Davis give good directions (http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8267.pdf). We got the idea for curing plums from a visiting Chicago Chef, Paul Kahan, who served up a dish with green peaches cured in the same manner. Greg Higgins and his staff cured gage plums and seasoned them with a Tunisian accent. That is the great part of having visitors to the farm, they always leave a new idea or two as they leave.

We look forward to seeing you all tomorrow.

Anthony & Carol Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

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 July 29 2012 Market

Sarah West

Another week, another market, again starting at 10:00 AM, Hillsdale time, and the costermongers of Gaston will be there.

Our stall should have the following fruits and vegetables:

Berries: We are in the trough between the early season berries and the Chesters. So it is maybe this, maybe that, but not too much of any particular berry.

Imperial EpineusePrunes: Imperial Epineuse is a table prune. It was introduced to Oregon around 1900 but never found much favor among the state's prune growers. A pity, because it is early and a very flavorful plum. It is thought to have a touch of damson in its lineage, which accounts for its very fine texture relative to other prunes.

Frikeh & Preserves

Mixed greens: Both salad and cooking greens as in earlier weeks.

Garlics & Shallots: The ugly shallot is the French Grey, the True Shallot. They never send up a flower stalk and have better flavor than the onion-like False or Jersey Shallot that is most commonly encountered in the stores and markets. They are ugly so they sell poorly, a pity.

Summer Squash: Costata Romanesco

As summer progresses, the matter of zucchini's fecundity comes to the fore. Newspapers and magazines regale us with the travails of home gardeners who try to foist the excess on neighbors and friends. All manner of recipes are proposed to deal with the burden. So why are people who don't garden, and should be grateful for the generosity of the plant and its owner, so resistant to the gift?

Although it is found in the vegetable section of the grocery store, and is treated as a vegetable in the kitchen, the zucchini is, in fact, a fruit. As we have noted many times, the first harvest of berries are the densest and highest quality. As the season progresses, the concentration of pectins and acids drop and the fruit has a thinner skin, all contributing to a change in flavor. On the blackberries, for example, we make six rotations through the field, harvesting roughly 60% of the field's production. The remaining fruit is just not worth harvesting, the berries have lost their bright quality, have a bitter edge and the fragrance is suddenly unappealing. Without fail, on the seventh rotation the field rests. In grapes, we thin approximately 40% of the clusters in advance, once again producing a lower yield than the vine would produce without our interference, otherwise the flavor of the harvested grapes would be compromised. In melons, only the first two fruits on the plant are worth eating even though the plant produces several more. A similar pattern develops in the snap beans, tough skin and a lack of flavor push us to abandon the vines long before they finish producing beans.

With the zucchini and other summer squash, the same reduction in fruit quality happens as the plant ages. The first four to six fruits are dense and sublime in every respect. By the time you get to the eighth fruit or so on the plant, they are not worth a tinker's dam. No longer do you want to simply sauté them in a bit of olive oil and savor their flavor. They don't have any, at least as a positive attribute, and so a battalion of seasonings is mustered in order to make the fruit palatable. It is not because we are bored with the fruit, as some food writers assert. The plant has spent its energy producing the early fruit and it is time for the gardener to move on to another food. Left on its own, a zucchini plant carries just one or two fruits to maturity, by removing the immature fruits we push it to produce more but the plant has limits. Foisting the unwanted fruit of a spent plant on your friends and neighbors is a cruel mockery. When we were growing melons, the first few ripe fruit went to the staff who helped plant them as a gesture of thanks. A real gift to the neighbors would be the first and most delicious zucchini of the season, instead of the debased surfeit. When you stand staring at the spice cabinet trying to decide what flavor is best with squash, it is time to walk away from the fruit, not next door with it.

"Shame on the wastrel," the human chorus cries, "wasting food is a sin against nature! The cultivator has brought this food forth from the earth, and you counsel denying others the pleasure of eating it!" "Hush," the farmer responds, "we are not alone here. We tend and harvest crops in joint effort with other creatures upon this earth, and it is they who have toiled and earned the surfeit." The chorus of the field flora and fauna reply, "Yes gentle farmer, leave us the latter day squash. Let them ripen in the field and we will build a great and tilth-full soil. It is merely a silly, self-centered conceit that if humans do not use it, there is waste." As this exchange from Ayersini's translation of Carolystra and Antonocoles (the respected Gastonian Folio) stresses, we farm in consort with billions of other organisms, nothing goes to waste when left in the field.

Once the harvest has ceased, zucchini plants continue to grow, the fruits ripen and set seed. The mature fruits are between two and three feet long, and their ribs turn a deep golden-orange. During this time, they also produce substantial amounts of fibrous woody stem that will contribute organic matter to the soil. All winter long, the tops provide a shelter for a range of insects, spiders and small mammals, a village of life. Birds forage among the decaying remains. Beneath the ground, there is a deep tap root and and a more extensive fibrous root system that maintain the tilth of the soil through the winter idyl, and providing food for the creatures that live there. To every extent possible, we leave our cornstalks, tomato plants, squash and bean vines and other crops standing in the field through the winter. In our experience, the instinct to cleanup does more harm than good. No better job for a spent plant than to leave it in place to protect and improve the fertility of the garden. Think of it as a deferred meal. The unkempt garden will serve you well.

See you all Sunday,

Carol & Anthony Boutard Ayers Creek Farm