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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 December 21 2014 Market

Sarah West

The Sunday after the brumal awakening is traditionally Calendar Sunday at Ayers Creek. The 2015 edition is quiet, no color and few words. Out of character? Not really. It happens occasionally, often in July and August when the season runs past us. We will bring roughly half tomorrow and the balance for the first market of 2015, so don't fret if you can't make it tomorrow.

That said, if the forecast holds, it promises to be a dark and soggy four hours, so we will be very happy for any company during the vigil. We will have the usual complement of winter squash, sweet potatoes, knob celery, black radish, horseradish, onions and spuds. We will bring preserves and gift boxes along with the grains, legumes, cayennes and pumpkin seeds. Yesterday, we harvested some of the first chicory heads, along with a bucket of good looking rocket.

We produce our own seed for many of the vegetables, legumes and grains we grow, reselecting each year for better traits and quality. This summer, Brian Campbell and Crystine Goldberg of Uprising Seeds asked if they could include some of our varieties in their 2015 seed catalogue. We agreed and the next thing you know, they need to check our corn seed for genetic contamination. It was with a heavy heart that we posted seed to them knowing that those beautiful kernels would be completely destroyed and then probed for any violation of their purity. The reason we grow food is knowing the pleasure it gives the people who eat it, not to have it suspiciously handled by an uncaring and unloving lab technician. We have recovered, but it took a psychic toll. For what it is worth, the purity Amish Butter and Roy's Calais Flint are unchallenged, free of any corrupting genes. We knew this intuitively from working with the corn so intimately, but the cold, clinical diagnosis provides additional validation of our effort. Ultimately, though, it is not the negative - non-GMO - that we are striving for, it is the lovely, rich flavor those two varieties of corn bring to the table. We are glad that we are of a mind with Brian and Crystine on this substantive point.

Probably the only sunshine we will see tomorrow is the glow from the freshly opened squash. We are often asked for suggestions on how to prepare winter squash. Here is a good variation on the old Turkish treat the sorbet that will keep the glow alive: www.goodstuffnw.com/2014/12/move-over-ice-cream-squash-sorbet.html

Our best for holidays if we don't see you tomorrow,


Carol & Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter January 20 2013 Market

Sarah West

The van will be redolent with the fragrance of roots and leeks as we crawl over Bald peak on our way to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday. We have the able assistance of Sam O'Keefe, a family friend who will make sure we are ready when the old cowbell tolls at 10:00 AM.

Monday, we will give a presentation before a joint meeting of the Avid Gardeners and the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition. It is open to the public and will take place at the Garden Club at 1645 High Street in Eugene. We will be sharing our thoughts on growing fruits and vegetables at the 45th parallel, replete with various digressions. The meeting starts at 6:30. Please stop by if you are in the neighborhood.

Here is what we will bring to the market:

Cornmeal and Popcorn  

Pumpkin Seed Project, Year 3:

Three years ago, we planted a row of naked pumpkin seeds as a trial. The hulless or naked pumpkin seed originated in Styria, a region of Austria. Pumpkin seeds are roasted and pressed for their oil, a characteristic food of the region. In the late 19th century, an observant Styrian farmer found a pumpkin where the tough hull was reduced to papery covering. Apparently, Austria is not considered a sexy land of origin in the seed catalogue land, so some seed companies list them as unique Japanese pumpkins. Echos of calling prunes from Germany "Italian Prunes."

The mice quickly volunteered as tasters, eating every last seed and leaving naught but a hole. Obviously, the mice had decided pumpkin seeds were tasty, so we hastily set out a few more as seedlings and harvested six or seven fruits. Upon harvest, we agreed that mice have a good palate.

We repeated the trial in 2011 and discovered the seed companies have done a poor job of managing the seed. Most of the fruits had various undesirable characteristics, including a tendency to have tough, split or bitter seeds. More than half the pumpkins had to be discarded, their seeds inedible. Bulk naked pumpkin seed costs about $80 per pound - more in the 1/4 pound lots we usually buy - and should produce a reliable crop. Unfortunately, we are encountering similar seed quality problems for other crops.

Last spring we ordered seed from several sources and picked through thousands of seeds, finding just 100 with the characteristics we wanted, discarding the rest. Cost was about $1.00 per seed, plus labor. We planted them and all but two of the plants produced good seeds. Ten of the pumpkins yielded beautiful plump, dark seeds easy to separate from the fruit pulp. We have reserved these for this year's planting. When we harvest the pumpkins in the autumn, we will again carefully select the fruits for seed.

Our goal is to produce a pumpkin that produces flavorful, high quality seeds that are easily removed by hand from the fruit's cavity. It will take a couple more years before we iron out all of the genetic kinks, but we are making progress. This year, we have the flavor nailed, even if the seed removal remained tedious.  These Austrian pumpkin seeds are delicious raw or roasted in a dry skillet until they pop. Wonderful addition to soups and salads. Supply is limited.

Pulses: Dry beans and chick peas.  

Cayenne Peppers: whole dried.

Winter Squash  

Greens: leeks, chicories and mustard/turnip/radish greens.

Preserves:  Full complement, including some gift boxes. We are waiting for the cherry preserve labels. We will have them by the next market.

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

Colwell's Marriott Krensuppe

There is not much horseradish lobby, so its wonderful health benefits are barely explored and publicized. For example, digging it offers wonderful cardiovascular stimulation. In addition, it is clearly an aphrodisiac as we love putting it on all manner of foods. Linda Colwell, who shares our affection for this mulish root and helps us dig it for the farmers’ market, recreated two krensuppe recipes from lasting memories of a soup we enjoyed years ago.

A strike at Charles DeGaulle Airport had thrown the European airline schedules out the window, necessitating a layover in Frankfort, Germany. We were given a room in a Marriott Hotel miles from anywhere and quite late in the evening. The dining room did not look promising at first, but reading the menu we relaxed. The fare was simple German cooking using local ingredients. Among the soups offered was krensuppe. It was actually two soups; a red and a white soup served in the same bowl.

Although they can be served on their own, the red and the white versions together in a soup bowl make a striking visual display and, with the shared horseradish, harmonize wonderfully on the palate. The colors, by coincidence, are those of the Austrian flag, and horseradish soups are part of Austrian cuisine. Served hot or cold, they provide good vegetarian fare. The third version is from an old Romanian cookbook of Linda's. It uses beef stock, roux, and a very generous quantity of horseradish. The grated root is cooked with the flour, softening its flavor in the soup; the flavor is peppery and mellow.
 
Red and White Horseradish Soup
 
to make the horseradish and potato soup
 
30 gr (1 ounce) butter
½ medium onion, diced
600 gr (20 ounces) potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 liter (6 cups) water
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons, more or less, freshly grated horseradish
 
In a large enameled pot, melt the butter and cook the onion in it over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, until the onion is translucent and soft but not brown. Add the potatoes, water, and salt. Simmer over low heat until the potatoes fall apart, then cool them to room temperature.
 
Purée the ingredients through the medium plate of a food mill. Bring the soup to a simmer, taste, season accordingly. Add freshly grated horseradish to taste.
 
to make the horseradish and beet soup
 
900 gr (2 pounds) beets
500 ml (3 cups) water
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons, more or less, freshly grated horseradish
 
Cook the whole beets in their skins in heavily salted water until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel and cube them. Pass them through the medium plate of a food mill into a large enameled pot. Add the water, vinegar, and salt. Bring to a simmer, taste, and season accordingly. Add freshly grated horseradish to taste.
 
to serve the soups
Ladle the beet soup into one side of a shallow soup bowl and the potato soup into the other side, so the soups meet in a line down the middle. Serves 6.
 
Horseradish Broth Soup
 
30 gr (1 ounce) butter
200 gr (2 cups grated) horseradish
30 gr (2 tablespoons) flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 liter (6 cups) beef broth, heated to a simmer
120 ml (½ cup) heavy cream
bread and butter for croûtons
 
In an enameled cast-iron pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the horseradish, and cook until wilted and soft, about 4 minutes. Add the flour and salt and cook thoroughly without browning. Add the hot broth slowly, whisking to prevent lumps. Simmer 10 minutes. Add the heavy cream, taste, and season accordingly. Serve hot with croûtons — cubes or slices of bread fried in butter or fat until they are golden brown and crisp — prepared at the last minute so they sizzle as they are scattered on the soup. Serves 4.

Cheers, see you all Sunday

Carol & Anthony