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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

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 12 2012 Market

Sarah West

Eamon Molloy and his hardy band of volunteers will transform the parking lot at Hillsdale into bustling farmers' market by 10:00 AM on Sunday.

Here is what we will have:

Chesters, Chesters, Chesters, and, oh yes, we will have good quantity of Triple Crowns as well, about 35 half flats Zenón tells me.

We have told the story about the Chester Blackberry many times. Kathleen Bauer posted the most recent one on her site, even illustrating it with photos of Robert Skirvin, John Hull and Senator Dirksen. Her nickname around here is the "Bauer Bird" because she does such wonderful job of collecting and arranging material for her site. Here is the link:

http://www.goodstuffnw.com/2010/08/farm-bulletin-pt-2-taxonomy-of-chester.html

The berries are also at Pastaworks, both Food Fronts and all 12 New Seasons stores if you run short during the week. Fine establishments all.

Beets, Cucumbers and New Potatoes

Pole Beans: Preacher and Fortex

Garlics, Shallots & Onions

Some Preserves

Frikeh

Wither the Turnips? One of our farm aphorisms is "you are only as good as your next turnip." We collected and cleaned two crates of beautiful turnips, grabbing a handful for dinner. Even Tito, the amazing turnip eating bandy-legged dictator backed away from them. If we had sold those, you could have called us tough, woody folk with a bitter edge. As it happened, our appetite spared our reputation. A week earlier they were delicious, but the heat was their ruination, and they almost took us down with them. New aphorism: Never trust a pretty turnip.

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La Cajita Blanca

Two weeks ago, the little white box returned after a year's absence. For many years, we have used half-flats made from unbleached container board. Four years ago, we were caught short at the end of the season and bought a bundle of 100 with a white liner board. They were soon gone, and by last year there was just one still in circulation. It stood out in the stack and we commented on how many times it must have returned to the farm. At least five times by the initials, though it might have been more because staff typically initial flats later in the season when mold has set up in the field. That way, if someone is inattentive, we can address the situation quickly. The flat also had a small oval sticker, indicating that at least once it was filled with Triple Crowns. Those yellow stickers were left over from the days when we grew melons, and we used the extras to mark the non-Chester boxes. Maybe it also went out filled with mirabelles, green gages or festooned with Joe's Long Cayenne peppers, looking just like a jester's hat. Still in good shape after its many journeys, the box was filled with fresh hallocks, Chesters and sent out into world again last week.

We typically reuse paper flats until they look shabby or their ears get mangled — what we call the tabs that lock the boxes together when the are stacked. We never reuse the green paper-maché hallocks however. There are three good reasons why. First, and most importantly, it is a matter of food safety. We do not know where the hallock was stored and it comes in direct contact with the fruit that is eaten raw, unlike the flat. From a food safety perspective, it is reckless to reuse the hallock without knowing where and how it was stored. Second is food quality. If there is a speck of mold in the used hallock, that mold will infect fruit put in it later. Mold and berries are a match made in heaven if you are into rapid decay. Third, as a matter of federal law, organic growers can only reuse packaging that previously held certified organic produce. Consequently, the used hallocks go to recycling.

Packaging is always a fraught subject, especially for organic growers who want to extend the ecological ethic beyond the field. There are many factors that need balancing in selecting how to present the food. For example, on a hot summers day the delicate greens wilt rapidly, their quality suffers, and we waste a lot if they are sold out of an open crate. In the winter, the kale, collars and chicories fare well in the open air. They remain beautiful through the day and sell well. We try to make sure it is always a judgement call rather than a reflexive need to bag.

In the valley, farmers are fortunate to have a superb plastics recycling service. Located on Waconda Road in Brooks, Agri-Plas, Inc. recycles a wide spectrum of plastic waste generated by farms. Pots, old irrigation tape, barrels, plastic bags, old twine and grain sacks are all sorted and sold to domestic users. When we have to pick up some supplies in St. Paul, we will carry down our recycling and stop by Ernst on the way home. Very efficient.

In the meantime, we will be waiting to see if our little white box returns some Sunday in the future. It is hoped with her ears intact so we can send her forth once more.

Cheers, and see you all Sunday,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
The Costermongers of Fair Gaston

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 5 2012 Market

Sarah West

Suffering the usual grunts and groans as we get ready for the Chesters. A couple of weeks ago, a young heron shorted out the power line to the pumps, frying the controller on our smaller pump. Ernst Hardware had a used one that worked, and Gerry had it installed quickly. Heron survived, just some singed primaries. Then, ten days ago, one of the utility vehicles lost compression, bad symptom but we were spared the worse. On the Gator, older models they used a plastic camshaft gear. Doug down at Ernst installed a new steel gear and it is running nicely. Early this week, an "alarm 14" on the controller for our big pump used to cool the blackberry field indicated a short in the motor windings, so we had to pull the 600 beast and bring it down to McMinnville. Picked it up this morning. Craig from Ernst got it up and running just in time for the upcoming heat ripple. Funny how mellifluous a 50 HP pump coming up to pressure sounds on a hot afternoon.

Despite this tale of woe, we have not retreated from our solemn commitment to bring Chesters and other good food to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday starting at 10 AM, with a cheerful smile. Credit all the good staff at Ernst Hardware in St. Paul for easing us out of tight spots over the last couple of weeks. The banal bumper sticker reads "No Farms, No Food" which has some measure of truth, but the last couple of weeks drove home the fact that there are plenty of other businesses that are essential for us to bring you all food. Any successful business is part of a community and we don't do this alone, despite some of the cramped rhetoric bandied about lately.

Berries: Model T rules, any color as long as it is black. We will haul in a good supply.
Prunes: Imperial Epineuse
Pulses & Grains: Chickpeas and Frikeh.
New Potatoes
Beets and Summer Turnips: We had an idea. Perhaps people really want summer turnips. Beautiful little neeps ready to sauté, pickle or have raw in a salad. We certainly did, so we planted some.

That's it. Sending this out early because all hands will be in the field early, even the slacker essayist.

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

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 22 2012 Market

Sarah West

Opening Bell at Ayers Creek FarmFor some crazy reason, the allure of getting up at 5:00 AM, loading stacks of berries and other produce into the van, harvesting some summer squash and blossoms at the last minute, a gentle word to Tito, driving into Portland, setting up the tent and tables, unloading the vegetables and berries, and then reversing the process after 2:00 PM, remains alive. Perhaps it is because Tito is so happy to have us home ten hours after his sad-eyed goodbye. Whatever the reason, we will be there when the Hillsdale Farmers' Market opens. 
Vermont Street will be closed on Sunday after 11:00 AM as part of the Portland Sunday Parkways program. This will make parking a bit of a challenge. Eamon will try to ring the "ten o'clock bell" close to 9:30, after all of the vendors are set up.

Hillsdale is the only farmers' market we attend, so all of the fruits and vegetables are harvested for Saturday just for you. If you fail to show up or are off fresh produce for some reason, no worry, any that are left over are donated to the gleaner from Neighborhood House. We appreciate the volunteers and staff who put that program together. It gives us the pleasure of over-harvesting a bit knowing that the food will go to good use.
This newsletter goes out on a very simple and primitive system called a 56K dial-up modem. Technology from the last century, problems occur and, like the old cars of Havana, modem access no longer has reliable support. It works well, but increasingly it hiccups, sending two copies instead of one, doubling the number of missing articles you have to add. For the past five years Verizon, then Frontier, has been just six months away from providing DSL on this stretch of Spring Hill. So in six months perhaps the problem will resolve itself  .  .  . 
With that disclaimer out of the way, here is what we will have this week:

π Cherries - We will have a lot this week, and they will be the last of the season. Many Montmorency and Hungarian in lesser quantities.

Boysenberries - They are peaking this week. We may have a dribs and drabs of other caneberries.

Summer squash - Costata Romanesco, handsome and delicious. 

Greens - Lettuce, leaf chard and the amaranth/orach mix.

Aromatics - As last week, dill, fenugreek and a bit tarragon.

Frikeh

Garlics and shallots

About eight years ago we received a call from a young couple who asked if the could grow their garlic at the farm. It was early autumn and they just moved out to Oregon and had an extensive garlic collection they needed to plant immediately. The situation was dire, so we agreed to consider their request. Farm land is either rented for cash or a share of the crop. Cash rent is the most common arrangement, but sharecropping offers some advantages. A few years ago, we agreed to a share in wheat that was grown on the farm. We earned considerably more with this arrangement, but we had to wait longer for the money. He stored the wheat for two years and the price went up nicely. The share is typically a third of the crop for the landowner. 
When Josh and Sarah approached us, we were bulking up on crops for the winter market and it made sense for us to take a share of the actual crop. They would need us to do tractor work, irrigation and other odds and ends, making any sort cash arrangement difficult to calculate. We settled upon a one fifth share for us. It was generous to them, but we also benefitted because it allowed us to share in a very diverse collection of garlics. They had been featured in the New York Times food section, and we referred to them as the Famous Garlic Farmers in earlier newsletters. After four years, they found a place of their own and still grow garlic. Josh also works in the produce department of the Cedar Hills New Seasons store. So we will see him over the next few weeks while delivering the Chesters.
Somehow or another, this stinking lily bulb composed of fat storage leaves has built up a fair measure of mystique. Talking about garlic, things can get complicated pretty quickly. If you are only growing garlic, that's fine, but we have too many things swirling around to tolerate much nuance. Early on and endearingly earnest, we labelled every variety sold at the market and kept them separate for planting. The market labels lasted just a couple of weeks; they disappeared when people starting asking what variety we would recommend for fish or aioli. With our forestry and natural history backgrounds, we are inclined to think in terms of populations rather than narrowly drawn varieties. Now we select about 100 pounds of the best garlics and plant them. Eliminating the organizational demands allows us to plant more and harvest faster.  The harvest took more than a week early on, and now two of us have everything dug, bundled and hanging in two days, with a help from Sylvia, Carol's sister.
There are two major types of garlic, hard neck and soft neck. The hard necks are the most flavorful but do not store for a long time. These are the bulbs we are bringing to the market now. The soft necks are less complex in their flavors but remain in good condition well into the springtime. We will sell these when the hard necks are all sold, typically starting in December. As you use our garlic, you will still see traces of the diverse collection brought to our farm by Sarah and Josh. On the other hand, the conditions and character of Ayers Creek Farm and its owners are shaping the population as well. If you consider the wonderful names of garlic varieties, they almost always indicate a region of origin. Over time, this population of garlic will be tightly linked to the soils and management conditions of Gaston, just as 'Creole Red', 'German White' or 'Georgian Crystal' are linked to their regions. Maybe it's time to call the hard neck 'Wapato Wed'.
We will see you all tomorrow,
Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 14 2012 Market

Sarah West

 Happy Bastille Day. A good way to recover from the day's celebrations is to amble over to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market starting around 10:00 am tomorrow and buy some restorative fruits and vegetables. We will be there enjoying the π cherries that are now at their best.

Here is what we will have:

π cherries, naturally. A mixture of Montmorency and the Hungarian morello types (Jubileum, Danube and Balaton). Montmorency has a light, almost clear juice, and the Morellos have a dark red juice.

Raspberries & Loganberries: Coming to the end of these delicate and aggravating fruits.

Boysenberries: Barring unfortunate meteorological events, we will have these for the next three Sundays.

Miscellaneous Ribes: Red currant, black currant and gooseberries.

Acetaria: A lovely mixture of lettuce types from Wild Garden Seeds. This is the prime lettuce season for those of us who do not use greenhouses.

Cooking GreensOlera – the cooking greens: Leaf chard and a mixture of orach and amaranth.

Aromatics: dill, fenugreek, edible chrysanthemum

Grains and Pulses: Frikeh, chickpeas, fresh favas

Preserves

A couple weeks ago in the Hillsdale Farmers' Market newsletter, assistant manager Sarah West noted that one of the most frequently requested foods at the information stall are organic strawberries. It interested us because we have often toyed with the idea of growing strawberries, and the lack of this crop illustrates some of the challenges farmers face when deciding what crops to grow.

As organic growers, our stall should put to rest the claim that certain crops can't be grown organically. That is a prevarication, not a fact. Dependency upon synthetic crop inputs is relatively recent, and there is no crop that we can think of can't be produced without them. In fact, strawberries have naturalized on our farm and we find the occasional plant with the most sublime fruit you could ever dream of.  The lack of organic strawberries has nothing to do with organic farming, instead it is largely due to the historical structure of agriculture in Oregon.  

In 1965, there were roughly 14,000 acres of strawberries harvested in the state. Most of the crop was sent to processors for making jam and pie filling. By 1990, the acreage had dropped by half, and in 1999 it halved again to about 3,500 acres. Currently, the harvested acreage is fluctuating between 1,700 to 2,000 acres. These data show the change that has happened in the industry. Most of the strawberry producers gained their experience in the processor market and, as it collapsed, shifted to fresh market as the processors left the state or started using imported fruit. Historically, many of those growers had roadside stands and, as the shift occurred, they used that experience to move into fresh market. Most of the strawberry acreage shifted over to a more lucrative form of farming, nursery production.

There was no tradition of organic strawberry production in Oregon, so it hardly surprising that as the industry shrunk all of the remaining strawberry growers used synthetic inputs. At this point, growing fresh market strawberries is an "old sector" and there is no economic incentive for a young farm to make the substantial investment to grow the crop. Berry prices across the board are too cheap for a farmer considering a new planting. Beets and lettuce are a better investment for people entering the business: small package of seed, lots sweat equity with a low risk of failure due to weather. With fruit, a few hours or days of ill-timed rain and the farmer has to contend with the disappointment of losing a substantial chunk of income, as well as upset customers. So the cohort  most likely to bring an expertise in organic farming, young farmers, have little reason to consider fruit because the older cohort, and that includes us at Ayers Creek, have made our investment and suppress fruit prices.

There is an addition twist that is integral to our character as organic growers, and the reason why we answer "no" whenever we consider strawberries. Over the past half century, strawberry varieties have been selected and reselected in breeding programs that use synthetic fertilizers, aggressive soil sterilization, fungicides and insecticides. At the present, there are no varieties that have gone through a selection process for robust performance on organic farms. So we would be starting with debilitated plants that are essentially chemically dependent. In fact, all of the commercially available strawberry plants are grown in chemically fumigated soils and that sets up additional restrictions under the rules of organic agriculture. That is an additional barrier that can change, but as long as the price of strawberries remains so low there is no economic incentive for a shift towards organic breeding programs.  

Those naturalized strawberries we encounter from time to time gave us an idea about seven years ago. We dug up several hundred and planted them in a managed field. Our goal was to find a population with good natural resistance to disease and replicate the interesting diversity of flavors we found in those volunteers. Similar to what Frank and Karen Morton do with their lettuces. The wildlings, as we called them, were really good and we discovered we were really bad at growing strawberries. The farm has to be a good match with the farmers' personality, and we grow other crops with greater pleasure and success.

We will see you all tomorrow, perhaps with La Marseillaise still ringing in your ears.

Allons enfantes de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!

The Boutards of Gaston & Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 8 2012 Market

Sarah West


When we come to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market tomorrow, Sunday the 8th, we will have a good supply of berries. The anticipated hot spell will likely shrink the raspberry and loganberry season, so this is the week to enjoy them. We will also have gooseberries, red, pink & black currants. Montmorency cherries are also ripening and we will bring some as well.

The frikeh is ready. This year's harvest is the greenest and most tender we have ever produced. You will need to start checking it at about 20 minutes.

We will also bring some mixed greens and fenugreek. The newsletter muse has been diverted by other tasks. Even though we haven't started enjoying the full bounty of summer yet, we are busy preparing the ground for the chicories, escaroles and other crops of winter.

Carol and Anthony Boutard of Gaston
Ayers Creek Farm

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This is from last year's newsletter about frikeh:

Frikeh:

Frikeh (freekeh, farik, &c.) is parched green wheat, and a middle eastern specialty. We prepare it using the traditional method of collecting heads of wheat while the grain is still green, burning them and then threshing the grain from the head. The is just 72 hour window when the wheat is at its best. The process produces a jade green grain that is slightly charred and has a smoky quality. Although durum wheat is usually used, we have started using the much thinner skinned soft red wheat, producing a more tender grain. Using fire to process green grains is also practiced in southern Germany where spelt is roasted to produce grünkern, and in the southwestern United States where unripe corn in the soft dough stage is roasted and dried to produce chicos with their own characteristic light smokiness.

To prepare frikeh, rinse well in couple of changes of water. Drain and put in a saucepan. Add water to about double the depth of the grain, or more. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently, checking it for tenderness around 20 minutes. Drain, salt as desired and store in the refrigerator without liquid.

At this point, the grain can be used in many different dishes. At its simplest, we use frikeh to build a seasonal grain salad along the lines of tabbouleh, using olive oil, lemon juice, mint, parsley, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and perhaps a bit sauteed summer squash. Chef Naoko Tamura adds frikeh as a topping for her seasonal salads using a traditional Japanese soy and rice vinegar dressing: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/17/136394182/seasonal-salad-with-bamboo

Frikeh is delicious with yoghurt and butter milk. Nostrana serves a butter milk and frikeh soup based on a similar soup from Deborah Madison's The Savory Table. Linda Colwell guided us in putting together an Ayers Creek version of this soup. http://anurbanagrarian.blogspot.com/ It uses two cups of frikeh in a quart of butter milk. Add a couple tablespoons each of fresh cilantro and dill, a tablespoon of ground coriander toasted gently in a dry pan, and two cups of purslane whole if very young, or chopped coarsely. Linda also brought a jar of her tuna, and we made the tuna and frikeh salad shown on her blog.

Yesterday, we prepared our variation of the middle eastern dish called kibbeh using frikeh. In its traditional form, raw lamb is mashed with bulgar wheat in a mortar with parsley, onion and mint. The mixture is dressed and served raw as a tartar. Unfortunately, the raw version is seldom served in restaurants, instead the kibbeh is fried or broiled. In our version, we ran a half pound of lamb through a meat grinder and then mixed it in with the herbs and frikeh. We dressed it with olive oil and lemon juice, and served it with salad and Siljans, the round rye crisp bread.

Frikeh is also very good in heated dishes. Egyptians stuff fowl, usually pigeon and chicken, with frikeh. Add it to a mix of sauteed vegetables. Its gentle smokiness and grassiness is welcome summer fare. If you plan on storing the frikeh, we suggest pouring it into a glass jar and keep it in the freezer. This preserves its quality. It is shelf stable, but the flavor drifts away over time. For us, though, it is linked with the flavors and texture of summer, and we have no inclination to prepare it in the winter.