Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Look Again

This brilliant bit of creativity came from the Urban Farm Store blog. And yes, it really is a pile of split firewood. Very. Beautifully. Stacked. Wood.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sweet Summer Memories

The gift of a few ears of homegrown corn (above) from my sweet neighbor Susana sent me into a summer reverie.

It must have been when I was around four years old. My family lived in a forties-style ranch on a one block-long street of similar houses in Tigard, an early patch of development in what would become the suburban sprawl that quickly surrounded Portland in the 1960s and 70s.

At the back of the house, the edge of our neatly mowed, fenced green lawn bordered on a field of wildflowers where I'd wander and pick bouquets to bring to my mother. It would eventually become a parking lot for a giant strip mall, but to my four-year-old self it was a vast prairie, a place for catching and studying the birds and bugs that lived there or spending hours laying down the grass looking up at the clouds passing overhead.

Across the street in front of our house was another row of houses identical to ours, beyond which stretched another field, this one planted with row upon row of corn. All the kids on our street would play hide-and-seek in that field, losing each other in the sameness of the shadowy stalks that stretched into the sky, their tassels glowing in the evening light. During the late summer I'd often wander off into the field on my own and pick an ear or two, peeling back the green husk and nibbling the sweet raw corn that always tasted better than anything boiled and buttered, and only emerge when I heard my mother calling from the front porch to come in for dinner.

So when it's corn season and there's no field across the street to wander off into, I'll husk a few ears, scrape off the kernels and cook up a batch of corn stock from the cobs for a corn risotto that brings back, if only for a few moments, that sweet memory from my childhood.

Sweet Corn Risotto

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. arborio rice
2 c. corn kernels
5 c. corn stock
1/2 c. parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

To make corn stock, cut kernels off of five corn cobs. Put kernels in a bowl and set aside. Place cobs in large saucepan and cover with 5 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove cobs and strain stock through wire mesh sieve to remove any debris.

Melt butter and oil in 2 1/2-3 qt. heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat till translucent. Add rice and stir for about 30 seconds till grains are hot and coated with butter mixture. Add corn and combine. Stirring frequently, add stock one ladle-full at a time, allowing rice to absorb it before adding more. When rice is tender but still slightly al dente, stir in cheese. Add salt and pepper, adjusting to taste.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Belly Up to the Bar

I found myself literally stumbling across the Bakery Bar on NE Glisan just east of 28th.

I had the address, and you'd think the fluorescent orange paint job (left) would be hard to miss, but the signage marking its location is subtle and the orange storefront is tucked at the back of a parking lot-cum-patio studded with tables shaded by potted trees.

But once Dave and I traversed the patio, we found a small café at the back dominated by a counter and blackboards listing the day's offerings. We were obviously in for a treat, but not the kind that would normally be conjured by the "bakery" in its name. Yes, a small case containing a few petite, beautifully decorated cakes (right) was in evidence, but they were an oddly civilized counterpoint to the menu itself, which was one that a long-distance trucker would pull his 18-wheeler over several lanes of traffic and a few hybrid vehicles to get to.

Big plates of hash, scrambles and biscuits and gravy, sided with the bakery's English muffins and sizable pallets of hash browns were pouring out of the kitchen, feeding the mix of late-morning diners and bed-headed musicians standing patiently in line (top photo). I got the pastrami hash (left), little cubes of housemade pastrami and potatoes, red peppers and onions topped with two fried eggs and parsley pesto, a mountain of breakfast that I was only half-able to climb, indicating that Mr. B would get a nice little eye-opener when he arose later. The English muffin was a good version, griddled and tasty, but I missed the open, cratered texture of other versions that gets crispy on the edges when toasted and gives the butter little lakes to melt into.

Dave's migas, three eggs scrambled with a hefty shower of owner Dan Stoop's pickled jalapenos, caramelized red onions and fried tortillas, all topped with tomatillo salsa, were another big plateful of morning man-food. Dave had to pass on the cotija cheese, but did go for the additional of the house chorizo, and it all came with some of the aforementioned hash browns and the ubiquitous English muffin.

It's a breakfast to wash down with many cups of their strong coffee, and not just because of the volume of food they provide. The sunny patio, convivial buzz of conversation and mix of patrons give a reason to linger, with no pressure to move on to other activities. And what better start to a morning is there than that?

Details: Bakery Bar, 2935 NE Glisan St. between 29th & 30th. Phone 503-477-7779.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Keeping It Real

Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood has been waiting, just like all of us, for his garden to get in gear this year. But that's not stopping him from enjoying some simple end-of-summer pleasures.

It’s been a strange summer, but not as bad as some I remember when the sun never seemed to shine at all. Still, the vegetables I look for have been slow in coming as they wait for the heat they need to ripen. I’ve yet to pick a ripe tomato (other than a few Sungolds) from my garden.

Fortunately, better growers than me will have ample offerings at the market this week, including lots of tomatoes. Celebrate the last weekend of August by eating as many as you can. Make some panzanella, toss together a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, or layer them with fresh mozzarella and basil for a Caprese platter. I’ll make at least one meal out of my favorite, the deconstructed sandwich.

Deconstructed Tomato Sandwich

Slice several ripe tomatoes (if they’re big, cut the slices into manageable bites), and toast some good crusty bread. Hold a piece of bread in one hand, add a single bit of tomato to the edge nearest your mouth, dollop on a bit of mayo (make your own if you like, but I like Best Foods—Hellman’s to those east of the Mississippi), top with a pinch of flor de sal and eat. Repeat.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Market Report: They're Here! They're Here!

Word rocketed out of the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU last Saturday that pimentos de padron were spotted at the Viridian Farms booth. Within the hour there were meetings in Situation Rooms all over the city and strategies of attack were being devised for dinner parties and menus for the rest of the month.

Why the fuss over some little wrinkled green peppers? Well, my friend, these peppers, when fried in olive oil and served warm with a sprinkling of salt, are just about the perfect appetizer for end-of-summer dining. No utensils are required since the little stem provides a handle, and the whole pepper is small enough to pop in your mouth and consume in one bite.

There's even a thrill factor, since, while most of these tiny delights have a mild, sweet character, every once in awhile one will pack a frisson of heat that explodes like a capsaicin IED. Exciting!

Details: Viridian Farms appears at the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU on Saturdays from 8:30 am-2 pm and on Wednesdays at Shemanski  Park between SW Salmon & Main from 10 am-2 pm.

* * *

And speaking of the Portland Farmers' Market, executive director Ann Forsthoefel has announced her resignation after two years at the helm. And no, political intrigue was not involved…her husband took a new job at a company in Missoula, Montana, and that's what has prompted the change. With the successful expansion of the PSU market and the start-up of the King market last year and two new markets this year at Pioneer Courthouse Square (Mondays) and in Northwest Portland at 23rd and Savier (Thursdays), attention shifts to possible candidates to take her position. And with attendance up by double digits, it's a key part of Portland's strategy to bring residents to, and to keep tourists spending money in, the downtown core, much rides on someone who can surf the political waves and balance the needs of vendors and the food community. Not an easy task!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In Vino Veritas

As many of you know, my brother, Bruce Bauer, owns Vino, a wine shop in Sellwood. He opened the shop in the late 90s when the neighborhood was still a little backwater of antique shops and small industrial businesses. In the decade since then, he has watched it grow into another of Portland's neighborhood gems, with thriving boutiques, restaurants, small businesses and places for neighbors to meet and exchange news.

I like to think Vino has been a big reason that more people and businesses have been drawn to the area, with its loyal clientele and hugely successful weekly tastings. But today Bruce announced that Vino must leave the neighborhood that has been its home and seek another location.

"For me personally to leave the Sellwood neighborhood after more than a decade is quite devastating, and has been the cause of much lost sleep," he said in an e-mail to customers, explaining that issues with his landlord had forced him to make the move. "I am very saddened to think that I won't be seeing many of you as often as I have become accustomed to. I treasure what Vino has become over the years here…much more than the simple retail store I thought it would be."

But customers fear not, and closer-in eastsiders rejoice, because he's moving Vino to a new location on the corner of SE 28th and Ash, just a block north of Ken's Artisan Pizza. He'll be closing the Sellwood location on Sept. 25 (the last Friday tasting will be on Sept. 17), and is hoping to reopen in the new location in late November.

Top photo of Vino in Sellwood by NotHip.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Market Report: Peachy Keen

There are certain aromas that turn my head when I walk down the aisle of a farmers' market. Basil. Strawberries. And lately, peaches.

There's something about that heavy, sweet smell that almost makes me dizzy, and I invariably pick one up, stick my nose right into its business end and inhale deeply. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!

So when the need arose for a seasonally appropriate dessert for a dinner with friends, a vision of peaches simmered under a biscuit crust floated across my inner movie screen. I hied myself to the nearest farmers' market and went from booth to booth looking for ripe candidates. When you're baking with these sweeties, you want the peaches to be firm but have some give to them, though not as much as if you were going to eat them out of hand. And they have to have the aforementioned irresistible perfume or they're not worth buying.

I ended up with six big, juicy Maryhill peaches, enough for a decent cobbler, and within an hour had it in the oven. Talk about instant gratification!

Peach Cobbler

For the filling:
6-8 c. peaches, peeled and sliced
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. grappa, brandy, Cointreau or Grand Marnier

For the biscuit crust:
2 c. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. frozen butter or margarine, cut up
1 c. light cream or milk

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In large bowl, combine filling ingredients and stir gently. Place in 9” by 12” baking dish.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in food processor. Pulse to combine. Add butter or margarine in pieces and pulse until it's the consistency of corn meal. Add cream or milk and process till mixed and soft dough forms. Using spatula, scoop out onto heavily floured surface. Roll or pat out, using flour as necessary to make sure it doesn't stick, until dough is the size of your baking dish. Carefully lift it up and lay over fruit.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the topping is brown and fruit is bubbling around the edge. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Farm Bulletin: A Peaceable Kingdom

In the middle of the frenzy that is the summer harvest, this week contributor Anthony Boutard stops to remind us about the other creatures that call Ayers Creek Farm home, and to ponder his and Carol's role as caretakers of the land.

The waxing gibbous moon rises in the late afternoon and reaches its apogee during first half of the night. As the moon develops its belly, it provides more light for the coyotes as they move about the farm. They often chatter, a kind of "I'm here, where are you?" mixture of barks and yips. They also have their choral moment which starts out with calls and responses, followed by a rising crescendo of barks, verging on a howl. It ends abruptly. They call mostly at night. Interestingly, their conversations are never overtly aggressive; we never hear snarling or fighting among them.

Coyotes are furtive animals, though in the spring when food is short they are less reticent to show themselves. Often a coyote will shadow the tractor as we mow the berry rows, pouncing on the fleeing voles (left). At the southern end of the berries is a small canyon with a dense thicket of native roses along its eastern flank. In early April we spotted four very small coyote pups along the edge of the roses, which we mistook for rabbits at first sight. By May, they were bigger and given to playing outside of the briars, and the count rose to eight pups.  That is on the high side for a litter. During this time, the mother hunted all through the day.

Through the summer months, the coyote diet is almost entirely fruit. They eat a lot of cherries early in the summer, followed by prunes, blackberries and then grapes. This summer fructivory performs a valuable service for us by cleaning up the fallen fruit. The energetic demands are lower in the summer, so the coyotes' "Dick Gregory" diet makes sense. In addition, the dry summer soils make it hard to excavate rodent nests. Come the autumn rains, they will shift back to rodent hunting. Regardless of the season, birds are an insignificant part of a coyote's diet.    

As organic farmers, we judge the health of our land by the health of the predator populations. In addition to the eight coyote pups, our barn owls raised five owlets (right) and fields are thick with tree frogs. When we see good numbers of weasels, spiders, snakes, dragon flies and lacewings, we are comforted knowing there is a shadow productivity, a separate harvest, that works in concert with our efforts to grow nutritious food.

In the legal world of organic agriculture, it takes three years to earn certification. At the ecological level, it generally takes a farm many more years to recover from the chemical assault of modern agriculture. Recolonizing the land with a diverse guild of predators is a slow process, and we still see holes in the structure after 12 years of managing this patch above Ayers Creek. For example, we have only seen one western fence lizard here, and we should have a good mix of these reptiles. We suspect the absence of a corridor for recolonization leaves us bereft these animals. Someday we will wake up and see some lizards, and know the farm is a little bit more complete.

You can find the Boutards most Sundays from 10 am until 2 pm at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. For a complete schedule of Willamette Valley farmers' markets, along with maps and links, click here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting a Head: The Eating

Porky, but with a definite accent that tells you it isn't just the other white meat. On the sweet side, though there's not a grain of sugar in it, and a little fruity. The polenta that holds it together is almost undetectable, and it's terrific cold or at room temperature, as well as prepared the traditional way: fried, plopped on toasted bread and topped with a sunny-side up egg. It would even work instead of pâté in a bánh mi sandwich, with pickled daikon and cilantro. In a word? Delicious.

Read about how this went from a pig head named Max to a rectangular brick of goodness by clicking here.

Getting a Head

When someone drops an opportunity in my lap, I grab it. Especially if it involves pork products.

So when my friend (and editor) Peter Szymczak of NW Palate magazine said he was testing a recipe for a pork terrine that was going to run in the next issue, and that it would involve cooking and stripping a pig's head, I not-so-subtly volunteered to help. He graciously accepted, saying the split-down-the-middle head would be brined for a day, then go into the oven to braise for 12 hours in a broth of wine, vegetables and water.

On the pretext of checking the galleys of the article on Big Table Farm that I wrote for the same issue, and to check out the redesign of the magazine (a big, and welcome, change), I dropped in about halfway through the braise. The head itself, which I named Max (after Max Headroom), was still intact (top photo and left) but on its way to melting into a tender, falling-off-the- bone mass of porky goodness.

And sure enough, when I returned that evening, it had all decomposed into a somewhat recognizable but now barely held together form (right). Which made it relatively easy to pull out the bones, cartilage and anything resembling glands and leaving the meat, skin and fat to cool in a pan till we could shred it by hand.

Traditionally, scrapple is pork combined with cornmeal, then fried before serving, and this recipe from Chef Robert Belcham, owner of Refuel and Campagnolo restaurants in Vancouver, B.C., called for making a small batch of polenta and mixing it into the pork with herbs. We then packed it into terrines, and set it in the fridge under weights to compress. Can't wait to slice into it!

Look for the recipe along with an interview with Chef Belcham in the Sept./Oct. issue of NW Palate magazine, as well as my article on Clare Carver and Brian Marcy of Big Table Farm. And get a load of the redesign of the magazine to boot! Subscribe online: 1 year/6 issues for $15; 2 years/12 issues for $27. Cheap!

To see the reincarnation of Max in terrine form, see Getting a Head: The Eating.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Salad Smackdown: When God Gives You Tomatoes…

Most Portland gardeners are just starting to get some tomatoes, and contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood has perfectly captured our anticipation.

I finally ate a few Sungolds (the perfect cherry tomato) from my garden last week. My other tomatoes are still green, but that first taste filled me with anticipation of more to come. All this heat is good for some things, after all.

If you’re firing up the grill to avoid any additional heat in the kitchen, be sure to toast some bread over the coals after they’ve cooled down a little. I usually do bread last, when whatever else I’m cooking over fire has been moved to the indirect heat section of he Weber. You have to watch it closely though, since it can go from lightly browned to burnt in a couple of seconds. Take a few slices and, with some good tomatoes, make this simple bread salad.


I use whole wheat levain from New Seasons for this; Grand Central campagnolo or Ken’s country brown would also be good. Rub several slices of grilled or toasted bread on both sides with a whole, peeled clove of garlic. Cut into bite sized pieces.

Chop 4-5 tomatoes into similar chunks. Combine with the bread, then tear the leaves from a bunch of basil and add them. Toss with about a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon or so of Katz Late Harvest Zinfandel vinegar, and a healthy pinch of flor de sal. Taste, tweak the oil, vinegar, or salt if necessary, and let sit for 15 minutes or so before serving.

You can find Jim and his supply of imported salts, Italian olive oils, Katz vinegars and assorted dry goods most Mondays from 5 to 7 pm at Activespace, 833 SE Main #122 (ground floor, NE corner of bldg.).

More salads in the Smackdown: Kale Salad with Anchovies, Olives and Lemon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Camp Stories: Moss Creek Campground

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Named after the first chief of the US Forest Service, it covers 1.37 million acres, roughly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island smooshed together. It has one active volcano, Mt. St. Helens, and another snow-capped peak, 12,200-ft. Mt. Adams.

Home away from home (with Corgi).

We'd done some camping years ago at one of the several lakes on the flanks of that mountain, and decided to explore some new territory this time. Unfortunately we neglected to make reservations until a few days ahead of time and, it being the height of summer camping season, we didn't get our first choice of Paradise Creek but did wangle three mid-week days at a smaller campground, Moss Creek.

Rustic yet sophisticated.

An easy drive up I-84 to the Hood River bridge and just north of the town of Willard, the campground sits on a small tributary of the Little White Salmon River. The dozen or so campsites are mostly for tent and smaller trailers, with none of the niceties like flush toilets and showers that attract the plusher rigs, a plus in our book.

Dinner first night: Lamburgers with onion chutney.

The creek itself is smallish and not swift, perfect for wading by older kids, pets and adults. If you want creek access, go for site #10 which is private and has a short trail through the trees down to the water. If you have need for a group site, definitely go for the two sites directly on the creek (I think they're #13 and #14) that have a dedicated vault toilet and are on their own loop at one end.

Breakfast: Griddle-fried potatoes and onions on the fire.

Having gone camping just a few weeks ago, there were a couple of items that needed to come along this time. One was pillows. (I know, how could we?) The other was the appropriate glassware for martinis, both of which made the whole experience so much more pleasant.

Posole rojo to inaugurate the cast iron Dutch oven.

Dinner our second night gave us the chance to try out Dave's new Lodge cast iron Dutch oven, my anniversary present to him. We decided on a posole rojo, since it was easy to make up the sauce and cook the posole ahead of time, then freeze them and the pork shoulder for transport (they also helped keep the freezer chest cold…brilliant!). All we had to do was build up a bed of coals, whack the pork into pieces and assemble on the spot. Two hours later, dinner!

Who says roughing it has to be…well…rough?

Details: Moss Creek Campground. Directions: Take I-84 to Hood River, cross the Hood River bridge (toll $.75), go left to the town of Underwood and immediately after crossing the bridge over the Little White Salmon River, take a right on Cook Underwood Road. Follow it up the ridge and take a right on Willard Road (if you come to the fish hatchery, you've gone too far). Take Willard Road to the stop sign, then take a right on Oklahoma Road through Willard. Moss Creek Campground is on the right a couple of miles past the town. More info (though ignore the awful directions) on the website.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Seat at the Table

We're kind of odd when it comes to special occasions. Yes, we love to go out and let someone else do the cooking, but rather than going to that high-end, multi-course, highly-reviewed temple that we've been thinking about trying, we opt for a favorite spot, a place where the high-falutin' is at a minimum and the food is the center of attention.

Glasses clink, Chef Anthony cooks.

Our reasoning is simple: if we're going to drop some significant dollars at a place, we'd rather our money goes to people we care about, who've treated us well in the past. Where the focus of the evening is celebrating the occasion, not whether the waiter refills our glasses in a timely fashion.

So when our anniversary rolled around, for the second year in a row we chose one of our under-the-radar faves and a place where the food never disappoints, Tabla on NE 28th. Drinks were in hand almost as soon as we could take our seats at the chef's bar within kibitzing range of Chef Anthony Cafiero, whose dedication to farmers' markets alone would seal the deal for me, but who also likes to play with his food in incredibly tasty ways.

We decided to go with the three-courses-for-$24 option, which gave us two apps, two pasta dishes and two entrees, a lot of (but not too much) food and a chance to share bites of lots of things, a plus on any occasion when it comes to Anthony's cooking.

The baby octopus featured among the apps was, according to Anthony, more of an adolescent, and the meaty but tender slices were served salad style with black olives, greens and cherry tomatoes (top photo). There was also a little taste for each of us of an ajo blanco (right, above), or garlic almond soup, with half of a sweetly ripe Oregon cherry instead of the traditional grapes. Perfetto!

The wine we chose was an earthy red from the Jura region of France, an '07 Arbois Poulsard Vieilles Vignes (left above) from Stephane Tissot. To me, reds are appropriate with just about any food, and this one matched the cavatelli pasta with meltingly tender beef shin (right) ever so well, the little curled rounds looking like so many luscious pasta caterpillars. (How many other food blogs will you read that description in? None!)

The albacore ala plancha (left) that I ordered for my main was genius, the tuna seared to just done-ness on the outside and pinkly rare in the center, two good-sized chunks on top of a to-die-for smoked corn-and-tomato salsa on one side and green lentils in a creamy wine reduction on the other. My mouth was so happy! And Dave's stuffed duck confit on tiny potato slices with seared greens was simplicity (and deliciousness) itself.

Call us risk-averse cowards if you like, but this meal, like the anniversary, was something to celebrate!

Details: Tabla Mediterranean Bistro, 200 NE 28th Ave. 503 238 3777.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sitting by the Fireside

For us, one of the joys of camping is building a fire in the firepit and watching the flames lick the logs as they melt into charcoal dust. So settle in, take a moment and listen to the crackle.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Summer Salad Smackdown: Talk About Going Green!

It was a revelation, an epiphany, an awakening. I'd had brussels sprouts before, of course, roasted, steamed, stir-fried and hashed. But what was sitting on my lunch plate at Olympic Provisions was different in almost every way, a salad comprised of shaved, raw brussels sprouts.

Yes, raw. With a few roughly chopped castelvetrano olives and a hint of minced anchovies, tossed with a very simple dressing of olive oil, fresh lemon and salt.

Crunchy, bright and irresistible, I went back again and again. I couldn't stop talking about it. I made several stabs at copying it, finally achieving my goal. Then brussels sprouts went out of season and I had to find a substitute.

Then it hit me…raw kale! I'd made a run at a kale salad before, and while it was perfectly acceptable, it hadn't grabbed me the way the brussels sprout salad had. So with a bunch of my favorite kale, lacinato, in hand, I chopped a fine chiffonade of the dark springy leaves, mixed in the rest of the ingredients and took a bite.

Perfection! It's now become the hit of our summer table, since it's a great match with any grilled fish,  chicken or meat, and is comfortable in any setting, whether fancy or casual. Who would have thought raw could be so refined?

Kale Salad with Anchovies, Olives and Lemon

1 bunch lacinato kale (also known as Tuscan, black or cavalo nero)
10 castelvetrano olives, pitted and roughly chopped
3-6 anchovies, minced
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon or chopped preserved lemons
Salt to taste

Chop a fine chiffonade of kale. It's not necessary to remove the stems completely, though I remove the thicker stems at the bottom and chop the remaining greens. Place kale in large salad bowl and add the olives, anchovies (start with the lesser number and add to taste), olive oil and lemon juice. Toss, adding salt to taste. I like to make this a half hour before serving so the kale has a chance to wilt slightly.

More salads in the Smackdown: Panzanella with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil and Grilled Bread.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Farm Bulletin, Pt. 2: The Taxonomy of the Chester

I love contributor Anthony Boutard's writing. Informative on an academic level, yet also engaging and full of humor, he brings the bugs, crops and creatures of his Ayers Creek Farm to life for those of us not so familiar with what's going on outside the city limits.

The first fruit to ripen are called the "King Berries" in the trade. Oddly patriarchal. After all, in languages where gender is indicated, fruit is feminine and they should be "Queen Berries." Regardless, these are the best berries for making preserves and any dish that needs the fruit to "set up."

The Chester Story

In the Spring of 1968, Robert Skirvin, a student of the small fruit breeder, John Hull (left), emasculated blossoms on the blackberry selection SIUS 47, carefully removing all of the stamens to avoid self pollination.  The SIUS prefix indicated the plant is a product of the breeding program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (top photo). Each breeding program has a specific prefix that helps keep track of a variety's ancestry. Later he dusted pollen from the blackberry variety 'Thornfree' onto the receptive stigmas. 'Thornfree' is a USDA selection of the legendary English blackberry 'Merton Thornless.' Unlike many early thornless varieties which were chimeric and unstable, the absence of thorns in 'Merton' was a stable trait and useful for breeding purposes.

After the fruits ripened, the seeds were extracted and planted. Out of the many dozens of 1968 seedlings, three were noteworthy for their flavor, yield and thornless canes. Two would be released as named varieties, and a third wound up as the maternal parent of a named variety. Skirvin completed his masters and then moved on to Purdue where he studied geraniums and earned his PhD.

In 1973, the Southern Illinois Fruit Station was closed. Hull had the most promising plants moved to other experiment stations. The blackberries were sent to Professor Zych who ran the small fruits program at University of Illinois, Urbana. Zych died shortly afterwards. Fortunately, Skirvin (right) joined the small fruits program at Urbana and discovered that the blackberries he had bred many years earlier were still growing and producing fruit. He decided SIUS 68-6-17 was worth releasing as a named variety.  As John Hull already has his name affixed to one of the 1968 progeny, 'Hull Thornless,' they decided to honor Professor Zych who acted as guardian of the berry. We were spared a berry named 'Zych Thornless' because the breeders had the good sense to use his first name, Chester. SIUS 68-6-17 was formally released in 1985 as 'Chester Thornless', and earned the honorific of "Outstanding Fruit Cultivar" in 2001.

Another selection from the 1968 breeding work of Hull and Skirvin was SIUS 68-2-5.  That plant was pollinated with a blackberry from Arkansas, AK 545, and one of the resulting seedlings was released as 'Triple Crown' in 1996. Its flavor bears the distinct signature of berries from the Arkansas program.

Southern Illinois Fruit Station operated from 1959-1973. During that short time, four named blackberry varieties were released from its breeding program, in addition to several other small fruits. "Black Satin," "Dirksen Thornless," "Hull Thornless" and "Chester Thornless" remain highly regarded blackberry varieties. The great Senator Everett Dirksen (left), the master of eloquent barbs, had picked berries as youth. Dirksen was a champion of the center, and it thrived under his patronage. When you hear people decry "pork barrel spending" and "earmarks," savor a fresh "Chester" and maybe that will soften any rising indignation.  

Over the years, we have told the "Chester" story many times, each time from a different angle. Plant breeding is a craft unto its own, and we greatly admire people who explore the range of qualities available in a crop. The best breeders have this innate sense of how to guide and nudge the plant's unseen genetic qualities. Like other artists, they need patient patrons, as well as inspiration.

Farm Bulletin, Pt. 1: Star Turn

Sometimes it's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one who's a little cuckoo about my pets. In Part One, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm gives me yet another reason, besides the recipes, to add a couple of new releases to my cookbook collection.

We have always suspected that our Tito (top) was once a model. Tiring of endless photo shoots and trotting down the runway, and inspired by Jackie and Roy's sweet rendition of Wilder's "It's so Peaceful in the Country," he sought out the simple rewards of rural life. A little naive, he fell upon hard times and was abandoned. He was picked up on the streets of Newberg and sent to the shelter where we found him. He hates the heat, loves drizzle, takes umbrage at the slightest whiff of a coyote and is a successful hunter of ground squirrels and voles. He considers himself a working dog, and who are we to disabuse him of that conceit?

He still has his modeling moves, and they are in good form in the new edition of Debra Daniels-Zeller's "The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook,"published by Timber Press. There is also a nice profile of Tito's companions as well. Debra caught the way nature is left to creep into the managed landscape at Ayers Creek, and how the rows and orchards are now quite as clearly delineated as in other farms. And for those feeding a vegetarian, there a a bunch good recipes attuned to the northwest's harvest schedule.

Fortunately, Deborah Madison has many friends in Portland, and occasionally she has a moment to visit the farm. This spring, we had a good time with her at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) meeting in Portland, where she interviewed us about growing and harvesting fruit. The occasion was the release of her new cookbook, "Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market,"published by Broadway Books.  Deborah provides us with many imaginative fruit desserts.

We enjoy reading kind words about our work, and Tito. We are also keenly aware that the farm is only as good next berry picked. You all keep us and our staff on our toes.

Photo of Tito by Debra Daniels-Zeller.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Share the Wealth

Swimming in squash? Buried in broccoli? Thinking you might have planted a few too many tomatoes?

Instead of leaving them on your neighbors porches and doing a "ring and run" or, worse yet, leaving on the vine to rot, your extra garden produce can go to help feed Oregonians who don't have enough to eat.

The Oregon Food Bank's Plant a Row for the Hungry program has drop-off sites around the metro area, including sites in Multnomah, Clark, Washington and Clackamas counties. They're particularly interested in produce that transports well, like:
  • Tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Winter squash
  • Garlic
  • Hot peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Onions
  • Collard greens
If you live outside the metro area but have produce you'd like to donate, check with your local food bank. There's every likelihood they'd be happy to take that 10-lb. zucchini off your hands!

Details: Oregon Food Bank's Plant a Row for the Hungry produce donation has drop-off sites around the metro area. Check the website for a location near you or call 503-282-0555 for information.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Pok Pok in the 'Hood?

The streets of Thailand are now going to be a few miles closer to my house. To quote from a press release:

"I am happy to announce that we have just signed a lease for the space that Podnah's Pit now occupies on NE Prescott and 15th. Once our buddy Rodney and his crew get their new space on NE Killingsworth built and they move out of the Prescott space, Pok Pok Noi will take the place of Podnah's.

"Pok Pok Noi (Little Pok Pok) will be a mostly take-out joint with some outdoor and counter seating. On offer will be the original shack menu plus a few of the other favorites from the full Pok Pok menu, such as Neua Naam Tok, Muu Paa Kham Waan and Sii Khrong Muu Yaang. (Doing the full menu in this space would be logistically close to impossible, so sorry-- only the greatest hits!) There will be a full liquor license which will allow us to sell bottled beer to go, and our house made drinking vinegars will be featured both for on-premise consumption and to go. We plan on being open for lunch and dinner, 7 days a week."

Mr. Andy Ricker assures everyone that there will be no interruption in the flow of pork from Podnah's, so there's no rush to push in, but he's hoping for mid-November.

Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I've Been Hit!


If you do, or if you saw a suspicious person with odd bulges in their clothing hanging around my front porch, please report them immediately. There's no reward, but there might be a slice of zucchini bread in it for you.

Coffee with a Side of (Local) Celebrity

Riding high is a challenge when it's just a trip to the grocery store. Especially in a Mini. But in the last year those trips have been so much more fun since Chili became our preferred mode of transport. And to celebrate his first year we took him in for a little fluff'n'buff session at the dealership.

A kind office person offered us some of the free coffee that was languishing in a hot pot nearby, but indicated with subtle body language and facial expressions (Grabbing your throat and making gagging noises is subtle, right?) that we might consider other options. When we inquired about where to find some coffee nearby, he pointed across the parking lot and through some overhanging trees to an older home on the next block.

Following his finger, we found Fehrenbacher Hof, a coffee shop charmingly crammed into a few downstairs rooms of an older home in Goose Hollow. Owned by the family of former Portland mayor and publican Bud Clark, it has a small patio with tables out front and a wide front porch that would be comfy vantage point on a rainy, warm day.

Decorated with antiques, I'm pretty sure it's also the former location of the (locally) famous antique shop owned by Sigrid Clark, Bud's late wife, who was a violinist with the Oregon Symphony and a colorful character in her own right. It's rumored to have killer breakfast sandwiches, particularly a Reuben made with the same corned beef and sauce that is the staple of Bud's Goose Hollow Inn.

Heading back to the dealership, we found that Chili had emerged from his spa treatment all shiny and pleased with himself. Now we just need to decide on where his next road trip will be.

Details: Fehrenbacher Hof, 1225 SW 19th Ave. Phone 503-223-4493.