Saturday, July 09, 2011

Farm Bulletin: Dancing with Mother Nature

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm has been working his land for many years and has experienced most of the seasonal weather patterns endemic to his corner of the Wapato Valley near Gaston. This year's cool, wet spring and early summer has been at turns puzzling and frustrating.

Farming is a waltz with nature, and although we try to work with her, we are reminded, more often than not, that she is a powerful lead. Among the farmers at the market, the discussion is whether this second late year in a row is the beginning of a trend, a cyclical moment or a stochastic event and as significant as drawing two jacks from a deck of cards.

Regardless, the choreography of planting, cultivation and harvest are planned by the farmer to avoid missteps, a collision between unequal partners. This next week will test our mettle and humor as frikeh production (left) must happen at the same time we are planting the winter crops and summer fruit is starting. We are also racing to clean up the berry fields before the grass, fireweed and thistles set seed. The seeds stick to berries and make them more difficult to pick. Somewhere in this mix, the sowing of summer greens will be done. One, two, three, one, two, three…

On Berries

Blessedly, the number of people who tell us the old family secret of spreading berries carefully on a cookie sheet so they don't touch each other, and then putting them in the freezer without jiggling the masterpiece of spacing, are now far and few between.

The best way to freeze our berries is to leave them in the container or flat, and place the whole thing in the freezer without touching the fruit. (The berries we sell are picked especially for you at the Hillsdale market, not hauled from one market to the next, and they are picked over to remove the berries that start to rot. We sell at one market only, so every pint of fruit is less than 24 hours from the field to your good custody.) A day or two after being placed in the freezer, when berries are fully frozen and you feel like a spot of work (but not too much), take out the hallocks and give them a gentle squeeze while pouring the berries into an airtight container. They will be perfectly frozen as individual berries.

During the ripening season for each fruit, berry quality changes. The early fruit have a higher natural pectin level and acidity, making better preserves than later fruit. We make our preserves from the first run, and they do not need added pectin. As the season progresses, the pectins and acidity drops, and for cooking the berries have less oomph. However, for fresh eating, the later berries will be sweeter and just as flavorful in the mouth. In preparing preserves, it helps to macerate the fruit in the sugar overnight and heat it up the next day.

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