Monday, February 27, 2012

The Farm in Winter, Warmth for the Soul

Year-round farming in the Willamette Valley is not for the faint of heart. But let's face it, there's not much chance of getting frostbite—most likely the worst that could happen is getting soaked and cold if you haven't got your Helly overalls, a waterproof jacket and a good pair of boots.

Anthony on the gator: do not get in this man's way.

More and more valley farmers are discovering the benefits of year-round farming with the concomitant benefit of year-round income. Many use row covers and hoop houses to extend their growing seasons, evidenced by the abundance—well, seven and counting—of winter farmers' markets in the metro area. National interest in all-season farming is growing, as well, with even the august pages of the New York Times trumpeting accomplishments like those of Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch of Four Seasons Farm in southern Maine (on roughly the same latitude as Oregon).

Beef tongue with hominy ready to warm up some cold bellies.

Of course there are sturdier sorts, and here I'm thinking of the likes of Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, who prefer to grow crops that thrive without cover in the field in our soggy winters. They look for seeds from varieties that are already acclimated to NW winters, and have adapted others through careful seed selection.

Linda munching on some arugula fresh from the field. Yum!

I've had the privilege of spending some time on their farm on an occasional Friday before market, bagging beans and polenta inside and harvesting cabbage and chicory outside. While my version of "helping" tends to be more in the vein of "willing," Anthony and Carol are kind to let me stumble through some minor chores.

One of the best parts, though, is when we break for lunch, often supplied by the far more skilled farmhand and cook, Linda Colwell, who has been helping out at Ayers Creek for several years. Her recipe below for a superb beef tongue with hominy (top photo, with early broccoli) was a dish she shared recently.

Chile and Tomato Braised Tongue with Hominy
From Linda Colwell

Hearty laughter, a recording of Ruth Draper and a soul warming, rib-sticking lunch at Ayers Creek Farm was a well-rounded recovery from a morning of harvesting chicory.

For the curing:
1 beef tongue
4 qts. water
3 c. kosher salt
2 c. brown sugar
2 bay leaves
10 crushed juniper berries
10 crushed peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds

For the sauce:
1 qt. tomato sauce
4 ancho chiles
4 pasilla chiles
4 guajillo chiles
3 c. boiling water
Cilantro, finely chopped, for garnish
1 lb. corn kernels, such as Roy’s Calais Flint corn from Ayers Creek Farm
2 Tbsp. pickling lime

To brine and cook the tongue: Bring the water, salt, sugar, and spices to a boil and allow to cool overnight in the refrigerator. Thoroughly rinse tongue and place it and the brine in glass or plastic container large enough for the tongue to fit completely submerged. Refrigerate for 5 days.

Remove the tongue from the brine, rinse under cold water and place it in a pot. Cover the tongue with fresh water and simmer until it is tender, about 2 hours. Remove the tongue from the poaching liquid and, when cool, peel the rough skin off the tongue. Place the tongue in a cast iron enameled covered pot, add the chile and tomato sauce, and braise in a low, 250° oven for 2 hours.

To prepare the chile and tomato sauce: Cut open the chile peppers with a pair of scissors, remove the seeds and stems and break the chiles into smaller pieces. Next, lightly toast the chile peppers in an iron skillet,  then transfer to a bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 20 minutes. When the peppers are soft, puree them into a smooth paste and thoroughly mix with the tomato sauce.

To make the hominy: Place 1 pound of corn kernels, such as Roy’s Calais Flint from Ayers Creek Farm, in a large enamel pot with two tablespoons of pickling lime. Cover with water an inch above the corn. Bring the pot to a simmer for one hour, then turn the pan off and let sit at room temperature overnight. The next day, drain the corn and refresh under cold water, rubbing vigorously until fresh water is clear again. Cover with new water and simmer for one to two hours until the kernels are tender. Set aside.

Assembly: Mix a third of the chile and tomato sauce into the hominy and warm through. Slice the tongue and add it to the pot of hominy, napping the meat and corn with the remaining sauce. Serve with a garnish of chopped cilantro.

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