Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Killing It: Camas Davis on Fresh Air

"I don't think we all sit on the exact same part of what I think of as the 'spectrum' of meat eating. And so it really depends on where you come from. On a basic level, I'm interested in a couple of things: How land is used to raise the animals that we eat for meat. ... I'm interested in ... pollution practices. I'm interested in resource management. And is the food safe for us? Do the animals have a good life? Do they have a good death? And then, on our end, when we're eating that meat, is it is it safe? Is it nutritious? Is it delicious? So all of those things play into this complicated puzzle that is ethical meat." - Camas Davis

In this interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Portland butcher, teacher and author Camas Davis discusses her new memoir, "Killing It: An Education," describing the turning point in her life that led her to leave magazine editing to pursue a career as a butcher and educator.

Davis speaks eloquently and with feeling about very difficult issues without preaching or sounding judgemental. This is an important interview that anyone who eats should listen to.

Read my story of Roger the pig and my journey as I watched him grow, witnessed his death, then butchered, cooked and ate him.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Farm Bulletin: It's Chester Time!

Everyone in the Willamette Valley who loves blackberries knows that if there's an Ayers Creek Farm label on the little green hallocks in the store display, they are in for some of the best-eating and cooking berries of the summer. These Chester blackberries are the hallmark of this organic farm's summer season, and it's best to get in while the getting's good, because the season isn't long and the demand is high. The following is the story of this iconic blackberry written by farmer and contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm.

* * *

But first an important announcement from Anthony:

We start harvesting the Chester Blackberries this week. On Wednesday, they will be available at Rubinette Produce, Barbur World Foods and both Food Front Co-op stores. They will also have the Imperial Epineuse prunes. The first week of August should see our berries in most New Seasons stores.

We will have an open day at the farm next weekend, the 28th and 29th of July, from 3-5 pm. We will be selling whole flats at that time. You can reserve flats by e-mailing the farm with the number of flats you want and what day you will pick them up. These are picked especially for you, assuring the freshest possible berries, so please warn us in advance if your plans change. We will have some other odds and ends available as well.

On Sunday, the 29th, we will give a tour of the fields starting at 2 pm. The address is 15219 SW Spring Hill Road in Gaston, about a 45 minute drive from Portland.

* * *

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. 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.

Get Anthony and Carol's recipe for Blackberry Slump.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

In a Slump? Just Add Peaches!

On our first camping trip of the summer, Dave baked perfect blueberry scones in his giant, footed cast iron Dutch oven—I found out it's named "Ol' Dutch" from the masking tape stuck to its carrier—and hash browns and eggs over the open fire on his as-yet-unnamed Lodge griddle.

He also had plans to make a peach slump in yet another, smaller Dutch oven ("Li'l Dutch"?), for which we'd lugged it and the four-and-a-half pounds of Baird Family Orchards fruit on our second trip of the summer. Unfortunately fate intervened when I threw out my back, forcing us to return home a day early.

Adding the dumpling topping.

Undaunted, with peaches ripening rapidly and temperatures soaring into the high nineties, it was untenable to turn on the oven, so he fired up the campstove in the back yard. It was both a great dry run for the recipe, which he borrowed from Corey Schreiber and Julie Richardson's classic Rustic Fruit Desserts, and a chance to find out exactly what a "slump" is. (Though originally we had been perfectly willing to try it out on our camp-mates, since we never shy away from experimenting on our friends.)

With peaches oozing out when served, it's divine.

A slump is defined by the authors as a "simple steamed pudding" similar to a cobbler but made on the stovetop rather than in the oven. In the case of this recipe, the fruit is mixed with sugar and cornstarch then cooked briefly to activate the cornstarch and thicken the mixture, then a very wet biscuit dough (resembling a batter) is spooned on top, covered and simmered. The result is a soft, dumpling-like top rather than the drier, browned biscuit-y topping on a cobbler, but this version has a lovely lightness to it that would pair well with cream or crème fraiche.

And yes, you can expect it to appear on some future outdoor excursion. Stay tuned!

Peach Slump
Adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts

For the fruit:
4 1/2 lbs. peaches
3/4 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

For the topping:
1 c. all-purpose (AP) flour
1/2 c. unsifted cake flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/2 c. (1 cube) cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2" cubes
1 c. buttermilk or milk

Peel, pit and slice the peaches, making sure to do this over a large mixing bowl so you can collect all the juices. Separately, in a small bowl, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt, then add to the peaches with the lemon juice. Scrape peach mixture into a 10-12" non-reactive skillet or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Let stand for 15 min.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a low simmer, gently stirring it occasionally to prevent sticking. Simmer for 2 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.

Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cardamom together in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and toss until evenly coated. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is the size of peas. Add buttermilk or milk and stir until the mixture just comes together (it will be a wet dough).

With a large spoon or ladle, place the dough on top of the fruit in 8 or so portions, distributing it evenly over the fruit. Return to the stovetop and bring to a gentle simmer over low heat. Cover and simmer for another 18 to 20 minutes, or until the dough is puffy and cooked through when tested with a toothpick or bamboo skewer. Remove from heat, uncover and let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

If you want to make this on a camping trip, Dave recommends mixing the dry ingredients for the topping together and placing them in a gallon zip-lock bag, then taking the milk, butter, sugar, cornstarch and lemon (or lemon juice) separately, as well as pans, pastry blender, measuring spoons, mixing bowls, etc. As pictured in the photos, it's super easy to make on a two-burner camp stove.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Camp Stories: Sublimely Quiet Fourth on Mt. Hood

It was time for our annual pilgrimage to the Northwest's national forests over the Fourth of July, not to celebrate the birth of our nation or the gifts that we gave ourselves in setting aside these national treasures, but to get the heck out of Dodge (i.e. PDX) while it resembled the set of a blockbuster war movie starring Vin Diesel and The Rock striding through mortar fire and clouds of smoke. We leave our beloved city when it sheds its politically correct, tree-hugging, sustainably sourced coat and turns into an explosives-fueled version of the Amish "rumshpringa" where adolescents are allowed to run wild—the word apparently translates to "jumping or hopping around," which accurately describes the reactions of our panicked pets to the booms and pops.

Creek walkin' Corgis.

So rather than drugging them into a stupor for several days before and after the event, years ago we opted to head for the hills—literally—since fireworks are strictly banned in national parks, enforced by vigilant camp hosts, no doubt drilled with slide shows of last year's fireworks-ignited Eagle Creek fire, which burned for three months and destroyed more than 50,000 acres.

What was that about "roughing it"?

Our backpacking days long over, "car camping" has now morphed into "pickup camping" since dogs, gear, food, drink, people and several large pieces of cast iron cookware won't fit in the Mini Clubman-and-cartop-carrier, which had already been dubbed a clown car-like affair by friends who witnessed the amount of stuff that tumbled from it. So we pulled into our reserved site at Camp Creek campground just off the Mt. Hood highway past Zigzag, set for four nights of blissful, off-the-grid quiet.

Chillaxin' around the fire.

When we can, we like to choose a site along a stream, the better to provide hours of creekside reading, as well as white noise to drown out any sound from passing traffic. (In our experience, during the summer months even relatively isolated campgrounds can have a fair amount of this.) My "top sites" suggestion for this quiet campground is number 10 along the creek at the less-traveled end, or number 14 at the opposite end, with both sites large enough for two tents if, like us, you're camping with friends. Both also have good creek access, and if you have a three or four families camping together, I'd try to reserve sites 14 and 15, which can accomodate several tents and are open enough to each other to facilitate common activities.

Natural. Beauty.

We didn't do any crazy cooking experiments this trip, contenting ourselves with tried-and-true variations on my pork posole rojo, pasta with pea shoot pesto and some of Dave's campfire scones and griddled hash browns and eggs. He's jonesing to make a cobbler and brownies, though, so stay tuned for future posts containing those recipes.

Otherwise our time was taken up with walks in the woods, reading by the creek and long evenings with the only crackling and popping coming from the logs on the fire.

Read more Camp Stories featuring great Northwest campgrounds, recipes and hikes.

Chillin' in Summer: 15-Minute Ramen Salad

It looks like summer's heating up, which means the oven is getting a break and the stove is only turned on for a few minutes at a time, if at all. We'd just come back from a blessed few days off the grid camping on Mt. Hood and hadn't yet made a trip to the store, so I was rummaging through the leftovers from our cooler and peeking behind tubs in the fridge for something to make for dinner.

Fortunately our son, who was cat-sitting while we were gone, hadn't devoured all of the goodies I left in the fridge, so there was a box of fresh ramen noodles—my new favorites are Lola Milholland's Umi Organic—and a half jar of Choi's Kimchi. Adding a leftover Persian cucumber that still had plenty of crunch remaining, plus a delightful dressing using miso, again from a local producer, Jorinji Miso, and in about 20 minutes, dinner was in the bag. Or the bowl, as the case may be.

15-Minute Ramen Noodle Salad with Kimchi

For the dressing:
1/3 c. canola or peanut oil
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. garlic
2 tsp. tamari
2 Tbsp. white miso
1 tsp. gochugaru (optional)
1 tsp. roasted sesame oil

For the salad:
12 oz. fresh ramen noodles (not dried)
1/2 c. kimchi, chopped
1 Persian cucumber (can substitute 1/2 c. chopped English cucumber)
1 Tbsp. chopped chives for garnish

Bring a pot of water to rolling boil.

While the water is heating, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until well puréed.

When the water comes to a boil, gently pull apart ramen noodles while adding them to the water. Tease the strands apart with chopsticks while the water returns to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally to keep noodles from clumping. When they're done, drain them in a colander and rinse in cold water to stop them from cooking further.

Chop kimchi into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the cucumber and slice crosswise into 1/8” slices. Place noodles, kimchi, cucumber and dressing in serving bowl and combine. Garnish with chives.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Farm Bulletin: A Welcome Update, a Busy Summer

It's an incredibly busy time at Ayers Creek Farm, but contributor Anthony Boutard takes a few moments to give us an update—along with his usual edifying elaboration—on the farm in summer.

Even when we were at Hillsdale [Farmers' Market], we went quiet for the spring, only surfacing after the 4th of July. About 15 years ago we created our farm plan to emphasize production from late summer through winter, and avoid the distraction of trying to be the first to harvest this and that. It is a very busy time for us. Ten hour or longer days for us and staff, and little room for errors. We are very grateful that the Joshes at Barbur World Foods and Rubinette Produce have kept our grains, &c. available.

Delivering Montmorency cherries to Nostrana.

We finished parching the wheat last week and it is in the drying racks. [Top photo taken after threshing and cleaning the parched wheat, a dirty job.] Fruit for preserves is coming in apace and we are aiming at an increase in the popular varieties which run out too soon. We will thresh the mustard seed next week, trying to stay ahead of the buntings, finches, sparrows and quail who fatten up on the seeds. They will be demoted to the status of gleaners. The fields are in very good shape. We have expanded the plantings of most crops, some substantially. For example, the chickpea planting has gone from 24 to 46 rows, and we have added an extra row of Astianas. Perhaps, with luck, some new, unheralded odds and ends should emerge at harvest.

Tomatillo flower and immature fruit.

There are the usual frustrations. Bad batch of potting mix did a number on the vigor of the tomatillos and cayenne peppers. The plants sat moribund for ten days and when we dug them up and looked at the roots, they had barely grown. Three days ago, in a “Hail Mary” play, we decided to lift every plant, knock off the bad potting mix, and reseat it in the ground. We will see if this works. Interestingly, when we described the problem to others, they had experienced similar disappointing results. We looked at the plants 48 hours later and they looked better already, or at least we convinced ourselves that the effort was worthwhile.

Frogs love prunes, too…who knew?

We are scrambling to clean up the orchard so we can harvest the gages and prunes later in the summer. It is nearly impenetrable at the moment. For various reason, that work was neglected for the last three years. Otherwise talented field people, our staff are absolutely bone lousy at pruning fruit trees. In the cane fields, vineyards and tomato plantings they move deftly with confidence and art, in the orchard they are timid and visionless, making matters worse. Anthony has about three more weeks of work in the orchard.

There is no biological reason to prune an orchard. Fruits trees have evolved to multiply and be fruitful without much intervention. Human introduction of insects and diseases, pruning tools that spread disease and our compulsion towards monocultures lead to most biological challenges in the orchard, not neglect. However, good pruning is essential operationally. We need to pass the tractor under the canopy and the limbs must be spaced so as to facilitate harvesting. The tractor will strip the fruit of a low limb, and the operator suffers bruises and scratches. Moreover, if the staff cannot see a perfectly ripe fruit, it does not exist and will go unpicked. Pruning makes it easier to exploit the best of the orchard. The plant’s architecture at harvest is critically important in tomatoes, grapes, berries and orchard fruit.

Just shy of two weeks from now, the next two generations [of Boutards] will be out visiting us. We are now insistent they visit when there are fruits and vegetables ripening, rather than based on some nonsensical mid-winter holiday grounded in paranoid pagan ritual when the Pacific gales roar. They are old enough to run a bit feral.

Chesters in situ…

We are planning to have an “Open Farm” weekend when the first Chesters ripen. We will have parched wheat, barley and popcorn available, as well as whatever fruit is ripe. We will schedule an informal farm walk as well.

The exact weekend is impossible to nail down. The Chesters are notorious for their erratic ripening schedule. We have started harvesting as early as the 18th of July and as late as the 20th of August. After 20 years working with the fruits, we know better than to suggest we have even a glimmer of insight as to when things will get rolling. Better than the offhanded familiarity begotten by an all-too-predictable behavior. As our grandson noted with his customary theater, “I prefer to grow difficult plants.”

Barn owlet "in her emine stole."

Regarding the other element of the farm’s productivity, our birds, bees and insects are doing well. The barn owls raised five chicks. They are now in their immature plumage. Happens quickly. In mid June, the youngest was covered in down and looked like a duchess in her ermine stole, with just its feathers bearing new plumage. Today, the down has been shed.

Our water feature, the swan, is still about, contentedly keeping company with the three families of young geese and an oh-so-elegant great egret.

Frugivorous acorn woodpecker.

A reminder that acorn woodpeckers are frugivores, fruit eaters, equally content with both the fruit of the oak, acorns, and our staff’s sweet cherries. The acorn woodpeckers also enjoy other fruits such as grain kernels (yes, they are fruit) and plums. Soon, we will hear the reedy calls of the young when they leave their nest that the colony excavated in a fir snag.

All photos by Anthony Boutard except for cherries at Nostrana (used with permission) and Chester blackberries.