Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Farm Bulletin: Inner Workings, Part Two: Horseradish

Contributor Anthony Boutard once expressed a desire to open a restaurant where the waiters would carry, not baseball bat-sized pepper grinders, but small microplane graters and a stalk of horseradish to shave judiciously over diners' plates. Here he shares his secrets for serving the root, as well as his planting method at Ayers Creek Farm. Please note that the farm will be open this weekend, December 1st and 2nd, from 1 to 4 pm, with horseradish as well as their other products (see Anthony's note below for details).

During the warm months, horseradish roots have an unpleasant earthy funk. With the return of frosty and wet weather, the horseradish roots develop their flavor. Over the last two weeks, staff harvested about 120 pounds of horseradish. We pulled out the largest roots for our restaurant customers. We are mindful that prep labor is expensive and the larger roots are more efficient to peel and grate. As a result we have a lot of excellent medium-sized roots. Following the lead of Filene’s Basement and Nordstrom Rack, we will have a crate of medium sized horseradish roots available at $1 each. There will be a mixture of roots at a great price. We encourage you to poke through the selection with a discerning eye and grab a handful of the best for the holiday season and beyond. The quality of these smaller roots is as good or better than the biggest. Wrap them up in a damp dish towel and store in a cool place such as the garage or under the eaves of the north side. They will store for weeks or even months. Pull a root out, peel and grate what you need.

Untrimmed horseradish.

One of the soups we prepared for staff at Sweet Creek [on processing day for Ayers Creek Farm preserves] was a simple potato and onion soup using grain brine as the base. We grated a big container of horseradish to stir into the soup. There wasn’t a drop left. At Thanksgiving, grated horseradish was available to stir into the mashed potatoes. A bit of horseradish is welcome in salads or over a plate of oysters on the shell. We recommend trying it fresh rather than putting it in vinegar or cream. Freshly grated horseradish is a very different and more agreeable ingredient than the sour preserved stuff in a jar. Read the label and you will notice that virtually all brands are fortified with mustard oil, an indignity that also afflicts cheap brands of wasabi.

Grated horseradish.

The smallest roots are put aside and used for replanting the patch. For some reason, people often assume the leafy crowns are best for planting, but this is not the case. The best crops are propagated using short root cuttings, about five to six inches long. The bottom is cut at an angle to orient it, as shown below. The cutting is poked into the ground at a 35° to 45° angle. That’s it. If you want to buy some roots for establishing your own patch, ask us and will happily sell you some cutting grade roots.

Bear in mind, once established, horseradish is notoriously tenacious and will hang around for a century or more. Not for the ambivalent. To maintain its quality, we add generous amounts of sea salt, gypsum and sulphate of potash.

Read Part One about producing Ayers Creek Farms justly-renowned preserves.

* * *

From Anthony: We are planning open days for the coming weekend, the 1st and 2nd of December. Our hours will be from 1 pm to 4 pm. As a reminder, we are strictly cash or check; we do not have the ability to process electronic payments. For those who find the journey out to the farm difficult or prefer the ease of electronic payments, World Foods' Barbur location and Rubinette Produce carry robust selections of our beans and grains. Pastaworks, which has carried our preserves since our first run in 2005, has a complete selection of our preserves at its City Market and Providore locations.

We will have a full selection of preserves, beans, and grains, as well as chickpeas, mustard and other odds and ends. We will have family-sized beets, horseradish, melons, tomatillos, spuds, big white onions and other stuff. Our selection now includes: Loganberry, Boysenberry, raspberry, golden gage, green gage, Italian prune, Veepie grape, blackcap, red currant, black currant, jostaberry, damson, tart cherry, quince jelly, crabapple jelly (available only at the farm).

Ayers Creek Farm can be found at 15219 SW Spring Hill Rd., Gaston, Oregon, 97119.

Farm Bulletin: Inner Workings, Part One: Preserves

Farms are not made solely of soil and crops; many also produce what are known as "value-added" products like salsas, sauces, flours or packaged goods that give the farmer additional revenue streams in addition to fresh produce. Ayers Creek Farm dries its corn for popcorn as well as grinding it for polenta, extending the season (and income) beyond the harvest. Here, contributor Anthony Boutard describes how they produce their (insanely) delicious preserves, as well as announcing the end of their blackcap preserves, which Carol Boutard and I came very close to producing as part of a line of food-oriented sexual aids. (Yes, it's that good.) Also, at the end of this post note Anthony's announcement of farm store days coming up this weekend, December 1st and 2nd.

About ten years ago, we were approached by a specialty food company that wanted to carry our preserves. After a lot of flattery, they asked us what about our wholesale price, then they asked what our price would be if we upped our production. We carefully explained that with a small run of preserves, there is no point at which they are cheaper to produce. All of our costs are per the jar; there are no variable costs at this scale. We explained that we are farmers who happen to make a few preserves, and are content to keep it at a scale where we don’t have to cut corners. For example, we could make cheaper preserves by adding pectin which would double the number of jars per pound of fruit, using frozen lemon juice instead of hand squeezing the lemons on the day of production, or buying machine-harvested fruit. We will leave that sort of production to professional preserve-makers, happy to defend our amateur status.

A wide selection (see complete list below).

This year will mark the last of the blackcap preserves. The raspberries as a group are tough to grow on a commercial basis as they are prone to a bevy of root diseases. Blackcaps and purple raspberries generally fall apart after four or five years, other varieties hang on a bit longer. By comparison, our oldest Chesters were planted in 1993 and are still going strong. This autumn we plowed the blackcap plants under and prepared the land for other crops. It was our third planting and, with a measure of sadness, we have decided against planting more. With increasingly uncertain weather and high establishment costs, it is no longer a wise investment. We will have a few jars of crabapple jelly this week. It is a lovely, subtle jelly that was once the domain of patient, elderly sorts, and one of Anthony’s odd fixations.

Paul Fuller and Carol Boutard in production at Sweet Creek Foods.

In 2017, early stone fruit was shy due to rain and frost during bloom. Too few to even bother harvesting for preserves. A relatively dry and mild spring this year allowed us to bring back green gage, golden gage and tart cherry preserves. The lack of any temperature spikes in June and July along with cool nights assured high quality currants and berries. Winemakers will rattle off their favorite years when everything seems to fall into place. It is no different with other sorts of fruit, though without the attending cachet. Good thing, too. We would hate the thought of people asking if we had any of the ’15 raspberry with its refined floral notes and delicate tannic finish.

The Hungarian-type cherries (Balaton, Jubileum and Danube) are morello types, meaning they have a dark red juice rather than the clear juice of the Montmorency-type. Staff froze 210 pounds of the cherries in July. In the past, we have made preserves from a mixture of the Hungarian and Montmorency cherries, but this year we decided to try the single sort.

Anthony with his prized Montmorency cherries.

In early November, the two of us pitted them, netting 164 pounds for processing. We have a fine cherry pitter collection, including an expensive stainless machine designed to pit 10 at a time. At the moment, we favor a cheap plastic sort that sits well in the hand. We take a few pounds out the freezer at a time, let them soften for 20 minutes or so, and then remove the pits. The pitter lasts for about 70 pounds and then something breaks. Even with hand-pitting, a few pits manage to find their way into the processed fruit.

When we started cooking the cherries last week, we discovered the fruit wanted to float in the filler, so some jars had no fruit, just syrup, and others all fruit. Not good. Fortunately, Paul was quick on his feet and set up a hand-filling station. Linda Colwell, who had dropped by Sweet Creek simply to observe the process, was quickly handed a hairnet, gloves and apron, and pressed into service.


Cherries are low in pectin relative to other fruits, so the set is quite loose. We have never added commercial pectin because it dulls the fruit’s character, as does longer cooking to concentrate the fruit. As with our other fruits, in cooking we only go to 222°F (105°C). Better bright and active than dull and sedentary is our operating principle. We are very happy with the resulting flavor. An excellent sauce on ice cream.

The Hungarians were planted at the suggestion of Trillium Blackmer, who bought our Montmorency cherries at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market.* One day Trillium wistfully noted that she really enjoyed Balaton cherries and she wished someone would grow them in Oregon. Her plea was compelling. At the time, nursery stock for the Hungarian-types was almost impossible to find. Balaton had been released only a few years earlier in 1998 and the cherries were unknown outside of Michigan. We tracked down a couple dozen at Cummins Nursery, a very small operation in Ithaca, New York. We ordered every tree available over the next couple of years. The Hungarian cherries are registered varieties and the royalties we paid on our trees went to fund fruit research in Hungary.

Read Part Two, Inner Workings: Horseradish.

*Ayers Creek Farm no longer attends the Hillsdale market.

* * *

From Anthony: We are planning open days for the coming weekend, the 1st and 2nd of December. Our hours will be from 1 pm to 4 pm. As a reminder, we are strictly cash or check; we do not have the ability to process electronic payments. For those who find the journey out to the farm difficult or prefer the ease of electronic payments, World Foods' Barbur location and Rubinette Produce carry robust selections of our beans and grains. Pastaworks, which has carried our preserves since our first run in 2005, has a complete selection of our preserves at its City Market and Providore locations.

We will have a full selection of preserves, beans, and grains, as well as chickpeas, mustard and other odds and ends. We will have family-sized beets, horseradish, melons, tomatillos, spuds, big white onions and other stuff. Our selection now includes: Loganberry, Boysenberry, raspberry, golden gage, green gage, Italian prune, Veepie grape, blackcap, red currant, black currant, jostaberry, damson, tart cherry, quince jelly, crabapple jelly (available only at the farm).

Ayers Creek Farm can be found at 15219 SW Spring Hill Rd., Gaston, Oregon, 97119.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Livin' in the Blurbs: Cookbook Social, Gifts for Food-Lovers, & a PDX Food 'Zine

Portland has got to have one of the highest per capita populations of published cookbook writers in the country. For a city its size, we have some of the best-selling chefs and authors to be found anywhere. And—lucky us—we have an annual book sale and fête in their honor, the PCA Cookbook Social, fortuitously timed to coincide with the holiday gift-giving season.

The Portland Culinary Alliance gave birth to this event six years ago, and this year it's hosted by James Beard Award-winning Chef Vitaly Paley of Headwaters restaurant. To make it even more interesting, this year they've added an artisan food component. On Sunday, December 2nd, you'll find nearly 20 of our finest authors ready with pens in hand to personalize a book for you or that special food-lover on your list, with many lying in wait to capture your imagination with treats from the pages of their tomes.

The event, which is free and is open to the public, will run from noon to 2 pm downtown at the Headwaters restaurant in the Heathman Hotel, in their event rooms upstairs at 1001 Southwest Broadway. From sous vide cooking to Russian cuisine, and from a best-selling memoir about butchery to making gourmet camping fare, plus books celebrating our local bounty of wild salmon, pears, wine and Dungeness crab, you're guaranteed to find the perfect pairing for cooks and readers here.

* * *

Holidays are all about food around here, so Eat Oregon Now's slogan, "The Best Gifts Are Delicious!" hits all the right flavor notes for me. Plus, as I've said so often, those gifts that are self-liquidating and don't have to be dusted or take up valuable shelf space are perfect for those of us who are already guilt-ridden over not reading that book about the Japanese art of decluttering (not that I'm admitting anything here).

This festive holiday marketplace, which takes place on December 9th, will be jam-packed with nearly 90 of the state's hottest makers offering food, drink and culinary gift items, as well as ingredients for holiday entertaining and memorable meals with family and friends. Need host and hostess gifts for holiday parties? How about care packages of Oregon's finest to send to faraway friends and family? Want to stash away some goodness for your own holiday gatherings? You'll find all that and more here.

So grab your calendar and put a big red X on Sunday, December 9th, from 10 am to 5 pm, and plan to head to the Leftbank Annex, 101 North Weidler Street.

* * *

Keeping secrets is not my strong suit, and I'm relieved as all get out to share news that I've been holding onto for several months now: Portland is about to get a brand new food magazine. After the demise of so many publications, from Edible Portland (in two incarnations) to the late, lamented Northwest Palate and MIX magazines—not to mention the disgrace that is the Oregonian's current Food Day section—a fellow named Brett Warnock is about to throw his hat in the ring with a (gasp) print magazine that he's calling Kitchen Table.

Warnock and his son, Carter.

I first heard about it when he contacted me to ask if, in the first issue, he could feature a story that I'd written about my mother's recipe for Spanish rice. "Our moms sound almost identical in their ability to straddle two worlds to make great food from scratch," he wrote, "But also be early adopters of the convenience of, well, convenience food. The taco seasoning and other packets of spices; and Kraft Mac & Cheese with hotdogs sliced into it with a splash of ketchup."

On the magazine's website Warnock describes his vision of "a new print and digital publication that connects adventurous souls, curious cooks and enthusiastic eaters with talented writers, artists, cartoonists and photographers who explore not only the how-to’s of cooking, but the why’s of eating."

Warnock himself is a native Oregonian with a resumé that includes twenty years publishing comics and graphic novels, with titles like "March" about Congressman John Lewis; Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's "From Hell"; and "Blankets," a memoir from Craig Thompson, to his credit. He's just launched a Kickstarter to finance the first issue, scheduled for February, with plans to publish three issues in 2019, then move to a quarterly schedule thereafter.

Myself? I've pledged, and I'm wishing him the best.

Read more in my series Touching Up My Roots about reinventing childhood classics.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

So Much To Be Thankful For

Every month I send out an e-mail newsletter recapping the events (and posts) of the month before. November's newsletter expresses the multitude of things I'm thankful for, including my readers (that's you!).

I don’t know about you, but how it got to be less than a week before Thanksgiving, I have no idea! In any case, I’m making my list of things to be thankful for, and it’s practically endless.

Pot roast bourguignon.

First, we’ve had a stunning streak of great fall weather here in Portland with cool-but-not-freezing temperatures, which means that our growing season has extended well into the fall and the greens are still pouring in from local farms…I’ve even seen corn on the cob! But my thoughts are definitely turning toward braises, stews and soups—see the recently posted recipe for Fennel-Braised Pork Belly that would work just as well with a pork shoulder or the Pot Roast Bourguignon that makes a second dinner with the leftovers tossed with pasta!

Castelfranco chicory.

Second is the great fortune we have to be able to access fresh, locally grown food all year round at the many winter farmers’ markets in the region, filled with farmers who are in turn supplied by our regional seed breeders—I’m particularly thinking of all the varieties of chicories that have brought their peppery bite to our salad bowls of late, and the squash that are just now making their way onto our winter tables. Squash pie for Thanksgiving, anyone?

Anthony and Carol Boutard, Ayers Creek Farm.

Third are the amazing people who are part of our local food system, and without whom Good Stuff NW would be a dull and barren place, indeed. Folks like Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, Claudia Lucero of Urban Cheesecraft who’s on a mission to empower people through food, and the people who make up Friends of Family Farmers and the Culinary Breeding Network (thanks Shari, Ivan and Lane!) who are putting on the upcoming Fill Your Pantry and Squash Sagra event on December 9th celebrating the farmers, plant breeders and chefs who make this such a special place to live.

International trade is fun!

On a personal note, I can’t tell you how relieved I am that the election is over and thankful that there is some indication that the country is over the circus-like embarrassment and national humiliation that has been the current administration. There is still lots of work to be done, however, as outlined by Hillsdale Farmers’ Market assistant manager Azul Tellez Wright in her essay, Defining Food Justice. And I learned a tremendous amount—well, at least a smidge—about Oregon and its trading relationship recently from Dr. Lorenzo Terzi, European Union Minister for Food Safety and Animal Welfare, whose goal is to get back to his family’s farm in Italy. Bravo, Lorenzo!


Oh, and how lucky am I to have found a husband, father, baker, bartender and the true muse for Good Stuff NW in my husband, who makes the most amazing To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits?

Also, many thanks and felicitations to the sponsors of Good Stuff NW that make it possible to bring this source of news and information to you, Providore Fine Foods, Hopworks Urban Brewery and Vino wine shop.

Happy holidays, and many thanks to you, as well, for reading!

If you would like to receive the Good Stuff NW monthly newsletter, just send me an e-mail.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Guest Essay: Defining Food Justice

The following essay on the topic of food justice was written by Azul Tellez Wright, the new assistant manager of the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, and was published in its most recent newsletter. If you would like to engage further in this topic, I would suggest volunteering or donating to the organizations that Ms. Wright lists below, or consider making a donation in the name of someone on your holiday gift list.

When you think of the term "Food Justice," what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s a vacant lot being converted into an urban farm or cooking classes at a local community center that are open to all. I wanted to take some time this week to flesh out the term and give some examples of local organizations that are doing good work in this area.

Healthy food should be accessible to everyone.

The food justice movement is a social movement that arose to address the inequities in our food system and is inextricably linked to the racial, environmental and economic justice movements. The term is said to have arisen in 1996 from the Community Food Security Coalition, which received criticism for not including the voices of those primarily affected by food injustices. Since then, the term has evolved to fit the specific food culture of our time. The organization Just Food defines Food Justice as follows: “Food Justice is communities exercising their right to grow, sell and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers and animals.

Farmers' markets support food justice in their communities.

This is a very broad definition of a term that is subjective to each community. I find that the best way to understand food justice is to offer some examples of organizations that are enacting change in their communities. Here are three local organizations that are dedicated to the cause of food justice:
  • Urban Gleaners. Based in SE Portland, Urban Gleaners addresses both food insecurity and food waste in their community. They pick up food that would normally be thrown out from restaurants, grocery stores, corporate campuses and farms and distribute it to people experiencing hunger. Their mobile market van travels to low-income housing complexes and 25 schools across the city on a weekly basis.
  • Adelante Mujeres Sustainable Agriculture Program. Adelante Mujeres, which translates as "rise up women," is a nonprofit in Forest Grove, Oregon, that works to support Latina women and their families in Washington county. One of their many programs is the Sustainable Agriculture program which provides local Latino farmers with training to grow and sell their produce in a sustainable manner. Through the courses and trainings they offer, farmers gain the skills to eventually run their own farm businesses.
  • Mudbone Grown/Unity Farm. Located on the Oregon Food Bank’s Northeast Portland headquarters, Unity Farm is run by the organization Mudbone Grown and the Black Food Sovereignty council. Unity Farm is a black-owned and operated urban farm that focuses on intergenerational, community-based farming. The food grown on the farm goes to several groups working to decrease food insecurity as well as to its CSA members. They also offer a beginning farmer training program for people of color in an effort to increase representation in the Portland farming scene.
The Hillsdale Farmers Market is also dedicated to food justice. By supporting local farmers and businesses, we are creating a resilient food system. We also accept SNAP benefits and offer a Double Up Food Bucks program in which SNAP recipients receive up to $10 to spend on produce each visit. [Watch this video about the program.]

The market is planning to expand its involvement in food justice issues in the following ways:
  • Expand our SNAP customer base in order to increase access to healthy, affordable food in our community.
  • Host cooking and nutrition classes at the market and at other sites in the community.
  • Engage our community in shopping at farmers' markets and debunk the myth that farmers' markets are more expensive than grocery stores.
Azul Tellez Wright grew up in Portland, went to Connecticut College, then worked at Greensgrow Farms in Philadelphia. She ran its CSA program for SNAP recipients and wrote the weekly newsletter. Azul moved back to Portland and worked at Adelante Mujeres in the micro-enterprise program. Azul is also a three-year fellow in 99 Girlfriends.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Winter Warmth: Fennel-Braised Pork Belly Stew

My husband makes bacon. So we go through a fair amount of pork belly in year's time, even when we're doing 12 to 14 pounds at a time. (Our friends are often happy recipients, and between trips to the beach and summer camping with big groups, we can go through a lot.) The thing is, he likes to square off the sometimes-raggedy ends of the bellies before curing them, which means there are several odd chunks of belly that pile up in the freezer.

Browning the belly.

Rummaging through the freezer the other day, I realized we had accumulated close to three pounds of these frozen ends, including recent trimmings from some gorgeous Joyce Farms pork belly, whose regenerative agricultural practices are beyond impressive. So I began scouring through online recipes that didn't require hours of prep time or, heaven forfend, a trip to the store.

Luckily I'd picked up a couple of bulbs of fennel at the farmers' market, and when I saw a fennel-braised belly from Mario Batali on the list, I gave it a look. In typical Batali fashion (don't get me started) it was packed with loads of over-the-top spicing—three tablespoons of chopped rosemary plus three tablespoons of ground fennel seeds in the rub, then another tablespoon of ground fennel seeds in the braise. Really, Mario?

Greatly reducing the amount of ground fennel and cutting the rosemary by a third balanced out the flavors and avoided what could have been a bitter aftertaste in the braise. Oh, and the finished bacon? Spectacular, as always.

Fennel-braised Pork Belly Stew

For the rub:
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds, toasted and ground
3 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tsp. red pepper flakes

For the braise:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. pork belly (skinless)
2 bulbs fennel
2 carrots, quartered and sliced crosswise into 1/2” pieces
1 onion, chopped in 1/2” dice
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 12-oz. bottle beer (amber or not-too-hoppy winter ale is great)
Salt to taste

To make the rub, toast fennel seeds in a small pan over medium-high heat, moving the pan back and forth to keep them moving, until they just start to color and smell wonderful. (You want to avoid any smoke, which indicates burning.) Remove from heat, cool slightly and grind in spice grinder. (We have an inexpensive electric coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices.) In a small bowl, combine with remaining rub ingredients and stir.

Cut 1/2” deep, diagonal grid into both sides of the pork belly. Cover both sides with spice rub.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in large Dutch oven until it shimmers. Add pork belly and sear on both sides. Remove to plate when well-browned. Add onions to pot and sauté until translucent, scraping up browned bits from searing the belly. Add garlic until it is warmed and fragrant. Add remaining vegetables and seared pork belly. Pour beer over the top, bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hrs. Adjust salt to taste as necessary.

If you like, you can chop the nearly-falling-apart belly into biggish chunks before serving. I served it with roasted slices of garnet yam, but next time I'm going to give Hank Shaw’s squash dumplings (without the mushrooms) a try; you could make them while the stew cooks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fill Your Pantry, Support Local Farmers!

I don't know about you, but I've been watching the squirrels in our neighborhood and they seem particularly frantic this year to collect and bury as many nuts as possible against the winter. (And is anyone else noticing a lot more of those little swirly holes in the lawn from the squirrel activity?)

Making a list, checking it twice…

It's got me thinking that maybe I need to follow suit and get my pantry stocked, too, which is why I got all excited when I heard about the Fill Your Pantry Winter Stock-Up event coming on Sunday, December 9th. Sponsored by Friends of Family Farmers, this one-day market is a unique opportunity to meet and support local farmers and ranchers who will be bringing a bounty of locally grown winter squash, root veggies, onions, garlic, cabbage, frozen pasture-raised meats, honey, beans, grains, fruit, and much more to Faubion Elementary School in Northeast Portland.

Hard to resist so much gorgeous produce!

Want to browse through some of the offerings and develop your shopping list? Check out this list of products available for pre-order from now through December 2nd if you'd like to get your shopping done ahead of time (and guarantee availability). You can pick up your pre-order at the event, but make sure there's room for impulse purchases, since most farmers will be bringing other must-have products the day of the market—think holiday gift-giving and host/hostess gifts for holiday parties!

Tips and tricks from pros will be on offer.

As if that's not enough to get you out, the Culinary Breeding Network and Friends of Family Farmers are co-hosting a Squash and Bean Sagra in conjunction with the market, a festival offering a chance to learn about, celebrate and taste the many different varieties of winter squash and dry beans being grown by Oregon farmers—many of whom will be at the market—through tastings, cooking demonstrations and more.

Fun for the whole family!

I went to these events last year and it was so inspiring to not only see the vast aisles of gorgeous products our farmers are growing, but the positive energy on display, the meetings-and-greetings of friends new and old and the delicious samples on offer made it something to remember. I'm thinking about picking up my eight-year-old nephew for a field trip, since it's great for kids (and their parents) to see what a thriving food community looks like.

Hope to see you there!

Fill Your Pantry event photos by Shawn Linehan. Check out more photos from last year's event.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Dave's To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits

We are rich with talented friends who also happen to be great home cooks. Bruce's pork vindaloo. Denise's Korean mandoo dumplings. Jeff's tarte tatin. Kathryn's shrimp and grits. Wendy's cakes. Dana's curried squash.

Here at home I have the good fortune to have a husband who smokes his own bacon, bakes six loaves of organic sourdough every two weeks and loves to make breakfast on the weekend, particularly if it involves baking up a batch of scones or biscuits to go with his Julia Child-worthy cheese omelets. (Did I mention he's also become quite the home bartender, whipping up cocktails at the drop of a hat?)

So when I stumble downstairs on Saturday morning and see him bustling around the kitchen with flour on his hands and the oven warming the house, I know by the time I get the dogs fed and finish my first cup of coffee he'll be pulling out a pan of his signature baked goods and setting them on the counter with butter and jam.

I know, how lucky am I?

Dave's To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits

2 1/4 c. (285g) all-purpose flour*
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1/3 c. (75g) very cold butter
1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 450°.

Place flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.

Cut butter into small pieces and add to food processor. Pulse half a dozen times and check for the size of the butter pieces. Repeat if necessary until the butter is in pieces roughly the size of peas.

Put flour mixture in a mixing bowl and add the cold milk. Toss together gently until barely combined. As soon as the dough holds together, turn it out on a lightly floured counter. Gently "knead" the dough a few strokes until it is a mostly a cohesive ball. The fewer kneads the better.

Pat out the dough with your hands into a rectangle 1/2" to 3/4" inch thick, depending on how tall you like your biscuits. Cut into 2-inch circles (you should get approximately 6 to 8), and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or sheet pan. Leftover dough can be gently combined and patted out again to make more biscuits.

Bake at 450° for 8 to 10 minutes until tops are lightly browned. Butter and eat while still warm, preferably with honey or a selection of homemade jams.

* Dave always weighs the flour and butter rather than measuring it in cups or measuring spoons.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Farm Bulletin: Our Garden Beans, a Dried Bean Primer

As contributor Anthony Boutard outlines below, he and Carol have been adapting their beans at Ayers Creek Farm to our Pacific maritime climate and the soil of their Wapato Valley location—not to mention their own tastes—for well over a decade. The roster, along with the beans themselves, has changed over the years, and it was time for an update. You can find all of these beans, raisins, popcorn and the farm's other products at two upcoming open farm weekends. Details at the end of this post.

Over the decade and half we have been growing dry beans commercially, we cultivated more than three dozen types. It has been an effort to find beans that will grow in the climate of the Pacific Northwest and appeal to our palate, and, equally important, succeed in commerce. We have trimmed our list to types with distinct qualities while avoiding pointless overlap.


We favor beans that are delicious on their own and yield a good stock on their own when cooked. No need to add stock or meat. Thin skins and a non-grainy texture are also important qualities. Many of our beans come to us upon recommendation of others. We acknowledge and are grateful for their generosity of ideas. We have been working with and eating these beans for 15 years or so. They have been shaped by and adapted to our approach to farming, our environment, our customers and our love of beans. Otello’s Pebbles is the exception; it was a new offering last year, but adheres to the overall idea.

As a general matter, we recommend soaking the beans overnight. This engages the enzymes in the beans which break down the proteins and carbohydrates into simpler units. There is an aesthetic to allowing beans to start the process on their own natural terms, rather than using brute force of heat alone, or worse, the extreme impatience of a pressure cooker. In our experience, soaking results in a sweeter bean when cooked. Nonetheless, plenty of people eschew our biological aestheticism.

Borlotto Gaston a la Ava Gene's.

Garden beans follow two forms of growth, types with a low bush habit and those with a tall vining habit requiring supportive structures. Then there are a handful that refuse to follow a binary habit, called semi-vining, which climb upon one another and the weeds but have no use for structures to guide their wayward nature. The pole types are more expensive because the vining habit requires the nearly simultaneous planting of thousands of bamboo poles and assembling a supporting structure. The poles and structures must be removed after harvest. The pole sorts are worth the effort because they have qualities that are missing in even the best bush types.

The finest beans, with their thin skins, require a gentle hand at harvest. They are far too fragile for a combine. Dry beans commonly found in stores have bred with thicker skins which allows mechanical harvesting and helps them keep their shape in a tin can.

Pole Sorts Described

Borlotto Gaston: A classic large horticultural type with a fine texture and flavor.

Borlotto Gaston.

A passing comment by [Nostrana owner and chef] Cathy Whims at a 2002 winter farms’ market noting how much she loved the beans of Lamon landed this bean in our mix. Over the last decade and a half, we have carefully selected for the lumpy, ugly pods that produce the best quality seeds, improving the quality of the beans in the process. We make the classic sauerkraut, potato and pork jowl soup fragrant with cumin from Trieste called La jota many times over the course of winter. It is the bean that has made Ava Gene’s "beans on toast" their signature menu item—the bean that launched a thousand of pieces of toast.

Tarbesque: A large flattened white bean of the sort most commonly associated with cassoulet. It is a bean for soups or stews where you want the bean to hold its shape.

The original seed stock came from Pascal Sauton when he was the chef at Riverside Hotel back around 2003. This sort of bean is grown around the area of Tarbes in southwestern France. There the Tarbais is protected as an A.O.C., so we deftly renamed it. Sort of like the Tarbais but not exactly. We don’t have the same soils and climate and, unlike the fair people of Tarbes, we pick the pods by the handful, not one by one.

Black Basque.

Black Basque: This black bean is best as a solo performer. Cooked on its own and finished with some olive oil, the stock and the beans make a delicious soup to accompany a bit of toast seasoned with garlic and a chunk of sausage or pork belly. Cathy Whims uses these for her version of Anne Bianchi’s "Bastard Soup." For complex or spicy dishes, the black turtle is a better choice.

Wapato White: A very fine textured white bean with a distinctly buttery consistency. Good solo, with lamb or in an escarole soup.

Wapato White.

We lived for several years in the Boston area. Our neighborhood was considered "integrated” because it included both Italian and Portuguese families. Somerville had its rough edges. One Halloween morning, while preparing breakfast, we watched a hit by the legendary Winter Hill Gang outside our kitchen window—apparently an uncollected debt precipitated the deed, though the debtor was simply shot up to jog his memory, not necessarily to kill him. He survived. The hitmen wore gorilla masks, appropriately, and dropped the revolver in the street. We called the police and they investigated. They told us in a perfunctory manner that the getaway car was dumped in Dedham, as if that might be expected, and the victim claimed he didn’t know anything or anyone—that was definitely expected. Notwithstanding this incident, it was a friendly neighborhood where children, our daughter included, played in the street.

In the Boston area, bean and escarole soup was a winter favorite of the Italian and Portuguese communities, and the supermarkets had mounds of beautiful escarole heads for the purpose. For those on the run, the Progresso company had a canned escarole soup available especially for the Boston market. Much to the dismay of many, they dropped that traditional soup. For a while, they offered an Italian wedding soup with escarole, but now it contains spinach, alas. The last week or so, we have been enjoying many variations on escarole soup.

Bush Sorts

Black turtle: Not much to add. The turtle bean has a distinct flavor well-suited to spices and garlic.

Woodblock label by Anthony.

Carol’s godmother was Cuban and the soup was a staple for us. We wanted a fresh, well-grown turtle bean, so we grew them. For several years, we just sold them at the farmers’ market as several chefs told us black beans were "tough to plate." Fortunately, that dainty sentiment has fallen by the wayside.

Purgatorio: For the most part, beans and fish are not a pleasing combination to contemplate. The flavor and texture are wrong. Purgatorio provides an exception. The small beans provide a better texture for fish and the flavor is neutral, i.e. not especially beany. As the name indicates, it was consumed on Fridays and during the Lenten fast, with fish. Use the bean stock as the base for a fish and beans soup seasoned with a hint of cumin. The Oregon bay shrimp is good as well. This small bean is excellent with lamb dishes.

Purgatorio in a stew.

Here is how it was introduced to us. We had dinner at Al Covo, a Venetian restaurant that specializes in fish. The person serving us noted that she was from Texas and wanted to know where we lived and what we did. On a whim, we introduced ourselves as bean farmers from Oregon. A few minutes later her husband, Cesare Benelli, emerged from the kitchen and told us how much he loved beans. The chef then turned 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 they had run out of the beans. A few months later, our sister-in-law Shirin sent us a gift box with several types of beans, by coincidence it included "purgatorio," the bean of Gradoli.

Zolfino: Another solo performer. Classic bean for a simple white bean soup. Provides a lovely stock during cooking. Cook with a sprig of rosemary, thyme or sage – just a light seasoning so as not to overwhelm their fine flavor. Remove about three-quarters of the beans, mash them into the stock and then return the whole beans. A bit of olive oil to top it off.

Dutch Bullet: This bean is a superior alternative to the kidney bean. It is thin skinned with much finer texture, but has a sweet, beany flavor we enjoy in the red types.

Dutch Bullet.

Given to us by a legendary Dutch plant breeder, the late Kees Sahin, when he visited the farm. He was insistent we grow it and it has been on the dossier for more than a decade. You will notice how thin the skin is relative to the modern red kidney bean, a bean skillfully modified to stand up to the combine and tin can.

Otello’s Pebbles: Excellent assertive flavor, the texture is silky and they cook down to a soupy beany broth. We have added them to the broth of lambs shanks and pork shoulder.

This is another bean that arrived uninvited. We were sent an irritatingly small package of beans by Nancy Jenkins, a food writer and author. The note in the package, written by another person, noted that the bean was grown by someone called Otello and praised the bean as growing well in poor soil. Not much of an endorsement, and not a word about its culinary qualities, worse the package contained what appeared to be an assortment of types, something bean growers work hard to avoid. The package would have been relegated to the ACF seed museum except that Myrtha Zierock and Anthony were planting a block of soy and had space for a few more seeds. We joked that the beans looked like pebbles and tossed them into the seeder. At harvest, we cooked up the beans and found they had their own redeeming qualities. They arrived unnamed so we have dubbed them Otello’s Pebbles.

* * *

From Anthony:

"We are planning a couplet of open days on November 10th and 11th. Our hours will be from 3-5 pm. We will have only a smattering of preserves available at this time. We will be processing the fruit over the following week and are planning another open day couplet on the 1st and 2nd of December. As a reminder, for those who find the journey out to the farm difficult, Barbur World Foods and Rubinette Produce, carry robust selections of our beans and grains in their produce departments. Providore probably has a better selection of preserves on the shelf than we do at the moment. We will have the full complement of our beans, grains and mustard seed. We will also have 'Ave Bruma' melons, escarole, beets, large white onions and demi-sec Lakemont grapes."

Photo of Lakemont grapes by Anthony Boutard. Rum raisin ice cream from Sarah Minnick's Instagram feed.

Farm Bulletin: Letters from Jail, Grapes and Literature

The crops grown at Ayers Creek Farm by contributor Anthony Boutard and his wife, Carol, have inspired Portland's chefs for years, including a rum raisin ice cream and raisin grappa ice cream, using the raisins described below—creations of the amazing Sarah Minnick at Lovely's Fifty-Fifty. You can find these raisins, dried beans, popcorn and the farm's other products at two upcoming open farm weekends. Details at the end of this post.

Carol’s father gave to each of his children a copy of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Glimpses of World History. The “glimpses" were a series of letters he wrote to his daughter, Indira Gandhi, during the years he was jailed by the British. As Carol’s father noted, it is a history from the perspective of a culture well-established and mature long before “Western Civilization.” Anthony grabbed the book to read on the way to Terra Madre [the Slow Food gathering of small-scale food producers] in Turin. In one of the letters, Nehru noted that the provinces of Kandahar and Herat are famous for their grapes, pomegranates and melons. He was pleasantly surprised upon arriving in Turin to meet two grape farmers from Herat, and taste their many different varieties of raisins.

Rum raisin ice cream at Lovely's Fifty-Fifty.

That encounter inspired us to push on the idea of growing table grapes. Funny how chance encounters shift one’s thinking. It was a photo from Uzbekistan of melons in storage on the Big Picture Agriculture site many years ago that prompted us to contemplate growing storage melons in a serious fashion. We are trialing two more types this year.

Herat and Kandahar have grown and traded grapes for millennia. With the rise of Islam about 500 years ago, wine production evolved into raisin production. At its peak, Afghanistan produced 10 percent of the world’s raisins. There is a huge diversity to be found there, and they have 24 different raisins that are sold commercially, with dozens more of the backyard variety. Raisins are important in rice dishes of the region. Consequently, there is great interest in rebuilding raisin production.

Laying the grapes on racks in September.

Recalling the beautiful green raisins displayed at Terra Madre, we started thinking about table grapes, both fresh and dried. Apparently, modern Afghan raisin growers dip the grapes in various chemicals to stop the oxidation of tannins in the dried grape, stopping the fruit from turning the raisins brown, not exactly in the realm of organic agriculture. Perhaps the original “green raisins” of old, before the expedient of a chemical dip, may have been simply demi-sec grapes (top photo), fruit on their way to becoming raisins.

Harvested at the end of September, the Lakemont grapes have been slowly drying, concentrating their flavor, sugar and acidity to a wonderful effect. Most grape varieties available to us would collapse in the process. However, Lakemont is particularly well-adapted for this post-harvest improvement, which is similar to that used to produce the sweet Italian wine Vin Santo. The grape is one the releases from the breeding program in Geneva, New York, and is named after a hamlet in western New York, consistent with naming protocol of that breeding program. The author and composer Paul Bowles is buried in the Lakemont Cemetery.

* * *

From Anthony:

"We are planning a couplet of open days on November 10th and 11th. Our hours will be from 3-5 pm. We will have only a smattering of preserves available at this time. We will be processing the fruit over the following week and are planning another open day couplet on the 1st and 2nd of December. As a reminder, for those who find the journey out to the farm difficult, Barbur World Foods and Rubinette Produce, carry robust selections of our beans and grains in their produce departments. Providore probably has a better selection of preserves on the shelf than we do at the moment. We will have the full complement of our beans, grains and mustard seed. We will also have 'Ave Bruma' melons, escarole, beets, large white onions and demi-sec Lakemont grapes."

Photo of Lakemont grapes by Anthony Boutard. Rum raisin ice cream from Sarah Minnick's Instagram feed.