Monday, November 05, 2018

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.

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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.

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