Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Chefs & Farmers Team Up for More Flavor

It's incredible that no one had thought of it before: bringing chefs together with farmers and seed breeders to collaborate on growing more flavorful ingredients. Fortunately we have a visionary in Lane Selman, an agricultural researcher at Oregon State University, who had the idea to do just that. This is the second year she has organized the Culinary Breeding Network's Variety Showcase, a tasting and evaluation of new vegetables bred as a result of these collaborative efforts. Here is Slow Hand Farm owner and consultant Josh Volk's report on the evening. Photos courtesy of the incomparable Shawn Linehan.

Monday night was the Culinary Breeding Network's 2nd Annual Variety Showcase in Portland, Oregon. The event brings together seed breeders working on varieties for organic production, farmers and chefs to highlight the work that they are all doing to promote new and special vegetable varieties. Lane Selman, the organizer and force behind the Culinary Breeding Network, does an incredible job of bringing seed breeders from all over the country and pairing them with chefs who can prepare their vegetables and give a sense of their potential.

Farmer Josh Volk (r) with chef Andrew Mace, Le Pigeon.

The format for the event is pretty simple: seed breeders and/or farmers are paired with chefs who will work with the farmers' vegetables to prepare a tasting. On the night of the event, tables are set up with displays of the vegetables alongside raw samples, as well as samples that the chefs have prepared. Then the room fills with journalists, chefs, farmers and seed breeders. The big crowd of about 200 sampled the goods and talked with the chefs, breeders, farmers and each other about what they were tasting.

Samples of a sweet paprika and Hungarian Black pepper cross.

As a farmer, I’ve been working with Lane on vegetable projects for about ten years now and she’s always included tastings in the work that she’s involved with, not forgetting the importance of flavor when choosing varieties. We’ve worked together on countless crops, mostly doing trials under organic production methods to look at their potential for yields, disease resistance, storage, cold tolerance, etc., but always also looking at flavor. In all of these trials we’ve been comparing new plant material from seed breeders alongside commercially available seeds.

Andrew Still of Adaptive Seeds (l) and Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey.

About seven years ago she started inviting chefs to be a part of the conversation, and the synergy is incredible. Now, at the Variety Showcase, we have all three groups in the same room at the same time. As a farmer I’m able to talk to the breeders about what characteristics I’m looking for, and to the chefs about what they’re looking for. They also give me ideas about new crops, new techniques and new marketing avenues, and I get to see, touch, smell and taste the products right there. I had a great time catching up with friends from the food world and getting inspired by new crops and incredible preparations of old crops that give me new ideas.

Non-sweet vegetable corn from Bill Tracey, UW-Madison.

I was tabling with Andrew Mace from Le Pigeon and Shaina Bronstein from Vitalis Organic Seeds. With Our Table Cooperative I’ve been growing fennel trials so we had six to sample at the table, and Andrew had made a take on chips and dip with the fennel that was delicious. I didn’t have a chance to make it around to all of the other tables; every time I’d go out to try to see what was out there I’d run into someone I wanted to talk to and then spend all of my time on just one or two items, but I did get to see most of it. Plus I got to talk to a lot of people about fennel and what I’ve noticed while growing a dozen different varieties side by side this year. In the mix of crops being highlighted were carrot breeding lines, sweet corns—or perhaps more accurately vegetal corns which are sweet but also have amazing corn flavor and are meant for fresh harvest—really exciting work on American groundnut (Apios), winter squash, many different peppers and beans, winter melon, barley, wheat, shiso, parsley and probably a handful of others I either missed or didn’t get a chance to see.

This event in some ways is showing food at an exclusive craft level, but in typical Oregon style, it is anything but elitist. The emphasis is on featuring the vegetables and moving our food system forward using organic techniques, while celebrating the breeders who are making this possible and raising everyone’s level of understanding and creating positive connections.

To see more of the fun, check out Shawn's gallery of photos.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Tomatoes Ending…But Don't Toss 'Em!

If you're like me and your visits to the garden to check on your tomatoes are getting more infrequent, before you just give up and plow them under, grab a bowl or basket and pick those tired old bushes clean. I just went out to our back forty and picked enough ripe green Aunt Ruby tomatoes to roast and make two quarts that'll get bagged and frozen to use for something delicious later this winter.

You could also just toss the chopped up unripe tomatoes into a pot, cook them down and run them through a food mill for sauce. Freeze them as is, or put them in the oven at 200° for a few hours to make a paste to flavor all kinds of dishes.

And if I don't get too lazy and remember to do it, I'll make one more trip out before the rains come this weekend. Maybe I can even get Dave to make a green tomato sorbet with some…

Monday, October 05, 2015

Hank Shaw's Guide to Cooking "Antlered Things"

On a weekend at the beach I started reading Hank Shaw's first book, Hunt, Gather, Cook, and was moved to write this:

"After reading the first couple of chapters, my usual single-minded march to the beach turned into a completely different experience. I slowed down and started scanning those patches of green with different eyes, wondering what that blooming shrub might be, whether its bell-shaped blossoms would turn into berries in the next few weeks and if they might be edible. What would I make with them?"

Yes, I'd foraged mushrooms and knew the names of a few edible plants, but Hank's way of writing about the landscape made it come alive in a way that I hadn't experienced before. And that's what makes his new book on hunting and cooking "deer, elk antelope, moose and other antlered things" so intriguing. You see, I'm not a hunter. But I have been gifted with a few care packages of venison in my day, and I know that Hank's advice on pulling the maximum amount of flavor from the meat, while not burying it under a mound of cheffy acrobatics, is going to make that next gift package—hint, hint, all you hunters—a meal to remember.

And even if those care packages are few and far between (sniff!) I know I'll gain a unique perspective I'd never get any other way, from a humane, thoughtful and, to my mind, incomparable writer on the natural world. So watch the video above if you care to, but please consider a donation to make this book a reality. You'll be supporting a great cook and writer in his effort to teach people more about their food and where it comes from, a mission I can totally get behind.

* * *

Update from Hank:

Floored. Astonished. Gobsmacked. In less than 13 hours, we made our initial goal - the one that determines whether Buck, Buck, Moose will live or die. Not sure if we set a Kickstarter speed record, but it must be close. I am not an emotional man, but I gotta say I am genuinely choked up at the outpouring of support for Hunter Angler Gardener Cook and this venison cookbook.

Your efforts are a loud and forceful message to anyone who cares to listen about where the real priorities of North American hunters lie: Our trophies are at the table. Food is why we hunt, and your support of this book can be no louder affirmation of that fact. I salute you.

Now what?

The initial $30,000 goal makes Buck, Buck, Moose a reality. Every dollar spent beyond that goal helps us print more books, pay our subcontractors, save money for a second print run and to market the book when it comes out - without a big-name publisher to do that, we're on our own. And PR ain't cheap.

Finally, if we do really well, I'll squirrel away some cash to fund my book tour, which will start around Labor Day 2016. Every dollar chipped in now allows me to come to your town when the book is released next year. Visiting you was the highlight of my tour for Duck, Duck, Goose. Let me do it one more time!

So keep spreading the word. There are more than 14 million deer hunters in the US and Canada. We have a long road ahead of us to reach them. But it all starts with you telling your deer-hunting friends about Buck, Buck, Moose.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

~ Hank

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Salmon Sings with Roasted Local Grapes

Working the sorting line during the grape harvest one year, one of the great pleasures was picking up a beautiful cluster off the belt as it glided by and chomping into it. The mouthful of grapes exploded with juice, some of it invariably running down my chin, and the full flavor of the wine-to-be filled my head. If you haven't eaten grapes this way, you owe it to yourself to do it at least once, with a cluster of wine grapes or some from a neighbor's vines. (Ask first!)

Canadice grapes.

My friend and neighbor Ann is one of those avid grape-growers, with vines trailing along the arbor her husband built next to their driveway. The variety she grows is Canadice, a pinkish seedless grape named for Canadice Lake in the Finger Lakes of New York State. (Read what contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm has to say about this grape and how to pronounce its name.)

The grape harvest this year in Oregon came at least a month ahead of schedule, and coincided nicely with the run of coho salmon that were gleaming in fishmonger's cases around town. With her grape vines bearing scads of clusters—it's been a very good harvest this year despite the lack of rain—Ann looked up a simple recipe she'd seen in Sunset magazine that called for roasting grapes and fillets of salmon, then serving them on a bed of dressed arugula.

Lucky for us she also thought to invite Dave and I for dinner, so now I can share her brilliant inspiration with you. And, note to cooks, please try to use local grapes from the farmers' market or a store that carries local produce with this recipe. The giant red or green grapes in bags at the supermarket just don't have the intensity of flavor that'll make this dish sing. And if it's okay with the farmer, don't forget to do the chomp test (or, barring that, just taste one or two)!

Salmon with Roasted Grapes and Arugula Salad
Adapted from Sunset Magazine, Oct. 2015

1/4 c. pine nuts
4 salmon fillets (each 6 oz. and about 1/2 in. thick), pin bones removed
2 c. seedless grapes
6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves, divided
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt, divided
1/2 tsp. pepper, divided
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced
6 c. loosely packed baby arugula
Lemon wedges (optional)

Preheat broiler with a rack set about 3" from heat.

Toast pine nuts in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat until golden, stirring often, 4 to 7 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool.

Set salmon and grapes on a rimmed baking sheet, leaving some space around fish. Drizzle everything with 1 tbsp. oil and sprinkle with 1 tsp. thyme and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Turn fish and grapes to coat, setting salmon skin side down if fillets have skin.

Broil until fish is still a bit rare in center (cut to test), 4 to 6 minutes; fillets will continue to cook as they sit. Grapes should be a bit wrinkled; if not, transfer fish to a plate and broil grapes a few minutes longer. Sprinkle fish and grapes with remaining 1/2 tsp. thyme.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 5 Tbsp. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper with the vinegar, mustard and garlic until emulsified. In a large bowl, toss arugula with half of pine nuts and a third of balsamic dressing.

Arrange salad on a platter. Set salmon on top, overlapping pieces a bit. Gently combine remaining pine nuts with grapes; spoon grape mixture over fish. Serve with remaining dressing on the side and lemon wedges if you like.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Chanterelles: NW Forests, Golden Goodness

It's like an equation: Deep piles of Douglas fir needles plus cool Northwest rain equals…chanterelles! There's nothing like running across a patch of these unique and beautiful beauties while hiking in the woods, or even coming across piles of them in the produce section at your local market. Buttery, rich and tender, they're terrific plain or tossed with pasta. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food gets us started.

While the month's dry weather makes wandering through the forest looking for mushrooms very pleasant, some rain would make foraging more productive. But there are still plenty of chanterelles popping up, and if you don't find any in your favorite secret mushroom patch, head to the farmers market or a well-stocked produce department.

Funghi Trifolati

Trifolati means cooking in olive oil, garlic, and parsley, and mushrooms or funghi trifolati appear regularly on northern Italian antipasti tables. Mushrooms contain both fat and alcohol-soluble flavor compounds, so a splash of wine brings out even more mushroom-y goodness. And while it's not part of the Italian approach, starting off with a dry sauté concentrates the mushroom flavor and improves the texture dramatically.

I learned the method from an old mushroom-hunting guide called All That the Rain Promises, and More, and I always cook mushrooms like this:

Slice or tear the chanterelles into pieces and put them into a hot skillet, preferably cast iron, with nothing else. Keep the heat on medium-high, and within a few minutes the funghi will start releasing water (add a pinch of salt to help drive out the moisture). Cook, stirring frequently, until the water has almost disappeared; the time will depend on the moisture content. When the bottom of the pan starts to look dry, add a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil and a little chopped garlic.

Cook for a minute or two, then splash in a bit of white wine and let it cook down for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and add some chopped flat-leaf parsley and a few grinds of black pepper. If you're feeling Italian, eat these by themselves as an antipasto. Or spoon onto a slice of grilled bread, toss with a little pasta, or stir into scrambled eggs.

Read about one of my first mushroom hunts with Oregon mushroom guru Jack Czarnecki, and get links to more recipes at the bottom of the post.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Food News: Perdue, Carcinogens, Academia for Sale

Perdue Farms, the 800-pound gorilla of the poultry business, has bought the Niman Ranch brand in a move that's seen as its "transformation into one of the largest suppliers of premium meats," according to an article in the New York Times. You may recall that, in 2013, Perdue bought the assets of Washington state's Draper Valley poultry brand in a bid to expand into the "natural" and "organic" arena.

It was way back in 1969 that Bill Niman moved from Minnesota to California to accomplish what a rock anthem  of the time urged: "Got to get back to the land and set my soul free." Starting with a few pigs, goats and chickens, he gradually switched to raising cattle. When the property was bought by the State of California for a cool $1.3 million to make Point Reyes National Seashore, he began production in earnest, marketing his "natural" beef under the Niman Ranch label and taking on investors.

In 2007, Niman left the company in a dispute with his partners over the changes they were making in the animal husbandry protocols he had established. He returned to raising cattle on pasture and without the use of hormones and antibiotics under the new BN Ranch brand. (He was contractually prevented from using his own name on the new brand.) How the sale to Perdue will affect the Niman Ranch business, and its reputation, is a matter of speculation.

* * *

In a "notice of intent" issued in early September, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has said it plans to label glyphosate, an agricultural herbicide and the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, as a chemical "known to the state to cause cancer."

In addition, an article in the East Bay Express noted that research by the World Health Organization (WHO) recently found that glyphosate "is probably carcinogenic to humans" and linked it to "the steep decline of monarch butterflies." It also reported that there are "new alarms about potential negative health impacts tied to Roundup," including a recent study suggesting that "long-term exposure to tiny amounts of the chemical (thousands of times lower than what is allowed in drinking water in the US) could lead to liver and kidney problems."

So if you're walking down the street with your dog and notice your neighbor out with a sprayer attached to a jug of the stuff, maybe cross the street and avoid that place in the future.

* * *

And in more Monsanto news, this time about its products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the New York Times reports that—no surprise here— the company has been paying off academics to say nice things about them. The article said that an e-mail the company sent to an academic researcher gushed that "professors/researchers/scientists have a big white hat in this debate [about GMOs] and support in their states, from politicians to producers. Keep it up!"

In what it calls "a billion-dollar food industry war," companies like Monsanto and, to a much lesser degree, even some organic food industry companies have funded academic research to try to sway public and political opinion in their direction.

It quotes one academic as saying, "They want to influence the public. They could conduct those studies on their own and put this information on their website. But nobody would believe them. There is a friggin’ war going on around this stuff. And everyone is looking to gain as much leverage as they can."

Photo of a field of genetically modified canola in Washington County in Oregon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Braising Weather: A Pot of Beans

It's officially fall. The ash trees surrounding our house are turning golden, coloring the light that spills in the kitchen windows. The leaves that have fallen are dry and crispy, crunching under the feet of the neighborhood children walking to school. The urge to kick through the drifts of leaves on the parking strip is almost impossible to resist, and I can hear that most autumnal of sounds as the kids (and sometimes their parents) succumb to their siren song.

Willowood Farm Rockwell beans.

Nighttime temperatures are getting down into the 40s, requiring the addition of thick comforters to the beds, and mornings are brisk, with just enough of a chill to require pulling on a fleece jacket to walk the dogs first thing. The days warm up to the 70s by noon, and a glass of wine on the porch of an evening as the sun sets isn't out of the question just yet, warmth-wise.

This is what my parents used to call nigh-perfect Indian summer weather in the Northwest, though I'm beginning to think of it more and more as the onset of braising weather, time to pull out the Dutch oven for the season of low and slow-cooked meats and vegetables.

The finished beans.

This year's crop of dried beans have begun showing up at the farmers' markets, and I was recently gifted some Rockwell beans from Willowood Farm on Washington's Whidbey Island. This variety was originally grown by an island pioneer, Elisha Rockwell, in the late 1800s, and it was brought back into production recently by farmer Georgie Smith when she took over the land her family had been farming on Ebey's Prairie since the 1890s.

Beans don't need much besides water, onions and garlic to make a mighty tasty main course, served with a hunk of hearty bread and maybe a drizzle of olive oil, but I happened to have a pig trotter (top photo) from the Square Peg Farm pig I'd butchered last winter. Beans and pork are a natural pairing, and the fattier the cut of pig the better. Trotters are almost all fat, and over several hours it gave a porky unctuousness to the pot. A half pound of bacon works well, too, and can be chopped or shredded before or after braising. Even a pound of pork shoulder will do its work on the beans, and can be shredded afterwards to make a beany, porky chili.

Regardless of how you decide to cook them, grab a few different kinds of beans from your local farmers' market and take them for a spin in a pot. I guarantee you'll find one (or more) you'll love, not to mention they'll warm up your family's bellies on these crisp fall nights.

Basic Braised Beans

1 lb. dried beans
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped roughly
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. salt, plus more to taste

3 bay leaves
Pork (pig trotter, 1/2 lb. bacon, 1 lb. pork shoulder)

Depending on the type of bean, you may need to soak them overnight in water (cover by 2"). Check with the farmer or follow directions if they're packaged. Drain prior to cooking.

Preheat oven to 300°.

On top of stove over medium heat, add oil to pot and heat until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté until tender, then add garlic, sautéing briefly until it's fragrant but not browned. Add drained beans and cover with fresh water by 1". Add salt and stir briefly. Add bay leaves and pork if using.

When it comes to a simmer, cover the pot and put it in the oven for at least four hours or until beans are tender and meat (if used) is falling apart. Check occasionally and add water to cover if the beans have absorbed it all (the amount of water needed will vary with the type of beans and if they have been presoaked). If meat has been used, remove it to a cutting board and chop or shred it, then add it back to the beans.

This can also be done on top of the stove. Simply keep the beans on a low simmer, covered, and check occasionally to make sure all the liquid hasn't absorbed.

More bean recipes: Baked Beans Italian Style, Backyard Barbecue Beans, Mexican-Style Black Bean and Greens Soup.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Autumn in New York

This Sunday concludes Ayers Creek Farm's summer market season, and they will return on the 15th of November for four markets before their 14-year run at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market ends on December 6. This week contributor Anthony Boutard explains the upstate New York heritage of the farm's grapes and notifies us of a tasting event coming up on September 28.

The grapes this week are a touch of "Autumn in New York"—sparing you all a Billy Joel earworm, eh? Interlaken, Canadice, Steuben, Sheridan and New York Muscat are the progeny of the New York Fruit Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, New York, part of Cornell University. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Geneva fruit breeding program was at its peak and as you taste these four varieties, we hope you will be impressed with the sheer breadth of their flavors. Even the apple, a paragon of diversity, doesn't come close to the grape. Interlaken, Canadice (top photo), nameless and Jupiter are chaste, lacking the biochemical events associated with seed development and maturation, so the flavors resulting from seed ripening, especially the bold spicy and floral notes, are missing. That is not entirely a deficit because other flavors are apparent, no longer masked. Be sure to compare the chaste varieties with the fecund varieties, New York Muscat, Steuben, Sheridan and Price. You can see how the seed creates a consistently larger and more complex flavor.


There is only a teaspoon of farms nationwide that offer such a broad array of such distinctive grape varieties. Due to the early season, this is the first time we have had eight varieties to enjoy as you watch the full eclipse of the "super moon." It is about two hours, so buy enough grapes to savor the convergence of an exceptional season for table grapes and a rare lunar spectacle. And put aside that pointless fussiness about grape seeds, just as you decided that kale is pretty delicious a couple of years ago after shunning it for decades; the seeds are an absolutely delicious dimension to the berry, as is the skin. A few years from now, some researcher will anoint the fecund grape the new superfood and you will feel a whole lot healthier knowing you were ahead of the science.


Interlaken, Canadice, Steuben, Sheridan and numerous other grapes from that period are named after towns in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is a wonderful tradition that has fallen by the wayside as the station's public breeding program has stumbled into the morass of "club varieties" and the attendant cheesy commercial names. Club varieties are patented by the breeding program and released to a limited number of growers in order to keep prices high, avoid market saturation and, putatively, to maintain high quality, i.e. uniformity.


There is a tendency to pronounce Interlaken as though it is named after a city in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. No, the Interlaken of the grape is, as noted, a New York Finger Lake town located nowhere near the Alps and the second syllable is pronounced with a hard "a" as in "lake." Goodness sakes, we don't say Loch Oswego, do we? Well, perhaps on the 25th of January after consuming a few too many wee drams in tribute to the great poet, and forgivably, but other times never. And Canadice is pronounced with a hard "i" as in dice. Don't Eurozone them.

The harvest of beans has started and Angelica, who is in charge of their release, has handed over black turtle, Tarbesque and purgatorio for us to package for this week's market. We have given Borlotti Gaston baby eyes, but she is adamant that they need more time. It is very important to defer to staff on these matters.


We produce our own seed for most of the crops we grow, and in the process we have also worked to improve the quality of those crops, and adapt them to our soils and climate. It is a long process, but the results reinforce our efforts. In first few years of growing Amish Butter, Linda Colwell helped us as we carved rotten kernels off the misshapen ears with the sharp end of a church key in order to salvage enough to sell. That tedium is now history, and this year's ears are magnificent in every respect, the result of repeated selection over a decade. Last year, we were frustrated by problems with the black radish and have started the process of selecting roots that have better frost resistance, and working with Ava Gene's staff we are bringing back the hard-skinned storage melons we used to grow about seven years ago. These are true melons, not winter melons of Asian cuisine.

This year we will feature those melons and the mixed barley at the 2nd Annual Variety Showcase put on by Lane Selman and the Culinary Breeding Network. As amateur breeders, we need a bit more adult supervision, so Lane has assigned two restaurants to keep us in line. Sarah Minnick of Lovely's Fifty Fifty is developing recipes to showcase the qualities of the barley mixture. We tried her "Triple Barley Cookies" yesterday. Made from flaked barley, barley flour and sprouted barley, they are wonderful. Sarah has a roasted barley ice cream in the works to accompany them. Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene's will highlight the melon project called "Ave Bruma" or "behold the winter solstice," from the restaurant's first flavor selection. Later, around the solstice, we will bring in another pile of melons for his staff to taste and again put aside the seed from the best flavored.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Plummy Cobbler Pairs Perfectly with Plum Sorbet

When I think of making a fruit dessert, my mind naturally goes to a crisp, with its crumbly, granola-esque topping that's the perfect counterpoint to the sweet, cooked fruit beneath it. But some fruit, and I'm thinking of you, stone fruits, seem to pair much better with a cakey biscuit crust, the better to sop up the juices oozing from the warm fruit.

Damn gorgeous, those Damsons!

Recently, friends were due to come over for dinner, so when I got a couple of pounds of very ripe Damson plums and several pounds of Golden Gage plums from Ayers Creek Farm, it seemed only right to make a cobbler with the Damsons. Which inspired Dave to make a sorbet to accompany it, using the Gages for a little plum-on-plum action.

Plum Cobbler

For the filling:
6 c. plums, peeled and sliced
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. triple sec or other orange liqueur

For the biscuit crust:
2 c. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. frozen butter or margarine, cut up
1 c. light cream or milk

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In large bowl, combine filling ingredients and stir gently. Place in 9” by 12” baking dish.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in food processor. Pulse to combine. Add butter or margarine in pieces and pulse until it's the consistency of corn meal. Add cream or milk and process till mixed and soft dough forms. Using spatula, scoop out onto heavily floured surface. Roll or pat out, using flour as necessary to make sure it doesn't stick, until dough is the size of your baking dish. Carefully lift it up and lay over fruit.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the topping is brown and fruit is bubbling around the edge. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

* * *

Plum Sorbet

3 lbs. plums
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. vodka (helps keep sorbet from getting icy)

Pit and quarter whole plums, leaving skins on, and place in food processor with lime juice and sugar. Process until it's a fine purée. Pour it into a fine mesh sieve (in batches if necessary) over a large mixing bowl and, using a wooden spoon, stir and press the purée through the sieve. (This step is super easy and not time-consuming, so don't let it put you off.) Stir in the vodka, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the purée. (This keeps it from oxidizing and turning brown.) Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours to chill completely. Put chilled purée in ice cream maker and process according to directions. Place in container in freezer for 2-3 hours, then serve.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Preserving Summer: Tomatoes

The avalanche started in mid-August, and now, in mid-September, it's pretty much over. The onslaught of roasting, bagging and freezing tomatoes that normally takes place in late fall—in posts from 2010-2013 it hit squarely in early October—began, as it did last year, in late August. If that's not enough of a hint about Oregon's "new normal," then just ask the vineyard owners who are experiencing their earliest grape harvest in history.

If you want to grab a box of tomatoes at the farmers' market, you can read about the Ayers Creek Farm method for making the planet's best tomato sauce or check out my lazy cook's version of oven roasted and frozen tomatoes. I'm (most likely) calling it quits with twenty-eight quarts of roasted lovelies resting comfortably in the freezer, so it looks like we're set for most of the coming winter's soups, braises and sauces. As Jackie Gleason used to say, "How sweet it is!"

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Farm Bulletin: The Farmer's Car

Back in the days of John Cage and Frank Zappa, and Stephen Sondheim finding his voice, there were families who had an uncle or neighbor who owned this weird car called a Citroën DS—maybe they owned one themselves. Viewed with either love or distain, the car grabs the eye and mind. The philosopher Roland Barthes in "Mythologies" (1957) discerned something profound about the car: "It is obvious that the new Citroën has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object." The 1964 Car and Driver review for the car had it parked under a billboard for Carl Reiner's "Enter Laughing." Ultimately, Barthes could not fully accept the Déesse's divinity where an automotive critic was converted. The two of us both come from families who had an uncle with a Citroën, and count ourselves among the faithful. Our courtship 39 years ago started with the purchase of 1972 Citroën DS21 Pallas. So what the devil does this obsession have to do with farming?

Anthony in his trusty steed.

The connection starts in 1936, when Pierre Boulanger, the chief of Citroën, started a project coded TPV for toute petite voiture, or a completely small vehicle. It was conceived as a car for farmers. The design team included Citroen's Italian sculptor, Flaminio Bertoni, and André Lefèbvre who arrived at the company with a background in engineering airplanes. The team was under the stern direction of Boulanger.

The so-called War to End All Wars had decimated the male population—a whole generation of French farmers were buried—so the efforts of women and their children were important for feeding the nation. Boulanger's design brief called for a car that could be "drivable by a woman or by a learner driver." The brief also called for a vehicle that could haul four people and a 110-lb. sack of potatoes at 36 mph, and travel 78 miles on a gallon. The sculptor was told that appearance didn't matter, merely an umbrella with wheels would suffice. Most importantly and famously, the suspension had to be gentle enough that the farmer could carry a market basket containing a gross of eggs (144) to market without breaking a single one, even after passing over the roughest farm roads and cobblestone streets. A fabric top could be rolled back to accommodate bulky items such as a ewe or calf. Early brochures featured livestock in the car, as well as eggs and baskets of vegetables.

Delivering 40 flats of berries.

The design was driven by economy, practicality and simplicity. The original was minimalist in every respect. The prototype started out with a two-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine. After several other sorts were tried, the air-cooled engine based on the BMW design was adopted, giving the car its characteristic whine. Every part was repeatedly weighed and pared to make sure it was as light as possible.

The gearbox reflects Boulanger's fixation on farmers. He was insistent on a three-speed gearbox, but his design team developed a four-speed box. He was indignant, what does a farmer need with so many speeds? Stymied for a while and on the verge of loosing the argument, the team came up with a farmer's story. After market, the load is light but a farmer needs to get back to feed the chickens and milk the livestock; night is hastening and she needs a supplemental speed to reach her farm by the last shred of light. The chief relented and the early models were marked 1, 2, 3, S, retaining a modicum of deference to his plan. The lawn mower style starter cord was dropped in favor of a starter, preferred by the team, when the women testers complained. Bertoni created a spacious car with an abundance of constant radius curves friendly and gentle in spirit, not an inkling of aggression. In various languages it quickly became known as the snail or duck.

Hauling equipment with co-pilots Nutmeg and Bella.

Development was interrupted by the war, and the first 2CV (Deux Chevaux) was finally introduced in 1948. The models in the 1950s had a 14-horsepower engine. The French authorities taxed cars by the engine's fiscal horsepower—equivalent to seven horsepower in the US and elsewhere – so at two fiscal horsepower it was very cheap to license. Despite the design emphasis on the farmer, the car was universally accepted and produced continuously until July 1990. That final car was still effectively an umbrella with wheels, with hammock seats and an underpowered, whining two-cylinder engine. Along with that artfully tuned suspension that would never hurt an egg. The car was still easy to service and repair.

There was a collective groan from 2CV owners when Richard Dreyfus in American Graffiti could not start his 2CV. All he had to do was open the trunk and pull out the hand-crank that Boulanger insisted should be included, and was until the very last car rolled off the line. When James Bond ignores the switchbacks and careens straight down a slope in a 2CV, escaping his would-be assassins in their fancy, high-powered cars, we chuckle approvingly. Indeed, Citroën produced a limited edition 007 model, and ignored the Dreyfus faux pas. A 2CV, a farmer's car, without a hand-crank, never.

Guard duty.

Although Citroëns are singular cars, ownership is not always so. In our case, a 2CV edged its way into our lives 25 years ago, and is still used by us at the farm. Chances are, the tomatoes, onions or other vegetables you all bought at market were hauled out of the field in that "tin snail," keeping Boulanger's vision alive in Gaston of all places. On occasion we make delivery runs to Portland in the car. Even though we use a piece of history to bring your tomatoes from the field, you still get them at the same great price. Imagine that.

Times have changed, though. The first decade we had the car, veterans would come up to us and recount a similar warm memory. They and a buddy borrowed or rented a 2CV, packed some sausage, bread and wine and took a trip into the European countryside with a couple of…the memory trails off into a wistful smile when it no longer relates to the car, nor did it ever. Shades of the Gary Gentry classic "The one I Loved Back Then": "…the old man scratched his head, and then he looked at me and grinned, he said son you just don't understand, it ain't the car I want, it's the brunette in your 'vette…"

Pantry Stock-Ups: Buy in Bulk Direct From Farmers!

On a cold and rainy day in winter, there's nothing like reaching into your pantry and pulling out some of the summer harvest that you squirreled away, then letting it fill your kitchen with the scent of something bubbling away on the stove. Think a pot of beans slowly simmering in the oven with onions, a slab of bacon and dried bay leaves, or a big, hearty vegetable stew to dig into for dinner (if you can wait that long, that is).

If you're like me and your garden wasn't quite prodigious enough to keep your family fed through the winter, there are three upcoming events where you can buy bulk quantities of staple and storage crops directly from farmers. Stock those pantry shelves for the winter with dry beans, grains, flours, nuts, honey, root veggies, garlic, onions, winter squash and more. You can even order ahead online and pick up your bulk goods at the event!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Smoking the Perfect Brisket

Ask my husband what he'd like to grill for any given event and, barring Thanksgiving and Christmas when he smokes a whole turkey, there is only one answer.

His birthday? Brisket. Friends gathering for barbecue? Brisket. Anniversary dinner? Brisket. Our son's birthday (assuming we can get him to agree…)? Brisket.

Six hours in the smoker, many more to go.

There's something about that giant piece of meat that calls his name, that sings a siren song of smoke and meat and juicy perfection like no other. He's grilled and smoked dozens of them over the years, and they've all been deliciously satisfying. Smoke rings, that little red line just inside the surface of the slices that signals smoke-infused perfection? He's had them.

At 170°, ready to wrap.

But recently he read a recipe by Julia Moskin in the New York Times that piqued his brisket-loving soul. It called for a very simple crusting with peppercorns and salt, smoking the brisket for several hours—and here's the part that got him salivating—then it said to wrap the meat in unwaxed butcher paper and return it to the grill for another several hours.

Further research revealed that this method, called the "Texas crutch" by purists, allows the meat to cook in its own juices and better break down the collagen so that it melts into the meat. The brisket is then wrapped in foil and deposited in a closed ice chest to rest.

Wrapped, tied and going back in the smoker.

We happened to have friends coming for a Labor Day barbecue, so I called our new favorite meat source (and advertiser on this blog), Ben Meyer of Old Salt Marketplace, requesting a full brisket from Bill Hoyt's Hawley Ranch grass-fed cattle. A full brisket includes the flat, the meatier end of the cut, and the point or deckle, which has more fat. It also includes a thick cap of fat, which adds moisture when smoking or grilling for long periods.

The result? Smoky perfection, a big hunk of heaven that was meltingly tender yet still intact enough to slice and serve. And one that was crowned "Best Ever" by a very discerning group of carnivores.

Here's Dave's adaptation with his own step-by-step instructions.

Dave's Perfect Brisket
Loosely adapted from Julia Moskin's recipe in the New York Times.

I used an 18-inch Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, for which these instructions apply. The Times article tells how to do it on a kettle grill.

1 whole beef brisket, 10-12 pounds
1/2 c. black peppercorns
1/3 c. coarse kosher salt
Hardwood briquets
Several chunks of oak wood

The night before smoking:

  • Grind the peppercorns very coarsely. Sift through a fine sieve to remove the fine pepper dust. Use only the coarse peppers. Mix the salt and pepper. Trim the brisket fat to 1/4 inch if necessary. Rub the salt and pepper mix on the brisket. Wrap in plastic and place in a baking sheet in refrigerator overnight.
  • Put a half dozen small chunks of oak in a pan of water to soak overnight.
  • Cover outside of smoker’s water pan with aluminum foil to make cleanup easier.
  • Clean cooking grates.
  • Fill the charcoal ring to an inch or so from the top with charcoal.

On smoking day, flip the charcoal chimney upside down. Put 20-15 briquets in the upended chimney. Place paper in the chimney below the charcoal and light it. When the coals are flaming and are covered with ash, spread the lit charcoal over the charcoal in the ring. Open the bottom vents all the way.

Assemble the rest of the smoker. Fill the water pan 2/3 full with hot tap water. Oil the top cooking grate. Remove the brisket from the refrigerator and place on the top cooking grate. I had to place it very carefully so that it would fit.

Place top dome on smoker. Open the top vent all the way. Close bottom vents to about 25 percent open. Put three chunks of the wet oak on the charcoal.

In a half hour check the temperature and adjust the bottom vents as necessary to keep the smoker temperature to 225-240. Add the remaining wet oak to the charcoal.

I checked the temperature about every hour or more frequently if necessary. The charcoal should smolder for hours without needing a refill.

I put the brisket on the smoker at 6 am.

At about 11 am the internal temperature was 175-180. I then wrapped the brisket in butcher paper, tying it with string, and put it back on the smoker.

After an hour I began poking it with my finger, testing to see if it was becoming more soft and jiggly as the fat, meat and collagen softened. At 3:30, 3 1/2 hours after wrapping the brisket and 9 1/2 hours after putting the brisket in the smoker, I pulled it from the smoker and wrapped it, paper and all, in aluminum foil. I then placed it into a cooler to await dinnertime. At 6 pm it was still hot.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Is Sugar Toxic?

When I was growing up, sugar was already being demonized because it was considered fattening, providing a major impetus for the movement to diet (so-called "lite") products. It's interesting to consider this now, especially in light of the huge influx of processed foods containing sugars (mostly HFCs, or high-fructose corn syrup) into the American diet. In this essay, contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food takes on the subject.

Since Gary Taubes asked that question in the New York Times more than 4 years ago, many people concerned about what they eat have decided the answer is yes. And it's clear that too much sugar is used to give highly processed food some flavor and too many people drink more sugary drinks than they should. But there are many who argue that the issue isn't quite so simple.

Caffé con zuccero.

I'm not about to give up sugar, though. My approach is to avoid highly processed foods, the source of most of the added sugars in modern diets, and use moderation when it comes to eating sugary treats. We're hardwired to like sweet things, after all, and I think the benefits of the pleasures of the table are just as important as getting enough sleep and all the other things we're told are good for us.

Raw Sugar

The raw sugar I get from Three Brothers Farm in Louisiana comes from sugar cane grown without any pesticides. After harvest, the cane is crushed to extract a milky, sugary liquid that's boiled to remove the water (after about 12 hours you get cane syrup, perfect with cornbread). Eventually the liquid is completely evaporated and sugar crystals form. Dark, moist, and with a caramel-y flavor, this is raw sugar. Additional processing is required for white, free-flowing refined sugar; molasses is a by-product and gets added back to refined sugar to make commercial brown sugar.

I start every day with a shot of espresso sweetened with raw sugar (photo, above left). I like the complex flavor, more than just the jolt of sweetness I get with refined sugar. I've been baking with it, too, and it's less sweet than a comparable amount of refined sugar. My olive oil cake tastes better. I've also been making jam with it, and I use a mixture of raw sugar and sea salt as rub for pork (Momofuku pork shoulder!).

Eating sugar is fraught, but it's part of what makes us human. Life is sweet.

Details: Real Good Food can be found in Jim's warehouse store on most Tuesdays from 4-7 pm on the corner of SE 9th and Main at 833 SE Main, space 122.

Photo at top of sugar cane from Three Brothers Farm.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Field Peas on the 45th Parallel

For well over a decade, we were stymied by the genus Vigna, our efforts figuring as one of the farm's major nonprofit endeavors. The best we could achieve was parity, a ratio of one pound sown to one pound harvested, and we were almost celebratory about that pathetic achievement, seeing it as a hopeful sign. Most efforts failed even this slight measure of hope.

The adzuki in the field.

Indigenous to tropical Africa and Asia, this genus of legumes has a complex of vernacular names, including field peas, cow peas, chickpeas, southern peas, mung, dal, gram and adzuki. They have a distinct gamy flavor relative to the garden beans. They were also one of the original "beans," along with the fava, of southern Europe—a character in Annibale Carracci's classic 'Mangiafagioli' (~1585) was tucking into a bowl of black-eyed peas, not the American garden beans we associate with Italians today.

Fresh adzuki.

Many plants have highly sensitive biochemical chronometers which trigger various functions such as growth, dormancy and flowering according to the dark period of the day. Plants with this requirement are called photoperiodic, and field peas possess that characteristic. In some crops agricultural cultivars have been selected for a very tight photoperiod. For example, onions and cabbage are not useful if they go to flower, or bolt, willy nilly. In Oregon, crops adapted to southern latitudes do not set flower until the nights lengthen in August or September, and there is not enough time to set and ripen their fruits. This is why okra, limas and field peas are not successful at this latitude, and as yet have no commercial cultivars suitable for Oregon. We have wasted a great deal of time and treasure on all three; hope springs eternal.

Experimenting with other crops gave us an appreciation of the challenges farming at the 45th parallel. One of the fascinating entries in the Tokyo Foundation is about Longfellow flint corn originating in New England that is grown on the island of Hokkaido. The northern part of the island lies on the 45th, which is why that variety grew well. We realized we needed to understand the crops of the island better, and that led to our Hokkaido Project. Both soy and adzukis are grown on Hokkaido, so we started trying varieties from the prefecture. Adzukis are the one Vigna, or field pea, that has commercial potential here in Oregon. We are also working on two traditional soy varieties, more on that later.

Fresh adzuki ready for market.

Initially, adzukis didn't sell well. We had licked the biology only to confront a marketing challenge. Despite the hesitant reaction, four customers gave us the spine to plant more. Mio Asaka (Mio's Delectables) and Naoko Tamura (Chef Naoko) used them in a traditional Japanese way as red bean paste. Last winter, David Sapp of Park Kitchen asked us if we could suggest one of our beans as a substitute for black-eyed peas in Hoppin' John. A light bulb lit up and we suggested using the adzukis. We warned him they are different, but of a kind, whereas the other beans we grow are definitely not of that kind. He was happy with the result, and encouraged us to plant more. Sarah Minnick was the other person who brought them into her kitchen with a variation on their traditional use in sweets; at Lovely's 50/50 they ended up ice cream.

A couple of weeks ago we got the idea that perhaps adzukis would be tasty as fresh shelled beans. We asked people who might know and poked about a bit online, but no one seems to share our idea. Then again, no one had ever suggested grinding popcorn and cooking it for polenta, or steeping it in slack lime for hominy, so there is no harm in trying an unshared notion. Bear in mind there are a host of ideas that have been discretely buried and forgotten in the Ayers Creek compost pile as well. As it turns out, fresh shelled adzukis make a tasty dish, just like one of the southern peas. Not quite the perfection of a Lady pea, but up there with next tier field peas. We will have some at market this week, a one-time event, and then you all will have to wait for the dried adzukis.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Portland Kitchen: Knife Skills and Life Skills

To get to The Portland Kitchen you have to travel to what is often called a fringe neighborhood of the city, code for a place where the houses are smaller and less well-kept, where dead grass sprouts up between abandoned cars and there are no sidewalks for children to ride their bikes on. Far from the hipster enclaves of Alberta, Hawthorne or Mississippi, this neighborhood is not the future location of a Portlandia episode because there's nothing twee, quaint or amusingly quirky about it.

But down in the basement of a church, in a small, worn kitchen built sometime in the seventies for church ladies to host teas and wedding receptions—no stainless steel appliances here—there is magic happening, with sparks flying and some young lives taking a turn for the better. Ostensibly a free after-school program for high school kids to teach them culinary skills, what The Portland Kitchen really does is give them a safe, supportive place to be themselves, or maybe discover who that self might be.

They're also learning some wicked knife skills, and that there's more to food than take-out pizza and sugary soft drinks. To some it's a shock that vegetables like beets come with leafy fronds and that, when roasted, those dirty roots taste amazingly like candy. Or that a pork chop comes from something other than a styrofoam tray.

The real deal is not that they get their food handler's license or can whip up a mean crème brûlée or even that they might actually go into some aspect of the food business. As one young student puts it, it's the first time she's had people believe in her, "thinking that I can do really beautiful cooking, which I can now."

That's a big thing to learn in a small basement kitchen.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Getting Saucy with Tomatoes

In this essay contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm guides us through the process of making tomato sauce from his most excellent Astiana paste tomatoes, the descendants of an Italian variety, the seeds of which his wife, Carol, dug out of a compost pile during a trip to the Piedmont many years ago. I am a devoted fan of these tomatoes, and plan to freeze about 150 lbs. of them this year using this method. Oh, and Anthony has stated that present company is excepted when he refers to certain food writers. Whew.

We had several questions about making tomato sauce last week. Here are our thoughts. Despite what food writers stress, fully ripe or over-ripe fruit should be avoided for canning purposes, use these in a fresh sauce. (Another calumny of the present crop of food writers is that tomatoes instantly stop ripening when they are picked from the vine. This is absolute nonsense, foolish fussiness from people who are paid to know better but never seem to actually work with fruits, just write about them.) We find the brightest and most flavorful sauce comes from fruit on the near side of ripeness, a diversity of stages produces a more interesting sauce. Avoid the fixation on color; flavor is what counts come January. A high level of acidity assures a bright and flavorful sauce.

Picked at the "nicely pinked" stage…

We resist the Macbeth "boil and bubble, toil and trouble" approach to sauce making. Nothing is gained from the drama of watching and stirring the cauldron, and it leads to time wasted and an over-cooked sauce. (Akin to putting berries one-by-one, never touching, on a cookie sheet prior to putting them in the freezer when it is much easier to put the whole flat in instead.) Cooking does not concentrate the sauce, heat-facilitated evaporation does. Only at the canning stage is a higher heat briefly necessary.

…tomatoes can fully ripen within a couple of days.

We wipe off the whole tomatoes if needed, pierce them a few times with a knife and place them in a big oven pan. Mound them up as they will settle down as they cook, and sprinkle some salt over the top if desired, which helps preserve the color. Put the pan in a slow oven, around 200°F. You can leave them there for hours, or overnight. Periodically, we decant off the "nectar," the amber liquid that drains from the tomatoes. We put this into 1-quart canning jars as a stock for stews and soups. After the tomatoes have fully collapsed, we run them through a food mill. We also can some whole tomatoes.

At this point, the sauce is medium thick, and can be be canned. We also further concentrate some sauce by returning it to the low oven for a day or so. Slowly and gently, it will evaporate and thicken. We find this gentle heat produces a far better sauce than rushing the process over the stovetop flame. Commercial sauces are often made with a vacuum cooker which concentrates the sauce quickly at a relatively low temperature in the range of 180°. Once again, a gentle process but as of yet there are no home kitchen vacuum cookers. The oven method works very well.

Tomatoes roasting in the oven.

We pressure can because, well, we have one, and it is fast and easy. You can also process in a hot bath per standard instructions because these traditional tomatoes are acidic enough. Many people freeze the sauce instead of using a canner. Although we put up over 100 pints of tomato sauce at varying degrees of thickness, we never add anything but salt. We prefer to add seasonings later. Caution applies especially to ingredients that lower the acidity (increase the pH) like peppers. The acidic nature of tomatoes makes them safe and easy to can. Best not to mess with that comfortable margin of safety.

Because Astiana is our own variety and not a precious heirloom or such, we can sell them at $35/20 pounds without shame, and you get the stylish Ayers Creek Farm lug in the bargain. We will have some tomatoes prepackaged and, with a measure of trepidation, accept requests to hold 20# lugs as supply permits. Please email us before 4 pm on Saturday, and we will try to fill requests for 20# lugs only. And don't fret if this isn't the week for you, we will have them for the next few weeks.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Guest Essay: The Hands of a Gatherer

There is something essentially human about working with your hands, especially when you are gathering food to feed your family. My friend, journalist and author Hank Shaw, has made a career out of his passion for hunting, fishing and foraging, and in this essay he reflects on the reasons he chose this path and why he believes it's good for all of us to engage in. I encourage you to click through to read the entire piece.

My hands feel like they’ve been hit with a weed whacker. One finger is swollen, another scraped to hell. A burn here, a blister there. The tips are all tender, and I don’t know how many little puncture wounds I have that are in various stages of healing.

These are the hands of a gatherer, an angler, a hunter. A cook. They are my hands. This past week has been a maelstrom mashup of almost all that do in my odd little life, and my hands tell that story.

A burn from a catering job. Blisters from hammering away at a rocky shoreline with a steel bulb planter, looking for littlenecks. A nasty puncture wound from a rockfish spine. Another from an errant hook. A lattice of lacerations on the back of my hands – the price of picking blackberries. And with most of my fingerprints scraped off by hours of digging forearm deep into rocky sand in search of buried horseneck clams, it’d be a great time to commit a crime.

Hands, if you look closely, will often tell you how their owners put food on their table. Think of a fisherman’s calloused paws, or an artist’s delicate digits. People’s professions can be guessed at by the state of their hands. Mine are no different, only they tell this story more directly.

Lord knows I need not do this. I have been a writer by trade for more than two decades. I live in a suburb, surrounded by supermarkets. Were I to forsake them, I’d still have a farmer’s market available to me almost every day of the week, and friends who raise livestock far superior to any of the sad, factory-farmed meat you see wrapped in plastic. I choose to work for my food for a variety of reasons, but it’s in no small part because, well, we are hard-wired to do so. Every animal on earth does two things above all else: Reproduce, and eat. It’s what we do.

Yesterday I found myself standing above Tomales Bay, stopping to catch my breath. The hill I was climbing was steep, and I was carrying a bucket full of clams and seawater that weighed somewhere north of 35 pounds. Heart hammering against my ribs, I looked up, gasped for air — and understood why I do this: An oceanic breeze cooled my forehead, whisking away the beading sweat so it could meld itself into the mists that still hung in hollows of this coastal plain. I could smell the salt, but also the spicy perfume of a California summer, a mix dominated in this place by a native bay laurel and a seaside sagebush that I wish I could somehow wear as cologne.

Read the rest of Hank's essay and find out what we have in common with animals in the zoo. Top photo by Holly Heyser.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Garden 2015: Mixed Bag of Tomatoes

Tomatoes this year? A mixed bag. The cherry tomatoes—one Sungold and a black cherry—were prolific, as was a full-sized green variety called Aunt Ruby's. The two Purple Cherokees, on the other hand, were disappointing, both in terms of healthy plant growth and yield. The darker tomatoes are our perennial favorites for their robust flavor and gung-ho willingness to lend a hand for slicing, as well as serving in sandwiches and tomato salads, so we'll probably opt for another variety next year.

A simple sandwich.

Fortunately, though, the farmers' markets and local supermarkets have given us plenty of supplemental, organic "heirloom" tomatoes—a term d'art used to describe not just old varieties, but almost any open-pollinated (i.e. non-hybrid) tomato, whether bred for commercial or private consumption.


And consume them we have, from simply sliced on a platter to wedging them between two slices of Dave's homemade whole wheat bread to a snack bowl of cherry tomatoes on the kitchen island, perfect for grabbing as you pass by. There's been cool gazpacho and panzanella, and more of those cherry tomatoes tossed in a grilled corn salad. And of course let's not forget the pasta with cherry tomatoes, garlic and anchovies that's one of our go-to quick dinners.

Tomato salad.

Even after all that, there was a moment when I walked in from the garden with another gallon of cherry tomatoes—we were also watering our vacationing neighbors' tomato plants, which were producing like crazy—and I would have shed some tomato-laced tears, but I remembered a tomato jam (top photo) I made a few years ago.

So if you get to that "too many tomatoes" stage and you've made all the tomato dishes you can think of, and even created a few more out of sheer desperation, here's a simple fix for the problem that you can enjoy any time this winter when the supply of the fresh article has dwindled.

Tomato Jam
Adapted from Mark Bittman for the New York Times

1 1/2 lbs. good ripe tomatoes(Roma are best), cored and coarsely chopped
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. fresh grated or minced ginger
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 jalapeño or other peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced, or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep at least a week. [I put them in clean, lidded glass jars and freeze them. - KB]

Yield: About 1 pint.