Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In Season: Eating Well in Winter


Despite what you think, true winter in the Pacific Northwest, at least as far as most of the country is concerned, is a fleeting thing. Yes, we may have a few freezes and snowstorms, but not like New England where snowplows—what are those, you might ask?—pile up banks of the stuff that last well into spring. And thank goodness we don't have the hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme flooding that many areas experience on a regular basis.

My six-foot-tall mother-in-law next to a snowbank in northern Maine.

Of course, with the unknowns brought on by climate change (and our denial of it), all of that could change in the future.

But this year, at least according to produce guy and self-described Fruit Monkey, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce, we can look forward to spring things like nettles, wild mushrooms and fiddleheads, plus herbs like sorrel and chervil, to start appearing as early as March, a mere eight weeks away.

Until then? "Roots and citrus!" says Alsberg.

Beets, yes, but don't waste those greens!

By which he means colorful varieties of beets—red, gold and stripey Chioggia—as well as the knobby Gilfeather turnip, a half-rutabaga, half-turnip hybrid that is a favorite of local chefs, tracing its lineage to Gilfeather Farm in Wardsboro, Vermont. Rutabagas, turnips, celery root and storage potatoes will also be appearing on farmers' market tables over the next few weeks, as will onions, kohlrabi and locally grown white and purple daikon. Winter radishes will also be available, like the watermelon radishes from Black Locust Farm and black radishes from several farms, including Sauvie Island Organics.

There are plenty of seasonal greens available, too. Think mustard greens, cabbages, beet greens, kale, collards, local chicories and gorgeous, deep red heads of radicchio. Gathering Together Farm and Groundwork Organics are growing Kalettes, purple-green, rapini-like florets that are a hybrid of kale and brussels sprouts, with a flavor that shines when roasted or stir-fried.

On the citrus front, I have big bowls of tangerines and Meyer lemons sitting on my counter right now, as fragrant as any store-bought potpourri or essential oils (and not as toxic to pets) and they're edible, to boot! The Meyer lemons will be used for my yearly batch of preserved lemons, to be parceled out in savory dishes, relishes and salads over the next few months, and if I can manage to spare a few, maybe some lemon sorbet.

Alsberg is in hog heaven right now, gleeful at the prospect of citrus season. Several varieties of mandarin oranges and tangerines are beginning to appear, varieties like Shasta Gold, Murcott, Pixies and the teensy Kishu, with blood oranges, navel oranges and Cara Cara navel oranges due soon. He's also starting to see a rainbow of grapefruit on distributors' lists, and said that word on the street is that the white grapefruit called Mellow Gold is super juicy and sweeter than most. Pomegranates and kumquats have been in stores since Christmas, and we should be seeing local kiwis making an appearance soon.

Kabocha squash is a personal fave.

Winter squash is starting to clear out of his lists, but he said local growers should have plenty of kabocha, Kuri, butternut and acorn squash through mid-February. After that, though, he warns that the squash you see in stores will be from Mexico. "Enjoy them now" is his mantra. Look for recipes in my Squash Chronicles series.

Rubinette Produce is a vendor inside Providore Fine Foods, an advertiser on this blog. Josh gives his advice quarterly on what's coming in from local farms and what we can expect to see on store shelves.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Craving Carnitas


I'd been jonesing for tacos for days, and just hadn't got around to making them. Then, fortuitously, some friends said they were going to be in the 'hood one evening, which gave me the perfect excuse to try a new method for making carnitas. (And yes, I'm one of those people who tries out new recipes on guests, much to the chagrin of my mother who considered it much too risky.)

I'd already pulled a four-pound pork shoulder out of the freezer, it being a weekend and the perfect time for a nice slow braise on the stove. So I picked up some cotija cheese made by Albany's Ochoa's Queseria, cabbage for slaw, plus an avocado, salsa and tortillas. (I'm a huge fan of the organic tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtamal. It's a local company that makes masa using a traditional process called nixtamalization, where dried corn kernels are soaked in slaked lime, then ground and made into dough.)

Carnitas, which means "little meats," is made by simmering chunks of pork with citrus and spices for several hours until it's tender and on the verge of falling apart. I had some whey left over from making ricotta, so I decided to use it for the braising liquid, since the acids in the whey would help to break down and tenderize the meat. The method I used then calls for shredding the meat, roasting it in the oven (or in a cast iron pan on the grill) until any remaining liquid evaporates and the meat is crispy.

Warming the tortillas on a griddle is quick and easy, though I'm always tempted to pile them with heaps of fixin's, but exercising a teensy bit of restraint is worth the reward of the perfect bite, instead of bursting the taco or losing too much on your plate. Plus it means I can enjoy a few more of those longed-for tacos!

Carnitas

4 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
1 qt. whey, water or stock
1 onion, sliced in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/8” slices
8 cloves garlic
2 tsp. oregano
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 orange, quartered
1 Tbsp. kosher salt

Put all ingredients into large Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 2-3 hours until meat is starting to fall apart and liquid is almost gone. If there is quite a bit of liquid left, remove the meat to a roasting pan, disposing of the orange peel and bay leaves. Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil and reduce until there is less than 1 cup remaining.

While liquid reduces, heat oven to 450°. When liquid has reduced, pour over meat in roasting pan and place in oven for 20-30 minutes or until it starts to brown. Shred any remaining large pieces.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Squash Chronicles: Kabocha Glazed with White Miso and Maple Butter



It's all squash, all the time here at Good Stuff NW…or so you might surmise from the preponderance of Oscar-worthy starring roles that winter squash has been playing in this series of posts. My passion has been aided and abetted by the series of mouthwatering videos like the one above, produced by Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network and the inimitable Chef Tim Wastell.

Squash season is still upon us, and you'll be finding these gorgeous orbs at local markets and greengrocers through February. Until then I'll be cramming as many of them into our dinner rotation as I can.

I'm particularly intrigued by the miso butter glaze that Tim demonstrates in the video above, since I've sworn to start exploring the possibilities of the fermented umami-bomb of miso in the coming year with the help of locally produced Jorinji misos. Get the recipe for the steamed kabocha glazed with white miso and maple above, and check out the rest of the Squash Chronicles.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

USDA to Revoke Organic Animal Welfare Rule



The video above shows what organic egg production looks like at one Oregon factory farm. Crowded into closed-in barns, with "outside access" limited to a roofed-in, screened, cement-floored patio with panels preventing the chickens from even seeing outside, is not what people imagine when they see the words "cage free" on the carton.

And it's about to get a lot worse unless you act now.

Factory farmed pigs.

The demand from consumers for organic products has caused that segment of the grocery industry to explode. It's caught the attention of large agribusiness, which has been seeing its portion of the market starting to decline.

A new rule, carefully developed over the last decade, setting consistent and humane animal welfare standards for organic production, was about to go into effect when the current administration delayed its implementation. Over the holidays, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he was going to completely withdraw the new rule from consideration, a step that corporate agribusiness has been pushing for.

The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is accepting comments on its decision through Wednesday, January 17, so action is needed immediately. The Center for Food Safety has provided a simple form to submit a comment on this rule. It may sound alarmist, but the integrity of the organic label, including our health, and that of our communities and the environment, is at stake. I sincerely hope you consider signing it.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Ricotta-Style Cheese at Home? Creamy and Dreamy!


Writing this blog has been full of slap-upside-the-head, "D'oh!" moments over the years. There was the time someone mentioned making a vegetable stock out of corn cobs. And then when I discovered how simple it was, not to mention how much more delicious it tastes, to make your own peanut butter. (Got five minutes and a blender?)

Four cups milk? Check.

I'm constantly asking myself: How could it have taken me so long to figure this stuff out?

Currently it's my quest to duplicate the taste of the kimchi that I experienced eons ago as a college student in Korea, as well as to learn about fermentation. What a journey!

Add lemon juice and…magic!

So this last week, with friends coming for dinner, I decided to make a big tray of lasagne, something I've done a zillion times before. A few years ago I would have bought a container of ricotta and slathered it on the next-to-the-top layer to give a creamy, oozy richness to this Italian-American classic. But then my husband developed a problem with dairy, and with lactose-free commercial ricotta not readily available, I had to eschew that particular ingredient for several years.

Then I read somewhere that it was super easy to make your own at home. D'oh!

A layer in lasagne? Oh yeah!

While, according to my friend, cookbood author Nancy Harmon-Jenkins, traditional Italian ricotta is made from the recooked whey left over from cheesemaking (ri-cotta means "recooked"), this method makes a delicious fresh cheese that's as good or better than most major store-bought brands. With the availability of lactose-free whole milk (thank you, Organic Valley), all it took was some googling and I had the basic idea. My first attempt used white vinegar as the curdling agent, which some recipes said had a neutral flavor. It was the right texture but I thought it gave the final product a funny flavor. Talking with some other cooks, almost to a person they recommended lemon juice instead.

I tried it, fiddled with the timing a bit to get the texture I wanted and, like magic, the creamy softness was back in our lives. And it's so dang easy, I can guarantee that it's going to start showing up on crostini, mixed in pasta and dolloped on salads.

Homemade Ricotta-Style Cheese

4 c. whole milk
1/3 c. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. salt

In a saucepan, heat milk over medium heat (you don’t want to heat it too quickly). Stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking and measuring often with an instant read thermometer, bring milk to 200°.  When it reaches 200°, remove from heat and add lemon juice and salt. Stir a couple of times to combine and let it sit for 5 minutes.

While it’s sitting, put cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour the contents of the pan into the lined strainer and drain, saving the watery whey. Depending on how dry you want your ricotta to be, let it sit for two to 20 minutes. A shorter time will give you creamier ricotta. Taste for salt and adjust.

Note: Save the whey (the watery liquid left after draining) and feed it to your chickens or pigs. If you don't have livestock, you can feed it to your family, as well. It's very nutritious and is great added to soups, stews and sauces that benefit from a slight milkiness. (Think chowders,  or a potato-leek soup.) One reader said she uses the leftover whey to cook pork loin in the crock pot for pulled pork!

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Oregon's Big Milk Problem Goes National


I got an e-mail a few weeks ago from Matthew Wheeland, editor of Civil Eats, a website offering "critical thought about the American food system" that seeks to "publish stories that shift the conversation around sustainable agriculture in an effort to build economically and socially just communities." (I often describe it as a national version of Good Stuff NW, only without the recipes and Corgis.)

Wheeland asked to repost the story I wrote for Edible Portland about the mega-dairies that are flocking to Oregon, an issue facing many other small communities across the country. Of course I said yes, and you can read it here today. And, once you're there, please consider subscribing to this valuable news source. I do.

Also, the timing is particularly appropriate because the 2018 session of the Oregon legislature is gearing up, and it's a good time to revisit the issue of the environmental risks from these factory farms, particularly to groundwater used for drinking and the toxic emissions that are fouling the air in the Eastern Columbia River Gorge. Look for more reports coming soon in the series Your Food, Your Legislature.

Top photo of factory farm dairy barn, courtesy Center for Food Safety.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

A Corny Sidekick For Your Next Pot of Soup


One thing I love to do is mix up a batch of cornbread to accompany a big pot of soup or stew. As simple as it is to make, it doesn't always happen because it's even easier to slice off a few hunks of the fabulous sourdough bread that Dave cranks out like clockwork every couple of weeks. But there's nothing more satisfying than throwing some simple ingredients in a bowl, giving them a few gentle turns by hand and pouring it into a pie pan, then pulling it out of the oven just before ladling out the soup.

Made with Ayers Creek 8-Row Flint Corn.

Of course, I'm a devotée of the coarse cornmeal ground from the organic flint corn grown by Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, with its flecks of red, orange and yellow and its deeply corn-y flavor, but regular cornmeal works, too. I've also baked it using their Peace No War—PNW, as in Pacific Northwest, get it?—purple cornmeal (top photo), which gives it a mahogany tinge and is no less flavorful. But whatever cornmeal you choose, and whatever form you choose (it's wonderful as a loaf, in a round cake or pie tin, or even muffins), definitely give this a try with your next pot of soup.

Check out these fantastic, simple soup recipes.

Cheesy Cornbread

1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 c. milk or buttermilk
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 c. sharp cheddar cheese
1 large green chile, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°.

In large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stir in milk and melted butter. Add eggs, cheese and chile (if using). Grease and flour baking pan or muffin tin. Pour in batter. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Note: You can also add cumin, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, some chopped green onions or one-third cup drained corn. It's a very flexible recipe.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Squash Chronicles: Black Futsu Salad with Radicchio



It's all squash, all the time here at Good Stuff NW…or so you might surmise from the preponderance of Oscar-worthy starring roles that winter squash has been playing in recent posts.

Much of the blame for this cucurbit-heavy obsession can be laid at the feet of the fellow in the video above, the estimable Chef Tim Wastell and his henchperson/enabler Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network, I'm happy to share the results of their collaboration here.

Get the recipe for the Black Futsu Salad with Radicchio above, and check out the rest of the Squash Chronicles.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Waiter, There's a Walnut in My Drink!


I've just made my third batch of nocino, that motor oil-dark Italian liqueur made from unripe walnuts, green as spring grass, hard as rocks and, when split open, with the nutshell discernable but not yet hardened. Fortunately for Portlanders, there were lots of walnut trees planted for landscaping purposes from the city's founding and well into the 20th century. Which means that in late summer, there are lots of walnuts (un)ripe for the picking.

Unripe green walnuts.

Fortunately for me, I happen to have a neighbor who knows what to do with these beauties. Jim Dixon has been making nocino from the walnuts on the very large tree in his parking strip for a very long time. A few years ago he invited me over to gather nuts and learn to make nocino, a skill I was very anxious to develop. (Read that story and get Jim's recipe here.)

Infusing in alcohol on the patio until fall.

That first batch was spectacular, a rich, dark elixir that smelled and tasted of walnuts and that, six years later, is still some of the best I've ever had, though there's only a thimble-full left. I made another attempt two years ago, but it somehow never came together the same way. I found out why when I made this year's nocino.

After draining off the solids, it was time to add the sugar syrup and, reading the recipe carefully to make sure I got the balance right, I realized that I'd misread the recipe two years ago. D'oh! So I quickly got out that batch, which I hadn't had the heart to throw out, and added in the missing portion of syrup. È eccellente!

Ready to be strained.

Between the two batches I now have around three gallons of liqueur in my cellar, which brings me to the point of this post. I've run across several articles touting the excellent cocktails that can be made with the addition of a touch of nocino, and Dave and I have been diligently working our way through them.

If you've been wanting to try nocino, there are several commercial varieties out there, but I can honestly say that none have measured up to Jim's homemade version, which includes nothing but alcohol and walnuts, eschewing the exotic spices that many add. But please, feel free to experiment with the following cocktails and, if you're so inclined, find a neighbor with a tree and make your own nocino next year!

Nocino Old-Fashioned
Adapted from Imbibe magazine

2 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. nocino
4 dashes orange bitters
Amarena cherries

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass half full of ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into tumbler with two fresh ice cubes. Garnish with two amarena cherries. Serve.

* * *

Nocino Manhattan

2 oz. Old Overholt rye whiskey
1 oz. nocino
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Amarena cherries

Chill cocktail glasses in freezer. Fill pint glass or small mixing pitcher half full of ice. Add whiskey, nocino and bitters. Stir 30 seconds. Take cocktail glasses out of freezer. Strain liquor into glass. Drop two cherries into each glass. Serve.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Crabby Politics Put Dungeness Crab Fishery at Risk


Lyf Gildersleeve (above), owner of Flying Fish, a sustainable seafood retailer in Providore Fine Foods, is a second-generation fishmonger and a vocal advocate for national fisheries policy. Two bills before Congress right now, H.R. 200 and H.R. 3588, weaken America’s key fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). At the end of Lyf's report is a link to contact your congressional representatives, which I urge you to do.

Fisheries policy has a responsibility to be sustainable, that is, to ensure that future generations will have access to the same resources we’ve had the luxury of taking for granted. Fisheries policy also has a responsibility to the people who make a living from the fisheries, whether directly at sea or indirectly at market. Policy needs to provide safety nets for fishermen, working waterfronts and the communities within the fishing industry. Policy must evolve and adapt to a changing industry, climate change and market needs.

Since its inception over 40 years ago, bipartisan support has been the hallmark of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The MSA is the federal fisheries law which creates safeguards to protect our fisheries and the communities supported by them. Unfortunately, the current political climate in Washington DC does not give equal consideration to both sides of the equation with regard to the MSA and its much-needed reauthorization.

The west coast’s Dungeness crab season similarly requires a two-sided approach: one side that considers consumer options, the other which considers fishery and ecosystem issues. Fortunately for the health of the fishery, and unfortunately for the fishermen and the consumer in Oregon, bipartisan considerations delayed the 2017-18 season.

In fisheries policy on a broad scale and in Dungeness crab practice locally, the equation is thrown out of balance when only one side of the equation is considered. A one-sided approach has potentially dangerous effects to both the environment and the livelihood of the communities dependent on the ocean.

As with most fish, objectives for the Dungeness crab consumer boil down to two things: safety and value. This year, the Oregon Dungeness crab season was delayed because the crabs had not reached market size. This was unfortunate for the crab fishing fleet, but it was a safeguard to protect the ecosystem and the consumer. Hard decisions always require trade-offs, but if the decisions account for all sides of the equation, then we can stand strongly and confidently. If all sides are not considered, somebody will get an unfair treatment, whether that's the fishery or the people whose livelihoods depend on it.

Total allowable catch quotas have long existed to sustain fisheries, including the Dungeness crab, for future generations. Sadly, the current bill to reauthorize the MSA, H.R. 200, introduced by Republican Congressman Don Young from Alaska, emphasizes “increasing flexibility”—i.e. it guts accountability in favor of the bottom line.

Pushing this version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act insults the spirit and legacy of the act, which has set the standard for fisheries policy worldwide. It weakens America’s key fishing law—it’s bad for fish, it’s bad for oceans, and it’s bad for coastal communities. It creates very real potential for overfishing and the not-very-long term instability of fishing communities.

Last week, the House Committee on Natural Resources voted in favor of legislation sponsored by Congressman Young (H.R. 200), and his Republican colleague from Louisiana, Garret Graves, who is promoting H.R. 3588, the Red Snapper Act, that wholly undermine the MSA. These two bills disable the science-based data on total allowable catch quotas, and the euphemistic “flexibility” disempowers the law that has allowed several fishery stocks to rebuild from the verge of collapse.

We have a chance—and an obligation—to learn from the tragic overfishing that depleted stocks on the East coast and around the world. These failed policies have decimated the wild Atlantic salmon to levels of extinction, and the populations of several ground fish across the east are so low they can’t rebuilt. The already troubled red snapper, an icon of the Gulf Coast, stands to suffer the same fate in light of Congressman Graves’ bill.

The panel’s top Democrat, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, had this to say: “Ocean management is about sustainable use and enjoyment, not just making environmentalists unhappy. Like most of the bills advanced by the leadership of this committee, this bill is extreme and has no future in the Senate. Until my counterparts decide to take the issues in our jurisdiction more seriously, we’re going to keep wasting time on unpopular bills that have no chance of becoming law.”

While this is certainly encouraging—and from a Congressman from the desert, no less—we still need to apply pressure and call, write, email, tweet our elected officials. These disastrous bills have reached the Senate, which has a chance to stand up to such indecency.

We can do better. We have the power. Do it for the environment. Do it for the fishermen and communities whose livelihood depends on a healthy ocean. Do it for your grandchildren. Defend the ocean and the important part it plays in all of our lives. Contact your Senators and tell them to vote NO to H.R. 200 and H.R. 3588.

In Oregon:
Top photo courtesy Flying Fish.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Party Favor: Crab and Artichoke Dip


I want to slide in a quick suggestion for your next holiday party, whether it's at your place or you need to take a little something to contribute to a gathering. It's a throwback to the days of yore and Madmen-style, cocktail-fueled evenings, where a table might be laden with tiny canapés made with Ritz Crackers, processed cheese and pimento olives.

Cheese balls were in fashion, sitting like an errant meteor on a china plate. My own mother was enamored of them—I think she really loved the nuts studding the exterior— and standbys like clam and onion dips orbiting big bowls heaped with salty potato chips. Chafing dishes, with little tins of Canned Heat burning beneath them, kept all manner of hors d'oeuvres like meatballs piping hot (sometimes erring on the side of molten), with rainbow-colored toothpicks nearby, the better to spear the choicest bits.

The warm crab and artichoke dip below would have fit right in on that table, even more so because it relies on canned food products and the stalwart presence of mayonnaise to bind it all together. You could substitute local Dungeness crab meat, farmers' market artichokes and homemade mayonnaise to make it, too, but I like the simplicity of the original in its all-American salute to convenience paired with deliciousness. And I know my mother would approve.

Hot Artichoke and Crab Dip
Adapted from New Seasons Market

1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts
1/4 c. capers
6 oz. crab meat (fresh is better and cheaper if you buy a whole crab and crack it yourself, but canned works, too)
1 c. parmesan, finely grated
1 c. mayonnaise
6 whole wheat crackers (like Triscuits), optional

Drain and chop artichokes. If using canned crab, drain well. Crush crackers to fine crumbs with a rolling pin.

Combine crab with artichokes, capers, cheese and mayonnaise. Sprinkle with crushed crackers. Put in baking dish and bake for at least 20 minutes at 350°. When slightly browned and bubbly, serve with your favorite crackers, baguette slices or tortilla chips. (Also makes a great stuffing for salmon fillet or chicken breast.)

Squash Chronicles: Spaghetti Squash Cacio e Pepe



It's all squash, all the time here at Good Stuff NW…or so you might surmise from the preponderance of Oscar-worthy starring roles that winter squash has been playing in recent posts. Much of the blame for this cucurbit-heavy obsession can be laid at the feet of the fellow in the video above, the estimable Chef Tim Wastell and his henchperson/enabler Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network.

Tim Wastell showing proper squash butchery technique.

A couple of years ago the pair held a Squash Party for which Tim concocted a mind-blowing squash ice cream that disrupted the comfy little niche I had created in my mind for winter squash. I came home and immediately made a winter squash sorbet and, damn him, it was stunning! It also began my quest for what else this herbaceous vine might be capable of.

Selman and Wastell recently held a Squash Sagra in which Wastell demonstrated squash butchery to a rapt audience. It's also where I learned of a series of videos of Tim making fabulously simple dishes using these much-maligned gourds. Filmed by my friend Jeremy Fenske, they are short and sweet and sure to inspire you. And, I hope, to blow apart that little niche you might have for this amazing food.

Get the recipe for Squash Cacio e Pepe. Find more squash recipes here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Farm Bulletin: Oregon’s Aci Sivri Cayennes


Nothing at Ayers Creek Farm is unconsidered, from the wetland to the predatory birds to the varieties of pole beans. Neither are things precious—if a crop doesn't produce or too many other farms begin offering a similar product or it's too much trouble, out it goes. And that includes au courant terms like "heirloom" and "artisan" (seriously, don't bring it up), which is addressed in this essay on the cayenne pepper that Anthony and Carol Boutard have been working diligently for years to perfect to their specifications. 

Oregon’s Aci Sivri is a cayenne introduced from Turkey in the 1980s. The Turkish name aci sivri biber simply means a hot long (cayenne-type) pepper, rather than a specific variety. Turkey produces a lot of peppers, cayennes and sweet, about 7% of the world’s production, ranking second to China. Peppers are grown in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea regions of the country. In Turkey, cayennes are used both pickled when green and dried when ripe.

Capsicum calyxes, from left: Oregon’s Aci Sivri, Costeño Rojo, Chiltepec, Joe’s Long Cayenne, Shishito, Italian sweet

It is fashionable to tag the honorific “heirloom” on all manner of crop varieties, and aci sivri hasn’t been spared. As any crop grown for more than 25 years meets the definition regardless of quality, the term is well nigh meaningless. Some up the ante by describing the pepper as a "centuries old Turkish heirloom." Given the generic name and the absence of a geographic link, that embellishment is a stretch. As a result of the Turkish diaspora, people of Turkish descent live in Spain, Italy, Germany, the United States and elsewhere. Just as an Oregonian returned with some seeds of a cayenne that impressed him from his time in Turkey, seeds travel in both directions and it is just as likely that seeds from a fine cayenne, perhaps sent by a Cornell graduate student to her family, found their way from Upstate New York to a Black Sea village in Turkey where it was welcomed. Over the past five centuries, seeds have been an international commodity, passed around by researchers and seed companies, as well as families. The idea of a crop frozen in time like an antique tea cup or souvenir spoon is a fatuous conceit.

The berries of the Nightshade family, the Solanaceae, have marvelous calyxes (above left). The eggplant has a large, tough, often thorny one, the tomatillo’s papery calyx continues to grow after pollination and envelopes the fruit (below right), while the tomato has a wiry, glandular and reflexed version. The calyxes of peppers are akin to hats, varying in size and shape, and are part of the fruit’s genetic fingerprint. The calyx of Oregon’s Aci Sivri forms a distinctive hat that extends beyond and over the fruit, worn jauntily like a French beret. Very different from the long cayennes that sport a tight calyx over the ears like a flapper’s cloche, or others that have merest of beanies. Or the bell pepper with a calyx that is proportionately similar to a yarmulke. And to think, before this digression you all probably never gave a second thought to the Solanaceous calyx and all its forms.

Tomatillos in their husks.

Not all peppers sold as "Aci Sivri" by seed companies or in photos posted as aci sivri biber have the beret-like calyx possessed by Oregon’s version. Many have the flapper's cloche or a beanie instead. This observation confirms our observation that aci sivri biber is not a well-defined variety, but rather a general cayenne type with a lot of diversity. For example, some catalogue entries suggest that the heat of the pepper is variable and can be very hot. Others describe the pepper as exceeding eight inches long, or producing an astounding 50 fruits per plant. Undoubtedly, others have brought to the United States a Turkish pepper called aci sivri. The descriptions and photos suggest they are very different peppers from Oregon’s.

Under its jaunty calyx, Oregon’s Aci Sivri is well-defined in terms of quality. It has a sweet flavor with a rich chocolate-like complexity. The heat is consistently gentle if the interior ribs, the placental tissue, are removed. You can be generous in its use and the whole family can enjoy its flavor. The pepper is a bit more frisky when the ribs are retained. Even then, the heat is civilized; it doesn’t slap you in the face or cause torment in its descent down the gullet. Although the Scoville scale treats the "heat" of peppers as a linear phenomenon, it is not. The heat comes from capsaicin and at least 10 other very similar compounds called capsaicinoids. Variations in the quantities of each of these compounds will alter the intensity and character of the heat. In Oregon’s Aci Sivri, the character of the capsaicinoid blend is amiable.

Joe's Long cayennes in the field at Ayers Creek with their cloche-like calyxes.

Unlike souvenir spoons and antique tea cups whose traits remain static through time, crops evolve and adapt to their new home. Oregon’s Aci Sivri has been here for three decades and is clearly now an American of Turkish descent. (And it is also officially an Oregon heirloom, having met the mere 25-year hurdle for that banal and meaningless honorific.) We have had a hand in shaping the pepper in our own seed production. Of particular importance for us are the plant’s architecture, early ripening and the darkest red fruits. In terms of architecture, we have been selecting for plants that hold their fruits aloft of the ground rather than having the fruits dragging about on the soil. Good posture is critical where the late summer is often wet. It means the fruits remain clean and do not rot at the tip as wet weather approaches in early autumn. Good quality peppers are more important to us than high yield, and those that ripen during the warmer days of September have better flavor. We look for plants that are modest in their productivity. In our experience, the darker fruits have a more complex flavor when dry.

One of the advantages of being a farmer-breeder, we can be fussy and every year select ten or so perfect specimens for seed from a field of over 500 plants. The fruits for seed are the first we harvest. If we were growing the plants for seed only, we could never be as selective. And we wouldn’t be so concerned about plants that have their fruits slouch on the soil, a bit tardy or never get quite as red as the others. We could change the pepper’s name as is our wont, but Aci Sivri has a nice ring to it and we have no better idea, so we are content to add the possessive modifier and leave it at that.

There is a wonderful moment in one of Chekhov’s short stories where an officer greets his lover after a few drinks with his colleagues. She savors the warm bite of the pertsovka—pepper vodka—as he greets her with a kiss. When we first tasted Oregon’s Aci Sivri, the scene came to mind immediately and made sense. In the story, the pepper was amorous not aggressive. Hvorostovsky not Putin. Anthony sat down in Powell’s one day determined to find that short story. He was soon stymied by the sheer volume of Chekhov's short stories, compounded by the multitude of collections and translations; after an hour, he left cross-eyed. Upon reflection, it is better to retain the memory of the gentle bite of a pertsovka-infused kiss without a plot’s unnecessary complications or disappointments.

Read more on the controversy over the heirloom label.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Food Heroes: Matthew Dillon, Seed Guy


It all goes back to growing up on his family's small farm in Nebraska just outside of Omaha. That four-acre farm, which his family called a "hobby farm," was where the Dillon family raised vegetables and kept a few cattle. Young Matthew and his siblings would harvest the vegetables from the fields, then carry them up and down the road that ran in front of their house that cut through the heart of Nebraska's rich agricultural land, selling armloads of the crops to their neighbors.

Matthew was a smart kid, and his boredom with school, which he refers to as "an 1890’s model of education," caused him to get a reputation as a rabble-rouser. "I’d definitely gotten in trouble for vandalism, smoking pot and all those things," he said. "That’s why I was getting in trouble—because I wasn’t challenged. I was totally bored."

Mount Michael Benedictine School.

So his parents plucked him out of public school and sent him to a nearby boarding school called Mount Michael Benedictine School. "It was competitive to get in, you had to start as a freshman, he said. "100 percent of students going off to college, 90 percent on scholarships, highest ACT and SAT scores in the state."

The monks also had a three-acre organic farm.

But compared to the vegetables his family grew, "the carrots and the produce were pretty crappy looking," he remembers thinking. "I guess this is good for the planet, but it doesn’t look very edible."

After graduating from Mount Michael, Dillon went to the University of California, studying the evolution of human consciousness through a special outdoor wilderness program on the impacts of the human psyche on ecosystems.

Then his father got sick. Cancer.

"He'd had an agricultural supply business, everything from veterinary health supplies to pesticides, you name it, the whole kit and caboodle," Dillon said.

Matthew dropped out of school to help his mother take care of his dad and worked to help pay the family's bills.

Platte River Valley in Nebraska.

"My dad was so healthy. Why is he, of all people, getting non-Hodgkins lymphoma?" he asked himself. "I started looking into it, and the Platte River Valley of Nebraska has this insanely high rate of non-Hodgkins lymphoma because of nitrates in the wells [from] pesticide runoff."

Dillon's father died shortly thereafter, and it began to dawn on him that the pesticides his father sold and that all the farmers in the area used might have contributed to not only his dad's disease, but to his own serious illness at the age of 12, eventually diagnosed as an endocrine disruption and after which he never grew again.

He became intrigued with agriculture. He got a job working on urban garden projects in and around Omaha, plus a side business running an electronics smuggling operation in Russia (read more about that here).

Working on the garden projects, "I realized that the only way I was going to be close to my dad again was if I started growing food," Dillon said. "The thing that he loved the most was that hobby farm. He liked that more than the business. He just liked growing food, he liked making food, [and] it became really clear to me that I needed to go and get my hands in the soil."

Touring a field study for the OSA.

An internship at an 18-acre organic farm in California's Anderson Valley introduced Dillon to an integrated approach to agriculture, where everything was different from the practices his family had used in Nebraska. But one thing struck him as odd: the seed on the organic farm came from the same sources as the seed that the conventional growers used back home.

"All of the inputs are different, our approach to caring for the soil is different, but the seed was the same," he said. Other than some heirloom seed from the Abundant Life Seed Foundation and the Seed Savers Exchange, which he said was beautiful but not agronomically strong, the bulk of the farm's seed came from conventional sources.

"Why is that?" Dillon wondered. "Where’s the organic seed?"

"So I got kind of obsessed, as I do, about the concept that you breed for the environment of intended use, and you breed for the management system of intended use," he said. "Organic environments and organic management systems were different."

That line of inquiry sent him up to Port Townsend, Washington, to the headquarters of Abundant Life, where he volunteered almost full time, eventually landing a spot on their board of directors. Having lost its executive director, the board asked Dillon to take the position as interim director, which led to his accepting the position of executive director.

And that's when the fire hit. A story in the Capital Press from August 8, 2003, summarized the damage:
"An early Monday morning fire in Port Townsend, Washington, that destroyed a landmark building, home to the oldest grocery store in the state, also destroyed Abundant Life Seed Foundation’s office, its extensive library and thousands of its seeds—hundreds of which were one-of-a-kind varieties. Matthew Dillon, executive director of the foundation, describes it as the loss of 29 years of collecting and stewarding germ plasm."
Reflecting on the effect of the devastating loss almost 15 years later, Dillon is sanguine.

At Wild Garden Seed in Philomath.

"By that time I’d met [Dr. John] Navazio and [Wild Garden Seed's Frank] Morton," he said. "All these guys who were saying, yeah, heirlooms are great and everything, but we can have the best heirlooms and we can start breeding in disease resistance and making these crops more workhorses and more robust. And that just intrigued me."

Dillon and the plant breeders and contract growers at Abundant Life had already started to improve some of the heirloom varieties, but their work wasn't without controversy, even within the organic community.

"We’d get angry letters, like 'how dare you not save the seed just as it is, how dare you make a cross or how dare you make a selection!'" he said, shaking his head. "It was intense.

"The whole thing was that heirlooms are not like these gifts handed down by the gods from Olympus to our grandparents. They evolved with those practices, intentionally or not."

Dillon feels that, in general, agricultural history hasn’t given credit to the farmer innovator, saying that farmers and gardeners have always riffed on what they find in their gardens and made selections based on their own preferences. He believes that's where we got the diversity of the heirloom and heritage seed that we find in catalogs and garden stores today.

"Our whole thing was the heirlooms of tomorrow," he said. "That’s all we were doing. In the long run, obviously, a lot of folks have embraced that and it’s become the focus of the alternative seed movement, going beyond heirlooms, still respecting conservation and the need for conservation."

Clif Bar Seed Matters initiative.

Out of the literal ashes of Abundant Life, Dillon founded the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) with Navazio, a renowned plant geneticist, agroecologist, author and organic seed production specialist. With a belief that seed is part of our common cultural heritage—a living, natural resource that demands careful management to meet food needs now and into the future—the OSA's mission was to support the growing organic seed movement and advance what it calls "ethical seed solutions" to meet food and farming needs in a changing world.

Under Dillon's leadership the OSA educated thousands of farmers and other agricultural community members, conducted professional organic plant breeding and seed production research, and advocated for national policies strengthening organic seed systems.

But, as Dillon said, "I'm not a manager, I'm a start-up guy." Once the OSA was humming along with great people like Navazio, Micaela Colley, Kiki Hubbard and others in place, he said, "I was like, I’m done. I’m ready for something new."

In the field.

That new, shiny thing came in the unexpected form of a job with a candy bar—or what these days is called an "energy bar"—company, Clif Bar. After leaving OSA, Dillon did some consulting, and the Clif Bar Family Foundation was one of his first clients. He found it intriguing because, though only about 70 percent of the ingredients in Clif Bar products were organic, its founders, Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, wanted to figure out how to get more organics into the system, which meant scaling up the growing organic industry, starting with seed.

"I would tell them things like, the organic movement needs to stop marketing ourselves as being grandma and grandpa’s farm and going back a hundred years," he said. "We’re not going back. We’re using the best scientific principles and practices for our production system to figure out how to move our production system forward. To do that you have to give the farmers better tools, you have to understand cover cropping better, you have to understand soil management better, there’s all of this investment you need to make."

Rather than taking the tack of much of the organic movement, like making investments in fighting GMOs and GMO labeling, Dillon's experience told him that not enough investment was being made in agricultural research. His mission from that point on was clear. "Let’s start with seed," he said. "Let’s focus on a seed initiative that improves organic seed, and then let’s see where we can go from there."

He began his work at the foundation in 2009 by founding the company's Seed Matters initiative, with a mission to improve the viability and availability of organic seed to provide more nutritious and productive crops. It would do this by conserving crop genetic diversity, promoting farmers’ roles as seed innovators and stewards, and by reinvigorating public seed research and education. It meant working with farmers, educators, researchers, nonprofits, public universities, community gardeners and seed advocates, as well as establishing graduate fellowships for students to enter the field of organic plant breeding.

A chance to move over to the company and effect what he perceives of as systemic change has placed Dillon in a critical role, as Clif Bar's Director of Agricultural Policy and Programs. For Clif Bar, he said, it was a question of looking at their agricultural supply chain, then figuring out how to make investments that will be good for their farmers but also be good for the company.

Again, for Dillon it goes back to his upbringing in the Midwest in the 1970s.

"What I love about [Clif Bar] is, you hear about companies that are triple bottom lines; Clif Bar was this five bottom line," he said. "They have people, planet, community, business and brands, and agriculture they put under community aspiration, and to me that was really cool.

"As a kid growing up in a rural community, I’d seen the farm crisis in Nebraska in the late 70s—farmers' suicides, consolidation. All of that was alive and crushingly apparent in my community. I was watching people lose farms, family members and friends losing farms in the late seventies and early eighties. So, to me, it was the idea that big ag comes in and extracts value out of communities. It’s systemic."

While Dillon openly admits that Clif Bar is far from perfect, he said that they know they have work to do.

"Because the question of any food company should be, how do our decisions either add value to communities, make communities more robust and healthy and resilient, or how do they detract from that?" he said.

Photo of Dillon at Wild Garden Seed by Shawn Linehan.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Community Kitchen That Will Build Community



Stacey Givens has a vision for her community of a place where people of all ages, from all walks of life, and from every corner of our city can gather and share their stories through the food they grow and make.

She started The Side Yard Farm in 2009 on a couple of lots in the downtrodden Cully neighborhood for just that purpose. A short summary of its work would include providing 20 local restaurants with organic local produce, giving space to schools to teach kids about farm to table, offering the farm's outdoor dining area to beginning pop-up chefs trying to get their foot in the door, donating large amounts of produce to organizations, providing space for instructors to teach classes, and hosting The Lost Table, a grief group for those who've lost loved ones. This year Givens' "Welcome Refugees" supper series benefited refugees here in Portland and gave attendees a chance to hear their stories.

"The Side Yard has become family to many chefs, artisans, instructors, kiddos, beginning farmers, aspiring chefs, grief group folks and people from all over that world who are interested in learning more about the seed to plate movement," Givens said.

And she's not stopping there.

To celebrate the farm's 10th year in business, Givens is planning to expand to build a Community Supported Kitchen (CSK) in her neighborhood. With a $175,000 price tag to build out a new kitchen space in the former Delphina's Bakery on Northeast 42nd Avenue, she's asking for help with a Kickstarter campaign (video above) dedicated to purchasing equipment for the new kitchen.

"We have been searching for a suitable kitchen for more than 5 years to allow growth in a shared space with other like-minded culinary entrepreneurs," Givens said. "When we heard that a spot was opening up right down the street from the farm, we grew excited about the possibility of building deeper connections through education and visibility of hyperlocal farming and sourcing. The CSK will exist to provide other local businesses with a holistic model that prioritizes the flow of local produce from the farm to the kitchen to the consumer."

As of today, Givens is almost halfway to that goal with slightly more than $22,000 raised. But she'll get none of it if you don't chip in to help before the deadline of December 22nd. Please consider doing so!

Go to The Side Yarm Farm Community Supported Kitchen page on Kickstarter for more information and to donate.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Caponata with a Twist: Winter Squash!


'Tis the season for all kinds of squash-y deliciousness, and contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food has a great idea for a vegetarian main dish.

Using winter squash instead of eggplant for this Sicilian classic wasn't my idea, but it's a really good one. I've written before about my preference for the big, pumpkin-y Cucurbit varieties, and since they provide a lot of squash to eat, I'm always looking for another way to use them. But you can make this with any good winter squash. You'll want about three cups of cut up squash.

Cut the squash into roughly 3/4-inch chunks (if you have any leftover roasted squash, cut it into bite-sized pieces and add after cooking the other vegetables). Toss it into a skillet slicked with extra virgin olive oil and cook over medium heat. Chop and toss in a red onion, a couple of celery stalks, 2-3 cloves of garlic, a good handful of green olives, and a couple of tablespoons of whole capers. Add a good pinch of salt, too.

When the squash is tender (maybe 15 minutes), add a splash (2 tablespoons or so) of Katz Trio red wine vinegar, a healthy squirt of Three Brothers cane syrup (or a couple of tablespoons of sugar or honey), and about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Cook for another 5 minutes to let the flavors blend, then sprinkle with a few pinches of oregano. Drizzle with more extra virgin on the plate.

You can eat this warm as vegetable side, but I like it best at room temperature with good bread.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Squash Sagra: Get Your Squash On This Weekend!


Quick quiz:
  1. When was the last time you ate squash? How was it prepared?
  2. When was the last time you bought a whole squash?
  3. How many varieties can you name (besides acorn and butternut)?
For answers to these and other squash-related questions, you should plan to attend the Squash Sagra, a festival devoted to all things squash this Sunday, December 3, from 11 am to 3 pm at The Redd on Southeast 9th and Salmon St.

Musquée de Provence.

The Sagra—local festival in Italian—is free and open to the public in conjunction with the annual Fill Your Pantry event hosted by Friends of Family Farmers. Local chefs will be handing out samples of squash dishes they've prepared, sharing recipes and discussing flavors and culinary uses of the diverse varieties of squash grown locally. Farmers will be offering a wide array of vegetables, beans and grains for purchase on-site, so there'll be something for everyone.

Kabocha squash.

You'll also have the opportunity to learn about the four categories of squash: sweet squash perfect for desserts, baked goods and pastries; simple squash that can be baked or steamed with no added ingredients; salad squash with their excellent flavor and texture when eaten raw; and saucy squash that are ideal for sauces, soups or curries. (See the Eat Winter Squash website for more info and photos.)

Black futsu.

There'll be a squash butchery booth where chef Tim Wastell will share pro tips and techniques for cutting up and storing the larger squash varieties. Uprising Seeds, Washington state's first 100% organic seed company, will be demonstrating a European seed oil press to make your own seed oils. There'll be a kids' play area for younger folk to taste samples of these delectable cucurbits and learn about how squash grow. And of course there's the ubiquitous Photo Booth where you can cuddle up to the cucurbit of your choice and take home a photo that'll prove your love.

"I've been wanting to do a sagra like this for a long time," said Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network, one of the sponsors of the sagra. "Hopefully people will get really inspired and learn a lot about the different categories of squash that are grown in our area."

Get my recipes for squash soup, squash pie and squash risotto. Even squash sorbet (it's delicious, I promise)!

Top photo by Shawn Linehan featuring Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network admiring a Doran Round Butternut squash from Adaptive Seeds Farm. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Farm Bulletin: Our Land of Tule and Cattails


You might ask why a farmer would devote nearly half his acreage to support a wetland rather than filling it and growing more crops. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm has his reasons.

It is hard to muster much sympathy for nutria, with their beady little eyes and humorless demeanor. Then again, the poor dears spend the summer quietly feeding and building among the tule and cattails—unobserved bliss in nutria terms. Then the water level rises and migratory water fowl descend. The geese and cormorants haze them mercilessly and defecate all over their tussocks, and the eagles eye them hungrily. They cluster together, four or five, to avoid being picked off as prey. This morning the water is very high and a shard of sympathy is felt.

Patches of tule at the south end of the wetland.

Ayers Creek Farm has nearly 80 acres of ground suited to the production of crops. The remaining 64 acres include a 40-acre open wetland, 20 acres of oak savannah and some swales of green ash and hawthorn. A little over half the farm is a managed landscape, a little under is largely unmanaged. It is hard to imagine the farm without its two hemispheres. For us, a highly productive square of farmland would be a dull place indeed without the messy exuberance of the wild areas bleeding into our efforts at an organized ecology.

This spring we were approached by a botanist volunteering for the UFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]. Ginny Maffit was curious about our bottomland which, she had heard through the grapevine, was a fine example of an undisturbed wetland community. In response, we explained the process whereupon it became “undisturbed,” a term the nutria would dispute. Several notes, edited and merged, describe how the wetland developed and matured.

* * *

Our wetland, about 40 acres in extent, was cultivated until 2002. It is mostly Labish muck*. Because it is outside of the local dike system, it tended to flood early, making harvest difficult. For many years, the "Wapato Improvement District" managed water level in the valley bottom for onion growing. Over time, onion growers died off and their families eventually sold the various holdings to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a Wapato Lake refuge.

Wapato or arrowhead flower.

As onion-growing petered out, pumping patterns within the dike changed, increasing the challenges. We asked TVID [Tualatin Valley Irrigation District] to let the water rise as security measure for the other irrigated fields on our property, providing a buffer capacity. We fretted initially because many people told us we would end up with a thicket of reed canary grass. Several people identified a certain piece of property within the lake, owned by a federal agency, that turned into a canary grass wasteland. We had never seen it, but heard about it a lot. On the other hand, along highway 47, south of milepost 22, there is a small patch of wetland that we had always envied because of its vegetative structure.

We poked about the government websites researching wetland restoration, but the approach always seemed to be heavy-handed and inconsistent with our appreciation of natural succession. We are organic farmers by disposition. In addition, we have confidence in the way natural systems can repair a site. The first few years a low, rhizomatous grass took over the low areas on the site, dominated by Labish muck. And, as predicted by Gaston's Greek chorus anticipating another tragedy, reed canary grass quickly occupied the Wapato silty clay soils, a foot or two higher in elevation but still flooded from October through March. Another year or two passed, and we noticed the vegetation was starting to shift. Through the thick thatch of the "witch" grasses, we saw new plants emerging. In the reed canary grass, several different woody plants established themselves, including roses, ashes, hawthorns and spirea.

A cinnamon teal nest.

By 2007, the bottom had developed a remarkable mosaic of vegetation types. Tule, bulrushes, cattails, wapato, sedges, rushes and various grasses were all represented in bands and islands. The hardwood shrubs and trees are now establishing themselves along the fringes. It is a beautiful example of a natural wetland succession, predominantly native in composition. Now the Chorus’ chant can praise the natural qualities of the wetland.

Yes, there are some non-native species, especially along the eastern fringe. However, the bulk of the wetland represents as fine a native wetland as you can find, resulting from a simple, just-add-water approach. Cost us next to nothing in treasure or effort, and has provided endless pleasure. There is a rich assemblage of nesting birds. The last two years, we have had between 20 and 65 white pelicans foraging in the shallows during the spring. One sultry evening this summer, we spent an hour watching a yellow breasted chat as it bounced from one perch to another. At the south end, there is a big patch of tule where the marsh wrens build their softball-sized and shaped nests. Another reason to tarry on the way to nowhere in particular.

Drained wetland systems that have been cultivated for decades do not have much to contribute vis-a-vis their seed bank. So how did all these plants find their way to our swampy hole? Wetlands are generally connected via water courses and/or fauna (birds and mammals), and these provided the seed source. Growing up in New England, we are familiar with shifting wetlands following a move-in by beavers damming a stream, necessitating a portage. Within about the same space of time as our wetland development, these ponds would fill in with the species typical of wetlands along the water course.

Wapato or Arrowhead growing in clumps.

Our wetland is illustrative of this mechanism. As we are outside the dike, we received seeds and other propagules from the diverse, vestigial patches of the original Wapato Lake that fringe the outer wetland fragments that have never been cropped. Not of great extent or particularly interesting to most, but of immense importance to holes. As the system drains in late winter, the water flows upstream from these patches, as well as downstream, so we get a nice dose of propagules from these areas. Because it is a case of mass selection rather than a managed planting, the various species and assemblages find their appropriate place in the mosaic of soil types and water depths. Planted “restorations” in our estimation always look planted, a forced pattern discordant to the eye.

We see our patch of wetland as a grow-out of the Wapato Lake's historic flora, maybe not complete in terms of species but functionally whole. It provides a summer home for the bitterns, grebes, rails, marsh wrens and cinnamon teal and other ducks. We have a large and diverse population of dragonflies as well, and they spend the summer hawking among our crops.

All-pelican production of Swan Lake.

Among the birds is a tundra swan that has been there since January or so. It was probably injured rather than uninspired to take flight, however it an observation based on sedentary behavior rather than seeing an injury. Otherwise very healthy, no signs of distress. It continues to stretch its wings, moves well on land and water, a nice natural water feature. This autumn it has been joined by 16 other swans, including two grey cygnets. This is the second year we have hosted white pelicans, one evening we counted 65, though typically they numbered around 24. These huge, ungainly birds are spectacular when they come in to land. The swan, unimpressed by their magnificence, stayed apart, and engaged in some agitated head bobbing when they came close.

Over that last four years the wetland, formerly leveled for agricultural use, has developed a distinctly hummocky aspect. The architects are the nutria, regarded as vermin by most farmers and used as target practice by local kids. These hirsute engineers create channels and pools so they can move about the wet areas safely and efficiently, their own variation of Venice's canals. There may be muskrats as well, but the nutria are the dominant rodents. Walking the wetland's fringe, it is apparent that the channels of the rodents are extending the wetland vegetation in the areas dominated by the reed canary grass. Wetland plants are well adapted to herbivory. In fact their growth is generally stimulated by the activity, as is evident by the work of the nutria. Native Americans observed and understood the stimulatory effect of their harvest, and maintained vigorous beds of wapato. That is why we are sanguine about harvesting some of the corms for our restaurant accounts.

* Muck is a high organic content soil type formed from former lake bottom deposits. “Labish muck” is a series found in the Willamette Valley. The type was first described from the remains of Lake Labish in the Salem area. The muck of Lake Wapato shares its characteristics, so it falls into that soil type.

All photos by Anthony Boutard.