Saturday, August 09, 2008

Farm Bulletin: Berries, Prunes and Prepping for Fall

One reason I love Anthony Boutard's missives from his farm in Gaston are the perspective they offer on a world that is physically close and yet so very far from our daily lives in the city. It's a rhythm tied to the seasons and the weather, not the clock and the day-timer. You can find him and Carol at the Ayers Creek Farm stall at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market on Sundays from 10 am till 2 pm and at the McMinnville Farmers' Market on Thursdays from 1:30 to 6:30 pm.

Growing up, the shift to autumn was marked by Labor Day, and the end of county fair season. On the farm, the calendar is different. Last week marked that shift. Our work of the spring is coming to fruition and, at the same time, we are in the midst of the planting for the winter market. Last week, the chicories and chards were planted and are now beginning to emerge. Next week the turnips, rutabagas, winter radishes and kales will be planted. We will have over a half dozen turnip and rutabaga varieties planted this year and hope to dodge the flea beetle infestations which have been pretty strong this year. No bigger than the head of a pin, hundreds congregate on any radish or other brassica available and leave but a skeleton. The showers last night reminded us that summer has passed the apex (Who would have guessed?) and that sometimes we don't get to enjoy a long "Indian Summer." Heeding Aesop's fable of the ant and grasshopper, we are scurrying to get everything in place lest we are deprived of a leisurely autumn.


The Chester Thornless Blackberry (hereafter just "Chester") originated in 1968 at the Southern Illinois University plant breeding program at Carbondale. The original cross was done by Robert Skirvin. It is named after Professor Chester Zych, who kept the variety "SIUS 68-6-17" alive between the time the Carbondale breeding station was closed and variety was officially named in 1985. According to Skirvin, the thornless trait comes from a popular English variety called "Merton's Thornless." The English have cherished Merton since the 1930s. The plant is "semi-erect" which means it has a strong stem but still needs the support of a trellis. Chester has a very "clean" flavor, the flavor of the wild blackberry amplified. It was named the 2001 "Outstanding Fruit Cultivar Award" by the American Society for Horticultural Science.

Commercial growers shy away from the Chester because it is very hard to grow well and cannot be machine harvested. The fruit is prone to UV damage and should not be picked before it is perfectly ripe. There is no doubt that the Chester is one fussy customer, but for us it has always returned the affection lavished upon it. It is a great fresh berry out of the hand, and freezes well, to boot.

Blackberry Slump
Our good friend, Martie Sucec, gave us this old Gourmet Magazine recipe for Blackberry Slump when we first started at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market in 2002. It is simple to make.
4 c. fresh blackberries (2-3 pints)
2 tsp. lemon juice (add some zest, if you like more lemony flavor)
3/4 c. sugar, depending on the sweetness of berries, or to taste
1 c. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. milk (whole, 2%, hemp or soy) room temperature
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put berries in an ungreased 5 to 6-cup casserole, gratin dish, deep dish or ceramic pie plate and sprinkle evenly with about 1/2 cup of the sugar. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining sugar into a medium bowl. Add milk and melted butter and whisk until smooth, then pour over berries (don’t worry if berries are not completely covered). Bake slump in middle of oven until top is golden, 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool 20 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

The Pflaumen's Folly (Zwetschenkuchen or Pflaumenkuchen)
Mrs. Lloyd of Lee, Massachusetts, occassionally supplied the Boutard family with plums from her backyard tree. When those small black plums were ripe, a kuchen was dessert. Aden Gokay was a backyard orchardist from Old Chatham, New York. One late summer's Saturday, Anthony's father, Cecil, and Aden drove to Geneva for the Cornell University Fruit Day at the Agricultural Field Station and returned that evening with an impressive haul of plums, gages and other fruit. Cecil remembers Aden's Coupe de Ville (the Boutards' mighty chariot at the time was a 42 h.p. Hillman Imp) and Anthony remembers the several days of zwetschenkuchen that followed in a house usually devoid of dessert. He still loves it warm in a bowl sodden with cold milk and that, comrades, is why we grow plums. In German, zwetschen are prune plums, and pflaumen are table plums and gages.

1/4 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk.
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Turbino sugar

Butter a 9" x 9" pan. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter in mixing bowl. Beat in sugar and the egg. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the first mixture alternately with milk. Cut plums in half and place cut side up close together in even rows over batter. The plum flesh should float slightly above the batter. Sprinkle with melted butter and then sprinkle with turbino (raw) sugar, especially over the plums. Bake about 20 minutes or so until the batter is cooked. Cut into squares.

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