Saturday, July 31, 2010

Farm Bulletin: Winter? Already?

While most of us feel like summer has barely begun here in the Willamette Valley, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is getting his winter crops planted.

High summer is a frenetic blend of tending, harvesting and planting for the winter. In the tending department, our farm staff spent four days thinning fruit in the vineyard. We remove about three quarters of the clusters, and make sure they are positioned where the air will circulate around them. The vineyard floor looks as though a storm passed through it. Last year, we neglected this task in the frenzy, and the table grapes with a muscat in their background were garbage. There were too many clusters on the plant, and what should have been a sublime treat was instead flavorless and mildew-ridden. Last year's loss made us more aggressive thinners, and we hope the time is rewarded.

The winter crops are looking good. The most important planting went in about two weeks ago on the new moon. The chicories (photo, top) take about ten days to emerge, and we hold our breath every year hoping they will sprout in good order. Neat files of chicory and rutabagas are now marking the rows. This week we turned our attention planting out the cabbage and cauliflower seedlings. In the past, we seeded them directly into the field, and the result was amateurish to say the least. This year, Charlie Harris of Flamingo Ridge loaned us his vacuum seeder allowing us to grow a good number of starts. If all goes well, we might have a good supply of cabbage for the market, and sauerkraut for our table.

Field corn and beans are looking good, and our decision to plant them may be rewarded. The winter squash is a complete failure. Although we have always seeded them directly, the cabbage experience has us thinking we may grow some squash starts next year. For long season crops such as squash, roots and chicories, the schedule is unforgiving. A second planting is possible, but never as satisfactory.

Want to drive growers crazy, and watch their eyes twitch and the teeth grind? Wait until they a have a table full of beautiful boysenberries or purslane, and ask them if they will have more next week because the kitchen is so hot you don't feel like putting up preserves or pickling the purslane.

Yes, we know it's hot, we were out in the field harvesting them all day Saturday. And we also know how hard it is to get market on time; we were up at 5 am loading the van. We also know the season is short, and a hailstorm or spike in the temperature can wipe out what remains. In days, the leaf miners with render the purslane unusable. For us that's an old refrain. Every grower knows the heartbreak and frustration of returning with with an excess of some beautiful fruit or vegetable. Two weeks ago, we returned from the market, put away the tent and baskets, changed over the irrigation, and then made a big bunch of purslane pickles. Nothing better than a hot kitchen at the end of market day.

Pickled Purslane

Purslane has a slightly tart quality and is very high in Omega 3 fatty acids. Our staff keeps a nice kitchen garden outside of their front doors. For them, verdolagas are an essential green. They are delicious boiled, sautéed, pickled or as a salad. The Lebanese serve them with yoghurt. The French salt purslane overnight before adding it to a salad. Boiled, it can be dressed with a bit olive oil and ground pepper. Or mix the wilted leaves into a potato salad.

For us, purslane is an essential pickle. Many books suggest pickling just the stem. We prefer to pickle the whole shoot—leaves and stem together. This recipe works for two or three bags of purslane:

We heat and add a tablespoon of salt to 1-1/2 cups of water, then mix in an equal amount of white wine vinegar.  Add a few cloves of garlic, quartered, a tablespoon of peppercorns and a dried pepper.  Drop the purslane into the heated vinegar mixture and let it wilt for a bit.  Pack the purslane and vinegar mix in a mason jar. If you need to, top off with vinegar and water in equal proportions. Store in the refrigerator. We start using them about an hour later, but they will keep for several months.  Some recipes call for full strength vinegar, but we much prefer it diluted.

Purslane photo from the Oklahoma Biological Survey.

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