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.

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