Tuesday, July 17, 2018

In a Slump? Just Add Peaches!

On our first camping trip of the summer, Dave baked perfect blueberry scones in his giant, footed cast iron Dutch oven—I found out it's named "Ol' Dutch" from the masking tape stuck to its carrier—and hash browns and eggs over the open fire on his as-yet-unnamed Lodge griddle.

He also had plans to make a peach slump in yet another, smaller Dutch oven ("Li'l Dutch"?), for which we'd lugged it and the four-and-a-half pounds of Baird Family Orchards fruit on our second trip of the summer. Unfortunately fate intervened when I threw out my back, forcing us to return home a day early.

Adding the dumpling topping.

Undaunted, with peaches ripening rapidly and temperatures soaring into the high nineties, it was untenable to turn on the oven, so he fired up the campstove in the back yard. It was both a great dry run for the recipe, which he borrowed from Corey Schreiber and Julie Richardson's classic Rustic Fruit Desserts, and a chance to find out exactly what a "slump" is. (Though originally we had been perfectly willing to try it out our camp-mates, since we never shy away from experimenting on our friends.)

With peaches oozing out when served, it's divine.

A slump is defined by the authors as a "simple steamed pudding" similar to a cobbler but made on the stovetop rather than in the oven. In the case of this recipe, the fruit is mixed with sugar and cornstarch then cooked briefly to activate the cornstarch and thicken the mixture, then a very wet biscuit dough (resembling a batter) is spooned on top, covered and simmered. The result is a soft, dumpling-like top rather than the drier, browned biscuit-y topping on a cobbler, but this version has a lovely lightness to it that would pair well with cream or crème fraiche.

And yes, you can expect it to appear on some future outdoor excursion. Stay tuned!

Peach Slump
Adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts

For the fruit:
4 1/2 lbs. peaches
3/4 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

For the topping:
1 c. all-purpose (AP) flour
1/2 c. unsifted cake flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/2 c. (1 cube) cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2" cubes
1 c. buttermilk or milk

Peel, pit and slice the peaches, making sure to do this over a large mixing bowl so you can collect all the juices. Separately, in a small bowl, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt, then add to the peaches with the lemon juice. Scrape peach mixture into a 10-12" non-reactive skillet or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Let stand for 15 min.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a low simmer, gently stirring it occasionally to prevent sticking. Simmer for 2 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.

Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cardamom together in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and toss until evenly coated. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is the size of peas. Add buttermilk or milk and stir until the mixture just comes together (it will be a wet dough).

With a large spoon or ladle, place the dough on top of the fruit in 8 or so portions, distributing it evenly over the fruit. Return to the stovetop and bring to a gentle simmer over low heat. Cover and simmer for another 18 to 20 minutes, or until the dough is puffy and cooked through when tested with a toothpick or bamboo skewer. Remove from heat, uncover and let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

If you want to make this on a camping trip, Dave recommends mixing the dry ingredients for the topping together and placing them in a gallon zip-lock bag, then taking the milk, butter, sugar, cornstarch and lemon (or lemon juice) separately, as well as pans, pastry blender, measuring spoons, mixing bowls, etc. As pictured in the photos, it's super easy to make on a two-burner camp stove.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Camp Stories: Sublimely Quiet Fourth on Mt. Hood

It was time for our annual pilgrimage to the Northwest's national forests over the Fourth of July, not to celebrate the birth of our nation or the gifts that we gave ourselves in setting aside these national treasures, but to get the heck out of Dodge (i.e. PDX) while it resembled the set of a blockbuster war movie starring Vin Diesel and The Rock striding through mortar fire and clouds of smoke. We leave our beloved city when it sheds its politically correct, tree-hugging, sustainably sourced coat and turns into an explosives-fueled version of the Amish "rumshpringa" where adolescents are allowed to run wild—the word apparently translates to "jumping or hopping around," which accurately describes the reactions of our panicked pets to the booms and pops.

Creek walkin' Corgis.

So rather than drugging them into a stupor for several days before and after the event, years ago we opted to head for the hills—literally—since fireworks are strictly banned in national parks, enforced by vigilant camp hosts, no doubt drilled with slide shows of last year's fireworks-ignited Eagle Creek fire, which burned for three months and destroyed more than 50,000 acres.

What was that about "roughing it"?

Our backpacking days long over, "car camping" has now morphed into "pickup camping" since dogs, gear, food, drink, people and several large pieces of cast iron cookware won't fit in the Mini Clubman-and-cartop-carrier, which had already been dubbed a clown car-like affair by friends who witnessed the amount of stuff that tumbled from it. So we pulled into our reserved site at Camp Creek campground just off the Mt. Hood highway past Zigzag, set for four nights of blissful, off-the-grid quiet.

Chillaxin' around the fire.

When we can, we like to choose a site along a stream, the better to provide hours of creekside reading, as well as white noise to drown out any sound from passing traffic. (In our experience, during the summer months even relatively isolated campgrounds can have a fair amount of this.) My "top sites" suggestion for this quiet campground is number 10 along the creek at the less-traveled end, or number 14 at the opposite end, with both sites large enough for two tents if, like us, you're camping with friends. Both also have good creek access, and if you have a three or four families camping together, I'd try to reserve sites 14 and 15, which can accomodate several tents and are open enough to each other to facilitate common activities.

Natural. Beauty.

We didn't do any crazy cooking experiments this trip, contenting ourselves with tried-and-true variations on my pork posole rojo, pasta with pea shoot pesto and some of Dave's campfire scones and griddled hash browns and eggs. He's jonesing to make a cobbler and brownies, though, so stay tuned for future posts containing those recipes.

Otherwise our time was taken up with walks in the woods, reading by the creek and long evenings with the only crackling and popping coming from the logs on the fire.

Read more Camp Stories featuring great Northwest campgrounds, recipes and hikes.

Chillin' in Summer: 15-Minute Ramen Salad

It looks like summer's heating up, which means the oven is getting a break and the stove is only turned on for a few minutes at a time, if at all. We'd just come back from a blessed few days off the grid camping on Mt. Hood and hadn't yet made a trip to the store, so I was rummaging through the leftovers from our cooler and peeking behind tubs in the fridge for something to make for dinner.

Fortunately our son, who was cat-sitting while we were gone, hadn't devoured all of the goodies I left in the fridge, so there was a box of fresh ramen noodles—my new favorites are Lola Milholland's Umi Organic—and a half jar of Choi's Kimchi. Adding a leftover Persian cucumber that still had plenty of crunch remaining, plus a delightful dressing using miso, again from a local producer, Jorinji Miso, and in about 20 minutes, dinner was in the bag. Or the bowl, as the case may be.

15-Minute Ramen Noodle Salad with Kimchi

For the dressing:
1/3 c. canola or peanut oil
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. garlic
2 tsp. tamari
2 Tbsp. white miso
1 tsp. gochugaru (optional)
1 tsp. roasted sesame oil

For the salad:
12 oz. fresh ramen noodles (not dried)
1/2 c. kimchi, chopped
1 Persian cucumber (can substitute 1/2 c. chopped English cucumber)
1 Tbsp. chopped chives for garnish

Bring a pot of water to rolling boil.

While the water is heating, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until well puréed.

When the water comes to a boil, gently pull apart ramen noodles while adding them to the water. Tease the strands apart with chopsticks while the water returns to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally to keep noodles from clumping. When they're done, drain them in a colander and rinse in cold water to stop them from cooking further.

Chop kimchi into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the cucumber and slice crosswise into 1/8” slices. Place noodles, kimchi, cucumber and dressing in serving bowl and combine. Garnish with chives.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Farm Bulletin: A Welcome Update, a Busy Summer

It's an incredibly busy time at Ayers Creek Farm, but contributor Anthony Boutard takes a few moments to give us an update—along with his usual edifying elaboration—on the farm in summer.

Even when we were at Hillsdale [Farmers' Market], we went quiet for the spring, only surfacing after the 4th of July. About 15 years ago we created our farm plan to emphasize production from late summer through winter, and avoid the distraction of trying to be the first to harvest this and that. It is a very busy time for us. Ten hour or longer days for us and staff, and little room for errors. We are very grateful that the Joshes at Barbur World Foods and Rubinette Produce have kept our grains, &c. available.

Delivering Montmorency cherries to Nostrana.

We finished parching the wheat last week and it is in the drying racks. [Top photo taken after threshing and cleaning the parched wheat, a dirty job.] Fruit for preserves is coming in apace and we are aiming at an increase in the popular varieties which run out too soon. We will thresh the mustard seed next week, trying to stay ahead of the buntings, finches, sparrows and quail who fatten up on the seeds. They will be demoted to the status of gleaners. The fields are in very good shape. We have expanded the plantings of most crops, some substantially. For example, the chickpea planting has gone from 24 to 46 rows, and we have added an extra row of Astianas. Perhaps, with luck, some new, unheralded odds and ends should emerge at harvest.

Tomatillo flower and immature fruit.

There are the usual frustrations. Bad batch of potting mix did a number on the vigor of the tomatillos and cayenne peppers. The plants sat moribund for ten days and when we dug them up and looked at the roots, they had barely grown. Three days ago, in a “Hail Mary” play, we decided to lift every plant, knock off the bad potting mix, and reseat it in the ground. We will see if this works. Interestingly, when we described the problem to others, they had experienced similar disappointing results. We looked at the plants 48 hours later and they looked better already, or at least we convinced ourselves that the effort was worthwhile.

Frogs love prunes, too…who knew?

We are scrambling to clean up the orchard so we can harvest the gages and prunes later in the summer. It is nearly impenetrable at the moment. For various reason, that work was neglected for the last three years. Otherwise talented field people, our staff are absolutely bone lousy at pruning fruit trees. In the cane fields, vineyards and tomato plantings they move deftly with confidence and art, in the orchard they are timid and visionless, making matters worse. Anthony has about three more weeks of work in the orchard.

There is no biological reason to prune an orchard. Fruits trees have evolved to multiply and be fruitful without much intervention. Human introduction of insects and diseases, pruning tools that spread disease and our compulsion towards monocultures lead to most biological challenges in the orchard, not neglect. However, good pruning is essential operationally. We need to pass the tractor under the canopy and the limbs must be spaced so as to facilitate harvesting. The tractor will strip the fruit of a low limb, and the operator suffers bruises and scratches. Moreover, if the staff cannot see a perfectly ripe fruit, it does not exist and will go unpicked. Pruning makes it easier to exploit the best of the orchard. The plant’s architecture at harvest is critically important in tomatoes, grapes, berries and orchard fruit.

Just shy of two weeks from now, the next two generations [of Boutards] will be out visiting us. We are now insistent they visit when there are fruits and vegetables ripening, rather than based on some nonsensical mid-winter holiday grounded in paranoid pagan ritual when the Pacific gales roar. They are old enough to run a bit feral.

Chesters in situ…

We are planning to have an “Open Farm” weekend when the first Chesters ripen. We will have parched wheat, barley and popcorn available, as well as whatever fruit is ripe. We will schedule an informal farm walk as well.

The exact weekend is impossible to nail down. The Chesters are notorious for their erratic ripening schedule. We have started harvesting as early as the 18th of July and as late as the 20th of August. After 20 years working with the fruits, we know better than to suggest we have even a glimmer of insight as to when things will get rolling. Better than the offhanded familiarity begotten by an all-too-predictable behavior. As our grandson noted with his customary theater, “I prefer to grow difficult plants.”

Barn owlet "in her emine stole."

Regarding the other element of the farm’s productivity, our birds, bees and insects are doing well. The barn owls raised five chicks. They are now in their immature plumage. Happens quickly. In mid June, the youngest was covered in down and looked like a duchess in her ermine stole, with just its feathers bearing new plumage. Today, the down has been shed.

Our water feature, the swan, is still about, contentedly keeping company with the three families of young geese and an oh-so-elegant great egret.

Frugivorous acorn woodpecker.

A reminder that acorn woodpeckers are frugivores, fruit eaters, equally content with both the fruit of the oak, acorns, and our staff’s sweet cherries. The acorn woodpeckers also enjoy other fruits such as grain kernels (yes, they are fruit) and plums. Soon, we will hear the reedy calls of the young when they leave their nest that the colony excavated in a fir snag.

All photos by Anthony Boutard except for cherries at Nostrana (used with permission) and Chester blackberries.