Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fill Your Pantry, Support Local Farmers!


I don't know about you, but I've been watching the squirrels in our neighborhood and they seem particularly frantic this year to collect and bury as many nuts as possible against the winter. (And is anyone else noticing a lot more of those little swirly holes in the lawn from the squirrel activity?)

Making a list, checking it twice…

It's got me thinking that maybe I need to follow suit and get my pantry stocked, too, which is why I got all excited when I heard about the Fill Your Pantry Winter Stock-Up event coming on Sunday, December 9th. Sponsored by Friends of Family Farmers, this one-day market is a unique opportunity to meet and support local farmers and ranchers who will be bringing a bounty of locally grown winter squash, root veggies, onions, garlic, cabbage, frozen pasture-raised meats, honey, beans, grains, fruit, and much more to Faubion Elementary School in Northeast Portland.

Hard to resist so much gorgeous produce!

Want to browse through some of the offerings and develop your shopping list? Check out this list of products available for pre-order from now through December 2nd if you'd like to get your shopping done ahead of time (and guarantee availability). You can pick up your pre-order at the event, but make sure there's room for impulse purchases, since most farmers will be bringing other must-have products the day of the market—think holiday gift-giving and host/hostess gifts for holiday parties!

Tips and tricks from pros will be on offer.

As if that's not enough to get you out, the Culinary Breeding Network and Friends of Family Farmers are co-hosting a Squash and Bean Sagra in conjunction with the market, a festival offering a chance to learn about, celebrate and taste the many different varieties of winter squash and dry beans being grown by Oregon farmers—many of whom will be at the market—through tastings, cooking demonstrations and more.

Fun for the whole family!

I went to these events last year and it was so inspiring to not only see the vast aisles of gorgeous products our farmers are growing, but the positive energy on display, the meetings-and-greetings of friends new and old and the delicious samples on offer made it something to remember. I'm thinking about picking up my eight-year-old nephew for a field trip, since it's great for kids (and their parents) to see what a thriving food community looks like.

Hope to see you there!

Fill Your Pantry event photos by Shawn Linehan. Check out more photos from last year's event.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Dave's To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits


We are rich with talented friends who also happen to be great home cooks. Bruce's pork vindaloo. Denise's Korean mandoo dumplings. Jeff's tarte tatin. Kathryn's shrimp and grits. Wendy's cakes. Dana's curried squash.

Here at home I have the good fortune to have a husband who smokes his own bacon, bakes six loaves of organic sourdough every two weeks and loves to make breakfast on the weekend, particularly if it involves baking up a batch of scones or biscuits to go with his Julia Child-worthy cheese omelets. (Did I mention he's also become quite the home bartender, whipping up cocktails at the drop of a hat?)

So when I stumble downstairs on Saturday morning and see him bustling around the kitchen with flour on his hands and the oven warming the house, I know by the time I get the dogs fed and finish my first cup of coffee he'll be pulling out a pan of his signature baked goods and setting them on the counter with butter and jam.

I know, how lucky am I?

Dave's To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits

2 1/4 c. (285g) all-purpose flour*
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1/3 c. (75g) very cold butter
1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 450°.

Place flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.

Cut butter into small pieces and add to food processor. Pulse half a dozen times and check for the size of the butter pieces. Repeat if necessary until the butter is in pieces roughly the size of peas.

Put flour mixture in a mixing bowl and add the cold milk. Toss together gently until barely combined. As soon as the dough holds together, turn it out on a lightly floured counter. Gently "knead" the dough a few strokes until it is a mostly a cohesive ball. The fewer kneads the better.

Pat out the dough with your hands into a rectangle 1/2" to 3/4" inch thick, depending on how tall you like your biscuits. Cut into 2-inch circles (you should get approximately 6 to 8), and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or sheet pan. Leftover dough can be gently combined and patted out again to make more biscuits.

Bake at 450° for 8 to 10 minutes until tops are lightly browned. Butter and eat while still warm, preferably with honey or a selection of homemade jams.

* Dave always weighs the flour and butter rather than measuring it in cups or measuring spoons.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Farm Bulletin: Our Garden Beans, a Dried Bean Primer


As contributor Anthony Boutard outlines below, he and Carol have been adapting their beans at Ayers Creek Farm to our Pacific maritime climate and the soil of their Wapato Valley location—not to mention their own tastes—for well over a decade. The roster, along with the beans themselves, has changed over the years, and it was time for an update. You can find all of these beans, raisins, popcorn and the farm's other products at two upcoming open farm weekends. Details at the end of this post.

Over the decade and half we have been growing dry beans commercially, we cultivated more than three dozen types. It has been an effort to find beans that will grow in the climate of the Pacific Northwest and appeal to our palate, and, equally important, succeed in commerce. We have trimmed our list to types with distinct qualities while avoiding pointless overlap.

Tarbesque.

We favor beans that are delicious on their own and yield a good stock on their own when cooked. No need to add stock or meat. Thin skins and a non-grainy texture are also important qualities. Many of our beans come to us upon recommendation of others. We acknowledge and are grateful for their generosity of ideas. We have been working with and eating these beans for 15 years or so. They have been shaped by and adapted to our approach to farming, our environment, our customers and our love of beans. Otello’s Pebbles is the exception; it was a new offering last year, but adheres to the overall idea.

As a general matter, we recommend soaking the beans overnight. This engages the enzymes in the beans which break down the proteins and carbohydrates into simpler units. There is an aesthetic to allowing beans to start the process on their own natural terms, rather than using brute force of heat alone, or worse, the extreme impatience of a pressure cooker. In our experience, soaking results in a sweeter bean when cooked. Nonetheless, plenty of people eschew our biological aestheticism.

Borlotto Gaston a la Ava Gene's.

Garden beans follow two forms of growth, types with a low bush habit and those with a tall vining habit requiring supportive structures. Then there are a handful that refuse to follow a binary habit, called semi-vining, which climb upon one another and the weeds but have no use for structures to guide their wayward nature. The pole types are more expensive because the vining habit requires the nearly simultaneous planting of thousands of bamboo poles and assembling a supporting structure. The poles and structures must be removed after harvest. The pole sorts are worth the effort because they have qualities that are missing in even the best bush types.

The finest beans, with their thin skins, require a gentle hand at harvest. They are far too fragile for a combine. Dry beans commonly found in stores have bred with thicker skins which allows mechanical harvesting and helps them keep their shape in a tin can.

Pole Sorts Described

Borlotto Gaston: A classic large horticultural type with a fine texture and flavor.

Borlotto Gaston.

A passing comment by [Nostrana owner and chef] Cathy Whims at a 2002 winter farms’ market noting how much she loved the beans of Lamon landed this bean in our mix. Over the last decade and a half, we have carefully selected for the lumpy, ugly pods that produce the best quality seeds, improving the quality of the beans in the process. We make the classic sauerkraut, potato and pork jowl soup fragrant with cumin from Trieste called La jota many times over the course of winter. It is the bean that has made Ava Gene’s "beans on toast" their signature menu item—the bean that launched a thousand of pieces of toast.

Tarbesque: A large flattened white bean of the sort most commonly associated with cassoulet. It is a bean for soups or stews where you want the bean to hold its shape.

The original seed stock came from Pascal Sauton when he was the chef at Riverside Hotel back around 2003. This sort of bean is grown around the area of Tarbes in southwestern France. There the Tarbais is protected as an A.O.C., so we deftly renamed it. Sort of like the Tarbais but not exactly. We don’t have the same soils and climate and, unlike the fair people of Tarbes, we pick the pods by the handful, not one by one.


Black Basque.

Black Basque: This black bean is best as a solo performer. Cooked on its own and finished with some olive oil, the stock and the beans make a delicious soup to accompany a bit of toast seasoned with garlic and a chunk of sausage or pork belly. Cathy Whims uses these for her version of Anne Bianchi’s "Bastard Soup." For complex or spicy dishes, the black turtle is a better choice.

Wapato White: A very fine textured white bean with a distinctly buttery consistency. Good solo, with lamb or in an escarole soup.

Wapato White.

We lived for several years in the Boston area. Our neighborhood was considered "integrated” because it included both Italian and Portuguese families. Somerville had its rough edges. One Halloween morning, while preparing breakfast, we watched a hit by the legendary Winter Hill Gang outside our kitchen window—apparently an uncollected debt precipitated the deed, though the debtor was simply shot up to jog his memory, not necessarily to kill him. He survived. The hitmen wore gorilla masks, appropriately, and dropped the revolver in the street. We called the police and they investigated. They told us in a perfunctory manner that the getaway car was dumped in Dedham, as if that might be expected, and the victim claimed he didn’t know anything or anyone—that was definitely expected. Notwithstanding this incident, it was a friendly neighborhood where children, our daughter included, played in the street.

In the Boston area, bean and escarole soup was a winter favorite of the Italian and Portuguese communities, and the supermarkets had mounds of beautiful escarole heads for the purpose. For those on the run, the Progresso company had a canned escarole soup available especially for the Boston market. Much to the dismay of many, they dropped that traditional soup. For a while, they offered an Italian wedding soup with escarole, but now it contains spinach, alas. The last week or so, we have been enjoying many variations on escarole soup.

Bush Sorts

Black turtle: Not much to add. The turtle bean has a distinct flavor well-suited to spices and garlic.

Woodblock label by Anthony.

Carol’s godmother was Cuban and the soup was a staple for us. We wanted a fresh, well-grown turtle bean, so we grew them. For several years, we just sold them at the farmers’ market as several chefs told us black beans were "tough to plate." Fortunately, that dainty sentiment has fallen by the wayside.

Purgatorio: For the most part, beans and fish are not a pleasing combination to contemplate. The flavor and texture are wrong. Purgatorio provides an exception. The small beans provide a better texture for fish and the flavor is neutral, i.e. not especially beany. As the name indicates, it was consumed on Fridays and during the Lenten fast, with fish. Use the bean stock as the base for a fish and beans soup seasoned with a hint of cumin. The Oregon bay shrimp is good as well. This small bean is excellent with lamb dishes.

Purgatorio in a stew.

Here is how it was introduced to us. We had dinner at Al Covo, a Venetian restaurant that specializes in fish. The person serving us noted that she was from Texas and wanted to know where we lived and what we did. On a whim, we introduced ourselves as bean farmers from Oregon. A few minutes later her husband, Cesare Benelli, emerged from the kitchen and told us how much he loved beans. The chef then turned serious and told us that we should grow the bean from Gradoli, as it is the best bean for serving with fish. He checked in the kitchen, but they had run out of the beans. A few months later, our sister-in-law Shirin sent us a gift box with several types of beans, by coincidence it included "purgatorio," the bean of Gradoli.

Zolfino: Another solo performer. Classic bean for a simple white bean soup. Provides a lovely stock during cooking. Cook with a sprig of rosemary, thyme or sage – just a light seasoning so as not to overwhelm their fine flavor. Remove about three-quarters of the beans, mash them into the stock and then return the whole beans. A bit of olive oil to top it off.

Dutch Bullet: This bean is a superior alternative to the kidney bean. It is thin skinned with much finer texture, but has a sweet, beany flavor we enjoy in the red types.

Dutch Bullet.

Given to us by a legendary Dutch plant breeder, the late Kees Sahin, when he visited the farm. He was insistent we grow it and it has been on the dossier for more than a decade. You will notice how thin the skin is relative to the modern red kidney bean, a bean skillfully modified to stand up to the combine and tin can.

Otello’s Pebbles: Excellent assertive flavor, the texture is silky and they cook down to a soupy beany broth. We have added them to the broth of lambs shanks and pork shoulder.

This is another bean that arrived uninvited. We were sent an irritatingly small package of beans by Nancy Jenkins, a food writer and author. The note in the package, written by another person, noted that the bean was grown by someone called Otello and praised the bean as growing well in poor soil. Not much of an endorsement, and not a word about its culinary qualities, worse the package contained what appeared to be an assortment of types, something bean growers work hard to avoid. The package would have been relegated to the ACF seed museum except that Myrtha Zierock and Anthony were planting a block of soy and had space for a few more seeds. We joked that the beans looked like pebbles and tossed them into the seeder. At harvest, we cooked up the beans and found they had their own redeeming qualities. They arrived unnamed so we have dubbed them Otello’s Pebbles.

* * *

From Anthony:

"We are planning a couplet of open days on November 10th and 11th. Our hours will be from 3-5 pm. We will have only a smattering of preserves available at this time. We will be processing the fruit over the following week and are planning another open day couplet on the 1st and 2nd of December. As a reminder, for those who find the journey out to the farm difficult, Barbur World Foods and Rubinette Produce, carry robust selections of our beans and grains in their produce departments. Providore probably has a better selection of preserves on the shelf than we do at the moment. We will have the full complement of our beans, grains and mustard seed. We will also have 'Ave Bruma' melons, escarole, beets, large white onions and demi-sec Lakemont grapes."

Photo of Lakemont grapes by Anthony Boutard. Rum raisin ice cream from Sarah Minnick's Instagram feed.

Farm Bulletin: Letters from Jail, Grapes and Literature


The crops grown at Ayers Creek Farm by contributor Anthony Boutard and his wife, Carol, have inspired Portland's chefs for years, including a rum raisin ice cream and raisin grappa ice cream, using the raisins described below—creations of the amazing Sarah Minnick at Lovely's Fifty-Fifty. You can find these raisins, dried beans, popcorn and the farm's other products at two upcoming open farm weekends. Details at the end of this post.

Carol’s father gave to each of his children a copy of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Glimpses of World History. The “glimpses" were a series of letters he wrote to his daughter, Indira Gandhi, during the years he was jailed by the British. As Carol’s father noted, it is a history from the perspective of a culture well-established and mature long before “Western Civilization.” Anthony grabbed the book to read on the way to Terra Madre [the Slow Food gathering of small-scale food producers] in Turin. In one of the letters, Nehru noted that the provinces of Kandahar and Herat are famous for their grapes, pomegranates and melons. He was pleasantly surprised upon arriving in Turin to meet two grape farmers from Herat, and taste their many different varieties of raisins.

Rum raisin ice cream at Lovely's Fifty-Fifty.

That encounter inspired us to push on the idea of growing table grapes. Funny how chance encounters shift one’s thinking. It was a photo from Uzbekistan of melons in storage on the Big Picture Agriculture site many years ago that prompted us to contemplate growing storage melons in a serious fashion. We are trialing two more types this year.

Herat and Kandahar have grown and traded grapes for millennia. With the rise of Islam about 500 years ago, wine production evolved into raisin production. At its peak, Afghanistan produced 10 percent of the world’s raisins. There is a huge diversity to be found there, and they have 24 different raisins that are sold commercially, with dozens more of the backyard variety. Raisins are important in rice dishes of the region. Consequently, there is great interest in rebuilding raisin production.

Laying the grapes on racks in September.

Recalling the beautiful green raisins displayed at Terra Madre, we started thinking about table grapes, both fresh and dried. Apparently, modern Afghan raisin growers dip the grapes in various chemicals to stop the oxidation of tannins in the dried grape, stopping the fruit from turning the raisins brown, not exactly in the realm of organic agriculture. Perhaps the original “green raisins” of old, before the expedient of a chemical dip, may have been simply demi-sec grapes (top photo), fruit on their way to becoming raisins.

Harvested at the end of September, the Lakemont grapes have been slowly drying, concentrating their flavor, sugar and acidity to a wonderful effect. Most grape varieties available to us would collapse in the process. However, Lakemont is particularly well-adapted for this post-harvest improvement, which is similar to that used to produce the sweet Italian wine Vin Santo. The grape is one the releases from the breeding program in Geneva, New York, and is named after a hamlet in western New York, consistent with naming protocol of that breeding program. The author and composer Paul Bowles is buried in the Lakemont Cemetery.

* * *

From Anthony:

"We are planning a couplet of open days on November 10th and 11th. Our hours will be from 3-5 pm. We will have only a smattering of preserves available at this time. We will be processing the fruit over the following week and are planning another open day couplet on the 1st and 2nd of December. As a reminder, for those who find the journey out to the farm difficult, Barbur World Foods and Rubinette Produce, carry robust selections of our beans and grains in their produce departments. Providore probably has a better selection of preserves on the shelf than we do at the moment. We will have the full complement of our beans, grains and mustard seed. We will also have 'Ave Bruma' melons, escarole, beets, large white onions and demi-sec Lakemont grapes."

Photo of Lakemont grapes by Anthony Boutard. Rum raisin ice cream from Sarah Minnick's Instagram feed.