Monday, November 11, 2019

Celebrate Local Cranberries with This Cranberry Tart


Oregon cranberries are one of those somewhat under-the-radar crops though, in fact, cranberries are native to the Northwest. The berries have been harvested by indigenous people for millenia and were (and still are) used fresh and dried in many traditional foods. They were traded widely among First Nation people on traditional trade routes, along with salmon and other products.

Cranberry bog.

Cranberries were first grown commercially in Oregon by Charles McFarlin, who settled in Coos County after failing, like so many others, to make a fortune during the Gold Rush of the late 1800s. He planted vines he brought from Massachusetts, later developing a variety known as McFarlin that is still grown today.

Most of the state's cranberries are grown in Coos and Curry counties on the South Coast and, at nearly 3,000 acres and accounting for 95 percent of the state's production, it's just five percent of the nation's commercial harvest. Most cranberry growers are heavily reliant on pesticides and herbicides to control insects and weeds that can devastate crops, but there's a growing number of farmers who are transitioning to organic methods.


Cranberry harvest.


While small in number, organic cranberry farmers are joining forces and sharing successes and challenges, according to an article from Oregon Tilth, one of the region's largest organic certifying agencies. It says that state agricultural agencies, which normally provide support to farmers, are almost exclusively geared to conventional growers and aren't up to speed on the specific needs and challenges of organic farmers, so this homegrown network of organic growers has become critical to the success and availability of locally grown, organic cranberries.

Many family farms grow cranberries.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” according to cranberry farmer Richard Schmidt, who is quoted in the article and, with his wife, Pam Schmidt, owns Schmidt Berries in Bandon. “We’ve really relied on our neighbor, Ty Vincent, and his dad, Bill Vincent [of Vincent Family Cranberries]. They were the ones that put the farm into transition [to organic] after 30-plus years of traditional practice. It’s their expertise and practical experience that have made our new inexperienced farmer reality much easier. They are the essence of succession in a community. We’d never really been farmers before, and had never lived or farmed on the Oregon coast…we mainly rely on our neighbors. We’ll help them harvest, and they help us harvest. They’re organic too, so we can share equipment, which is kind of nice.”

You can find local, organic cranberries at some stores and area farmers' markets, and I can't say enough about the flavor of these ruby-colored jewels in jams, chutneys, sauces and, of course, pastries. This recipe for a cranberry tart is one of those can't-miss, smash hits that has been the raved-about culmination of two dinners so far this season!

Cranberry Tart

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
1 lb. cranberries, preferably locally grown
1 scant c. sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1/2 large orange
Egg white (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. With the processor running, drizzle in the ice water over the flour mixture until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour.

Ready for the oven.

Just before the dough finishes chilling, place cranberries in a large bowl and add sugar, liqueur, cornstarch and orange zest. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on well-floured surface. Roll out into large round approximately 14-15" in diameter. Transfer to large, parchment-covered baking sheet (I usually fold the dough in half very carefully, transfer it to the sheet and unfold it). Brush the bottom of the dough with a very thin coating of egg white to within 4" of the edge. Place cranberry filling in the middle, keeping it within 3-4" of the edge of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough and fold over on top of filling, pleating it slightly to keep the tart's rounded shape. An option here is to brush the dough with egg white and sprinkle it with sugar to give it a shiny appearance.

Place in oven and bake at 375° for one hour or so until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.

Photo of cranberry bog from USDA. Photos of harvest from Vincent Family Cranberries.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Eventful: Fill Your Pantry & Winter Vegetable Sagra!


Spring has always been a favorite time of year, coming, as it does, at the end of a cold, damp season here in the Pacific Northwest. The warming temperatures, the first taste of the peppery greens emerging from the soil—it rings my chimes every time! And of course the abundance of summer can't be beat, starting with the region's justifiably renowned berries and the ensuing cavalcade of summer vegetables and fruits.

As colorful as it is delicious!

But I'm finding that, in the last couple of years, fall and winter have wangled their way into my heart, especially with the emergence of new, packed-with-flavor varieties that local farmers have adapted to our maritime climate, many of which can thrive in the field without row covers or hoop houses. I'm not just talking about beets and turnips here, either, but a whole plethora of chicories—bright red radicchio, speckled castelfranco, curly endive and escarole, and even an Italian outlier called puntarelle—with their slightly bitter bite, as well as new squash types that will make your old butternut blush, along with other upstarts like purple sprouting broccoli.

To celebrate this season of deliciousness and sample it first-hand, on Sunday, December 8th, Friends of Family Farmers and the Culinary Breeding Network are joining forces to once again to present the Fill Your Pantry and Winter Vegetable Sagra. Fill Your Pantry is a one-day community bulk-buying event encouraging you to stock your pantry for the winter with items from local farms such as storage vegetables, fruit, beans, pasture-raised meats, grains, canned goods, and other products. Take a look at the incredible list of products and sign up to pre-order. (Pre-ordering is encouraged, with orders to be picked up at the event. Farmers will bring a limited amount of product to sell at the event.)

Fill your pantry and your belly!

The Winter Vegetable Sagra—"sagra" being Italian for a rural festival—will have some of Portland's best-known chefs offering (free!) tastes of dishes featuring the many different varieties of winter vegetables being grown by Oregon farmers, along with cooking demonstrations and activities for kids. Not only that, and this speaks volumes to me, there's a cookbook swap where for every good quality cookbook you bring in, you can swap for another one of your choice!

It's all happening on December 8th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Redd, Portland's hub for local food and farms, at 831 SE Salmon St. in Portland.  Past events have been not only a showcase of the vitality of our local food system, but an opportunity for the community to celebrate the bounty that is available to us year round.

Photos by Shawn Linehan Photography.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Farm Bulletin: Open Days, and a Tally of the Harvest


I was thrilled to find the latest farm update from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in my e-mail in-box this morning, detailing the results of the year's harvest. Please make plans to attend at least one of the open days outlined below. Your holiday table will thank you!

Autumn with his cold and wet demeanor came stomping about early, necessitating careful staging of the harvest. We have accommodated his early entrance and are now in a good state of affairs, able to schedule the remaining open days of the year. We will be open next Saturday and Sunday (9 & 10 November) from 2 to 5 p.m. We will also be open the Sunday before Thanksgiving (24th), as well as the 8th and 22nd of December.

Ayers Creek Borlotti.

The tomato harvest came to an abrupt end three weeks earlier than last year and we lost all of the zolfini and Dutch Bullet beans; sometimes a farmer has to walk away from a soggy mess rather than try to salvage a harvest of inferior quality. No point in that, tears at the heart worse than simply turning it under. There is fine crop of wheat sprouting there. We do have a few left over from 2018. Fortunately we have a good crop of Borlotti, Wapato Whites, Tarbesque and Purgatorio.  We will have Roy’s Calais flint and Peace, No War cornmeal, and whole kernels for hominy. Pumpkin seeds, cayennes and the small grains also fared well. We are able to shrug our shoulders and admit that this was a much better year than last.

My nephew with his favorite squash.

Among the fresh goods, we will have plenty of Sibley squash, beets, spuds, melons, apples, big white onions and greens. Late August, we planted a mix of bok choi, napa, daikon and turnips as a soup green mix for our own table. We had enough seed to plant about 1,000 feet, so 1,000 feet were planted as it was easier than cleaning out the seeder. We will bag up some as a field run mix. We have dubbed it the Rorschach mix, because there are so many ways you can approach the vegetables. You can pickle them, or use them in salads, stir-fry or soups. Whatever suits the moment and your character.

We have, essentially, run out of preserves, so don’t expect any until the 24th of November. We should have a full selection on the 8th of December if you are looking for Christmas gifts.

The good Borlotti crop inspired a new label (top photo); funny how that works. Carved from a cherry block, it was inspired by the lettering of Hector Guimard's signs for the Paris Metro stops. A similar lettering style graced the cover of the Modern Jazz Quartet's album Concorde (1955), over a photo of the Place de la Concorde. Preparing tomorrow’s breakfast, take a moment and listen to Sigmund Romberg’s "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" as performed on that album. The opening bars are a canon from Bach’s "The Musical Offering" with Percy Heath taking the theme on the double bass, and Milt Jackson (vibraphone) and John Lewis (piano) working the counterpoint.

The whole album is a masterpiece.

Dried cayennes.

A new label for the Ayers Creek Cayenne is in the queue. It will be in the Arabesque style carved from a block of shina, Japanese basswood, the same wood as used for the barley label. The asymmetric leaves of our cayenne are very beautiful, and we have a bunch carefully pressed as models. The softer wood carves and prints differently. Shina also chips slightly as the knife moves across the grain, which provides a softer effect. A bit more difficult to carve as a result. American basswood is another wood available. As an aside, King City, Oregon is home to McClain’s Printmaking Supplies, an excellent resource for those of us who are attracted to the medium. They are exclusively mail order.

Queue up Tom & Jerry performing Beethoven’s "Turkish March" as an inspiration for the cayenne label? Nah, a mouse is already used for the flint corn label, and we have no appetite for a copyright infringement claim. To our knowledge, Tom and Jerry never performed an Arabesque anyway.

Grinding cayennes for fermenting.

On the matter of the Ayers Creek Cayenne, we had an excellent crop this year, both in terms of quantity and quality. We have been working with this cayenne for a decade and a half, teasing out its best qualities. The effort has paid off as the fruits is now well-characterized and no longer erratic in quality. They are an amiable companion in the kitchen with a fruity complexity, very much a pepper of Oregon. The “fresh” cayennes measured 13° Brix out of the field, and after two weeks on a rack, the fruits had risen to 23° Brix as the sugars continued to develop and concentrate.

This year we sold some fresh to our restaurant accounts but we much prefer selling them dried. That said, we process fresh cayennes for our own use. We remove the seeds and placental tissue, run the fruits through a meat grinder, salt at 2.5%, and let the mash ferment. When it has aged for a few months in the garage, we will run the ferment through a food mill to remove the skins, then add some vinegar to extend and stabilize the resulting sauce. In the meantime, a jar of the fermented mash is always handy in the refrigerator.

Cayenne seeds and placental tissue.

The caps with placental tissue and seeds attached are beautiful, worthy of an ancient mosaic. It is not strictly necessary to remove these parts of the fruit, but they are where most of the heat resides and are inconsequential contributors to the overall flavor. Moreover, the corky fiber of the placental tissue detracts from the texture. We find the lighter dose of heat makes the pepper easier to use and savor, fresh or dried.

We also make an oil flavored with the cayennes. The dried cayennes are stripped of the cap, seeds and placental tissue, cut up into 1-inch (25mm) pieces. For a quart of oil, we use a quarter pound or so of prepared peppers (100 grams per liter). The oil is heated to 150 to 160°F (60 to 70°C), the heat is turned off and the cayennes are added, steeping until the oil cools. We have used raw sesame oil, grape seed oil and sunflower oil. The result is a beautiful red cayenne oil. Because of the high sugar content in the fruit, do not overheat the oil as you will end up burning the sugars.

L to R: Dried fruit; cayenne oil; ground peppers; fermented sauce.

The oil extracts the fat-soluble carotenoid pigments and aromatics from the flesh. The water soluble components remain in the fruits; specifically the dark anthocyanin-based pigments and the sugars, and these move to the front of the flavor profile. After draining the oil, we run the peppers through a meat grinder to make a separate condiment. The anthocyanin pigments in the ground peppers lend a pleasant touch of bitterness that plays well against their sugars, reminiscent of bittersweet chocolate.

The photo (above left) shows the deseeded dried fruits, the oil, the ground dry peppers after the oil is drained, and the fermented fresh fruit. At the open days, we will have samples for tasting.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Katherine Deumling: Love Your Leftovers


"Food is beautiful. Food is nourishing and delicious and, yes, complicated. However, food should be a joy, not elicit fear."

Teaching people to cook delicious food at home has been the life-long mission of Katherine Deumling, and is the driving force behind her business, Cook With What You Have. She has just released the third in her series of e-books, "Love Your Leftovers! Favorite Meals that Save Time, Money & Effort", which expands on her mantra of developing creativity and confidence in the kitchen so that you and your family can enjoy delicious, healthy food on a daily basis.

Author and educator Katherine Deumling.

Katherine spent her early childhood in West Germany, the daughter of a creative, efficient mother with a sprawling vegetable garden whose cooking centered around fresh produce and pantry staples, which became the inspiration for Katherine's own cook-with-you-have ethic. A post-college fellowship gave her the opportunity to travel to Italy and Mexico to study how and why people cook the way they do, then a decade of work with Slow Food—including a stint as Chair of Slow Food USA—expanded her awareness of food systems and regenerative agriculture, and gave her an enduring passion for the combination of pleasure and politics.

Her love of leftovers was born out of both necessity—her husband likes to take his lunch to work and she's the busy mother of a teenage son—as well as frugality. She figures that by using leftovers her family saves more than $1,500 per year by not buying lunches, plus minimizing food waste by using or repurposing perfectly good (and delicious) food. Then there's the time and effort saved by having lunches packed and ready to go the night before.

Cauliflower macaroni and cheese.

"Love Your Leftovers" continues Deumling's quest to give people what she terms "agency" in the kitchen, that is, to feel creative and effective when it comes to making food. The 17 dishes in the book, 13 of which are plant-based, are designed to boost cooks' personal satisfaction and to short-circuit what she calls "the tyranny of the recipe-based structure." If a recipe calls for a half-teaspoon of thyme, she said, some people give up because they don't want to make a trip to the store instead of simply leaving it out or trying another herb.

"Even smart people shut down in the kitchen," she said, because they've never been given permission to be creative and develop their own tastes rather than slavishly following the dictates of a recipe. Or as Deumling said, her aim is to encourage people "to beat the system" by making deliciousness part of their daily lives.

Cauliflower Mac'n'Cheese

Vegetables can make for great comfort food! This makes a lot and is even better the next day, heated up in a skillet with just a splash of olive oil on high heat. It develops a crust and is sublime!

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium cauliflower, stems & florets chopped (about 8 cups)
1 lb. pasta (penne, rigatoni, rotini, corkscrew) 1 1/2-2 c. grated cheese (sharp cheddar, gruyere)
1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1⁄2 tsp. chili flakes
1⁄4 tsp. grated nutmeg
Black pepper
1 3/4-2 c. hot pasta/cauliflower cooking water
1⁄2 c. bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400°.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add salt. Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until very tender, about 15 minutes. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a food processor or blender. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Scoop out 2 cups of hot, starchy cooking water and then drain the pasta and put it in a 9" by 13" baking dish or other similar baking dish.

Carefully process the cauliflower with the 1 3/4 cups of cooking water, olive oil, cheddar, mustard, chili flakes, nutmeg and pepper. (You may have to work in batches.) If the sauce seems too thick, add the remaining liquid or a bit more water—it will thicken when baking. Taste and adjust seasoning. You want it to be quite strongly flavored. Pour the sauce over the pasta, toss, and spread mixture evenly in dish. (You can make the dish to this point, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day.) Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs or additional grated cheese. Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the crumbs are browned, about 20 minutes if all your components were hot, 30 minutes if not. Pass under broiler for more browning if you’d like.

Serves 6+

Photos by Shawn Linehan from "Love Your Leftovers."