The combination of dogs and a walkable neighborhood gives me the perfect excuse to go on reconnaissance missions around my neighborhood, looking—some might call it snooping—on parking strips and in front yards for fruit trees. Having older dogs that, like toddlers, are more interested in process than destination, I've taken the opportunity to note the plum, Italian prune, fig, pear, apple, cherry and persimmon trees on our various routes.
Some are gnarly old things that predate the bungalows built in the 1920s, the only surviving remnants of the orchards and farms that used to dot the countryside between the small towns like Sellwood, Albina, Multnomah, Kenton, Lents and St. Johns that were eventually annexed by Portland. Others were planted as street trees in the intervening years, though I wonder if the hapless homeowner who planted the giant walnut tree in his front yard thought about the terminal velocity of ripe walnuts when they drop 60 feet onto his car (or his head).
In any case, just around the corner from us is a fig tree that was planted around a dozen years ago that the homeowners had tried to espalier along a short retaining wall. The scent of the leaves was intoxicating on warm summer nights, but it never bore fruit until the house sold and the new owners neglected to trim it back. The next year there were big, dark brown figs dangling from its branches and I began stalking the house, hoping to strike up a friendly, if self-serving, conversation with the new owners.
A few weeks ago I finally—aha!—caught the sister of the owner carrying groceries into the house and casually asked if perchance they ever used the figs or would…ahem…mind sharing some of them. She said she was hoping to dry some, but there were way more than she could use, so I could help myself.
Score one for persistence!
So yesterday, shopping bag in hand, I walked over and plucked five or so pounds. They were delicious for eating out of hand, and I made the rest into a stellar jam using a recipe from Martha Rose Shulman as a guide, though I doubled her recipe and used a bit less sugar than she called for.
2 1/2 lbs. ripe figs, roughly chopped 4 1/2 c. sugar 5 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained 4 tsp. balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
In a large bowl, toss together chopped figs and half the sugar. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Transfer figs and sugar to a medium-sized saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. When mixture comes to a boil, scrape back into bowl and cover with plastic. Let cool and refrigerate overnight.
Scrape fig mixture back into the saucepan. Place a small plate in the freezer to use for checking the thickness of the jam as it cooks. Bring the fruit back to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. When the mixture comes to a boil, stir in the remaining sugar, the lemon juice and the balsamic vinegar. Boil, stirring, until mixture is thick but not too concentrated, 10 to 15 minutes. Skim off any foam that accumulates. I also skimmed off some of the seeds that cluster at the surface, though it's not necessary to skim off all of them. (Dipping the back of a soup spoon into the seeds works like magic!)
To test for doneness, remove the plate from the freezer and place a spoonful of the jam on it. Wait about 20 seconds and tilt the plate. The jam should only run slightly, and fairly slowly. Boil a little longer if it seems too runny, but take care not to cook it until too thick. It needs to be spreadable.
Transfer the jam to clean jars, wipe the rims and place canning lids on top. Place canning bands over the lids but don't tighten bands more than finger tight. Allow to cool, tighten the bands, then refrigerate or freeze.
Anthony and Carol Boutard have sold their Ayers Creek Farm and are moving to be near their grandchildren in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York. Here Anthony bids us farewell.
As you may recall, we put our farm on the market in early January. The Huserick family runs the nursery next door and approached us with a solid offer for the farm, neither dithering nor demanding anything in particular. (The oldest brother, Anthony, is known on this side of the property line as “the other Anthony.”) We have known the family professionally as good neighbors, and hard-working, successful farmers, for 24 years. They knew our farm has secure irrigation access by contract with the local irrigation district and excellent soils. Early on, we built quality housing for our farm’s staff, which has proved valuable in a tight labor market. Both nurseries and market farms need reliable water, soils and staff.
We had hoped to have one more open day before the sale, but the task of moving proved formidable. Carol managed the move to Penn Yan in early April and I have been buttoning things up here. The paperwork is all in order and I will handle the signing this week. I have had people ask what will happen to the farm. In the course of 45 years together, we have bought and sold three properties and were tenants in another five. We know, once our shadow leaves this place, it will belong to the Huserick family. We had 24 years to work land, and we are content with our efforts. In Penn Yan, we can still step out on a cold winter’s night and imagine the Crab Nebula floating above us, or catch a shooting star.
One of the buttoning up tasks has been making sure our inventory of grain, beans and preserves will find its way into commerce. They are now in the good care of Wellspent Market and Providore Fine Foods. We included our smaller 8-inch Meadows Mill as part of the deal [iwth Wellspent Market]. It is compact, easily moved upon a Crab Nebula dolly (top photo), and runs off of household current. Manufactured in North Carolina, if a spare part is needed, it will show up a couple days later.
Dressing the Mill
"I say, beware of enterprises that require new clothes. " - Henry David Thoreau, "Walden Pond, Or a Life in the Woods"
If farmers can’t scrape out an occasion to quote of Thoreau, they are a pretty ratty specimen of that rusticated class. Grist mills need dressing, even if not in the raiment contemplated by old Henry David.
Both of our grist mills have pink granite stones that are quarried in the Appalachians. The stone is very hard but over the course of 18 years and tons of grains, the mill needed attention. I had to replace the augur spring that had broken, embarrassingly as I was providing Noah Cable of Wellspent a tutorial. While the mill was taken apart, dressing the stones made sense. My tool box is 2,772 miles away, so I went to Ace Hardware and picked up some ground chalk, a prick punch and a cold chisel—the needle, thread and scissors of the millwright—along with a puller to remove the drive wheel.
The landscape of the millstone is composed of “lands” or flat areas that taper down to “furrows." There are two stones. The bed stone is fixed to the housing; the traveller rotates. These small grist mills have a simple dress defined by an unbranched furrow. Larger stones have a more complex system of lands and furrows. The chalk is dusted on the traveller and it is turned against the bed to true the stone. The goal is to identify any problematic high areas. The high areas are chipped away using the prick punch. The furrows are cleaned out using the cold chisel. As the millwright hammers on the steel tools, sparks fly from the stone.
Before reassembling the mill and its drive, I restored the paint. I chose colors reflecting the palette of the muralist and painter, Thomas Hart Benton. One of his students was Jackson Pollock, which freed me up stylistically. The mill housing follows the colors of the corn kernels, while the belt housing is meant to evoke the corn plants in the field with their yellow tassels.
With the grain, beans and mustard safely ensconced at Wellspent and the preserves at Providore, the van and I are ready to make trek up to the Badlands and across to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, then rambling eastward to Rochester, then Penn Yan. I have the same map of the U.S. that I marked up during our trip to Oregon in 1989. I also have my old Fuji 6x7 camera, a new light meter and 50 rolls of 120 Tri-X film, old school all the way.
Once in Penn Yan, I will continue my plant breeding work. There are several projects I will be working on, including a lovely blackberry variety derived from a chance seedling I found on the farm. I believe it is a natural hybrid between a Chester and a Logan; the flavor is outstanding. I will also be refining our favas, and finishing up the chicory breeding work. Carol will be penning her yen for verse. If you all are passing through the village, be sure to stop by and say hey.
Top photo: The Crab Nebula as Imagined by a Farmer on a Cold Winter’s Night. An original gristmill dolly.
Farming involves developing systems that work for both the land and the people who labor on it. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm reviews one such sytem.
Between 1999 and 2007, the staff at Ayers Creek Farm harvested about 200,000 pounds of Chester blackberries annually and we sold them to Small Planet Foods. The company packed the blackberries under their Cascadian Farms label. At the time, our 10-acre planting accounted for about 15 percent of the nation’s organic blackberry production—reflecting the weak state of organic fruit production and demand at the time, rather than an indicator of our prowess as growers. Nonetheless, my mother enjoyed being able to buy our berries from her local store in upstate New York.
A few years into the venture, mother left an indignant message on our answering machine complaining about a drop in our quality—she found the berries seedy and not so sweet. I returned the call and asked her to read to me the “country of origin.” Demand for organic blackberries had by then outstripped our production and supply gaps were filled in with organic ‘Brazos' blackberries from Chile. After that, she checked the label before buying. As New Seasons Markets expanded and immigration restrictions threatened to sap our access to labor, we shifted to fresh market production and bid an amicable farewell to Cascadian.
The currency of the field during the Cascadian Farms years was the punch card, a 3.5-inch by 4.5-inch piece of colored card stock. Common to every farm that picked fruit by hand, it was used to tally the day's wages and establish the price paid to harvest the berries. A few weeks before our first harvest, we visited the offices of the now-defunct Hillsboro Argus, the local newspaper which printed these cards for farmers. The standard card had three rows of numbers on top and four on the bottom, and a space in the middle for the farm’s name and address, the person’s name, and the date. Following the advice of the printer, our cards had a row each of 25, 20, and 10 at the top, and a row of five, two rows of two and one row of one. He also recommended three different colors of stock—yellow, red and green to allow a change in the price per pound paid without engendering confusion.
Punch cards need punches. The printer opened a drawer of neatly arrayed green boxes, each containing a uniquely designed punch. Commercial punches are precision tools made from heavy, polished stainless steel, fitting comfortably in the hand with no rough edges to raise a blister at the end of the day. Nor did they leave hanging chads; a term that would slip into the vernacular a couple of years later. They were $100 each.
The printer recommended that we look for shapes that would be hard to duplicate. He regaled us with tales of industrious people who used a file to shape a counterfeit a punch from a nail, or painstakingly cut out punch marks with a knife. He recommended a pattern with a combination of curved and straight lines. We selected three which became known as the bat, sweepy lady and the fireplug. I had the bat and weighed fruit at the center of the field, Carol had sweepy lady and tallied fruit at the north or south edges. Zenón and the fireplug would fill in where an additional tallier was needed. A punch and a card created money, so the punch was always secured to our belt with a bright pink cord.
Each day we harvested, a new card was started with the date written on it. Regardless of the price per pound paid, all staff had to earn minimum wage. People picked at different rates and level of quality, much as typists vary in the number of words per minute and accuracy. On a given day, the tallies might vary between 150 and 350 pounds. There was no correlation between age or gender, it was just a matter of how the eyes and fingers worked in union. Leticia, a 20-year-old woman and Gregorio, an 80-year-old man, were the fastest workers, both pulling in 350 pounds or so in the course of six hours.
On Saturdays, we set out a box of envelopes and staff placed the cards inside an envelope. We spent the better part of Sunday sitting at the kitchen table tallying the cards and preparing payroll. On occasion, someone would lose a card. We would ask them how many pounds were punched on the card. We would write that number on a card, indicating that it was a replacement, and it would go into the envelope. We also had a policy of paying on cards even if they were handed to us a year later. As currency, the cards were occasionally reassigned. For example, a cousin had to return to California and would not be there to cash the check.
We kept a calendar with the starting and ending times for the day’s harvest, and calculated the number of pounds harvested that would meet minimum wage at the posted price. The rule of thumb was that if more than 20 percent of the people were picking at a rate below the minimum wage, it was time to increase the posted price. When the posted price changed, the color of the card changed. By the time we made the second change, the end of the season was nigh. Typically, the first half of the crop was easiest to harvest, the next quarter was slower and we would raise the price by five cents, and the final quarter was much slower, and the price would increase by another 10 to 15 cents.
Generally, the Chesters were considered a good day’s work. But if another farm had a field of pickling cucumbers ready, we would lose the strongest and fastest young men who could make more money in that field. We lost the same group when the vineyards started harvesting grapes. Where brawn was rewarded over dexterity, we lost the strongest staff members. By that time, the Chesters were pretty much finished, though.
The most fraught moment in the field is during the tally. The mood could devolve quickly, leading to confusion and unnecessary upset. We had a rule that no one could talk to the tallier or to the person whose fruit we were weighing. If there was any distraction or commotion, we would stop, step back, and wait until things settled down, in much the same way as a pitcher steps off the mound to gather control of the moment. As the fruit was weighed, the number of pounds was called out and the person handed the tallier the card. The face of the card had to be clearly visible to all while it was punched, and then returned so the person could confirm the amount punched. Comity in the field was precious. It was protected by a predictable choreography and organization.
Computers have supplanted the punch card. We cling to the beautiful steel punches as a beautifully-crafted artifact of our history as berry growers. The punch card was a simple, intuitive and tactile form of communicating the day’s wages.
Portland cooks and makers rejoice! After months of fits and starts on their expansion plans—the pandemic has wreaked havoc on construction schedules and state agency certifications alike—Revel Meat Co. and Two x Sea have finally filled their cases and staffed their counters at Providore Fine Foods on Northeast Sandy Boulevard.
"We’re happy to announce that after many months, the debut of their full-service meat and seafood counter at Providore is here," said Kaie Wellman, co-owner of Providore along with her husband, Kevin de Garmo and their business partner, Bruce Silverman. "The 'protein' corner of the store has been transformed into a mecca for those who want to work closely with their local butcher and fishmonger to source top-quality, small-farmed meat and sustainably caught seafood."
While the original plans calling for an oyster bar have been scotched, there will soon be seating in the new wine room—it's taken the space once occupied by the now-closed Nomad. There are grab-and-go goods aplenty, from salmon cakes, fish croquettes and fresh oysters to marinated chicken skewers and housemade sausages ready to take home and throw on the grill, and Vannatter says to look for holiday specials appearing soon.
A huge problem with our food system is that shoppers are often misled about what they're buying. Tilapia, a common farmed fish, is mislabeled as more expensive snapper—an analysis by the Guardian newspaperof 44 studies found that "nearly 40% of 9000 products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled." The same misinformation is presented to consumers regarding the sourcing, feeding and slaughtering of beef and pork.
Both purveyors have a stated mission to offer transparency and traceability to Portland cooks. Want to know where a piece of fish in the Two x Sea case comes from, the name of the boat that caught it and how it was caught? Just ask. Lauren Vannatter of Two x Sea said, "We'll tell you the real story instead of the made-up story."
Similarly, Revel's Ben Meyer is committed to tossing out what he calls the "smoke and mirrors" of the meat business, including being able to tell shoppers the name of the farmer that raised the animal, how it was raised, what it ate during its lifetime and when and how it was harvested. Like butcher shops in your grandparents' time, you'll be able to see Revel butchers breaking down primals and sub-primals of beef and pork into steaks, chops and roasts, and even butchering a whole lamb.
How about braising a beef neck, buying a whole pork belly for bacon or pig trotters to simmer with a pot of beans? You'll be able to preorder all of those and get them in a day or so. (Me, I was excited to hear that after the holidays—please let it be true, kitchen gods—I might be able to obtain the main ingredient for Hank Shaw's blood sausage, and even order the fourth stomach of the cow called the abomasum, so I can tempt my friend Paolo to make his favorite Tuscan sandwich, lampredotto.)
Calling Providore's partnership with these two purveyors a "perfect marriage," Wellman added that "their sustainability standards are unmatched anywhere. These guys walk their talk."
When the founding partners launched Providore, Wellman said that it was intended to become a vortex for people who love to cook and who care about where their food comes from, and this latest expansion is the long-planned next step in its evolution. "It's a community of like-minded businesses and business owners," she said. "It's the antithesis of a grocery store experience. It's a place where customers come in and are surrounded by real food and high quality products from small producers they can't find elsewhere."
It's summer and the first line and troll-caught albacore of the season are being brought in by local fishing families right off our coast. Beans and cucumbers are being picked from their vines and potatoes and carrots are being pulled from the earth. Hens are laying eggs as if in competition with one another for the most prolific producer in the henhouse.
Summer also means temperatures are climbing, and the less time you have to spend sweating over the stove, the better. Which all adds up to a big platter of Salade Niçoise for dinner, one of the most satisfying summer meals I can imagine.
Or, as my hero Julia Child noted:
“A bountiful arrangement in bowl or platter is so handsome to behold that I think it a cruel shame to toss everything together into a big mess. A careful presentation means more work, but it’s easily manageable when you ready each of the numerous ingredients separately, which you can do well ahead. Season each just before assembling and serving, and you will have the perfect Salade Niçoise.”
The recipe below is a guide, since the ingredients of your salad will depend on what's available and in season, and amounts will vary depending on how many people are at your table. Ms. Child recommends a simple olive oil and lemon dressing, with or without garlic, but I like to add fresh chopped herbs and Dijon mustard, which I like to think Julia would approve of, too.
Oregon Salade Niçoise
For the dressing: 1/2 c. olive oil 1/4 c. lemon juice 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard 1 medium clove garlic, crushed 1/4 c. chopped green herbs like tarragon, chives, parsley, lovage, oregano, etc. Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad: Oregon albacore loin Green beans (whole haricot verts or sliced romano beans of any color) Potatoes (red or yellow or fingerlings) Hard-boiled eggs Cucumbers, sliced Tomatoes, in wedges Roasted carrots, if you have them, or julienne and blanch raw carrots with the beans
To make the dressing, take any tightly lidded container (I often use an empty, clean salsa container, or a lidded glass jar), put all the ingredients into it, put on the lid and shake like the dickens over the sink, in case, as once happened, the lid wasn't as tight as I thought and I ended up dressing the kitchen instead of the salad. Give one last shake just before serving and pour into small pitcher for use at the table.
Slice and blanch the beans and julienned carrots until almost tender (this is a salad, after all). Quarter eggs and arrange with other ingredients around the albacore loin.
Sear the albacore loin over a hot fire on all three sides; check the interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer and pull it off the fire when the interior reaches 90 degrees; cover with aluminum foil until it's time to serve. Cut into 1-inch slices and lay on your platter.
Drizzle dressing over the salad ingredients or have each person serve themselves from the platter and dress their own salads to their liking.
Note: Feel free to add or subtract ingredients with whatever's in season and use any leftover roasted root vegetables or peppers and the like. However, be aware that Julia insisted it wasn't a Niçoise without tuna, tomatoes and potatoes. (Just so you know.)
With albacore season in full swing, it seems like a good time to rerun this post from 2011.
Wind off the ocean whipped through the rigging on his boat, and sea lions barked in the background as albacore tuna fisherman Rick Goché recalled growing up on Tillamook Bay on Oregon’s north coast.
“I’ve been fish crazy since I can remember,” he said. “When I was old enough to make my way down to the creek, I was fishing with a safety pin and a string. I can still remember when I got my first factory-made hook.”
Goché grew up to be a fisherman; today, he fishes the Pacific Northwest’s deep, abundant waters, casting off from Coos Bay for two to six weeks at a time. It’s hard work, and definitely not child’s play. “When you’re a hundred, 200, 300 miles offshore, it’s not like you can duck into a port when the weather gets bad,” he says.
His brother, Larry, fishes with him, and his son, his daughter, and his grandson have taken turns on the boat as well. He has hopes that his daughter Lauren, who will be working on the tuna boat this summer, may eventually take up fishing as a career.
“Even though she won’t be on the boat,” he said, “it’ll be cool to be on the water with her.”
The average age of a fishboat owner is 62 (Goché is 57—“I’m one of the young guys,” he says), and the industry has had trouble attracting younger people into a career that not only is dangerous but also requires hard physical labor and long periods away from home.
Another issue facing the industry is consumer awareness, a concern voiced by chef Eric Jenkins while he was handing out samples of hot-off-the-grill wild West Coast albacore outside a Portland-area Whole Foods market. “I’ve had a couple of people say they won’t eat fish because of the mercury,” he said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Wayne Heikkila, a second-generation albacore fishboat owner and currently executive director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA). “[People] don’t know tuna from albacore, or skipjack from yellowtail.”
The tuna most of us grew up eating in casseroles and sandwiches was probably skipjack, which is caught on giant factory ships that operate in the deep, tropical oceans of the world and is sold under brand names like StarKist, Bumblebee, and Chicken of the Sea. Nearly all of those ships are longline fisheries, which tow a fishing line several miles long with thousands of hooks baited at regular intervals along its length. The problem with this method is that it produces significant bycatch—meaning that it also hooks endangered and threatened sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, sharks, and other fish besides skipjack.
The tuna caught in these deep waters are several years old and can weigh 40 to 60 pounds. They have absorbed mercury and other toxins, enough to cause the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to advise pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to limit their intake of the fish.
Those warnings have caused big headaches for the West Coast albacore industry.
That’s because the advisories don’t distinguish between the albacore caught in the deeper oceans and those younger and smaller tuna caught off the West Coast of the United States and Canada. Ranging in age from three to five years old and weighing 12 to 25 pounds, these younger albacore simply have not spent enough time in the ocean environment to contain the levels of mercury found in the larger, older fish.
Heikkila is frustrated that so much of the albacore caught off our own coast is exported to Japan for sushi, and that Northwest foodies would rather buy a can of albacore tuna from Spain—produced, ironically, from West Coast albacore that is exported to that country and shipped back to stores here—than albacore caught and canned on their own coastline.
“We’re trying to get consumers to eat more of the local product,” Heikkila said. Approximately 16,000 to 23,000 tons of albacore are caught per year. “It’s crazy—we send 80% to 90% of it to other countries and then the U.S. consumer has to buy it from overseas. That money could go into local fishermen’s pockets.”
What’s more, Northwest consumers are generally unaware that these local fish are caught one at a time using what’s called a pole-and-line or troll-and-jig method. This approach employs 10 to 15 lines of nylon cord measuring six to 100 feet long that are towed behind a boat. Each line has a barbless “jig” or lure at the end that is attached to a double barbless hook. When a fish bites the jig, the fisherman hauls it by hand into the boat, allowing the fishermen to keep only “right-size” fish and eliminating bycatch.
The U.S. and Canadian albacore fisheries in the North Pacific, made up of mostly small, family-owned boats like Rick Goché’s, received a boost last year when Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that evaluates the ecological sustainability of wild-caught and farmed seafood, listed U.S. and Canadian troll- and pole-caught albacore from the North Pacific as a “Best Choice” due to negligible bycatch and the healthy stock of albacore in the region.
But the biggest shift in public awareness may come from the announcement by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which has certified the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation (CHMSF), an albacore fishery of Canadian-based boats, and the U.S.-based WFOA as sustainable and well-managed.
“It’s a very rigorous, on-site process that looks at a fishery as opposed to a sweeping view of a species,” said Kerry Coughlin, the Regional Director for the Americas of the MSC. “It’s our view that’s how you get a very rigorous assessment process that’s accurate, and it’s how, in some cases where fisheries aren’t sustainable, you’re going to bring about change on the water.”
And when they see the blue MSC label in their grocer’s seafood case or on a can of albacore, “consumers can have the assurance that it is an environmentally responsible choice,” Coughlin said. And, because they come from younger fish, the fresh loins of albacore available from July through October at most retailers contain more have more “puppy fat,” as an industry spokesperson called it.
“I think it’s moister,” Jenkins said. “It seems to have higher fat levels, particularly concentrated in the belly.” His suggestion to consumers buying a whole loin is to ask their butcher to keep the belly meat on, adding that many butchers either keep it for themselves even cut it out, which he considers a travesty.
Locally canned albacore would be almost as much of a shock to most shoppers. The major-brand tuna on their grocery shelves was caught and frozen at sea, then thawed at a cannery and cooked in big steamers, where it loses much of its natural juices and fats. It is then packed in cans and cooked again, requiring the addition of water or oil to keep it moist.
That contrasts with most local tuna, which is packed in cans when it’s fresh and cooked only once, sealing in the natural juices and not requiring the addition of oil or water to keep it moist.
Between MSC certification and a growing concern among consumers about where their food comes from, families that depend on the North Pacific albacore are seeing a brighter future for their children, and a way of life that they prize.
“On a boat, you have to have all your senses attuned to your boat and the fish and your gear, but what it comes down to is stay alive and fill up the boat,” said Rick Goché. “When I pull away from the dock and I cross the bar and I feel the ocean lifting the boat, I leave everything behind as much as possible. Sure, I miss my family, but I don’t miss all the complexities of being on land.”
For many people, their strongest memories center around firsts: the first time they rode a bike, their first car, their first kiss.
For me, many of those memorable firsts center around—no surprise here—food. The first time I had spit-roasted whole pig cooked over a fire by my uncles at a tiny cabin in the Blue Mountains; my first taste of kimchi at a snowy mountainside inn on a student trip to Korea; my first pesto pasta in the early days of Papa Haydn's eastside location that was so packed with garlic I could still taste it three days later—which I adored, by the way!
I remember being floored by the broth served with rockfish made by chef Serge Selbe at the London Grill that was as clear as water but was intensely infused with the flavor of fresh tomatoes—he described it as filtered gazpacho. More recently my mind was blown by the corn soup made by Benjamin Schade when he was chef at the late, lamented Old Salt Marketplace in northeast Portland.
Regular readers know I'm a fool for anything with fresh corn in it, and this bowl was the essence of corn in a smooth, creamy, velvety robe, adorned only with a pat of butter melting seductively over its surface punctuated by a sprinkling of fresh pepper. I'd been so taken with it I pestered the poor guy for a couple of years, and just this summer he graciously agreed to share the recipe.
Recently Schade has been cultivating a working urban oasis he's dubbed Schadey Acres Farm, growing heritage varieties of beans, squash, peppers, turnips and other vegetables in the more-than-a-dozen raised beds he's built around his home. He makes use of this bounty in his capacity as a personal chef, but also produces a line of pickled and preserved goods under his own Private Reserve Preserves brand.
When Schade arrived to show me how the soup was made, I was astounded to find out it had only four ingredients: butter, onions, corn and salt. No cream? What made it so velvety? He said it was all in the method, which he'd learned from Kevin Gibson while working at Castagna.
That answered a lot of my questions about this remarkable soup, since I consider Gibson to be a soup guru. (Anyone remember his remarkable Too Many Tomatoes soup from Castagna? I rest my case.)
With credit given where credit was due, Schade went on to say he basically makes the soup according to Gibson's recipe, which is incredibly simple but more technique-driven than one might guess given the number of ingredients.
Starting with onions simmered in butter, Schade combined them with the kernels from 10 ears of corn which he then simmered ever-so-briefly in corn stock—Schade said Gibson told him the secret to corn soup was to "not cook the corn." Purée the mixture in a blender, run it through a sieve and it's done.
With corn nearing the end of its season in the Pacific Northwest, I'll be heading to the nearest farmers' market this weekend and buying up as much fresh corn as I can, so you'd best get there before I do!
Benjamin Schade's Corn Soup
Adapted from Kevin Gibson
Makes approx. 2 qts.
10 ears of corn 3 med. yellow onions, diced finely 1/4 c. butter 2 qts. corn stock Salt Dash of Crystal hot sauce (or tabasco)
Cut the kernels from the ears of corn. (Schade recommends placing the cob on a cutting board and slicing one side of the kernels from the cob. Rotate the cob so the cut side is against the board and slice the second side. Repeat on the last two sides of the cob. See photo above.) You can also then scrape the cobs with a knife or a handy little tool called a corn slitter to remove any remaining kernels and juice.
If you need corn stock, place the scraped cobs in a large pot (a Dutch oven or pasta pot) and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
While simmering the stock, chop the onions. Melt butter in a large pot and add onions. Sauté until translucent, stirring constantly to avoid browning. (Schade says it's critical not to brown the onions.) Add corn kernels and stir to combine then add corn stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer 5 minutes. (Remember Gibson's advice: do not cook the corn!)
Remove from heat and immediately strain the corn mixture through a sieve or colander, reserving the stock for another use. Put the corn in a blender, making sure not to overfill the blender; you can do this in batches—remember that hot liquids can explode out of a blender, so Schade advises holding down a thick towel over the lid of the blender while running it. Purée until completely smooth.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large soup pot. If you're straining several batches, you can add strained bits of corn mixture back to the next batch to purée and strain. Discard the strained remains in the compost. Schade stresses that it's better for the soup to be thick since extra liquid can be added to thin out the soup but extra liquid can’t be removed. Start thick and thin to perfect texture.
When all the corn mixture has been strained into the soup pot, add 1 tsp. of hot sauce and salt to taste. (Schade recommends no more than 1 Tbsp. hot sauce for 2 quarts of soup; he said "the hot sauce is not for heat but for the vinegar to brighten the flavor.")
Heat briefly before serving, taste for seasonings and garnish with a pat of butter and grinding of pepper.
When I asked chef Berkeley Braden how he got involved making and delivering free meals to nurses, truck drivers and his fellow food service workers in the pandemic—most of it on his own dime—he said his motivation was two-fold. "My first motive was selfish, " he said. "I need to be busy so I don't go stir-crazy. I can't just sit around…I have to have stuff to do."
The second reason?
"Restaurants are fucked," he said bluntly. "Lots won't reopen, and if they do they'll have to do so in a radically different format, which screws with your margins." Braden believes that will leave a majority of industry workers—think everyone from chefs to sous chefs to prep people, wait staff, bussers, dishwashers and more—out of a job, most with no savings and short on money for food for themselves and their families.
That's when he decided to step in.
As a personal chef and caterer, Braden said, he'd done really well the last few years, so when his business slowed down due to the pandemic, he started cooking for out-of-work friends and acquaintances in the service industry who didn't have enough money to buy food.
"I enjoy helping people," he said. Plus, "as a chef, I know how to produce lots of good food for very little money."
The industry lunches tend to be simple—soups, stews and sauces that he cooks in large quantities once a week. Nutritious, filling and packed with flavor, Braden ticks off a list that includes minestrone soup, coconut tomato curry, pasta puttanesca and a vegan posole. Regulars come by his kitchen to pick up packaged meals to take home. He also delivers to neighbors like the wait staff in a coffee shop near his commercial kitchen, which enables him to keep in touch with how they're doing. Another industry friend will take several meals to deliver to people he knows who are having a hard time getting by.
Braden then partnered with a client to organize a fundraiser to take lunches to long-haul truckers. His takeaway was that they're a very underserved group "who continue to get us the things we need."
Following the fundraising event, Braden, his coworker Izzy Davids and friend Beth Everett teamed up to take meals out to a couple of area truck stops, looking for people sitting in their trucks. A few were confused as to why someone would do that for them, he said, since they're used to being overlooked or taken for granted.
"One guy even told us to fuck off," Braden said. But a little while later as they were packing up to leave, the trucker came back and apologized, saying that he wasn't used to having people give him something without expecting anything in return.
Kara Morris, a supervisor with Kaiser Home Health, said that Braden jumped at the chance to make lunches when Morris mentioned to Braden's wife, Tracy, that she was looking for resources for meals for her medical staff.
"He said he wanted to donate meals, and only asked 'when and how many?'" Morris said. "It was great—he's been so organized, thoughtful and meticulous." She said it's wonderful that her staff can swing by between rounds and pick up a meal in the middle of a stressful day.
"Home health care staff are often forgotten" in the stories about frontline medical workers in the pandemic, she said. "They're taking care of COVID positive patients, going into their homes." Morris added that the meals are so hearty that there's often enough left over for workers to take home to their own families.
Braden has been posting photographs on his Instagram feed of the meals he delivers and the masked—but obviously smiling—faces of medical staff holding their meals. He said a few people have contacted him "out of the blue" and offered to send money to "put toward something good," including one man from Alabama and another whose wife brought home leftovers from the meal he'd delivered to Kaiser that day.
While Braden said he's taking it a week at a time, he doesn't see stopping anytime soon. "I'm just happy to help people," he said. "I want to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. It all manifests itself and gets itself out there in so many ways."
Morris agrees. "[Braden] really cares about food, the process, and the people," she said.
If you've heard panicky reports about a shortage of ground beef (or any meat) because of plant closures due to COVID-19, just remember that those reports refer to places where factory-farmed animals are slaughtered in mind-boggling numbers on industrial-scale production lines. The alternative can be found right here in our own back yard, from ranchers dedicated to improving their soil, raising animals on pasture and treating them humanely, not to mention sequestering carbon in the soil, building rural communities and a vibrant, resilient local food system. Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Wallowa, Oregon, wrote the following in a recent newsletter.
It’s hard to miss the headlines about meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses closing throughout the country. At least 48 plants have reported cases of COVID-19, and 2,200 workers are infected. Beef production alone is down 20 percent since this time last year, and commodity prices continue to increase. At the same time, cattle prices are the lowest they’ve been in a decade.
If you’re interested in what’s happening in large-scale meatpacking plants, USA Today, the New York Times and Civil Eats have great coverage. But rather than speculate about whether we'll see a meat shortage on retail shelves, or if plants will choose to stay open and continue to put workers at risk, I want to highlight what we do know: our own plant.
To build a supply chain of like-minded folks who share our values and vision for the future has always been key to Carman Ranch's mission. That supply chain begins with our producer group and ends with our customers. In between, there are a handful of key players, one of which is Kalapooia Grassfed Processing, a family-owned processing plant in Brownsville, Oregon.
Kalapooia has nearly perfect marks on its annual food safety audits, and on a comprehensive animal welfare audit. Built by Reed Anderson (right, center) to process his own Anderson Ranch lambs, Reed also processes cattle for a few companies, including Carman Ranch. Reed’s son Travis oversees day-to-day operations, and I’ve worked with Pete, Kalapooia's plant manager, for over a decade. The Andersons think of their processing plant as a family business, an ethos that extends to include their staff and customers. Anderson Ranch employs fewer than 50 people, and they took the safety of their workers seriously early on in the COVID outbreak, in part because Pete and Travis work side-by side on the line with their employees. They already required protective clothing, and their small size allowed them to create distancing more easily and effectively than larger plants.
We’ve harvested our animals at Kalapooia 50 weeks a year for the last three years. At a time when many meat companies have had to shut down, or are nervous about supply, we continue to be confident and proud of our partnership with the Andersons.
As we move through this crisis, we’re learning more about the vulnerabilities in our incumbent systems. Affordability in food is important, but saving a few dimes can come at a cost none of us should have to shoulder, including our own health and safety. Across the country, those costs are now coming to light.
I won’t pretend our beef is cheap. But when you factor in the positive effects on the climate, community and supply chain that your purchase supports, it becomes an important investment. And, when you subscribe to our philosophy of smaller portion sizes with tons of flavor and nutrition, the dividends on that investment become immeasurable.
The final benefit? We can give our customers the same peace of mind we find in knowing that we'll keep working with partners like Reed Anderson and Kalapooia to provide nourishing food, regardless of how the headlines around large-scale meatpacking plants play out.
Read my interview with Cory Carman about why she chose to raise her animals on pasture, and how she sees it as a vital tool in reversing climate change and building a more resilient and vibrant local food system.
Read about Revel Meat Company, a processing facility that serves small to mid-sized Oregon farmers and ranchers and provides markets for their products.
It's the midpoint of the interim session of the Oregon legislature, and it's time to let your legislator know what you think. Outlined below are several issues and suggested ways to let your legislators know your opinions.
Require large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to apply for approval from Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) and Dept. of Environmental Quality (SB 1513): On the heels of the catastrophic failure of the 30,000-cow Lost Valley Farm and the ongoing issues with the groundwater in the Boardman area, it was hoped that this bill would establish new regulations protecting Oregon's air, water and rural communities from these huge factory farms.
Unfortunately, according to Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), this bill is not adequate to address the problems raised by these extractive facilities. "The work group bill (similar to the bill proposed last session) does not go nearly far enough, and chipping away at the edges will not protect our community health and welfare from mega-dairies, including the new mega-dairy proposed at the infamous Lost Valley site," she said. "Further, we are concerned that the climate legislation again both exempts mega-dairies from controlling their methane emissions and creates a perverse incentive for people (especially from states with stronger controls) to set up or expand mega-dairies here, and to then sell dirty manure gas as 'renewable biogas' into the market."
I oppose SB 1513 and ask that you vote no on passing this bill out of committee. This weak proposal simply doesn’t go far enough in addressing the significant negative impacts that mega-dairies have on our state. Passing it would simply sweep under the rug the state's systemic failures to protect our environment and communities from this industry.
Mega-dairies harm our air and water, small family farmers, animal welfare, and Oregon's special places. Nowhere has that been clearer than at Lost Valley Farm, but it isn't just Lost Valley. Mega-dairies, including the proposed Easterday Farms that regulators are currently considering, have no place in Oregon.
SB 1513 is a weak half-measure that won't adequately address the mega-dairy crisis. We are past the point of minor regulatory tweaks. We need a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies.
Ban use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos (HB 4109): In a vote of 32-24, a bill to totally phase out the insecticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon by 2022 passed the House today over the objections of farm groups that argued the chemical is still necessary, according an article in the Capital Press. It now goes to the state Senate for approval, so it's time to contact your Senator and voice your opinion (suggested text below).
I am writing to urge you to support HB 4109 to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon. In some agricultural communities current exposure levels to this developmental neurotoxin by children ages one to two exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own allowable threshold by a staggering 140 times.
Even at low levels of exposure, chlorpyrifos has been shown to alter brain functions and impair the learning ability of children into adulthood and is correlated with a decrease in psychomotor and mental development in three-year-olds. At high levels of childhood exposure, chlorpyrifos has been found to cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, slow cognitive development, a significant reduction in IQ scores and a host of other neurodevelopment problems. Children who live near farm fields experience the highest risks and impacts. In addition to its danger to people, chlorpyrifos has also been shown to harm beneficial insects, fish and birds.
Oregon should not allow industrial interests to endanger the health and well-being of its children or our environment. Please vote for HB 4109 to ban this dangerous chemical.
Climate cap and trade (SB 1530): Also known as Legislative Concept 19, according to an article from Oregon Public Broadcasting, "the bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each ton of gas they emit, and create an overall cap for emissions allowed in the state. That cap would lower over time, in theory ensuring Oregon meets stringent conservation targets in 2035 and 2050. Entities required to obtain permits could trade them with one another."
Unfortunately, this bill does not put any controls on emissions from mega-dairies, but would allow them to profit from selling methane capture credits, could perversely incentivize more of these polluting operations to flock to Oregon or expand here. SB 1530’s failure to address these significant emissions thereby threatens to lead to an increase in methane emissions, in direct conflict with the attempts by Oregon legislators to curb climate change.
Add your voice to the 7 out of 10 Oregonians who support climate action in Oregon, and insist that emissions from factory farms are included in the caps (suggested text below).
I believe that climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, created and exacerbated by our ongoing actions and inactions. In the face of unforgivable federal inaction, I thank you for your attempts to take action here in Oregon to address our own contributions to climate change and to prepare Oregonians for the future.
However, I am concerned that SB 1530 does not put any controls on emissions from mega-dairies, but would allow them to profit from selling methane capture credits and could perversely incentivize more of these polluting operations to flock to Oregon or expand here. SB 1530’s failure to address these significant emissions threatens to lead to an increase in methane emissions, in direct conflict with the attempts by Oregon legislators to curb climate change.
Oregonians deserve better than dirty mega-dairies. Again, while we applaud your efforts to address climate change, we urge you not to make the problem worse by ignoring the biggest source of methane in our state. Any effective climate legislation simply must address this significant and expanding source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.