Farm Bulletin: A Farewell

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. 

The Millwright’s mise en place.

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.

In the foreground, a high spot is highlighted by the chalk dust. It was leveled
with the chisel and punch.

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.

The mill at its new home with the Wellspent proprietors: Noah Cable, Jim and Joe Dixon.

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.

All photos by Anthony Boutard.

Planting an Herb Garden: Expand Your Repertoire with Chives and Thai Basil

I'm still a little teary at the loss over the winter of the "tarragon hedge" in my raised bed dedicated to herbs, so a trip to get new starts was in order. After picking up replacement tarragon, I also got some chervil, Italian parsley and garlic chives—and came home to find that the Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter had some helpful hints about herbs used in Thai recipes, including those garlic chives I'd just bought!


“A little sprinkle of fresh herbs on a meal can mean the difference between flavors that are just nice, and flavors that are spectacular. And when you have fresh herbs growing in your own backyard, porch planters, or window box, this makes it even easier to boost the flavor of your homemade meals." - Gardener's Path


Beaverton Market Master Ginger Rapport agrees with this advice. Fresh herbs are always an important part of her garden plan. In fact, Ginger grows her herbs in large pots on the patio right outside her kitchen where they are readily accessible. They are both useful and beautiful. Important to note here that growing herbs in pots is also a defense against Ginger’s male grand-dog Jax, who loves to lift his leg on her garden plants. Fortunately, he is a small terrier, but if you have male dogs in the yard you will want to consider this when you plan your herb garden.

Garlic chives have solid leaves and a mildly garlic flavor.

Since Ginger does a lot of Thai cooking, there are two herbs, in particular, she raises in abundance—garlic chives and Thai basil.

Thai Basil and Italian Basil: Thai basil (top photo) is different from Italian basil, which she also grows, in that it has a more anise-like fragrance and smell with a slightly more spicy taste. The leaves are sturdier than Italian basil leaves and can withstand some cooking. Thai basil is an essential ingredient in pho, a Vietnamese soup, but it is used liberally in salads, curries, noodle dishes and stir-fries.

The two herbs, while related, are distinctive enough in flavor that using them interchangeably in a recipe shortchanges the dish you are preparing.  They each have their own distinct flavor notes so it is worth growing both varieties.

Thai basil and Italian basil are tender in our hardiness zone and are treated as annuals in the garden. Chives, on the other hand, come back year after year. In fact, they easily re-sow themselves in other areas of your garden so keep that in mind when planting them.

Regular chives have hollow leaves.

Garlic Chives vs. Regular Chives: The leaves and flowers of both chives and garlic chives are edible. However, regular chives grow tubular hollow leaves that smell and taste mildly oniony, whereas garlic chives grow wide flat leaves that taste mildly garlicky. Most of us are familiar with regular chives which are a common garnish for dishes that need a beautiful green touch and a gentle onion-flavored finish.

While garlic chives can be chopped to use as a garnish, keep in mind that they will have a tougher texture than regular chives. Because they are sturdier they can be treated more like a vegetable and are common ingredients in Asian cuisines including stir-fries, soups, salad, and marinades.


Get recipes for chive blossom vinegar and chive oil, as well as Ginger's favorite recipe for Pad Thai that usesarlic chives.

Photos from Gardener's Path.

Book Report: The Man Who Ate Too Much

“The fresh butter has another taste,” James would tell Jane Nickerson about trying to approximate Parisian ingredients in New York [for his book Paris Cuisine, published in 1952]. “Vegetables and fruits, because they are grown in different soil and travel shorter distances, may be fuller flavored. The small, small peas the French so like are not offered in our markets.” He knew these dishes at the source. The transformation that happened to them on another continent—the degree to which even nominally identical ingredients, carrots or salt or wheat flour, changed because of where and how they grew or formed—was a revelation to James. It was the beginning of the winemaker’s notion of terroir extending to more than wines—indeed, to all the things the land produces in a defined region.
- John Birdsall, "The Man Who Ate Too Much: The Life of James Beard"

James Beard is, without a doubt, one of the most well-known Oregonians our state has ever produced. His nearly century-long life—from his birth in 1903 to his death in 1985—evangelizing the pleasures of eating and cooking with the freshest of what is grown and produced wherever he found himself is without precedent. Yet his chameleon-like ability to both stand for the enjoyment of flavorful food as well as surf the onslaught of the 20th Century's industrial, mass-produced trends like frozen food and canned goods, while still cranking out massive numbers of books, columns, and live appearances in order to earn a living, is truly astonishing.

This while keeping his queer life completely shrouded from the view of all but the closest of his intimates.

In "The Man Who Ate Too Much: The Life of James Beard," Birdsall has written a sprawling biography of Beard's life from his birth to Elizabeth and John Beard in Portland that details his parents' unambiguously antagonistic relationship—his mother, an independent businesswoman before her marriage, had at least one longterm affair with a prominent actress while relegating her husband to his own room in the back of their house. For his part, John kept a mistress with whom he had at least one child. James grew up in the lonely netherworld between them, cared for in his early life by their Chinese cook, Jue Let.

This readable, intensively researched book—Birdsall's research notes and sources run 60 pages—initially covers much the same territory as Robert Clark's biography of Beard from 1993, but includes voluminous detail about his private life as an internationally famous, but closeted, queer man (as Birdsall terms it). Equally fascinating is the story of how queerness, and the (mostly) male culinary stars of the mid-to-late 20th Century came to define, as epitomized by Beard himself, the food and cooking most of us call American cuisine.

(This is not surprising, since Birdsall was the author of an article on that topic for the now-shuttered Lucky Peach magazine, titled "America, Your Food Is So Gay," which won him a James Beard Foundation Award in 2014.)

Birdsall doesn't shy away from Beard's foibles and failings in this book, including his tendency to take credit for recipes developed by others, plagiarize his own recipes published elsewhere, as well as take advantage of the people who shaped his books and columns—including uncredited editorial help from Isabel Callvert, Helen and Philip Brown, and many others.

It is truly a fascinating read, one that I'd recommend to those interested not just in Beard and the food history of the 20th Century, but also to anyone who wants to learn more about queer culture and how it survived in the pockets and shadows of that period.

Birdsall writes about the gala tribute, headlined by 14 of the country's best-known chefs, held in New York City after Beard’s death in 1985 at the age of 82:

“James—the Dean of American Gastronomy (an upgrade from  “Cookery,” his epithet of thirty years)—was part of the previous generation of American food masters. Along with Julia Child and Craig Claiborne—both still very much alive—James was the ultimate amateur cook, dedicated to home cooking. The new generation of American culinary authorities were chefs, each exciting and glamorous in ways James, Julia, and Claiborne never were.”


Get the recipe for my version of James Beards' classic macaroni and cheese casserole adapted from his Beard on Pasta book.

Top photo of James Beard (and his famous pineapple wallpaper) from the book.

Guest Essay: Where is GTF?

This essay by Patrick Merscher, Assistant Manager at the Hillsdale Farmers'‚Äč Market in Portland, was published in the market's newsletter when Gathering Together Farm was not able to attend the market due to flooding from a January storm. The farm, located on the banks of the Marys River in Philomath, and its neighbors are still feeling the effects of that storm, and April’s heavy dose of rain, hail and snow hasn’t helped. Merscher's essay explains what such heavy flooding means for farmers and crops.

Around the New Year, you may remember the Pacific Northwest receiving a heavy amount of precipitation in a relatively short amount of time, which is not unusual for the area, although these events are increasing in frequency and intensity. You may also recall the news stories about flooding all around the region, especially in low-lying areas like the Willamette Valley, and about the effects it had on the many farmers that call these places home.

One of the market’s largest vendors, Gathering Together Farm (GTF), was heavily impacted by the floods, and they spent months away from the market. Every week shoppers would ask, “Where is Gathering Together? The flood was weeks ago—why aren’t they back?” These are brilliant questions, and one of our roles at the market is to act as a conduit between our local community and local farmers. So, here are some insights on what happens when a farm floods, and why it takes so long for them to return— and no, it’s not just because absence makes the heart grow fonder, although we certainly missed them.

Slow Winter Growth: The fresh winter vegetables you find at market (think radicchio, cauliflower, leeks, etc.) are actually started in late summer and early fall. Before winter starts, plants need to be about three-quarters mature in order to survive the cold temperatures. Growth during the wintertime is exceptionally slow here in the Northwest because of cold weather, short days and low-intensity sunlight. Plants are more holding in the field than they are growing. When a flood damages these winter crops, they actually have a lot of growth to catch up on and less-than-ideal conditions to do it in.

Oxygen Depletion: Plants respire just like humans. Standing water smothers the plant’s breathing pores (called stomates) essentially suffocating the plant. The extent of damage done by oxygen depletion is made worse by warmer waters (a symptom of climate change), stagnant water, younger plants, and the amount of time plants stay submerged.

Nitrogen Loss: Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for healthy plant growth and the health of the plant’s immune system. Forms of nitrogen that can be taken up by plants are also very water soluble, so much of the nitrogen can run off the field as flood waters recede. Anaerobic conditions (i.e. a lack of oxygen) also promote certain microbes that consume the nitrogen for their growth. Lack of nitrogen further slows plant recovery, reduces yields, and increases plant disease. Nitrogen can be replaced, but options are limited on certified organic farms like GTF. Often these organic sources of nitrogen require a mineralization process done in the soil to become available for plants, so it’s not a quick fix. Winter conditions also slow the mineralization process. The farm is also concerned about costs of production like fertilizer and labor, both on the farm and to work the market.

Erosion: Flooding not only removes soil nutrients, but it can physically remove organic matter or even the soil itself. The organic matter is responsible for holding onto nutrients and serving as a substrate that plants can root into. Sand, gravel and rocks can also be moved during flooding, physically damaging the plants. Healthy soil is the foundation of organic farms and farmers spend years developing it. This cannot be easily replaced.

Weed and Disease Growth: Floodwaters bring in weed seeds and plant pathogens. Since crops are damaged, weeds have an easier time growing and competing for sunlight and soil nutrients. Damaged crop plants are virtually sitting ducks for plant pathogens like fungi that love damp, cool conditions and can outgrow the plants easily. Of course, manual or mechanical weed control is the first line of defense on organic farms like GTF, but digging, tilling or otherwise working waterlogged soil, even just walking on it, destroys the structure of the soil and can cause compaction. This will have longterm effects that could be seen for years to come because, again, soil health is something farmers spend years building, but nature can take it away in an instant.

While none of this is pleasant to talk or think about, hopefully you have a better understanding of the plight our local farmers are facing. When one of them experiences a catastrophe like this, please be patient as the farm and the workers recover. They may not be able to come to the market for a few weeks, but your patience is one way you can support them and the market.

Read a profile of founder John Eveland of Gathering Together Farm. Top photo of January's flooding at GTF from their Instagram account.

A Taste Memory Resurrected by a Grandmother's Kimchi Recipe

My first taste of kimchi was a revelation…salty, acidic, crunchy, and searingly spicy with the heat from Korean red chiles. I still salivate at the memory of it.

The fermentation pots, or onggi, on the roof of my host family's home.

It was made by the mother of my host family in Daejon, South Korea, having fermented in loosely covered clay pots, called onggi, on the flat, exposed roof of their home alongside other mysterious concoctions that drew my curiosity with their richly funky, exotic smells, aromas that were as foreign to my middle-class American palate as tuna noodle casserole and Swiss steak would be to my host family.

I seem to recall the family eyeing me suspiciously as I lifted the chopsticks containing that first bite to my lips, not sure how the big American girl they'd taken into their home might respond. Would she scream? Gag? Run out of the room?

They were probably relieved, if maybe a bit disappointed, that none of those happened, though I remember my lips burning by the end of the meal of fish, wok-seared greens and kimchi. It helped that there was plenty of rice and traditional scorched-rice tea (sungnyung) to help mitigate the fire of the chiles, but I was intrigued.

Gochugaru, coarse ground red pepper, is a critical ingredient.

Since that college trip I've been wanting to recreate the taste that was almost literally seared into my memory 40 years ago, and my experiences with fermentation made me pretty confident I could do it without killing or sickening my friends or family.

So when I found out that my friend Denise was willing to help me make it from the recipe her sister had transcribed from her mother Betty Ann's recipe—one that Betty Ann had learned from her mother, Annie—I was all in. (Read the story of Annie Mah's odyssey and get her recipe for gochujang.)

It began with Denise and I making a trip to one of the city's many large Asian supermarkets to get the coursely ground Korean red peppers, or gochugaru, that is the critical ingredient in kimchi, one that cannot be substituted if your goal is to make the real deal. I'd already picked up the Napa cabbage, daikon and carrots, my preferred mix of vegetables—though the recipe just calls for five pounds of whatever suits your tastes.

Remarkably simple, Denise's family recipe is fairly mild as kimchi goes, confirmed when her relatives sampled my second attempt in which I'd upped the cayenne quotient, making it more like the version I'd had in Korea. Mind you, they liked it, but as her Aunt Else said afterwards, clapping me on the shoulder, "You make it like a Korean would!"

High praise, indeed!

Kimchi (Kim Chee)

Adapted from Betty Ann della Santina's recipe by her daughter, Cynthia Forsberg.

For the brined vegetables, any of the following, about five pounds total:
Daikon, shredded or chunked
Napa or green cabbage, chunked

After brining the vegetables above overnight, add as many of these as you want:
Green onions, sliced in half or quarters lengthwise, cut crosswise in 2 to 3-inch lengths
Yellow onions, chunked
Carrots, shredded

For the paste:
1/2 c. fine to medium crushed Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
3-inch piece ginger peeled and grated (with juice)
5-7 large juicy garlic cloves, crushed
2-3 Tbsp. shrimp powder, shrimp paste, or fish sauce, or a combination
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 c. water (only enough to make into paste)

Soak cabbage and daikon in brine of 1 c. salt mixed in one gallon water for 14-24 hours. The next day, rinse thoroughly in cold water. Drain vegetables and press out most of the remaining water.

Red pepper paste.

Mix together red pepper (gochugaru), grated ginger, crushed garlic, shrimp powder (or fish sauce), sugar in a large bowl with just enough water to make a thick paste. 

Add brined and cut vegetables to the paste and mix thoroughly. Press into clean wide-mouth quart (or pint) jars. Press down firmly, allowing 1" space at top, and close the lid tightly, allow to ferment at least 24 to 36 hours on the counter.

[Fermentation time can vary depending on temperature and other factors. I allowed mine to sit in the basement for 5 to 7 days, and started to taste it after the third day until it had developed the "funky" taste I wanted. - KB]

Store in refrigerator.

Devilishly Delightful: Four Favorite Deviled Egg Recipes

I don't know about you, but whenever I make deviled eggs, for my family or a gathering, the ooh-ing and aah-ing just won't quit. Maybe it's the eggs from pasture-raised chickens with their marigold yolks—I've been accused of using turmeric to amp up their color—but they invariably disappear without a trace.

This is the time to buy the best eggs you can get, so don't settle for store-bought eggs that may be up to a month old. (And be forewarned: their extraordinary flavor and freshness might just convince you they're worth the price to use all the time.)

Here's a pro tip: use my tried-and-true, easy-peel method to hard-boil those fresh-from-the-farm eggs. And another tip: if you don't have one of those deviled egg platters like the one in the top photo, slice lettuce or other greens into chiffonade and spread them over a plate (photo, left). The eggs sit up like champs!

Mom's Mustard Deviled Eggs 

6 hard-boiled eggs
2 tsp. Dijon mustard, either smooth or stoneground
1/4-1/3 c. mayonnaise
Paprika or smoked paprika for garnish

Hard-boil eggs using my method. Halve hard-boiled eggs, removing yolks and putting them in a small mixing bowl and placing whites on serving tray. Mash yolks with fork until there are no lumps. Add mustard and mayonnaise and combine, stir well until smooth, adjusting mayonnaise to taste (you don't want it too dry or too creamy). Fill halves of whites with yolk mixture. 

Place a fine sieve over a small bowl and add paprika. Carefully lift the sieve about 10" above the eggs and tap the edge to gently shower them with a dusting of the paprika. Serve.


Spanish-style Deviled Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs
2 anchovy fillets
4 Tbsp. mayonnaise
9 green olives, preferably anchovy-stuffed Spanish olives
Pinch of smoked Spanish paprika plus more for sprinkling
Moroccan harissa or other chile sauce for garnish

Hard-boil eggs using my method. Halve eggs, putting yolks in small mixing bowl and placing whites on serving tray. Using long-tined fork, crush yolks until thoroughly mashed. Add anchovy fillets and mash into yolks. Chop six of the olives finely and add, with mayonnaise and pinch of paprika, to egg yolk mixture. Mix thoroughly. Fill whites with egg mixture and arrange on platter.

Slice each remaining olive crosswise into four rounds and top each egg with one, then put a small bit of the harissa on top of the olive. Put another pinch of smoked paprika into small mesh sieve and, tapping lightly, sprinkle platter with paprika. Serve.


Curry Mustard Deviled Eggs with Fried Sage Leaves

6 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. dijon mustard, either smooth or stoneground
1/4 c. mayonnaise (approx.)
2 Tbsp. canola oil
12 sage leaves
Smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton) and sage flowers, if available, for garnish

Hard-boil eggs using my method. When cool, halve hard-boiled eggs, removing yolks and placing them in a small mixing bowl and placing whites on a serving platter. Mash yolks with fork. Add curry powder, mustard, oil and mayonnaise and combine, stirring until there are no lumps. Fill halves of whites with yolk mixture.

In frying pan, heat oil until it shimmers but doesn't smoke (I always flick a few drops of water into the oil…when it spatters it's hot enough). Add sage leaves, a few at a time, and fry for a few seconds on each side. Like making crostini in the broiler, the key is to not turn away because they'll burn the instant you do. So stand there and wait. Remove to paper towel to drain and cool. Sprinkle eggs with pimenton (see method, above), top each with a sage leaf and scatter sage flowers on the platter.


Fresh Horseradish Deviled Eggs with Chorizo

6 slices Spanish-style chorizo*
6 hard-boiled eggs
1-2 Tbsp. fresh horseradish root, grated finely (a microplane works great)
2 tsp. dijon mustard, either smooth or seeded
1/4-1/3 c. mayonnaise
Paprika for garnish

In small skillet over medium-high heat, cook chorizo slices until crispy. Remove to paper towel to drain. When cool, halve and reserve.

Hard-boil eggs using my method. Halve hard-boiled eggs, removing yolks and putting them in a small mixing bowl and placing whites on serving tray. Mash yolks with fork until there are no lumps. Add mustard, finely grated horseradish and mayonnaise and combine, stirring well until smooth, adjusting horseradish to taste (it can vary in strength and heat depending on where it's from, how old it is, etc., so start light and adjust). Fill halves of whites with yolk mixture. Top each egg with a half slice of chorizo.

Place a fine sieve over a small bowl and add paprika. Carefully lift the sieve about 10" above the eggs and tap the edge to gently shower them with a dusting of the paprika. Serve. 

* Spanish-style chorizo is a salami-like cured product. If you can't find authentic Spanish chorizo at your specialy grocer (like Providore), Fra' Mani makes a Salametto Piccante, or you can use Olympia Provisions' chorizo.

In Season: Spring at Last, Especially for Lovers of Young Green Things

"For people who love greens, this is the best time of the year."
- Josh Alsberg, Rubinette Produce

I've said that the only thing that keeps me from weeping crocodile tears at the end of chicory season every year is the appearance of those bundles of flower sprouts called, variously, raab, rabe or rapini at my farmers' market.

Quoting Ginger Rapport of the Beaverton Farmers Market from the post linked above:

"Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables of the family Brassicacae, known as Brassicas or Crucifers. They include: cauliflower, broccoli, mustard greens, arugula, bok choy, kales and cabbages to name a few. Rapini and broccoli rabe are close cousins and are often used interchangeably. They are in the same subspecies as the turnip, hence they have the characteristically slightly bitter taste of this group. They do not form the large heads that we see in broccoli.

"The flower buds of brassicas from the turnip family are often referred to as rabe, or raab, derived from rapa, which means turnip in Italian. This time of the year, you will find the rabes of many types of brassicas in the market—kale, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, turnips, bok choy and Chinese cabbage."

As is my habit at the beginning of every season, I called on Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce to get the 411 on what to look for at local farmers' markets in the next month or so.

While it feels a bit early, Josh said we are seeing local asparagus appearing, albeit in limited quantities until Easter weekend, so those who simply must have some, get thee out of bed at the crack—or "butt-crack" as my friend Clare Carver refers to it—of dawn to wait in line at your preferred farm's booth, because it will sell out quickly. Alsberg got 250 pounds of early asparagus into the shop from Middleton Six Sons Farms in Pasco, Washington, and it sold out almost immediately.

And those early spears? He said they had marvelous flavor, "nice'n'snappy," and admitted that early season asparagus, as with many crops, is usually the best in terms of having more robust flavor. And if you see spears that have a slight kink or bend in them? Alsberg said it's most likely caused by windy conditions in the field—spears will bend into the wind rather than swaying with it, causing them to have a bent appearance. Who knew?

In addition to green asparagus, the purple version will also be available, along with purple sprouting broccoli—aka PSB—an overwintered crop that is planted in the fall. Like many purple-tinged vegetables, the color will disappear if it's boiled or steamed so, next to serving it raw, either roasting or sautéing is your best bet for retaining that gorgeous color.

Other greens to look for include arugula, sorrel, fava tops, pea shoots, and mizuna and other mustards. Gorgeous, vibrant heads of green, red and speckled lettuce will be showing up by the end of the month for your spring salads, and herbs like cilantro, parsley and chervil have already started popping up.

Alsberg notes that spring alliums are appearing on local farms' lists, so start pulling out your recipes for green garlic, spring onions and their Spanish cousins, calçots (left). (Get a recipe for grilled calçots with salbitxada sauce from a calçotada we attended.)

Foragers are already finding nettles, miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), fiddleheads, wild flowering onions and oxalis in their favorite hunting grounds, so those wild delights will be showing up by the baskets-full at local markets soon, too.

And because it comes up every year, I dutifully asked Alsberg when we might be seeing the first decently flavored local strawberries of the season. "Possibly by Mother's Day [May 8]," he said, noting that he's heard rumors the season may be delayed because of "weird" spring weather patterns. "But definitely by Memorial Day."

Sarah Pesout of The Fermentista: Put Something Fermented On It!

I had another one of those slap-my-forehead moments when I was reading Ginger Rapport's weekly newsletter from the Beaverton Farmers Market. As Market Master—I love that title—it's part of her job to not only recruit, interview and decide on vendors, but to test their products as well. This week she sampled a fermented product from Sarah Pesout of The Fermentista, putting it in a grilled cheese sandwich which she—like me—had never even thought of.

Grilled cheese sandwiches are a go-to favorite for most meals because they are easy, delicious and highly customizable. Over the years we have seen dozens—maybe hundreds—of combinations of bread, condiments, cheese and add-ins, all resulting in a gooey tasty sandwich. However, we have to confess that it never occurred to us to use sauerkraut as a solo add-in until we saw a recipe for a grilled cheese with sauerkraut and Dijon sandwich from Umami Girl

When we think of sauerkraut on a sandwich, most of us think of the classic Reuben which is made with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on rye bread slathered with Russian dressing. The sauerkraut acts as a counterbalance to the richness of the cheese, meat and dressing, much the way pickles do on other types of sandwiches.

Sarah Pesout of The Fermentista at the Beaverton Farmers Market.

The sharp fresh taste of the kraut helps cut through the rich fat of the cheese, making for a more balanced bite. This is especially true if you are using aged or sharp cheeses with a lot of flavor and fat. Once the idea of adding sauerkraut to a grilled cheese made sense to us, the next question was, what kind of sauerkraut do we use? So we turned to the market’s expert on the subject, Sarah Pesout, owner and chef of The Fermentista.

Sarah specializes in fermented vegetables from sauerkraut to salsa. Fermenting gives food a sour flavor without any added acid, which differs from pickling, which involves putting food into an acidic brine. Fermenting is a healthier and, in our opinion, tastier way to preserve vegetables such as cabbage. Sarah makes several delicious krauts so we asked for her recommendation. Market Master Ginger Rapport was leaning toward her Caraway Sauerkraut because she loves the hint of onion that Sarah adds to the mix. However she changed her mind at Sarah’s urging and instead picked up a jar of Fermented Leeks with Black Pepper.

Sarah explained that the leeks, like pickled onions, are a perfect accompaniment to grilled cheese and wanted us to know that she and her assistant hand-cut every leek she uses. Despite the resulting tears shed by the duo, they are committed to finely shredding the leeks by hand to avoid bruising and mangling of the otherwise sturdy allium. The final result is a product that is crunchy but not tough, full of flavor but not overpowering, and is a perfect match for a sharp cheddar and fontina grilled cheese on Jewish rye bread with Dijon mustard.

Note: In Ginger’s first sandwich she was very conservative with the leeks, not knowing what to expect. They were surprisingly gentle so she was much more generous with them in subsequent sandwiches and they were a big hit with her family.

The Beaverton Farmers Market one of the generous sponsors of Good Stuff NW. Top photo and middle photo by Beaverton Farmers Market. Bottom left photo of the sandwich I made with my husband's fabulous sourdough, organic sharp cheddar and my homemade sauerkraut!

Flour Market Opens on Killingsworth with Classic Breads, Pastries and More

Lisa Belt loves people, but she loves baked goods even more.

"I love everything in this store," she said, sweeping her arm above the counter packed with baskets of freshly baked loaves of sourdough, baguettes, challah and caraway rye at her newly opened Flour Market on Northeast 30th and Killingsworth. Those golden loaves are in addition to the croissants, cookies, crackers, granola, biscotti, blondies and…well…you get the picture.

I myself am particularly fond of the pastelitos, squared layers of shatteringly crisp, flaked croissant dough that Matt, the croissant savant at the market's production bakery, whose family has roots in Puerto Rico, made and filled with cream cheese and a guava paste that an aunt sent in a care package. Belt describes the market's signature panforte as a "grown-up treat that goes perfectly with tea, coffee, wine, or eggnog and whiskey. (Ask me how I know.)" I'm thinking it would be the perfect dessert at the end of an evening with a dram of my homemade nocino—I'll keep you posted on that one.

Lisa Belt welcomes customers to her Flour Market on Northeast 30th and Killingsworth.

The Flour Market retail store was born, oddly enough, out of the shutdown from the COVID pandemic. A few months before, Belt had been talking about buying the production bakery from the owners of Lovejoy Bakers, Marc and Tracy Frankel, which they'd created to supply breads for paninis for their Pizzicato Pizza locations. Lisa had been managing the bakery and Lovejoy cafés for nearly 10 years, and when the Frankels decided to retire and sell the business, she figured buying it was better than being out of a job herself, not to mention all the bakers and production staff who would be out on the street.

By the time COVID hit Belt had acquired several wholesale accounts and was able to keep most of the staff on at the production facility filling orders, and there was enough street traffic at its location near OMSI and the Eastbank Esplanade to do a brisk takeout business in pastries on Saturdays. Customers started asking if she could also sell them flour, yeast and sourdough starter for bread, ingredients that were in short supply due to the baking frenzy generated by the pandemic lockdown. The successful no-contact takeout business made Belt start thinking a retail location might be a good idea.

Flour Market's pastelito made by croissant savant Matt, filled with guava paste and cream cheese.

So with COVID restrictions easing and people being more comfortable meeting with friends indoors, the idea of opening a retail location made even more sense. It so happened that Biga, another project of the Frankel's, closed down its location on Killingsworth, right around the corner from Extracto Coffee, providing the perfect opportunity for Belt to act on her idea.

Plans for the future include a menu of items Belt refers to as "bread adjacent" like toasts with simple, seasonal toppings and a granola, yogurt and fresh fruit bowl, plus a menu of sandwiches geared to the market's plethora of savory loaves. She's also got ideas for a specialty "bread of the month," perhaps a honey whole wheat that's currently in development with her team at the bakery or, in a nod to her Northern European ancestry, a traditional Danish rye bread called rugbrød or Swedish limpa, a lighter rye with a hint of orange that her mother used to make for the family when Belt was a child.

With a long history in managing restaurants and food establishments in Portland—overseeing the reboot of Genoa and its sister bistro, Accanto, running World Cup Coffee's stores, and her work at Lovejoy—she knows how critical it is to have a business that not only works for her but also for the employees. So if you ask, as one customer did recently, if Belt had made the mountains of baked goods herself, she'd respond by laughing and shaking her head, then proceed to point at each item on the counter and name the person who'd made it.

Oh, and did I mention that it's a little over a half hour's walk from my front door? Talk about an opportunity!

Farm Bulletin: A Simple, Intuitive, Tactile Form of Communicating the Day's Wages

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. 

Chester blackberries.

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.

Punchcards require punches.

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.

Punches that became known as the bat, sweepy lady and the fireplug.

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.

On occasion, a card would be lost and a replacement was issued (left).

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.