Guest Post: Corn and Beans

Josh Volk is the farmer at Cully Neighborhood Farm. This essay originally appeared on the farm's blog. You can read a profile of Josh and his work.

We grew out eight of our dry bean varieties this summer and between the good weather and giving them a head start by transplanting, for the first time we actually got them in earlier than ever. So I figured it was time to make a post with more description of each variety.

I’ll list them in order from left to right in the photo below. At the bottom of the post I’ll describe the two corn varieties that we grew with the beans (and have been growing for many years now).

Dry Beans

If you’ve only ever had canned beans, or bought dry beans from the bulk section, these are a completely different experience. They cook easily and evenly and have an extra layer of flavor. In general these all have delicate skins and cook well by soaking overnight, then bringing to a boil and gently simmering for as little as 20 minutes, although as they get older they’ll take a bit longer, maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Add salt and other seasoning to taste, generally about one to two teaspoons of salt per pound. Alternatively, I really like to use the residual heat from baking in my oven to cook the beans gently by putting them in a covered, heatproof container and baking them instead of cooking them on the stove top—same directions otherwise. Be sure to save the cooking liquid, which is delicious.

Nico Cannellini. This is the one bean I haven’t cooked with much! They were brought to me as a gift from a farmer in Tuscany a few years ago and I’ve been slowly increasing the amount I’ve been growing. This is the same farmer who I got the polenta corn from and I don’t know if there’s really a variety name, but I’ve just named the beans after his farm, Agricola Biologica Nico. On a side note, the Pescia and Piattella white beans we grow [see descriptions below] are also cannellini types, but each is distinct in size and shape, with subtle flavor differences.

Swedish Brown. I’ve been growing this bean for so long I don’t even remember where I got it or why. I’ve probably been growing it for 25 years now and I just really like the flavor. It’s a bit like a pinto bean, but so much more flavorful.

Piattella. I got this one from a grower in Italy who also uses corn for trellising. It’s a Slow Food Ark variety [link here] and you might try to find it from the Italian growers if you really like it and [in that way] support their efforts to keep it growing in its traditional areas.

If you’ve only ever had canned beans, or dry beans
from the bulk section, these are a completely different experience.

Yellow Forest (Giele Wâldbeantsje). This is another Slow Food Ark variety [link here]. It’s from the Netherlands and does pretty well here. Flavor wise it’s similar to the Swedish Brown beans but it’s much larger. As these beans age in storage their color changes from light yellow to a darker yellow, and there’s some variation even when they are newly dried.

Pescia (Sorana). A great little white bean, very tender and tasty. Lane Selman and I brought this back from Italy by request for Uprising Seeds in 2014 and they shared seeds from their first grow out with me the following year. I’ve been growing it since then and it’s a favorite for its great flavor and early drying on the vine. It’s a Slow Food Ark and Presidium variety under the name Sorana and you might try to find it from the Italian growers if you really like it and [in that way] support their efforts to keep it growing in its traditional areas. Uprising calls it Pescia, after the area where it is grown, as the Sorana name is protected and should only be used by growers in the protected area.

Tolosaka. This is my name for the tolosa black bean, which I’ve been growing since 2007. This is a beautiful, large, deeply black bean that is from the Basque region of Spain. Look it up, apparently it’s famous [Uprising Seeds offers it]. I just know it’s delicious and one of my favorites.

Red Forest (Reade Krobbe). Another Dutch Slow Food Ark variety [link here]. As with all of these beans I just like eating these by themselves, but they’re also very good in soups as they hold their shape well. I’ve also made red bean paste with them for sweets.

White Runner (Katherine’s). All of the other beans we grow are Phaseolus vulgaris, but these are Phaseolus coccineus. They are related to the more common Scarlet Runner beans but have white flowers and beans. As with all runner beans I’ve had they are very large with delicious meaty interiors and incredibly delicate skins when cooked. My friend Katherine Deumling was my original source for this variety and a neighbor of her family in Salem was the grower. I don’t remember the variety name, just that I got them from her and that they grow better for me than the better known Corona White Runner bean—which is even larger, but doesn’t ripen well here (even these runner beans are a little marginal and tend to mature a bit late).


Dakota Black Popcorn. pops bright white and with great fresh popcorn flavor, not at all like the big stale stuff you get in most bulk bins. If you have a grinder that will grind hard corn it makes a good addition to pancakes and bread (popcorn is very hard and many grinders aren’t strong enough to grind it).

Otto File Polenta Corn. A number of years ago I was in Italy and visited a wonderful little biodynamic market farm in Lucca. The farmer gave me an ear of his golden polenta corn (otto file, meaning eight rows in Italian, because there are eight rows of kernels on the slender cobs). I ended up planting it in my garden and it made amazing polenta—tons of corn flavor, beautiful golden color, slightly sweet—so I grew more. We use a relatively inexpensive Corona hand cranked grist mill to grind it into polenta, but there are many other options out there (these mills will also grind popcorn).  It can also be cooked whole, but it does not make good nixtamal in my opinion—very gummy.

Top photo of a simple bean, green cabbage and bacon soup with carrots, onions and garlic.

Winter Breakfast Warm-Up: Applesauce Bran Muffins from The Bread Lab

Back in my college days in the 1970s, bran muffins were lumped into the category of "hippie food" along with granola, hummus, brown rice and pretty much all whole foods.

Stewed prunes from Joy of Cooking, 1955 edition.

In my grandmother's time, bran and other foods, like prunes, were used as "digestive aids," a euphemism for their laxative properties. I remember my grandmother, a ranch wife in Eastern Oregon, putting up a dozen jars of stewed prunes every winter, the little black fruits doled out in moderation lest they prove too effective at their task.

I, of course, would sneak them out of their hiding place in her fridge whenever I thought she wasn't looking, enjoying their savory sweetness and even sipping the syrup they were preserved in—with no discernible ill effect as far as my grade-school self could tell.

(I was kind of a weird kid, foodwise, preferring having a slice of pie to a frosting-slathered cake, chewing on raw rhubarb to sucking on candy and generally favoring savory to sweet. But I digress.)

Because "it'll help you poop"
isn't all that appetizing.

After my grandmother's day, bran's laxative superpower slid easily into the "health food" arena, synchronizing nicely with the booming weight loss industry of the 1950s and 60s. One television commercial from the era advised that if you consumed bran cereal it would promote "youthful regularity," and an article on the contemporary history of bran stated that "multiple diets emerged on the scene promoting bran as either the foundation of a healthy nutrition plan, or the secret weapon for preserving a rapid weight-loss strategy."

Here at home these days, bran is a fortuitous byproduct of Dave's home-milling, a result of grinding whole wheat for his sourdough bread and then sifting it to remove some (but not all) of the bran to get the result he wants. The recipe below probably uses bran from the same sifting process—the Washington State University (WSU) Breadlab, a group of WSU researchers, are dedicated to developing better tasting, healthier, affordable grains to support small-scale organic farmers while not pricing people out of staple foods. (Read more about The Breadlab's origins.)

As for the dead-simple recipe below, apples of all stripes are available this time of year, so find a nice tart variety—we are currently in love with Ashmead's Kernel from Kiyokawa Family Orchards in Parkdale and Liberty apples from Queener Farm—and make your own applesauce, or simply core and dice one up, sauté it in a knob of butter until it's slightly tender, then mix into your muffin batter.

Applesauce Bran Muffins

From the WSU Breadlab: These apple sauce bran muffins are made with 100% unsifted Climate Blend, with a ton of extra bran added. We say it every few months, but we do not understand bran muffins that call for white flour. Our lab, along with soil scientists, plant breeders, food scientists and medical professionals, is participating in a USDA-funded Soil to Society grant to create more nutritious, affordable and accessible whole grain-based foods. From the soil to your table, we think a muffin is a good start.

1 1/2 c. any whole wheat flour
2 c. bran and germ (if you sift use that) or a good all-bran cereal
3/4 c. tart apple sauce [or sauté 1 medium-sized chopped apple in 1 Tbsp. butter until tender]
Scant 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. milk
1 egg
1/4 c. oil

Soak bran in milk for a few minutes. Add all other ingredients. Mix by hand. Adjust moisture as needed. [We didn't need to add any more milk.] Line a muffin tin with parchment baking cups and fill with batter. Bake for 20 minutes at 400°. If needed, you can broil for last 30 seconds or so to brown the tops. [We've never needed to broil them.]

News You Can Actually Use: The Newsletter is Back!

First: Read the latest newsletter here!

Here's a brief explanation of why you may have noticed its absence for the past (wince) couple of years:

First off, Dave's broken leg and subsequent rehab took the wind out of our sails for several months. (He's great now, btw…thanks Matt from Broadway Physical Therapy!)

Second, of course, COVID. While we have so far miraculously avoided its scourge, the psychological and spiritual toll it took on our household was grim, as it was with most folks. I liken it to the toll that the Great Depression and WWII took on my parents. While they were both very young during the Depression, and young adults in the war, they both had been deeply affected by, and could recall in detail, the experiences they had and the effect those events had on them, their families and their communities.

Third, and perhaps most significantly, it took a surprisingly long time to find an e-mail newsletter service I wanted to partner with, since the Good Stuff NW mailing list had grown beyond my personal e-mail server's capacity. Most of the large companies in that arena track subscribers and compile data, which they may—or may not, or may at some point in the future—sell to outside actors. Compiling and storing that data also creates a security issue if they ever get hacked. And they don't allow users to turn off that "feature" to protect their subscribers.

Buttondown, the service I eventually chose, allows users to turn off tracking, and it says it doesn't store or compile data. It's simple to use and very basic, qualities I admire. We'll see how it goes.

If you've read this far, good on you! If you want to subscribe to the newslettter, use the link provided under the search bar at the top right. If you decide you no longer want to receive it, there's a link to unsubscribe at the bottom of each newsletter.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Photo at top of my neighbor's blueberry bush that I took today!

Guest Essay: Haunted in Port Townsend

It's the holiday known as Samhain or All Hallows Eve—Halloween to you trick-or-treaters out there—and I thought it might be appropriate to repost this story from my friend, Laurie Harquail, who wrote about a very unusual experience she had on a visit to one of my favorite destinations, Port Townsend, Washington.

Chapter One: Arrival

It was not a dark and stormy night.

In fact, it was the longest day of the year, and I had taken a Summer Solstice jaunt to the historic seaside town of Port Townsend, staying in what appeared to be a charming Victorian hotel on the main drag.

The lovely setting for this tale.

After a four-and-a-half hour drive, I walked into the main lobby of The Palace Hotel—sun blazing a trail in the late summer afternoon sky—and immediately asked the front desk clerk, Bob, “Are you going to tell me this hotel is haunted?”

And why did I blurt out this odd question? Because the main lobby had a strange kind of filmy feeling—as if a layer of gauze or a veil was laid over it. Before I continue, I must digress. I have stayed in numerous “historic” B&Bs by myself, both here and abroad. I had also been in countless older homes for my previous job at Rejuvenation—and I had never encountered a place quite like this.

OK, now back to the story.

In regard to my question, Bob gave a nervous chuckle and told me the hotel “does have an interesting past” as a seaport brothel. In a half-hearted attempt at transparency, he offered me the hotel’s binder containing guest reviews.

For reasons I can’t fully explain (the reoccurring theme of the weekend) I told Bob I wasn't up for the binder, and that I’d prefer to remain objective. Bob then asked if I’d mind paying up front. And again, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I tentatively handed over my credit card and committed to my stay.

Chapter Two: Settling In

I followed Bob as he scurried up the main staircase which was presided over by a large portrait, "The Lady in Blue," and he planted my small suitcase in Room 4, Miss Claire’s room.

"The Lady in Blue"

Despite its tawdry past, Miss Claire’s room was airy and bright. I entered, but immediately froze in my tracks. The vibe overwhelmed me. It felt like something was in the room—but I couldn’t see it. More specifically, it felt like a patch of sad energy gently hovering overhead—kind of like an invisible, clinically depressed blimp.

My first instinct was to bolt, but after a few minutes of self-talk ("There is NOTHING WRONG with this room, Laurie.") I decided to stay. To get the weekend off to the right start, I sent “the presence” a telepathic greeting (no joke). Something to the effect of “Hey Miss Claire, you seem kind of down, and I’m sorry about that, and I know this is your room, and I’ll be a really good roommate."

I hit the telepathic “send” button and started to unpack.

Usually, for record-keeping purposes, I would take pictures in a historic hotel, but I decide not to use my camera (or for that matter, turn on the TV), fearing the camera flash or electronic devices might trigger a paranormal event. (Again, no joke).

I realized I was truly beginning to grasp the Victorian concept of "going mad."

“Shake it off,” I told myself. I pulled myself back from the brink, bucked up and headed out to dinner. After a lovely meal and a healthy dose of wine at The Silverwater Café, I headed back to Room 4. With the table lamp on, I went to sleep. Thankfully, the night was uneventful.

Chapter Three: Things Get a Little Lively

Saturday morning arrived, and summer light flooded the room early. “How ironic," I thought. “My own little version of 'The Shining.'" I got up and did a gut check on the room. I felt Miss Claire was not present—perhaps she was out running errands. (Do ghosts run errands?)

Miss Claire's room.

I headed out for a normal day of sightseeing, and made sure to leave the room extra tidy, thinking that if Miss Claire moved anything while I was out, I’d be able to tell. I returned later that afternoon after an invigorating bike ride to Fort Worden. The room felt normal. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed, then started to get ready to go out for an early dinner. Although at this point I was trying my best to apply makeup while NOT looking in the mirror, since I know from childhood slumber parties that mirrors and apparitions go hand-in-hand. (Mary Worth, are you listening?)

And wouldn’t you know, while primping, the closed door to my room popped open in that scary movie kind of way—creaky sound effect and all. “Hmmmm…” I thought to myself. “Pretty sure that was closed." I shrugged it off and attributed it to an old building with old locks. I continued to blindly apply mascara, when suddenly I felt something behind me.

That's when I broke out in goose bumps, quickly brushed my hair and left. “She’s back," I think, “So I’ll just let her have the room to herself for a few hours.”

I feared I was starting to lose it.

Dinner was another lovely meal at the the Silverwater, washed down with two very large glasses of wine. After taking in some live music and knocking back another stiff drink, I felt fortified and ready to return to Miss Claire’s room. “One more night,” I said to myself.

It was still twilight when I returned, but I decided to turn in early. I switched on the table lamp, got into bed, pulled the covers over my head and hoped for the best. I drifted off.

Fast forward a few hours. I was sound asleep—that is, until the locked door once again mysteriously popped open. I sat bolt upright in bed, and said loudly, “Hello? Hello?” No answer. I walked to the open door and looked out into the still-lit hall. I saw nothing.

And then I had a funny thought—an epiphany of sorts. I realized that I don’t really WANT to see anything. I’m tired of this ghost stuff, and I was now more annoyed with, than scared of, Miss Claire. She reminded me of so many roommates from days past, stumbling in late on a Saturday night, probably drunk, but meaning no harm.

At least she didn’t bring home a guy.


Sunday morning arrived, bright and sunny. My first thought of the day was, “I’m getting the hell out of here." I skipped the shower (no more creepy bathroom for me), quickly packed up and say goodbye to Miss Claire. This time I spoke out loud, for I was no longer in denial about her existence.

But before I left, I did review “the binder” which was chock full of experiences similar to mine—and then some. I also learned that legend has it Miss Claire was engaged to be married, but was jilted by a sailor who left her at the dock. Her never-used wedding gown was stashed in a trunk found in Room 4.

I hit the road. By the time I got to Tacoma, I realized I've spent the weekend with a broken-hearted ghost, and I had a full-blown case of the heebie-jeebies. For closure, I call Front Desk Bob when I got home and told him my tale. Bob confirmed that my story was “consistent with other events” at the hotel.

I guess that’s paranormal-speak for this stuff goes on all the time. As for me, I still sleep with a light on.

Photos from Palace Hotel and KOMO News.

Travel Diary: Low-Key Sojourn in West Seattle

Seattle: The Space Needle. Pike Place Market. The Monorail. SAM, MoPOP and the Experience Music Project. But on a recent trip we found those iconic spots are only one side of the city's story—literally.

West Seattle makes it easy to
travel with pets.

It had been years since we'd ventured up north, but I'd been wanting to visit my friend and cookbook author Cynthia Nims, having been titillated by the beautiful shots she'd posted on Instagram from her walks through her West Seattle neighborhood. We set a date for a road trip north, and she suggested The Grove West Seattle Inn as a centrally located (and pet-friendly) spot to stay. It's a classic mid-century, two-story motel built for the flood of tourists that came to town to attend the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Even better, its rates were easily half of what we'd find downtown.

A peninsula separated from the downtown area by the Duwamish Waterway on its eastern flank and the Puget Sound on the north and west, hilly West Seattle is primarily residential, populated by almost one-fifth of the city's residents. Much like the east side of Portland, it's connected to downtown by a bridge and has thriving, active neighborhoods with busy shopping and dining areas. It's chock-full of locally owned businesses, and includes many parks with sweeping views of the water.

Smoke is the byword at Lady Jaye.

From Cynthia's photos, though, I was particularly drawn to the beaches that wrap around its rolling hills (top video). The paved, beach-side pathways allow bike-able, pedestrian-friendly access with spectacular water views, and the broad avenues sweep along them are lined on the other side with restaurants, bars and shops.

With Cynthia's list of suggested restaurants, most of which were a ten-minute-or-less drive from our digs, we chose the well-reviewed and promising-sounding Lady Jaye Smokehouse & Restaurant for dinner our first night. Promising a butcher shop, whiskey bar and barbecue, with an intriguing cocktail menu and reasonable prices, it was an easy pick. (The owners have also just opened a bakery-and-sandwiches spot called Little Jaye in South Park's Cloverdale Business Park.)

Luna Park Cafe is a West Seattle classic.

We got a table in the front window overlooking the busy sidewalk—the people-watching was excellent—while we perused the menu and I tried not to chug my mango shrub after the day's drive. Most of the mains came with a choice of three sides, so when their justifiably notorious Prime Bugogi Short Rib (above right) arrived on a platter with a huge pile of fries, watermelon salad and another pile of blistered shisito peppers, I was suitably bowled over. Dave's choice of the Smoked Pork New York was equally impressive, with three thick slices of meat, meltingly tender and luscious along with the requisite sides.

The evening was cool and clear, and I was determined to head to Alki Beach on the peninsula's northwestern side to catch the last rays of the sunset as it dropped into the Sound. Plus it gave us the opportunity to walk the dogs before collapsing into our beds (video, top).

Beignets well worth the wait.

Somehow by the next morning we were hungry again and decided to drop by the West Seattle landmark, the Luna Park Café with its eclectic 1950s-inspired decor that looked like your grandparents' attic (plus maybe their storage unit) had exploded inside. The retro diner menu is classic, with items divided into "piles, hobos, scrambles and omelettes"—basically homefries topped with eggs, homefries mixed into eggs (basically the same as a scramble) and homefries inside an egg wrap, respectively. Clever, and also well worth a visit.

Dinner was taken care of by an exclusive invite to dine chez Cynthia with her husband Bob in their mid-century home with, as Cynthia described it, "a million-dollar view…from the driveway." So the by-now-drizzly afternoon beforehand was spent napping and reading until it was time to head to their place.

Support local even when traveling!

The next morning we emerged from our room with the dogs for their morning walk and right across the street from our motel we saw a sign saying "FRESH BEIGNETS" in front of a nondescript warehouse. This deserved investigating, so I approached the plastic-flapped entrance to Jet City Beignet and rang the bell. A sign taped to a stand read "two for $6," which sounded like a deal. I ordered from the nice young woman who popped out, and a few minutes later the pups and I—Dave's lactose intolerance prevented him indulging—were munching on a box of the hot, fresh, crunchy pastries. (Never fear, Dave got his pastry at a coffee spot nearby.)

Find stellar brews and pub fare
at Elliott Bay.

The 2.5-mile trek from home to the West Seattle Farmers Market is Cynthia's regular workout on Sundays, and we'd arranged to meet and tour the market, then head to the nearby Elliott Bay Brewing Company for lunch with our husbands. A bustling market equivalent in size to our own Hillsdale market, it's always a delight to see a community come together over local food.

The guys were already well into their pints by the time we tore ourselves away from the market, and Elliott Bay proved its bonafides, to me, at least, with an extensive selection of its own organic beers—now sadly lacking in PDX brewpubs—and some of the best pub fare I've had in recent memory.

Silas and his friend Bruun Idun.

More rain was forecast for most of our last day, but we were intent on making a pilgrimage to Lincoln Park' for a hike and a visit with Bruun Idun, its resident troll, part of the Northwest Trolls: Way of the Bird King project, a series of giant hand-built troll sculptures by Danish environmental artist Thomas Dambo:

"At night there was a storm, there at the beach where she was born
And Idun felt a feeling wrong, and so she walked there in the dawn
And on her flute, the magic horn, a tune so passionate and strong
She played for them an orca song
To ask them where they all have gone."

The LOVE rock is a local landmark in West Seattle's Lincoln Park.

The other must-see before we left was to the renowned LOVE rock that Cynthia has immortalized on her blog.  She describes it as "the letters L-O-V-E spelled out in some manner of mostly-beach-collected materials," once including a green apple Jolly Rancher.

Myriad trails run through the park, some well-marked and some not, but there is always the water on the west and the street on the east, so it's difficult for even my directionally challenged self to go astray. A long waterside beach with idiosynchratic driftwood "sculptures" scattered along its length with a paved walkway running next to it, this is a spectacular park and even has its own public outdoor saltwater pool open in the summer months.

Discovering this other, much more low-key—and less expensive—side of Seattle was a delightful, eye-opening experience, and with downtown only a few minutes' drive across the bridge, we'll definitely be returning. Thanks, Cynthia—you truly are the "unofficial Walking West Seattle ambassador"!

Once Renowned Oregon Dairies Decimated by Factory Farms

How much is that grilled cheese sandwich worth to you?

It may seem like an odd question until you consider that the decline in American dairy farms has been catastrophic (see animation below). According to FarmAid, in 1934 some 5.2 million dairy farms dotted America’s countryside, but between 1997 and 2017, the U.S. lost half of its 72,000 remaining dairies and today fewer than 28,000 licensed dairy herds remain.

Thousands of small dairies once populated Oregon.

In Oregon, once renowned for the quality of its dairy products, one historian said that in 1914 there were 1,004 licensed dairies in Portland alone. A recent article in Portland Monthly states that the number of licensed dairies in Oregon dropped from around 500 in 1990 to 192 in 2020 and that, on average, Oregon is losing about six dairy farms a year. 

Loss of Dairy Farms in America: 1970 - 2023. From 460,000 dairy farms to 28,000 dairy farms.

Interestingly, while the number of individual dairy farms in Oregon has been dropping like a rock, the number of dairy cows has remained fairly steady. That's because of the influx of industrial factory farm dairies—aka "mega-dairies"—that have flooded into Oregon due to our lax environmental regulations that classify these industrial facilities as "farms" instead of the factories that they really are.

The largest is North Dakota-owned Threemile Canyon Farms, a 70,000-cow industrial facility that supplies the vast majority of the milk used to make Tillamook cheese and its ice cream, yogurt and other products. It's also one of the two largest in the United States, according to an article in Columbia Insight on mega-dairies' use (and abuse) of our water resources. Ironically it has called itself a "family farm" in public hearings in Salem.

As my friend, organic dairy farmer Jon Bansen noted on his tour of Threemile Canyon, "The scale is impressive, but the biology is horrifying."

Of the wells tested so far, around a quarter have contained high levels of the dangerous nitrates that have plagued the Lower Umatilla Basin since at least 1990.

Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), an organization that advocates for Oregon's small family farmers, posted recently that mega-dairies have played a major role in driving dairy farmers off the land, stating that they over-produce and flood the market with cheap milk, making it impossible for small dairy farmers to compete, while externalizing their environmental and social costs on the state's taxpayers.

Wells on the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area in Umatilla and Morrow Counties (black dots) and the approximate locations of two mega-dairies (in red).

As an example, FoFF's post states that last May Governor Tina Kotek met with community members in Boardman—where several industrial agricultural facilities, including feedlots and mega-dairies, are located—where she set a deadline to test for nitrate contamination from agriculture from all 3,300 wells used by households (see map, above). Testing on that scale is a huge expense that will be borne by taxpayers rather than the polluters, but as of the deadline at the end of September state agencies had only managed to test 1,001 of the domestic wells in the Lower Umatilla Basin. Of the wells tested so far, around a quarter have contained high levels of the dangerous nitrates that have plagued the Lower Umatilla Basin since at least 1990.

It’s shameful taxpayers are left with the bill instead of agribusiness and industry
which have profited while contaminating the state's groundwater.

The federal government is stepping in to help with some of the cost to address the water crisis in the two counties affected, announcing $1.7 million dollars in federal aid to help deal with nitrate contamination in private wells. But according to Kristin Anderson Ostrom, Oregon Rural Action executive director quoted in the Hermiston (OR) Herald, "Folks can’t live out of 5-gallon bottles forever, and they shouldn’t have to. This is really just a long-awaited first step and there’s a lot of work to do to build on the testing we’ve already done.”

Ostrom added that it’s shameful taxpayers are left with the bill instead of agribusiness and industry, which have profited while contaminating the state's groundwater.

So what is having that grilled cheese sandwich worth to you considering the costs outlined above?

As I said in a recent post on social media, the fact that these industrial facilities were—and still are—allowed to operate on a federally designated, at-risk aquifer is outrageous. Oregon's taxpayers are and will be on the hook for the clean-up for decades while these extractive industries will be given a slap on the wrist (if anything) while continuing to operate.

Read my coverage of mega-dairies in Oregon, and why it's critical that we try to buy local when possible. Top photo of Mayflower Dairy delivery wagon from the fascinating website PDX History.

Autumn Sweetness: Plum Upside-Down Cake

Some seasonal treats are worth waiting all year to make. Think of a tart rhubarb crisp or maybe a berry jam from the first berries of summer when the pectins are at their peak. Or nocino, a walnut liqueur made from green walnuts in the embryonic stage before they form a hard outer shell.

Italian prunes.

While plums are delightful, their cousins the Italian prunes are some of my personal favorites for preserves or desserts, and this time of year I'm bound to literally run across them on the sidewalks of my neighborhood.

A fascinating piece of local history I came across is that Oregon owes the introduction of the Italian prune to one Dr. Orlando Pleasant Shields Plummer (below right).* Other sources credit nurseryman Henderson Luelling with the introduction of the Italian prune to the state around the same time.

Dr. Orlando P. S. Plummer.

Plummer was a medical doctor, professor and the first dean of the medical school at Willamette University, in addition to being a telegraph operator and a fruit farmer. He was also elected to both the Portland City Council (1865-66) and the Oregon Legislative Assembly (in 1880 and 1882).

An avid horticulturist, he owned a 20-acre fruit farm in Southwest Portland, planting his first prune trees, a variety called Fellenberg, in the late 1850s. By 1927 the variety had grown in popularity to the point where there were 55,000 acres of Italian prunes growing on farms in Oregon and Clark County, Washington.

Obviously some were also planted in parking strips in my neighborhood, and their fruit makes a mighty fine cake.

Plum Upside-down Cake

For baking pan/dish:
3/4 c.butter, softened, divided
1/2 c. packed brown sugar (for buttered pan)

For cake:
2 c. fresh prunes or plums, pitted and halved
3/4 c. sugar
1 lg. egg, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk

Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt 1/4 cup butter; pour into an ungreased 9-in. round baking pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Arrange plum halves in single layer over sugar.

In a large bowl, cream sugar and remaining butter until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Spoon over plums.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate. Serve warm.

* From Corning, Howard M. (1989) "Dictionary of Oregon History," Binfords & Mort Publishing, p. 199.

In Season: Falling in Love with Fall

Fall is a contradictory season in the Pacific Northwest. We mourn the loss of long evenings on the patio with friends, but welcome the cooling temperatures at night—what my family calls "good sleeping weather." The breezy clothes and sandals get stashed back in the closet, but that means it's time to dig out our favorite sweaters and jeans from the storage bins under the bed.

Bean stew with chimichurri.

We'll miss grilling steaks and big pans of paella over the fire, but the braising pot is singing its siren song of long-simmered pot roasts and spare ribs. Pea shoots and summer squash give way to corn and seafood chowders and hearty bean stews. And I can't forget the panoply of chicories that local farms are growing, from dark red radicchio and treviso to castelfranco with its paler-than-pale yellow leaves slashed with splashes of pink.

Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce put it bluntly. "Anything summer is over," he said without a trace of wistfulness. That's because it's high season for fruit from his favorite Northwest growers, from grapes to figs to pears, adding "we're headlong into apples."

Josh Alsberg, Rubinette Produce.

Word of his produce passion is apparently getting around, since he has been recognized by the International Fresh Produce Association for his work with local schools, choosing six out-of-the-ordinary varieties for a blind taste test with students. He demonstrated how to score the apples based on attributes like taste, crunch, density, and other factors. Then teachers turned the activity into math and health teaching opportunities.

As far as what you'll be finding at our local farmers' markets in addition to the apples, pears and figs mentioned above, Alsberg said it's time for winter squash to start rolling in. If you're looking for inspiration that'll take you beyond butternut's stranglehold, check for some terrific recipes from the Culinary Breeding Network's Eat Winter Vegetables team. When buying winter squash, Alsberg cautions to be on the lookout for soft spots and try to buy squash with the stem intact, since the absence of a stem is an invitation for mold to set in around the ring.

Local cranberries? Grab 'em!

It may seem early but if you find local cranberries, buy them now rather than waiting. They freeze well and will be a their best for your holiday feasting. Why is it such a challenging year? Consolidation in the industry—hello Ocean Spray and giant Wisconsin producers—has driven prices down to the point where Oregon's once-thriving cranberry farms can't compete, and many are giving up their bogs entirely and getting out of the business.

The smell of peppers roasting will be wafting through the aisles at farmers' markets, with peppers ripening a bit later than usual this year due to our cool early summer temperatures. Alsberg is particularly excited about the new "Habanada" variety, described as the first truly heatless habanero, hence the haba-nada, get it? He added that it's a good year for the beloved Jimmy Nardello peppers, which seem to be sweeter this year.

Castelfranco chicory.

You'll find an early onset of chicories, which local farmers are adapting to debut in the fall rather than their usual appearance later in winter. Lettuces will still be available at least until the first frost, with watercress, spigarello and puntarelle on the way.

The roots are coming on strong as well, with hakurei salad turnips, radishes, rutabaga, sunchokes, carrots and zingy local celery that Alsberg refers to as "the adult version of celery." It's expected to be banner year for foraged mushrooms, with prices on the intoxicating golden chanterelles already getting into affordable territory, along with local porcini, matsutake and even truffles if we get an early freeze. Another caution: Alsberg advises buying foraged mushrooms from a reputable dealer since some porcinis have been found to be wormy—ask the vendor to cut into them if you have doubts.

Tropea onions.

It is, of course, brassica season, time for brussels sprouts, romanesco, cauliflower in a rainbow of colors, its cousin fioretto, a sprouting cauliflower, and sprouting broccoli. Alsberg says local garlic in many new varieties is being grown and is worth taste testing to find your favorite, and you can now find locally grown ginger appearing on vendors' tables, a treasure for lovers of ethnic cooking.

Alliums abound for onion-lovers, with the mild, elongated tropea onion the fresh face in town that's turning heads on restaurant menus and foodie tables alike. Potatoes and different varieties of fingerlings are de rigeur this time of the year, as are leeks, fennel and "anything bulby" according to Alsberg, who's fond of a new-ish variety of beet called Badger Flame, a gorgeous flame-red, cylindrical beauty with concentric rings (similar to Chioggia beets) whose colors deepen as the season progresses.

All in all, a good season to get thee to your local farmers' market!

Photo of tropea onions from Johnny's Seeds.

Garden Tips: Make Your Own Dirt!

Now that our fall rains have started, it's time to get out in the yard and do some cleanup and planting. While the late local garden maven Dulcy Mahar didn't recommend spreading compost until after Thanksgiving, I thought it might be good to rerun this post from 2009 (!) for planning purposes.

It was one of those invitations you just don't get very often. Like meeting the queen of England (or, more to my liking, her Corgis).

David Kobos.

So when David Kobos (left)*, whom I was interviewing about the history of coffee roasting in Portland for an upcoming MIX magazine article on local micro-roasters, mentioned that he has an annual gathering to make dirt and would I be interested, I jumped at the chance. I mean, how often do you get to find out that kind of thing? Plus the invitation included not only a tour of his organic farm but a big breakfast and some ass-kicking coffee to wash it all down with.

Last Sunday found me tooling out to the wilds of Clackamas County in, appropriately enough, Dave's old Toyota truck. I pulled up to the Kobos homestead, a gorgeous 1915 farmhouse that he and his wife, Susan, have spent the last few decades restoring. Out beyond it were his geese, a sheep and about 80 chickens, plus a huge organic garden with the most beautiful soil I've seen in a long time.

Hauling the compost to the garden.

After a couple of mugs of strong coffee (a Kenyan estate roast, Kobos pointed out) to fortify us for the dirt-making, Kobos, his son, Adam, and I headed out to the little barn, which was the original home on the property. David had set out all the supplies, so we spent the next hour or so filling buckets, sieving the peat moss and compost to remove debris (top photo) and mixing it in his ancient wheelbarrow (right). By the end we had eight or so 50-lb. bags of gorgeous seed-starting mix, which Kobos said was also good for potting plants.

And that breakfast? I barely stopped eating long enough to notice what I was putting in my mouth, but I remember a lovely egg strata, light, sweet scones made by his daughter-in-law, Betty, and some authentic (and unbelievably delicious) Polish kielbasa that her parents had brought in their luggage from Queens. And of course, more of that wonderful coffee.

If you'd like to make your own dirt, Mr. Kobos has supplied the recipe.

Seed Starting Mix

From David Kobos of Kobos Coffee Company

Use a 2-gallon bucket for measuring:

3 buckets peat moss
3 buckets steer manure
1/2 c. dolomite lime
1 bucket perlite
1 bucket vermiculite
2 c. organic fertilizer

If not using sifted peat moss and steer manure, dump buckets onto 1/2" framed screen (photo, top) and sift by hand to remove debris. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly using a shovel or garden hoe. Using bucket, dump into 50 lb. seed bags. Makes 2 1/2 cubic feet.

NOTE: If you can't find Vermiculite, use double Perlite. The recipe above makes 2 1/2 cubic feet.

Organic Fertilizer Mixes

From David Kobos

These mixes are by volume, not weight.

Mix #1:
4 parts seed meal (cottonseed, soybean, linseed, etc.)
1 part dolomite lime
1 part ground phosphate rock (or 1/2 part bone meal)
1 part kelp meal

Mix #2:
1 part ground phosphate rock
1 part blood meal
1 part greensand

* David Kobos passed away in 2019. Read his obituary.

Farm Bulletin, Upstate New York Edition

In the time since Anthony and Carol Boutard sold their Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston nearly a year-and-a-half ago, I'm often asked about how they're doing at their new home in the small village of Penn Yan in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

I received a note from Carol yesterday that said, "I wanted you to see the borlotto I harvested a few days ago. I'm so glad our bean days aren't behind us!" The photo on the left was attached.

Touting their estimable contribution to our tables over 24 years of farming, breeding crops and sharing their expertise with the wider food community, a recent article at Oregon Public Broadcasting about Oregon's Legume Legacy noted, "the local bean boom was…invigorated by growers like Anthony Boutard, whose Ayers Creek Farm produced the gold standard of comestibles, appreciated mainly by the Northwest’s top chefs and die-hard home cooks."

Their legions of local fans would not disagree.

Read Anthony's original series of Farm Bulletins here and here.