Farm Bulletin: Propagating a Tropical Fruit in a Less-Than-Tropical Climate

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon, is always up for a challenge when it comes to adapting his favorite foodstuffs to our maritime climate.

Sweet potatoes are propagated as clones; shoots are cut from the tuber and rooted. Those slips are genetically identical to the tuber, absent a mutation, and assure the next crop will have a similar look, flavor and texture. The curse of uniformity is that life, at least for some of us, becomes very dull indeed when everything looks and tastes the same.

For diversity, the farmer must rely on sexual reproduction which leads to a reordering of the crop’s genome. As a tropical crop, the floral biology of the sweet potato is poorly adapted to our latitude and climate, actually completely worthless, at least in terms of reproduction. Sometimes they will flower, a lovely flower at that, but seed set is beyond their capabilities. Consequently, breeders must work their magic in subtropical and tropical locations.

Jay Bost, GoFarm Hawaii

In 2016, knowing our interest and experience in growing sweet potatoes in Oregon, Jay Bost of GoFarm Hawaii and John Hart of EarthWork Seeds approached us to see if we would plant some of their seeds they harvested from their breeding work on Hawaii. We were game, so they sent us some packages. The seeds are tiny and the instructions advised that the hard seed coat had to be nicked, then the seed soaked to assess viability. If the seed started to germinate we could plant it. Following this difficult protocol, Carol managed to start 250 plants and these were planted in the field.

That autumn, we pulled the plants and identified just five out of the 250 that had potential in this climate, and we weren’t especially fussy. Most failed to produce any tubers, those that did have swollen roots produced mere rat-tails as they are termed, about as plump as a pencil. A similar phenomenon occurs with tropical races of corn, the stalks grow and grow and grow and grow and grow, as though reaching for the moon, with nary an ear maturing by the time our frost falls. The difference with this breeding effort is that the breeders specifically selected parents with potential to produce tubers at this latitude. Even so, nature maintains the house odds. Bost and Hart were gambling against the tropical nature of the crop and only beat the house two percent of the time. On par with Las Vegas casinos or the state lotteries; actually not so bad when you think of it with that perspective.

John Hart, EarthWork Seeds.

Of the five successful plants from the 2016 planting, all were white-fleshed and tawny-skinned. Although we continued to propagate the other sweet potato varieties in our stable, by this year it was apparent that only one of the old guard remained, the obnoxiously named "White Delight" (top photo, upper left), and only a handful of tubers at that. The Bost and Hart sorts had swamped our genetic stable with their vigor and contentment in our climate. As far as I can tell, three sorts dominate. On the left, there is the long, smooth-skinned tuber with few lateral root scars. The second, at the top, is plumper with many more scars and a furrowed shape. The third is very large, distinctly furrowed, rotund, with a scurfy skin. Aside from appearance, they all have good flavor and pleasant sugar levels.

We will add that this year was a stellar sweet potato moment—an unstintingly hot and long growing season. Enjoy them. Oh yes, as someone who frets at stupid variety names, these tubers are, as yet, unnamed. Oh glorious anonimity! If you must name them, "The Bost & Hart Seedling Grex" is the correct way to refer to these tubers. "No Name Yet" also works just fine, and is just as smart. 

Last year, the New York Times had an article about the quest for quality sweet potatoes, or yams as is your wont. The lesson being, forget those in the grocery store. That is precisely why we grow our own.

Top photo by Anthony Boutard. Photo of Jay Bost from the GoFarm Hawaii website. Photo of John Hart by Shawn Linehan.

More Sustainable Meat and Seafood Traceable to the Source? Bring It On!

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 newspaper of 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."

Providore Fine Foods is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.

Before I Forget: Deconstructed Ratatouille

My first efforts here at Good Stuff NW were to simply record things I came across, from a new-to-me charcutiere in Seattle to a road trip south to Redding, California—which we promptly named after the Robert Mitchum classic "Thunder Road"—to a profile of our first Cardigan Corgi, Rosey. All themes that have remained mainstays of what has become my second career.

Northwest seasonal bounty in spades!

You see, GSNW—so much nicer than just "this blog," isn't it?—is also a record of sorts of my journey through food. It's chronicled my sense of betrayal when I found out how my until-then-beloved Tillamook cheese actually sources its milk, to discovering the true meaning of nose-to-tail eating through a pig named Roger. It included finding out that we do indeed have a "food system" here in the Northwest that impacts our health, our communities, the environment and the climate. Wow.

What does that have to do with ratatouille, you might rightly ask? Good question.

Since the beginning, I've also recorded favorite recipes* from the basics like a quick tomato sauce and mustard vinaigrette to what to do with leftovers (a series I call "The 'L' Word") to a yearly Crustacean Celebration of our world-class Dungeness crab. It's been a boon to scroll through this list on those I-have-no-idea-what-to-have-for-dinner nights and find something that will fill the bill of fare.

Which brings me to ratatouille. (Finally!)

I love eggplant, whether in a ginger-rich Chinese sauce or an Italian Parmigiana. But ratatouille, that Southern French simmered melange of vegetables, has never broken my top ten eggplant dishes. Maybe it's the color of the finished dish, which tends to turn to the drab side of the spectrum when finished, or that the vegetables lose their individual flavors in the stew, especially sad when the members are fresh from the farm, vibrant in color and hardy in texture.

But then…

I'd just picked up our CSA share one week and there it was (above, left). Deep purple-to-pale-lavender eggplants, yellow and green summer squash, and tomatoes fresh off the vine. It took no urging to get Dave to fire up the grill, and I pulled a couple of chicken thighs out of the fridge to throw on with those gorgeous vegetables. Tossed with a caper-studded vinaigrette, it was a definite keeper.

Which, because of the post you are reading, I'll now have to refer to the next time I find myself in need of dinner ideas.

Grilled Ratatouille

Eggplants
Italian peppers (red, yellow and orange, or any mix of those)
Summer squash (yellow and green zucchini, patti pan, crookneck, etc.)
Tomatoes

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1-2 Tbsp. capers
Salt and pepper to taste

For the vegetables, mix and match amounts and types as available and adjust amounts for the number of people you're feeding.

Make a fire in the grill (we use a chimney for that purpose). While coals are heating, make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and whisking them together. Then chop or slice all the vegetables except the tomatoes into larger grill-able pieces. I usually cut larger eggplants into 1" slices and halve the zucchini. Usually the peppers can be grilled whole then seeded before using. DO NOT OIL VEGETABLES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES prior to grilling. When coals are white-hot, dump them out and spread evenly in one layer. Place vegetables on the grate over the fire and cook until tender, turning as needed and pulling them off the fire onto a platter as they become done.

When all the vegetables are cooked, chop into bite-sized pieces, including the fresh tomatoes. Place on platter and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* Find more recipes for leftovers, or get the whole massive list here and here.

Farm Bulletin: Otello's Pebbles, Stewarding a Bean's Genetics

Contributor Anthony Boutard writes: "Here is a note I prepared regarding Otello’s [Pebbles, one of the dried beans Anthony grows at Ayers Creek Farm]. On my restaurant availability list, I usually include a 'photo of the moment' followed by a note placing it in context. One week I didn’t have time to comb my photo files and draft a note, so I simply stated that due to a lack of a sponsor, there was no photo. That led to a series of fictitious sponsors."

Photo of the Moment
Generously Sponsored by: Bard, Rossini & Verdi Concepts™
Cantiamo, Salce

In 2015, we were sent an irritatingly small package of beans by Nancy Jenkins, a food writer and olive oil maker. People often leave kittens and cats at farms assuming they will be cared for in some unspecified way; mostly and fittingly, the caregivers are the farm’s coyotes or bald eagles always looking for a meal more exotic than the usual fare of mice and voles.

None
The label for Otello's Pebbles…is that the eponymous Otello?*

Likewise, small packages of pretty beans are sent or given to us in the hopes that we will become their genetic stewards. Sometimes, an endearing note explains that the beans are a family heirloom and were found in a late aunt’s garage where they had been stored for five years in a mason jar. As a further tug on the heartstrings, and doubling down on their pedigree, a charming name is given to them. A name in a tongue from the old country amps up the hype. Somehow, sending them to us assuages the custodian’s guilt of not carrying on the family tradition themselves. Despite claims made by various wags about sacred beans found in some ancient granary, garden beans are viable for about two years, after that their vitality drops off the cliff. Such claims are just as likely as the old temple cat that is still haunting the pyramid some 5,000 years later.

The package in question had a note, written by another person in the chain of stewardship. It noted that the bean was grown by someone called Otello who died early and had praised the bean as growing well in poor soil. Not much of an endorsement, and not a word about its culinary qualities. Worse, the package contained what appeared to be an assortment of types, something bean growers work hard to avoid. The custodian’s tag noted they were named "Fagioli bianci • grigi," again no first-hand endorsement of their culinary merit.

The package would have been relegated to the ACF seed museum (i.e. compost) except that Myrtha Zierock [an intern at the farm that year] and I were planting a block of soy and had space for a few more seeds. Some beans are promiscuous and will contaminate a field of a carefully managed commercial crop. Soy and garden beans do not cross pollinate so there was not harm in filling out the row. We joked that the beans looked like little pebbles and tossed them into the seeder. At harvest, we cooked up the beans and found they had their redeeming qualities. Because of their appearance, we named them Otello’s Pebbles.

In preparing for the 2020 harvest, we went out to select the 2021 seed crop and discovered the beans had drifted away from the original beguiling mix that prompted our impulsive sowing, and were now almost entirely white or light gray. The translation of Otello’s name for them was "beans white • grey", so they were probably closer to his beans than the “pebbles” passed on from their custodian—those we received in the mail. We combed the field looking for every plant that produced something other than white and light grey. In the lower dish (top photo), you can see the restored variation which is close to those in the seed package Jenkins sent to us.

Does it matter? I think so. We grow many carefully managed beans, but for a bean suited to the stew pot, a bit of a topsy-turvy mix of flavors and textures make for a far more interesting ingredient. I assumed that the genetically chaotic mix would take care of itself, but I was wrong. We have to be just as diligent in our pebbled seed selection as we are with zolfino, for example. It is a bit more of a challenge because we need to make sure we have a full and balanced selection of the original colors, as opposed to selecting for just one color.

We have tried the new selection on the plate and last September’s work was worth the effort. The restructured variety is head-and-shoulders better flavored than the "white • grey" mix corresponding to Otello’s original bean. Frankly, it is no wonder Otello failed to rhapsodize over their quality. Indeed, it is now up there with the all of our other beans, even better than that first harvest that caught our attention. If you think Italian makes the bean sound sexier, then call it sassolini di Otello delivered in the style of Keven Kline, all the same to me. But be sure to try them. You won’t regret heeding the farmer’s suggestion.

Note: The sponsor’s motto is based on Act 4, Scene 3 of Othello when Desdemona sings the Willow Song in her distress and betrayal. The words are condensed from Verdi’s version “Salce, salce, salce, cantiamo, cantiamo, cantiamo, salce, salce, salce (willow, let us sing). I am partial to Rossini’s version, though. Here is a beautiful version in recital by Joyce DiDonato accompanied by David Zobel.

Top photo: Otello’s Pebbles, 2020 (upper) and 2021 (lower) by Anthony Boutard.

* In an exchange about the label (above), Anthony clarified that, alas, the farmer is not Otello: "Otello was long dead when I received the beans. The Otello's block is influenced by the simple, bold renderings of the early 20th Century Mexican woodblock prints, particularly those of María Izquierdo and David Alfaro Sigueiros."

Broke Leg Scones: Think of Them As Delicious Occupational Therapy

First, I want to thank everyone who has contacted me to ask how Dave is doing after his accident. He's healing and making progress with help from his physical and occupational therapists from Providence Home Health, a benefit we never imagined we'd need but one we're incredibly grateful to have. Second, an apology for not posting much since then—caregiving, as many of you already know, is pretty much a full-time gig or, as our friend Chad said, "you just take it one hour at a time."

The sourdough is back!

Thankfully, by now we're at the point where we're taking it a day at a time, and each day shows small improvements over the one before. He's been able to go back to making his stunningly delicious sourdough bread even though he's still confined to a wheelchair—we've dubbed it "Wheelchair Sourdough"—and this morning I encouraged him to take a stab at his orange currant scones.

Yes, it is admittedly a self-serving suggestion, but I prefer to think of it as fitting into his occupational therapy regime. (His OT therapist, Debbie, I'm sure would agree, since she was very excited to learn he loves to bake.)

If you'd like to take a stab at making them, from a sitting position or not, I can guarantee you're going to feel so much better!

Dave's Orange Currant Scones

3 c. (390g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. sea salt
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 c. (1 stick) frozen unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg
1/4 c. sour cream
3/4 c. whole milk
1/4 to 1/3 c. currants

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a baking mat.

In a large mixing bowl, toss dry ingredients and zest together with a fork. Transfer mixture to a food processor and add the cubed pieces of butter. Pulse several times until the texture is slightly coarser than cornmeal. Put the mixture back in the mixing bowl and add currants, tossing with the fork to combine.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the egg, sour cream and milk and mix thoroughly. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in egg mixture. Mix ingredients together with a spatula until a loose dough forms, then press dough into a large ball. Turn out onto floured surface, cut the ball in half and knead each half four or five times with your hands.

Pat each half into a 6-inch circle. Using a knife or metal-bladed bench scraper, cut each disk into quarters. Place them spaced apart on the baking sheet. Bake until light golden brown, about 22 minutes; rotate the pan front to back halfway through.

Leftover scones—it happens, but rarely—can be placed in a zip-lock bag and refrigerated or frozen for later.

Each Leaf Singing: Poems from the Life of an Oregon Farm

Carol Boutard and her husband Anthony have been dear friends of mine since we first met fourteen years ago at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, where I'd sought them out after tasting their incredible blackcap jam. (I knew we were fated to be fast friends when she and I subsequently plotted to start a catalog of sexual aids featuring foods like that jam that were so good you wanted to lick it off.) Their Ayers Creek Farm is legendary in the region for the quality of the organic products they have grown on its 144 acres for more than 20 years.

Carol has published her first book of poetry titled "Each Leaf Singing," a paen to the life of that farm and an elegy to both Anthony, who is living with a terminal illness, and the farm itself, which she celebrates at the same time as grieving its eventual loss.

But what a life they've had there. I wrote in my very first post about this incredible couple, "When they started talking about their 144 acres near Gaston and their eyes lit up when they told about the arrowhead lilies that grow there and how they changed to a drip irrigation system because the overhead sprinklers were washing out the birds' nests, I knew this wasn't going to be an ordinary evening.

"These two are as committed to the stewardship of their land as they are to the quality of the berries and grains they've become known for. It's evident in the way Anthony (known as the Bard of Ayers Creek) describes how the lake on their property is returning and that the least bitterns, herons and eagles are coming back. And, too, when Carol said that they stop picking the berries when the fruit loses its brilliance after the first few pickings, even though there's fruit left on the vines."

As Rosemary Catacalos, Texas State Poet Laureate Emerita, writes of Boutard's poems, "After decades of intimacy with the turning of the earth and its seasons, Caroline Boutard has given us a book brimming with an ancient wisdom. In these poems our harried modern lives can slow down and remember the blessed comings and goings of all things. We can learn again what it means to grieve and celebrate in the same breath. Because we must. Trust this voice, 'dumb on sun and sugar,' to sing you into now and whatever comes next."

A poem titled "Old Oak" is emblematic of that singular voice.

Old Oak

I leave the work and rush out
to early spring
with no more plan than a good walk
as robins and juncos,
flashing like jackknives,
cleave low angles of afternoon light.
No route than stepping round the mud,
I pass through a veil of smoky air,
its note of orange blossom
from old oak dried slow,
then burned in a clean hearth,
to breathe in
this sweet musk and find
every grassy thing along the way roused
by the warm day, their stems extended
like antennae tuned to the fresh season.
I stop to harvest
from the ruddy mix of plants
galloping through the field—
sow thistle and poppy,
wild radish, dandelion, cress,
so full of healing
you have to eat them standing up,
everything around me
pushing toward renewal.
The plan here is more life,
then more.

Carol is launching this stunning collection with a virtual reading on Thursday, Sept. 30, at 7pm (PST) via Zoom (click on this link to attend).

Read Anthony Boutard's essays on Ayers Creek Farm that have been a vital part of Good Stuff NW here and here.

A Personal Note: Your Vaccination Status is My Business

Normally I don't bring up personal issues on Good Stuff NW. It's here to help me understand and then explain to you the issues around our food system and how it works, and how we can support our local farmers and producers by eating seasonally from the bounty our region offers. But then something came up that needs to be addressed.

Over the weekend Dave had an accident and was loaded into an ambulance and whisked off to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). I haven't seen him since that moment.

To its credit, OHSU has forbidden visitors, even family members, from the hospital, due to the danger of COVID-19, especially the surge of cases from the Delta variant that is burning through the country. This surge is primarily among the unvaccinated, who account for more than 80 percent of new cases in Oregon and nearly all of the deaths.

So your vaccination status is directly affecting me.

I can't be there to hold Dave's hand, to stroke his cheek, to arrange the covers on his bed, to give him a cup of water, to call the nurse if he needs assistance. I can't get to know his nurses; I can only be his advocate from a distance.

This is because there are people out there, and I'm hoping my readers are not among them, who refuse to get vaccinated against the virus. They are causing it to spread and filling up our hospitals and ICUs, exhausting our already strained health care system, not to mention the essential workers in that system. (Obviously I'm not talking about those few who can't get the vaccine for health reasons, or about children under 12 who are not yet eligible. They're victims, too.)

And those unvaccinated people are keeping me from caring for my husband.

If you have a relative or friend who is unvaccinated, share this story with them. They're the reason Dave is lying in a hospital bed alone with only overburdened hospital staff to make him feel loved and cared for.

Locate a vaccine provider in Oregon here. Locate a national vaccine provider.

A Gazpacho of a Different Color

Tomato season is at its peak, cucumbers still hang heavy on their vines and peppers of all colors are finally getting the long hours of sun and heat they need to fully ripen their fruit. Cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins posed the perfect solution when I found myself with all those ingredients just the other day:

"What better excuse for a bowl of chilled gazpacho for lunch? Or dinner, or an afternoon snack for that matter? In Andalusia, where this healthy bowl originates, they keep a big pitcher of gazpacho in the refrigerator at all times, ready for anyone who feels the need for a quick pick-me-up."

Peak tomato season means making a big pitcher of gazpacho.

The tomatoes I had from my neighbor Bill's large garden were large and perfectly ripe, begging to be savored fresh rather than cooked, while their juices and flesh were at their sweetest. Bill had also gifted me a cucumber at the same time, and I had a few peppers from my CSA share.

Call me unimaginative, but those perfect tomatoes were golden yellow, so the idea of making a gazpacho was a slap-my-forehead revelation since I'd only had it with the usual red tomatoes. Of course it was divine, and couldn't have better suited the moment. Nancy has a recipe that I'll be trying soon, but here's a slightly simpler version based on Jim Dixon's from years ago.

Tomato Gazpacho

5 to 6 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled
1 mild green chile (Anaheim or, for a little more kick, poblano), seeded and chopped
1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1-2 Tbsp. white or red wine vinegar, to taste
1/2 c. olive oil
Salt to taste

Put tomatoes into the blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until the ingredients begin to emulsify, stopping to push the tomatoes down if they aren't moving. When they're mostly blended, add the vinegar and salt and blend until very smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until completely emulsified. Pour into a glass or ceramic container and chill for one hour. If it's too thick to pour, add a little water, though it should be served fairly thick, not runny.

Petition Seeks to Prevent State from Permitting New Mega-Dairy

A coalition of community, small farms and environmental groups is collecting signatures on a petition demanding that Governor Kate Brown deny Easterday Dairy a permit to open a 30,000-cow mega-dairy on the site of the disastrous Lost Valley Farm just outside of Boardman, Oregon.

Pools of sewage and chemicals on property Easterday bought in 2019.

Their timing may be fortuitous, since last month the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) released a finding that the property was found to have elevated levels of nitrates in the soil, a dangerous pollutant known to cause methemologlobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome,” in infants, as well as the risk of elevated heart rate, nausea, headaches, abdominal cramps and an increased chance of cancer, especially gastric cancer, in adults.

So far the group Stand Up To Factory Farms has collected more than 1,400 signatures on the petition it plans to present to Governor Kate Brown tomorrow. (If you are interested in signing the petition, you can do so here.)

Cody Easterday's permit was put on "indefinite hold" by the ODA.

This is the second permit application the Easterday agricultural conglomerate has made to the ODA. The first application was withdrawn by Cody Easterday after the ODA put it on "indefinite hold" when Easterday pleaded guilty in federal district court to defrauding Tyson Foods, Inc., and another company out of more than $244 million over a period of six years by charging them for the purchase and feeding of more than 200,000 cattle that existed only on paper, a scheme dubbed "Cattlegate." Many of the other Easterday family holdings subsequently declared bankruptcy in court.

In July, a permit application naming Cody Easterday's 24-year-old son, Cole, as the applicant was filed with the ODA in a move widely seen as a desperate ploy to keep the property that the Easterday's bought for $66.7 million in 2019. An article in the Capital Press at the time said Easterday had plans to invest another $15 million in upgrades, including completion of a wastewater treatment system that was never finished, as well as bringing the farm into full environmental compliance.

According to a Stand Up To Factory Farms press release, “a broad swath of community, environmental, animal welfare and public health organizations have raised concerns given the Easterday family’s financial distress, the outsize impact mega-dairies have on drinking water quality, climate change, and the enormous quantities of water they use.”

The coalition notes that the mega-dairy, located on a federally designated Groundwater Management Area (GWMA), would use “20 million gallons of water per day in the midst of a historic mega-drought and generate 128 million gallons of manure-contaminated waste water in an area with dangerously high nitrate levels [already] in the community’s drinking water.” (See my article, "Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities" about the problems these industrial-scale factory farms present.)

Read more of my coverage of the Easterday Dairy story.

Top photo from Stand Up to Factory Farms.

Fermentation Fascination: Try It, You'll Like It, Guaranteed!

"Foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha increased the diversity of gut microbes and led to lower levels of inflammation," according to an article in the New York Times describing a new study from researchers at Stanford University.

My summer, in a nutshell (or a pickle jar).

This is welcome news considering the pounds (and pounds) of cucumbers and beans I've been getting from our CSA this summer and turning into pickles. If you've read past posts about my methods for preserving the hundred-plus pounds of fabulous Astiana tomatoes from Ayers Creek Farm that I roast every summer, you'll know that I'm not big on huge messes or laborious processes.

Which is why pickling vegetables by lacto-fermentation is high on my list. First, it's ridiculously easy…all it takes is salt, water and time, often a week or less. You can use herbs to flavor it—I'm partial to traditional dill, garlic and mustard seeds for cukes and "dilly beans"—but plain is just fine, too. Second, it requires no special equipment, just a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, and no cooking or heating, a godsend on hot summer days when fresh vegetables are cascading in from local farms. Third is the health aspect, outlined in the study linked above.

A paper coffee filter, a canning ring, and your pickles can "breathe"!

But really, I wouldn't bother with it if these pickles didn't taste great. Crunchy, briny without being overly tart, they have a freshness and snap that you don't get from water bath or pressure-canned methods. The only drawback to this method is that because the live bacteria hasn't been killed by cooking, these pickles aren't shelf-stable and will need to be refrigerated.

So far this summer I've made sauerkraut, the aforementioned cucumber pickles and dilly beans, and will soon be making a couple of quarts of Hank Shaw's sour corn to have with tacos, relishes and salads. After that, who knows? I'll definitely keep you posted!

Just click for recipes for sauerkraut, garlic dill pickles, quick refrigerator pickles, and Hank Shaw's Southern Sour Corn.

Lacto-Fermented Garlic "Dilly" Beans

2 clean wide-mouth quart jars
2 lbs. green beans
2 qts. water
6 Tbsp. sea salt
4 dill flower heads
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled

Make a 5 percent brine solution by adding the salt to the 2 quarts water in a saucepan or bowl. Stir until the salt dissolves completely.

Push one dill flower head into the bottom of the quart jar along with two cloves of garlic. Holding the jar on its side, start packing the beans into the jar along with half of the garlic cloves. The tighter the beans are packed, the less likely they'll be to float up to the surface during pickling. Make sure the beans stay 1" below the rim of the jar; if they're too long, simply snap them off.

When you can't jam any more beans into the jar, take a second dill flower head and push it into the upright beans, again trying to keep it 1" below the rim. Stir the brine to dissolve any remaining salt crystals and pour it into the jar of beans until it rises to 1/2" below the rim.

Pickle pipe airlock for pickling.

Place a lid on the jar and screw it down until it's finger-tight, then back it off about a half turn to give the bacteria room to "breathe" and for any brine to escape during pickling. You can also use a commercial pickle pipe secured with a canning ring for the same purpose, or simply take half a #4 or larger paper coffee filter, place it over the top of the jar and screw it down with a canning ring.

Repeat with second jar.

Place both jars on a plate or in a small baking dish to catch any liquid that escapes and keep them in a cool, dark place (like a basement) for several days. In a couple of days you will notice the brine getting cloudy, and it will have a distinctly vinegar-y smell. This means your brine is working! After five days you can test the beans to see if they're to your liking or leave them for another couple of days and they'll continue to get more pickled. (I usually leave them at least a week to 10 days.)

Because this method does not kill the (healthful, probiotic) live bacteria in the brine through processing in a water bath or pressure canner, the pickles are not shelf stable and must be stored in the refrigerator. If you used a pickle pipe or coffee filter for the pickling process, simply remove them and replace with a solid lid or canning lid and ring.

Don't panic if this is floating on your pickles. Just lift out and toss.

NOTE: When you open the jar you may see a spongy, grey mass floating on top of your pickles (photo, right). As Douglas Adams wrote in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," DON'T PANIC. This is perfectly normal and your pickles are not affected.  The spongy mass can be easily lifted out and disposed of. Your pickles are good to go!