Archive for June, 2009

“The season of bounty …

Mid-Summer Still Life… is here.” That’s how one of the vendors at the Albany Farmers’ Market put it this morning, grinning as she tucked my purchase into my backpack for me. Looking around at stalls brimming with variety, I couldn’t argue: Snap peas and sugar peas, lettuce and leeks on one table, flats of berries and cherries on another; late asparagus over there, jams and jellies and honey over here, fresh-baked bread nearby. We’ve finally reached the season of more food than flowers – not that I have anything against flowers, but they aren’t why I go to the market.

Never mind that the weather is still cloudy and cool (the farmers don’t). It’s summer. Just look at the calendar: Solstice falls tomorrow, and while we in North America tend to call it the first day of summer, I like the older traditions of people who marked the start of summer and planting season in May, and thought of the solstice as mid-summer. Which makes tonight Mid-Summer’s Eve, a night to frolic and feast and enjoy the longest day of the year.

Which seems as good an excuse as any to do something special but easy with the gorgeous cherries I brought home from the market today, in a mixed flat with strawberries and raspberries (which will probably get eaten plain, by the handful, if my berry-red fingertips are any indication.)

Really good fruit doesn’t need much help. A simple preparation that focuses on the flavor (and doesn’t tie you to the kitchen on a summer’s day) is just the thing. I thought about cherry pie, with the ruby-red fruit bubbling up in the interstices of a latticed crust, but that takes work, and who am I out to impress today, anyway? Still: Cherries … pie crust … hmmm… ooh, ooh – cherry galette!

A galette is just an easy, rustic pie. Instead of laying the crust in a pie pan and fiddling with a top crust, you center it on a baking sheet, mound the fruit in the center and pull up the dough to partly cover the top. The filling needs less liquid than you might use in a pie – otherwise it tends to leak out before it sets. Bake and serve as you would any old pie.

This recipe makes a small galette – big servings for two, or small ones for four. The almonds and kirshwasser are chosen to punch the pure cherry flavor, and that they do!

Mid-Summer Cherry Galette

Ingredients

  • Crust for a single-layer pie. Make your own, or buy it in the refrigerator case
  • 2 pints ripe local cherries, pitted and halved. (A cherry pitter makes this a snap!)
  • 2 tsp kirschwasser (cherry eau de vie) or lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tsp sugar, more or less, depending on the sweetness of your cherries. I like to taste fruit, not just sugar.
  • 1/4 cup almond meal. I use Bob’s Red Mill, but it’s easy enough to grind up a handful of raw almonds in the food processor.

Cherry galette

Method:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Roll out pie crust on a baking sheet (I used a tart pan because it was handy).

Toss cherries with 1 tsp of the kirsch (or lemon juice, if your cherries are especially sweet).

Mix 1/4 c sugar and almond meal; toss that with the cherries. I chose almond meal as a binder for the juicy cherries because almond and cherry are well-matched flavors – and because typical fruit pie thickeners – corn starch, tapioca – can result in a gluey filling. Besides, I had almond meal in the pantry.

Mound filling in the center of the crust; pull up the edges, pleating and pinching as you go, to mostly cover the fruit. Don’t worry if it isn’t symmetrical – galettes are supposed to look rustic!

Brush crust with remaining kirsch or lemon juice; sprinkle with remaining tsp sugar.

Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Some juice will invariably leak out.

Serve warm or cool. Top with ice cream – or creme fraiche!

Happy Solstice!

June 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm 1 comment

Farm shares: Investing in local growers

Bread, asparagus, heirloom tomatoesIf you’re my age or younger, you probably grew up thinking of food as something that came from a store, and shopping for food as a matter of making a list (well, if you’re organized), getting in the car, going to the supermarket and filling your cart mostly with boxes and cans and other pre-weighed, packaged stuff. When you bought produce, you expected it to be washed and trimmed (and sometimes waxed) and perfect looking. A dark spot on an apple, a hint of green on an orange, beets and radishes with the leaves still on – these were all to be avoided. If you found asparagus in December or strawberries in March, you didn’t pause to wonder where they came from. Maybe you thought tomatoes were meant to be flavorless and kind of crunchy.

What a revelation it is, then, to discover the pleasures of locally grown food, even if it takes a bit more work. The flavors, of course, but also the sheer tactile pleasure of working with food straight from the farm: The rich golden yolks of eggs from free-range chickens, the delectable greens, the new forms of old friends such as garlic; the juicy, acid-sweet bliss of a truly ripe heirloom tomato. Strawberries that are red to the core. Lettuce so fresh it hardly needs dressing.

Bringing all these good things to market isn’t easy. It takes a certain kind of person – or family – to rise, pick and clean the produce, load the coolers and the truck and haul it – sometimes quite a distance – from farm to market, hoping the weather will be good and the shoppers will come and be in the mood to spend.

It’s not cheap, either, and that’s one reason increasing numbers of growers are adopting new strategies for keeping the farm going and connecting with the buying public.

You’ve probably heard of CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – and the typical CSA subscription service, which involves paying a set amount at the start of the season to receive a weekly box of whatever’s fresh and in season. Here in the mid-Valley, a growing number of farms are offering CSA boxes, usually delivered for pickup at specific locations on a given day of the week. And that can be great for those who are happy to eat whatever they get, who have big families or who have the time and energy to preserve an excess of, say, cucumbers or beans.

For others – those feeding picky eaters, or single people like me who can’t get through a whole box of food in a week – there are other options. One is the farm share, a sort of pay-ahead investment in a grower and their food. Farm shares (usually) differ from CSAs in that you pay a set amount at the start of the season, and then get to spend that credit as you please at the grower’s market booth.

Ive just bought a farm share from Wood Family Farm, the family meat-raising operation in Stayton. An unabashed carnivore, I love their lamb in particular, and have considered but never quite got ’round to purchasing an entire lamb’s worth of meat at slaughter time. This year, I opted for the farm share: A $180 payment that gets me $200 worth of meat over the course of the season. I can spend it from week to week, or – as I plan to do – fill out an order form in August and spend the whole amount on the cuts of lamb I prefer.

Other mid-valley growers have come up with similar schemes. Among them:

  • Denison Farms, which in addition to a conventional CSA offers a Market Coupon plan (a $90 investment gets you $100 worth of coupons to spend at their farmers’ market booths)
  • Midway Farms, between Albany and Corvallis, has a “Personal Shopper CSA;” pay in advance and you can fill a specific-sized box with whatever you prefer from their farmstand.
  • Deep Roots Farm has a “Market Advantage CSA” program that works much the same way at their farmers’ market booths.

One advantage of farm shares over traditional CSAs, besides the aspect of choice, is that they are often available for purchase well into the season, whereas CSA subscriptions are usually available only at specific times of the year.

Farm shares, CSAs and similar schemes are the most direct way consumers can help out local growers. By paying at the start of the season, we provide the farms with capital to help cover their expenses. This is no small thing; small farms often have a difficult time getting contentional financing for the seed, feed and other costs of growing food and bringing it to market. It’s also a great deal for those of us who love fresh food.

June 6, 2009 at 2:25 pm 1 comment


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