Posts filed under ‘farmers’ market’

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.

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June 6, 2009 at 2:25 pm 1 comment

When I can’t run away to the coast …

Feisty crab

Scott Penter gets ready to weigh a crab

… the next-best thing is having the coast come to me – in the form of impeccably fresh seafood at my local farmers’ market.

And now it has, in the person of Scott Penter, an entrepreneurial young fisherman from Newport who’s invested in a state-of-the-art traveling seawater tank and chiller in hopes of expanding his market beyond the Newport docks.

I got a heads-up a couple of weeks ago from market manager Rebecca Landis that Scott had signed on to sell his catch at the Albany farmers’ market. As a passionate pescivore, I got very excited, and was crestfallen last weekend when he didn’t turn up. Communication problem, evidently, because he was there yesterday with his bright blue tank and a big sign proclaiming in red letters: LIVE CRAB.

Dungeness crab is at the top of my personal favorite seafood list, and Dungeness crab pulled out of the Pacific this morning, loaded into a tank full of chilled sea water and trucked over the Coast Range to what might as well be my front door is a wonderful thing, indeed. Especially this weekend: I’d spent Friday in Newport at a working meeting, and evening commitments drew me back inland long before I was ready to leave. Finding Scott and his rolling Seafood Outlet business at the market Saturday morning was pretty good compensation for not being able to spend the night at the coast.

So I watched (and shot pictures) as Scott fished a feisty four-pounder out of his tank, weighed it out and accepted my money, to the vast entertainment of a crowd of small children who materialized the minute Mr. Crab emerged from the tank.

Lively and pissed off

Meet Mr. Crab

In minutes, I was on my way home with a fairly irate crab in a sturdy plastic bag, which got deposited immediately in a sinkful of cold water while I put the kettle on to boil.

If you’re accustomed to buying your crab pre-killed, pre-cooked and served on a platter with a little lemon and a mess of melted butter, the thought of dealing with a live one, with all claws waving and trying to grab you, may be daunting. Me, I learned to kill crustaceans quite literally at my mother’s knee: we lived in Newfoundland when I was barely out of toddlerhood, and some of my earliest memories involve going out with my dad to buy live lobster straight from the fisherman, bringing them home and dumping them in the bathtub (where their scuttling greatly amused me and my little brother) and then watching my mom use long-handled tongs to transfer them into a giant pot of boiling water. Children are ruthless, and any trauma I might have suffered was quickly assuaged by the gustatory joy of eating lobster as the butter dripped down my chin.

I’ve grown up to be what I think of as an ethical omnivore; part of that includes not merely being aware of where my meat and seafood comes from, but being willing to deal with the bald fact that eating animals inevitably involves (someone) killing them.

If you don’t know what to do with a live crab, allow me to recommend Catching, Cleaning and Cooking Bay Crabs, a free, downloadable .pdf version of a publication from Oregon Sea Grant, which happens to be my employer. It includes instructions for killing and cleaning the crab before cooking, or (for the squeamish) cooking it first and then cleaning. The former process produces a superior result, in my opinion, and that’s what I did as soon as I got home from the market.

Nothing fancy

Crab dinner

After chilling the cooked crab for a few hours, I hauled out the butter and lemons, some crusty, locally baked Italian bread and a bottle of crisp, fruity Evolution wine from Oregon’s Sokol Blosser winery. A simple salad of baby spinach and arugula from the market with a smidgen of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue cheese crumbled over it and I had a fabulous hot-weather supper. Half a crab is plenty for me, so I got to repeat (and photograph) the experience for lunch today.

If you shop the Albany market, check Scott’s tank next weekend. He also sells albacore tuna he caught and had canned by one of our region’s specialty canners; ask him, and he can probably tell you where he caught the fish, how much it weighed and for all I know, what the weather was like. That’s one of the joys of buying locally: You’re not only getting great fresh food, but you can learn about it from the people who produced it. It puts us closer to the food chain, and may even make us more mindful about what we eat.

I know I was mindful of that crab. I even thanked him for feeding me before I turned him into dinner.

May 31, 2009 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Too busy to cook, let alone blog

A busy theater rehearsal schedule and seasonal allergies have stolen my time and my brain; even when I manage to make it to the market I do little more than throw a salad together, and it’s been so long since I’ve spent time in my kitchen that the dishwasher is full – of nothing but coffee cups. My garden? Let’s not talk about it.

Don’t let that happen to you. The summer produce season is drawing near, and if you find yourself without the time or opportunity to grow your own, that shouldn’t stop you from harvesting your own – not when there are Web sites out there that tell you where to go pick.

Like, for instance, the Oregon section of PickYourOwn.org, a nifty directory of U-pick farms all over the country. I see half a dozen within a 20-minute drive of my front door, offering everything from berries to beans.  Combine the list with the useful “what’s in season right now”  chart from Heavenly Harvest Farms, just down the road from here, and you’re set!

I’ll be back to blogging – and cooking, and who knows, maybe even planting – in a couple of weeks.

May 19, 2009 at 11:06 pm Leave a comment

Greens for body and soul

New vendor

Nature's Fountain Farm

The farmer’s market’s been open for three solid weekends, and not a recipe out of me yet. Blame a busy life, interrupted by a bad cold, both of which left me with neither the time nor the inclination to cook anything more complicated than canned soup and oatmeal.

Still, that didn’t keep me from grabbing a couple of pretty bunches of rapini from Nature’s Fountain Farm this past Saturday. It was getting near closing time, and from the size of the pile (as compared to, say, the lone bunch of radishes left on their table), I’m guessing sales of these lovely greens suffered from a collective case of “but what the heck is it, and what do you do with it?”

Clearly, not enough folks here in Western Oregon grew up with mothers from the South – of the US, or of Italy. Because those mothers know what to do with greens.

Rapini (Brassica rapa) is sometimes called broccoli raab or rabe, because its small flower heads look slightly like wee broccoli heads. It’s more closely related to mustard greens, but not quite as pungent. Personally, I’d put it midway between the mildness of kale and the pungent bitterness of mustard or turnip greens, with a nutty quality I find quite appealing. Young rapini is quite a bit more tender than kale, and doesn’t need long simmering to make it palatable.

The Italians love rapini, and feature it in fresh spring pasta dishes, typically chopped in bite-sized lengths – stems and leaves – then blanched, drained, wrung dry and sauteed in olive oil.

That’s generally how I cook it, sans pasta, and it makes a lovely side dish. Try this:

Sauteed rapini and mushroom

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch rapini
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Half a dozen crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp currants (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp pine nuts (optional)
  • Grated parmesan or romano cheese

Method:

Trim root ends from rapini; chop stems and leaves coarsely.

Bring a quart of salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan; add rapini, and blanch for 2-3 minutes, until bright green and tender. Drain in a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking. Drain well, then wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze out excess water.

Wipe the saucepan dry and return to heat. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, the minced garlic and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to shrink. Add the currants, pine nuts and rapini; stir well to coat with oil, and continue cooking until hot and fragrant.

Toss with a little grated parmesan or romano, and serve as a side dish. Or, if you’ve been feeling puny and craving greens, eat the whole mess for dinner.

May 4, 2009 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

PSA: Small Farms Conference

It’s not too late to register for the Oregon Small Farms Conference tomorrow (Feb. 21) at the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis. Registration’s cheap (just $35/person on line, $40 at the door) and the conference features a great program of speakers and topics, including sessions on:

  • Simple Ways to Promote Your Farm
  • The Community Food Security Coalition
  • Size Matters: Successful Markets
  • Building a Sustainable Business
  • Renewable Energy
  • Simple Ways to Promote Your Farmers’ Market
  • Secrets to Farmers’ Market Success
  • Food Safety

You don’t have to be a farmer to register and benefit. The OSU Extension Service (yay, Extension) is also encouraging market managers and community food advocates to attend.

Registration information is here – although since it’s tomorrow, you might want to  calling the campus Extension office at (541) 737-2713 before registering on line, just to make sure they have room for you.


Market opening countdown:

Just 10 weeks to go!

Albany Farmers Market: Saturday, April 18, 4th and Ellsworth, downtown Albany
Corvallis Saturday Market: Saturday, April 18, First and Jackson on the downtown riverfront
Corvallis Wednesday Market: Wednesday, April 22. NEW LOCATION: 2nd and B Streets, near the Marys River-Willamette River confluence downtown.
More information here

(Meanwhile, you can still hit the Winter Market on Feb. 28, March 14 and March 28 at the Benton County Fairgrounds … and the Midway Farms farmstand on Highway 20 between Albany and Corvallis is open year-round.)

February 20, 2009 at 9:33 am Leave a comment

More mushrooms

Pan-roasted wild mushrooms

Pan-roasted wild mushrooms

I’m a fool for mushrooms: Sauteed, stir-fried, stuffed and baked, sliced raw in salads – heck, I even have a residual childhood fondness for canned mushrooms, in certain applications (on pizza, for instance).

Back when I first moved to Oregon, I fell in with a group of rogue mycologists. My second or third year here, they lured me out into the woods and taught me how to identify a few choice edible mushrooms: Morels, which grow on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range each spring, and chanterelles, which pop up in the fall in the damp rain forests that flank the Coast Range. Besides being utterly delicious, both have the advantage of being very easy to identify; once you’ve been shown the real thing, the chance of mistaking an unfriendly mushroom for one of these two is virtually nil.

Of the two, chanterelles are easier to find, and when we get a nice, damp fall like this one, more abundant. And for years, hunting your own was the only way to acquire these gorgeous, meaty, orange-fleshed fungi. Thankfully, just as my knees have started getting too creaky for serious mushroom foraging, others have started doing it for me, and bringing the fruits of their woodsy labors to the local farmers’ markets. While “free” was a good price, $15 a pound isn’t bad, and a pound of wild mushrooms goes a long way.

One of my favorite things to do with wild mushrooms is to pan-roast them, a slightly laborious process that produces results far superior to a standard sauté, concentrating the woodsy mushroom flavors and adding a touch of caramelized sweetness.

If you can’t find or afford wild mushrooms – or if you’re nervous about them – this dish works well with domesticated mushrooms, too, particularly the more flavorful varieties: Crimini, Portobello, shiitake. In a pinch, I’ve made it with plain old white supermarket mushrooms, and it’s still pretty tasty.

Don’t be put off by the long process description. It’s easy to do, it just takes a while (or a multiple skillets) to make a big batch.

Pan-roasted mushrooms make a great side dish; they’re heavenly piled on top of a good steak or lamb chops, scattered on a home-made pizza, spooned over toasted rounds of French or Italian bread as an appetizer, or stirred into an omelet*, a risotto, or a bowl of home-made soup (onion soup with pan-roasted mushrooms=win!)

Credit for the method goes to Van Donegal, who posted it six years ago in a LiveJournal cooking community. He adapted it from Tom Colochino’s Think Like A Chef, and I’ve added a few twists of my own. Recipe evolution.

Pan Roasted Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • Olive Oil
  • A half-pound or more of flavorful, meaty mushrooms
  • coarse Kosher Salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • unsalted butter
  • fresh Italian parsley (optional, but very nice)

Method

Clean the mushrooms (a big, soft paintbrush is handy for this job) and trim off any soft or buggy spots. Slice thickly.

Mince 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, omitting the bigger stems.

Smash, peel and coarsely chop the garlic. (The smashing, with the flat side of a chef’s knife, not only makes the garlic easier to peel, but releases all those aromatic oils).

In a large skillet on medium high heat, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat until the oil shimmers but does not smoke.

You’re going to be working in batches. Don’t try to rush it by overcrowding the pan.

Add only enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan without touching each other. Add a liberal pinch of kosher salt and several grindings of pepper.

After 60 seconds, reduce heat to medium low. Do not stir. Cook mushrooms for about 4 minutes, then turn them individually. They should be browned on the cooked sides, and shrinking visibly. About two minutes after turning, add the garlic. At three minutes in, add 1 Tbsp of butter; once it melts, stir the mushrooms to coat with the butter-garlic mixture. When nicely browned, add a generous amount of parsley, stir, and remove the mushrooms to a heat-proof dish. If you like, hold the dish in a pre-heated 200-degree oven while you continue cooking additional batches.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, turn the heat back up to medium high, and repeat the procedure for the next batch.

Serve piping hot. If you plan to add these to a recipe later, refrigerate them until time to use them; they’ll keep for a couple of days in the fridge, covered. Chanterelles and other meaty mushrooms also hold up surprisingly well if you spoon them into a freezer bag, press out all the air and freeze them.

A half pound of raw mushrooms will yield about a cup, cooked, depending on the variety.

* Tonight’s dinner: An omelette made from free-range market eggs, pan-roasted ‘shrooms and some coarsely grated Rogue Valley Creamery rosemary cheddar. Sublime.

November 11, 2008 at 9:23 pm Leave a comment

Market season: Not done yet

Chanterelles

Chanterelles

Our little farmers’ market traditionally closes the weekend before Thanksgiving, and while the number of vendors has dropped sharply, there’s still wonderful autumn food to be had. Yesterday it was wild mushrooms – one vendor literally had bushel baskets full of chanterelles, and another was offering more unusual varieties. I should have brought more cash. But at $15 a pound, I did score two pounds of lovely, orange-fleshed chanterelles, my favorite autumn mushroom. And I had enough money for a pound of ground lamb.

The mushrooms got spread out on newspapers to dry out enough so I could brush away the pine needles and forest duff, then separated into paper bags: One containing the largest mushrooms, which I’ll slice and dry in my food dehydrator tomorrow night; one to make a batch of pan-roasted mushrooms*, and one, along with the lamb, for tonight’s dinner (and this week’s lunches): A white-sauced lasagna of mushrooms, lamb and pumpkin. Which in the oven as I type this, and filling the house with savory autumn smells.

Pumpkin and wild mushrooms – or stronger flavored tame ones, such as Crimini or Portobello – are gorgeous together. Think of a pumpkin-mushroom soup with lots of garlic, or a creamy pumpkin-mushroom risotto. Adding lamb might be considered gilding the lily (and indeed, there’s no reason you couldn’t convert this to a vegetarian dish by omitting the lamb and using more mushrooms ), but I’ve had Morroccan and Afghan dishes that combine pumpkin and lamb to wonderful effect. So, feeling experimental and having a long Sunday evening to play in the kitchen, I came up with this.

Lasagna with pumpkin, lamb and wild mushrooms

Lasagna with pumpkin, lamb and chanterelles

Lasagne with pumpkin, lamb and wild mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 small pumpkin (edible variety) or large butternut squash
  • 1 lb lean ground lamb
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 stick), divided
  • 1/2 pound chanterelles or other flavorful, meaty mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed of any bad spots and sliced lengthwise
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta (2 cups)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 20 oz. fresh mozarella cheese,
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 cups flavorful vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • 1 package no-boil lasagna noodles

Method

Preheat oven to 350F

Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out fibers and seeds (you are saving your pumpkin seeds to toast, right?) Oil the cut edges, and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until flesh is tender but not too soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool until you can handle it without burning your fingers. (Do not turn the oven off unless you plan to wait a while to finish the dish).

Meanwhile:

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground lamb, breaking it up as you go. Stir in half the fresh herbs. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked lamb from the skillet and set aside.

To the juices in the skillet, add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter and allow it to melt. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic, stir well and reduce heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are cooked. Stir the cooked lamb into the mushrooms and remove from heat.

Mix ricotta, eggs and half the parmesan. Slice the mozarella on the diagonal into pieces about a third of an inch thick.

In a small pan over medium heat, melt the remaining stick of butter and whisk in the flour to make a smooth roux. Gradually add the stock, whisking all the while, and the rest of the herbs. Simmer until it is thickened (This is a sauce velouté, the non-dairy version of a bechamel), remove from heat.

When the pumpkin is cool enough to work with, use a paring knife to cut around the stem and blossom ends, then grasp the peel and pull it off; it should come away easily. Slice the pumpkin radially into half-inch-thick crescents.

Assembly:

Brush a little olive oil in the bottom of a 9x13x2-inch baking dish, and layer as follows:

  • The ricotta mixture
  • Layer of noodles
  • The pumpkin pieces, arranged to cover the noodles
  • Half of the sauce velouté
  • Layer of noodles
  • The lamb and mushroom mixture
  • The ovals of mozarella, distributed evenly over the lamb.
  • Layer of noodles
  • Spoon the rest of the sauce velouté over the final layer of noodles and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Cover with oiled foil.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking for 25 minutes, or until top is nicely puffed and browned. Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes to firm up before serving.

Like all lasagnas, this one can be assembled a day in advance and then refrigerated until time to bake.

Makes 8 servings.

*I’ll blog the pan-roasted mushrooms recipe in the next day or two, when I make it. It’s a little fiddly, but produces delicious results.

November 9, 2008 at 9:39 pm Leave a comment

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