2012 September CSA potluck

We’ll be hosting a potluck for CSA members on Saturday, September 8 from noon-3pm. This will be a great chance to meet other members, share some really good food, and visit the farm. We’re asking members to RSVP by commenting on this post, sharing what they intend to bring, so dishes can be balanced without a lot of coordination on our part. Read on below for more details & guidance. Continue reading

Whole Farm dinner recap

Back on September 29, we held our 2010 Whole Farm dinner for the local chapter of Slow Food. This event is our way of displaying and highlighting the culinary possibilities on diversified small farms, sourcing the majority of the meal from our own produce, fruit, milk, eggs, and more. It’s a good way to share farm products that aren’t very economically viable, like cowpeas and cornmeal, or that are just plain illegal to sell, like cheese. Eating a meal here is about the only way you’ll get to taste things like these, which are a staple of our home diet. The event is also a good showcase for items we do sell at market, like produce.

Despite some early hiccups and miscommunication in arranging attendance, we ended up with 15 people out of 16 slots, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Here’s a brief summary of the event and menu, which was inspired by Mediterranean cuisine; all photos courtesy of Martha Dragich.

We showed the group around the farm, with special attention on the ingredient sources for the night’s dinner. Some attendees had been here before, but farms are always different on each visit. I tried not to talk too much, and as a result we actually returned to the house on schedule.

We were able to fit most folks around one large setup, with four good sports at a second table just to the right (we chose those four as folks we were sure would enjoy one anothers‘ company).

On to the food; ingredients are listed in italics if made & sourced on-farm.

TASTING PLATTER
Hummus: cowpeas, garlic, fresh yogurt, herbs, salt.
Raita/tzatziki: fresh yogurt, cucumbers, mint.
Pita wedges: scratch-made, partially from Missouri-sourced flour.
Vegetables: heirloom cucumber & pepper slices
The dried cowpeas, related to black-eyed peas but with a milder flavor, cook quickly and make an excellent substitute for chickpeas in this hummus.

SCRATCH-MADE RAVIOLI

Freshly-made pasta (egg, flour, salt) stuffed with fresh soft goat cheese, garlic, and herbs, topped with sauces of tomatoes, garlic, herbs and garlic, sage, butter, ricotta. These were, I think, the highlight of the evening. Nothing beats fresh scratch-made pasta.

For bread, we served homemade baguettes (containing Missouri wheat flour) accompanied by Siberian garlic butter.

GREEK SALAD
Coarse-chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, brined goat feta, dresssing of garlic, herbs, oil & vinegar. Made to my personal recipe, Greek salad is one of our favorite ways to use produce & cheese.

BROILED POLENTA SQUARES
Fresh-ground heirloom cornmeal, butter & salt, topped with caramelized onions & peppers, grated aged goat cheese, broiled. A nice treat showcasing our cornmeal & cheese.

MISSOURI DOLMADES
Chard leaves wrapped around a filling of Missouri rice, onions, garlic, cucumbers, peppers, herbs; briefly steamed. Our version of the Greek staple using grape leaves. Folks seemed to enjoy it, though I thought it came out better in my trial runs than on this night. One difference seemed to be the Missouri rice, which stayed wetter than the standard organic rice I’d used in practice and thus the whole thing was a bit soggier than I intended. This was definitely an experiment but one worth repeating, it’s really easy to make.

GREEN SALAD
Baby lettuce greens, other mixed greens, sweet peppers, boiled eggs, oil & vinegar. A simple, refreshing dish, served Italian-style as the final course before dessert.

BAKED CUSTARD
Eggs, goat milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, topped with farm strawberries. A good way to feature our fresh eggs & milk, with the very valuable treat of some of the first strawberries grown on the farm (frozen at peak ripeness).

Both years we’ve done this event it’s been great fun, but also a huge amount of work. It takes us days to prepare, not counting the hours spent planning and the careful saving and marshalling of proper ingredients. Still, we really enjoy preparing and sharing all this special food, and having groups of interesting folks visit and enjoy the farm we’re working so hard to build. But we do need to think long and hard about whether to keep doing this event given the stress and time commitment. If nothing else, it sure does make us appreciate good restaurants.

Garlic tasting results

We had a great time with our garlic tasting, and I hope our visitors did too. We ended up with 9 folks who helped us explore 12 different varieties. As we didn’t think anyone could truly taste-test 12 types of garlic in one sitting, we divided the varieties into three different preparations. Each person then was responsible for testing two types head-to-head and taking notes, then could explore the others free of duties.

Below is a quick summary of results; we’re too tired to crunch all the numbers. Look for a more detailed set of results later in the week.

ROASTED HEADS
Chrysalis Purple
German Extra Hardy
Samarkand
Shvelisi

German Extra Hardy was the clear winner in roasted, with the best flavor and texture. A few people really liked Chrysalis and Samarkand. Shvelisi was fine but nothing special.

SAUTEED IN BUTTER
(spread on fresh bread or cucumber slices)
Inchelium Red
Bogatyr
Lorz Italian
Siberian

Siberian was the runaway winner here. Everyone who compared Siberian with something else loved it, and none of the others could be consistently told apart from each other. Even tasting it again this evening, the Siberian garlic butter spread on bread has the richest, most luscious garlic flavor that none of the other three could match. Bogatyr is second in richness of flavor, and other other two are very mild. Not bad, just mild.

RAW
(infused into farm-made goat chevre)
Georgian Fire
Chet’s Italian Red
Russian Giant
Tochliavri

The core result of raw garlic is that preferences depend heavily on whether you want a hot/spicy or a mild garlic. Those who liked spicy garlic thought Russian Giant was fantastic, with Georgian Fire a close second. Chet’s and Tochliavri are far milder and were preferred by people who like really mild garlic. Personally, we’ve found that Chet’s is excellent for uses like slaws and salad dressings where you want garlic flavor with no heat, and little aftertaste.

Obviously there are many other preparations and combinations, which is why we’re also recruiting customers at market to buy several heads and do some taste-testing at home with simultaneous preparations. Ask at market if you’re interested in trying this.

We’ll crunch the numbers one of these hot afternoons, but the basic conclusions seem to be that raw and roasted were easier to differentiate from each other than sauteed. This is sensible, as cooking in more complex dishes would tend to cover the subtleties of flavor, whereas raw and roasted preparations allow more leeway for flavors to come through.

When it comes to choosing a variety, even for cooking, it’s also still worth looking at the structure of the head. Cooks who use only a bit at a time might prefer a variety with many small cloves, whereas cooks who really like garlic should buy varieties with large cloves so there’s less fussing with peeling and preparation. And we’re hoping that as more customers do at-home testing, we’ll have more data from other varieties in other applications. As we get more data, we’ll be able to do a better job of suggesting varieties based on customer taste preferences and plans for cooking.

One final note: one brave couple stayed on afterward and embarked on an adventure with us, tasting all twelve varieties raw one after another. It was stimulating, and reinforced the conclusion that these varieties are very distinct when used raw (such as in salads, slaws, salsas, etc.).

Other takes on the garlic tasting will be available soon, as the author of Capturing Como will be writing up her experiences, and Marcia from the Columbia Daily Tribune will have a story in the food section a few weeks from now. And perhaps some attendees who read the blog will add any comments or experiences, good or bad?

Tasting garlic

With 2/3 of our 2,000+ heads of garlic harvested and hanging in the barn, we’re looking ahead to the sales season for our 12+ varieties. How different are they from each other for culinary uses? And which varieties are best for which use? Most of our answers to these questions have come from the catalog descriptions of the original source of our seed garlic (Seed Savers Exchange). But most of these varieties have settled in with the conditions of our farm for two or more years, especially as we move to saving more and more of our own seed stock, and variety characteristics can drift over time as well as with location. So, for the stains that we’re growing, we want to know whether these varieties are truly distinct from each other in a culinary sense, and which varieties are best for various uses (raw, sautéed, roasted).

Doing a side-by-side comparison of all of these at once overwhelms the senses. Comparing two at a time generates >60 pairings, and given that different preparation methods (raw, sautéed, roasted) bring out the strengths of different varieties, there are around 200 paired combinations worth trying. So, we need help!

We’ve been discussing various options for doing this. One is hosting a garlic-tasting event on the farm for those brave and serious foodies who want to explore many of these at once; we’d prepare the varieties in different comparable ways, such as in batches of garlic-flavored goat cheese or as roasted cloves, and have people attempt to note qualities and characteristics before their taste buds burned off. This would be similar in structure to our last tasting event, which seemed to be well-recieved.

Another idea involves recruiting customers to purchase multiple varieties and do controlled tests at home of certain preparations (roasted, salsa, raw pesto) which they would report back to us; participants would receive some reward like a discount on future garlic purchases, or an invitation to a private event on the farm later in the year.

So for now, I’m looking for feedback from readers and customers. Would you participate in any of these? Have other ideas? Comment or email so we can move forward on this; we’re thinking of hosting a tasting event on Sunday July 18 and starting to arrange the customer tests around the same time, when all the varieties are cured and ready to go.

Weekend tasting event

We have a fun and challenging event coming up on the farm this weekend, inviting a small group of chefs and foodies over to conduct some taste-testing on our farm’s products as compared to grocery store equivalents.

As scientists, we’ve always been interested in using experiments to get evidence for claims. This is certainly relevant to direct-market farming, as one of our justifications for this business is the higher-quality food we produce. It’s pretty easy to demonstrate that in-season, local, fresh product is better than the shipped-in equivalent, but what about when it’s preserved and used out of season? And what about products we can’t sell but want the right to, like our cheese? With this in mind, and with the kick in the pants from a fascinating recent article in The Atlantic, we set up this tasting luncheon on Sunday with the following menu:

Chert Hollow Farm
Tasting Meal Menu

Edamame
Comparing quality of frozen edamame: Store-bought organic shelled or unshelled, and farm-frozen shelled or unshelled.

Polenta
Comparing fresh-ground farm cornmeal with Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal. Served both plain and with homemade tomato sauce.

Chicken eggs
Comparing basic boiled eggs, both farm-fresh and Organic Valley.

Goose/Chicken eggs
Comparing flavor of each source in basic omelets with farm-dried tomatoes and Goatsbeard cheese.

Venison & Goat meat
Two comparisons of these meats, raised/hunted and butchered on-farm: slow-cooked medallions in a red wine marinade, and ground as mini-burgers on farm-baked bread.

Cheese
Tasting four sources of cheddar:
– Ireland (via. World Harvest)
Morningland Dairy (MO)
– Cabot Creamery (VT)
– Chert Hollow Farm (MO)

Pickles
Tastings of store-bought okra pickles, farm-made okra pickles, and farm-made green bean pickles.

Green beans
Comparing frozen organic green beans with frozen heirloom farm beans, topped with homemade Hollandaise sauce.

Soup beans
Comparing store-bought organic pinto beans with farm-raised mixed heirloom dried beans.

Sweet potatoes
Roasted sweet potato fries, using store-bought vs. farm-stored.

Dried tomatoes
Store-bought organic sun-dried tomatoes compared with farm-grown dehydrator-dried tomatoes; served as main topping on baked flatbreads.

Chamomile tea
Store-bought organic chamomile vs. farm-grown and dried chamomile.

We’re absolutely fascinated to see how this turns out. It will be a blind test, with each course labelled only by letters and guests given scorecards to record ratings and other notes. I have my expectations on how various items will be scored, but the whole point is that I’m hardly an unbiased source. We can’t wait to have reasonably fair raw data to look at, and report.

All the results will be live on the blog next week. Where our products rank higher, great. Where they’re indistinguishable, that’s good to know and customers can still feel better supporting a local farm. Where they rate lower, we need to work on improvement and/or alter our price & marketing claims.