One contemporary writer has said, “We eat so much corn that, biologically speaking, most Americans are corn on two legs.” What if, instead of eating the byproducts of corn, we began consuming corn again in purer and more delicious forms? What if we gave corn back some dignity? Three Sisters Nixtamal, an organic corn masa and tortilla making business based out of Sellwood, has just this vision. Read the interview below with the owners, Wendy Downing and Adriana Azcárate-Ferbel, to learn about how they incorporate the tradition of corn in the Americas into their business and how you can incorporate the power of corn into your own life.
How did you meet each other and form the idea of Three Sisters Nixtamal?
Wendy: We met in prenatal yoga ten years ago in Sellwood. I have a chef background, and Adriana has a naturopath background. Adriana went to Mexico six or seven years after we had become friends and inherited her aunt’s tortilla cutter and bought a small stone grinder when she was there. Upon her return, she asked if I wanted to go into business with her. We starting selling our products in July of 2012 at the People’s Farmer Market and not long after at the Portland Homestead Supply.
Is that tortilla cutter still in operation?
Adriana: No, but I still have it. It’s a simple cutting machine— we picked up the tortillas off the belt and cooked them on a flat-top grill. Now, we have two machines that do all this in one.
Where did you learn to make corn masa and tortillas?
Wendy: We learned this process by researching on line and in books and then going to businesses in Portland, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and in Mexico that are still making their tortillas and fresh masa the traditional way.
Adriana: Nixtamaliztion and tortilla making has been done for thousands of years in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. The cooking and soaking whole dried corn kernels in water, salt, and lime (an alkaline, calcium hydroxide, not citrus lime) is a nutrient-enriching process discovered over three thousand years ago by the Indigenous people inhabiting what is now southeast Mexico and Guatemala. Everyone used to cook corn at their house and grind it by hand or take it to a local mill, but with modern times and the industrialization of the food system, people are mostly buying masa or tortillas at grocery stores or tortillerias and it is becoming more prevalent to use the dried tortilla flour instead of fresh masa.
Adriana: You see, they’re cooking blue corn, white corn, and yellow corn in these vats. She’s mixing the corn so that it will cook evenly. We can’t digest the nutrition in the corn without this cooking process; it unlocks the nutrients.
To cook it properly we have to taste it, check the temperature, and check how it feels to really say if it’s ready or not. When the kernels are cooked they soak overnight. The next morning we drain and rinse the corn and put it through a wet grinder. Our “Molino” has one fixed stone and another stationary stone so you can adjust the stones for the coarseness of the grind. We do custom orders for restaurants or individuals based on their desired grind for the corn. After we grind it, we mix it in the mixer. Masa needs to be mixed for the starches to join together. We then add water and a little bit of salt, and then it is ready to be made into tortillas or packed into blocks for people and restaurants to make their own.
Where do you source all of the corn?
It varies depending on what is available. Our blue corn typically comes from New Mexico and Mexico. The white and the yellow corn come from Illinois or Texas. We used to get it from Southern Oregon and Northern California, but the quality varied and that particular distributor preferred working with larger companies. It can be challenging for small companies to find a constant source of organic corn since the corn is harvested in the fall and then stored for the rest of the year. Sources have to change as the availability varies.
Most people now use masa harina or maseca at home, which is an industrially-made dried tortilla corn flour. The flavor and texture is not the same. We cook the corn kernels, grind them, and do not mix them with any flour. Most tortilla companies use this dried tortilla flour because it is easier, more consistent and takes less labor and expertise. Some companies mix the dried flour with fresh masa for a more standard and cheaper product. We use only 100% freshly nixtamalized organic corn masa with no added preservatives— just four ingredients: whole dried corn, water, lime (calcium hydroxide), and salt. Our way costs more. Corn production is subsidized by the United States and the company that makes the tortilla flour is subsidized by Mexico so there are two subsidies, and it’s really, really cheap. People might choose the tortillas from maseca because it’s less expensive, but once people taste the difference between our tortillas and the others, that’s when they are like, “Wow, this tastes better!”
Do you supply specific restaurants in the Portland region?
Yes! La Taq, La Panza Café and Stella Taco use mostly our masa and tortillas. We are also on the menu at two of the ChaChaCha! restaurants, Blossoming Lotus, Pono Farms at the Portland Farmers Market, Irving Street Kitchen, Bijou, Groundbreaker, American Local and Paragon. Our tamale masa is on the menu at Por Que No and Sarah’s Tamales at People’s Co-op Farmers Market.
There is a new food cart here in Sellwood, D.F. Fresh, and they are making tlacoyos, which almost no one makes in the United States. Tlacoyos are usually made with blue corn masa, and they are stuffed with beans, Mexcian ricotta, and favas or nopales. D.F. Fresh is making market type quesadillas out of our masa. It’s not easy to find 100% nixmatal.
A lot of people buy the tortilla flour masa and have a hard time getting the right consistency for making tortillas. It is easier to achieve the right consistency and a softer tortilla with fresh masa. If you have a tortilla press, you put the ball of masa between two plastic bags in it, press it as thick or as thin as you want, and then put the tortilla on a preheated griddle on medium to medium high heat. Put your tortilla on the griddle for thirty seconds. When the edges began to turn up just a bit and the color becomes more opaque, it is ready to flip the first time. After that, you wait a minute and then flip it again, and usually it puffs. If the tortilla hasn’t puffed, you should keep it on the grill for a bit longer. When you are preparing tortillas for tacos, you want it to puff because the steam inside the air bubble is going to keep your tortilla moist and softer. If you can cook a pancake, you can make a tortilla. It just takes one extra turn.
Can you use a rolling pin instead of a tortilla press?
Yes, it will just be harder and less even. When I lived in Spain, I didn’t have my press, so I used to press my tortillas between books. You can also press it by hand, but it will be thicker, more like a gordita or sope.
Masa is used for more than just tortillas. Its flexibity is the best thing about it! You don’t have to do just tortillas, you can make sopes, gorditas, tlacoyo, use it with other ingredients for tamales or pupusas. You can do so many things.
How often do you teach classes at the Portland Homestead Supply?
Once a month. We teach participants how to make tortillas, sopes, and gorditas. It’s really fun because we bring beans and salsas, so you get to eat everything you make! In most cooking classes, you sit down and observe. Here, no, everyone is making their own things because I want them to be able to go home and do it.
Is your masa available at most markets that sell your tortillas?
The fresh masa is more perishable than our tortillas and people are not familiar with it or sometimes don’t want to take the time to make their own tortillas. About half of the stores stock our masa as well as our tortillas. Portland Homestead was the first store to sell our products so you can find it here or if you can special order masa if you would like a larger quantity or a coarser grind for making tamales.
How long does the masa last?
Ten to twelve days. Longer if you don’t mind it fermenting a little bit. It’s ok if it’s a little fermented. We make fermented masa and corn beverages in Mexico like tequino.
What is your next step as a business?
I would love to be more accessible to some Latino stores in the community. We are reaching out to make connections to church groups so they can provide healthier food to their communities. I wish that we could be slightly subsidized so we could supply healthier food to a wider customer base. Some people shy away from the word organic, but it is better for the planet and the people. Our people have been eating tortillas for thousands of years, and now they are ingesting all of these chemical preservatives in their tortillas and eating non-organic. I would love to be able to provide something healthier for them.
Our goal is to provide great food and bring the spirit of the corn to everyone. Some people in the U.S. have a preconceived notion that they don’t really like corn tortillas. When they try ours, they say “Oh, wow, I didn’t even know that they tasted that good.” Our tortillas have a better texture and taste better because we don’t use chemicals, and we are treating the corn the way it has been treated for thousands of years. In Mexico, we have songs that say without corn, we are not people. We are not a nation without corn. So part of our business is bringing respect to the corn again. We would like to educate more people about why we are doing this and why they should choose this product.
Corn is a grain of the Americas. Learning to utilize it the way it should be used is bringing back who we are. We are teaching people how to use the fresh organic corn masa so they can use it to make their own food at home and teach their children. Our kids love making their own tortillas. I have customers who tell me that making tortillas has become an activity that brings their family together.
We want to teach people that making tortillas is something you can do! It’s not that hard. That’s why we began offering the masa. Not only is it more economical, once people try it out, they discover that it’s not that hard to prepare tortillas at home. Our traditional tortilla making process is bringing back knowledge that has been lost through the industrialization of our food system.
Posted in Urban Farmwife | March 6th, 2015
Having mom move in with me took a bit of getting used to. I mean, two strong minded women in one household? Still, if you read my book you know Sonja (my mom) was my teacher in all things related to food, and I owe her a ton of gratitude for that. Frankly, I still do which is more a comeuppance than a surprise.
In some odd stroke of fate and synchronicity the farm mom showed up at just the right time and with just the right attitude and skills. Thanks to her the farm home is operating as it should with three square meals a day cooked from scratch with nothing wasted. Which is what I mean by my comeuppance. If it wasn’t for her, the stuff hanging out in the freezer, cellar and pantry shelf from bounty 2014 would be lingering past its prime. Though I’m a tad ashamed of my sloth it seems I get to eat humble “pie” in the form of cake — miles and miles of cherry, blueberry and strawberry cake.
The cakes started showing up innocently enough. Baking has always been a way for Sonja to show her love which, for her grandson, meant cherry cake. Though canned cherries were not in my pantry when the cake-a-thons started, I kept my mouth shut deferring to the instinct that was bringing those cakes to bare. I mean love is love and if she needed to buy canned cherries then, well, I’m not about to look a gift cake in the mouth. But when she starting reaching for the my store of frozen blueberries I knew a great notion was not only being born but would soon be on the rise (sorry).
For the next few weeks we enjoyed our fair share of blueberry cakes only to be followed by strawberry cakes from my store of frozen Hoods. Though I have lost count I would imagine a half dozen strawberry cakes have met their maker which is good news given that fresh strawberry season is just around the corner. It appears that with little (or no) planning on my part strawberry stores 2014 will give way in time for strawberry season 2015 which is just the way it should happen in a perfect world (though for the record I have never lived in perfect world).
Yep, with Sonja around stuff has been moving. The tomato sauce is flying off the shelves (meat balls in sauce is a house favorite) as are the last of the stored potatoes (baked, boiled, mashed and repeat). We have enjoyed sides and sides of sauteed greens (made before and after the inevitable brassica flowering ensues) and piles of caramelized onions made in response to their early warp-speed sprouting and turned into “French” onion soup. My hunch It was likely some old farm wife or mom with a bunch of sprouting onions on their hands that came up with the brilliant idea to cook them to a fraction of their size and render their divinely sweet, dark and unctuous essence. Combined with a bit of beef broth and wine and top with crusty old bread and bit of melted cheese and you get something brilliant from slim pickings. Now that’s what I call enlightened peasant cooking.
This matter of peasant cooking is not all that removed from the world my mom came from. More likely it was cooking that still had a good deal of utility and frugality built into it — a time when three square meals a day was more a blessing then a given. That memory gets embedded in a person which is why mom is more walk then talk and why I said I was getting a comeuppance. Though I try to hold my own it is yet an optional endeavor. Eating out, particularly in Portland, Oregon, is always a tasty option. And so my hat goes to the farm mom who is showing me, once again, how it’s done and just in the nick of time.
Posted in Uncategorized | March 3rd, 2015
On these February mornings when the foggy dawn threatens to cloud one’s clarity, I often turn to the warm flame of a candle as a beacon of the coming spring. Humans have been lighting their way through winter for thousands upon thousands of years. The wax has changed based on the resources available regionally, from indigenous insects (China), the fruit of the cinnamon tree (India), animal fat (Europe), and the berries of bayberry bushes (early colonial America). In the late 18th century, the extraction of everything whale from the global ocean yielded a candle wax called spermaceti, a wax obtained by crystallizing sperm whale oil.
All of the waxes above had their pros and cons. Spermaceti burned brighter and beeswax burned sweeter (imagine the smell of animal fat slowly melting and you’ll see why this was a well-received innovation). This article will introduce you to the origin of the waxes that the Portland Homestead Supply sells and the pros and cons of the waxes they supply for candle-making.
The Homestead Supply sells five varieties of wax: three soy-based waxes, beeswax, and Candelilla wax. They do not sell paraffin wax, which is what holds the exotic smells of the majority of candles on the market, like Bath and Body Works Cherry Blossom Sangria or Brazilian Blue Waters candles. Paraffin wax is a material extracted as a byproduct of the crude oil refining process. Isla Wilson, candle making extraordinaire and employee of the Homestead Supply, said, “Paraffin contains a lot of dodgy chemicals, mainly formaldehyde and benzene. When you burn paraffin, it emits those chemicals into the air. I chose to work with soy and beeswax because I want to create natural candles that are not toxic, and are safe to burn around the entire family and pets.”
The waxes that the Homestead Supply sells for candle making are all sourced from renewable resources, making them both safe to burn and sustainable in the long-term to produce. Let’s start saucing about soy.
The Homestead Supply carries three varieties of soy wax, all sourced from a company called EcoSoya. The varieties are EcoSoya PB (Pillar Blend), Ecosoya CB Xcel (X-CEL Container Blend) and Ecosoya CB-Advanced (Advanced Container Blend). While there are other good soy waxes on the market, EcoSoya wax is unique because it is made from domestically grown, non-GMO soybeans, which undergo intensive manufacturing processes to remove any presence of pesticides, herbicides, or Gentically Modified Materials (GMM). The EcoSoya waxes listed above are not technically 100% soy candles because they have botanical oils added to them, which are supposed to enhance the quality of the wax burning.
If you are interested in adding scent or color to your candles, soy is the wax for you. As Isla, owner of Wee Mindings, said, “I really enjoy working with soy because I personally love fragrant not overpowering candles, and soy holds fragrance really well.” Isla mentioned that different soy waxes exist for different applications. If you are adding low flash point essential oils, like lemon, you can’t add them into a 150-degree soy wax because they will just evaporate. Thus, if you are contemplating adding fragrance to your soy candle, you need to consider which the flash point of the essential oils you want to use and what soy wax would correspond. Another benefit of soy is that is a very clean burning vegetable wax. Thus, the inevitable candle making mess will be easier to clean up than if you use beeswax, which is much trickier to clean.
The Portland Homestead Supply gets their beeswax from a large beekeeping business based out of Eastern Washington and Montana. The owners, Joe and Jode Messenger, have been keeping bees commercially since 1994. When I inquired about their beekeeping philosophy, Jode said simply, “To keep our bees alive. It gets harder and harder each year as we progress.” Bees are in trouble across the United States, under attack by mites, pesticides, and an increasing lack of food as monoculture agriculture dominates our horizons. Thus, it is no surprise that beeswax is the most expensive wax available.
Although beeswax is expensive, its virtues are plentiful. As Jode Messenger said, “Beeswax is not hazardous or carcinogenic. It is solvent-free and contains no additives.” Although you cannot dye beeswax brilliant colors like you could a soy or paraffin candle, Jode brought my attention to the joy of the spectrum of natural colors of beeswax candles. She told me that last year’s wax was a darker wax because the bees fed predominately on alfalfa. This year, the bees have been making honey mostly from clover, which produces a lighter wax.
The Messenger’s operation is not organic because they travel with their bees, allowing the bees to pollinate apple trees in Washington and cherry and almond tress in California during different seasons. Joe and Jode cannot monitor what plants each individual bee pollinates and thus cannot guarantee that the honey and beeswax they produce is 100% pesticide free.
Beeswax is lovely because it’s ancient (the oldest candle in human history), is arguably the most environmentally friendly of all waxes, burns longer and brighter than other waxes, and releases sweet smelling honey and floral notes. I have heard that beeswax, when burned, emits negative ions that improve air quality by neutralizing the positive ions of pollutants. When I asked Jode about this, she had no concrete answer about the effect of burning beeswax on air quality or decreasing the effects of allergies. However, she did mention that ingesting local honey, imbued with pollen that is particular to the region, will help decrease allergies. Below is a infographic that simplifies the differences between soy and beeswax to help you choose which you would like to work with!
The Portland Homestead Supply also sells candelilla which is wildcrafted in the United States. Candelilla wax is extracted by boiling the wax-coated stems of Candelilla shrubs, which are native to Northern Mexico and the bordering dry southern states of the USA. Candelilla wax is more expensive than most waxes, but is a great vegan alternative to beeswax. Candelilla wax is mainly used in making cosmetics, like lip balms and soaps, but can also be used to make candles.
If you want more information about the way different waxes act during the process of candle making, I suggest you take Isla Wilson’s candle making class at the Portland Homestead Supply. Or simply start experimenting and take notes on what works and what doesn’t! We still got a few months of drizzly Portland spring to make it through, so here’s to happy candle making.
I sat down to wait for Isla at Grand Central Bakery in Sellwood. She walked in with effervescent exuberance, greeting each Grand Central employee by name and then proceeding to ask with genuine curiosity about each of their mornings. For those of you who frequent the Portland Homestead Supply, you have probably had the chance to interact with the lovely Isla; she works the front desk on Tuesdays and teaches the candle making classes at the store. The pleasant surprise is that she is not only an employee, but also a vendor! Isla is the proud owner of Wee Mindings, a small business that sells heart-felt gifts like candles, lotion bars, lip balms, and soaps. Read below to find out more about Isla, the inspiration for her business, and helpful candle-making tips.
When did you start making candles, and how did you learn?
When I was living overseas, I bought several books on candle making. I would read about it, but also would buy a candle every time I went shopping. As soon as we moved to Sellwood three years ago, I signed up for a candle-making class with Kristl. I was in one of the first candle-making classes taught at the Homestead Supply. I fell in love with it! I got home and decided that I needed to learn all the nitty-gritty about candle-making in order to make it into a business for myself. I started my business in January of 2013.
Tell me the story behind Wee Mindings.
Wee Mindings means little gifts in Scottish. When I was growing up, my granny used to come to boarding school and give us little treats. She would come and say, “Here’s a wee minding for you to cheer you up!” We shared a love for potions and lotions, so she would usually drop off little hand creams at school for me. My granny passed away about eight years ago at the age of 90 after a good, long life. We were really close, and I wanted to honor her in some way through my business. So that’s the Wee Mindings. I also think it’s hard to find affordable but good quality little gifts. My concept is to make really high quality products that are affordable for a big section of the population. When I used to go shopping for nice candles, they were in the $30 range, which is ridiculous for a candle. We all need little gifts on hand that won’t break the bank!
Is making the candles affordable a big challenge for you?
It’s not. I’m lucky that I can obtain most of my ingredients locally. I get many products through the Portland Homestead Supply store. The challenge is not making the candles affordable, but is finding stores where my products fit. A lot of the stores think that good candles need to sell for $25 or more, and I think there is a big market in Portland for people seeking natural and nicely packaged gifts in the $5 to $20 price range.
Where else do you sell, besides online?
I sell at a wonderful fair trade shop on Mississippi called PDXchange. They carry many of my products – candles, lip balms and bath sachets. The Sellwood Dog Supply also carries my candles!
What are common challenges beginners face in making soaps or candles? Do you have any “pro-tips” to share from your work?
One of the cool things about candle-making is that it’s a journey. Maybe one day you’ll do something and it turns out great. The next day you may have a big sinkhole in the top of your candle. People get frustrated that they’ve done everything according to the instructions, and it hasn’t turned out just right. I like to say that the best thing to do is to take notes. Write down what your pour temperature is and see how that effects the overall look of your candles. That way, if there are any issues you can adjust the temperature accordingly. I give out lots of tips in the candle making class on how to create soy and beeswax candles at home, and how to fix any imperfections. My key point to share is that if you want to have consistent results with your candles, you need to be measuring temperatures, and practice makes perfect!
What types of wax do you use for candle making? What are the pros and cons of the waxes that you use?
I use both soy and beeswax. I love beeswax because it’s a natural, renewable resource and it makes the longest burning natural candle you can make. Beeswax candles burn about twice as long as a soy candle the same size. The only con about beeswax is that you have to find a melting pot to dedicate to beeswax, as it doesn’t clean up easily. It can also be trickier to find the correct wick size when working with beeswax.
I really enjoy working with soy because I personally love fragrant not overpowering candles, and soy holds fragrance really well. Soy is a very clean burning vegetable, so it’s easy to clean up, unlike beeswax.
Soy burns twice as long as a paraffin candle the same size. Paraffin candles are what you see in most stores like Target and World Market. Paraffin is the cheapest wax you can buy. It is created from the sludge waste when crude oil is refined into gasoline. It contains a lot of dodgy chemicals, mainly formaldehyde and benzene. When you burn paraffin, it is emitting those chemicals into the air. I chose to work with soy and beeswax because I want to create natural candles that are not toxic, and are safe to burn around the entire family and pets.
Different soy waxes exist for different applications. You would want a low melting soy wax if you were using essential oils with a really low flash point, like lemon or sweet orange essential oil. You couldn’t add those essential oils into a 150 degree soy wax because they would just evaporate.
For people that are just starting out, where would you suggest getting materials or doing classes?
All are available at the Homestead Supply store! We have people come from out of town, the Gorge, Oregon Coast because they find us online and know we have everything to make candles from start to finish. We have the wicks, the tabs, the wax, the molds, the containers.
What is your favorite “wee minding” that you have created over the years?
I set up a booth at the Scottish Highland Games last summer. It was really nice for me to see who bought my products and why. Most people are drawn to my logo and to the Celtic script. What I loved about it most was that they wanted to share with me tales of their Scottish heritage. A lady bought a candle at the Highland Games and went back to North Carolina. It was a ‘Secret Garden’ candle that smells of sweet violet and lime. She emailed me right before Christmas and asked if I could use the candle fragrance in soaps so she could wash in it! She told me that she suffered from depression her whole life and that the fragrance made her happy. That would be one of my favorite customer stories!
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Unlike some of the other vendors who are selling items that you buy to help create something, I am actually handcrafting goods for the gift category. I operate in kind of direct competition with people who come in to create their own candles. I hope that for every person that wants to do that, there is another who says, “Oh, here’s a candle ready made up, and I’m going to buy it.” Similarly to other homesteaders, I go by the premise that I like to use ingredients that are beneficial to your health and skin. Sharing my candle making skills with others in the candle class gives me a lot of joy, and helps me be more of a homesteader!
What is your vision for your business five or ten years down the road?
My immediate goal would be to try to expand into a couple more stores that I love in the Portland area. I’ve met with New Seasons and Whole Foods about getting my products into their stores. Unfortunately, right now, I don’t have the manpower to sell there, should I be fortunate enough for them to express an interest, because I create and package everything from start to finish, which is really time-consuming. Unless I expand and hire people, being in a big retailer would not be feasible. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t like that down the road, but I’d need to do a lot of thinking. In the immediate future, selling in small boutique gift shops in the Portland metro area is my goal.
For the people that read this on the Homestead blog, I’d love to say a huge thank you to everyone who has purchased a Wee Minding for themselves or as a gift, or attended a candle class. Thank you for supporting my business and I wish all of you a new year filled with light and joy!
And last but not least, thank you to the Portland Homestead Supply – the first store in Portland to carry Wee Mindings. I’m so grateful for everything you have done for me.
You can browse through Isla’s products at her website – www.weemindings.com.
On a rainy Saturday, I came upon Neil Bohne’s booth at the Portland Saturday Market. Holiday shoppers teemed around his booth, bestowing praise upon Neil’s unique handmade wooden and acrylic razors. Neil has a magic hand for all things wooden and sells not just his distinctive razors at the Portland Homestead Supply, but also soap molds and molded beeswax. After beginning to sell soap molds for the Homestead Supply, Neil took a soap-making class and now only uses handmade soap in his own home! Read the interview below to learn more about Neil, his unique art, and how he sees himself fitting into the homestead movement.
How did you begin making handmade shaving razors?
A few years ago, I was selling cutting boards at the Saturday Market. There were so many other artists selling cutting boards, so I thought I would change it up. I had made my Dad a razor set for Father’s Day, and it was a hit, so I started producing and selling shaving razors for the Saturday Market.
I am active in the Air Force, which is what brought me to Portland. I’ve got seventeen years in and three years left to go. I get home at 5:00 at night, work in the garage until about midnight, and sell on the weekends on the Saturday Market. When I retire in three years, I’ll be doing this full time.
It is a badger hair brush. The reason I use the badger hair brush is because it holds the most amount of water, and it’s all natural. The brush is used to stimulate the whiskers before a shave.
Are there other people who are occupying the same market niche as you currently?
Absolutely not. I am the only person in the Portland area that’s doing these handmade razor sets. There are people doing them in other areas, but I’m trying to differentiate mine by making unique designs, like the deer antlers, natural woods, and acrylics.
Here at the Saturday Market, there’s a lot of jewelry and clothing, but there’s not many gifts for guys, which has turned out to be a niche that’s good for me.
I have a lot of different materials that I craft my razors out of. My favorite and the more popular design is my natural-shed white deer antler razor. The antlers are from Montana. I go out in the woods and find them myself in the spring, so they are naturally procured.
I go to the scrap bins for the wood that I make my razors out of. So instead of throwing wood away or burning it, I turn it into something that’s going to last a lifetime. On some of my razor handles, I mix acrylic and put it in the voids of the wood. Those turn out just beautiful as well.
I make beeswax wood conditioner that I sell at the Portland Homestead Supply. It is all natural beeswax that I filter myself, and then I mix it with mineral oil. It’s 100% food safe for conditioning wooden cutting boards.
In terms of the process, how do you go about making the razors?
Everything starts out as either a piece or a block of wood. I cut the wood to a square size that I need, and then I drill a hole inside that for the razors, and then I turn them out. Once I get them to where I like them, I sand them down to about 1000 grit, and coat them with superglue, which makes them 100% waterproof.
When did you learn to work with wood?
I started out making cutting boards. Nature is amazing with the different types of woods and designs and styles she can make. Woodworking gets my mind off of other things and get’s me into a world of my own. I learned many of my skills watching YouTube videos. A lot of artists share their abilities and ideas on YouTube. I learned through them and through trial and error.
Have you ever taught woodworking classes?
I’ve been asked by WoodCraft to teach people how to do the acrylic work because it’s an art to work with the acrylic and get different colors. You have to get things just right. I mix the colors all myself. I make my own molds for the acrylic, then pour it in, and let it harden.
What is the purpose of a soap mold for those of us who have never made soap?
Soap molds hold soap into a form when you are making homemade soap. People use wooden soap molds because they hold heat well. If you are doing a cold process soap, you need to be able to keep heat in for twenty four hours so that the saponification can occur. If you do a hot process, the wood also holds the heat, but acts principally as a form to mold the soap.
How do you feel like your work contributes to the larger homestead movement?
The shaving razors are bringing people back to more of the pioneer days of using double edge safety razors and badger hair brushes. The soap molds are imperative because they allow people to make their own soap for use at home. The beeswax conditioner allows them to keep wood products they own from cracking or drying out.
What’s your next step for your business?
Right now, I am the sole proprietor. My shaving sets have become so popular that I’ve had a lot of local businesses ask me to do wholesale. As soon I retire from the air force, I am thinking of getting some local employees, producing more, and going wholesale with my items.
Danny Perich, owner of Full Plate Farm, farms and harvests food for 85 winter CSA shares on a small piece of land in Ridgefield, Washington. The land belongs to his wife’s parents and his wife, Michelle was born and raised there. I am one of the lucky participants of the vegetables that Danny nurtures and watches over all winter long. The first share that I got last week had a golden beet the size of my face and sweet carrots that made me realize that the grocery store carrots I have been consuming for years are as flavorful as cardboard.
Wendell Berry’s famous line “Eating is an agricultural act,” reminds us that our food choices have larger effects than simply filling our stomachs, but rather are political acts that reinforce different food structures and systems. Danny has labored over his piece of land in Washington to be able to bring nutritious, unique varieties of vegetables to his shares and to support his family (including his very new twins!). Portland Homestead Supply is one of the drop-off sites for Full Plate Farms’ amazing winter CSA. Check out the interview below to learn more about Full Plate Farms and to benefit from Danny’s suggestions for cooking winter vegetables common to the NW.
When did you first get involved in farming, and where did you acquire the skills you have now? I went through the organization WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to New Zealand and hopped around volunteering at different small farms. When I came back, I starting working on a small family farm in Wisconsin that raised sheep and goats and made cheese. They had four kids, forty goats, two dogs, seven cats, a pony, and a couple sheep, and a bunch of vegetables. I was twenty-one that summer and fell in love with farming then, the hard work, the animals, the family, the life. After that, I looked for opportunities around Portland to come back home. It’s been a good journey so far.
Tell me the story of Full Plate Farm. How did it come to be? Michelle, my wife, was born and raised here. Michelle’s parents had always said, “You’re welcome to use our land if you ever want to.” I would always look at it and say that doesn’t seem like great soil out there. It’s not like, “Oh yeah, let’s farm out here in Ridgefield.” A lot of it is clay with a low PH, which you have to cover crop intensively to bring the PH up. It takes a lot of time, money and patience to bring the soil up to what it should be to grow vegetables off of. A few years ago, we were living in Portland, but Michelle wanted to live out in the country eventually, and I wanted to farm and have my own place. So we took up her parents offer, moved to Ridgefield, and started to farm on their land. The first season the cover crop barely grew. I soil test every year and try to dial the soil in closer and closer in order to achieve the optimal growth for the vegetables.
Was the difficult soil part of why you chose to specialize in winter vegetables? It was. I thought I could do a summer CSA at first, but it was too hard to get anything started in the spring because the soil has a higher water table here, which doesn’t allow you to get established that early. If we were ever going to do a summer CSA, we would have to start in July rather than June, so it just wasn’t worth the struggle or the headache.
Also, we were extremely busy in the summer because we were remodeling our house and I was managing Meriwether’s Skyline Farm. I wanted to start something slow and low key at home. So we started a winter CSA with a little over a dozen folks the first year. Every year, we kept doubling our output, growing for 24 folks the second year, 50 the third year, 85 the fourth. This year, our fifth year, we have around 85 folks again. We are getting close to using the land as much as I want to.
I hadn’t heard of a winter CSA before hearing of Full Plate Farm, how unique do you think that is, either in Portland or nationwide?
There’s a good handful of folks that have been doing it year round or having seasonal CSAs. Pumpkin Ridge Farms out in Beaverton has a year round CSA. 47th Ave Farm located in SE Portland has a winter CSA. Growing in the winter can be risky in a lot of ways, even if you do know what you’re doing. The weather can still go crazy. Last winter was a pretty hard winter. We had plenty of carrots in the end, but had a gap in our kale harvest, which is rare for us. It’s not like the summer when you can say this crop totally failed, let’s hurry up and plant another round. Everything in the winter is slow growing, barely growing, so you can’t make up for losses as easily.
Right. In that vein, to harvest in the winter, when do you need to plant? Leeks, winter squash, and potatoes get planted in May or sometimes even June. That starts our planting schedule. Most everything else is seeded in July, all the chickarees, carrots, brassicas, kale, and collards.
Wow. So they are growing for months and months. Yeah, the vegetables grow normally up to this point in early November. From now until mid February, they grow minisculely. Once mid February comes, everything starts to grow again and it’s exponential from there. The green starts to re-grow on the vegetables the last month and a half the season. The vegetables ride the slow waves of winter.
Are you certified organic? What sort of farming practices do you engage in? We basically follow the organic practices, but we aren’t certified because it’s just one more fee to pay. We just sell to CSAs. If restaurants or selling wholesale ever becomes our main market, if we expand and rent land somewhere, then we’d get certified at that point. There’s no reason to get certified when we are only selling direct to families.
What is your favorite winter vegetable, and how do you like to prepare it? Well, I love carrots. Winter carrots are amazing because all of the starches turn to sugar because of the freezes. Once we get our first frost, all the greens, the parsnips, and the carrots sweeten up. You just don’t get that if you buy California carrots; they don’t get freezes; they don’t get that sweetness. If you buy local produce in the winter here, the flavors are truly incredible. Carrots are my favorite because they’re so versatile. You can roast them, mash them, snack on them, and they’re a big hit with kids. Also, I love making parsnip fries. Just cut them up into fry like shapes, drizzle olive oil and salt, and put them in the oven for a half hour or forty-five minutes at 400 degrees. I’d rather have those than French fries any day. Sugarloaf chicories are amazing too. They are a bitter green that looks like a small baguette. Incredible in a mixed salad, but you can also cut it in half, drizzle olive oil, put it in the oven for fifteen minutes at high heat. That is a nice way to prepare it because you get sweetness and crispiness.
In your work as a farmer all over the country, how have you seen the CSA movement evolve? I’ve seen it become a common name where most people have either heard of a CSA or heard of the idea. CSA is such a funny term, people kind of get the idea, but it’s easier to explain as something like a beer of the month club, but you get vegetables instead! I think the CSA market is expanding alongside the growth of the whole organic movement, which has exploded in the last five to ten years. I’ve seen the CSA market expand and diversify. There are now bread CSAs, fruit CSAs and different models of vegetable CSAs. Josh, over at Our Table Cooperative, offers shares for each season of the year and individual shares for one person. The CSA market has become really specific and farmers are tapping into different niches by offering something unique.
What is your next step for your business? What is your vision for yourself ten years down the road? Five years from now, I imagine we will have rented some land nearby and expanded our operations, offering more winter CSA shares and selling to wholesale markets too. We would also like to partner more with schools around here. Every spring, students from the Portland Waldorf School spend a week up here, camping out, learning what it means to have a life on the farm. It would be awesome to be able to offer more educational opportunities. My own daughter, Ramona, will probably be driving the tractor, she’ll be eight in five years.
My oh my, what a busy season it has been. We all knew it was coming but who really remembers in early Spring as we rush to find the earliest of strawberries for making jam? No, this is our lot in life and, for me, there is no turning back.
Living and eating by the seasons and from your pantry is not only what we do but what we are and I dare say the farmers are glad for it. At least I would assume so given their smiles at the last Fill Your Pantry Event I attended.
The event held on November 3rd in Corvallis, Oregon and sponsored by the Ten River’s Food Web was promoted as “a one-day farmers’ market offering bulk quantities of beans, grains, storage crops, and preserves. We believe this event is a great way to facilitate local eating throughout the fall and winter months. It also allows our local food farmers, ranchers, orchardists, beekeepers, and cheesemakers to move large quantities of produce before the winter season while demonstrating the ability to raise edible staples across the Willamette Valley.”
For the past four years I have made the pilgrimage to what is arguably one of my favorite events of the year. Of course I’m a bit strange but the mind and heart can burst with the energy of the local food movement. That I get to be a part of it gives me pride, farmwife pride, a cook-in-the-winter-kitchen pride.
The winter kitchen is a lovely place to be. Besides all those delicious long-simmering soups, stews, casseroles and my-oh-my pies, it is the reason for the season of our madness. It is where we put all the good work filling our pantry to the good work of feeding our friends and family. This is the logic of the system – from seed to pantry and back around. This is the logic of the farmwife but somewhere along the line folks got too busy to cook so industry took over. Slowly folks are returning to the task but not without others spitting bullets about the notion that good old fashioned home cooking is anything other than tyranny.
There are a lot of valid reasons why folks feel over burdened in this world. Hell’s bells if there aren’t and I would be the first to say our modern world has turned the home place into little more than a way station between obligations. Cooking? Home cooking? Are you kidding me? I get it but I will say that a nation of home cooks can do more to change the culture of farming or economics in America then almost anything else I can think of.
My rationale for that statement is longer than I can post here but home cooking is a powerful tool particularly when done in support of the local farming movement. It gives them an outlet for what may otherwise not suit markets and chefs because we home cooks know that a blemish here and there does not matter. Moreover, we are invested with the skills and desire to avoid packaging and understand how the main becomes the many.
Wheat berries, for example, bought whole and either cooked as a side dish or cracked for porridge or ground for flour or bulgur or, or, or, allows for a myriad of transformations and a whole wheat berry, properly stored, will last well into the next season. Ground into flour, on the other hand, the germ of the wheat berry is exposed to air and can become rancid over time which is why flour should be stored in the refrigerator. This principle applies to so many other ingredients that, with a little bit of knowledge, a fully stocked winter pantry can become an invitation for endless innovation without taking up room in the fridge.
This is the way your grandparents or great grandparents or someone’s grandparents used to live and it is inspiring to see how many folks are catching on. Heck, when I first started on this journey I had to access information on winter storage from the archives of my local extension office. Now they are displayed proudly and what a lovely thing that is.
So while home cooking is not everyone’s path it is a yummy way to support your local farmer. Perhaps next year we will be able to have such and event in Portland. Certainly we have enough talent and heart to pull it off. For now, however, I will keep my 2015 calendar marked for this event since it is one of the highlights of my year. Oh, and if you want to get in on the action this year there is still time. The Willamette Farm and Food Coalition is hosting a Fill Your Pantry event on November 16th between 1-5. To get more information follow this link. Until then, happy winter cooking.
Posted in Interview | October 30th, 2014
Fall in Portland is a bountiful time, when pumpkin everything adorns menus and the brisk breeze that graces the streets makes you want to stoke a wood fire and lay in front of it like a cat. If you are seeking to break outside of the realm of pumpkin in search of foods that make you feel warm inside, making your own sausage could be your next step towards fall contentment. Check out the interview below with Corey Pressman, who teaches sausage making classes at the Portland Homestead Supply, for tips that will help you to access the joy of sausage, and of cooking in general. When did you start making sausage, and who did you learn from? I put myself through college and graduate school by cooking in restaurants. I got very technically proficient, but didn’t quite understand the magical value of food until after moving to Portland. Right after I first moved here, Wildwood opened up in NW. Corey Schreiber was the chef, and it was all local, sustainable, and fresh food, an Alice Waters sort of vibe. I still remember my first meal; it was trout wrapped in bacon on a bed of lentils that brought me to tears. I’d never experienced food to have that emotional content. I was blown away and realized that I had the same skills as the guys in the kitchen, which started my journey to access that food magic myself. I learned very quickly that it wasn’t hard at all. I started teaching kids how to cook at my childrens’ school, then got the teaching bug and wanted to share my food philosophy with others. I knew Doug and Kristl from another context and they encouraged me to teach classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. After that, I started a small teaching company called Ama Meats. Ama is Latin for love, and the tagline is Fat, Salt, Love. Those are the things you need to make sausage. I also just got a gig teaching at Sur La Table, over in the Brewery Blocks. All the classes I teach there are listed on my Ama Meats website. The Sur La Table classes are really challenging and fun because I teach more than sausage. Usually, I teach sausage in three hours, one thing in three hours. At Sur La Table, I am teaching four dishes with accompaniments in a two-hour time. It’s a denser teaching experience, which is teaching me a lot about teaching. Why do you teach sausage-making classes in particular? I like to teach sausage because it’s one of those foods that is really magical. If made well, it will blow your mind. It can be intimidating to people, but as it turns out, it’s super simple to make. You don’t even need the machinery, the grinder and the stuffer, that I bring to classes. Do you have any “pro-tips” to share from your experience? The big basic starting tip is just don’t be afraid. There are some knife skills that will take you a month to get into your muscle memory, but none of this is difficult. The easiest sausage I tell students they can make begins with going to the butcher and asking for a couple pounds of ground pork shoulder. They’ll grind it for you. Tell them medium ground, once through, and they will gladly do that for you. Then, buy a bunch of spices. You can buy spice mixes at Savory Spice Shop in Sellwood and follow the instructions. Or you can just put a little bit of garlic, salt, and whatever herbs you have laying around, throw the herbs and the meat together, make a little patty, cook it off and taste it, and if it tastes good, you’re done! Make a tube out of it, put it in your fridge for a night so the fat and flavors marinate. The next day, you could have the most amazing sausage. It’s as easy as that. In my classes, we make it a bit more complicated by going through the process of grinding sausage, stuffing the meat into casings, and discussing the spectrum of different flavors one can aim for. What are common challenges people face when they are just starting to learn how to make sausage? It’s the same as people who are afraid to cook anything; it’s just fear of failure and some imaginary obstacle. The whole point is that food doesn’t belong to restaurants. Competition food shows drive me crazy. Food is the last thing that should be competitive. I want there to be food shows where it’s like, “Who can touch someone’s heart the most with this dish?” I’m trying to connect people to food in a pre-restaurant kind of way. Chefs are professionals, and they have their own prerogative: everything has to be made the same every time and done in four minutes stat, which you don’t have to do at home. Exposing home cooks, which is the rest of the human population, to restaurant cooking is creating anxieties that don’t need to be there. It’s kind of like saying, “I’ll never drive because I can’t drive like a Nascar driver.” Completely different things. Food belongs to people before it belongs to restaurants. Take back your kitchen from the tattooed arms of the chef. It’s a fun, joyous thing! There’s nothing more central to our physical and emotional experience at the same time. Yet we outsource it all the time. Cooking supplies a certain kind of yummy that you can’t get anywhere else. Where do you get your meat? Where would you suggest getting good meat? For easy to source pork fat that I feel is ethically raised, a good choice is Carlton Farms. You can get Carlton Farms meat at many stores. There are all these barriers to entry to joy, and to cooking, which are the same thing. As soon as the barrier to entry comes up, there’s a way over it. You think, “Oh, I can’t get to Zupan’s to get the best meat.” That’s fine, just go to Safeway and get it there! Open the door and go through the barrier to entry. Get it to Safeway; it will taste fine. No one’s going to put down their breakfast sausage and be like, “Is this from Safeway?” So just do it. Are there any resources about making sausage, online or printed, that you would suggest? I would say just watch videos online. That’s what I do when I’m teaching myself something. There’s also a book called Home Sausage Making that has some really good sausage recipes. They sell that book at the Portland Homestead Supply. I use it in my class, and that’s the book I started with. What would you say is a good fall sausage? Turkey Cranberry sausage is a great holiday sausage. I would also recommend a garlic sausage or a spicy Italian, which will warm you up during these cold months. How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement? I think the larger homesteading movement is already a group of people who benefit from not becoming overwhelmed by the barriers to entry. If you are already making your own soap, your own cheese, or your own pear juice from the pears in your backyard, then you should be having the same attitude towards your protein. Sausage is a great way to do that. If you buy a pig with a bunch of friends, then you should know what to be doing with the shoulders and with the cuts that you’re not going to do anything with. Sausage is that thing, traditionally. What is your next step in your sausage-making endeavors? What is your vision for your business ten years down the road? I want to buy up some land and start a farm-based cooking school to help others get over the barriers of entry to all of these things that bring so much joy to life, which need to be reclaimed and not outsourced anymore. It would offer gardening classes, cooking classes, and camps for kids. We would host dinners and classes for adults. That’d be cool, right?
Posted in Urban Farmwife | October 20th, 2014
For the past few years, besides growing my own food, I have partnered with a farm family (Dancing Roots and Rockwood Urban Farms) to help where help is needed. My overture (sincere if not a tad spotty at times) speaks to a growing awareness that many hands make light work but, too, that most small farmers can’t afford many hands or any hands at all if the truth be known. Which is why such things as the InFarmation events, hosted by Friends of Family Farmers, is such a blessing. They bring willing hearts, minds, backs and hands to the issues facing small family farmers and give us “eaters” something to sink our teeth and feet into (soil that is). As for me, the commitment to partner with a family farmer is elemental to my life, to householding, to home economics and to, well, morality.
Excuse me for going into the murky ground of moralizing but hell’s bells if we don’t need it. Frankly, we’ve lost our footing and I blame it on a certain market mentality. You see, there is a theory behind mainstream market economics that suggests everything in life will find it’s proper standing within the public sphere by virtue of the voting dollar. That is to say, we have sidestepped morality in lieu of a kind of market justice. The phrase “the market will decide” speaks to this theory. It proposes that the consumer, as the ultimate decider of justice, will shop their conscience and, on the whole, make good and fair choices to benefit the better part of our society. Unfortunately, humans are messy and complicated creatures that more times than not make choices based on self interest and marketers know that. They know that telling us we are doing good by shopping for this or that will relieve us from the responsibility of doing good in deeper, more tangible ways. Furthermore, they know that nobody likes a moralizer. Nobody likes someone telling them they are being big fat pumpkin heads for thinking that shopping alone will stand in for doing the right thing. No, for that sort of moralizing you need a mom.
A friend of mine came up with the phrase “momunism” and I like it. Momunists are mommies with a mission, moms who love feeding you in the spirit of generosity and love while, at the same time, expecting you to put your time towards the social good. “Go out and help your family farmer” has saddled up next to “Eat your peas” as the rallying cry of momunists because shopping alone is not enough. Shopping, whether at the farmer’s market or through a CSA (community supported agriculture) is only the start. Sure, farmers need money to pay their bills (and frankly way more than we are giving them), but they also need our time in the fields. This is not an either/or situation. Money is not time and time is not money despite what this market economy has told you.
Money is the currency of the placeless. Throw a person off the land and hand them a paycheck. Promise a rising boat. Demand their rootlessness and turn them into consumers. Erase the memory of right relationships to the soil and each other. This is spiritless thinking.
Time is what the market economy has stolen in the bargain. Time away from our homes, families, communities, land and resiliency (for who will buy what they can make for themselves?) Give them sick soil, a ravaged planet, disjointed families and tons of mindless distractions along with some half baked jingle that shopping will save the world. This is evil thinking.
Which is why I say money is not time and that stealing time back from the market economy to put back into our homes and soil and, and, and… is a radical act. It is why I say the home economy functions on different terms and why, if you really want your family farmers to succeed at the audacious task of repairing the soil and growing healthy food then you, as an eater, need to do more than spend money. You need to spend a bit of your time every week or month or whenever possible to go out to the fields and do some work.
So now, as the weather and season turns to a quiet roar (for much will be in the planning for 2015), I suggest you spend some time talking to your roommates, your partners, your children and your neighbors about how to spend at least part of next year’s summer vacation (which by the way is an anomaly in the real world of small scale farming). Now, in these closing days of the season when cider, donuts and trips to the pumpkin patch call us city kids to the farm, I suggest you consider this bit of momunist moralizing cause hell’s bells if you darn pumpkin heads don’t need it.
Posted in Events | October 7th, 2014
I would like to extend a heart-felt “thank you” everyone who made our first annual Harvest Fair such a success…
to Beth, who heard ‘we should do something fun to celebrate the end of the season’ and planned a day of music, games, crafts, storytelling, cider pressing and competitions. Weeks of planning and organizing were well worth it, and just remember – it’ll be easier next year.
to the home canners, fermenters and crafters who were willing to share their hard work and bounty for our competition. I can’t tell you what a joy it was to see those beautiful jars of jams, jellies, kraut, relish, pickles, chutneys, kombucha, soda, lotions, and bath salts lining our table and knowing that they were made right here in our community, by our neighbors, who live in the city but hold tight to the tradition of growing, preserving, and making by hand.
to Harriet, Gabe, Isla, Barbara and Saundra who ogled, sniffed, prodded, and tasted every entry in our homecrafting competition. After seeing and tasting the entries myself, I acknowledge that you had the best, and toughest, job of all.
to Zach and Jamie who managed, in just over three hours, to press 150 pounds of apples into the most delicious cider while laughing, chatting and explaining the workings of the cider press. Thank you both for being so generous with your time.
to Jen, Jessie, Emily and the rest of the staff who gave their time, talent, humor and patience in helping bring this event together.
to the musicians whose gift of music kept us all singing, dancing, and tapping our toes. You were wonderful and deserve to be on the charts.
to Ashley and Ethan of Feastworks who shared their handcrafted sausages and pretended not to notice that I came back three times for more samples. We’re so glad you’re in the neighborhood and that your delicious bacon and charcuterie are only steps away from our door.
and finally, to everyone in the community who came out to celebrate and share one of the last beautiful days of summer with us. Without you, we wouldn’t have a reason to celebrate.
And now for the winners of the competition:
Jams, Jellies and Preserves:
1st – Wendy Posson
2nd – Sarah West
3rd – Paschal Black
4th – Chris Chulos
Pickles, Chutneys and Sauces:
1st – Marianne Colgrove
2nd – Sarah West
3rd – Pam Henderson
4th – Chris Chulos
1st – Sarah West
2nd – Justin Moran
3rd – Scott Bates
4th – Alan York
Fermented Vinegars & Vegetables:
1st – Wendy Evans
2nd – Saundra Kamman
3rd – Corrie Heath
4th – Corrie Heath
1st – Mary Benson
2nd – Gretel Page
3rd – Liz Fouther-Branch
4th – Corrie Heath
Canned Goods Presentation:
1st – Juanita and friends
2nd – Wendy Evans
3rd – Gretel Page
1st Nina Lyle
Angela Creais, who teaches the mending class at the Homestead Supply and also sells beautifully sewn kitchen items, lives just blocks away from the Homestead Supply. Ashley and Ethan, owners of Feastworks, who teach the butchering class, have a charcuterie down the block from the Homestead Supply. Oaks Bottom Forge, a
forge that sells hand-made knives, is just down the road as well. The Portland Homestead Supply is a Sellwood hub of creativity, ingenuity, and people taking things into their own hands. Angela, whose work you can see displayed on the right, is just one example of the homegrown economy that the Portland Homestead Supply cultivates. Check out the interview with Angela below to learn a few sewing tips and gain insight into Portland’s best sewing resources.When did you start sewing, and who did you learn from?
I’m self—taught. In the 1980s I got really interested in sewing and started to order fabric and buy patterns and make my own clothes. I did this for about five years or so, and then I got involved in the corporate world and had no time for it anymore. I came back to sewing ten years ago with an increased interest in apparel and things for the home. When I retired from Xerox in 2006 I went to a local home décor workshop here and said, “I’ll work for nothing. I just want to hone my skills.” The owner hired me to do that, and I stayed with her for about six months and learned things that I had never had any experience with. After that, I started to work at Mill End Store, a huge fabric store in Milwaukie, as a part time job. There, everyone sews and it is a very supportive and skilled community. Now I’m back to a full-time job with little time for my handiwork.
What are the types of things that you sell at the Portland Homestead Supply?
I make potholders, tea towels, tea cozies, clothespins bags, hangers with lavender bags in them so your clothes smell nice, little covers for jars and lots of other things. It’s fun making little things because you have a specific number you’re going to make, and you start and finish them, instead of laboring for days over a larger project.
What is your favorite piece that you have created, either recently or over the years?
I saw these tea towels in Paris last year and I thought this was such a clever idea. When you go to Paris you do all the touristy things but you don’t usually spend much time in a department store. They have the most amazing department stores there! I took one half-day and went to the BHV Marais by myself and combed every floor and every department. In the kitchen area I admired beautiful tea towels which have a piece of twill tape sewn down the middle with a loop at the end for hanging. I’d never seen anything like these in this country and so I started to make them for Kristl at the Homestead Supply and they sell very well. Those and my chicken pot holders are my favorites.
Do you have any “pro-tips” to share from your work?
If you’re making more than one of something do it in a pieced way. Do all the ruffles at one time, then all the hems, etc. Sew in a production mode. It will go a lot faster and you won’t get bored as easily.
In my beginning mending class the first thing that I teach people is how to thread a needle, how to tie a knot in the thread, and five simple stitches because those are the very basic things that a lot of people don’t know. People feel that once they have these few basic things down, they can sew anything, and they can. People who haven’t sewn much usually only have a needle and thread and their hands. It’s exciting to see people discover that that combination is really all they need to fix or even make things.
Are there any meet-ups or resources that you might know about for people interested in learning to sew or in sharing sewing skills?
PCC offers great classes; I’ve taken pattern-making classes there. The art institute here, PNCA, offers a degree in fashion design. Portland Parks & Recreation offers very basic sewing, knitting, and crocheting classes and Sharon Blair at Portland Sewing offers great classes for beginners and advanced sewers and designers. Anybody who sews in Portland goes to Mill End Store, Fabric Depot and wonderful little shops like Bolt. At Mill End I met customers and employees who only quilt or just sew lingerie or headbands. Everybody’s got a specialty.
Then, there is also this whole hand-sewing trend going on right now. Modern Domestic is a great store on Alberta that sells sewing machines and all kinds of fabric. They recently gave a three-day seminar on hand sewing, not just mending, but sewing everything by hand.
Do you teach any classes?
I teach a class on mending at Portland Homestead Supply, and I also belong to Repair PDX, which is a group of volunteers that fix things. We meet once a month at different locations, and our September meeting was at Portland Homestead Supply. You can get your bike tuned, you can have a small appliance fixed, your knives sharpened, your computer fixed, your resume edited, etc. I am usually there with two or three other ladies who sew. My specialty is zippers. I don’t know why, I just love fixing zippers.
Once a year Repair PDX also does something called PDX Skillshare. This year, fifty different people gave fifty different classes. One of the women I met through my mending class taught a class on book-binding. I took a class on blogs, and one on silk-screening, all in one day. PDX Skillshare is great because it is totally free and offers every imaginable class.
It’s a critical piece. When I describe my mending class on Homestead Supply’s website I say teenagers and men are cordially welcome because most of the people that come to the class are women. I had one wonderful guy that took my class who had never held a needle in his hand and yet I know men who know how to sew and to iron and they do it for themselves, not for anyone else. Everyone can benefit from knowing these few simple things.
What is your next step in your sewing endeavors?
I have a new job and I just finished school (again). Between working full-time and school, something had to give so it was my sewing. I’m actually having a little bit of withdrawal! As you will see, my sewing room is imploding on me because I have so much fabric and stuff and I’ve neglected it these last few months so I’m going to take a few days off soon and clean up my act. I can’t wait.
I sat down with potter Careen Stoll on a comfortable Thursday morning to discuss her work and the belief systems that influence it. Careen makes beautiful, hand thrown porcelain crocks for fermenting and sells them at the Portland Homestead Supply. Each thing she possesses and makes has an intention and is palpably infused with a passion for simplicity, utility, and a feminine beauty derived from the natural landscape about her. Before we sat down, Careen poured us both black tea into two of her handmade cups (see in the photograph to the right). She described that she fired the porcelain cups in a wood-firing kiln, as opposed to an electric kiln, and explained, “There is no glaze on the outside that you see. The color of the cup comes from the iron content of the clay, which is drawn out by the flame. You can see the path of the flame on your cup. You can see that this part received more ashes and the ashes melted into this shiny part, and then the flame curled around the cup.” Personally, I had never thought about what had come before the electric kiln. The kiln that fired the cups we were drinking out of was Careen’s innovation, a hybrid kiln built upon a wood firing technique many centuries old. Let Careen bring you into her world, one that is graced by intentional, handmade objects and a permaculture ethos, by reading the interview below.
For more information on Careen, visit her website where you can sign up for her quarterly email newsletter, which is full of good stories and updates about her work. Careen is also raising money to purchase a bigger electric kiln through a kickstarter ending September 14th. Visit her page if you’re interested or would like to donate to her worthwhile cause!
When did you first get involved in ceramics, and where did you acquire the skills you have now?
I learned the basics when I was a teenager, but was largely self-taught after that. I studied with two amazing mentors who are full time, self-supporting studio potters, one in Virginia, and one in Minnesota. Then I completed graduate studies and moved to Portland. I have shifted more into a teaching role after moving to Portland, but I’m still totally focused on studio ceramics. I’ve been at it for most of my life at this point.
What did you focus on during your graduate studies?
I focused on utilitarian ceramics as opposed to sculptural, and atmospheric fire, which means using wood as a fuel for the kiln as opposed to electricity. When you fuel the kiln with wood, you don’t need to use a glaze because the iron content of the clay is drawn out by the flame. You fire it for multiple days. Inside the kiln you have this river of flame that is carrying all of those ashes, and touching every single pot, up, down, on the surface of every pot as it passes. We would run multiple cords of wood through a kiln like that for multiple days. Beautiful team effort, and everyone is telling stories. I’ve been doing that for most of my career and trying to sell those pots mostly at art fairs instead of galleries.
How does the atmospheric firing differ from electric firing?
The short answer is that it is chemistry of flame and oxygen and clay. Whatever minerals are retained within the clay are pulled out by the flame. In an electric kiln, there is no flame. It’s just a giant oven. You often want the cleanest clay you can find because it’s not interacting with flame in an electric kiln.
Think of the wood kiln like a dragon. You have the dragon mouth eating all the wood. The dragon belly is where all of the pots are stacked up, and the tail is the chimney. That’s how they started 4,000 years ago in China. They would fire in caves that had a natural vent, and then they started building kilns out of bricks. Some are fired for weeks, around the clock. There is so much labor involved in wood kiln firing, and it is a wonderful way to get to know people around the clock.
Do you currently work with a wood kiln?
Not currently. Eight years ago, I built a kiln in the backyard of my rental property in SE Portland, which I named the Tin Man. I fired it fourteen times with groups of people. It was an innovative kiln because it was fired by two fuels, wood and waste vegetable oil, which combined in a way that maximized each against the other. Wood alone is a carbon-neutral fuel, and waste vegetable oil alone is a carbon-neutral fuel, thus contributing nonet carbon emission to the atmosphere. I can’t run the kiln on just pure vegetable oil because it doesn’t have a low ignition point. The wood provided a wick for the vegetable oil to fall on to. The two of them work together in a really efficient way.
What has been one of the biggest challenges of maintaining strong environmental ethics within your artwork and your business?
Primarily, that the amount of labor involved in preparing the fuel and firing a kiln that runs off of carbon-neutral fuels like waste vegetable oil and wood is not commensurate with what the market will bear. If I am going to earn a living wage, the pots are not affordable to the people I most want to share them with. The section of the population that does appreciate the work has so much to chose from. The average consumer doesn’t see the value of this work, doesn’t see the work that goes into the actual object and either can’t or won’t be able to pay for it. Now my work with the electric kiln is powered somewhat by solar panels up on top of the barn. Of course the consumer still can’t see that. Earning a living wage would be the biggest challenge.
How would you coin or describe your own style?
Heavily influenced by natural objects, like beach stones and eggs, and most recently, the female body. I love thinking about tactility and ergonomics, how one body touches another, how you hold this as the body of clay. My work tends not to have much of an articulated foot on it, and thus is most comfortable in the hand, as opposed to on the table. It’s fine on the table because it can be flat, but it’s more comfortable in the hand. It is intended for potlucks and picnics, and it shapes the eating experience in that way.
There is also a lot of Scandinavianism Modernism in my work. My mom is Dutch, and my dad’s a world traveler, so I grew up with a Scandinavian aesthetic and Danish simplicity.
When did you start making the fermenting crocks that you sell at Portland Homestead Supply? Explain their specific design and use.
Tressa Yellig, who runs Salt, Fire, & Time, got me started on fermented foods for my own health reasons. Since I’m a potter, I was like, “Well, I can make the thing to make the fermented foods.” Between that and a student of mine, Annelise, I was encouraged to make them for sale. Three years ago, I started developing them and one year ago, I presented them to Kristl at Portland Homestead Supply. She was very encouraging.
As far as the design of the crocks, instead of making a relatively unattractive, straight-walled cylinder, I molded the shape of the crocks after a luscious, female form with a rounded, soft belly. The crocks come with stones that weigh down whatever is being fermented inside. I make the stones at the same time as the crock and the lid. I size the stones perfectly to the inside of the neck so that they rest in just the right place and lock into place as the food expands naturally.
The design of the crock includes a tight water lock, which means that my crocks don’t tend to get mold inside them. People have pretty hodge-podge fermenting situations, in which mold can be a big issue. Because of the design of my crocks, there is no mold.
Where do you get the clay that you use? Why do you use porcelain?
Porcelain, for one, is the most sensually satisfying material for me to work with. The supple, silky qualities of it are luscious to me. As far as technical advantages, it is the most dense clay available to me. What that transfers to is durability. Pound for pound porcelain is the best clay. If I create something in a way that is engineered well, I can make it thinner while still keeping strength where I need it to be strong. I tested the finished work and it pulls in .03% water. Industry standard is 1%. I’m making something that is a higher quality than is commercially available. Because of how I make it, but also because of the quality of the material. That is a crucial point for porcelain. Again, I just really love working with porcelain, so it’s convenient, but it’s also technically the best.
How do you think that design affects our eating experiences and our daily rituals? How, as a potter, do you integrate this into your work?
I think a lot about quality of life. I am surrounded by handmade objects because of my associations with people and things and my skill at making objects myself. A fair number of people remark that lovingly made, well-crafted objects help them slow down, help them appreciate their surroundings and the context of their life. So much industrially produced work is not ergonomic. I’ve noticed that you’ve turned your cup in a way that you are gripping it this way too. That comfortable sensation sends sensory information to the rest of you in a way that a diner mug might not. Well-designed work demands a certain amount of attention that I would like to interact with.
I want to make work that’s comfortable and that doesn’t interrupt the day too much, but sends that kind of sensation. I don’t want to make work that pleases just everybody. You can’t please everybody. I know that my work will sing to certain people and not to other people and that’s great. I do want to help people slow down if they can.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
I was dismayed when I learned how much misinformation has been propagated by the industrial food complex and then perpetuated by the FDA. Whole generations of nutritional misinformation and chemical engineering of foods has decimated our health as a culture, as a country. It’s horrifying to me. I had some health problems, and I learned how to care for myself with traditional foods and traditional methods of preparing foods and eating.
Because of my own experience, I can be a strong advocate for fermented foods and their incredible benefit for the body’s overall health and mental health as a result! If you’re preparing food in a way that’s more nutritionally bio-available, then you’re nourishing your brain cells as well as everything else. The slow food and the local food movement are gaining strength, and I have nothing but excitement for seeing the revival of that knowledge, particularly in young and urban people, and a strong, shift away from big-boxed store preparations. We need to eat food, not food products. The crocks are one small way that I can help people regain their knowledge and their health, and as a cultural movement, I’m happy to be a part of people owning that crucial component to a good life. The beauty that I can create can contribute to people’s quality of life, but if that beauty can be sustained down to a cellular level, that’s pretty special.
How do you support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Are you a part of any collaborative projects?
I’ve started working with Mud Shark Studios, which is a small, slip-cast operation in Portland. I’m starting to delve into industrial design, which is basically taking my designs and paying to have them manufactured and thus available in larger quantities. Instead of doing the art fair thing and making individual sales to individual people, I’m researching making pots that are of industrial standards, having them produced in the slip-casting or ram pressed methods, and then marketing them to restaurants. I think there’s a hunger for that kind of intriguing design in the restaurant industry now. I know how to do it, and I know the people to talk to.
I have also worked collaboratively with Biwa Restaurant. If you go there and order the sashimi, it will be served on some bowls that I have given them. I have an ongoing warm relationship with that restaurant. Together, we hosted a dinner at the Museum of Contemporary Craft as a benefit for the museum. Biwa catered the food, which was served on all of my wood-fired work. It was a beautiful dinner and setting with excellent company.
What is your next step for your business? What is your vision for yourself ten years down the road?
I want to teach workshops on a national level. What’s really important to me is working in a way that can best be described as a permaculture ethos. Permaculture to me means designing my life, my work, and the physical output of my labor in a way that integrates with inputs from my natural environment. Is my body able to work 40 hours a week in the studio? No. It’s physically demanding beyond what I can sustain. Being good to my body, gardening, growing the foods that I ferment in my crocks that I make and share with friends are all so important. Additionally, permaculture to me means working within the system of culture and helping culture develop in ways that take a cue from nature. Educating around listening to the natural environment is a really crucial point to the education I want to take to workshops. Talking about technique, for sure, in a ceramics related workshop, but really talking about environmental ethics and why we make what we do, and what are we making, and what is it saying, and what does that matter. It doesn’t all have to be utilitarian. It doesn’t all have to be made the way I make it or according to my beliefs, but I want to encourage students to investigate those questions.
A series brought to you by Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a Portland area local. Harriet will be writing regularly about the farmwife movement and responding to readers’ own experiences and questions. If you’d like a question answered on a future blog post, send your letter to the email address at the bottom of this essay.
So here it is, the season of our madness. Stone fruits, green beans, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes and the earliest of apples and grapes. I assume you have you been dashing madly between the garden and kitchen and like me thinking This Is NO JOKE, no joke at all. Sometimes I wonder about the logic of it all but that moment passes in a flash because I am a lifer. I have opened Pandora’s box on a world less than equitable and this matter of householding or farmwifery eases my heart while, at the same time, offers a meditation on the nature of hand work.
Somewhere between my endless tasks I realize there is only so much work my hands can do in a day. In that way hand work is limiting and likely matched, in scale and rhythm, to the limits of the natural world. It occurs to me that there is a certain right relationship with nature to this and I wondered, as I picked, washed, stemmed and dried my grapes for raisins, whether every step away from hand work brought consequence not only to the planet but to the spirit of our lives.
There is a story we tell ourselves about progress, that we are better for our inventions. But from hand to tool, from wheel to horse, from steam to coal to oil to, now, and most egregiously, tar sands, the “hand” that turns the crank has gotten meaner over time. The consequences are in the air, water, seas and soil just as they are in our homes and families. Whether hand work will repair any of it is unclear but I has occurred to me as vital to the conversation about home economies.
I have long mused on the notion of a home economy and this matter of hand work has offered a new perspective. Consider it an ethic but hand work suggests a life of moderation. Once the screed response to those annoying kids ( as in “I have only two hands!!!!!”) it has taken on a new spin. The limits of hand work puts efficiency into the sacred context of limits, offers gratitude in place of greed, thrift in place of excess and moderation in its right relationship with nature and thereby ourselves.
Of course I’m being extremely idealist to suggest we can return to a world of hand work alone but it is yet true that nature functions without machines. Yes, humans are distinguished among animals by their capacity to make tools and I am not one to live without them during this busy season. I mean there is romance and then there is logic and even I do not make raisins by drying grapes out in the sun (Oregon summers are not sunny or hot enough during grape harvest). Still, taking the time to harvest my grapes by hand, to pull them from their stems, to set them in the dehydrator and hand select those which are dry from those still moist offers a meditation not only on the sacred but the profane.
You see, I am not really brave enough to calculate the cost of my raisins when compared to those at the grocery store. To do so would compare apples to oranges or the life I lead to the one industry has tried to take from me, from us, from farming and farmwifery. In my wonkier moments I will speak of pattern languages and how nature’s economy runs on a separate track, a wholly distinguishable track that holds no common language with the world of bottom lines. But that is only when I am pushed into it, when someone challenges this life as being impractical. More often I need not defend my life or the value it holds for my heart because I have opened Pandora’s box to a world less than equitable and this matter of hand work has put me (and my raisins) in right relationship with the world. At least its a decent working meditation.
And so my lovelies, rejoice in all your hand work even though it is NO JOKE, no darn joke at all!
Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to firstname.lastname@example.org, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you!
Posted in Interview | August 19th, 2014
Ashley and Ethan Bisagna’s romance bloomed over the shared responsibility of butchering lambs in the basement of one of Portland’s most acclaimed restaurants, Clyde Common. The romance eventually moved beyond the space of the basement to bigger spaces: marriage, kids, and a dynamic, creative business built around their shared passion for food. On July 31st, Ethan and Ashley opened their own delicatessen on Tacoma Street in downtown Sellwood called Feastworks. It serves as both a restaurant and a hub for their catering business. Just a few blocks away from the Portland Homestead Supply, Feastworks supplies delicious cuts of consciously-raised meats for all hungry Portlanders. Feastworks has an educational element to it as well; Ethan shares his expertise with community members by teaching butchering classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. Check out the interview below to understand more about the importance of well-raised meat and to get excited about the newest delicatessen in town!
How did you both get involved in cooking, catering, and butchering?
Ashley: Well, we both grew up in families that were very into food, so we just grew up that way, interested in cooking. Neither of us grew up eating processed food, so it is kind of natural that this would be our profession. We were both at Clyde Common when it first opened, and that’s where we met, butchering lambs together. That’s the romantic part… us in the basement, me holding a lamb while he’s sawing it; that’s how we fell in love.
Ethan: We both started cooking before that. Ashley has a bachelor’s degree from WSU (Washington State University) in Business; Hospitality Administration. She started out managing hotels after college – eventually she went to the back of the house because she realized that’s where she belonged. I went to culinary school ten years ago, so that’s how I started cooking. When I got the job at Clyde Common, they had just started doing the whole animal program, which Ashley brought on when she was working as a sous chef there. So I started my career as a butcher there. We both were cooking for quite a few years before Clyde Common.
What is the whole animal program at Clyde Common?
Ethan: Just whole animals. Instead of bringing in pre-cut, pre-fabricated meats, they started bringing in whole animals. That had to do with Ashley because she was working at Park Kitchen before that, and she was prepping animals with the chef. I got that because I had a lot of hunting experience. I’ve been, with family members, breaking down animals most of my life, which is different from the way I cut them now, but still good experience. Anyway, we started this together after Clyde Common. It was slow to begin with. I bounced around working at Phil’s Meat Market, Laurelhurst Market, while we were doing this. We both had to step off completely in 2010. –
Was it hard to convince Clyde Common to bring in the whole animal? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Ashley: No, because people are really interested in getting meat sourced from small, local farms with no antibiotics, no hormones. From a small farm, you can’t piece out meat as easily. That was just our way of getting that quality meat to work into our menu.
Ethan: It’s the same idea as farm to table with vegetables. You bring all your great organic produce to the table, and you should match the great produce with great meats.
Where do you all source your food here?
Ashley: Carlton Farms Pork, which is all natural, hormone and antibiotic free. Chicken is Mary’s Organic.
How did you choose those farms to source from?
Ethan: Carlton Farms is not commodity agriculture. It’s large, but it’s still small enough to where they have their own farms in Washington and Oregon that grow the animals to their specifications with no hormones, no antibiotics, to the size they want, to the weight they want, to the feed that they have to have in order to purchase from these farms. It’s small farm operations that grow to Carlton Farms specifications. It works well for us with the amount of pork that we have to have on a consistent basis weekly.
I know that you launched your store in Sellwood just last week on July 31st! How would you differentiate yourself from other delicatessens in Portland?
First of all, we make all of the product that’s in the case. We do not bring in any one else’s product. Everything that we put out, besides the bread which is from An Xuyen Bakery, which is a small, family bakery, is made in house. Everything, from the sauces to the meats to the pastries are made in house.
How long have you all been thinking and talking about opening this business?
Ethan: Years. We have been catering for five years, so we had been talking about opening something so we could build our catering company. It was really the place that we picked that would dictate the type of business that we could open. We knew we were going to sell charcuterie and food, but the location was going to determine our options. We had been talking about a delicatessen for years.
Ashley: This works best for starting out for us just because we already have the catering and the charcuterie going, so it’s a way to open up and expand on what we do well. We already have a great following at the farmer’s markets based on all of those products.
Will y’all still be doing farmer’s markets?
Ashley: Yes. We are at the Woodstock and Beaverton farmer’s markets.
What has been one of your biggest challenges in opening?
Ashley: Waiting five years for banks to finally take us seriously!
Ethan: We don’t have investors; we did it on our own from what we had built before. We put all of our money back into the business. Time management is definitely challenging with catering, building this business, and having three children.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Ashley: Well, for example, today, there was a couple that came in and bought some charcuterie that had been at one of our classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. Ethan taught a pig butchering class. They went there and had learned from Ethan how to butcher a pig. They came and are interested in our business and our product and are also interested in getting a pig themselves and using that knowledge.
Ethan: Just further education on why you should source your meat responsibly. Instead of doing commodity mass agriculture from the Midwest, which I understand there’s a reason for, but sourcing your meat responsibly and continuing to teach how to break down animals, how to make sausage, just educating the general public on getting good product and why it matters to get a good product.
How often do you teach the butchering class?
Ethan: We are only doing a few a year right now just because we’ve been busy. A couple years ago, we were doing a lot, but now we do them around Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, around holidays. We might up on the classes now that this business is open because we can advertise easier here. We might start doing a monthly class, still at the Homestead Supply.
Did you butcher the pig in that room?
Ethan: Yeah, a lot of people just walking through were really interested. Every now and then, you get people who won’t walk up there while it’s happening. One time, we had ten people in our class, but with thirty people watching from the sidelines.
How much are the classes and what do you do in them?
Ethan: $125. You really learn how to take an animal from a whole animal to portion cuts that you would see in your local butcher shop, half an animal to primals to sub-primals to portion cuts. Then I explain why these cuts are cut like this, where they come from.
Where would you suggest if people are wanting to buy cuts or if someone wanted to buy a whole pig and put it in their freezer?
They could buy a whole pig from us. We’re not selling raw meat directly out of the case, but if someone ordered something large like that, we would sell them that. Any of the big butcher shops around town, like Laurelhurst Market is a great place to source really well-raised products. CHOP Butchery & Charcuterie would be able to do it as well.
How does Feastworks support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community?
Just here in Sellwood, we are friends with the Portland Homestead Supply, the Portland Bottle Shop, Reverends Barbecue. We all support each other and have worked with each other at some point throughout our careers. We all send people to each other. We eat at their places, they eat at ours.
For those interested in growing and butchering their own animals, what is your best advice? Any pro-tips?
Take a class first. Don’t be too intimated, understand there’s not really a wrong way to do it. If you’re cutting the meat that you can cook and you can eat, and you haven’t wasted any of it, then you really didn’t do anything incorrectly. Understand that it’s all meat. As long as you can cook it and eat it, you’re doing just fine.
What is your favorite meat product that you sell? What would be perfect for a summer picnic and why?
Ethan: Ham. I like hams in all forms. I make an American style smoked ham, which I really like. Salt cured ham, country style ham, boiled ham, smoked ham, I’m just a big fan of ham. I think we do a very good one.
Ashley: I’d say our hot link, 100%. It’s the best hot link I’ve ever had. It’s a Louisiana style hot link, smoked pork sausage, very spicy and very flavorful, delicious.
What kind of spice is in it?
Ethan: Cayenne, garlic, salt, allspice, basil, mustard seed, red chili flake. It’s really good.
What is Feastworks next step? What is your vision for Feastworks ten years down the road?
Our next step is growing this business, this deli. Long term, I’d say we would like to eventually get a catering commissary kitchen that is separate, so that we can grow our catering company. And who knows from there!
A series brought to you by Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a Portland area local. Harriet will be writing regularly about the farmwife movement and responding to readers’ own experiences and questions. If you’d like a question answered on a future blog post, send your letter to the email address at the bottom of this essay.
Okay August, it’s on. I’m on, you’re on, we’re all on — the bounty, the harvest and full court preserving. With July behind us we are well underway. Jam pots have been filled and freezers packed with berries. Yes, July gave us pause but nothing like what stands before us. August, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road as stone fruits, beans, squash, cucumbers, pepper and tomatoes fall in mad succession. This is our proving ground, the time farmwives earn their cred, the time the reasons for the season make themselves known.
I’ve already mentioned some of the reasons, let us call it the farmwife initiative. But other reasons exist – tasty ones, frugal ones, smart, farm-wife cooking ones. This matter of cooking is, at the end of the day, what food preservation is all about, but I do not hear enough of it. Not in the manner that befits the cause and that concerns me a bit. Because without cooking food preservation floats perilously in the modern world of trending and trends do pass. Before long jars of pickles and jam will saddle up between knitted hats and macrame plant holders (if you’re that old) to gather dust and mock our fleeting fascinations. I do not want to scold, but form without full-bodied function is our culture’s folly and the death knell of many a movement. Which is why I am up in arms touting cooking – day in and day out cooking, solid simple everyday cooking, cooking from our (own) stores, cooking from the food we have put up in volume and farmer direct, cooking as the motive and logic behind this movement because without that important piece our movement is open to what may come.
I’ve thought long and hard about what may come and I don’t think I’m far off. You see, without our deep and continued support small-scale farmers will need to look evermore to the market place for their survival. To a certain degree they already do but in the long term the marketplace (with its long established operational systems) will demand an ever greater participation in a system that belies the heart of this movement. The culprit (if I’m to call it that) is something called economies of scale and without going into it’s operational raison d’être, (if only because other posts will cover it) I will simply tell you that small farmers ain’t got it and likely don’t want it. What they have in it’s stead, however, is the proverbial swimming-up-stream scale because being small in an economy pegged to big is way more than an ideological stance — it is a challenge of unparalleled proportions. Hourly wage??? Don’t ask. So why do they do it? Well, because they’ve looked at the land and the soil and the environment and figured out that of all the many things they could do in this life farming, honest small scale farming, might be the most ethical. At least that’s how I figure it and I sorta agree. Which is why I love them and love imagining I am a part of that life but not without understand my responsibility in the matter.
You see, to allow them to shoulder the weight of some pastoral mystique without standing shoulder to shoulder in the effort is blatantly unfair, and so I cook. To leave them alone to deal with the cost of land today, the cost of start up, the learning curve, the merciless hours, the back breaking work is unfair, and so I cook. To imagine they can sustain all the hand work and trips loading and unloading at farmer’s markets or management of weeds or watching produce gone to seed or chores left undone or a house left to disrepair is unfair, and so I cook. To assume that it is fair that they cannot pay for help or take a weekend off is unfair, and so I cook. I cook because I’m afraid what will happen if I don’t. Because if I don’t then I cannot blame them for looking elsewhere. Soon they will be open to whatever port in a storm is available to them. Soon specialization will creep back into the lexicon. Soon (and this is beginning to happen) they will be approached by big business (the brokers and big chain supermarkets) telling them to quit all that silly small farm diversity stuff and grow an exclusive main crop at guaranteed prices before season’s end which will mean, as it has meant before, pennies on the dollar.
Soon competition will increase and payments decrease. Soon get big or get out will repeat its rationalizing mantra. Soon farmers will see their crop shipped or trucked hither and thon or mixed with the produce of other farms to end up as private-label, value-added stuffs marketed as “organic on a budget” which will, at first glance, appear fair but on closer consideration will reveal the principles of economies of scale and efficiency systems and vertical integration come full circle. Soon it will be production, distribution and consumption as usual if only with a brand new organic and local party hat and frankly, who could blame them? I mean you try being a broke ass hard working small scale farmer for a couple of years and then talk. So I get it, see it, and fear it. We is why I yammer on so much about farm direct purchasing and farmwifery, food preservation and now cooking. It is why, if you haven’t figured it out, I say we farmwives are important, no, VITAL, bookends to this movement and that we have to show up, put up, be counted and cook. If not do not be surprised when the revolution is packaged and sold on your grocer’s shelf.
But what’s that you say????? You’re too busy to cook. I know that rationale and I will not jump into that briar patch except to say busyness is not particular to our generation but rather, as a generation, particularly based on the presupposition of leisure. And leisure, as it has been handed down to the people (particularly during the growing season) is the rationale of efficiency systems, cum industry, cum economies of scale, cum marketing, cum chicken Mc nuggets or, at the other end of the spectrum, fancy hand-crafted foods that speak the language of a movement many times removed from the economies of small scale farming. Leisure, as it turns out, is based on a certain lie and either costs too much or too little and, dependent on class, is feeding a people either filler or hype.
Yes, yes, we are busy or perhaps only seduced by the easy flow of food stuffs brimming from street carts to grocery stores (in fact Heat-and-Eat family meals is one of the quickest growing segments in grocery sales) or because we imagine cooking a mystery. My sense is we’ve made too much of cooking or maybe just fancy cooking. But farmwife cooking ain’t fancy, it’s real!
Perhaps one day I’ll get around to writing a cookbook that shows just how simple it can be. Then again, there are plenty of books out there that can give you the basics and as I’ve written before, all you really need is one “how to cook everything” cookbook and you’re set. The Joy of Cooking is still my go-to favorite, but the point is you don’t need to complicate things. Really, all you need is a willingness and commitment to cook your meals.
I guess I’m lucky. I hail from a generation whose parents still cooked. Utility was the point, frugality was the reality. There were no recipes, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mother look at a cookbook. What she had was a repertoire. Most nights there were baked potatoes set on the dinner table, and no one ever decried the repetition. They were easy to make, affordable and tasty; a virtual farmwife trifecta. Vegetables were simply steamed with a little meat roasted or broiled to the side. Dessert was simple. Applesauce or fruit compote – that mystery of stewed dried fruits reconstituted with a bit of lemon peel and cinnamon. A miracle of thrifty innovation.
Beside my mother I have sat at the table of older farmwives. Women I have met since moving to Oregon and from whom I’ve learned both the simplest and most profound style of cooking. Biscuits or cornbread cooked in the flash of an eye and repeated infinitum. A jar of pickles brought out at every meal or that here-to-fore odd but soon to be revived (if I have anything to do with it) mixture of frozen mixed vegetables cooked in a flash. Sausage, steaks, ground beef or chicken defrosted and simply cooked (if you go that way) keeps it easy along with a bit of mashed potatoes. Canned fruit sauces (apple, pear, plum, whatever), served to the side of many a pork chop or for dessert or in baking – miles and miles of baking in muffins and cake – is simply utility unbound.
Yes, this is August, the season of our madness. As you continue with your bad selves let me encourage you to think seriously about how you cook, what you cook, how much you cook and, most importantly, why you cook. Choose items to preserve or store that will go the distance. Put on your farmwife hat and think utility more than fancies. And on that note I offer you mom’s recipe for stewed fruit. Couldn’t be any easier.
In a pan put an assortment of dried fruit (the fruit you dried over the season)
Suggestions: – Prunes, apples, apricots and pears
Add a stick of cinnamon and a few slices of lemon peel
Add water to cover
Bring to the boil
Turn off heat, cool
Put in a jar and let the fruit sit overnight to make it’s own syrup
Eat as is or served with yogurt or cottage cheese or on pancakes or, or, or.
Will stay good in fridge till a very long time!
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