North Coast Journal



Farmers' Favorites

by Betty Thompson

GOOD COOKING BEGINS WITH THE SELECTION of ingredients. For example, no matter how well you can cook, it's impossible to make a tender, young, crisp bean out of an old, wilted one. Nothing can equal the flavor of freshly harvested vegetables and our farmers markets provides an excellent supply.

I have a garden, but I like sample produce picked at its prime, and unusual varieties available only at the market. Lately I've run across a delicious Honeydew melon cross called Sweet Dreams, Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes, and Yellow Moon and Stars Amish watermelon.

Local growers take great pride in their produce.They select seeds for flavor, not ease of packing and shipping. This month's column features favorite dishes of four of our more than 50 local growers.

Beth Dunlap used to work on a dairy farm milking cows in southern Humboldt. An interest in farming began when she took a plant propagation class to help her house plants survive. She bought land in Shively, named it Paradise Flat Farm, and has spent the last seven years growing her favorites: squash, tomatoes, peppers and garlic on 21/2 acres.

She grows at least eight different kinds of peppers: Purple, Ivory, Red, Yellow and Chocolate Bell; Italian Sweet, Ancho, Anaheim and JalapeÒo, as well as six varieties of summer squash. Dunlap says her very best customers are gardeners because they like the freshness, and love to try varieties for which they have no time and space in their own gardens.

Bob and Cathy Dolinajec bought their Jacoby Creek Farm in Bayside 15 years ago. The former Orange County residents had studied botany and history with the intent of teaching, but no work was available. Cathy had never gardened but they wanted to stay in the area so they bought some land.

"I'd never eaten chard before we grew it," Cathy said. "It's just a wonderful green. Better than spinach in that a single plant will keep producing for about 10 months. It's full of vitamins and doesn't get gritty like spinach can. Anything you do with spinach you can do with chard. I really like the red chard."

The Dolinajecs grow a large variety of organic produce including lemon cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, cut flowers and nursery stock.

Clayton McIntosh from Fred's Produce in Willow Creek gardens four acres of land that has been in his family for five generations. As a boy Clayton worked in the family garden every day until noon. No other youngsters had to do this "forced labor." He said he would never have a garden.

At first he went into logging. When the work ran out he did road construction which entailed absences from his family so he planted the garden.

I asked Clayton why he named his business "Fred's Produce" and he said, "On the road we ordered a lot of pizza and I always had trouble ordering. I had to keep repeating 'Clayton, Clayton.' Fred was much easier."

Clayton said peppers are the most fun to grow. He started with Anaheims because he loves Chile Rellenos. This year he planted 11 varieties of tomatoes, seven of which were new to him.

California Heirlooms Farm in Orleans is a workers' collective shared by Chris Balz and Neal Garcia Latt. Neal dug up the family back yard in Southern California at 16 so he could plant a garden. Although he took time out to graduate from Yale in political science, he eventually returned to farming.

His experience includes one year of subsistence farming at Black Bear Ranch in Forks of the Salmon, and farm manager of the Heartwood Institute in Garberville. All seven acres of Heirlooms Farm is devoted to 40 different vegetable, flower and seed crops that are organically grown.

Heirloom seed is any seed noted for its tough, resistant, self-renewing qualities, treasured and passed from gardener to gardener, sometimes over centuries. The farm is known for its heirloom tomatoes such as Striped German and Cherokee Purple (over 100 years old and from the Cherokee tribe).

A platter of these unique tomatoes sliced makes a colorful display, a fun conversation piece and pleasurable eating. Indian corn "Rosa Garcia," developed by Latt and named for his Mexican-Apache grandmother, is another speciality.

The farm trademark is the Yellow Moon and Stars watermelon from the Amish. The flesh, a pale apricot color, has a sweet, delicate flavor. The dark green exterior has a large yellow recessed spot (the moon) and many smaller recessed dots (the stars).

This month's recipes are these farmers' favorites.

Grower Beth Dunlap makes these by the bucketful for "picking parties."
"They are fast and easy. After broiling, remove the skins if you like, but I usually don't."

Cut off the tops of the chilies, pull out seeds and ribs. Toast bread.
Beth likes sourdough or oatnut but use whatever you have. Cool it and chop it coarsely. Mince garlic and grate cheese.
In a large bowl, combine cheese, bread cubes, garlic and basil. Stuff the chilies and place under the broiler or over a grill until blistered on all sides. The cheese melts and pushes the stuffing out of the top slightly.

Bob and Cathy Dolinajec's pie is a favorite of their dinner guests.
Sometimes it's made on a pizza pan.

Slice chard leaves and stems into thin strips. Saute onion, garlic and chard stems in oil with herbs until tender. Mix with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.
Line an 11-by-14 -inch pan with one half the crust. Press filling mixture firmly into it. Top with the rest of the crust. Pinch sides and cut vents in the top.
Bake at 375 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Cut butter into flour until crumbly. Add water slowly until well mixed.
Divide dough in half.

"Old timers who visit the local farmers markets requested that we grow these colorful shelling beans. Simply pop the mature beans from the shell. This is a great family activity."

Clayton McIntosh, also known as Fred, makes large batches of salsa. He roasts 15 pounds of fresh tomatoes, 6-7 pounds of mixed sweet and hot peppers and 5 large onions, garlic and chili powder to taste. He buys bags of whole dried ancho or pasilla peppers and grinds his own chili powder in a coffee mill. Sometimes he likes to mix the roasted salsa with salsa fresca.

Grill tomatoes, peppers and onions on the barbeque until really brown. They will have a good smoky flavor.
Core tomatoes and remove stems and seeds of peppers. Chop all of the vegetables (including the smoky skins) in the food processor; not too chunky but not real smooth either.
Remove the seeds from the dried chilies and grind in a coffee grinder or use ground chili powder.
Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder and cilantro to the processed grilled vegetables. Taste for seasoning.
Serve with chips and beer or cook Spanish rice with a portion of the salsa.

Betty Thompson has taught cooking classes locally since 1974.

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