We always love an inside look at what’s happening on the farm, and Welling Tom has always supplied us with some of the best insights into the day to day, season to season, happenings at Brookside Farm in Brentwood, CA. Here’s the update he emailed us from last week, complete with a Steely Dan quote:
The kitchen just received the first beautiful King Salmon of the season from Monterey Seafood and it will be on the menu tonight. Jonah will be serving the King Salmon with sauteed Brookside Farm fava beans, spring onions, Butterball potatoes, and a basil pesto. Jonah, Natalie, and Bob tasted the fava beans last night and agree that they are the sweetest fava beans they’ve had.
We also just received some bright organic rhubarb from Oregon which Pastry Chef, Jenny Raven, has oven-candied to preserve the color and structure of the rhubarb. Dessert will be a Napoleon of oven-candied rhubarb, homemade vanilla bean ice cream and puff pastry.
Please join us!
After a particularly beautiful batch of Brookside Farm‘s Meyer lemons arrived last week, we followed up with Welling Tom to find out what else is going on at their Brentwood, CA farm. Here’s what he had to tell us:
Our Meyer lemons are some of the few things we currently have available. We also have a few Oroblanco pomelos already picked, and available as long as supplies last. Growing in the field, we have fava beans, green garlic (now available), broccoli, and Lacinato kale. Fava beans are a slow-growing crop, and will not mature until April or May. The cole crops (broccoli and kale) have been producing since October, but not quite as much as we had hoped. A major problem has been the Bagrada bug, an invasive species of beetle that was not found in the western United States until 2008. So far, Brookside Farm has not taken any measures to combat this pest. Aside from that, there all the usual pests like gophers and cabbage moths.
We were hoping to have other crops available this season. Most cold season crops should be planted by October, but we failed to get that done merely because of some breakdowns on our tractor. These have been mostly remedied, but doing so took away the time that should have been spent in actually preparing the land for planting. So that opportunity was lost. But we still have a chance to plant new crops for the late winter. Our neighbor, Peter Wolfe, whose family has farmed here for over 70 years, has kindly lent me his disc harrow, which has allowed me to till a large area more quickly and effectively than I could with our rototiller. The current weather has been fairly dry, and at least partly sunny, so we should be able to get some arugula, turnips, spinach, and sugar snap peas planted soon, and we should be able to prune our fruit trees without too many delays.
Although we have had our share of setbacks, we are grateful for what we do have, for what we are still able to do, and for the support of our community of friends (including our customers at the farmers’ markets and restaurants such as Oliveto) and neighbors. We look forward to a brighter New Year.
We’re reposting this late summer classic from Pastry Chef Jenny Raven because it’s that time of the year again:
Only once or twice a year does a fruit come along that I feel is featured best by serving on its own, without setting it in a composed dessert context. That time has come with the wonderful Flavor King pluots from Brookside Farm in Brentwood, CA.
Upon their arrival, these pluots perfumed the kitchen, drawing Sous Chef Brian Murphy to the three cases I ordered from farmer Welling Tom. Burying his face in the box, Brian came up for air and said, “It’s like putting your face in a bag of mixed Jelly Beans!” He and I also agreed the pluots tasted like bubblegum, vanilla, and Hello Kitty erasers. If all of those things sound bad to you, consider Brian’s analogy: marvelous tropical flowers that seem to have been copied from overblown, tacky plastic flowers. “It’s like nature copying bad art — except when nature does it, it’s wonderful.”
Juicy, sweet, their golden flesh veined with fuchsia — these pluots are so delightful, I feel compelled only to peel off the tart skin and serve them sliced in a bowl to make for a sublime eating experience. Look for them on the menu this Thursday.
Jenny Raven Pastry Chef
While tomatoes seem to be very late this year and our farmers think most of their crops are three to five weeks behind, looking back on Tomato Watch 2009 gives us some perspective. We’ve got Chef Canales reporting from the Farmers’ Market on July 27, 2009 the “official arrival of tomatoes” so perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a pattern in these later harvests over the last few years.
This year, because the rainy season went so long, we’ve pushed the dates for the 2010 Tomato Dinners
One of the wettest on record, the spring of 2010 has created some unique challenges for many of our farmers. We already know that the height of tomato season is estimated to hit later than usual and so we’ve pushed back our Annual Tomato Dinners to September. We were curious about other ways in which the rain has effected spring crops and planting schedules so we queried our farmers last week to find out. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Welling Tom, Brookside Farm: The unusually persistent rains in February and March were the most problematic. Most of our spring and summer vegetable crops need to be planted around that time, and our soil remained too wet for decent tilth. Our spring crops (such as sugar snap peas or spinach) were planted in lumpy soil and in greatly reduced volume, and were thus compromised in yield. Only those crops which were actually planted in the fall (such as broccoli, chards, kale, fava beans and garlic–which is a spring crop as green garlic and garlic scapes), or crops like arugula (which doesn’t require fine tilth) produced much. We had to wait until the middle of April to begin planting our tomatoes in the field.
For our summer tree fruits, it’s been hit-or-miss. When the trees were in bloom, the bees didn’t fly around to pollinate them if the rain was actually falling or even if the skies were just too overcast (the reason why beekeepers use smoke to sedate the bees before opening up a hive), so those fruit varieties whose blossoms came and went during constant rain (such as the Flavor Supreme pluots and Robada apricots) have failed to produce much fruit. But if the blossoms did catch a few sunny days (as did the cherries, Blenheim apricots, Flavor King and Flavor Queen pluots, and Asian pears) then they did get pollination, and we will have some fruit, although not as much as in a normal year.
The unusually cool weather of the past couple weeks is slowing down the growth of our summer vegetable crops and the ripening of the cherries.
Brookside Farms can be found at the Montclair Farmers’ Market on Sundays.
Scott Mathieson, Laguna Farm: It is interesting how most people think all farmers love rain. If your crops are dependent on the rain for all its needs, such as in the Midwest grain belt, these would be ideal conditions. Here on the west coast, we tend to almost count on the six month drought common for California. For this farmer in Sonoma county, the heavy rains represent delays in soil preparations contrasted by savings in irrigation costs. Luckily we have a diversity of soils; from sandy well-drained soils that allow us to farm through the winter, to rich bottom lands that have a narrow band of moisture conditions to work it into plantable seed beds.
Every year is different. The last two have been marked by very low rainfall in high contrast to the above-average rainfall of this year. The key is diversity of crops and strategies. Yes, we are effected by this weather and are behind as far as field preparation and crops coming along.
Laguna Farm can be found at the Santa Rosa Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays, the Petaluma Farmers’ Market on on Saturdays, and the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market on Sundays.
Paul Underhill, Terra Firma Farm: This year’s cool spring has basically erased the temperature differential between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Most gardeners in the Bay know that their tomatoes don’t ripen until August or September, and the longer it stays cool and wet here, the more likely we are to be in the same situation.
Our summer crops are running anywhere from two weeks (zucchini) to possibly two months (melons) late, with our famous tomatoes probably somewhere in between.
We are also having more problems with fungal diseases that we don’t usually experience.
On the plus side, the cool season crops we grow in the spring each year have been enjoying the weather and we expect to have an extended harvest of spring greens, peas, strawberries, etc.
Terra Firma Farm can be found at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market on Thursdays.
‘Tis the season of abundance and acute ripeness, as summer crops put all their remaining energy into their final fruits and seeds in one last attempt to be sown back into the earth. The farms themselves seem at their most beautiful, and the harvest months have a certain celebratory cheer about them, the true pleasure in a job well done.
It’s also the season when farmers and chefs alike are borderline overwhelmed with an onslaught of fruits & vegetables that are ripe RIGHT NOW. It brings an immediacy and a level of creativity to the kitchen and menu that is unique to this time of year.
The term farmers use to describe some of their produce (specifically tomatoes and stone fruit) around now is “dead ripe.” Chef Canales explains to us what that means exactly and describes the sense of timeliness it brings to the act of cooking during this brief yet vibrant season.
A month ago we took delivery of two vitellone (young beef), each around 600 lbs., from Mac Magruder. Primarily raised on mother’s milk with some grass-feeding, the meat has been aging in our meat locker. Chef Canales has been adjusting his aging times to find the right balance between the delicate veal, and the characteristic aged-meat flavors. Tonight we will be using the loin, and Friday we will be serving the rib eye. They will be on the menu as tagliata, served with braised Torpedo onions from Brookside Farm in Brentwood. These animals are fairly small, and there isn’t a huge amount of this meat. We might still have some on Saturday, but perhaps not.
If we’re out by the time you get here, we hope you’ll be consoled by ravioli tondi of fonduta Val d’Aostana with summer Chanterelles: