Robin and Laura Sage of Red Bird Acres // Wayward SparkLaura and Robin Sage, owners of Red Bird Acres, are nice people and good farmers working to provide high-quality meat and eggs to Corvallis-area customers without compromising on ethics or farming practices. They raise broiler chickens, laying hens, hogs, sheep, and a few dairy goats all on green green Willamette Valley pasture.

Recently I visited the Red Bird Acres farm and talked to Laura and Robin in depth about their farming methods and the ethics of raising animals for food. A few different parts of their program stood out to me as being somewhat exemplary even in this local-food-obsessed community.

The “red birds” at Red Bird Acres are ‘Freedom Rangers’, a French breed of chicken know for excellent foraging abilities and good meat flavor. They are much slower growing than the industry standard ‘Cornish Cross’ broiler chickens, but they thrive on pasture and experience fewer health problems than ‘Cornish Cross’. (I wrote a little more about this here.) Laura and Robin also raise ‘Idaho Pasture Pigs”, another breed that does well with the extra room to roam and grass of the Red Bird Acres farm.

All the animals at Red Bird Acres are fed non-soy, non-GMO feed custom milled by Union Point Custom Feeds in Brownsville, Oregon. They are NOT fattened up with GMO corn and soy-based feed shipped in from Iowa.

Laura and Robin do all of the animal butchering themselves without the help of volunteers or low-wage laborers. They personally ensure the quality of all their products and are with their animals all the way from field to market.

Laura and Robin are at the tail end of a Barnraiser campaign to raise funds for purchasing new chicken processing equipment. They’re not asking for a lot, but a small lump sum of donations would be invaluable for furthering sustainable meat production in this area. I would encourage you to learn more about their farm and then send a few dollars their way. They are so close to reaching their goal with just a few days left, and I know that I will be personally super bummed if they miss out on this opportunity because they came up just a little bit short. (If you’re like me, you may be kind of annoyed by so many Kickstarter-type campaigns, but this one is legit, especially at a time when  more traditional forms of capital are simply not available to farmers of this scale, and supporting small farmers has never been more important.)

You can also find Red Bird Acres at the Corvallis Saturday Farmers’ Market every week.

Red Bird Acres // Wayward SparkRed Bird Acres // Wayward SparkRed Bird Acres // Wayward SparkRed Bird Acres // Wayward SparkRed Bird Acres // Wayward SparkRed Bird Acres // Wayward Spark Red Bird Acres // Wayward Spark

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Henry Storch beekeeper at Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

I’m pleased and excited to announce an upcoming collaboration with Cocotte Restaurant, Seastar Bakery, Nectar Creek Mead, and Old Blue Raw Honey in the form of a honey-centric brunch on Sunday, April 19 in Portland, OR at Cocotte.

Here’s the menu:

1st course
Sweets: Honey drinking porridge, baked goodness, honey-roasted seasonal fruit

2nd course
Toast: Honey-baked beans on rosemary cornbread; a salad of spring herbs and vegetables on rye;
square slice (crispy pan-fried pizza) with pecorino, hot pepper, and honey

3rd course
Salad: Spicy farm greens with honey mustard vinaigrette, honey-plumped mustard seeds, grilled Halloumi cheese, honeycomb candy

4th course
BLT: Honey-cured and roasted bacon, fried egg, last summer’s tomato jam, roasted Padron peppers,
chili-infused honey drizzle on a Seastar bakery biscuit

Mead-infused brunch cocktails
Stumptown coffee

Tickets are $50/person, and they include food; one honey or mead cocktail or non-alcoholic beverage; presentations and discussions with the beekeeper, the bakers, and the mead maker; and gratuity. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time here. There will also be honey and mead tasting at the event with products available for purchase.

This is a really fun project for me personally because of the good folks involved. Annie Moss (whom I wrote about here), one of the co-owners of soon-to-be Seastar Bakery is someone I’ve know since elementary school; Mischa, the chef at Cocotte use to live across the street from me growing up (and I once, only kind of intentionally, gave her a bloody nose, much to my horror); Nick Lorenz, one of the co-owners of Nectar Creek lives up the road from my parents in a funky, off-grid cabin not dissimilar to ours; and Nick’s brother Phillip Lorenz, the other co-owner of Nectar Creek, used to work on the same farm that I did and is also a former beekeeper. I trust that these people are going to make this event extraordinarily delicious. I would love for you to come.

In other news…

I recently wrote and photographed a five-part series for the online food site The Kitchn all about Henry’s beekeeping practices and our honey. You can find it here. I’m quite proud of this bit of writing, and I’m pretty sure that if you read it, you’ll learn something. Doing this series forced me to distill the main plot points of our business into a short amount of space, so if you would rather an overview than a detailed description of how to graft honeybee queens, this series would be a good place to start.

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wild honeybee hive in a barn wall // Wayward Spark

I have about a million photos to share from our recent trip to check on bees in the almond orchards of Northern California, but before I do that, I wanted to pop in quickly with a few shots from a recent honeybee colony removal that Henry did here locally. I’ve written about bee removals a bunch of times on the blog, and this one was pretty straightforward. Actually, it was even in the exact same barn as the one featured in this post.

The colony was settled in a section of barn wall right under the roof about 8 feet off the ground, so most of the removal activities were performed a few steps up a ladder. I was taking photos over Henry’s shoulder from the ground. Henry had already removed the siding in the area of the colony before I arrived on the scene, and you can see (above) the hive was pretty well established between studs. Henry thinks they probably swarmed in last summer.

honeybee removal // Wayward Spark

He started by smoking them a little and then pulling/cutting out chunks of empty comb and honeycomb.

wild honeycomb // Wayward Sparkhoneycomb // Wayward Spark honeybee removal // Wayward Spark honeybee removal // Wayward Spark

He quickly and carefully removed wax sheets that contained brood.

a frame of wild brood comb // Wayward Spark

He cut out sections of brood comb and used rubber bands to secure them in wooden fames. He placed the frames in an empty hive box.

honeybee removal // Wayward Spark honeybees on comb // Wayward Spark honey hand // Wayward Spark honeybee removal // Wayward Spark

He set honeycomb aside in a bucket, took empty comb home to melt down, and secured all the brood-filled comb in a hive box.

honeybee removal // Wayward Spark

He installed a stand as close as possible to the former colony location and placed the hive box filled with a feeder, frames of honey, and frames of brood on top of the stand.

honeybee removal // Wayward Spark

At this point, he started literally using his hand to scoop up clusters of bees and deposit them in the new box.

honeybee removal // Wayward Spark

He spotted the queen, and nabbed her in a queen catcher. The queen is often shuttled to the back of the hive during a disturbance, so in this instance, she was more or less where he expected her to be. He moved the queen into the new hive box.

smoking honeybees during a removal // Wayward Spark

Then he smoked the heck out of the whole area in order to drive bees from the old colony location into the air where they would reorient to the new hive box with its enticing brood and queen pheromone. Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Henry got stung a few times, pooped on a few times (the orange bits by his temple and behind his ear), and generally had lots of bees crawling all over him.

Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

There’s the H. Storch Pollination ad photo right here.

wild honeycomb // Wayward Spark

He divvied up the bucket of honeycomb collected from he colony between the owners of the barn and some friends.

A couple days later, Henry picked up the box where the bees were happily established and relocated it to a better location.

If you would like to purchase Old Blue Raw Honey (from our hives not a funky barn wall), we have 10 different varietals available on our website.

 

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20141222-DSC_0254

Oh, man. I’ve never been away from the blog for so long, and it feels pretty strange. I’m not making any long-term promises, but rest assured that this blog isn’t going away any time soon. And, hey, I’ve even added a handy new blog feature in the form of an ever-evolving list of podcasts that I partake in. It’s over there in the sidebar. FYI there’s some potentially offensive stuff in several of them, so listen at your own risk.

Though I haven’t been writing here lately, I have been writing. You see, this year I’ve committed to taking on the sales, shipping, and marketing duties at Old Blue Raw Honey, and though I don’t plan on using this space to push our products all the time, I will be posting (hopefully) frequently about what’s going on in our apiaries and our business ventures. I’ve also been spending a lot of time pitching all sorts of ideas around to other blogs and publications. To be honest, I’ve thought about launching a part-time freelance writing career of sorts for a couple years now, but with the exception of a few fruitless pitches, I’ve never really had the motivation or the nerve to really go for it. Now, however, promoting our honey is my job, and I’ve found it’s a whole lot easier to ask for things of influential people when I’m doing it in service of a entity that’s not just me myself. I really believe in Henry and Old Blue, and so far, that passion has resulted in a few enthusiastic responses. I’m pretty stoked about that, and I’ll be sure to let you know if/when my work is featured somewhere off this site. (For starters, Henry has a pretty good interview up on the Portland Apothecary blog that I didn’t write, but I did edit and influence quite a bit.)

I should also note that though I’m not here much, you can always keep up with me on Instagram @waywardspark, and Henry’s there, too, @oldbluerawhoney.

Wayward Spark Oswald West State Park // Wayward Spark

Instead of a real blog post today, I’m just going to offer you a long list of recipes that I turn to again and again for tried and true deliciousness. These are favorites in our house that are particularly well suited to the dark days of winter. The photos included here are from our trip with Henry’s extended family to Manzanita on the Oregon Coast.

The Best Granola” from David Lebovitz–This is my go-to granola recipe. I always use chopped hazelnuts instead of almonds and all honey instead of a honey-rice syrup blend for sweetener.

Yeasted Buckwheat Pancakes from Not Without Salt–You gotta plan ahead a little, but these pancakes are worth it.

Dark Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread (homemade Nutella) from Megan Gordon‘s cookbook Whole Grain Mornings–We have a ton of hazelnuts kicking around our house, and this is a good way to use them up. It doesn’t contain any dairy products, so it lasts for quite a while.

Turmeric Tea from 101 Cookbooks–I’ve gotten really into turmeric + honey + lemon. In the beginning, I found it a little overwhelming, but now I can’t get enough.

Fire Cider from cider and rye–I chopped and grated everything up for this fire cider a while back, but it’s not quite ready, so I won’t get to taste it for another couple weeks. I don’t have any experience brewing or even consuming fire cider, but I’m super excited to try it out.

Smothered Cabbage from Orangette–This method often leads to my eating a vast amount of greenery in one sitting. I usually just make the smothered cabbage and don’t do the whole soup thing that the post suggests. Sometimes I eat it over rice with a bunch of parmesan cheese. I would imagine that one could also substitute in brussels sprouts for some or all of the cabbage, and I may well do that soon.

Lacinato Kale and Pecorino Salad from 101 Cookbooks–I made a giant (and I mean truly giant) bowl of this salad and ate the whole thing myself in the course of an afternoon. I just couldn’t stop. I used garlic and homemade hazelnut butter in the dressing in place of shallot and tahini, and I subbed in a regular onion, toasted hazelnuts, and some other kind of hard cheese in place of green onion, pecans, and pecorino. Honestly, I think you could do this salad a hundred ways with good results. So good!

Winter Squash Soup with Curry and Coconut Milk from Coffee in the Woodshed (or this variation from Orangette)–if you still have squash kicking around your pantry.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book–This is from an old standard, but it makes a great basic loaf bread.

South Indian Dal that my friend Leela of Tea Cup Tea posted on Cup of Jo–This is a great dinner-is-in-half-an-hour-and-I-don’t-have-a-clue-what-to-make recipe. It’s easy, healthy, and totally satisfying. The options for garnishes and condiments with this dish are pretty endless: plain yogurt, cilantro, hot sauce, toasted nuts…

Bloody Marys from Anne Parker–I don’t normally drink cocktails. (To be honest, I swore off hard alcohol twice, once after my 20th birthday party and a second time after my 21st birthday, and since then, I’ve mostly stayed away.) But when we were planning for our trip to Manzanita, Henry’s cousin’s boyfriend and I started scheming about bloody marys, and the first person I thought of was my friend Anne Parker who is something of a bloody mary aficionado. Anne’s recipe is great, and I definitely partook in the bloody mary bar to it’s fullest extent. We used dill aquavit (Broder Nord-style), but this horseradish vodka sounds like it would be a good addition.

Dill Pickled Carrots from Marisa McClellan’s Preserving by the Pint–I’ve talked about Preserving by the Pint and Marisa’s outstanding blog Food in Jars before (here and here), but even I am surprised by how often I’m reaching toward the book for inspiration. It seems like once or twice per season, I’ll be in dire need of a condiment or a pickle or a preserve to shake things up a bit, and Preserving by the Pint never fails to provide just what I desire but never would have been able to come up with on my own. These dill pickled carrots are great in bloody marys or on their own. I didn’t can mine because they didn’t last long in the fridge before we had eaten them up.

Celery Salt from 101 Cookbooks–Great for bloody marys, eggs, egg salad, or really on anything.

Za’atar from 101 Cookbooks–Gotta use up all that homemade sumac spice, and this is awfully tasty.

Salted Chocolate Rye Cookies from Apt. 2B Baking Co. via Tartine No. 3 (which I really should buy sooner rather than later)–I’ve made these a few times, and they’re always a huge huge hit.

Biscotti from Alice Medrich’s cookbook Chewey Gooey Crispy Crunchy–Buy this book ASAP. There are a bunch of wonderful recipes, but being a big fan of biscotti, I’ve made several different biscotti variations, and I can rationalize excessive cookie baking because biscotti is kinda supposed to be stale, so they can hang around my kitchen for weeks.

Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies from Apt. 2b Baking Co.–If you’re into buckwheat like I am, these are right up your alley.

Buckwheat Cocoa Cake from Smoke Signals Bakery–I’ve been meaning to bake this since the second Tara posted the recipe. Tara’s also a lot of fun to follow on Instagram @bakerhands.

…and a couple of my recipes:

Homemade Naan

Pickled Beets with Honey on Food in Jars

Honey-Vanilla Bean Quince Preserves on Food in Jars

Oregon Coast // Wayward Spark Oregon Coast // Wayward Spark

 

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Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

We’ve had our honey up for sale online for six weeks now, and so far, everything has been going extraordinarily well. Our customers are emailing/Instagramming rave reviews, and I haven’t yet made any major mistakes in the packing and shipping process (Whew!).

When I originally wrote the product descriptions for each varietal, I intentionally did not include any flavor descriptors because I simply don’t have a very discerning palate, and Henry didn’t feel comfortable describing the tastes on his own. If you look around, many honeys you might find online or at a grocery store are described with words like “luscious”, “robust”, and “intoxicating”, which are words that don’t really have much meaning, and we didn’t want to go that route. We also didn’t just want to come up with a bunch of pretentious sounding adjectives that weren’t relevant or helpful. The reality is, however, that people shopping for food online really need the retailer to guide them in choosing an appealing product by providing accurate flavor descriptions.

To remedy our lack of flavor vocabulary, Henry scheduled a honey tasting event at the Oregon State University Food Science lab with his friend Brian Yorgey and five of Brian’s flavor-nerd coworkers. In the Food Science Department, the professors, research assistants, and students regularly do to organized tastings of all sorts of foods from the latest cane berry varieties to fat-free cream cheese. Honey tastes a lot better than fat-free cream cheese, so the folks we met with were quite happy to help us out.

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

We didn’t set up a super official taste test, but we did set out our unmarked varietals in order with the strongest flavors at the end of the line. Tasters had water to drink between sampling and sniffing each varietal. Honeys were warmed to about 80° to best bring out the flavors and aromas. We brought along several of UC Davis’s recently published “Honey Flavor and Aroma” wheels that list and categorize different tastes that appear in varietal honeys. (If you have a hankering to do your own honey tasting, you can pick up a honey flavor wheel here.)

A bottle of each varietal was passed around the table, and our tasters took free-form notes as they sampled. We tried to keep the discussion to a minimum during the tasting, although there were several varietals that elicited strong facial expressions and gasps of “Oooh!” and “Whoa!” At the end, we talked through the character of each varietal and voted on favorites/least favorites.

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard SparkOld Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

The two clear favorites of the day were the Clary Sage & Hairy Vetch from our Kiger Island apiary and the Blackberry & Salal from our Fruitvale apiary. With the exception of one taster who really liked it, the Raspberry & Mint from our Sunset Valley Organics apiary was the least favorite. The Blackberry from our Depot Slough apiary and the Blackberry & Lotus from our Elk City apiary were declared the most mild and pleasant but unobtrusive, not anyone’s favorites but not their least favorites either. The Bigleaf Maple from our Blodgett apiary and the Blueberry & Chittum from our Greenberry apiary were the most flavorful and most controversial in a love ‘em or hate ‘em kind of way.

When you compare one taster’s notes to another’s, you’ll notice that some flavor profiles are all over the map, but a few are very clearly defined. Though the taste is pretty obvious, I was still impressed that all the tasters used the words “eucalyptus” and “menthol” or “mint”, and five out of six used “root beer” or “birch beer” for the Bigleaf Maple honey. Words like “sweaty”, “rubber”, and “toast” were also used by more than one taster to describe one varietal or another.

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

I’ve added a condensed version of the flavor notes from the tasting to each honey varietal that we have listed online, but the full, mostly unedited descriptions are included below. Each line was written by a different taster.

1. Blackberry from our Depot Slough apiary

floral, waxy, clover, fruity, vanilla
nutty, walnuts, confectionary: butter scotch, toffee, tree fruit: pear, dried fruit:figs, barnyard
waxy, floral, honeysuckle, fruit paste, slight almond, caramel, brown sugar, nutty aroma
beeswax, propolis, quince, floral, maple syrup
uncomplicated, honeysuckle, butterscotch
waxy, fig, cotton candy, nutty, pecans

2. Blackberry & Salal from our Fruitvale apiary

floral, jasmine, citrus, roasted, astringent, woody, cedar, nutty
bready, roasted, woody, pine, mint, tea, papery, toasty
roasted, toasted walnut aftertaste, orange
cinnamon, allspice, toast
toffee, pollen
floral, honeysuckle, clover, herbal, tea, veggie/grass/hay, pastoral

3. Blackberry & Thistle from our Feagles Creek apiary

fruity, dried apricots, jam, clove, dark fruit, viney
estery, fruity, citrus, orange zest, berry, cane fruit creme brûlée, orange blossom
citrus, lemon, geranium leaf, floral, slight citrus, Ricola cough drops
lime, cherry, cough drops, viney, plant, floral/violet, orange
herbal, mint, grassy
peach, apricot, toffee, salty, bready

4. Blackberry & Lotus from our Elk City apiary

caramel, vanilla, very sweet, oak tree, spicy
lavender, marshmallow, moldy, sweaty
caramel, cooked fruit, figs, lemon aftertaste, maple
cabbage, citrus, orange, earthy, earth spice
marshmallow
melon, spicey, pine, caramel, maple

5. Bigleaf Maple & Dewberry from our Logsden apiary

goaty, barnyard, hay, earthy, pungent, white pepper, licorice, burnt
peppermint, fennel, mushroom, cherry
rubber or ash, waxy, fishy smell,
rubber, almond, lime, butterscotch
very buttery, beeswax
anise, licorice, minty burnt wood

6. Poison-Oak & Chittum from our Cardwell Hill apiary

berry, currants, herbal, earthy, rose, cinnamon
orange, orange blossom, maple
waxy, almond, floral
plastic, candy, cotton candy, rose
sweet grass, light lemon
menthol, prune, rootbeer, tea, rubber

7. Clary Sage & Hairy Vetch from our Kiger Island apiary

floral, very sweet, perfumey, cotton candy, toffee, almond brittle
cocoa, toffee, floral
cinnamon, lemon, citronello
marshmallow, plant, clover hay, alfalfa, viney/plant
nutty, toasted, brickle, most unusual, unique, slight fig, flora, jasmine
vanilla, maple, butterscotch, orange blossom

8. Bigleaf Maple from our Blodgett apiary

medicinal, menthol, eucalyptus, cough drop, licorice, root beer
melon, anise/licorice/root beer, eucalyptus, banana
eucalyptus, menthol, minty, licorice, root beer
licorice, spearmint, eucalyptus, floral, birch beer
eucalyptus, menthol
minty, menthol, anise, eucalyptus, clove, root beer

9. Blueberry, Dewberry, & Vine Maple from our Siletz apiary

fruity, dried fruits, spicy, toast, yeast
maple, butterscotch, citrus, lemon/orange, soap
orange peel, lemon, baking spice, toast, maple
bread, toffee, cinnamon, plastic, toast
sweet cream
cinnamon, strawberry, ginger, molasses

10. Raspberry & Mint from our apiary at Sunset Valley Organics

tropical fruit, sulfur, orange blossom, clove
cotton candy, cat pee, sweaty, cherry, christmas, clove, cinnamon
rubber, burnt aroma, heavy waxy taste, slightly medicinal, eucalyptus, animal, leather, bitterness
sweaty, gamey, chestnut, plastic
off aroma, decomposition/socks, spices
sweaty, leather, waxy, nutmeg

11. Blueberry & Chittum from our Greenberry apiary

pungent, dried dark fruits, sour, spices, potpourri, strong
leather
orange, cloves, sharpness, acid, roasted
marshmallow, vanilla, astringent, oak, woody
rich, root beer, nutmeg
sour, astringent, marshmallow, tea, tobacco

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Barbecue Baked Squash-Honey "Pumpkin" Pie // Wayward Spark

We’re living out the tail end of an early raging ice storm in these parts. The kids went off to school yesterday, but only a couple hours later, the school called to say the power was out, and I should come pick them up. Driving through Blodgett on the way to get them was pretty freaky. The roads were surprisingly ice-free even though some sort of precipitation was pouring down, but all the trees on the sides of the road were covered in ice and drooping perilously. I had to veer around tree limbs down on the highway, and I witnessed several whole trees tipping over, thankfully not on my car or the road. Once we were safely back home, I scanned through multiple anecdotal reports on Facebook of nasty road conditions, power outages, and general natural havoc.

Today, school was canceled again because the power was still off. I had big plans for the day but switched gears and decided to bake a pie and roast a giant pan of lemon-parmesan brussels sprouts instead. The two dishes hit the spot on this nasty day though I’m probably going to have to hang out on the fart patio tomorrow.

squash-honey "pumpkin" pie // Wayward Spark

I have to confess that when I come across pumpkin pie at a Christmas party or buffet table, I usually skip it. Don’t get me wrong. I love pumpkin pie, but I kind of only love my mom’s pumpkin pie. Others just don’t live up. They’re too bland or too spicy or soggy or dry. My mom’s pumpkin pie is always just right, for me anyway. I called my mom up to get her recipe this morning, and then I tweaked it in a pretty major way by swapping in honey for sugar. I wasn’t sure if it would work flavor and/or texture-wise, but the end product turned out silky smooth, incredibly fragrant, and just right in terms of sweetness.

I used an ambercup squash (the orange ones in the photo below) in this recipe because I’ve never been too impressed with the taste of sugar pie pumpkins. I simply baked the halved, seeded squash in my barbecue until soft and then scraped out the cooked flesh to use in place of pumpkin puree.

This recipe falls on the less spicy side of the pumpkin pie spectrum. You could up the quantities of added spices if you prefer. Freshly ground/grated spices boost the flavor in a very good way.

If you’re in the market for more pie inspiration, I highly recommend following Tara Jensen @bakerhands on Instagram or checking out her blog. Her pies are always impressively beautiful but in a rustic, appealing kind of way.

winter squash // Wayward Spark

Squash-Honey “Pumpkin” Pie

1 pie crust (I’m partial to this rye crust from 101 Cookbooks, but be sure to halve it for a single bottom crust.)
 
2 large eggs
3/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups squash or pumpkin puree (You can used canned, but it will be better if you make your own. This method works well, although this time I didn’t feel the need to run it through a food processor, and it turned out fine.)
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, honey, spices, and salt. Add the squash puree, and whisk until combined. Add the evaporated milk, and whisk until combined.

Roll out the pie crust and line a pie pan with it. Pour in the filling.

To bake it in a propane barbecue, place several fire bricks on the grill and top them with a heat shielding device. (I use a Lodge cast iron pizza pan on top of four fire bricks as seen here.) Preheat everything on medium for about 20 minutes. Place the pie pan in the center of the heat shielding device.

To bake it in an oven, preheat the oven at 350° and place the pie on a rack in the middle.

Bake the pie for a hour or more until the center no longer jiggles when the pan is nudged. Cool thoroughly before slicing and eating.

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gathering hazelnuts // Wayward Spark

Back in early October, my friend Erin and I toured the Corylus collection at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository (NCGR) in Corvallis, Oregon, and basically we were like kids in a candy store. Once again, my friend and neighbor Joseph Postman, a plant pathologist at the facility, welcomed us, provided us with some literature about the collection, and quickly toured us through the rows before turning us loose to gather and admire whatever we wanted.

the world collection of hazelnut varieties at the National Clonal Germplam Repository // Wayward Spark

The orchard is home to over 800 trees including hazelnut cultivars and selections and their wild relatives originating all over the world as well quite a few varieties developed right here in Corvallis by acclaimed hazelnut breeder Shawn Mehlenbacher. Many of the trees are well established, but Joseph continues to plant saplings of newly acquired varieties from around the world as well as those that have been clonally propagated from brand new, not-yet-named varieties bred for their resistance to Eastern Filbert Blight and for other characteristics.

Like for most plant collections at the facility, the horticulturalists at the NCGR are primarily focused on keeping these trees alive for propagation and research purposes, so the hazelnut orchard at the germplasm repository in Corvallis isn’t tended the same way that a commercial hazelnut orchard would be. There’s grass growing in the rows, the plane of the land is pitted and bumpy, and the trees themselves are growing in many physical forms.

hazelnut variety identification at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository // Wayward Spark

Generally speaking, each accession is represented by one tree in the orchard. A tag hangs on each tree documenting the variety name, origin, location in the orchard, and other identifying information.

hazelnuts on the ground at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository's world collection of hazelnuts // Wayward Spark

The nuts are simply a byproduct of the tree preservation efforts, so most of them fall to the ground and remain there. Erin and I went to town filling bags and baskets with nuts. We consulted the NCGR’s list of “Breeder’s Choice” varieties, and gathered and labeled quite a few nuts from trees on the list, but we also stopped to collect nuts dropped from many other trees. Seeing all the nuts laying out and knowing that they were probably going to go to waste was a ridiculous motivator that kept us there longer than our schedules really allowed. It was SO much fun.

mature filbert clusters // Wayward Spark

Erin, a flower farmer and florist, was intrigued by some of the attractive papery filbert clusters, and she had great ideas about how they could be used in floral arrangements.

hazelnut variety identification at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository // Wayward Sparkhazelnuts on the ground at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository's world collection of hazelnuts // Wayward Spark

Joseph explained that every few years he runs a rototiller-like piece of equipment down the rows to churn under many of the accumulated shells and twigs for somewhat more efficient composting. When we were there, all of last year’s nuts were still laying on the surface, but they were easily distinguishable from fresh nuts by their color and luster.

hazelnuts // Wayward Spark

After I got home, I let all my various bags and baskets of nuts dry out for a couple weeks before I started shelling them. The diversity of shapes (round, faceted, bullet-like), sizes (pea to quarter coin diameter), and subtle color differences among the different hazelnut varieties was pretty astounding. Some small shells were completely filled, and some large shells only held puny little nuts.

hazelnuts // Wayward Sparka diverse array of hazelnut varieties // Wayward Sparka diverse array of hazelnut varieties // Wayward Spark

The kernels themselves also came in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.

'Corabelle' hazelnuts // Wayward Spark

I think my favorite of all the kinds I gathered and sampled is the ‘Corabel’ (above). They’re big, beautiful nuts that are easy to crack. When roasted, the skins around the kernels rub off without much effort, and they taste delicious.

filbert worm damage // Wayward Spark

After we had been picking nuts up off the ground for a while, Erin and I noticed that some of them had little holes in the sides or ends. We cracked a few of these nuts while in the orchard and quickly realized that the holey ones had resident filbertworms and were no good. We tried to avoid the wormy nuts by leaving them on the ground when we saw the holes, but about 20% of the ones we brought home also had worms in them.

Commercial filbert growers apply a variety of herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides to their orchards throughout the year for weed control and to prevent damage to the crop from disease and pests including filbertworms. The horticulturalists at the NCGR do spray the orchard occasionally to keep grass from competing with young trees and to protect the trees from Eastern Filbert Blight, but the management plan there does not include practices to prevent pests in the nuts.

In September, Henry and I attended the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District annual meeting at beautiful Tyee Wine Cellars. Dave Buchanan, owner and farmer, led the group on a quick tour of the property. He explained that the grapes at Tyee are certified organic and certified salmon safe because the owners care about their impact on the soil and the surrounding ecosystem. Their filbert orchard, however, is not organic because sometimes chemicals are necessary to control pests and diseases.

I know for a fact that organic hazelnuts do exist because the good folks at La Mancha Ranch and Orchard are down at our local farmers’ market every weekend selling them. I’m not quite sure how they are able to manage pests and diseases without chemicals, but I’ve tasted their nuts, and they’re delicious. Maybe I should investigate their program more thoroughly.
filbert worm damage // Wayward Spark

Nuts with filbertworms in them are ruined. filbert worm damage // Wayward Spark

filbert wormAs I was shelling nuts, Charlotte, my bug-loving child, was super excited to collect a bunch of filbertworms in a jar with holes poked in the lid. She even brought her little “wormy-worm” habitat to school for Show and Tell. All the kids in Charlotte’s class thought her collection was pretty awesome.

A few more things about hazelnuts/filberts:

The Corylus page of the NCGR website has some great information and links to hazelnut industry sites of importance including this hazelnut growers handbook.

If you’re in the Corvallis area and you want some good nuts, The Peach Place‘s filberts at the Corvallis Saturday Farmers’ Market are reliably good, and they’re really nice folks. Also La Mancha Ranch and Orchard (mentioned above) offers organic hazelnuts. If you’re not in Oregon, there’s a list of distributers that sell and ship Oregon hazelnuts around the country here.

In case you missed it, you can read and see more about the hazelnut harvest in a commercial orchard here.

In the past year, my family and I have eaten a LOT of hazelnuts. Simply roasted filberts are a real treat and a healthy snack, but we’ve also enjoyed them in many different recipes including David Lebovitz‘s “Best Granola” (sub hazelnuts in place of almonds), Megan Gordan‘s “Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Spread” (Buy her cookbook Whole Grain Mornings!), countless batches of muffins, and hundreds of salads that needed a crunchy topping. I’m dying to try out Deb Pearlman‘s “Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnut Milk“, and Heidi Swanson just posted a recipe for “Roasted Cauliflower Rice” with a healthy dose of hazelnuts that sounds pretty darn good. If you’re interested in making hazelnut meal for cakes and such, David Lebovitz has some good tips for making almond meal that apply to filberts, too. I’ve also discovered recently that my favorite food in the world (other than pizza) is dukkah, a hazelnut-based condiment, so I’ll be posting a recipe for that soonish.

This visit was my fifth visit to the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis. You can read and see more about touring other collections at the facility in the WS archive (though I didn’t photograph the world collection of pear varieties that I wandered through this summer with my friend Yossy): Kiwis and Quince, Quince and other rare fruits, and Currants and Gooseberries. Next year, I would really like to put together some sort of organized tour of one or more collections at the NCGR and welcome Wayward Spark readers and friends along. What do you think? Do you want to come out and sample currants, blueberries, pears, or filberts with me? I think it would be really fun, so stay tuned for more info.

 

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Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward SparkFinally finally, Old Blue Raw Honey is up for sale on our new website! I’m so excited and proud and anxious to share this news with y’all. Henry and his bees have been working like crazy all spring and summer to create the bounty that we now have stored away in buckets and bottles, ready to send out into the world.

This year, we have these cute 8-ounce squeeze bottles that that fit right into USPS small flat-rate boxes for efficient shipping. I was pretty skeptical about these jars before we ordered them because I kind of hate plastic, BUT I’ve since grown to love them. First off, they’re BPA-free, so you don’t have to worry about chemical junk tainting your pure, raw honey. Secondly, they’re perfect for doling out a thin wisp or a big dollop of honey without having to deal with a messy, sticky spoon. You can even rest them upside down to glean the “bottom of the barrel” so to speak. They’re also a great size for the honey connoisseur to collect a couple different varietals without feeling overwhelmed by a large quantity or skunked by high shipping and handling charges. So far, most of our customers have ordered two or three honey varietals at a time, and though you’re more than welcome to purchase just one, it’s probably more fun to order a pair or trio to do your own honey tasting or share a bottle with a friend without paying any extra for shipping.

honeybee on crimson clover // Wayward Spark

You’ll notice on the Old Blue website that some honey varietals are marked as “limited release” and are priced a little higher. These varietals were harvested early in the season, and they contain significantly more pollen than main-season honeys and have distinct flavors. If you’re in the market for medicinal-quality, heavy terroir honeys, these are the ones you want. Early honeys are lower yielding, more labor intensive, and higher risk (because hives that are strong enough to produce spring honey are probably also on the edge of swarming, which is a loss that Henry works to prevent). You can read a little more about our early honey extraction here.

We have nine honey varietals currently for sale, but in the next couple months, you may see some of those go out of stock and a few new ones appear. We are only offering larger pint-size jars of main-season blackberry-nectar-based honey varietals. We’re also limiting shipping to within the United States. (Sorry, international folks!)

Old Blue Raw Honey mating yard // Wayward Spark

Our friend Halley Roberts designed our new labels, and Taylor Made Labels in Lake Oswego, Oregon printed them. We could not be more thrilled about how they turned out. If you ever need a few thousand (or hundreds of thousands of) labels printed, we highly recommend the consummate professionals at Taylor Made. Our website looks so classy only because I spent an afternoon around a kitchen table in Portland with Henry’s cousin, Ellie Harmon, who’s a computer genius and all-around interesting person (PCT through-hiker + PhD candidate). I gave Ellie a vague outline of what I wanted the website to look like (after studying the websites of friends in business including Block Shop Textiles, Nell & Mary, Clamlab, Portland Apothacary, Marble & Milkweed, etc.), and with the help of Shopify and a free customizable theme, she made my dream into a reality. I could have spent five times as much time working on it on my own, but the outcome would have only been half as good.

Old Blue Raw Honey beekeeper Henry Storch // Wayward Spark

We’ll be doing several different honey tasting events in Portland in the between now and Christmas, and we’d love to see some of you and share our harvest. Our first event is coming up next Saturday, November 15 at Takara Studio in North Portland. For more details on upcoming events, you can keep track of us on the “Events” page of the Old Blue website.

Old Blue has a fledgling Facebook page here, and Henry’s been posting real-time beekeeping anecdotes on the @oldbluerawhoney Instagram feed. We also encourage you to sign up to receive the Old Blue email newsletter. I’m planning on sending out occasional (once a month?) emails including updates from our apiaries, information about our varietal honey availability, honey-centric recipes, and links to topical bee and beekeeping articles from national and international news. This link will take you to the sign up form.

One of the things that I really like about the new Old Blue website is that all of my beekeeping blog posts are now right there alongside our e-commerce platform to show folks that our honey is legit and give customers a sense of all the work that goes into managing our hives. Don’t worry, though. I’ll continue to publish blog posts about the bees here first, and then I’ll copy them over to there, too.

As you can see, there are lots of different ways that you can keep track of us and this business, or you can always email oldbluerawhoney@gmail.com if you have specific questions. Keep in mind that we prefer to address broad questions about our beekeeping practices through long-form blog posts. If you would like to know more about how we operate, you’re welcome to request a blog post on a certain subject, but it may take a while for us to get around to presenting it.

Thanks in advance for supporting us in this venture. We really appreciate it!

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

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Hull-Less Pumpkin Seeds

October 18, 2014 · 3 comments

hull-less seed pumpkins // Wayward Spark

Oh, this poor, neglected blog of mine. I was really truly convinced that when my kids started school in September, I was going to spend at least an hour a day working on stories for this space, but alas, that obviously hasn’t happened. Don’t worry, though, I’m not gone for good. I have a good handful (a couple handfuls?) of post ideas/photographs that will get published eventually. I guess I would just say that you can expect me to be a little less prolific for a while. Sorry ’bout that.

But anyway…pumpkin seeds! Gotta love ‘em, right? Back in the spring, I talked my mom into growing two different varieties of hull-less seed pumpkins, and now that they’ve been harvested, I want to give you the report.

Hull-less seed pumpkins produce seeds that aren’t encased in a fibrous covering. That makes them quite a bit more palatable and digestible than your average roasted jack-o-lantern seeds that really give your jaw a workout if you try to gnaw through a handful. The two varieties we tried out were ‘Kakai‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and ‘Beppo‘ from Territorial Seed Company. (Henry also grew a few ‘Styrian‘ pumpkins from Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seed Initiative.) Unfortunately, the two specimens got all mixed up, and we couldn’t tell them apart from the outside. Both are, however, highly attractive in a gnarly ‘decorative gourd season‘ kind of way.

Like most pumpkins, these seed varieties were pretty low maintenance over the summer, and as the rest of the jack-o-lanterns and other winter squashes fully colored up and hardened off in the fall, these, too, were ready to harvest. My mom can’t remember exactly how many plants she put in the ground, but the end result was about 30 mostly good-sized fruits.

hull-less seed pumpkins // Wayward Sparkhull-less seed pumpkin harvest // Wayward Spark

We cut into a few right away, but a couple days ago, my mom decided that she wanted them gone, so we hacked up the whole lot with an ax and squished through pumpkin innards for a couple hours.

hull-less seed pumpkin harvest // Wayward Sparkhull-less seed pumpkin harvest // Wayward Spark

Each pumpkin produced 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups of slimy green seeds. There was a distinct difference in seed character between the two varieties. We *think* it’s the ‘Kakai’ seeds that are a bit larger and darker while the ‘Beppo’ seeds are more sage green and a little less plump. Overall, we collected about two gallons of seeds.

Some of (what we think are) the ‘Kakai’ seeds had already started to sprout inside the pumpkin, so we probably should have harvested them right away instead of letting them sit around for a couple weeks.

hull-less seed pumpkin harvest // Wayward Spark

Mom roasted a huge pan of seeds coated in olive oil and salt, and we’ve all been munching on them constantly for the last 48 hours. I think my little 2 1/2-year-old niece loves them the most, though I’ve heard rumor that her mother has been hoarding their stash for herself.

The seeds that didn’t get roasted right away went into the food dehydrator overnight to extend their shelf life for winter snacking.

hull-less seed pumpkin harvest // Wayward Sparkhull-less seed pumpkin harvest // Wayward Spark

The flesh of the seed pumpkins is supposedly pretty stringy and not particularly tasty, so we composted some and gave the rest to our chickens to peck at.

Growing seed pumpkins is a fun, worthwhile activity for a home gardener to do on a small scale, but I once saw “local” pumpkin seeds for sale at a natural food store in Corvallis at $12/pound, and that seemed kinda crazy. Yes, there’s a lot of work involved to justify that price, but I think I’d rather grow my own (or have my mom grow them for me).

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Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Mid-September marks the start of hazelnut harvest season in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Turkish farmers grow a large majority of the world’s hazelnut crop, but Oregon hazelnut growers produce five to seven percent of the world total, making this area a significant player on an international scale. Because of some losses from freezing temperatures in Turkey among other factors, the price of hazelnuts is at a record high this year, and the yield for many Oregon hazelnut farmers looks promising. If you drive through the Willamette Valley, you’ll notice a number of fledgling hazelnut orchards planted in the last few years by farmers meeting an increasing demand for US-grown hazelnuts.

Ron Hathaway’s father planted his first hazelnut orchard on Kiger Island in Corvallis, Oregon over fifty years ago, and the operation has been expanding ever since. Now Ron and his son Mike manage several orchards spread across Kiger Island including that first one that’s still in production. In addition to farming hazelnuts, Ron and Mike also grow grass seed and other seed crops (including clary sage seen in this archived post). The Hathaways have planted several different varieties of hazelnuts including ‘Ennis’ (see in the photo above), ‘Jefferson’, ‘Barcelona’, and ‘Yamhill’.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Over the summer, hazelnut orchards are groomed and raked several times to make sure the soil is completely flat so that the nuts can be swept and harvested efficiently and completely. Growers also clear out dead branches and other debris that has collected on the orchard floor.

Hazelnut trees naturally drop their nuts in September or early October (depending on the variety). Ron and Mike Hathaway harvest each of their orchards at least twice so that all the nuts get collected but none remain on the ground for too long, potentially getting wet and dirty.

Oregon hazelnuts // Wayward Spark

Each nut is encased in a husk that will eventually release the nut as it dries out.

Oregon hazelnut orchard // Wayward Spark

The trees in this orchard are about 12 years old.

20140923-DSC_076120140923-DSC_0802Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Several different pieces of equipment are used during hazelnut harvest: a sweeper, a harvester, a tractor, and a forklift. The sweeper and harvester are specially designed machines manufactured in California that are used exclusively for harvesting hazelnuts. In the past, hazelnut growers have experimented with using almond harvesting equipment, but they’ve found machines designed for almonds are not effective for harvesting hazelnuts.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

First the sweeper (driven by Mike Hathaway) makes two passes down each aisle, blowing all the fallen nuts, husks, leaves, and debris into a windrow in the center of the aisle.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

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Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Next, Ron Hathaway brings in the harvester pulled by a tractor. The harvester sweeps up everything in the windrow, and then fans blow the debris out, ejecting it from the machine before the nuts move up a conveyor belt into a hopper. Each step in the process is extraordinary dusty.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

When the hopper is full, Mike brings over a wooden bin on the forklift. There’s a lever on the back of the hopper that, when pressed by a bin, will activate a conveyor belt that empties out the hopper into the tote.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

At this point, the nuts are fairly clean, but some husks and leaves remain mixed in.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Ron and Mike together can harvest about 10 acres of hazelnuts per day. They prefer not to work in the orchards when it’s raining hard, but a little drizzle is actually nice for suppressing the dust. If the nuts get too muddy, however, it can be difficult for the processor to clean them sufficiently.

Mike will haul each semi-load of hazelnuts to a buyer in Independence where they’ll be washed, dried, and shipped all over the world.

Thanks so much to Ron and Mike Hathaway for allowing me to photograph their harvesting process!

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