Around the fifth time we dropped a few pounds of eggplant into our red market basket, we paused and took a closer look at our selection. We always buy globe eggplant (or if available, fairytale) each August for several recurring dishes. For the past three summers, a muggy August night wasn’t complete without heating up the house even more to make Frankie’s Eggplant Marinara or Ottolenghi’s corn polenta topped with stewed tomatoes and eggplant. But beyond seeking out eggplant specifically for those two dishes, we’ve rarely bought eggplant in the eager, slightly impulsive way we buy tomatoes, corn, or peaches.
Clang. Clang. Thwack.
I had inadvertently placed my recorder on the same metal table on which Kristin Franger was peeling beets. Each peeled beet, gradually staining her hands a deep brick red, was tossed into a stainless steel bowl, joining a collection of other red orbs. When I listened to my recent conversation with Kristin and Colin Franger of Blue Bus Cultured Foods, the couple’s words were frequently interrupted by this insistent clang, a noise that forced me to frantically rip out my headphones each time I heard it. As Kristin peeled over twenty pounds of beets, all destined for a future beet kraut, Colin shredded cabbage by hand, salting it as he worked to draw out the water from the brassicas, an early stage in its eventual transformation into sauerkraut. Every twenty minutes or so, a train roared by their industrial kitchen space in Bingen, Washington, the “whoo whoo” of its horn punctuating Colin’s description of a root relish, one of their seasonal experiments. “We put in radish [whoooooo], carrot [whooooo], onion [whooooo], ginger and garlic [WHOO-WHOO].” It was, as Colin put it, a “nice reminder of the industrial nature of our food.”
In The Third Plate, an entertaining and thought-provoking book about broadening our agricultural horizons both on the farm and in the kitchen, Dan Barber writes that “the very best farming systems are constantly in flux, adapting and readapting to balance the needs of a healthy ecology with the imperative to feed people.”
At a Wednesday CSA pick-up at Working Hands Farm in Hillsboro, Oregon, that “imperative to feed people” stood out clearly, just as it had when I observed the farm’s CSA pick-up last year. I admired the handmade crates, engraved with the farm’s name and overflowing with vegetables and fruit. These crates rested on tables laid with gingham throw-cloths in front of an “Open” placard. A cooler full of eggs from the ladies of Chateau Poulet sat on the ground, occasionally lifted open by members grabbing a dozen eggs as they returned their empty crates. And in the middle of it all stood farmers Jess Powers and Brian Martin, talking, encouraging, and laughing.