Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Anthony Boutard on What Makes Fruit Great?

Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm
One of the best presentations I got to attend at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in Portland last month was a conversation between chef and cookbook author Deborah Madison and farmer Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm. Ayers Creek Farm is an organic farm located in Gaston, Oregon in the Wapato Valley 10 miles west of Beaverton and 40 miles from the ocean. The theme was fruit and I learned so much! Here are a just a few highlights from the discussion:

Deborah Madison asked, "What makes fruit great?"

• Boutard said, in some ways it's hard to say because everyone's palate is different; for example some people love tart marionberries, some people hate them.

• According to Boutard, the best fruit has acidity upfront. Acid and tannins in fruit are complex and cannot be simply duplicated by adding lemon juice. Sweetness on the other hand is not very complex.

• Shipped fruit seems like it loses acidity (another reason to buy local).

• The best way to get shoppers to warm up to fruit with high acid, is to give samples to their kids. Kids love acidity!

• Some fruit are best suited to wide temperature variation, such as melons and plums that want hot days and cool nights. Different plums grow in different parts of the country. In California there are lots of Japanese plums and in Oregon more European plums.

• Cellared fruit takes on different characteristics. It won't have the same texture, it may not be crisp, but the flavor can be amazing. Boutard said the best apple he ever ate was a russet apple in Switzerland, it had been cellared for many months and was mealy, but complex and delicious.

• Grapes with seeds have more flavor and nutritional value. Boutard calls grapes "celibate" or "fecund" instead of seedless or seeded. A little sex helps sell! Grapes with seeds don't last as long as seedless varieties but the seeds are worth eating too. You can't eat Concord grape seeds but other grape seeds have a spicy flavor that balances the sweetness of the fruit.

• Picking fruit takes real skill. For example, some fruit needs to be watered the night before picking, such as raspberries, other fruit like plums will split if watered when already ripe. Boutard has been working with the same Oaxacan family for years because they understand how to pick fruit.

• Systemic pesticides and fungicides cannot be washed off fruit. Boutard chooses to grow fruit that is well-suited to the environment and can be grown organically rather than fight mother nature.

• Machine picked fruit is not as fully ripe because it is picked using beaters.

• The best way to judge the quality of most fruit, is to smell it. Don't look at the size. The first batch of fruit often has more pectin in it that the subsequent crops.