Fruit

Landrace Grains and Heirloom Fruit — Palouse Colony Farm and DeLong Ranch

Even after great holiday sales, we remain well supplied with our Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold pastry flour as well as our long awaited Crimson Turkey bread flour, known back in the day as “Turkey Red” though it ancestral homeland is actually south Russia and Ukraine. Until this flavorful grain was introduced to the United States in the 1870s, virtually all bread in the country was made from soft white wheats and other grains more suited for making biscuits, pancakes, and flatbreads. Our crop yielded well and is already being used by several Northwest bakeries including Damsel and Hopper Bakeshop in Seattle, Ethos Bakery in Richland, and Culture Breads in Spokane.

Palouse Colony Heritage Grain and Transfering from Wheat Truck to Totes

Palouse Colony Heritage Grain and Transfering from Wheat Truck to Totes

Two venerable elders now in their nineties and familiar with Crimson Turkey were raised on farms near our Palouse Country hometown of Endicott. Don Schmick and Don Reich now reside in neighboring Colfax, and I recently asked them about it. “That’s the grain we saved for our own use!” Don Reich recalled. “There’s nothing in the world that makes a bread so satisfying as flour from that wheat.” Don Schmick related a similar story and said that his immigrant farmer father made a annual trip every fall south of the Palouse River to the Pataha Flour Mill east of Pomeroy where the family’s precious Crimson Turkey wheat was ground into flour for the family’s needs throughout the year. Both men remembered that their mothers especially favored mixing about two-thirds of the wheat flour with one-third rye flour to make a delicious tawny-colored loaf that didn’t last long.

Joe navigating through a sea of Palouse Heritage wheat at DeLong Ranch (2017)

Joe navigating through a sea of Palouse Heritage wheat at DeLong Ranch (2017)

This past August we also returned to historic DeLong Ranch located several miles upstream from our Palouse Colony Farm and where we have worked for several years with neighbors Joe and Sarah DeLong to raise heritage grains. Joe’s ancestral connection to this scenic area is singular in significance to regional history as it is not only the oldest farm in the area, but also property that has been continuously farmed by the DeLong family since the late 1860s. Joe’s resourceful ancestor, also named Joseph DeLong, raised grain, extensive gardens, and livestock, and also planted an extensive orchard on fertile bottomland bordered by towering pines along the river. I have long been fascinated by the family’s remarkable saga and have written previously about it in previous blog posts and the book Palouse Country: A Land and Its People.

We’ve long been impressed by Joe and Sarah’s regard for the health of the soil and they have worked hard over the years to raise crops using natural rotation systems with minimum artificial inputs. The farm’s remote location also provides a rare glimpse into the “Palouse primeval.” Substantial virgin sod remains along both sides of the river that abounds with wildflowers in spring and summer and hosts deer, racoons, coyotes, eagles, and occasional meandering moose and elk. In addition to the landrace grains we raised this past year at Palouse Colony Farm, Joe and Sarah grew Red Walla Walla and Sonoran Gold wheats, and famed Purple Egyptian barley. Red Walla Walla is a rare soft red variety actually native to southern England that was traditionally used for biscuits, flatbreads, and for imparting a rich, tangy flavor to craft English wheat beers. 

An unexpected adventure during this summer’s DeLong harvest was a visit to his family’s ancient grove of plum trees that are clustered at the foot of a grassy bluff close to the river. I had noticed the ripe purplish red fruit while riding the combine with Joe near the fence-line that separates the trees from the field. He informed me that the trees likely harkened back to the senior Joe DeLong’s time and contained four distinct varieties faithfully recorded in old ranch records—Bulgarian, Hungarian, Egg, and Petite.

DeLong Heirloom Plum Trees

DeLong Heirloom Plum Trees

Grandma’s Plum Delight

Grandma’s Plum Delight

I mentioned seeing the trees at lunch time and Sara and Joe invited me to pick as many as I’d like since there were far more than their family could use. So armed with a large metal bucket from a nearby shed I ventured back to the spot in the hot afternoon and joined a herd of cows meandering through the plum trees. Indeed the trees were loaded with fruit and in no time my bucket was overflowing. I couldn’t tell a Bulgarian from a Petite but found that they all tasted wonderfully sweet. I had been staying in town with my sister and mother, and later that night when I reported on my discovery, Mom proceeded to tell me how to distinguish several kinds. The next day while I returned to the harvest field, she went to work making plum sauce as a topping for pancakes and breads, and also prepared “Plum Delight,” a crispy dessert with crumbly topping I remembered well from my youth. She agreed to provide me with her recipe which we share here with hopes it might grace your table sometime soon.


Plum Delight

Topping

  • ½  cup Palouse Heritage Sonora flour
  • ½ cup oats
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup melted margarine

Filling

  • 3 cups sliced plums
  • 1 tablespoon Palouse Heritage Sonora flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine plums, flour, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon together in a bowl and put into ungreased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Combine all topping ingredients in another bowl. Mix until crumbly and distribute over the plums. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until crispy and golden brown on top.

Palouse Heritage Harvest 2017

This past week we commenced our 2017 Palouse Country heritage grains harvest by working with our longtime friends Joe and Sara Delong at their incredibly beautiful and historic if somewhat remote ranch along the Palouse River about five miles upstream from our Palouse Colony Farm. The Delongs have partnered with us to raise landrace Sonoran Gold wheat, Purple Egyptian barley, and other heritage grains and this past week it was time to commence the annual harvest.

The Delong ranch is well known in our region as the oldest farm in the county and also has the special distinction of being the one continuously owned longer than any other family around. Joe’s frontiersman ancestor, Indiana native Joseph Delong, drove a team of oxen over the Oregon Trail in 1862 and eventually settled in 1869 on the Palouse River where the family farm is now located at the end of long gravel road. I think Great Great Uncle Joe would be proud of his 21st century namesake since he and Sara have worked long hours for many years to be good stewards of the land where they continue to raise grain and livestock in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Joe is a master mechanic who can keep equipment of any vintage running forever, and in the shadow of immense and rugged basaltic bluffs they share the landscape with deer, golden eagles, and occasionally errant moose and elk.

Palouse Heritage Red Russian Wheat;   Delong Palouse River Ranch

Palouse Heritage Red Russian Wheat; Delong Palouse River Ranch

I’ve known the Delong family most of my life since they farmed just a few miles from where I was raised. Back in 1980 I interviewed Joe’s father, Ray, who was not only proud of his pioneering past but had also preserved many priceless documents handed down since the farm had been established decades earlier. The journals and account books kept by Joseph, Sr. provide a rare glimpse of life on the Palouse frontier during its earliest years of settlement. The records reveal the kind of self-sufficiency rarely known in our day as he tended a considerable orchard and established a packing house as well as raised grain and livestock. He also established the first store in the vicinity to supply farm families who came later and travelers who passed by on the historic Kentuck Trail.

Joe, Sr.’s journal entries from the late 1800s record information essential to pioneer life under such scribbled headlines as "Smallpox Cure," a concoction of sugar, foxtail, and zinc sulfate, "Recipe for Preserving Green Fruit," and "Grasshopper Poison." Related knowledge of value clipped from early issues of the Walla Walla Statesman and Palouse Gazette was safeguarded between the small, lined pages of his hardboard bound books providing the mathematical formula "To Measure Hay in Ricks," stories about Lincoln and Grant, and favored verse: "Let live forever grow, and banish wrath and strife; So shall we witness here below, the joys of social life." Perhaps to advance social relations with the travelers and neighbors who frequented his place, DeLong also found time to jot down riddles. One favorite of this thinly bearded soul with kindly mien was in rhyme: "I went to walk through a field of wheat, and there found something good to eat. It was neither fat, lean or bone, I kept it till it ran home. (An egg!)”

Pioneer Joe Delong and Colt (c. 1900);   Courtesy of Joe and Sara Delong

Pioneer Joe Delong and Colt (c. 1900); Courtesy of Joe and Sara Delong

Apples from the Delong Orchard

Apples from the Delong Orchard

Most folks with whom DeLong most often shared such wit and practical knowledge were families of those who later settled near him on the pine covered slopes of the Palouse River Valley. Names frequently appearing in his account books include Ben Davis, Frank Smith, Steve Cutler, Link Ballaine, and E. E. Huntley. These families came to DeLong's store to visit, collect mail, and procure staples, often on credit. DeLong's inventory included eggs, onions, coffee, sugar, and baking powder; soap, sarsaparilla, and tobacco. He also stocked hardware supplies like nails and wire, and such curatives as oil of anise, oil of bergamot, and sulfuric of ether. DeLong and his neighbors spent considerable time building and repairing split rail fences to hold in their livestock, and also experimented with a variety of grains and fruits to determine those best suited to the region’s soils and climate. Joseph also planted hundreds of apple trees that he obtained from Walla Walla nurseries as well as pear, cherry, plum, prune stock, grape vines, and currant bushes. Summer visitors to his store could always expect a good supply of Tall Pippins, Yellow Bells, and Northern Spy as well as soft fruit and vegetables which he sometimes traded for salmon with Indians who seasonally passed along the old trails along the river.

Harvesting Palouse Heritage Scots Bere Barley at Delong’s

Harvesting Palouse Heritage Scots Bere Barley at Delong’s

Thanks to Joe and Sara’s regard for heritage and health, we were able to complete harvest this past week of our Sonoran Gold soft white and Red Russian soft red wheats which we will soon be transforming into flavorful all-purpose flours. We had a few breakdowns but we’ve come to believe there’s nothing made of metal that Joe can’t repair in short order. Brother Don, nephew Andrew, and I took turns driving truck while Joe did the hard work on top of the combine—a 1959 McCormick combine that hasn’t missed a harvest since 1959! Perhaps the company should send him a new one, though at $650,000 that’s probably not likely. As we were finishing up in a corner of the field I noticed a row of old plum trees along a fence line loaded with dark red fruit. So on my next trip to town I returned with a bucket to retrieve some for Grandma and returned with enough to keep us all in jam and sauce until next year.