Cranking out 3-foot sheets of dough in an unfamiliar kitchen well past dinner time would challenge many a cook.
Sarah Wallace has an additional adversary in the weather.
"They say in Italy you don't make pasta on a rainy day," says Wallace.
But rain persisting through the first two weeks of her new business endeavor hasn't stopped Wallace from making 40 pounds of pasta for sale at Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market in Medford and Ashland. Wallace's Pine Knob Pasta stall occupies the former space of Wolf Creek Pasta Co., a void since the January death of longtime market vendor Dave Deichler.
"Dave's passing was just one of the saddest things I'd ever encountered," says Wallace, 31, who manned the neighboring stall for Fry Family Farm of Talent.
Lamenting the absence of both Deichler's jovial personality and his beloved wares, Wallace wondered who would take on the enterprise. By the time market season was set to open in March, Wallace decided she should step into Deichler's sizeable shoes. The 59-year-old died Jan. 21 of natural causes in his sleep, friends say.
"He did really well, and his job didn't seem too bad either," Wallace says. "I feel like it's a great way to honor him."
Wallace, who made pasta occasionally at home, experimented with recipes for about two weeks to generate a workable dough. She bought a duo of small, hand-cranked pasta machines for use at Talent's Rent-A-Kitchen, where she spends about 10 hours every week making angel hair, fettuccine and lasagna sheets. A half-pound of the white or whole-wheat pasta sells for $4.
Like Wallace, Sherry B. Henney of Medford made pasta for her own use before rolling out her Sherry's Pasta at the growers market about a month ago. While Wallace's is more traditional, Henney makes noodles flavored with herbs, tomato and chillies, as well as a hand-rolled, gluten-free version from brown-rice, soy and masa flours.
"For me, it's kind of like playing with Play-Doh," says Henney, 55.
Henney plays with her recipes at Griffin Creek Grange, where she dries 30 pounds of pasta for up to 10 hours before market days. The process yields a more reliable product, Henney says.
"When it's fresh, you have to cook it that night."
Flexibility is the impetus for Henney's business, inspired by her February diagnosis of breast cancer. After careers in landscaping and event planning, Henney says she needed work hours that accommodated radiation treatments. Her half-pound pasta portions are $4; $5 for gluten-free.
The inclusion of not one, but two new pasta vendors at the growers market fills an important niche in the local food economy, says Wendy Siporen, executive director of THRIVE, a nonprofit advocacy group for Rogue Valley food producers.
"It's harder to get local staples, so bread and pasta is great because it rounds out all our other meats and veggies," says Siporen.
The advent of more farmers markets than Deichler could attend over the past decade gives new vendors a chance to extend their appeal. Both Pine Knob and Sherry's Pasta can be purchased at the growers market, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Ashland armory and Thursdays at the Medford armory. Henney says she also is considering joining Hillcrest Growers and Craft Market at East Medford's Hillcrest Orchards, which opens at 3 p.m. June 4 and runs Fridays through Oct. 29.
"It's a great little business incubator," Siporen says of farmers markets. "People can try their product out."
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.