It’s pumpkin bread time of year

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I baked pumpkin bread the other day to share with friends who were coming over to help me with processing my rabbits.  (Post about that to follow).  I used an Oxbow pumpkin in place of the canned pumpkin I have always used in the past.  This was obviously much more time consuming as I had to cut up the pumpkin, roast it, mash it, and then use it instead of just opening a can.  But I got some bonuses out of the deal, such as yummy cumin/cayenne/salt roasted pumpkin seeds.  I also cubed a bunch of the extra pumpkin, boiled and peeled it and put the cubes in the freezer for later use.

I used my mom’s practially-perfect pumpin bread recipe from the cookbook she made for me a few years ago as a jumping off point and made a couple little changes.

When I decided to post my pictures and the recipe, I hopped over to Mom’s blog to see if she had posted the recipe sometime in the past so I wouldn’t have to type it in.  It’s an old standby at our house so it seemed likely.  Then, something CRAZY happened.  I scrolled down her posts for a minute, mouth watering as I admired the things she’d been making out of romanesco and farro.  Then there it was!  Pumpkin bread.  November 6th, 2011.  What? Not the SAME DAY that I baked pumpkin bread?  What!  Yes it was.  I mean seriously, what are the chances? 🙂  Dude Mom, you and I are scarily in sync from opposite sides of the country.   Or perhaps this is just the time of year when everybody and their mother (Ha! ha!) bakes pumpkin bread.

Anyways, I followed her recipe with the following changes.

– Coconut oil for the fat instead of vegetable oil

– Double all the spices and add a couple teaspoons of ginger

– Use raspberries instead of nuts

– Use 1/4C sugar and 1/4 C molasses.

It was moist and spicy and delicious and we had it with vanilla ice cream for dessert after a dinner of rabbit braised with shallots, roasted potatoes & carrots, and sauteed cabbage & apples.

YUM!  I love food!

 

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M.F.K. Fisher – A book report.

It’s been a few years since my last book report.  Probably it was 7th grade or so?  Maybe Tom Sawyer or To Kill a Mockingbird?  But I can remember the instructions on how to compose a good literary analysis.  Compare/contrast, use applicable quotations, cite external sources, consider the author’s style and always, ALWAYS have good intro and concluding paragraphs.

The joy of writing a book report that doesn’t have to be turned in to a demanding 7th grade English teacher is that I can bend the rules, use emoticons, refer to the author by her first name (or initials), and write more about my own life than actually analyze the book 🙂  But I will cite my sources just to be properly thorough about the whole thing.  So here goes: Becky Warner on M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf.

I honestly don’t find time for a whole lot of reading these days.  But when your dad sends you a 750-page volume in the mail, he probably paid enough in postage that it would behoove you to actually read it 🙂  Just kidding, but actually, I was so pleased that my dad took the time to send me the copy of M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating that I received for my high school graduation.  I definitely don’t remember getting this book as a gift — 17 year old Becky probably thought “what the crap would anyone think I wanted this book for?  I want money and a hot pot for my dorm room!”  But my dad’s friend Mark had remarkable foresight, or maybe he is just a foodie, but either way 28 year old Becky finds M.F.K’s writing to be delightful, thought-provoking, and spot-on to my current revelations about food.

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, according to Wikipedia[1], wrote about food “from many aspects: preparation, natural history, culture, and philosophy.”  The Art of Eating is a compendium of five of her works.  So far I have read How to Cook a Wolf, and found it to be so exciting that I can’t wait to get on to the next four.  So many times during my reading I found myself saying “yes!” or “M.F.K., you’re so right!”

How to Cook a Wolf was written in 1942, and delivers the author’s thoughts on how to cook and eat simply and without wasting during a time when “the wolf was at the door.”  What’s amazing to me is that much of what she talks about I would have considered “quaint” until recently, but now her recommendations match up quite well with the cooking and eating habits I’ve been forming.  Just goes to show that there’s nothing new under the sun; all the things that I thought were cool and new are just the pendulum swinging, thankfully, away from shitty 1970’s-1990’s food bastardization and back into sensible, wholesome “wartime” eating practices.

For example, there is the Stock Bag.  I had previously assumed that stock was a difficult and touchy thing to make, based on recipes I’d seen listing many ingredients and steps.  Martha Stewart, for example[2], tells me to go out and buy *a chicken* and some celery and carrots and leeks which I will boil to make chicken stock.  She also tells me to buy two 48-oz cans of chicken broth for the liquid.  Why, if I may ask, am I using chicken broth to make chicken broth?  Canned broth is only going to make this stuff taste bad, and if I have good organic pastured chicken bones and plenty of vegetable matter, I don’t need to boil and then discard the chicken meat to make stock.

I learned about the stock bag from Noe, my roomate in Wallingford over the winter, from whom I have also learned rabbit butchering, how to start an urban farming co-op, and other handy homesteady type skills.  The stock bag is a plastic bag you keep in your freezer.  Every time you cook and you think of it, you add scraps to the bag instead of composting them: onion and carrot peels, lettuce leaves, herb stems, mushroom butt ends, anything you want except no brassicas.  If you’re a meat eater you also throw in bones from any lamb chops or chicken wings or ham hocks you happen to consume. Then when you want to make stock, you already have all the ingredients accumulated over time.  Thus you don’t have to go out to the grocery store and spend time and money buying ingredients to make stock.  They are just there waiting for you in the freezer.  You dump the stock bag’s contents into a steamer basket or top of a double boiler, add a bunch of water, and simmer it on the stove for a couple hours or all day.  Voila — stock.  Portion it out into jars or plastic containers and date them and freeze them.  I’ve been using stock instead of water for making rice and quinoa, beans, soup, stuffing, etc. and I’ve been loving the richer flavor it gives to all these things.

I thought Noe was pretty cool with the stock bag trick.  But it turns out, people were doing this in 1942.  M.F.K., perhaps not having a freezer, instructs housewives to “keep an old gin bottle in the icebox,” and add to it liquids from steaming vegetables, canned vegetable juices, and the like.  “Never throw away any vegetable or its leaves or juices unless they are bad; else count yourself a fool.  At the end you have a fine heady broth that will do wonders with any dish that calls for stock or even plain water.  If you keep your old gin bottle cold and reasonably on the move it need never spoil nor be anything but a present help in time of trouble, and a veritable treasure trove of vitamins and minerals that otherwise would have gone down the drain.” [3]  Ummm, Yup.  What she said.

I would say that M.F.K.’s main point in this book is that cooking simply and economically does not have to equate to eating boring or plain or monotonous meals.  She also is big on pointing out that “modern rounded meal-plans” and “adulterated foods” give the eater no pleasure when compared to the delight of eating fresh, whole, “honest” food.  The same point as Michael Pollan makes in his books, several decades later.  The same point that I have discovered on my own as I am lucky enough to live on farms with plenty of honest food rolling in. Fisher writes about foods and flavors in glowing prose that makes me hungry: “I want a salad of a dozen tiny vegetables: rosy potatoes in their tender skins, asparagus tips, pod-peas, beans two inches long and slender as thick hairs… I want them cooked, each alone to fresh perfection. I want them dressed, all together, in a discreet veil of oil and condiments.” [3] I couldn’t help but make such a salad after reading this description. Mine had zucchini sliced lengthwise and roasted caulifower florets, but the spirit was the same. Only on the farm (or in your own garden, or from your truly local non-touristy farmers market) can you get the ingredients to prepare this dish in the way that M.F.K. Fisher envisioned it. In 1942 people had victory gardens from which they could harvest tiny beans. What an entirely different experience from buying a bag of frozen green beans or even eating an iceberg salad made from bagged lettuce and “baby” “carrots” 🙂

Fisher’s writing is conversational and fun to read.  She pokes fun at stuck-up gastronomes and invites her readers to stop worrying and enjoy food and cooking.  She writes about using what you have on hand and creating your own inventions and combinations instead of following an overly-prescriptive recipe.  “Once the cupboard is stocked with things you like and a few you are not sure about, start combining.  Put this and that together in a pan, stir them, heat them, and serve them as they are.”[3]   She includes a recipe for frittata, for example, remarkably similar to the one I wrote about last year although much simpler.  The recipe includes a few ingredients and a multitude of suggestions for substitutions.  You need eggs but then basically, just use whatever vegetables you have, maybe some herbs, maybe some cheese.  “And with a glass of wine and some honest-to-God bread it is a meal.  At the end of it you know that Fate cannot harm you, for you have Dined.”[3]   My favorite line in the book, for sure.  🙂

All her recipes are like this: more suggestions for methods of cooking and what types of flavors go well together than hard-and-fast instructions.  It gives the reader inspiration and then allows us to go out and experiment on our own.  It pleased me how many of her recipes are similar to things I’ve already been making with farm food.  I couldn’t believe it but she describes basically the exact same “weird farm breakfast” I wrote about with eggs cracked into boiling tomato soup and served over a bread slice.  She tops hers with a cup of beer, though, which I found intriguing especially for breakfast!  I tried her recipe for gingerbread (the old-fashioned kind that’s like a cake, not cookies) and it was delicious and very similar to the one I’d already had on my list of staple recipes.  She makes a rum sauce for hers, though, that I’m excited to try next time.  Rum sauce, beer over tomato soup?  Maybe old M.F.K. was a lush, is what we’re finding?

She has several recipes for rabbit, which is awesome as our bunnies’ date is approaching soon.  “Rabbit in Casserole” describes dredging the meat in flour and browning it, and then cooking for an hour in stock, wine, and herbs.  This is almost exactly the way I cooked our first rabbit, which I based a bit on Joy of Cooking and mostly on my own feel and taste.  Her second rabbit recipe is “with Sauerkraut and Bacon,” which you can rest assured I will be trying next.

In conclusion, (so you get the sense that I will be wrapping up with some pithy statements here),  I really enjoyed the book.  (Nope, too general.)  The book was found by all to be really enjoyable.  (Nope, nope, passive voice.)  M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf is a valuable read for anyone interested in food and eating well.  (Ahh, there we go.  M.F.K. also uses a lot of parenthetical statements, which may be why I’m writing like this.)  It emphasizes a return to simple, vibrant ingredients and recipes which families were already slipping away from at the time of writing, and which is even more critical for us to read about now.  It definitely goes on my list of recommended readings for anyone who loves to eat, and to think about, food.

– B.W.

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Bibliographicallizzle:

[1]  M. F. K. Fisher. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 3, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._F._K._Fisher

[2]  Homemade Chicken Stock. (October 1999). In Martha Stewart Living. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from http://www.marthastewart.com/343921/homemade-chicken-stock

[3] Fisher, M. F.K.  (1942). How to Cook a Wolf.  New York: The Macmillan Company.

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Weird farm breakfast #463

Breakfast is a very important meal on the farm.  I’ve always been a breakfast eater (mostly Cheerios during my formative years 🙂 ) but farm work burns a lot of calories, so these days a nice big protein and carb load in the morning is absolutely necessary to get from 7am start time until noon lunch.  We get pretty experimental and crazy with these breakfasts – gotta use whatever is in the fridge and pantry – and we sometimes come up with something surprisingly good!

My hot cereal breakfast is a very regular one.  I start with Bluebird Grains’ cereal mix, which we trade for at the farmers market.  I mix in some rolled oats for texture.  When I cook it I use about half water and half milk (raw & organic whole milk from Sea Breeze Farm which we trade for at the farmers market).  Then I put on sweet or savory toppings depending on the mood I wake up in.  I enjoy being able to check in with my stomach in the morning: is it a day for cheese, sauerkraut, and seaweed/sesame sprinkle on top? Or a day for peanut butter, raisins, and honey mixed in?

Savory breakfasts definitely have more sticking power than sweet.  I make eggs often, with the quickest and yummiest preparation being poached eggs on toast.  The other day I woke up craving something tomatoey, and we were also almost out of water in our tank at the yurt… so I poached my eggs using a jar of last summer’s canned tomato puree instead of water!  It was so simple and delicious and fulfilling, I wanted to write it down:

Eggy Tomato Bread

  • 1/2 pint tomato juice/soup/puree (Butler Green Farm 2010)
  • Couple sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme (my porch)
  • 2 eggs (trade from Stokesberry’s at Ballard FM)
  • 2 slices ciabatta bread (trade from Alex the baker at Carnation FM)
  • Salt & pepper

Crack 2 eggs into a small bowl.  Bring tomato to a simmer with herb sprig in a small saucepan.  When tomato boils, turn it down to maintain slow simmer.  Extract the herb sprig and then gently ease the eggs in.  Simmer for 3-5 minutes until eggs are cooked but yolks still soft. Place 2 slices of ciabatta bread in the bottom of your bowl.  Pour in the egg/tomato.  Sprinkle salt & pep.  EAT IT.  The bread soaks up the tomato and egg yolk for a mouthwatering mouthful.

If you’re catching a theme here, it is that Oxbow LOVES trading veggies for other goods when we work markets.  This is the great thing about being a producer in addition to a consumer. I get to eat exactly the way I want to eat: whole, real, best-quality foods straight from the farms.  I get to do this for basically free.  We grow our own veggies, so there are ample pick-your-own salads and roasted and sauteed veggie meals to be had.  Then when we hit our three weekly farmers markets, we get to trade our extra veggies for all kinds of other items.  We get to know the other vendors who we trade with on a weekly basis.  It is so fun to run around and trade with Aaron for Seabreeze’s milk and sausage, snag eggs from Stokesberry’s, cheese from Mt Townsend Creamery’s Annika,  smoked salmon from Tim at Wilson Fish, piles of bread from Farhad at Greatful Bread, honey, fruit, etc and etc.  I was hesitant about it at first, but people at these other booths are stoked to get our veggies in exchange for their products.  If someone wants to send me home with bacon or strawberries in exchange for arugula, why would I question that?!?  Alice says that this is the time of year when she basically stops going grocery shopping.  I’ll be buying in a few bulk staples and some 70% cacao dark chocolate, and I’m pretty much set to go :-)!

As the Solstice approaches, we can feel the change in our farm even though the temperature has still been very up and down.  As spring turns finally to summer, the plants are increasing in size more rapidly and the tenor of the work is starting to turn more toward harvest and processing instead of planting.  The busy season is dawning.  Our first week of CSA shares are happening this week!  I got to help harvest and process and then deliver the very first shares to Ballard on Sunday!  What a great culmination to have folks come down on purpose to bring home their own veggie allotment!  300 area families will be eating vegetables from our farm boxes this summer.  It’s fun to think about that group of people and what they will all be doing with their garlic scapes, greens, and rhubarb this week.  Here’s what I did with mine:

Kale and White Bean Casserole

  • 2 cups dry white beans (PCC)
  • 1/2 lb sausage or ground pork – optional (Seabreeze)
  • 1 bunch kale (Oxbow)
  • 1 bunch garlic scapes (Oxbow)
  • 3 cups fatty fatty chicken broth (Nature’s Last Stand chicken from last week)
  • 1 cup Bread crumbs or crushed up chips  (I used corn chips Trader Joes)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts  (I used almonds from Trader Joes)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (Trader Joes)

The night before, soak the white beans in water.  Drain.  Cook them in the chicken broth with fresh or dry herbs (sage, thyme, and/or rosemary).  Chop up and sautee the sausage.  Add the garlic scapes and sautee.  Add the kale and sautee til cooked.  Season with salt, pepper, maybe a little vinegar.  Mix the beans & broth with the sauteed ingredients.  Pour it all into a baking dish.  Top with a mixture of the chips, almonds, and cheese.  Maybe dot with butter if you’re feeling crazy.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes until it gets bubbly!  Enjoy with lettuce salad.

At home at the yurt, our bunnies are also growing up quickly. 4 weeks old now, they are acting like real little rabbits, eating and drinking a TON, and are squirmy little handfuls to pick up.  We have just started pasturing them (putting them out on grass).  Alice did an excellent carpentry job on an old rabbit run we had inherited from farmer Luke, so they get to escape the confines of their hutches during the day and we put them back in with their Mamas overnight.  They are sooo happy eating grass and the piles and piles of lettuce scraps that we bring back from the barn!  I did rabbit “processing” (slaughter and butchering) with Noe in Seattle again last Saturday to get some more experience under my belt.  I feel moderately confident about it.  Our rabbit experience has not been perfect or without mistakes.  I want to make sure to point out that  everything has not gone swimmingly; in our learning we have fudged up a number of times.  We started out with 15 rabbit babies and are now down to 10 (kind of 11, as I will explain…).  Two died at birth.  One got out of the nest overnight when it was just a few days old and we found it dead the next morning – possibly from cold?  Last week we had our two unfortunate incidences.  One: a bunny escaped.  I left the door open for a second while I turned my back and a little guy got out of the hutch and trundled off into the woods!  To his/her credit, this little bunny has been living wild around the yurt for a week now, foiling all our attempts to catch him.  I see him almost every day, hanging around, enjoying life!  The second incident was more tragic: a bunny got through the hutch partition into the wrong side with the other Mom and the other Mom beat it up.  When Alice got home from work, the poor little one was on the wrong side, alive but severely lacerated on its haunch and underbelly.  I had no idea that Margie would have done such a thing; they are only separated from the others by a chickenwire divider so have been able to see and smell each other the whole time – but clearly having an intruder into her enclosure warranted her trying to kill the foreign baby.  The rabbit was severely enough wounded that the only thing for us to do was put it down.  I luckily knew how to do it because of my experience at Noe’s, so we did it quickly and properly and buried the bun behind the yurt.  I cried a bit as I did it, which was a different emotion from what I’d experienced during the planned slaughter at Noe’s.  It was sad and a wakeup call that this animal had to experience pain and die because of a mistake on our part that we had not made the two hutches isolated enough.  I feel strongly that we should not be taking these animals’ lives lightly because we know they are intended for food.  The whole point is that we want them to live the best possible lives under our care and then die quickly and painlessly.  It is a learning experience for Alice and me, but we need to be more careful.  I do still feel good about this experiment with raising our own meat.  We are getting into a good daily routine with the bunnies, and it will be a new experience when I cook and eat my own meat for the first time.  I don’t know if raising meat rabbits will be something I continue with or not, though.

To wrap up, here are a couple of pics – more on my Flickr as usual!

Tomato kisses are bluegreen and iridescent

Sonj and Jess on the transplanter with Adam. We did mechanical transplanting for the first time on broccoli and cauliflower!

Standard random farm meal: squash soup, wild rice, sauteed broccoli and kale, yogurt and croutons. All in the same bowl.

Margot and babes

Lovely spinach row - seeds are sprouting!

1917.

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Pretty right on.

1 – 2 – 3 – Sauerkraut!

Sauerkraut setup

 

I’m still planning on writing more about preserving food by canning, but I’m so excited about my fresh batch of sauerkraut right now, I thought I would highlight that first.  Preserving by lacto-fermentation, it turns out, is extraordinarily easy!  I’m hoping to try cucumber pickles by this method later in the summer.  Maybe kimchi someday.   At the moment, I have just jarred up my 2nd batch of kraut.  (First batch was made at the farm last summer and lasted into the winter.)  2nd batch just finished its two-week fermentation and went into the fridge yesterday.

I am a big fan of kraut… but I have not always been!  I had always avoided store-bought sauerkraut in the past — it seemed absolutely disgusting, vinegary and stinky and gross.   In 2002 when I was visiting Germany I had my first good sauerkraut experience when I ate some street-food sausages and grilled kraut at a Christmas market in Nürnberg.  The combination of sausage, sauerkraut, mustard, and a toasty roll was SO delectable – an absolute peak food experience – that it made me reconsider fermented cabbage as a  possible friend.

Then, a few years later, in Seattle, I met Ross Meyer.   Ross was my fitness coach (personal trainer, but not one of those meathead weightlifting dudes) and is now my friend.  Ross looooooves the sauerkraut.  Give him half a chance and he will bend your ear about the superb nutritional qualities of fermented cabbage.  Invite him to a potluck and he will bring a jar of home-made kraut and present it to you with reverence.  He will tell you about how we actually owe this food to the nomadic tribes of ancient Mongolia and not the Germans as most people assume.  Ross taught me what I know about making kraut, and I owe him big time.  It is easy and fun.  When Ross came over to my house in Wallingford this last time for our 2nd annual cabbage party, my roommates were enthralled by the process and wanted to help.  Ross and I ended up sitting back and letting roomies Noe and Gerry do the shredding, squeezing, and packing.

With that intro, here are the steps to making your own sauerkraut.

1. Prepare it

2. Wait

3. Eat it!


Haha, Ok, I guess step one needs a little more fleshing out.

SAUERKRAUT INSTRUCTIONS.

What you need:

  • Several heads of cabbage (This time I had 4 and it was just a bit too much for my 1-gallon crock)
  • Salt (kosher suggested)
  • Sharp knife and cutting board
  • Food processor (optional but really really really really nice to have)
  • Container(s) — large glass jars or crock
  • Weight and covering for top of crock (see below)
  • Pounding implement (see below)
  • Latex gloves (optional – to protect against getting salt in wounds)

Process:

– Determine your fermentation container(s).  I found a lovely one-gallon crock (see pic at top) for $20  at the Ace Hardware.  It makes things a bit easier.  But you can also use glass mason jars – half gallon or even quart size.

– DO NOT RINSE CABBAGES.  We want as little chlorinated water as possible and as much natural bacteria from the environment as possible.  Trust me.  Peel off and discard any grimy outer leaves.  Cut out and discard the cores of the cabbages.

– Cut cabbages into chunks that will fit down the food processor tube.  Feed them into a thin slicing blade to shred.  Or shred by hand with a knife.  That sounds like an awful lot of work though 🙂 Find someone who has a food processor you can borrow.

– When the food processor is filled with shredded cabbage, dump it into your crock, or into a bowl if you’re using jars.  Pour salt on top.  It’s hard to say how much salt; I read about 3 Tablespoons per 5 lbs of cabbage but it is just kind of a feel-and-taste thing.   It’s quite a bit of salt, so when in doubt add more.

– Mix the cabbage and salt together with your (optionally gloved) hands.  Use a squeezing, wringing motion to work the salt into the cabbage and make it release its juices!  This is the fun, kraut-party bit.  Get your friends to help.  The shredded cabbage will reduce in size A LOT.  You want the level of the cabbage to be BELOW the level of the juices!  It can take a little while working it until it’s ready.

– When the first dump of cabbage has been thoroughly massaged, pound it down FIRMLY with your hands (in a crock) or with any sturdy kitchen tool into the mouth of your jar.  Ross has a super-cool wooden  tamper that he uses; see if you can find something similar.  Tamp it into a flat layer at the bottom of the container.

– Shred some more cabbage. Add another layer of cabbage, more salt, and repeat the squeezing, squeezing, tamping process until all the cabbage is used up.

– When you’re done, THE LEVEL OF THE CABBAGE should be BELOW the level of the brine (salty juices).  If it’s not, you’ll have to add salt water (1 tsp salt dissolved in 1 cup water) until it is.  This is so that the brine protects the cabbage and keeps it anaerobic (without air) so the proper bacteria can go to town and the bad bacteria stay out.

– If you’re using jars, throw a two piece lid on there and you’re done.  HOWEVER, you will have to tamp the kraut down once or ideally twice a day in your jars.  Each day, open the lid (there may be a bit of pressure buildup) and tamp it down firmly.

– If you’re using a crock, put a weight on top.  This can be a plate that just slightly smaller than the diameter of the crock opening, with a glass jar full of water on top.  I used a Pyrex container with lid, filled with water, that was just a bit smaller.  Set the weight on top of the cabbage and the liquids will rise up almost to the top of the crock.  Put a pie plate underneath in case of spillage and a plastic baggie over top to keep dust out.   You can leave your crock alone for 2 weeks and let it ferment.  There’s no harm in tamping it down too; I did rather frequently just to make sure the level of the liquids was good and that things were smelling good in there.  You’ll probably see some bubbling up over the first few days; this is normal and good.  Dump any spillage out of the pie plate and leave it be.

– Leave it in a corner of the kitchen or somewhere relatively cool, to ferment for 2 weeks.  You can go shorter or longer but this seems like the ideal length of time to me.  I read that if you see mold on top you just scrape it off.  I haven’t gotten mold on either of my two batches and I feel like if I did, I would throw it out 🙂  We’ll see.

– You can taste the kraut every day if you want and decide when you like the flavor and want it to stop fermenting.  At 2 weeks or whenever you want to stop, take the weight off the crock and shovel the sauerkraut out into glass mason jars and put them in the fridge.  This stops the fermentation and holds the sauerkraut just as it is, for quite a long time.  I ate my first batch gradually over a period of probably August til January.  It was delicious!!!

My latest batch. Some of it has carrot slices mixed in.

The end!  Give it a try, even if you think you don’t like sauerkraut.  Try a shorter fermentation than two weeks.  This will be mild tasting, crisp, fresh and juicy cabbage goodness.  You can heat it and have it with sausage and potatoes, throw it on top of any sandwich or in a tortilla wrap, mix it with other pickled vegetables on top of a salad, etc etc etc.  I have to admit that I’ve been eating my hot corn-and-oat breakfast cereal for breakfast with a poached egg and sauerkraut on top.  It’s super weird and hippie-ish, but I wake up craving it.  Make some homemade kraut and join the fermentation fun.

Food preservation: Reviving a lost art (Part 1 of 2)

The following magazine clipping hung on the door of our kitchen cabinet at the apprentice house all season.

The caption reads, “In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal administration assigned photographer Dorothea Lange to travel around Oregon documenting agricultural communities at the height of the Great Depression.   Here we see Mrs. Botner of Nyssa Heights in Eastern Oregon tidying her storage cellar, where she had placed 800 quarts of home-canned food to sustain her family through the winter.”

Mrs. Botner looks like a sturdy farm wife, but I enjoy her outfit: she’s wearing some stylish leather heels with her plain summer housedress.  She’s been working in the field and in the kitchen all day, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be lookin’ good while putting by some provisions in her root cellar!

Last January, I had the pleasure of taking a class on food preservation at a farmer conference in Stanwood, WA.  The instructor of the class, Mrs. Vivian Smallwood, was of the right age to have been this Mrs. Botner’s daughter.   White-haired and in her 70’s, Vivian came into class using a walker to teach us the canning methods and recipes she had learned from her female relatives of this bygone era.   Vivian is a “certified master food preserver” with the WSU extension agency.  She explained that she is the only one left with this title; there used to be others but they have retired and for a long time young people were never interested in achieving the certification.  Just recently, though, she pointed out, there is a resurgence of interest in her area of expertise.  In the past few years, the demand for her classes has increased to where she can’t keep up with it.   She told us that she’s pleased to know that people are coming back to an interest in preserving their own food, and she’s eager to share her knowledge.   “Feel free to call me on the phone,” she offered sweetly, giving out her home number in case we had any questions come up while we were doing our own canning.

I think this is such a telling example of the cultural shifts that have happened around food over the last century in America.  In 1939, people were still preserving their own food because they needed to do so to survive.  They raised their own meats, grains, fruits and vegetables and ate them fresh when they could; then they used preservation techniques so they could continue eating the rest of the year.  Packaged foods,  freezing, and even refrigeration were either unavailable  or too expensive to depend on.   Over the next several decades, the entire food system changed dramatically.  For my grandparents and parents, packaged and shipped foods became the norm, and why wouldn’t they?  Who would want to spend time harvesting and processing their own food when so much variety was cheaply available at the grocery store?

There have always been those that did canning at home.  Growing up, I remember seeing the jars of peaches and pears entered into competition for a blue ribbon in the community fair.   My mom made the YUMMIEST freezer jams and tried making cucumber pickles once.  But overall the practice of, and knowledge about, food preservation has been decreasing steadily over the generations.  Until, perhaps, now.

Based on Vivian’s experience and my own observations of happenings around Seattle, people are getting back into canning in a big way.  It makes sense for this to go hand in hand with the current upsurge of interest in local & sustainable food.  An increased number of people are growing their own gardens; similarly, home canning is gaining popularity.  Even more people have switched to buying  produce at a farmers’ market over a grocery store.  These folks are also discovering that delicious, small-batch, artisan products like jam, honey, pickles, and sauerkraut can be had at many farmers’ markets.  These are a much higher quality, more “real” product than the Smuckers, etc, from the supermarket.  It seems to me that we can have the luxury of all that grocery-store surplus and still crave a more authentic taste and the feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing the origin of our food.  We’ve hit a point where we are starting to realize that the extra effort that goes into making your own can be worth it.

I tried my own first forays into canning last fall with a jam project and some green bean pickles.  They turned out well enough to give me confidence to try a bunch more this year with farm produce.  Unfortunately, the time of year when all the extra produce is available for canning is the same time of year when you have zero time to do any canning because you’re so busy harvesting and selling all that produce.  But I managed to get some stuff into cans:

Pickled green beans, pickled cucumbers, pickled carrots, mixed-vegetable pickles. Raspberry jam, peach jam, plum jam. Tomato sauce, sauerkraut, and one can of chanterelle mushrooms.

 

I planned to write this post about my actual experience with canning, what I learned, and some recipes.  But I got a little wrapped up in some historical analysis and now I’ve written enough for one day!  So in part 2, I will share some canning basics so that we can all help carry on Mrs. Botner’s tradition and see our families through the winter with home-canned goodies.  In the meantime, here are some essential items for your canning Christmas wishlist.  Stay tuned!


The chicken and the egg

I recently had a chance to participate in a small batch chicken “processing” (butchering) on the farm. I was a bit nervous about it, but it turned out to be a great experience and helped me feel many times closer to and more comfortable with where meat comes from, just as I have been learning about vegetables via my internship. I discovered that far from being unable to eat my chicken meat afterward, I was excited to take care with preparing it and savoring it as a meaningful meal instead of just some protein on a plate. Pics of my chicken cooking (none of the actual processing) are on flickr: start here and click forward thru a few pictures.

I did come away from the processing wondering about eggs. I got pretty familiar with chicken anatomy while I was helping at the evisceration table, but it was unclear to me where and how the eggs form. Do they just float around in there? How in the world do they come out the vent, which seemed to me to be attached to the intestine? How does the egg form? Yolk first and then it gets coated by white and shell?

Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers for you at this point. Maybe someone who knows can tell us in the comments. But my story is that all this wondering about eggs made me very interested when I found the following recipe. I was flipping through my roommate Renee’s book “More-with-Less Cookbook” (subtitled “suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited resources.”). The book is from 1976. This is the recipe:

“Chicken and Noodles.
In our community the farmers who sell eggs must clear their barns of one-to-two year old fat hens. They could be bought for forty cents this fall, so I bought ten of them. Many had strings of partially formed eggs inside them which can be used to make the noodles for this soup. The following nutritious dish can be made very economically. I serve it often to my farmer men, and they like it.”

I love that this recipe basically starts out with, “first, butcher your chicken.” Chicken comes from your backyard or your neighbor farmer instead of on a styrofoam tray in Wal-Mart. You use the unlaid eggs inside the bird to make noodles – and then simmer them all together into chicken soup. Wow!! How different from the way we are used to cooking.

I was talking about the recipe with the girls at work, and that night Stacy forwarded me a recent article in the New York Times about how unlaid eggs are being rediscovered and making an appearance on some fancy-restaurant menus:

“This now mostly lost treat is well remembered by anyone who grew up with laying hens or bought chickens from and old-fashioned butcher before the advent of factory farming. Now, when the birds have stopped laying they are shipped off to places like Campbell’s where they become chicken soup. They are worth so little that many are incinerated, their immature eggs unharvested.”

The article describes a few New York restaurants that have started featuring unlaid eggs as a gourmet item on their menus. A chef describes them as having “a deep, concentrated flavor. It made the dish very different!”

So, everything old is new again. I wonder though, if these eggs catch back on, it would probably not be in a way that makes use of the whole bird the way the recipe in the Mennonite cookbook does. It could potentially even lead to more waste if chickens are harvested specifically for their immature eggs and then the birds are unwanted and thrown away.

When I cooked my Dropstone Farms chicken, the one whose processing I had a hand in, I tried to use every part. She was too young to have any partially-formed eggs (and, she also may have been a he, I’m not sure..) But I made giblet gravy using the heart, kidney and gizzard. I sauteed the liver with butter and onions for a snack while I was cooking.. first time I’ve eaten liver, and I liked it.. And I attempted to make stock out of the feet and neck. The skinned feet are a little creepy to look at but they are supposedly the best for stock cuz of all the collagen and whatnot. I accidentally left the feet-stock on too long and burnt it past the point of recognition, but everything else turned out great and I’ll try with the feet again next time!

The chicken her/himself I rubbed with an herb butter and roasted for an hour on top of rosemary mixed veggies. The meat was delicious and a delight to share with Renee and a few guests. I used the carcass to make chicken & rice soup which was very rich even without the feet.

I bought another chicken from Lauren and Garth last week, which is in the freezer waiting for his/her time to shine. They charge $5 per pound which makes the bird a $20 investment. I know I would balk at buying a $20 chicken in the grocery store, but somehow it seems like I am getting a fantastic deal on this bird now that I know more of the whole story.

And… That’s all I have to say about that!