Monday, August 31, 2009

Thoughts on "The Omnivore's Dilemma"

I read the book that succeeded this ("In Defense of Food") first, but having enjoyed Michael Pollan's writing, I grabbed this when I saw it in the library.

I enjoyed following his journey of discovery about food and his own life-stance towards food. The section on Joe Salatin's Polyface Farm is entertaining and heartening -- especially as it follows his awful discoveries about industrial food. It's good to know that truly ecological farming can be done, though many would say it's not practical in face of the world's current population. But industrial farming isn't either -- not in the long term in view of dwindling petroleum supplies and the pollution it causes.

His sortie into vegetarianism is interesting, particularly his thought processes in backing out of it. He nicely teases out the shaky philosophical foundations of the animal rights movement -- it views rights as applying to individual animals, much as human rights apply to individual humans. As long as individual animals survive, it doesn't matter if the species that the animal belongs to doesn't. Doesn't that seem to be the underlying assumption for placing economic gain over ecological practicality?

There are good ecological reasons to be vegetarian or vegan, or to at least reduce the amount of animal flesh and animal products as currently consumed in North America, but there are locales in North America where such a diet cannot be locally sustained. The hills of New England are conducive to pasture and the animals to convert that grass to food that humans can digest.

We are all going to have to do a lot more local eating in the future and for many some of that will involve meat and animal products. I can get local wheat, local hemp hearts, local buffalo, local emu, local vegetables, local maple syrup, local honey, local cheese and local eggs, but I've not seen much in local dried beans.

I'm content to live the omnivore life and its dilemma.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Heatless preserving

... at least heatless for the house!

Obviously, solar drying is a great way to preserve food without using a stove. I find it works great for greens, herbs, flowers and zucchini slices. It works wonderfully to finish off granola when you've toasted all the ingredients separately in a stir-fry pan. I've done melba toast and pita "crackers" in it too.

Steeping liquors and vinegars requires no heat too. Easy recipe: put the fruit in the jar. Add sugar and vodka for a liquor (layering the sugar with the fruit, then covering with vodka. Add vinegar for a fruit vinegar. I made black raspberry vinegar and a tarragon-based (with a few auxillary herbs) vinegar and I use both in salad dressing.

Last year and this I made a lightly salted green vegetable stock. Either put through a food grinder or food processor: 1 part leek, 1 part celery, 1 part parsley (which can be varied a bit with a little bit of thyme and oregano). Salt just so you can taste the salt and pack in jars. This stores nicely in a cool dark place.

When the Sunday before my trip way turned into a hot, humid day and I was faced with nine cucumbers, I knew it was time to try lacto-fermentation. I sliced the cucumbers very thin (about 1/8 of inch or less), sprinkled them lightly with salt and layered them in canning jars. They're down in the cellar and I won't know how they'll come out for a few weeks.

I had a basket of ripe peaches as well. I skinned them, sliced them, layered them in jars with some sugar and filled the jars with brandy. Once a week I'll have to shake them to get the sugar dissolved. Over the winter I should have some yummy brandied peaches and a peach brandy liquor.

For next summer, I'm going to be sure I have some gallon jars on hand to use as "crocks" for lacto-fermented beans as well as cucumbers. With a crock you can layer the stuff in as you harvest it. Talk about convenience!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

First August Preserving Marathon

With stuff coming to fruition, this is when the harvest crunch comes in the summer. Plus I'm away for five days next week so I'm trying to get "get stuff done"!

We've finally gotten several days in succession of sunshine. This means I can use my solar dehydrator for things other than herbs and greens and have them actually dry. The dehydrator I built, though, is very good at maintaining warmth and the air flow if clouds come by or move in for an hour or so. And I can leave the trays in it overnight even if we get a shower.

Things I've dried this week:
  • Cremona mushrooms (done in a day and a half)
  • kale and chard (done in a day)
  • calendula flowers (done in a day)
  • green pepper (sliced thin -- done in a day and a half)
  • celery (sliced thin -- done in a day and a half)
  • rusk (done in a day)
  • zucchini "chips" (done in a day and a half)
  • yarrow (done in a day to a day and a half)
  • chamomile flowers (done in a day)
  • sweet dark cherries (three days)
  • almond meal (from making almond milk - done in a day)
My black raspberry liquor finished steeping, so I bottled it. I drained a couple of pints of last years' rhubarb sauce and made a spicy black raspberry spread (adding some cinnamon) with that pulp and the steeped black raspberries.

Yesterday I harvested everything I could before going away: rhubarb, cucumbers, green beans, snow peas. The snow peas were a small enough amount we had them in our pad thai supper, along with some of the green beans. The rest of the beans and the cucumbers went into dill pickles (with my own dill, hot red pepper, and garlic). I made rhubarb ade concentrate and then used the pulp with a couple of past jars of raspberry sauce (which had come out gluey from an overabundance of pectin and/or fruit) to make a Rhubarb Raspberry spread. I took the last jar out of the water bath at 10:15 pm and was glad to shut down the stove for the night.

Things cooled off well overnight. This is an odd day, so that means I can water in my town. With today and the next two days being hot and my pole beans starting to wilt, I thought it best to thoroughly water. I've got jug and bottle waterers all over and a couple of soaker hose lines. I started shortly after seven and was done by 11 am. I used water from my rain barrel for the kitchen garden. While the "outside the fence" garden got its soaker hose run, I decided to strain and bottle up my black raspberry vinegar. What to do with the berries? I decided to make a savory sauce with them that we can use with meat in the slow cooker. I actually cooked the sauce in my thermal cooker rather than heat up the kitchen with a long simmer. Then it was time to move to watering the main garden. I have a Y junction there, so I can start the soaker while filling jug and bottle waterers in the squash patch, for some of the tomatoes and for the peppers. I also do some wand watering on the lettuce, ground huckleberries, fall snow peas and zucchini.

I had breakfast and got all my jars from last night labeled and put away.

About 1 pm I checked on the sauce and ran the immersion blender on it. Then it was time to adjust the seasoning: more light brown sugar, some salt, and juice from a quarter lime. I gave my husband a taste and he approved. I brought it up to boiling again and put it back in the thermal cooker to "simmer" some more. I decided to blend it to a smooth sauce rather than leave it a little chunky and put it up in a quart bottle.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Heat Is On

We had a July cooler than most years this summer and a lot of rain. Now the rain has slowed and the temperature has soared. I see signs of ripening on my tomatoes. We're running the ceiling fans all during the day now. I'm drying lots of stuff in my solar dehydrator. Tomorrow and Sunday we're supposed to hit 30 deg C and it will feel like 40 deg C (getting near 100 deg F!) with the humidity. Nights are still cooling off -- well below 75 deg F. Days like that are for sitting in the shade or indoors with shaded windows and a fan to move the air.

I might have gotten my last big picking of rhubarb for the summer unless we get more rain. I juiced the rhubarb this morning and put the pulp in the fridge. I won't can it until this evening when it starts to cool off. I'm reusing some heavy raspberry sauce (more like glue!) with the rhubarb pulp for a usable waffle/cookie bar spread. I'm really looking forward to some healthy cookie bars all winter long and my husband will be happy to see more baking.

I've got cucumbers I've got to do something with too. I think I'll try some lacto-fermented dill slices. I can start them tonight and put them in the cellar on Sunday. On Monday I go away for five days, so I'll have to advise my husband on what to harvest. I've got neighbors who can come in to take away some stuff too.

But going away means the heat is one to get some stuff done. So yesterday I did the last painting of the shade frame I constructed last week. This morning I finished putting pavement sand on the walkway I put in the week before that. For supper tonight I'll be picking all the baby green beans and snow peas I can for our shrimp noodle dish. The tomatoes and melons have been fertilised. Tomorrow I plan to water everything, really making sure the developing fruits will have sufficient moisture.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rhubarb and Raspberries

Well, the last of the first flash of black raspberries is done. By hoarding pickings in the freezer, I was able to accumulate enough for a gallon of black raspberry melomel (honey-based fruit wine) as well as a hearty mixed raspberry shortcake on my son's birthday. The very last picking went into bumbleberry spread.

I tried making a berry spread earlier this summer based on apple juice concentrate and no sugar. The strawberries washed out in colour and it took a long time to cook down.

Some low-sugar fruit spread are based on apples (so it's more like a fruit + apple butter), but local apples don't come in until mid-August (green ones, too).

I have a six plant rhubarb row. When I pick a third of it, I have enough rhubarb for 4 pints of rhubarbade concentrate plus a small rhubarb crisp, or 4-6 jars of rhubarb sauce plus some left over rhubarb sauce. I love rhubarbade as a summer drink that is an alternative to lemonade or iced tea. Making it this year I used up some runny orange marmelade that had been sitting on my preserves shelves. I also steeped elderflowers in the concentrate before its final heating and jarring. Once or twice I threw in a handful of black raspberries to cook with the stalks.

The first few batches I threw the leftover pulp once the juice is extracted into my compost. Then my frugal nature clicked in and I thought: this pulp is already cooked, it is smooth, it is acidic but not overly so and its flavor is mellowed down. Why not use it as a neutral base for fruit spread? I put it in the fridge and when I produced some cherry pulp a few days later from making the cherry melomel base, I combined the two with some additional sugar and produced a rhubarb-cherry spread. This will be excellent over waffles or in the middle of cookie bars.

Then I made a rhubarb BBQ sauce with it. And two batches of bumbleberry spread. "Bumbleberry" is simply any mixture of berries. The first mix was strawberries and black raspberries The second mix was black raspberries, a lot of blueberries, cherries, and a few red raspberries. I use a cup of sugar per 4 half/pint jam jars. This is much less than regular jam recipes, but enough to preserve the berry color in the spread.

Here's the recipe for the first batch:
3 - 3 1/2 c rhubarb pulp
3/4 c. black raspberries
1/2 c. strawberries
3/4 c. raw sugar (more to taste if pulp not sweet)
1/4 c. lemon juice (to ensure enough acid)

Mash berries with sugar and lemon juice. Heat to a boil, gradually adding rhubarb pulp. Add more sugar to taste if needed.

Put into 4 half-pint jars, being sure to remove any air pockets, with 1/2 inch head space. Process 15 minutes.

Last year we had rain all summer and I had rhubarb all summer. It looks like the same is happening this year. Last year all I preserved was rhubarb sauce that I'm still eating. This year I have a lot more useful items on my preserve shelves!