Category Archives: food

On home-grown flour

Painted Mountain flour corn, seed gifted generously from Mike.  Riffing off my last post:  One cup medium-fine corn meal in four cups boiling water equals polenta; one cup medium corn meal plus three cups boiling water equals grits.  See how easy this all is?

One of the things most surprising to those considering a “local” diet is how truly dependent their normal diet is upon flour.  Though flour can be made of any grain, it’s wheat we Westerners are terribly dependent upon…surely there’s a way to grow one’s own?

I suppose there is; in point of fact, on commercial farms, spring wheat and regular rye are commonly grown between vegetable rows where I live (the wheat grows quickly, and its roots hold down the soil between the plastic-mulched crops of tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.).  But wheat is not the normal commodity crop ’round here (ugh, we plow down our vineyards and orchards to grow corn and soy with shocking regularly here because–get this–we can’t find enough people to pick the grapes and fruit! sigh; this is a staggeringly sad factoid in a state with chronically high unemployment).  I’ve tried my hand growing hull-less oats and rye and buckwheat; all grew.  Dang, though, you need LOTS of grain to feed your own humble self.  My grains simply aren’t grown at that scale.

Child amongst the dent corn, August 2010.

However.  I do grow corn.  Armed with a handful of seeds in spring and with a $20 corn grinder in winter, whammo:  I am self-sufficient in dried corn and corn flour.

Can I just say there is NO good way to photograph this thing in action, at least not by me, not in this kitchen.  It is a corn grinder, and I do not lie that it cost $20 plus shipping: do the googles or the amazon to find it your own self:  I got the one with the deeper hopper.  BE WARNED it is not good if you’re looking to grind your own wheat flour:  it’s great, though, if you just want cornmeal on occasion, or wish to crack some corn for your chickens.

I grow dent corn, flint corn, and popcorn.  (I don’t grow sweet corn; it’s too easily had locally to make it worth my while.)  All can be ground; all make a decent flour.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange both offers all kinds of corn AND gives a whiz-bang what-for lesson of which type is used for what:  go see for yourself.  And because I am a fool for polenta, I bought a packet of SESE’s Floriani polenta-specific corn to try this year.

This cheap thing is great for home use.  After about five passes, the meal is perfect for a good polenta; after four, it makes great grits…and I’ve used it for bean flours (garbanzo, black turtle) too to good effect.  Oh, and I’ve ground up rice in it too:  rice mush makes a great breakfast!

Give corn-growing a try this year, or, barring that, use your muscles and grind your own.  Trust me, the taste of freshly-ground corn is worth the turn!

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On the one-cup cooking lesson

October-seeded radicchio, slowly forming heads in the newer greenhouse.  Winter requires lots more patience than summer gardening.

Since the gardening tasks are rather light right now, my time and efforts have naturally moved indoors.  And my favorite place to be indoors is the kitchen, that careworn farmhouse kitchen which drastically needs an expansion to make it truly inviting and efficient.  Though I may find it wanting, I do enjoy working here.

One cup.  She likes wearing her hospital bracelet (shrugs).

And since she’s been able to stand, I have involved our daughter in the daily cooking and making that takes place in this kitchen.  It started small; she could pour and stir at 2-1/2, of course.  Now that she’s nearing 8 (!!) she is able to cook certain things, start to finish, like eggs many ways or roast chicken with minimal involvement from me.  But now I am requiring her full mental abilities in cooking:  I am having her memorize recipes and formulas.

Before you call social services, let me simply state that I am having her do things she likes to eat.  And because I am leftover-phobic, I have her make the small portions of bread-y things for the daily dinner.  This stress on “not too much” is where one-cup cooking comes in.  And because our winter meals tend to be soup or stew, the added bulk of breadstuffs helps weigh out the meal.

Like most kids, she’s a carboholic (and like most parents who watch their weight, her parents are carbophobic), so that one cup usually means flour.  One cup of flour (semolina or AP) plus one egg plus one egg’s worth of both water and olive oil makes a mean pasta…plus, she loves the French rolling pin.  One cup of flour plus one cup of milk plus one egg and some melted butter makes a nice crepe batter, shaken up in a mason jar…she’s good at flipping them.  One cup of flour plus two cups of cooked potato make a lot of gnocchi, enough for two dinners for us.  One cup of whole wheat flour plus a little salt and dried herbs, even some grated parmesan and enough water to hold it together make lovely crackers in the pasta roller.  And one cup of flour plus half a cup of chopped cold butter plus an egg’s worth of ice water makes a great crust for her favorite leek tart.

The one-cup rule applies to lots of other things too:  one cup of beans soaking overnight.  One cup of rice and two cups water in the rice cooker is plenty.   One cup of ground meat is enough to flavor any sauce or chili, or to make mini-meatballs (with a half cup of breadcrumbs and an egg to bind it together).  I could go on.  Basically, my goal is to have a child who is actively engaged and confident in the kitchen…and teaching her to be thrifty along the way shouldn’t hurt her.

I am always surprised when parents shoo their kids out of the kitchen.  Granted; she’s not interested in cooking every day, but I do encourage her to stick her head in to see what I am doing.  She does have setting/clearing the table duties, so she’s never without something to do, meal-wise.  But how else are they going to learn unless they break something or make a mess or burn something?  It’s how we all learn, and yes, it’s messier and slower.  Allow some time, and take a deep breath.

(Now, if only I could encourage my husband to cross the kitchen threshold on occasion…but that could be a slippery slope leading to his wanting to garden.  Uh, maybe not.)

On ugly produce

Dirty AND ugly

If someone hasn’t told you already, rely on me to say it:  Some, if not most, of the veg and fruit you will grow will not resemble grocery-store produce.

And what does this say about you, humble organic gardener?  Are you a failure for having cracked tomatoes, vole gnawed-upon carrots, the occasional sun-exposed greenish potato?  The scabby apple, the slug-eaten cabbage?  The (horrors) lacy flea beetle-eaten tatsoi, the wormy broccoli?  Do you SUCK at this growing thing?

You, most assuredly, do not.  You are simply the victim of inflated expectations. The stuff in the grocery store is frankenstein food, carefully chemically inflated, picked underripe, coated with wax and shipped long distances merely to fool you into thinking This is the Pinnacle of Produce.   Do not be fooled, and take heart.

Merely tasting any of your (painfully) (laboriously) (mother-hennishly) homegrown produce should assure you that you’re doing the right thing.  That you’ve befriended your vegetable peeler in ways that you never previously considered?  Consider this your new reality.  Get over it, and tell anyone else who would care to get over it, too.  It ain’t no beauty pageant.

That said:  even though I am now growing for lots of other families thanks to my small CSA, there is stuff I won’t share with them.  Harvesting my potatoes and cabbage recently kind of brought this home to me.  I have absolutely NO problem peeling a green potato or two (as long as it’s not overly green) and/or chopping away a thick-cored, tough red cabbage, but my CSA peeps might!  So, what to do with my harvest of Uglies?

Soup.  Soup equalizes all ugliness, and is in itself quite transformative.  In the big pot tonight are a dozen spotty beets, three wormy leeks, a few scabby apples, and about four slug-riddled red cabbages:  clean off all their bad spots and bugs, chop finely, place in that big pot simmering pot of caramelized onions and garlic, a handful of herbs and topped off with a decent (homegrown/canned) parsley/celery-based vegetable broth?  This is the basis for a wonderful vegan red soup.  Once fully softened, it gets put through the food mill.  Wine red, appropriate for the harvest.  It’s up to you, CSA member, on how to garnish it:  feta?  yogurt?  croutons?  chives?  Look in your share this week and find some inspiration.

And the rest of you homegrowers not in my CSA?  Do NOT let anyone tell you your veg/fruit children are ugly!!

On tiny harvests (amongst the big ‘uns)

This bowl of unripe Concords and Niagaras made three quarts of verjus:  a quart more than last year, maybe this much will see me through until next fall

Sure, it’s September, so most of us in this hemisphere are buried in big harvests.  Did you know there are probably plenty of small ones out there waiting for you too?

I swear I am not piling on, you harvest-weary souls in bloggerland.  All I mean is there might be a few more little, perhaps overlooked things growing in your back forty that could augment your winter and spring dinners.  I am, of course, talking about rounding out your pantry by looking for…condiments!

Look under the withered buds for the seedpods:  you’ll see 2-4 of them, usually.  Try to get them while they’re still small.  They’re quite peppery!

It’s now that I attend the garden armed with little bowls.  Nasturtium seed pods are slowly ripening, you see, and so it’s time to put by a store of home-grown capers.    My patch of free-sown garlic has drying tops of bulbils singing in the breeze, and the fennel and cilantro has gone to seed:  these, too, can be pickled or dried.  I see that many of the paste tomatoes are ripening well ahead of this weekend’s timed harvest.  Tomatoes can be sliced thin, placed on parchment-lined cookie sheets and sent to the oven for a 200-degree beating overnight…insta-“sun”-dried goodness, especially if sprinkled first with sea salt and fresh thyme.  These go into the freezer to be dispatched at will this winter.

Bulbils of hardneck garlic

And then there’s the ripening apples.  Ch-ch-ch-chutney…! when paired with green tomatoes, garlic, a wee bit of hot peppers and sugar/vinegar.  The pantry has yellow and brown mustard seeds.  Those few small Italian plums left from last week might make a great mustard, paired with an apple or two.

Not-quite-ready grapes yield small very precious bottles of verjus:  lip-puckery brightness if a few drops are shaken out atop a hot dish.

Over the years I have cut out all condiments from the grocery store list, and it’s only gifts from far-flung locales that stock the top shelf of the fridge.   Cranberry ketchup, garlicky barbecue sauce…these are well within your range, especially in small batches.  Small refrigerator pickles like the nasturtium pod “capers” likewise aren’t hard (just 1T salt in a near-pint of white vinegar:  add the pods as they ripen).  Look around, find that second harvest.

I think I like fennel seeds and pollen more than I like the bulb.

And:  it’s fun doing something small when all you’ve been doing is putting huge monotonous harvests away.  Trust me on this, truly.

This is my 1000th post

and August marked my fifth year of blogging.

I love how lush the greenhouses look in the summer

So I took a week off to celebrate!  Hah.  Hardly.  As usual, we’re just terribly busy at this time of year.

The “other” ingredient in peach salsa:  fleshy tomatoes and fiery peppers

And of course the primary ingredient of peach salsa

I will mention one thing that was quite noteworthy and decidedly pleasant.  I met a blogging friend last week!  This marks the first time I have ever met a fellow blogger in the flesh, and it was a delight to break bread with The Slow Cook’s Ed Bruske and his wife Lane.  They’d been vacationing in Pentwater, a good two miles up the lake from us.  It was nice, after years of reading and commenting and emailing…to meet!  Hopefully it won’t be another five years before it happens again.

On eating one’s weeds

This should make a nice blended soup, don’tcha think?

The only bad thing I find about growing the brassica family (cabbages, kales, etc.) under row covers is what it does to the gardener.  “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Because cabbages, once planted, need no care until harvest I guess I tend to forget about them.  It’s like getting a bye as far as garden work goes: they, like the potatoes, just do their growing thing out of sight until needed.  After a week away from the garden due to the oppressive heat, so many (!) things needed care that I *should* be able to ignore those cabbages another week or more, right?  Wrong.  I am a masochist, so I took a peek under the rowcovers.

Ohmahgah, purslane city!  Time for a little Revenge, Served Cold:

PURSLANE GAZPACHO, for six (Note:  I find it best to cut the purslane by first gathering up all its sprawling arms together and cutting it off, pony-tail style, about an inch above where the branches leave the ground.  Purslane can be messy to clean if you pull it up roots and all.)

  • About a gallon’s worth of purslane leaves and branches
  • Two small cucumbers, peeled
  • Two to four fleshy tomatoes, preferably the ones that are green when ripe, like Aunt Ruby’s German Green, or Green Zebra, but any color will do
  • Four large cloves hardneck garlic (or more) to taste
  • A medium red or yellow onion
  • One small hot chili, stemmed, and seeded too if it’s really obnoxious
  • 2 cups tomato juice or water to get the blender working correctly
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chives or green onions for garnish; vinegar for taste

This makes a shockingly green soup:  the more red tomatoes you add, the more muddied the color so be warned.  Clean purslane in a few changes of water, and strip off smaller branches from the larger trunk branches, discarding the trunks (unless of course they’re small then use all of it).  Core but don’t skin the tomatoes, and clean and halve onions and garlic.  Reserve part of the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and purslane, set aside.  Blend remaining ingredients (it might take a couple batches to get it all) in either a blender or a food processor, and place contents in a bowl.  Chop reserved veggies, add to chives/green onions, and add to bowl.   Test for salt (it can take a lot of salt) and add vinegar if it needs to be brighter.  Chill, serve.

WEEDER’S FRIEND PASTA SALAD  serves six depending on how much you like salad

  • 1 lb dried pasta like oriecchette (or really any small-ish and salad-friendly pasta), cooked al dente and then cooled immediately; tossed with 2 T olive oil, then chilled until rest of ingredients assembled
  • About a quart or more of purslane leaves and small branches:  after their cold-water bath, pull leaves, chop branches finely
  • About 2-3 cups of lambs’ quarters, young leaves only
  • Fresh turnips, cucumbers, kohlrabi and/or carrots, about 2 cups’ worth once cleaned and cubed
  • 2-3 large red beets and their leaves: peel, cube and steam beets until crisp-tender and chop and reserve beet stems and greens
  • 2-5 radishes, cleaned and slivered, or 1/2 cup or more whole radish seed pods (quite edible, and tasty!)
  • 1/2 cup or more chopped fleshy herbs to taste (oregano, parsley, basil, etc.) and some thyme leaves thrown in too
  • Chopped red onions or scallions to taste
  • 3/4 cup or more of your favorite garlic-heavy dressing:  this works well with a garlic/buttermilk or garlic/yogurt dressing, or a lemony vinaigrette, or, hell, fresh aioli!
  • 1 cup goat’s milk feta, crumbled, or to taste

Toss all veggies in a very large bowl with cooled pasta and the dressing.  The beets make it nice and pink-y red.  There should be a LOT of vegetables here:  about 2 or 3:1 as far as veg:pasta ratio goes, so you will need to jigger the dressing accordingly by adding the juice of half a lemon or enough extra dressing and/or onion to make it sing.  Crumble the nice salty feta on top, don’t spare the pepper grinder, and dig in.

On new potatoes

The child budding grammarian stands behind her latest victim

Last week my daughter scolded me on proper gardening terms and techniques.  The conversation went like this:  “Mama, when are you going to unplant those potatoes?”  “Unplant the potatoes?  Do you mean harvest the potatoes?”  She looked at me, exasperated.  “No.  “Harvest” is what we do to peas and artichokes and asparagus.  But we “unplant” the potatoes and carrots.”

And we do.  So schooled.

I am always happy to see volunteer potato leaves poking through the soil.  Yes, they remind me that I am an inveterate potato-misser when I do “unplant” them in the fall.  But even if they disrupt my tedious seedling rows, I know that those vigorous furls of greenery mean a crop of new potatoes for us around the end of June.  There’s nothing like baby potatoes, as that’s what they are:  with skin so thin that even the stream of the hose could tear them, they need gentle treatment.  And their flesh is so crisp and creamy…oh, I love my ground apples.

Here she is with the results of the unplanting (and harvesting in the case of the last peas and garlic scapes)

And so does my family.  Serving them up last week, I reminded everyone that it had been April when the last spud was served.  They hadn’t missed them (though I sure had).

Probably the best treatment for new spuds is cooking them en papillote:  wrapped in an envelope of parchment paper and stuck on a tray in a hot oven, they get steamed AND browned.  I make sure to add a lot of fresh herbs and the fattest grains of sea salt, a twist or five of the pepper mill, and of course our good friends Butter and Olive Oil.  I wish I was a great folder of parchment paper packages.  I have had some dishes served me in restaurants where the paper looked edible all on its own, its caramelized brown-ness, its beautiful folds holding in the moisture.  But I am not, so I resort to the stapler.  Sure, office supplies have a role in the kitchen!  What doesn’t!

Happy un-planting to all of you.