Monday, September 6, 2010

Preserving the Harvest

Well, like it or not the weather is moving into cooler temps again. That means its time to start thinking about the winter.
Here at our place, we've been canning away. So far we've made 6 pints of crabapple jelly (from scavenged apples), 20 quarts of apple sauce (from scavenged windfall apples), and many pints of dill and beet pickles (from cukes and beets from the market). We've also been saving herbs. Dried dill and basil. 13 heads of garlic braided and hanging in the kitchen for use. 8 globes of kohlrabi sitting on a cellar shelf.
Fall is also the time to be saving seeds- specifically mustard and beans seeds are ready to be collected or are close to it.
Add to all this that our 3 hens are laying quite steadily (65 eggs in August) we're in pretty good shape for the upcoming months!

Looking ahead, I've started fermenting my way through "Wild Fermentation". My first crock of sauerkraut is fermenting as I write, and we're looking at a larger plot of land (1/3 acre vs 1/10 acre) to move to and start a CSA on top of our foodstuffs. You can expect to hear more about both soon!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wild Fermentation

I recently picked up the book "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz. Wow! This book is inspiring and challenging in all the right ways!

It all starts off with the Foreword by Sally Fallon. In it she writes, "Sandor Katz has labored mightily to deliver this magnum opus to a population hungry for a reconnection to real food and the process of life itself. For fermented foods are not only satisfying to eat, they are also immensely satisfying to prepare. FRom the first successful batch of kombucha to that thrilling taste of homemade sauerkraut, the practice of fermentation is one of partnership with microscopic life. This partnership leads to a reverence for all the processes that contribute to the well being of the human race, from the production of enzymes by invisible bacteria to the gift of milk and meat from the sacred cow."

Imagine, Americans waking up to the reality that they are living in a world of industrialized, generic, chemical, food and wanting to know what food is really supposed to taste like, how its made, and where they fit into the process!

Sandor spends a large portion of time and chapters explaining the importance of microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) in the process of life. He explains that we're all in a symbiotic relationship with this microflora from digestion to healing to fermenting to compost and decaying. "Without them, there could be no other life."
He goes on to talk about how destructive we've all become with or obsession for "hygiene" and "cleanliness" and its subsequent use/abuse of antibacterial soaps, disinfectants, antibiotics, pasteurization and sterilization. We've somehow developed a very skewed look at what we call "germs". These aren't our enemies! They're our greatest allies! Bacteria and yeasts make foods digestible (both in our stomachs and in the environment before we eat the foods). They help us adapt to our environments, they create vitamins for our consumption, produce antioxidants as a by-product of fermentation, and make some foods and waters safe to consume. Try as we might, we can never get rid of all the microorganisms around us. They are everywhere. In trying, we're only disturbing the balances.
Sandor's study on the origins of fermentation shows us that its one of the oldest processes known to humans. He speculates that it's quite likely that we've been fermenting foods since before we practiced agriculture and possibly since before we learned how to use fire! Indeed, the fact that we choose to talk about fermentation and the population of yeasts and bacteria as "cultures" speaks loudly to the fact that they and us grew together.
Its frightening to read about the cultural homogenization that is occurring right now. We've come to expect that our foods will look the same way and taste the same way every time we taste them regardless of where we travel to eat them. A cola drink you purchase in Boston is expected to taste and look the same as the cola drink you purchase in Seattle. Same with fries. Same with breads. Same with all our other foods. Is it any wonder McDonald's and other similar fast-food businesses have done so well to sell such poor quality food? Sandor talks about this concept and expends on it talking about how so many of the distinctive cultures and ethnicities that we can clearly conjure up in our minds each have their own particular food. The French have strong cheeses. The Greek and other Baltic nations have strong yogurts and kefirs. They are known for these foods and we associate these countries as being cultured. The United States is known for its bland beers (Budweiser) and its bland cheese (Velveeta and Kraft). Is there any question of why Americans are void of a strong national culture or identity?
If our lack of culture isn't enough, we're pushing these ideas on others as well. Mass-marketing and mass-production have created a market that frowns on the distinctive foods that don't have a widely-recognized name (like Coca-Cola, Wonder Bread, Kraft, etc). Sandor writes that "this is the homogenization of culture, a sad, ugly process by which languages, oral traditions, beliefs, and practices are becoming extinct every year, while ever-greater wealth and power is concentrated in fewer hands. Wild fermentation is the opposite of homogenization and uniformity, a small antidote you can undertake in your home, using the extremely localized populations of microbial cultures present there to produce your own unique fermented foods. What you ferment with the organisms around you is a manifestation of your specific environment, and it will always be a little different. Perhaps your homemade sauerkraut or miso will conform perfectly to your image and expectation of them... More likely, they will possess some quirky anomaly that will force you to adjust your image and expectation. Do-it-yourself fermentation departs from the realm of uniform commodity." DIY fermentaiton puts you back in the process of creation and also helps build food-security. You know what you are eating. You know where it came from. You know that if something happens you will still have access to it.

I have been excited about getting this book for 6 months as I waited for a used copy of it to turn up. One never did; I had to buy the book new. This speaks to the quality of what it contains. After reading the book and looking over the many recipes it contains, I've decided that I want to ferment my way through it. We already brew our own kombucha and beers. Now we're going to try our hand at other fermented foods too! We'll post the results of each ferment here, so keep an eye out!


"Wild Fermentation" is available from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


As we approach the waning of summer another Sabbat draws upon us. In Pagan and Neo-Pagan traditions there are eight festival (4 Major Sabbats, 4 Lesser Esbats) which mark the year. They are significant not only because of their relation the solstice and equinox (the Esbats), but also because they tell the story of the God and Goddess (through the Sabbats and the changes of the season).

The Pagan calendar beings with Yule (December 20-23) around the Winter Solstice, as the days begin to lengthen we are reminded of the rebirth of the God from Dark King of the Underworld to Child of the Sun. We then move into Brigid's Day (Feburary 2), a celebration of Brigid and the Three-Fold manifestation of the Goddess as Maiden, Mother, Crone. Next comes the Spring Equinox and Eostar (March 20-23), this is a time of fertility where the young Sun God is first reunited with the Goddess returning from the dark of the Winter. Then on Beltane (May 1) the God and Goddess come together in marriage, and the Goddess with child, this is the origin of the may pole. On Litha at the Summer Solstice (June 20 -23) the Sun King meets the Goddess as the Queen of Summer, the union of their love becomes one, and the Sun King begins his trip towards death and his kingdom in the Underworld as the days become shorter. Lughnasad (August 1) is a harvest celebration, where the Corn King is sacrificed in wake of the Sun King. This is followed by Mabon at the Fall Equinox (September 20-23) to announce the depature of the Sun King to the west and hail his transformation into the Lord of the Shadows or the Horned God. Finally ending the Witches' year to begin the new year is Samhain (October 31) which marks the death of the Lord of the Shadows and his rebirth in the womb of the mother. This day also celebrates the Crone figure of the Goddess, and is a night for feeding our ancestors, letting go, and magick.

And so for this Lughnasad we shall be having a feast and a circle led by Flora.

"This is the wake of Lugh, the Sun King who dies with the waning year, the Corn King who dies when the grain is reaped. We stand now between hope and fear, in the time of waiting. In the fields, the grain is ripe but not yet harvested. We have worked hard to bring many things to fruition, but the rewards are not yet certain. Now the Mother becomes the Reaper, the Implacable One who feeds on life that new life may grow. Light diminishes, the days shorten, summer passes. We gather to turn the Wheel, knowing that to harvest we must sacrifice, and warmth and light must pass into winter." ~ Starhawk

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eva's Ova

The girls have started laying! Eva has laid 2 so far, and Olivia has laid one. Yay!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Flowers to Salads

Its July and things on the farm are shaping up nicely! Our peas are laden with pods which are starting to fill out nicely, the kohlrabi have small bulbs at their base about the size of a pingpong ball, the tomatoes are full with dense dark green growth, and the runner beans are about as tall as I am.
Of course, there is much else going on too! The salad greens have been a source of much joy for a bit now. We've been eating sandwiches and salads frequently and they don't show any sign of stopping. From the tender trout/reds and buttercrisps to the spicy and stringy mustards, this has been a great start to a summer of salad greens!
A great many plants are blooming right now, and many of these blooms can be used more than just to look at: they make great additions to salads too! We've been putting pea blossoms, nasturtium, violets, and mustard blossoms into our salads. Not only does this add much color to the dish, it also adds a spicy and often sweetish flavor too.

Here are some of the blooms before being picked:

And after being put into the fresh green salad:

There are many other blossoms out there that also make great edible additions (many can also be sugared and added as edible decorations on cakes, especially violets). Violets, nasturtium, borage, pea (and the pea tips), squash, chamomile, day lilies, and chamomile are some of the most common. Wikipedia has a good list here:

Of course, be careful what you are eating. Not all blossoms are edible. Be sure you know what you are picking! Also be sure what you are picking hasn't been exposed to chemical sprays or roadside pollution as these wouldn't be good additions to your diet.

Happy eating!


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Super Cycles

So, the picture is kinda skeezy, but what an amazing cycle!!! It is reported to "easily" go 50 miles and hour. The rider pedals with both hands and feet in a swimming-like motion. NASA has picked up the design for more development since it has a "perfect" center of gravity. I can't wait to try one...


A Musing on Time and Distance

Yesterday I had the occassion to drive out past Gresham, past Troutdale, almost to the very banks of the Sandy River. The drive was pleasent enough through rolling hills and nurseries on every street. Coming back was a different story, but thats neither here nor there.

The moral of the story is that my destination, Ratto Farms, lies a mere 15 miles from our house outside of Portland. Growing up in Rural Idaho, I was 10 miles from the nearest town, 15 from a slightly bigger one that actually had a grocery store, and almost 30 from Boise itself. Back in the day I would drive fifty-some-odd miles regularly to go to school and visit friends, and generally lead a social life that a somewhat awkward queer teenager is expected to lead.

And it didn't mean anything to me. It took some time sure, but it never felt like a trip. But yesterday was an expedition. Renting a car and driving a WHOLE 15 miles seemed enormous. Not to mention that it took almost a WHOLE hour to get there.

Part of a dedicated bike economy and culture is a re-localization of people and places. Riding out to Sauvie Island is 40-miles round trip and is an all day trip in my mind. Even going downtown from our home at 34th, can seem like a trek, and is only done for special events. It just amazes me to think that once upon a time a two-hour ride was normal for me. While now I being to squirm after 20 minutes in a vehicle.

I have gotten to know my neighborhood and most of the SE more than any other place I have lived, including my home of 18 years. When riding I am more cognizant of my surrondings and their changes of place. Distances all seem much greater, but that is because a mile means more to me. Not only in energy expended, time in travel, but also as something to be reconigzed not simply driven by.

In conclusion I am blessed to live in a city which is still quite human in scale.