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We love labels. March 10, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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We humans just love to label ourselves. And that’s never more true than in our dietary habits.

Silence Dogood here. Humans are all born omnivores—pretty much capable of eating anything they can get their hands on. We share this useful adaptive trait with apes and monkeys, dogs, bears, parrots, rats, and flies, among others. It helped our species spread and thrive wherever there was anything edible to be found.

Of course, some of us are more omnivorous than others. There are those with intolerances, such as to lactose or gluten, and those with allergies, as to peanuts or shellfish. These people have labels, but they’re not of their choosing. And there are people who won’t eat certain foods like pork and seafood for religious reasons. It’s the rest of us I’m writing about here.

Take me. I’m a vegetarian. This means that I choose to avoid all types of meat and foods containing meat products (such as lard and gelatin). But I’ll eat sterile eggs from free-range hens if they’re organic and the hens haven’t eaten feed enriched with fish offal to up the eggs’ omega-3 content. And I’ll eat organic dairy products from humanely raised cows. This is quite different from vegans, who are basically vegetarians who also won’t eat eggs, dairy, honey, or any other animal derivative. Vegans typically make their food choices for moral reasons, while vegetarians may make theirs for moral or health reasons.

Then there are piscatarians (from pisces, fish), who refrain from all meat but fish and seafood. Since killing and eating fish and seafood is the same as killing and eating other animals for meat, I presume that these folks follow this lifestyle for health rather than moral reasons.

Next come the flexitarians, who sometimes eat meat and sometimes don’t, as it suits them. Basically, they’re omnivores who wanted to call themselves by a fancier name.

Let’s not forget the locavores, omnivores who pride themselves on eating what’s in season in their immediate area. While I applaud everyone who supports local farms and wineries, who patronizes their local farmers’ markets, who joins a CSA (subscription produce farm, typically organic), and the like, unless you live in a warm climate or are really invested in canning and freezing in season, winter can be rather bleak for those of us trying to eat out of our gardens or local farmers’ gardens when we’re buried under two feet of ice and snow for three months.

Today, I discovered a new label for people who want to set themselves apart from the omnivorous herd. These people are omnivores, too, but they’ve chosen to call themselves “nutritarians,” to emphasize the wholesome nature of their diet, i.e., stripping all the life and flavor out of food in the name of nutritional guidelines. The sample recipe I saw was horrifying to behold. It was a dish containing kale, potatoes, carrots, two kinds of legumes (black beans and chickpeas), onion, and garlic.

I read on because I could see how to make it a good dish—saute the onion and garlic in olive oil, and when the onion had clarified, add the kale and seasonings (red pepper flakes, fresh-cracked black pepper, salt, oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary), cooking just until the kale turned shiny bright green. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes and sliced carrots until soft but not mushy. Quarter the potatoes and stir them, the carrots, and the canned beans into the kale-onion-garlic mix, heat until the beans were heated through, then serve.

But no. The “nutritarian” had noted that she’d modified a friend’s recipe to fit nutritarian guidelines, which meant that all the ingredients (minus the oil and most of the seasonings) were boiled together at the same time, then served up as a kind of stewed slop. Eeeewww!!! Doesn’t this person realize that olive oil and seasonings are good for you, making food more digestible as well as more flavorful?! Guess not.

Whatever the case, maybe it’s time to stop labeling ourselves and just eat.

‘Til next time,

Silence

And here we go again. August 10, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I just read a blog post about a farmer and passionate locavore (someone who promotes local, regional, in-season foods). So far, so good, right? But then the guy started attacking vegans for being self-righteous. He pointed out that it takes a lot more fertilizer to grow vegetables than, say, cattle.

Well, of course it does, if you raise your cattle on grass. You put your fields into pasture and let your cattle out in them to wander and graze. The cattle enjoy being out under the blue sky and they enjoy grazing, as they evolved to do, and on the plus side, they give back to the fields as they go along with all-natural fertilizer. As long as you don’t put more cattle on the fields than the ecosystem can support, you have a balanced system, at least until the grass dies back in late autumn. Then it’s time to butcher the cattle or feed them on grain or silage until the following spring. 

By contrast, if you’re an organic gardener, as our friend Ben and I are, you don’t really focus on growing plants. You focus on growing soil. The fruits and vegetables you raise are a bonus that you get for creating rich, balanced, wonderful soil. You compost your table scraps, you have an earthworm composter, you’re constantly thinking of ways to enrich and improve the soil in your garden beds. You scour the neighborhood for bags of grass clippings in spring and summer and leaves in fall. You beg your neighbors for their clippings and scraps; you ask your local grocery what they do with their spoiled produce. You shred paper not to conceal your personal data but to feed your worm composter and compost bins. 

Yes, this is certainly more work than letting a field go to grass. But that’s not the point. Vegetarians and vegans aren’t trying to save work by not eating meat. They’re trying to save the world by not eating meat. They’re trying to point out that killing our fellow creatures also kills us, because it deadens us to the deaths of others. They’re trying to say that becoming sensitized to what we put in our mouths might make us more compassionate to all life, to each other. It might keep us from starting and perpetuating wars.

There are plenty of other ways to try to save the world, and people who choose to eat meat can do a world of good by taking those paths. I don’t think it’s appropriate or kind to condemn anyone based on their dietary choices. You may eat meat, but teach in a prison. You may eat meat, but visit the dying in hospitals and hospices. You may eat meat, but volunteer at an animal shelter or drive for Meals on Wheels or donate time and money to Habitat for Humanity or the Peace Corps. Who am I to judge you?!

But please, who are you to judge me? Please stop attacking me because I’m a vegan who can’t bear the thought of killing animals just to feed myself when I don’t have to. Let me live with my choice in peace, as I let you live with yours. Let me fertilize my garden, and grow my vegetables, and eat them without being attacked for doing what I see as right. Stop trying to justify your meat-eating by attacking me for not eating meat. If you want to eat meat, eat it. If I refuse to eat meat, so be it. There’s plenty of room in this world for us to coexist.

                 ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

A vegan who eats meat. February 19, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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“I’m a vegan who eats meat.”

Silence Dogood here. Browsing some cookbook reviews on Amazon yesterday, I came on one that began with the sentence I quote above. What the bleep?! Was the person being sarcastic? Had they given up dairy and eggs, and thus considered themselves to be “vegan” while still chowing down on burgers and steak? Or were they just, like most of us, confused?

I decided to take a stab at clarifying the dietary definitions bombarding us these days, with new ones seemingly cropping up daily. Here’s my list:

Omnivores. Humanity’s natural state—a state we share with bears, dogs, monkeys and apes, pigs, chickens, rats, and many others—in which we’ll eat anything as long as we can get our hands on it and it’s edible. 

Locavores. Those who eat foods they can source locally or regionally. Locavores can be omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, or any of the other categories that follow. 

Flexitarians. People who are vegetarian, except when they want to eat meat. (“I’m a vegetarian who eats meat.”) In other words, omnivores who eat less meat than other omnivores.

Piscatarians. People who eat fish and seafood but not meat. From the Latin pisces, fish.

Vegetarians. People who don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, or derivatives that involve taking life, including meat stocks and broths, gelatin products, products made from animal rennet, fertile eggs, caviar, and etc. Vegetarians will eat dairy and/or infertile hens’ eggs.

Vegans. In addition to the prohibitions followed by vegetarians, vegans don’t eat dairy, eggs, honey, and anything made with yeast. They also won’t wear leather, fur, and, I assume, silk. Needless to say, there is no such thing as “a vegan who eats meat.” 

Raw foodists. As the name implies, these folks won’t eat anything that’s been cooked. I assume they’re vegans, but for all I know, they may be wolfing down sashimi, steak tartare and wichitti grubs with the best of them.

Fruitarians. These gentle, super-vegan souls refuse to eat anything that is still growing, including leaves, stems and roots. They’ll only eat seeds, nuts and fruits that would have dropped from the plant anyway. This means that tomatoes, corn, grapes, apples, peanuts and sunflower seeds are fair game, but carrots, onions, potatoes, spinach, asparagus, rhubarb, lettuce and the like are strictly verboten. 

Macrobiotics. I’ve saved this one for last because it’s so much more complicated than the others. In some ways, it’s closest to a healthy vegan diet, but it appears to be like that solely for health rather than moral reasons, since, though it bans meat and shellfish, white-fleshed fish is allowed.

A vegan, after all, could subsist on peanut butter and jelly, potato chips, and chocolate, and be perfectly entitled to call themselves vegan, as long as it wasn’t milk chocolate and the chips hadn’t been fried in lard. People who follow macrobiotics are on a different path, one based in pre-industrial Japanese eating habits.

To be macrobiotic, you must embrace a truly health-conscious diet, including whole grains, beans, green leafy vegetables, winter squash, sea vegetables, and traditionally made soy foods like miso and tofu. The emphasis is on eating seasonally and moderately, eating fresh, whole foods, and choosing organic, local food sources.

All this makes sense. Where macrobiotics differs from other diets is its focus on matching food to climate. It divides the world into temperate (four-season) and tropical (two-season) climates, and advises its adherents to eat the foods produced in the climate where they live. Here in our part of scenic PA, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, eggplant, bananas, cashews, coconut, pistachios, mangos, figs, citrus, pineapple, artichokes, zucchini, and asparagus, not to mention most herbs and spices, coffee, black and green tea, herb teas, chocolate, and frozen foods, among many others, are banned. Which means that even though your garden here in PA is bursting with asparagus, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, you’re not supposed to eat them. The reverse would be true if you lived in a tropical climate. What you should eat if you’re a native of India, Guatemala or Mississippi who moves to Vermont, I have no idea. 

Has this helped, or simply confused the issue even further? If I’m missing any categories, please fill me in!

                      ‘Til next time,

                                    Silence

Radical homemaking. January 25, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading.
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Silence Dogood here. I was intrigued and excited to receive an e-mail from PASA, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, announcing the keynote speaker for their upcoming symposium: Shannon Hayes, the author of a book called Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture (Left to Write Press, 2010).

Heading to Amazon to read what people had to say about this, I found this bio of Shannon: “Shannon Hayes writes and farms with three generations of her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in West Fulton, NY, where she grew up. The family raises all-natural grassfed lamb, beef, pork, and poultry. She holds a BA in creative writing from Binghampton University, and a Masters and PhD in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development from Cornell. Shannon is the author of three books: Grassfed Gourmet, Farmer and the Grill, and Radical Homemakers….  Shannon currently blogs for Yes! Magazine, and her books are available through most conventional channels, as well as directly from the author at RadicalHomemakers.com and GrassfedCooking.com. Shannon’s newest book, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, is due out from Left to Write Press in 2012.”   

The cover of Radical Homemakers shows Ms. Hayes defiantly brandishing a rolling pin with one well-muscled arm, much like the iconic poster of Rosie the Riveter. You can see that she’s picked her battle and joined it exuberantly. And that battle is an old and honorable one, agrarianism versus industrialization, family and community values versus blind consumerism, honorable, rewarding work versus the mindless climb up the corporate ladder, whatever the price.

The roots of this argument go back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. It shaped the lives and thoughts of the Founding Fathers; it spawned the Agrarian Movement in the early 20th-century South, led by such literary luminaries as Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom.

It inspired the Back to the Land/homesteading movement of the 1970s, led by those pioneering intellectuals, Helen and Scott Nearing, in their Living the Good Life books; it has been the life work of the fine novelist and farmer Wendell Berry, and has been embraced by the novelist Barbara Kingsolver. It has inspired the rise of local and seasonal eating, of CSAs (consumer-supported organic farms) and farmers’ markets, and has created a renaissance of home cooking and a backlash against fast so-called food. It has inspired chefs and cookbook authors like Alice Waters, Mollie Katzen and Laurel Robertson, and seedsmen and seedswomen like Rose Marie Nichols, Rob Johnston, Jere Gettle, and Renee Shepherd. 

Our friend Ben and I are totally on board with this. We moved to Pennsylvania back in the day when an opportunity arose to work for Organic Gardening, a magazine we wholeheartedly believed in. Our escapist reading has been publications like Mother Earth News, Back Home, Backwoods Home, and Plain, and the works of the Nearings, Wendell Berry, Gary Paul Nabhan, Ruth Stout, Jackie Clay, and Gene Logsdon. Our families still scratch their heads over why we chose to make our home in a rural cottage and fill our property with a greenhouse, chicken yard, compost bins, raised beds, fruit trees, vine trellises, woodpiles, rain barrels, and the like. Our colleagues have always asked us why we didn’t seek jobs in New York and Philadelphia, just a few tedious hours’ commute away.

Well, we didn’t want to. We’ve enjoyed our organic connection with our work and with our land, and all the plants and animals we share it with. We’re so grateful to the internet for making broader connections effortlessly possible, enabling our lives to be home-based while still keeping us connected to friends, family, world events, and the latest discoveries in every field. Letting our minds and hearts reach out, even as we’re able to remain centered.

Our choices have had, as you might expect, considerable impact on our style of living. Our cottage home needs painting in the worst way. Our cars are ancient and battered, held together with a prayer and a few strips of duct tape. We need a new stove, new laptops, a digital camera, a washer-dryer. We dream of travel but stay at home. Going to a movie, eating out, buying even the most basic new clothes become major decisions. (Thank God for thrift shops, home cooking, and Netflix!) And yet, imagine this: A life without deadlines, without meetings, without commuting, without constantly having to check your smartphone and talk, text, tweet. “I know a place where dreams come true and time is never planned,” James Barrie, author of Peter Pan, wrote longingly. We know that place, too. We’re lucky enough to live there.

But let’s get back to Radical Homemakers. The title should have clued me in right away that this is an interview book, a profile book, not a how-to book. Homemakers, not Homemaking. The author is also apparently very eager to show that homemaking is not anti-feminist, and feminism apparently occupies a good deal of her approach. (To me, true feminism is doing whatever you feel is right, not wasting time trying to prove that you’re really as good as men—shock surprise!—or that what you’ve chosen to do isn’t demeaning. But I digress.) And she was fortunate enough to have a working family farm to move her family to (for free) when she decided to leave the rat race for a more meaningful life.

Shannon Hayes has, in my opinion, created the meaningful, home-based life she sought for herself and her family. And in Radical Homemakers, she interviews families across the country who have also achieved this goal. What the book doesn’t do is provide a roadmap to help others who have the same dream achieve their goal, especially if they don’t have a family farm to move to or a family who will pay their expenses.

This is in marked contrast to the Nearings’ books, in which they explained exactly what they thought, exactly what they learned to do, exactly how they planned, exactly what they gave up,  and exactly what they did to create “the good life.”

And yet. The Nearings inspired the entire Back to the Land movement with their books. But they made their move in the 1930s, when land was cheap and plenty was available. They were published and accomplished authors, who had led privileged and cosmopolitan lives and had influential connections across the globe. Their connections allowed them to spend half of every year visiting friends and lecturing abroad, and the earnest (young, strong) groupies who flocked to their Forest Farm allowed them to delegate unpaid work, often for years, while they wrote and made music and led a civilized life.

Not that they didn’t feed, shelter, and include their volunteers in their cultural life. Not that they didn’t work hard themselves and live very simply (mostly on unbuttered baked potatoes, raw apples, and undressed salad, if memory serves, on the theory that if you aren’t hungry enough to eat plain food, you aren’t hungry enough to eat, period).

Rather, the problem was that they were delineating the new/old Utopia, based on backbreaking agrarian labor, and their vision was espoused not by farm workers but by Hippies, who embraced peace, love and drugs rather than hard work, who had no experience of work, much less farm work, and who had no support network. The Nearings were as horrified by the people who created a cult around them as JRR Tolkien was by the fans of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. There simply was no meeting of the minds. The Flower Power generation tried the homestead life, alone and communally, and next thing we knew, they’d become Yuppies, pursuing their parents’ have-it-all consumerist lifestyle with a vengeance.

Well, we’ve seen what happened to the ’80s. We’ve also seen the resurgence of the back-to-the-landers, with urban farms and urban chickens and CSAs and farmers’ markets and slow food and seasonal eating and locavores. We’ve seen how the internet has given all these trends vitality and longevity. And we love that.

So what if Radical Homemakers is an inspirational rather than a how-to book? As long as readers expect inspiration rather than how-to, I see no problem with that. Reading the Nearings and Organic Gardening opened our eyes to new possibilities, honorable livelihood, the concept that you could go back to the land without giving up culture and civilized pursuits. This realization changed our lives’ directions. Who knows what you might find that would trigger a total life change, or a minor tweak that would make your own life whole?

The world of blogging offers a great opportunity to explore the lives of real-time homesteaders, family farmers, and urban bioneers, to see how hard they work, what they’ve chosen to do, the rewards and trials, how their families like it. Some places we love are Jackie Clay’s blog (http://www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/JackieClay/), Gene Logsdon’s musings (http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/), Alan’s adventures over at Roberts Roost (http://www.robertsroostfarm.com/), Daphne’s Dandelions (http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/), Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/), Future House Farm (http://futurehousefarm.blogspot.com/), and The Home Garden (http://www.growingthehomegarden.com/). We love many other blogs, of course, but these cover various aspects of self-sufficiency and food gardening, from urban and suburban spaces to a few acres to a few hundred. Check them out! 

And if you’ve read Radical Homemakers, please let us know what you think!

           ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

 

Low-mileage vegetables. August 2, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It was 5:45 a.m., and not being the brightest bulb on the string at that hour—in fact, barely being able to compete with our 15-watt nightlight bulb—our friend Ben stared at the teaser at the top of the front page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal with bemusement. (And yes, of course I’d love to sleep later, but our black German shepherd Shiloh has definite views about that.) “The Appeal of A [sic] Low-Mileage Vegetable,” it read, and showed a carrot with a superimposed odometer. The story itself was in the “Marketplace” section.

Hmmm, was the story about trying to market unpopular vegetables? If so, why didn’t it show a turnip or rutabaga? Those poor carrots get no respect. But hey, a WSJ story about vegetables! And it’s made the front page! Lurching into the bathroom to clean the litterbox, it belatedly dawned on our friend Ben that the story must be about locavores, folks who make an effort to support local agriculture by buying locally-produced produce, meat, eggs, milk and cheese, wine, beer and the like. “Low-Mileage.” Oh.

However, the locavore movement isn’t new, and therefore isn’t news. Or at least, front-page news in The Wall Street Journal. Unless it’s finally affecting commerce in a serious way. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I considerately shook a peacefully sleeping Silence Dogood’s shoulder to alert her to this potentially important development.

“Hey, Silence!”

“Mmpf.”

“Silence!”

“Mmpf.”

[Continuing to shake shoulder, encouraging Shiloh to bounce on bed and lick Silence's outstretched arm.] “Wait ’til you hear about this!”

“Shiloh, stop! Ben, this had better be good.”

“It’s a story in The Wall Street Journal about eating locally. Isn’t that great? More national attention for the local-foods movement. It’s about… uh…” My voice died away as I turned to the actual article and began to read.

“About?”

“It’s, uh… it’s about Wal*Mart.”

“WHAT?!!! You woke me up at 6 in the morning to talk about Wal*Mart?!!! GRRRRRRRR…”

Hastily fleeing the bedroom, our friend Ben retreated to our home office and finished reading the article, “‘Local’ Grows on Wal-Mart” (check it out at www.wsj.com). As one might expect, the story focused on the growing national appeal of local produce and the giant grocery retailers’ (not just Wal*Mart’s) attempts to cash in on it, even if for them, “local” meant the entire West Coast or even the entire U.S.

This reminded me of how lucky we are here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. We’re in farm country, surrounded by cows and fields and vineyards and even breweries. We can drive ten minutes in any direction and buy organic produce and free-range meats and eggs. We can buy homemade yogurt, cream, butter, milk, and an endless assortment of cheeses from local Jersey, Guernsey, and Swiss cows. We can buy award-winning wines from five local wineries and artisanal beer from ten local microbreweries. We can buy heirloom peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants from nearby Mennonite farms, and every conceivable fruit, veggie, and green in season, or buy them canned, jellied, frozen, dried, pickled, and otherwise preserved out of season, from dozens of farm stands and farmers’ markets. We can join a variety of local organic CSAs—subscription-grower programs—and receive the freshest assortment of veggies, fruits, herbs, and other delights every single week. And our local groceries proudly showcase the local farmers who provide them with their produce, giving their names, their farms’ names, and their locations.

True, not everything’s locally available. We grow our own hardy kiwis, hardy pecans, vanilla, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, ginger, citrus, figs, coffee, tea, bananas, and herbs. (Which, we hasten to add, is not the same thing as saying that we’ve managed to harvest and cure them all yet.) But there are plenty of things we love, including cashews, coconut, pistachios, almonds, dates, and, above all, salt, that we don’t grow. And we’ve yet to see local kiwis, bananas, pineapples, and etc. make it into our stores. Or discover a salt deposit in our backyard, more’s the pity.

But, setting cynicism aside, our friend Ben applauds the trend of the giant chains to at least support producers in the U.S. and Canada, even if Louisiana doesn’t strike you as “local” if you live in Maine. I do, however, think a “Produced in the U.S.” or “Produced in Canada” sticker is adequate, without the hype about being local if it isn’t justified. I’d love to see “Produced in PA” (or name your state) stickers as well. And I’d love to see “local” reserved for things that are actually produced locally, within the communities where they’re marketed.

The article yielded a few nuggets of information our friend Ben was not aware of: That Wal*Mart is “the largest grocer in the U.S., with more than $120 billion a year in food sales,” for example (Kroger is #2). And that, while giant retail chains are trying to tie their wagons to the local-food star, agricultural experts are saying no way, nohow. “They say that modern expectations for year-round supplies of blueberries and lemons will keep local food from becoming much more than a fad for most mass merchants,” according to the article. “I really don’t think Wal-Mart is going to tell customers, ‘This is not in season, you have to eat cabbage and turnips for the next three months’,” as one expert memorably put it.       

But our friend Ben was quick to see the flaw in this argument. Throughout human history, every culture has learned ways to preserve produce so they can benefit from its nutrients and flavor out of season and add diversity to their meals. Whether this meant drying beef or venison or buffalo or fish for jerky or pounding them into pemmican; turning apples into juice, cider, hard cider, apple sauce, cider vinegar, apple jelly, dried apple slices, apple butter, or apple brandy; or drying blueberries or making blueberry preserves or blueberry syrup or blueberry vinegar or canned or frozen blueberries, we have devised ways to preserve our local harvests year-round, whatever they may be. Our health and enjoyment depended on it.

Look at lemons, one of the foods mentioned in the article: In Morocco, they preserve (we’d say brine or pickle) whole lemons. In England, they make lemon curd and lemon marmalade.  In the U.S., it’s easy to find bottled lemon juice everywhere. True, nothing might equal a fresh-squeezed lemon. But all of us can still enjoy some form of lemon until they come in season once again.

So why are we so obsessed with the just-picked blueberry or corn on the cob, however distant its origins, or the hideously unripe but “fresh” strawberry, tomato or watermelon in December? Our friend Ben thinks it comes down to our obsession with immortality, our fear of death. Or of baldness or extra pounds or wrinkles.

Say what?! Every day, I receive e-mail bulletins about the health benefits of, say, fresh blueberries or walnuts or salmon. I read about them in the paper and in magazines and even grocery circulars. I’m sure they’re on the radio and TV all the time, too. Make sure you eat your fish for those vital omega-3s! Eat tomatoes for cancer-fighting lycopene! Spinach/broccoli/acorn squash/fresh garlic cloves combat disease! Eat two helpings of [fill-in-the-blank] every day/week to prevent [blank]! Blueberries/cranberries/kiwifruits/lychees/gogi berries/acai berries/God-knows-what will save us all from obesity, aging and death!

Mercy. There’s been a lot of hype lately about the so-called Paleolithic diet, and all of it has missed the point. Humans evolved to be, and survived because, we were omnivores. Early man ate whatever he could get his hands on, be it ants and grubs or fish, shellfish and birds’ eggs or fruit and honey or herbs and roots or nuts and berries and any kind of meat, from mice and lizards to bison and deer. Early man was always hungry, always on the lookout for anything he could eat. It was not the food per se but the huge diversity, the sparseness, and the enormous amount of exercise required to obtain so much as a mouthful that provided the health benefits of the Paleolithic diet. And even so, a 30-year-old was considered ancient.

Today’s “Paleolithic” diet essentially pits carnivores against vegetarians, with no tolerance for the median (omnivorous) path. The pro-Paleoliths claim that the health benefits of their diet are a short travel time through the gut, like a carnivorous diet, so food doesn’t have time to ferment during the digestion process. If Anthony Bourdain did a Paleolithic travel-food series, he’d call it “No Fermentation” (rather than his hit series’ title, “No Reservations”).

Once dairy, legumes and grains entered the human diet, fermentation became a major factor: in yogurt and cheese, in beer and bread and tofu and tempeh and sauerkraut and cider and vinegar and wine and kimchee and pickles and so many other foods. And not to put too fine a point on it, the cultures that embraced these foods lived long and prospered and rose to great cultural heights.

It was the rise of refined foods (white sugar, white flour, etc.), the adulteration of food with chemicals, the overconsumption of food, the drastic reduction in the variety of foods we ate, the toxic pollution of our environment beginning with the Industrial Revolution, and the increasing indolence (aka lack of constant exercise) that our automated lifestyles have encouraged that have brought us down, not the consumption of beans, grains and dairy. To say otherwise is naive, extreme, and dangerous, the hallmarks of pretty much all “diets.”

Yes, of course we can benefit from the good things about the way our Paleolithic ancestors lived: Eating much less than we do now, eating as wide a variety of fresh, organic and unprocessed or lightly processed foods as possible, staying on the move (on our own power) as much as possible, trying to live more in tune with the cycles of life, the days and the seasons: sleep when it’s dark, wake with the light, plan your meals around what’s in season while it’s in season.

Which brings our friend Ben back to low-mileage vegetables. Silence and I have our own priorities when it comes to vegetables and fruits. First, we try to grow as many of our own—organically, of course—as we can. Second, we try to find organic produce locally to supplement what we grow. Third, if we can’t find organic produce, we make a point of buying from area growers to support our community. And fourth, we try to eat at least 30 different vegetables a day.

Say what, you may be asking yourself after that fourth point. Thirty different vegetables?!! Impossible! But of course it’s not impossible or we wouldn’t be doing it. It’s easy. Let’s start with salad. Say you mix three different lettuces into your salad and add some arugula, frisee, escarole, radicchio, and spinach. That’s eight. Now, you add chopped scallions (green onions), shredded carrots, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, olives, celery, sliced cukes, sliced yellow summer squash, and broccoli and cauliflower florets. That’s 18. Toss in some drained and rinsed canned garbanzos (chickpeas), kidney beans, or black beans, and some roasted corn cut off the cob: 20. Wait, we forgot radishes or Japanese salad turnips and diced red onion and purple cabbage and some undressed bagged coleslaw! And so it goes.

Moving on to the main meal, you might typically make at least two vegetable dishes to go with your meal, perhaps green and yellow wax beans or broccoli and carrots, and perhaps boiled, mashed or baked potatoes as well. Or you could make a luscious mixed grill of roasted vegetables as we love to do, with sliced sweet and new red or Yukon Gold potatoes, wedges of sweet onion, asparagus, corn or crookneck squash, and mushrooms.

That could bring your total close to 30 vegetables for one meal, and we’re not even counting the sandwich at lunch with lettuce and tomato or a luscious Caprese salad with Romaine, tomatoes, fresh basil, and capers. Or your breakfast omelette with scallions or diced sweet onion and bell or hot peppers, or your huevos rancheros with refried beans, onion, scallions, bell peppers, jalapenos, and tomato.

And obviously, we’re ignoring the mainstays of our meals, the spaghetti and pasta sauces and curries and stir-fries and pizzas and refried beans and soups and chilies and all the other complex, delicious, incredibly veggie-rich dishes that Silence makes so well. These up the veggie-diversity ante amazingly. Let’s just take Silence’s spaghetti sauce for example, with garlic, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, and hot peppers: 7 veggies in a single dish. Or our yummy pizzas, topped with olives, artichokes, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, and arugula, plus tomatoes and garlic in the sauce for an 8-veggie total. If Silence is making an Indian feast, the total can easily be 15 just in the one meal, or more.

Our friend Ben urges you to see how much diversity you can add to your own meals. It will improve your health and longevity. And, if you can add “low-mileage” vegetables and fruits, you’ll help out your community as well. Go for it!!!

Time to cook: Get the book. May 11, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. The seasonal farmers’ markets in our area have finally reopened for the growing season. Soon, our local CSAs (organic subscription growers) will be offering lucky members the first fresh produce of the season. I’m hoping all Poor Richard’s Almanac readers share our commitment to supporting local growers, even if you’re not entirely committed to organics and eating seasonally. But what do you do with all that produce, especially when a lot of it isn’t particularly familiar?

Spring is especially tough in this respect. How many radishes can you eat, after all? Spring mix, mesclun, and sprouts are all well and good, but what do you do with all those Asian greens, mustard greens, pea shoots, garlic scapes, and the like? How do you persuade your family that eating fresh asparagus, sugar snaps, and snow peas every night is a luxury? How long will it be before they start demanding tomatoes, corn on the cob, green beans, and summer squash?

Fortunately, help is at hand, in a cookbook I first picked up at our local CSA called From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce. Created by the Madison (Wisconsin) Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, mine’s the third edition, published in 2004 by Jones Books (www.jonesbooks.com) and priced at $19.95. With 420 recipes for more than 50 vegetables and herbs, it’s bound to give you some good ideas for how to use even the most obscure-to-you veggies, from fiddlehead ferns, ramps, sorrel, and dandelions to daylily buds and tomatillos to kale, kohlrabi, parsnips, rutabagas, Jerusalem artichokes, burdock root, fennel bulbs, celeriac, Swiss chard, all the dreaded greens, and even edible flowers. There are handy storage tips for each vegetable, too.

From Asparagus to Zucchini also gives thoughtful essays on eating locally and seasonally and “thinking outside the shopping cart.” Not to mention some eye-opening statistics. (Did you know that the top ten items purchased at grocery stores are Marlboro cigarettes, Coca-Cola Classic, Pepsi-Cola, Kraft processed cheese, Diet Coke, Campbell’s Soup, Budweiser beer, Tide detergent, Folger’s coffee, and Winston cigarettes?! Hey, where’s the food?!!!)

This book is a must-have for your cookbook collection, and now you can get it for free. Well, you can if you hurry up and if you’re lucky enough to be one of the five winners chosen by LocalHarvest.org. Hurry up, because eligibility for the drawing ends May 17. Go to the LocalHarvest website (http://www.localharvest.org/), check out the 9871 offerings from family farms in their store, order something before midnight on May 17, and you’ll automatically be entered in the drawing to be held the following day. You can also find CSAs and farmers’ markets near you on their site.

Other cookbooks I’ve found useful in terms of cooking and eating seasonally are the pioneering book on the subject, Learning to Eat Locally (Juliette Spertus, Williams College, 1998, $10); the colorful, anecdotal Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables (John Peterson and Angelic Organics CSA, Gibbs Smith, 2006, $29.95); and Simply in Season (Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Herald Press, expanded edition 2009, $19.99). And there are the garden-to-table cookbooks, from Rosalind Creasy’s Cooking from the Garden, which started it all (Sierra Club Books, 1988, $20), to Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff’s Recipes from a Kitchen Garden (Ten Speed Press, 1993, $11.95) and The Gardener’s Table (Richard Merrill and Joe Ortiz, Ten Speed Press, 2000, $24.95). These days, there are many more; ask at your own local CSA and farmers’ markets about their favorites. And remember that you can buy them at deep discount or used (for even less) through online sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

Fortunately, our friend Ben and I love our (at least once-daily) salads, and we delight in tossing in every conceivable kind of green, herb, and allium, including the abundant spring scallions (green onions). It’s all good.  We love radishes, as long as they’re fiery and not woody, munched on plain with salt as a snack, sliced into salads, or sliced and layered on a buttered piece of crusty baguette with salt and eaten French breakfast-fashion. We love asparagus, boiled and tossed with butter, lemon juice, salt, and lemon pepper, or roasted with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, lemon pepper or cracked black pepper, and herbs (try it, it’s fabulous), added to pastas and omelettes, and creamed on toast. We love snow and snap peas, cooked briefly and tossed with butter, salt, and pepper, or added to stir-fries, Thai curries, or salads.  We need no inducement to feast on spring’s glorious bounty.

Join us, please!

               ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Food prices soar: locavores, rejoice. March 22, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As usual, we Americans don’t know how lucky we are. While people in some countries spend as much as 70% of their annual income just putting food on the table, we typically just spend 10% of our income on food. But the pundits are proclaiming that this is about to change, and change dramatically.

I’ve been expecting this since gas prices started shooting up. Gas, after all, is what enables us to fly, truck, and otherwise ship food here from abroad and across the country. If it suddenly costs more to ship stuff because of rising gas prices, the costs are bound to be passed along to the consumer, and that means us.

This is bad news for most of us—especially for folks like me and our friend Ben who are on a tight budget—but it’s really bad news for people who insist on eating strawberries and asparagus in November and watermelon and corn on the cob in March. The more out-of-season a food is in your area, the more it’s a luxury, likely to be shipped in from afar. We Americans are so used to having cheap tomatoes in December and grapes in April that we’re not used to thinking of out-of-season produce in the same category as lobster and caviar, but it is. Finally, we may be about to find that out.

But sure enough, this cloud has a silver lining. It may drive home the point that folks who’ve been trying for at least a decade to persuade us to support local agriculture and locally made artisanal foods have been making: Food grown locally and eaten in season requires minimal gasoline to produce and ship. Yes, it’s a major adjustment for most Americans to eat the way their grandparents did back in the day: asparagus, radishes, peas, and strawberries in spring; tomatoes, corn, beans, and melons in summer; potatoes, winter squash and grapes in fall; keeper crops like onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, apples, turnips and rutabagas, pumpkins, and those potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash in winter.

No asparagus, watermelon, green beans, and strawberries in winter?!! Yes, all of the above, if you’re willing to preserve them in season: pickled asparagus, green beans, and watermelon rinds; frozen strawberries, asparagus, and green beans; dried beans and strawberries; strawberry jam; canned green beans. Eating locally need not mean deprivation between growing seasons, but there is a trade-off, and that trade-off is the time spent preserving food when it’s cheap and plentiful versus the cost of buying food out of season. You’ll need to learn how to “put up” food like Great-Grandma did during the Depression, and you probably won’t have generations of relatives lining up to show you how. But books, step-by-step online instructions and videos, community colleges, cooking schools, and your local CSA (community-supported organic growers) can all step in to fill the gap.

Eating locally also involves finding local sources of goods you might otherwise buy from afar. Our friend Ben and I are very lucky in this regard, living as we do in farm country/wine country/Amish country in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. There are five vineyards almost within walking distance of us (one actually is within walking distance), and Yeungling brewery is local. We have four farmers’ markets and numerous farm stands, plus a marvelous organic CSA, within a 20-mile radius.

We can buy homemade cheeses, jams, jellies, and so on from the farmers’ markets or from local farms, along with produce, fruit of all kinds, mushrooms (it’s amazing how many kinds are locally grown), baked goods, herbs, etc.etc. Eggs, raw and pasteurized cows’ and goats’ milk, cream, butter, yogurt, chicken, beef, and every conceivable kind of meat, both fresh and made into sausage and the like are close at hand as well. The farmer just down the road will even deliver!

Admittedly, we don’t take advantage of all of this, because we grow and make so much of our own food. (Let me just note again that raising a few backyard chickens for eggs is easy and fun!) But I do take advantage of local bounty whenever I need to, buying free-range eggs in the off-season when our own hens aren’t laying, and buying the raw materials I need to cook and preserve my own food: raw milk to make yogurt, flour for bread, apples for sauce and butter, paste tomatoes in bulk for sauces and salsas, cukes for my famous sweet/hot pickles, and so on. And I must say, it’s hard to beat Amish butter and cheese, or a Chambourcin from Pinnacle Ridge.

Not that I’m gloating, I’m just lucky. But I’d be willing to bet that, wherever you live, you could find locally grown produce and local artisanal foods. In the past, the cost of these foods versus mass-produced and mass-shipped stuff has meant that people needed to make a real commitment, either to their communities or to the freshest, healthiest organic produce and products or both, to support their own neighbors’ efforts. Our friend Ben and I are hoping that rising gas prices will finally bring about a revolution in our thinking and eating that will enhance our health, restore our connection to nature, and support our communities. God knows, it’s about time.

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

A place for fast food. December 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I rushed home after a busy day of visits and errands. My mission, should I choose to accept it: to make a hot, delicious supper for six people in less than an hour. To say that this was stressful is an understatement, but I was undaunted: I knew I could do it, thanks to modern technology.

Armed with cans of black beans and crushed tomatoes, and several bags of various salad combinations, supper was a snap: Saute several diced onions and green peppers in olive oil with black mustardseed, cumin, oregano, lemon pepper, and Trocomare; toss in a huge can or two of black beans and a big can of crushed tomatoes; add some veggie stock and hot fresh salsa (two of my other favorite grocery convenience foods) and a big splash of lemon juice (I like bottled Key lemon juice); stir, mash, stir, and allow to mellow on low heat. Meanwhile, mix bags of Romaine lettuce and baby greens, add a chopped orange bell pepper, crumbled feta cheese, pepitas, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and scallions. Our friend Carolyn provided salad dressings and hot cornbread, and her brother Rudy brought wine. We brought sour cream and shredded cheese (yet another convenience food) for the soup, and before we knew it, the six of us were sitting down to a delicious dinner.

There are many arguments against prepared foods, and one of them is price. If you’re on a budget like us, spending big bucks for convenience is usually just plain stupid. We have friends who wouldn’t dream of buying canned beans when they could soak a bag of dried beans overnight and cook them for pennies a serving. We have friends we’ve never seen open a bag of prepared salad mix.

I say, keep your eyes open. I patronize a local grocery that often puts greens on sale for 99 cents a package (down from $3.99, and still perfectly fresh). Often, I’ve bought organic baby arugula, baby spinach, and many a salad mix for 99 cents when a head of chemically-grown iceberg lettuce was going for over two dollars. The same store has a “three for $5.99″ section where I’ve bought packages of locally-grown apples, pears, tomatoes, green beans, sweet onions, mushrooms, garlic, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and many another yummy veggie or fruit for a fraction of the price in other stores. They often have big discounts on canned beans, tomato products, and dried pasta, as does another local grocery, so I compare and stock up.

I do consider myself a from-scratch cook. I use basic ingredients, not mixes. I don’t buy fast-food meals from drive-by stores like Mickey D’s or KFC. But I feel no shame about using canned, frozen, and dried whole foods when they’re reasonably priced and save me time.

All this came to mind when I received an e-mail with an attachment for an article called “In Praise of Fast Food” by Rachel Laudan in The Gastronomica Reader, excerpted by The Utne Reader (http://www.utne.com/). Ms. Laudan’s reasons for supporting fast food are different from mine—I suggest you read her article and draw your own conclusions—but the article strongly brought to light the dichotomy between today’s slow-food locavores and the rest of us.

I mention this simply because I often think of the past in terms of creating convenience without guilt. Which is to say, everyone viewed time-saving and shelf life as untarnished positive developments before modern storage, shipping, and globalization made fresh food universally available year-round.

Think back with me to this era of seasonal abundance and seasonal scarcity for a moment. Imagine the thrill of canning or freezing food so it would keep until you needed it! Imagine pickling or preserving food so you could eat it out of season! Imagine making luscious white bread and using white sugar without even a clue about calories or health issues! Imagine buying butter from the store instead of having to churn your own! Imagine  the joy of welcoming new developments without ever once thinking, “Is this bad for me?”

To me, this period—roughly from the mid-1800s through the mid-1900s—was The Age of Innocence. The age where we could enjoy food without worrying about its consequences on our health, simply because, with the sole exceptions of gout and obesity, no one had a clue that food was other than healthful. If it tasted good, it was good, end of story.

I can see housewives rejoicing over white flour that didn’t quickly go rancid like whole-grain flours (in the pre-refrigeration era), eggs and dairy products delivered fresh to your door or sitting chilled and conveniently packaged in the refrigerated section of the grocery, canned and frozen foods that stayed good practically forever so you could stock your pantry and freezer and just grab what you needed. I can see them celebrating cake mixes, tea bags, bagged bread, sugar and salt that stayed granular rather than clumping, dried herbs and spices. I can see it all.

Ms. Laudan points out in “In Praise of Fast Food” that the glory days of fresh, seasonal, from-scratch eating were only glorious for the wealthy, who could afford to buy all the food that the peasants produced, leaving them to try to get by on scraps and shavings. She didn’t add, but I will, that in bad years, even the wealthy went hungry as a result of crop failures, and everyone else pretty much starved.

And we’re not just talking about the Middle Ages here. Much as I loved Little Women as a girl—it was probably my favorite book—I was shocked and haunted by the March family’s obvious hunger and lack of even common necessities during the brutal winter that opens the book. Pre-convenience foods, the larder often was empty.

To me, eating locally produced produce and foods that support our neighbors and our local economy seems an appropriate and moral thing to do from every perspective. After all, if someone in my area wanted an expert editing job, I’d certainly appreciate it if they came to me rather than outsourcing their work to New York or L.A. In turn, I could put the money they paid me into other local enterprises, and with everyone’s cooperation, our little community might become more self-sustaining.

But I agree with Ms. Laudan that it’s a luxury, just as my being a vegetarian is a luxury, made possible by an abundance of delicious produce, dairy products, and grains provided daily to our grocery stores by modern technology. I can take the moral high road only because my choice is supported by an abundance of resources, from farmers’ markets and organic CSAs to health-food stores and groceries that stock local products.

Were it not for them, I would be forced to resort to the full range of my omnivore inheritance or starve: eating the squirrels in our trees as well as the nuts that fall from them, raising chickens to butcher instead of coddling them through their long lives and gratefully enjoying their eggs, roaming the countryside in search of edible roots, herbs, shoots, berries, mushrooms, and greens to supplement what I could raise at home. Trying to barter eggs, preserves, salsa, or spaghetti sauce for enough of local farmers’ wheat and corn to provide our friend Ben and me with bread and the chickens with feed. Praying that someone nearby would grow dried beans to take the rest of us through the year, and that the dairy farmers could give us milk, butter, and cheese in return for money or barter.

And what if you didn’t live in farm country like we do? What if you didn’t own a grain mill, yogurt-maker, butter churn, or canning equipment? What if you didn’t have the time to use them if you did own them, because you had a family and (at least one) full-time job? 

No, you’ll never see me in a Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s, Chick-Fil-A, or Taco Bell, or spot our little red VW Golf in the drive-up line. But yes, I am grateful every day for the fresh, pre-bagged, canned, frozen, juiced, and ground products that make it possible to cook delicious, healthy meals every time without spending all day, every day, trying to make it happen.

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Vital statistics. April 22, 2010

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Good news for vegetable gardeners! Our friend Ben was paging through this month’s copy of greenPROFIT/GROWERTALKS magazine when my eye was caught by Ellen Wells’s editorial, “Edible Endeavors.” One paragraph provided some amazingly encouraging statistics for all of us who love to grow edibles. I quote:

“This is… what the Garden Writers Association Foundation found in its 2009 Edibles [sic] Gardening Trends Research Report conducted in November: More than 41 million U.S. households (38%) grew a vegetable garden; 19.5 million households (18%) grew an herb garden; 16.5 million households (15%) grew fruits; 7% (7.7 million households) were new to edibles [sic] gardening; about 33% of experienced gardeners grew more edibles in 2009; and 37%  of households reported plans to increase their edible gardens in 2010.”

Wow. How exciting! Finally, gardening with edibles has arrived, not just among the cognoscenti but across America. No wonder Michelle Obama is planting an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn and venerable nurseries like White Flower Farm and Logee’s are offering an amazing selection of edibles, from tomatoes to olives to coffee trees and vanilla orchids to passionfruit and citrus. But our friend Ben thinks this trend has taken its own sweet time. After all, the last time growing edibles was trendy was in the Victory Garden era of World War II.

Then, with the boom years of the Fifties, growing your own food fell into disrepute. The idea seemed to be that you should grow ornamentals in your landscape and get your fruits and vegetables from the grocery, that growing your own was somehow shabby, not respectable, even trashy. And unfortunately, this perception endured for decades.

The youthful Ben would wander through my beloved Grandma Simms’s backyard with its vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and even a peach tree, as if visiting Paradise, it seemed so exotic. Certainly, no vegetable dared show its head in our home’s Colonial landscape, and when a German family moved into the neighborhood and began growing corn in their front lawn, they became instant outcasts and were the talk of the whole area. Shocking!!!

Fortunately, influential voices were raised in favor of edibles throughout the “all flowers, all the time” era. There was a big revival of interest in growing edibles in the 1970s, fueled by Organic Gardening magazine, by the popularity of Helen and Scott Nearing’s homesteading classic, Living the Good Life, and its sequels, and by the Back to the Land movement.

Ruth Stout’s books on mulch gardening, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book and How to Have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back, proclaimed that vegetable gardening didn’t even have to be the backbreaking endeavor brought to mind by truck gardens of the era. John and Betsy Jeavons insisted that yes, it did, with the publication of the first edition of How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, introducing Americans to the concepts of double-digging, Biodynamics, and French Intensive gardening. But the complexity and one-upmanship inherent in Jeavons’s sytem was countered by Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution, which introduced readers to the Zen of gardening and reinforced that it didn’t have to be hard.

A generation largely raised on frozen and canned vegetables, TV dinners, and other “convenience foods” had had enough. But they were viewed as Hippies and radicals, an idealistic and foolish fringe. Flower gardening still reigned supreme.

The one “respectable” voice championing food gardening in the ’70s was that of Jim Crockett, whose pioneering PBS gardening show, “The Victory Garden,” took its very name from those vegetable gardens of old. Crockett grew ornamentals, including houseplants and greenhouse plants, as well as edibles, on the show. But his cheerful approach and easy-to-follow month-by-month format won the show and the books spun off from it a legion of admirers, even in the suburbs. The Stepford Wives and their Toro-riding husbands were still in charge of the landscape, but there were definitely cracks in the veneer.

By the ’80s, it looked like corporate culture was going to be the death knell of vegetable gardening. In the era of Yuppies and “upward mobility”—emphasis on mobility, move every two years at your company’s command and to hell with what that does to family stability, children’s sense of security, and sense of place—who’d want to do anything to the faceless, cookie-cutter house and property you’d bought in the new place? Not only would you not be there long enough to enjoy it, but it might reduce the property value when it was time to resell!   

Thank God, the ’80s also brought new forces to bear on the fight for edible gardening. Edible landscaping, a concept pioneered by Rosalind Creasy in her books The Complete Guide to Edible Landscaping and Cooking from the Garden, as well as by Robert Kourik and others, showed gardeners that vegetable and fruit growing didn’t have to be an eyesore. Bill Mollison’s Permaculture made its way from Australia to America, reinforcing the idea of planting dual-purpose plants (for example, nut-bearing shade trees) and landscaping for self-sufficiency.

Upscale food-plant-focused seed companies, such as The Cook’s Garden and Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, began offering gourmet varieties that had previously only been available in Europe, Central and South America, and Asia. Composting became a backyard phenomenon. City dwellers began rediscovering the venerable community gardens that had been thriving in their communities for decades. And that enduring blockbuster, Square Foot Gardening, took the fear factor out of vegetable gardening once and for all.

The ’80s also produced the largest rise in awareness of environmental issues, including pollution and what chemical-based farming and gardening were doing to our food and our planet, since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. Buying organic produce began to move into the mainstream, out of the health food stores and into Whole Foods, Wegman’s, and the like. People began making an effort to eat better and use fewer chemicals. Organic finally went mainstream. But food gardening? Not yet.

Then came the ’90s. Now at last was the era in which chefs and their restaurants, like Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, gained national, even celebrity, attention. The organic vegetable gardens backing many such restaurants were prominently featured in the press, along with the small-scale organic farmers who supplied them with produce.

Potagers and kitchen gardens were hot. Vermiculture, earthworm composting, took the gardening world by storm. Farmers’ Markets came into their own, as more people became hooked on the freshness and variety of the produce and the relief of knowing where their food came from. Heirloom vegetables became the hottest trend in food, and companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and organizations like The Seed Savers Exchange thrived. Martha Stewart and her ilk made food gardening trendy, not trashy.

People also became fascinated with the Amish and the Pueblo cultures of the Southwest, where folks grew and preserved their own food and always had. And books like Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower’s Four-Season Harvest and Leandre Poisson’s Solar Gardening assisted gardeners in temperate climates to produce food even when the temperatures plunged outside. During the ’90s, back-to-basics magazines like Backwoods Home, The Mother Earth News, and Back Home were enjoying a renaissance as they helped people learn basic gardening and cooking skills.

The concept of eating seasonally was gaining ground (pardon the pun). And the threat of Y2K was encouraging more people than ever to learn how to grow and preserve their own food. Other ’90s trends: vegetarianism becoming accepted; edible flowers; broccoli and other sprouts; maitake, shiitake, and other “miracle mushrooms” being added to cooking for health; “spring mix” and mesclun salads; more exotic cuisines (Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Cuban, Ethiopian, Turkish, Moroccan, Spanish tapas, sushi, etc.) going mainstream; “spa cuisine.”

Fruit finally came into its own in the 1990s, too. Books like Lee Reich’s Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, Roger Yepsen’s Apples, and Lewis Hill’s Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden helped make the seemingly arcane prospect of growing your own fruits and berries plausible.

At last, the first decade of the 21st century. The rise of the CSA (consumer-assisted agriculture, aka seasonal subscription farming) is at hand, where people sign up for a season’s worth of produce, paying in advance, and the farmers provide them with an ever-changing assortment of seasonal organic produce. Veganism and raw foods take the stage. Locavores make a determined effort to eat only foods produced within a 100-mile radius. The Slow Food Movement has inspired people to cook from scratch and avoid fast food.

Even mainstream supermarkets are highlighting local produce. With obesity a national scandal and Monsanto a national disgrace, more people are making the effort to avoid “Frankenfoods” and chemicals and invest in fresh, organic foods, fresh air, and health, for us and for our land and the creatures we share it with.

Our friend Ben would like to see edible landscaping come into its own in the new decade awaiting us. Here at Hawk’s Haven, Silence Dogood and I make a conscious effort to plant fruiting ornamentals like elderberries and pawpaws, choose vines like hardy kiwis and grapes to climb our arbors and trellises, choose nuts like hardy pecans and filberts (hazelnuts) when we need new trees and shrubs, plant roses that provide beauty and nutritious, vitamin-C-rich rose hips like Rosa rugosa, and grow cherries instead of flowering cherries, apples instead of crabapples, pears instead of ‘Bradford’ Callery pears, and the like.

We choose herbs for container plantings, grow as many tropical fruits and spices as we can cram in our greenhouse in the winter and on our deck in the summer, and try to grow as much fresh produce as our raised beds and greenhouse can produce. What we’re not able to consume fresh, Silence knows how to preserve for delicious meals in fall, winter, and spring. These days, people don’t even look at us oddly when we say we have a little flock of heritage-breed chickens. They just ask if they can have some eggs.

It looks like almost 40% of Americans are joining us. We hope with all our hearts that soon that number will climb to 100%. Whether you’re growing one potted tomato on a balcony or a potager or a full-scale edible landscape, hooray for you!  Go for it and enjoy. We know we do!

(Er, a footnote is needed here. When covering whole decades of garden history, much is bound to be left out, at least when our friend Ben is acting as historian. The revival of herb gardening prompted by the likes of Jim Duke, Varro E. Tyler, Maud Greave,  Adelle Simmons, Bertha Reppert, and Rosemary Gladstar, among many others, is just one example. Alan Chadwick’s Biodynamic gardens in California, John Seymour’s homestead arts, and the Foxfire series are others. If you think I’ve left something out that needs to be mentioned, please comment here! It would be great to fill in some of the many blanks.)

A late-winter omelette. February 28, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As the snows drag on (and on) here, I’ve been thinking about late-winter foods that might still be in your larder and garden.

Here in Pennsylvania, you’re not going to be outside harvesting abundant crops, or even salad greens, in late February. But you might find, like we have, that if you grew kale, parsley, and Swiss chard in a protected place and kept it out of harm’s way, it might survive the winter and allow you to harvest a little now and then. (But bear in mind that it’s not going to put on new growth until true spring, so what you harvest won’t be replaced for a good while.)

If you were diligent about curing your potatoes, onions, and garlic, and merely brushed the excess dirt off rather than succumbing to temptation and washing them before storage, then put them in a cool, dark place, you should have plenty of good ones left if you’ve managed not to eat them all by now. Carrots and winter radishes store best in the fridge or in containers of cold, damp sand or a more modern equivalent, like excelsior; apples will keep for months in the fridge, as will cabbage. And if you grew beans for drying—pintos, limas, black beans, etc.—and corn for popping, you’ll also have those in reserve. (Obviously, any produce you canned, pickled, froze, dried, or jellied will still be at your disposal, too.)

What about other fresh produce? It’s easy to grow your own nutritious microgreens, aka sprouts, in the comfort of your own kitchen, no matter how cold and miserable it is outside. Alfalfa sprouts are still probably the best known, but spicy radish sprouts can add a flavor kick to winter dishes. And you can buy inoculated logs and grow all kinds of mushrooms indoors (we’re trying to grow shiitakes in the laundry room as I write).

Our friend Ben and I live out in rural farm country, so we have access to fresh local dairy products, including raw milk, butter, and Amish cheeses, and eggs throughout the winter. (We give our own chickens a break every winter so they can stay healthy and keep all those nutrients for themselves.) Yes, we’re so lucky.

So, thinking of a filling and satisfying late-winter dish, I at first considered sharing a stir-fry recipe, but ultimately opted for an omelette, since today’s Sunday and an omelette makes such a satisfying brunch. (Mind you, so do huevos rancheros, but that’s another post for another day.) I’ll add my recipe for fried apples, another late-winter staple, since they’re so good with the omelette. You’re on your own as far as making toast, biscuits, cornbread, English muffins, or apple, bran, corn, or pumpkin muffins to enjoy with your omelette and fried apples. (Or try hot slices of my pumpkin bread with butter, yum; search our blog for pumpkin bread to find the recipe.)

         Late-Winter Omelette

This omelette feeds two; multiply the ingredients and make additional omelettes for a larger family.

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 stick salted butter

1 large baking potato, peeled and grated

1/2 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or 1015 type), peeled and diced

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup radish sprouts (optional)

dried rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano, for seasoning

Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) and crushed red pepper, black pepper, or paprika, to taste

1/2 cup (or more to taste) shredded Parmesan, Swiss, sharp white Cheddar, or cheese of your choice

Melt butter in a heavy Dutch oven or pan. Add onion, spices and herbs, grated potato, and mushrooms, and saute until onion clarifies and mushrooms cook down. Add radish sprouts. Pour beaten egg mixture over veggies, stirring to blend. Once egg mixture sets, cut omelette in half and use a spatula to flip each half over in pan. (If you’re really good, you can simply filp the entire omelette in the pan, but I’m not that coordinated. This works fine.) Top each half with shredded cheese. Once cheese melts, place one half on each plate with fried apples and bread of your choice.

               Fried Apples

Such a simple recipe, and so good! Again, this recipe serves two, so multiply to suit your family. And Health Police, don’t panic; we’re not really talking about frying here, it’s more about sauteeing. But it’s so good.

2 firm-fleshed apples, such as ‘Granny Smith’, cored and sliced

1/2 stick salted butter

1/2 cup maple syrup or 1/2 cup dark brown sugar plus 1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, if desired

In a heavy frying pan, melt the butter. Add the maple syrup or brown sugar and water and cinnamon. Add water as needed to make a thick but liquid coating. Add sliced apples, and stir until coated, then cook over low heat, covered, until just tender.  

Yum, it’s almost 10 am here, and that means brunch! If you have your own brunch favorites to contribute, please share them here. Otherwise, give these a try. They’re easy and oh so good as winter keeps telling us—liar!!!—that spring will never come.

         ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

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