Category Archives: EDUCATION

PRESERVING LEMONS

 

Meyer lemons are smaller, rounder, and softer than regular supermarket lemons. They range in color from bright yellow to light orange. Originally from China, they are grown in Florida and California. They are most similar to the lemons grown in the Mediterranean for preserving.

Preserving Lemons
by Mike McGeary

What Are Preserved Lemons?

They are lemons packed in salt and lemon juice, a process that preserves them for many months without refrigeration.

The standard lemons in grocery stores have skins that are hard and have a strong flavor. The best lemons for preserving that are widely available in the United States are Meyer lemons, because their skin is soft and has very little of the bitter white pith found in standard lemons. Also, they are nicely mellow rather than tart in flavor.

I have found Meyer lemons at the Montañita Co-op and Whole Foods, and they probably are available at other grocery stores. The problem is that they are not always available, so you have to keep a lookout for them and get them when you see them. It is also necessary to use them within days of purchase, because the thin pithless skin does not protect them as well as the thick skins and pith of regular lemons. The short shelf life also makes them more expensive, but you won’t need that many to last your needs for months.

You can buy preserved lemons in jars from specialty stores and perhaps supermarkets, but I found that they do not compare in flavor with ones I make myself.

You can learn more about the origin of Meyer lemons, how they are used, and how they have become more popular from a National Public Radio story here:  The Meyer Lemon: More Than A Pretty Face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Preserve Lemons?

I began to preserve lemons because I like to make Moroccan tagines and couscous, and preserved lemons are a basic ingredient. As Paula Wolfert put it in her 1973 cookbook, Couscous and Other Good Food from Moroco (which is still in print): “There is, and I cannot emphasize this enough, no substitute for preserved lemons in Moroccan food.”

In other words, preserved lemons have a unique flavor.

Preserved lemons are also used across the middle east, not just in Morocco. For example, Yotam Ottolenghi of Jerusalem has recipes using preserved lemons in his cookbooks, including Jerusalem and Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

I also chop the skin into vinaigrettes and marinades. Recently, I chopped up half a lemon skin and some of the pulp with chopped garlic, olive oil, and salt and stuffed the mixture under the skin of two large bone-in organic chicken breasts, before roasting them in the oven. Yum!

Many people, apparently inspired by Martha Stewart (see NPR story above), are using fresh Meyer lemons in baking, such as Stewart’s lemon and pine nut tart, but that’s an article for another day.

 

How to Preserve Lemons

Mise en place:

  • One-quart canning jar, preferably wide mouth for easier retrieval of the lemons.
  • Cup of non-iodized salt in a bowl, with a tablespoon to stuff the lemons (I use kosher but sea salt is fine).
  • About 12 Meyer lemons (about 8 for the jar, 4 to provide juice to top off the jar after it is filled with lemons).
  • Sharp knife.

Preparation

  • Sterilize the canning jar by filling with boiling water or running through the dishwasher.
  • Put a tablespoon of salt on the bottom of the jar.
  • Scrub the lemons, and cut the tips off the ends of each lemon.
  • Cut the lemons into quarters without separating the wedges. That is, (1) put the lemon on end, and cut down most but not all the way through the lemon. (2) Rotate one quarter. (3) Repeat Step 1. See the lemon on the left in the photo, above.

I learned a slightly different method: (1) Putting the lemon on end, cut down most but not all the way through the lemon. (2) Rotate one-quarter. (3) Invert the lemon. (4) Repeat step 1. See the lemon on the right in the photo, above.

TIP: I hold the knife at about a 20 degree angle so that I can’t accidentally cut all the way through the lemon.

  • Put a tablespoon of salt inside each lemon, reshape, and place in the jar.
  • Pack the lemons as tightly as you can. If necessary to fill holes, separate a lemon into halves. Put another tablespoon of salt between each layer (there will be about 2) and on top.
  • Fill the jar with lemon juice from the remaining lemons.
  • Place the rind from a lemon squeezed for juice on top.
  • Seal the jar and leave for a month or more before using any lemons, shaking daily for a week to thoroughly dissolve the salt.

After the lemons are ready, they do not have to be refrigerated, but refrigeration reduces the chance that a white mold will form on surfaces exposed to air. The mold is harmless and washes off when you use the lemon. (The purpose of laying the skin of a squeezed lemon on top is to provide a surface for any mold that might form, and which can be easily removed and discarded.) The best way to prevent mold is to keep the lemons always completely covered by juice.

To use, rinse thoroughly to remove the salt. Most Moroccan recipes will have you slice the skin into narrow strips and discard the pulp. It is possible to use some or all of the pulp—I usually do—but it will remain very salty, so be sure to reduce the amount of salt you would normally add. You can find many Moroccan and other recipes that use preserved lemons online.

ENJOY!

 

Winter/Early Spring Sowing 101

Winter/Early Spring Sowing 101
By Lynne Roberts

An Important message about SEEDS: BUY THEM SOON!!  Last year, 2020, there was a major shortage of seeds across the country and in all the seed markets around the world…None of the Santa Fe garden centers nor plant stores nor the big box stores had any seeds left after the first cycle of early seed buyers…(Many of us who save seeds may have had some seeds for our own gardens and for sharing with friends and neighbors…). And the reason for that major seed shortage: NOT ENOUGH WORKERS TO SOW, HARVEST, PACKAGE, and SHIP those seeds from the farmers and the major seed producing companies, and NO WORKERS to PROCESS ORDERS to stores, in addition to a difficult Covid-19 growing season 2020.  SO, BUY YOUR SEEDS SOON, and locally if possible!!

So don’t despair-those of you who don’t have a greenhouse or cold frames in which to start your COOL SEASON CROP seeds in your garden!  Seeds like lettuce, spinach, Asian greens, cabbage, arugula, and many other cool season crops can be started outside with protection. It is totally possible to start your seeds outdoors, in the freezing cold, with a well-known method of seed germination, requiring just two things:  mini GREENHOUSES (made from recycled plastic/transparent milk-water-juice gallon jugs or large plastic soda or water bottles) and TIME with Olde Mother Nature. It is both easy and economical to start your own garden seeds in your own greenhouses, in your yard.

WINTER SOWING 101
My source is Kevin Lee Jacobs, at his website, “A Garden for the House.com,” who credits TRUDI DAVIDOFF with inventing, in 1999, this outdoor method of seed germination, in even the coldest of temperatures, starting in December, January, or even on February 14, on St Valentines Day and even later. You can google Ms. Davidoff, and see that she still has a foundation for teaching this easy method to students of all ages, around the world…

In 2007, when I first moved to Eldorado—land of gophers, rodents, “mouses,” impossible alkaline soil, and strong Mistral-like winds—I was NOT a happy gardener!!!!!

And then, I read Trudi’s and Kevin’s method for germinating seeds outside in the cold, using recycled mini plastic greenhouses! Ms. Davidoff urges everyone to use whatever free container that they can recycle, including plastic deli, fruit and veggie containers from the supermarket, aluminum foil circular and square containers from the Chinese restaurants and fast food restaurants, etc… Look around and see how much of this free, easy to recycle “stuff” is available to use as planters before it finally goes into the recycle pile at the transfer station.

MAKE A MINI-GREENHOUSE
So, we all know how seed starting indoors –without lights, with very limited space inside your bedroom, in your dining room or living room on wooden tables that will get water damaged from leaking plant pots, with not enough sunny window ledges nor enough Sun coming in anywhere inside your house or apartment –ENDS!!— IN DESPAIR, with irate and annoyed spouses, partners, roommates, and spindly starts, subjected to the dry air loving creatures (spider mites, scale, bugs, things) and mold and mildew or half dead plants…! (YES! YOU! In your HOME!!)

GARDENERS, let’s start out right and be successful!
Instead of leaving that 1/4” of milk, juice, or water in the bottom of the plastic gallon jug and putting it back in your fridge, hoping that someone else living in the house or a passing friend will empty it, rinse it, and take it out to your recycle bin (YES! YOU!), take that same FREE AVAILABLE container or milk/juice/water jug and empty its contents, fill it with some water, and rinse out the water (over your potting soil is good)

1) DISCARD the bottle top/cap of your jug. Take a medium drill bit and your drill (or heat a Phillips screw driver over your gas burner flame), and make enough holes for ventilation in the bottom of the jug (perhaps 10-15 holes) for appropriate drainage and ventilation, about 3-5 holes on each side, and 5-10 holes on the top of your transparent plastic container for ventilation…as your greenhouse will be watered with rain, snow, and sleet…

2) Just below the handle of your jug CUT around the middle of the jug, using an exacto knife, or a VERY sharp knife, or scissors cut about an inch be (add extra duct tape on hinge for support), the handle remains on the jug itself.

3) Add a good quality sterile seed starting or potting soil mix ( DO NOT USE SOIL FROM YOUR GARDEN) and fill the bottom part of your jug with about 2″-3″ of this good potting soil…Soak well, allow to drain thoroughly at the sink or over your pail of seed starting mix or good potting soil.  Add perlite to loosen the soil if your soil is slow draining.

4) Sow your seeds on the surface of the soil.  If your seeds are very small, there is no need for additional soil to cover… Leave them on the surface of your potting soil.  Larger seeds require only 1/8″ planting depth.

5) Labeling and taping-Use a permanent marker to indicate on the jug itself the following information: name of seed, quantity sown, date sown, days to maturity, height, possible planting location in your garden, and any other important info…Then, close the container’s hinged cover, secure it into place with 2-3 pieces of DUCT tape (it’s not necessary that the two halves fit tight; you will be able to open your jug greenhouse to check the water inside–rain, snow, sleet have been watering your greenhouse, supplemented by any additional water that you may need to add–to monitor the progress of your seedlings, and to check ventilation as the greenhouse will heat up and on sunny days become very humid…That is why NO cover or cap is needed on your greenhouse, as the vented top will permit excess heat and humidity to escape!)

6) Move your planted greenhouse jugs outside soon after planting them!  (YES,IN THE FREEZING COLD AND SNOW!!) . I place all the jugs in a shallow plastic box or on a tray with an edge or lip, and place that tray/box containing all the greenhouses (6-8) on a wire mesh patio table or in a large plastic recycle container away from the wind, on the south side of my house or in a very protected area…

When your seedlings are ready to be transplanted in your garden, you can take great pleasure in knowing that you have an easy and economical way to sow more seeds for your garden…And you sowed, nurtured, transplanted, and grew your plants all by yourself!!!  BRAVO, FEARLESS GARDENER!!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Credit: 1909 Valentine’s card by Chordboard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Valentine’s Day!
by Lynne Roberts

Happy Valentine’s Day to all you lovers of people, pets, plants, pizza, and world peace!!

Ever wonder about the origins of Valentine’s Day, once you’ve had a chance to buy your beloveds, friends, family and work mates those beautiful bouquets of flowers, pots of plants, plant and gardening books, and one single perfect flower bud??

Well, me neither, but in the interest of knowledge for you dear readers, I looked up the real history of Saint Valentine, and the origin of the celebration…

The “origin” stories are all shrouded in mystery.  There were three different Christian saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all martyred by the Emperor Claudius… Thanks to the actions of a prisoner named “Valentine,” possibly a Roman soldier, who sent a “love” letter to a young girl who he was in love with (possibly the daughter of his jailer), we now have the custom of sending love letters to those whom we love…Valentine signed his love note “From your Valentine,” and a great tradition was born…

By the Middle Ages, St Valentine had become the most popular saint in both France and England.

St Valentine’s feast was placed in the middle of February, in order to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of LUPERCALIA, a fun fertility festival dedicated to Fannus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus…

During the Middle Ages, people believed that February 14 was the beginning of the mating season for birds, and thus, Valentine’s Day became a day for romance—for everyone!

Geoffrey Chaucer, renowned English poet (Canterbury Tales), recorded St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in his poem “Parliament of Foules:”(1375)

“…when every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Written valentine cards and greetings appeared after 1400, the first written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.

Cupid, chubby little naked cherub, shooting arrows of love at unsuspecting lovers, first appeared in the Hellenistic period.  By mid-18th century, English and French friends and lovers, all exchanged small tokens of affection or handwritten notes to each other, and by 1900, with improvements in printing and technology, printed cards replaced written letters.

America began exchanging handmade valentines in the early 1700’s.

In the 1840’s, the American, Esther Howland, began selling the first mass-produced valentines in the United States. She is known as the “Mother of the Valentine;” she used real lace, ribbons, and pictures to create her valentines.

So, all you amorous souls, send your friends, sweeties, spouses your own special valentine greetings: cards, plants, flowers, gardening supplies, today and throughout this week.

Source: (A&E Television networks, published, 12/22/2009)

Saving Green Tomatoes

 

Saving Green Tomatoes by Jannine Cabossel, the Tomato Lady

Now is the time to finish picking your ripe and green tomatoes as next week it will be in the 20s at night. If you wait till after a hard freeze, it will be too late.

How to save green tomatoes
If you have an abundance of green tomatoes on the vine, you still can bring them inside your house to finishing ripening them (not in a cold garage). Here’s how I do it although there are many ways to save them, I find using paper bags from the grocery store (yes that’s why you’ve been saving all those bags!) works really well.

How to pick tomatoes that will ripen

First you can tell which green tomatoes will probably ripen fully by looking at them. If you see the green is getting lighter on the sides, it will probably ripen as it has started the ripening process. Some have very dark tops and that is ok as long as the sides are a lighter shade of green. Also I just pick the bigger tomatoes as they are usually further along in the growing process versus the small totally dark immature tomatoes.

Use paper bags to ripen them

Place 2-3 layers of rock hard green tomatoes in bags as shown above-no more  that a couple of layers because as they ripen, you don’t want the ones ripening underneath to get crushed. Also discard any that have blemishes.

 

Place tomatoes that are just starting to get color in another bag and move the ones that are starting to color up from the ‘green’ bag. Look into your ‘green’ tomato bag every few days and move them to the ‘just starting to color’ bags.

Important tip: Put a slice or two of apple (any color) in each bag. The apple slice will release ethylene gas which is a natural ripening hormone that is in many fruits. It will speed up the ripening process of your tomatoes in your paper bags. Replace apple slices as needed. It really works!

 

Close up all the bags so the apple does it’s work and none of the gas is released. I fold the paper bags over several times and then I put either something on top of the bags to keep them closed or I shove them under a rack to help keep them closed as shown above.

The trick is you must inspect the bags every few days and move them to another bag as necessary. If you just put them in the bag and forget about them, you might wind up with a bunch of the ripen ones squished with the heavier unripened ones on top.

Once they have changed color but still hard, you should take them out of the bag and put them on the counter to finish ripening. Never put a ripe tomato in the refrigerator. A cold refrigerator dampens the taste.

This method is really good on extending the tomato season once the weather is too cold. They will never be quite as good as the sun-ripened ones but are still about 200% better than store bought ones. I use a lot of them that get a little too soft for pasta sauces and eat the rest.

D0-It-Yourself Solar Fountain

DO-IT-YOURSELF SOLAR FOUNTAIN
by Teri Buhl

One of the best things you can do to encourage wildlife in your yard is to create water sources.  For migrating birds, especially in the Southwest, fresh water is a lifesaver.  According to the Audubon Society, “fall” migration is a protracted experience, starting as early as mid-June and lasting until the early days of January. Such a long migration season provides birders plenty of opportunities to witness the spectacle and joy of birds on the move.  Peak fall migration occurs from mid-August to mid-October.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology researchers used cloud and radar data to estimate that 4.7 billion birds leave the U.S. over the southern border, heading to the tropics.  As stewards of wildlife, we can help a big percentage of our flying friends make a successful journey by supplying water when they need a rest stop.

This project is easy, it has a spray head that hummingbirds like, a center bowl for drinking, and a ring/bowl that larger birds can use for bathing.  In addition, a solar panel means that you don’t need to be near an electrical outlet.  Last, but not least, it’s a closed system that’s easy to clean and maintain.  What’s not to like?  Here’s what you need:

A 5-gallon bucket $5 – 10
A 13-inch diameter plastic chip and dip tray $1 – 3
A solar fountain kit, minimum of 2 watts of power $20 – 35
1 to 2 feet of 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch plastic tubing $1 – 5

You’re going to put holes in the chip and dip tray to allow water to drain back into the bucket, and can use either a drill or a soldering iron.   Any self-respecting do-it-yourselfer probably already has these tools on hand.  If not, visit your nearest Habitat for Humanity Restore and ask about their tool lending counter – they’ll be happy to help you.

Good luck and happy birding!

STEP 1
Find a place near a sunny spot for your bucket, and fill it to about 4 inches from the top.

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 2
Check to make sure your chip/dip tray fits your bucket properly.

 

 

STEP 3

Mark the drainage hole locations on the back of the chip/dip tray using the ejection pin and molding marks as a guide.  Start with 12 holes – you can always make more later.  (This need not be perfect.)

 

 

 

STEP 4

Drill the holes using a 1/16 to 1/8” drill bit.  Make one “pilot” hole in the center of the dip bowl of the tray.  You can use a soldering iron for the holes if you prefer.

 

 

 

 

STEP 5

Choose a drill bit the size of your fountain stem, probably 3/8 to 1/2″, and make a hole in the center using the pilot hole as a guide.

 

 

STEP 6

Fit the fountain stem into the center of the tray.  It needs to be just above the water level line to spray properly.

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 7

Most pump kits have small segmented pipes that you can size to the height of a container or pot.  Assemble these to the pump and place the pump in the bottom of the bucket.

 

STEP 8

Cut a relief slot in the bucket rim for the pump cord.  A round file works well for this.

 

 

 

 

STEP 9

You may need to buy an extra piece of tubing depending on your pump kit.  Use it to connect the pump piping to the fountain stem – see next photo.

 

STEP 10

The tubing needs to be long enough to lift the tray to add more water.

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 11

Solar panels come with hardware for ground or wall mounting.  If you use a ground stake, find a sunny place and face the panel to solar south.  The tilt should be about 30 degrees or less for maximum sun exposure throughout the day.

 

 

 

STEP 12

Keep your pump wet, grab a drink, sit back, and enjoy watching all the birds use your new fountain!

 

Making Herb Vinegars

Left to right: Dill weed and seeds, Empress of India nasturtium flowers and leaves, basil-oregano-garlic, tarragon, purple basil-oregano-garlic, Alaska nasturtium flowers and leaves, and Black Velvet nasturtium flowers and leaves. All were made using white wine vinegar except for basil-oregano-garlic, which is in cider vinegar.

Making Herb Vinegars

by Mike McGeary

In the late 1950s my family moved from a farm in Portland, Oregon, to the semi-arid, high-desert town of Bend, where my mother started to grow flower and herb plants for sale. She also made and sold vinegars infused with a variety of herbs, flowers, and seeds. One of my fondest memories of returning home was seeing the picture window in the kitchen filled with different colored herb vinegars on glass shelves. I inherited her herb vinegar recipes and notes, and her go-to book, The Art of Cooking with Herbs and Spices, by Milo Miloradovich (Doubleday, 1950), with additional recipes she wrote down inside the book’s front and back covers.

My wife and I have been making our own herb vinegars since the mid-1970s. It’s fun and easy, and the flavored vinegars make wonderful salad dressings and marinades. Adding just a dash will perk up many dishes, such as coleslaw, sautéed beet greens, or steamed vegetables.

The Basic Process
The process for infusing vinegar is straightforward. The following is a brief overview of that process. The rest of this article provides additional information and more detailed instructions.

Use a clean wide-mouth glass jar, or other nonreactive container, into which you put your fresh herbs or flowers or seeds of choice. Then fill the jar with the vinegar you have selected. Let the infusion sit, tightly capped, in a warm place. Shake it daily. After 10 days to 2 weeks, sample for flavor. If you want a stronger flavor, let it infuse a little longer, or replace the herbs with fresh herbs. When you are happy with the taste, strain the vinegar into a narrow-neck bottle and cap or cork it tightly. The herb vinegar is ready to use, but it will last at least 3–6 months.

Choosing Your Ingredients
We use store-bought vinegars, primarily cider and white wine vinegar, but you can also use red wine, champagne, sherry, and rice wine vinegar. Most recipes specify a type of vinegar, but you can be creative and substitute another vinegar for a different taste. Distilled white vinegar is basically the same quality regardless of the brand, but the other vinegars are generally better the higher the quality of wine or cider used to make it, which is reflected in the price.

Ingredients that are commonly used in making flavored vinegar include basil, purple basil, borage, salad burnet, chive blossoms, nasturtium flowers, dill, lemon balm, marjoram, spearmint, orange mint, rosemary, tarragon, scented geranium leaves, thyme, and lemon thyme. They can be used singly or in combination. Our favorite is basil-oregano-garlic.

Purple basil, chive blossoms, and nasturtium flowers each add a beautiful color to their distinctive flavor. The color shows best in white wine or other clear vinegars.

You can also add seeds or other flavorings. The most commonly used are garlic, dill seed, pepper corns, celery seed, coriander seed, caraway seed, lemon zest, onion or shallots, and horseradish. In fact, any one of these ingredients can be used to make an infused vinegar (see, for example, the recipe for celery seed vinegar, below).

Preparing the Herbs
Fresh herbs provide the most flavor. You can grow them in your garden or buy them at the farmers’ market or grocery store. Herbs from your garden should be picked before the plants start to flower, when their flavor is at its peak. It is best to pick them early in the morning.

You don’t have to wash the herbs unless they are dirty. In that case, rinse them in water, and spin dry them or blot them with a towel before putting them in the jar.

Preparing the Infusion
It is important to use only nonreactive (i.e., glass, ceramic, and stainless steel) containers, lids and stoppers, and utensils when working with vinegar. Glass, ceramic, and stainless steel will not react with the vinegar, but clear glass jars are best—all the better to see what is happening inside the jar. It is also a good idea to attach a note to the jar or lid listing the ingredients, type of vinegar, and date of infusion.

We use one-quart canning jars and plastic lids, washed in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher. Loosely pack the jars with the leafy herbs, bruising them a bit, by twisting them to help release the oil. For nasturtium vinegars, we put in a handful of leaves and a half-dozen or so flowers. You can add more flowers to deepen the color. Add any additional ingredients such as seeds or garlic, then fill the jar with vinegar.

Some recipes call for heating the vinegar before adding it, but that is not necessary when using fresh ingredients. Using dried herbs or crushed seeds, however, would be a reason to heat the vinegar (see recipe for celery seed vinegar, below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shake the jar each day to keep the herbs covered and distribute the flavor. (To prevent leakage, you can place a piece of plastic wrap over the jar before putting the lid on, as shown in the photo below. Check for flavor after two weeks. If you want a stronger flavor, you can add fresh herbs or simply let it sit for another week or two. If you think the flavor is too strong, you can dilute it by adding a small amount of water.

Decanting the Infused Vinegar
When the vinegar suits your taste, you are ready to decant it into clean, dry glass bottles. First, line a funnel with a double layer of cheese cloth, or other filter (we find that coffee filters result in a clearer vinegar). Pour the infused vinegar through the funnel until the bottle is full, and then cap it with a cork. Discard the solids.

Dressing It Up
We are always looking for interesting bottles—at yard sales and thrift stores—that are embossed with pretty designs, or have a distinctive shape, although any clear glass bottle works just fine.

When selling her vinegars, my mother put the appropriate fresh herb sprig, or blossom or flower, in each bottle. That adds a lovely touch and helps identify the contents, but unless you use the vinegar fairly quickly, they will fade. Usually, we don’t bother, but this time, because I am now trying to “sell” you on making your own herb vinegars, we placed some sprigs in a few of the bottles.

Finally, you can be creative with labels. We hang the label from a string around the neck of the bottle, so we don’t have to soak it off to refill the bottle the next year.

Some Recipes
Basil-Oregano-Garlic Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with roughly equal amounts of oregano and basil leaves and tender stems
  • Add 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Fill jar with apple cider vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Tarragon Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with tarragon leaves and tender stems
  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Basil or Purple Basil Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with basil leaves and tender stems

[Even a small amount of opal basil will produce a beautiful pinkish-red color]

  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne or rice wine) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Nasturtium and Garlic Vinegar

  • In 1-quart jar, put at least 6 or 7 nasturtium flowers and handful of nasturtium leaves

[The more flowers used, the deeper the color; the more leaves used, the stronger the flavor]

  • Add 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne or rice wine) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Celery Seed Vinegar

  • In 1-quart jar, put 2 ounces celery seed (or other aromatic seed, e.g., dill or caraway), crushed in a mortar with pestle, to release essential oil
  • Heat white wine or (distilled white)vinegar to almost boiling and fill the jar with the vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

ENJOY!

Oxalic Acid

OXALIC ACID
by Teri Buhl

Did you grow up being told to “eat your spinach – it’ll make you strong”? Do you get excited (or weary) about a big bowl of dark, leafy “power greens”? How about rhubarb – love it or hate it? Besides being relatively easy to grow, these plants have another thing in common – oxalic acid – a good or bad thing, depending on your genetics and your gut’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Oxalic Acid, or Oxalate, is an organic compound found in many plants, e.g., leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, cocoa, nuts, and seeds. Your body can produce oxalate or convert Vitamin C into it when metabolized. Once consumed, oxalate binds to minerals to form compounds like calcium oxalate and iron oxalate, which are normally eliminated via the bladder or intestines. In some people, however, high oxalate diets have been linked to kidney stones and other health problems, like reduced calcium absorption.

Sometimes, high amounts of oxalate and calcium can form crystals and lead to kidney stones if urine volume is low. If you are prone to kidney stones, inflammatory bowel disease, or have had gastric bypass surgery, you may want to be tested for oxalate levels and limit your intake to 50 mg per day. You can reduce oxalate consumption by boiling the food item, drinking plenty of water, and making sure you get enough calcium, i.e., 800-1200 mg per day.

SORREL
One of my personal favorites is sorrel. It’s easy to grow and once established, it starts producing in early spring and continues throughout summer. According to a New Zealand study in 2013, “… [sorrel] should only be consumed in small amounts especially by people who are prone to kidney-stone formation. It is also advisable to prepare sorrel with other calcium-rich foods to reduce the soluble oxalate content, thus reducing the amount of oxalate absorbed into the body. Pesto is an ideal way of preparing sorrel as the serving size is small, so low levels of oxalates will be ingested.”

The study also found that “… incorporating Parmesan cheese in pesto and sour cream in soup also provided calcium, which can effectively reduce the soluble oxalates by conversion to insoluble oxalates…. Soup preparation involved cooking and this may have facilitated the leaching of soluble oxalates from the sorrel leaves, thus allowing the soluble oxalates to combine with calcium, from the sour cream, and form insoluble oxalates, which will not be absorbed from the digestive tract after ingestion.”

In addition, the scientists found that variegated sorrel with a lot of red in the leaves and stems contained more oxalate than green sorrel. This may have implications for rhubarb, chard, and other plants with variegated cultivars. What I really like about this study is that the researchers actually used the following (delicious) recipes to test their theories!

Spicy Sorrel Pesto
80 g large green sorrel leaves
40 g garlic cloves
40 g ground walnuts
8 g chili sauce
1/2 cup (60 g) grated parmesan cheese
10 g olive oil
6 g salt and 2 g pepper

 Romanian Sorrel Soup
46 g large green sorrel leaves
50 g chopped onions
6 g olive oil
28 g sour cream
12 g ground rice
1 egg yolk (≈18 g)
6 g salt

For more on oxalic levels in food, please download a copy of the attached chart from St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. Chart-oxalate-in-food. You may be surprised to discover that even navy beans, baked potatoes, and soy contain a relatively high amount of oxalate.

 

 

Sweet Grass

Sweet grass
By Steve Haines

Hierochloe odorata  (commonly known as sweet grassmanna grassMary’s grass or vanilla grass, and as holy grass in the UK, Bison grass e.g. by Polish vodka producers) is an aromatic herb native to northern Eurasia and North America.

It is a sacred grass of the indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States. It is used as a smudge, in herbal medicine and in the production of distilled beverages (e.g., ŻubrówkaWisent). The name Hierochloe odorata is from the Greek and Latin. Hierochloe means “holy grass” and odorata means “fragrant”.

Propagation is easiest by cutting out plugs from established plants. Grown in sun or partial shade, they do not like drought. It will spread and can take over.

The plant is harvested by cutting grass in early to late summer at the desired length. Hierochloe odorata harvested after the first frost has little or no scent and is less desirable for basketry. Basket weavers sun-dry cut sweet grass until it is dry and brittle. The brittle form of sweet grass must be soaked in warm water until it becomes pliable. The pliable grass is typically braided into thick threads and then re-dried for use.

Everywhere it grows it is prized. The thing that makes sweet grass sweet is coumarin, a naturally occurring aromachemical that in its pure form has a scent somewhere between vanilla and warm hay. As the grass dries, the scent of coumarin becomes more pronounced.

European traditions
Holy grass was strewn before church doors on saints’ days in northern Europe, presumably because of the sweet smell that arose when it was trodden on. It was used in France to flavor candy, tobacco, soft drinks, and perfumes. In Europe, the species Hierochloe alpina is frequently substituted or used interchangeably. In Russia, it was used to flavor tea. It is still used in flavored vodka, the most notable example being Polish Żubrówka.

Native American traditions
Sweet grass is widely used by North American indigenous peoples from many different Nations. Among many of the Plains Indians it is considered one of the “four sacred medicines“. Though being used for many purposes, its main purpose for many tribes is to attract good spirits. It is also known as the “Hair of Mother Earth”. Sweet grass is often burned at the beginning of a prayer or ceremony to attract positive energies. It is also to be used after burning white sage. White sage is burned to clean the energy, and sweet grass again invites in positive energies and spirits.

Sweet grass can be dried and used as a tea throughout the winter. Added by itself or with other garden herbs and flowers to alcohol, a delightful schnapps or liquor can be made. Sweet grass is a natural mosquito repellent. Some research claims it more effective than Deet.

There is an excellent book on the history of sweet grass covering both indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge titled Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

squash bug recipe

Here’s a recipe to try in your garden to discourage squash bugs from NM Farmer’s Market Association. Let us know in the comment sesction if it works for you.

Mix together and spray on leaves:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup neem oil
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap

From Top to Root (and Everything in Between): Eating the Whole Plant


From Top to Root (and Everything in Between):

Eating the Whole Plant

by Mike McGeary

When I was a child in Portland, Oregon, in the 1950s, my parents decided to grow as much of our food as possible. They bought what had been a dairy farm, which came with fruit trees and berries, and planted all sorts of vegetables, which we ate fresh, cooked, frozen, and canned. But despite this effort to get closer to nature, we still peeled our carrots and potatoes and discarded the turnip and radish tops. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that vegetable peels, skins, stems, and leaves were not only nutritious, but tasty. And there is less food waste.

It’s easy to document the added nutrition. According to the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association, beet greens contain more iron than spinach; are high in vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and antioxidants; and have more nutritional value than the beet root. The same is true for turnips. One cup of turnip greens provides 115% Daily Value (DV) of Vitamin K, 37% DV of Vitamin C, 35% DV of Vitamin A, 27% DV of folate (Vitamin B9), and more.

Some of you may already cook the tops of root vegetable and eat carrots and potatoes with the skin on. But if not, read on.

To Peel or Not to Peel
Let’s start with the easiest way to add nutritional value, save time, and eliminate waste. You generally don’t have to peel carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, or other root vegetables or tubers even if you mash them. Just scrub them well with a vegetable brush to remove any dirt. You can also eat beets with the skin on, although the skins of large beets that have been in the ground for a long time may be too tough to eat.

Then there’s winter squash. Some winter squashes have skins thin enough to leave on when you cook and eat them. They include delicata, Rred kuri, small dumpling, and even butternut and kabocha when they are still petite.

Stem the Tide of Waste
Many recipes that include greens, such as chard, kale, and collards, direct you to remove the stems and discard them, but you do not need to, particularly if the greens are young and fresh. I generally eat chard and kale stems but find that collard stems are a bit too tough. I cut or strip the chard and kale stems out and either eat them raw or, if they are thick, cut them into 1-inch lengths and cook them with the leafy parts. Deborah Madison, in In My Kitchen, has a recipe for chard stems with lemon, which uses the chard and cilantro stems left over from her recipe for silky braised chard and cilantro.

Great Taste and No Waste!
Herbs like cilantro and parsley are used mainly for their leaves, but if the herbs are fresh and tender, you can chop up their stems with the leaves and add them to your dish. Less work for you, and the stems are as flavorful as the leaves.

When cooking with mushrooms, some people remove and discard the stems, but they can be trimmed and cooked with the caps. The stems can also be saved and added to other vegetable scraps to make stock (we keep all our scraps in a resealable bag in the freezer).

Start at the Top
In addition to the traditional greens, you can also eat the leafy tops of root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes. A tip: You will find the freshest tops at a farmers’ market; by the time they get to a supermarket, they are often over the hill or may have been removed. Another tip: Andrea Bemis, of Tumbleweed Farm in Oregon, recommends in her cookbook Dishing Up the Dirt that you separate the tops from the roots when you get home and store them separately or the greens will leach the moisture from the roots and make them go soft too soon.

There are numerous ways to cook the tops of root vegetables. On our farm in Oregon, my mother steamed the beet tops and served them as a side dish with a dash of red wine vinegar on top. Deborah Madison has a recipe for braised turnip greens in The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute (SFFMI) has a recipe for creamed turnips and greens on its website: https://farmersmarketinstitute.org/tag/market-fresh-cooking/. The tops of the small white Asian turnips sold at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market are especially easy to cook and good to eat.

Radish greens, if they are fresh, are delicious raw in a salad, but some people might not like the fuzzy surface. When you cook them, however, the fuzziness disappears but the peppery taste remains. A recipe for braising radishes with their leaves is on the SFFMI website.

Carrot tops—yes, carrot tops—are also edible. The SFFMI website has a recipe for sautéed carrots served with carrot top pesto. At our house, we like carrot top salsa verde with pickle juice, from Mads Refslund’s cookbook, Scraps, Wilt + Weeds: Turning Waste Food into Plenty. We put it on chicken, pork, fish, and vegetables.

Though not root vegetables, celery and fennel also have several useful parts. Generally, we freeze the celery leaves with other scraps saved for making vegetable stock, but they can also be added to a green salad. The fennel bulb is the most commonly used part of the plant, but the fronds can be chopped and sprinkled on the cooked fennel bulbs or sprinkled on a salad. Scraps, Wilt + Weeds has a recipe for fennel pesto using fennel stalks—the part between the bulb and the fronds.

Additional Reading and Related Topics
For further reading, I would recommend Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, which includes a section for most vegetables on “Using the Whole Plant.” Mads Refslund’s book, Scraps, Wilt + Weeds: Turning Wasted Food into Plenty focuses on waste prevention—using not only all the edible parts of plants, but also wilted, dried out, and otherwise over-the-hill vegetables and fruits. His recipe for vegetable scrap and peel stock lists additional plant parts that can be used, such as onion peels, cauliflower and cabbage cores, and stems of herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, and thyme. He also has chapters on making the most of meat, seafood, and dairy products.

Finally, as a last resort, you can compost vegetable and fruit scraps that you don’t want to eat or save for stock. Our worm bed produces wonderful compost that we use to help grow the next generation of vegetables in our garden.

And finally, finally, if you enjoy using all parts of your vegetables, you might look into related activities, such as foraging for wild plants, edible flowers (such as nasturtium flowers and chive blossoms), and herb vinegars, which are topics to explore another time.