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Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced a new pilot project under the 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative for farmers to establish high tunnels - also known as hoop houses - to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation-friendly way...
The 3-year, 38-state study will verify if high tunnels are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields, and providing other benefits to growers...
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide financial assistance for the project through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the EQIP Organic Initiative, and the Agricultural Management Assistance program. NRCS will fund one high tunnel per farm. High tunnels in the study can cover as much as 5 percent of 1 acre
Sounds great, right? Finally some money and support going to really building up small farms. In theory, we could sure use a free high tunnel. Well, here's what concerns me:
(1) How much money are they actually putting into this? 5% of one acre is around 2200 square feet. A very basic 26'x96' high tunnel, around 2500 square feet (such as this one from FarmTek), runs close to $4,000. Assuming multiple farms per state, in 38 states, that's going to add up quickly. A drop in the bucket compared to commodity subsidies, maybe, but still a lot of taxpayer money.
(2) Have they thought through the selection process? Who gets preference, new/young farmers, old/experienced farmers, full-time vs. hobby farmers? If you spend this much money, it had better be on farms that will make full use of them and do it effectively. Will they ensure the farm has enough labor and skill in place to use the structure effectively? Growing in tunnels requires a different skill set than open fields, and will require more labor and costs from the farmer. I hope their selection process is serious; I have a sinking feeling many of these expensive structures will end up with folks who don't know how to use them or can't afford to use them to their potential. It's worth remembering that, just like any business, there are good farmers and bad farmers. Don't go showering free high tunnels on farms that are struggling because they're not very good at what they do, and so appear to be in need of help.
(3) What will the effect be on local market competition? If you have an area with multiple good farms, and only some of them get a free government high tunnel, you're putting a significant competitive disadvantage on the others. Also, this sort of thing naturally discriminates against farms who have developed their infrastructure with their own efforts and resources. If I were a farm like our local Pierpont Farm, which has put a lot of time and resources of their own into paying for tunnels, I'd be a bit miffed to see my competitors getting handouts. It reminds me of all the special credits and favors being given to new and struggling home-buyers, effectively screwing over all the responsible folks who lived within their means and kept their mortgages paid.
(4) Have they established rigorous and effective tracking mechanisms to ensure they collect the data needed to solve the question that's driving this (are high tunnels effective)? Too often, a program like this shovels the money out the door but never really follows up. What sort of guidelines and data collection are the farms and the USDA expected to conduct over three years to prove or disprove the hypothesis? If these aren't in place and carried out, it really becomes just a handout rather than a justifiable research project.
Also, if the goal is to learn how effective high tunnels are, why not start with the farms who already have them, and presumably are among the most experienced and successful with them since they achieved the tunnels' existence and maintenance privately? Why assume that you have to start over with farms who don't already have these, when you have existing growers already in place with years of experience?
(5) Fundamentally, this raises all the questions I generally have about government grant programs. Free money creates a quicksand effect of unintended consequences, and often ends up creating a lot of hassle and cost for the recipient. And it just doesn't seem right to give things away; people value most what they've earned, not what they've been given.
I understand why they're undertaking this, because expensive infrastructure like high tunnels are often out of reach to farmers who can't get business loans from banks who don't understand their business model. We know several prospective farmers in this area who can't get started because they currently can't afford to, even though they are skilled enough to do so. However, this kind of project could be funded, say, by low-interest government loans instead, in which the recipient is still on the hook for the cost and has to pay it back by making the project work. This is also a more effective use of government funds, since they eventually get the money back instead of just shovelling it out the door.
(6) Finally, this sort of project is an excellent example of another fundamental problem I have with government: its many hands pay no attention to what each other are doing, and end up creating a great deal of overlapping projects that cancel each other out. The thinking goes, we already spend so much money propping up every other form of agriculture (commodity subsidies, irrigation subsidies for CA and the Southwest, etc.), why not put a little into direct-market farms?
I say, we'd be better off streamlining government policy and spending to eliminate the barriers to small farms and to eliminate the existing spending that creates the problem in the first place. Rather than lather money on small farms too, why not start reforming all the other parts of the system that keep them down? A large part of the reason local farms are not perceived as competitive is precisely because of existing USDA policy subsidizing their large-scale competitors and restricting vegetable production (such as the asinine rule that subsidized commodity farmers will not receive any payments for land used to grow "specialty crops" like fruits and vegetables, even if they're grown as part of a crop rotation with the commodity).
Yes, I know I'm being a curmudgeon on this. There is a strong argument which says we can't remodel the entire US ag system overnight, so why not pick away at places we can have an effect? But these things need to be said; we can't afford to continue with a government model that assumes creating programs and spending money are the only ways to achieve things. In any one case, it can sounds great. Free high tunnels for small farms! But when you look at the overall picture, it's an absurd continuation of the idea that the only thing able to fix a problem is government money.
I hope it is implemented and works to the best of its potential, as a way to develop vibrant and succesful small local farms and to learn more about the efficacy of their methods. But I'm not able to truly cheer for another continuation of big government influence in agriculture that doesn't address the root problems at hand.
Monday, December 28, 2009
As the steady rain leading up to Christmas changed to snow overnight, we enjoyed several wonderful meals. Excellent weather for a warm fire in the stove and a busy kitchen.
We prepared a good German-influenced meal for Christmas eve. Roast turkey with a sauerkraut-apple-potato stuffing, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, fresh rolls, and good German beer. Not shown are various pickles and cheeses. Most ingredients were ours, of course. While goose would be more traditional, last year we had goose for Thanksgiving, so figured we'd return the favor this year with our one turkey.
This fellow was probably the most expensive meat we've eaten, when you figure in all the time it took to raise him. But as a heritage breed from a small hatchery, raised on pasture, he also turned out to be easily the tenderest, tastiest turkey we've ever had. Not sure we're going to raise turkeys again any time soon, as they're stupid and far more prone to die than other birds. But at least this experiment ended well. We'll stick to geese for now, and hope to have a nice meat flock hatched out in the spring.
Christmas day brought Joanna's family's tradition of fresh lasagna, made with our own tomatoes and cheese. We were lazy this year and didn't make our own noodles, partly because our egg supply is very limited with only one hen laying. This version was made with a white sauce as well as tomato, so it was very creamy and rich. We added a side of fresh lime-cumin slaw, which didn't exactly match in a culinary sense, but provided the fresh greens we were craving after two heavy, non-green meals. This was our second-to-last cabbage head in storage, still tasty and crunchy.
Also not shown, but thoroughly over-indulged in, are the large selection of German Christmas cookies and Stollen loaves we always make. After a few days of this, it felt very good to get outside in the snow with a chainsaw and start doing physical work again.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
However, it's not just the opinions of chefs that we want. I know many customers read this blog during the season; if you're still out there, we want to hear from you what types and varieties of produce you want to see at market next year or in future years. Whether it's something we grew that you want to see back, something someone else grew that you want us to offer, something no one grows that we ought to, or anywhere in between, let us know. Joanna especially enjoys trying to grow new and unusual varieties, so be creative. If it is something completely new to us, it might take a couple of years to achieve market quantities, as we usually grow small test plantings first to assess performance.
This is really important to us; we've set a deadline of mid-January to finish the seed order and the planning for our field usage next year. So we need the feedback, and want to be as accessible and responsive to customers as possible. I know we also have lots of non-local readers, and I'd be happy to hear from you as well, with ideas and tips on what you find or don't find at your own markets. Emails work as well as comments: sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks in advance
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Preheat oven to 400.
1lb decent stew meat, chunked or sliced
1 good red onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet potato, diced
1 large yellow potato, diced
(other root vegetables as desired)
1/4-1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup white wine
1/4-1/2 cup apple juice
salt, pepper, and parsley (fresh or dried) to taste
Heat some oil or butter in a pan, and briefly saute the onions and garlic. Add and brown the meat on all sides. Transfer these to a deep baking dish with a cover. Deglaze the pan with the wine, then the vinegar, and add these to the baking dish. Add the potatoes or other vegetables, apple juice, and seasonings, and mix everything thoroughly. Add enough water to fill about halfway up the depth of the ingredients. Bake for at least one hour, or until potatoes are soft. Serve alone, or over rice. Goes very well with pickles, sauerkraut, applesauce, or other such sides.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Roughly clockwise from upper left, farm-sourced ingredients in italics:
2 quarts farm-recipe granola (oats, maple syrup, oil, coconut, sesame seeds, nuts)
2 quarts kale-potato soup (kale, potatoes, venison sausage, broth, leeks, garlic)
1 quart cooked beans (mixed heirloom beans)
2 quarts fresh applesauce (local apples, local honey, cinnamon, nutmeg)
2 quarts tomato sauce (winter tomatoes, onion, garlic, dried basil & parsley, hot pepper, dried green peppers, honey, paprika)
1.5 lb mixed salad greens (various lettuces, mizuna, plus two carrots)
2 quarts lentil dal (red lentils, garam masala & other spices, hot pepper, beet greens, onions)
1 quart fresh salsa (winter tomatoes, garlic, hot pepper, cumin, paprika, fenugreek)
1/2 pint tomato-apricot chutney (tomatoes, onion, apricot, more)
Large bowl sweet potato fries (sweet potatoes, olive oil)
1 batch fresh cornbread (cornmeal, egg, yogurt, leavener, local honey)
1/4 pound aged cheddar (farm-made from our milk)
1 dish baked polenta (polenta from our corn, layered with leeks, our cheese & Goatsbeard cheese)
Stack fresh wheat tortillas (Missouri wheat flour, white flour, leavener)
We also brought some desserts:
Caramel popcorn (popcorn, with scratch-made caramel)
Deep-dish apple pie (local apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, bourbon, crust of butter & local flour)
Cashew sugar cookies (butter, sugar, flour, cashews)
A few of these we used for fresh dinner the evening we stopped by: tortillas topped with fresh beans, salsa, lettuce, and shredded cheddar, with a side of roasted sweet potato fries. Everything else went into their fridge/freezer/cabinets for a few days of cooking-free enjoyment.
Putting this all together was fun, and reminded me of years past when Joanna's job would take her to remote areas for a week or more at a time, and I'd spend a day cooking up a week's worth of food to fill a cooler so she wouldn't have to eat fast food. This wasn't any harder, and was the best gift we could think of. It also serves as a good example of the potential inherent in local foods; a large percentage of this very diverse menu was sourced from our farm alone in mid-December; imagine what could be done with many such farms and the will to use, preserve, and enjoy such ingredients. If anyone tells you local foods are boring, send them these photos.
We're looking forward to many more good meals with our friends and their son, especially to the fun of him visiting regularly and learning about the farm and sources of food.
Friday, December 11, 2009
October was so wet, most of our fall cleanup waited until November. All the garden beds, and about half the field beds, get new manure spread on them after harvests are complete. We bring it in, spread it on the beds, work it in with a hoe, then mulch over the top with straw. Some beds could be done right away, others have had to wait until their contents are finally harvested.
Especially with a mild November, we've been holding many items in the ground for our own use. Greens like mustard, kale, collards, tat soi, mizuna, arugula, and more had gotten too old to sell at market, but were perfectly edible for us and friends. We also had quantities of cabbages, carrots, leeks, turnips, and radishes that were enough for us, but not for further markets. So we've been eating off these leftovers all month until some recent nights in the teens made it clear that we needed to bring them in. So we harvested as much as we could, put it in cold storage, and will make it a few more weeks. Some things, like mizuna and tat soi and turnips, we harvested into bins for use as goat and goose food while it lasts.
GOATS & GEESE
Speaking of which, we have one more kid to butcher now that deer season is done, and that will bring us back to our standard winter population of two does. Garlic is still giving us over a quart a day of milk, and I've been able to really start putting up good hard cheese for winter and spring. We'll probably dry her off by the end of December, giving her a break before expected kidding in April. The geese will do fine through the winter, eating hay, grain, and vegetable castoffs, and will hopefully start laying big, fresh eggs in late winter (they started in late February last year).
WINTER ANIMAL SHELTER
We built this winter home for the goats and geese, using chain panels purchased from a neighbor and a temporary metal roof with cedar lumber. It's lined with old alfalfa bales that weren't quite food grade, which make a solid wall from weather. One side is for each species; the chickens have their own cedar shed.
We're slowly getting started on the winter logging work, though other farm needs have really cut into this so far. This winter we'd like to finish clearing our future orchard (above) while cleaning out some of our brushier animal pastures to leave just a few nice trees instead of lots of scrub. We're also hoping to cut a few roads through parts of the property to connect fields and run water along. Finally, we need to push trees back around the market garden before building a new and better fence there. The beauty of logging cedars off future fields is that we generate all the posts we need right on-site.
This heading really also includes firewood, as I've been cutting up, splitting, and/or moving the winter's firewood supply to the house from its various locations.
Then there's the office work. Lots of it. We have our massive and complex seed order to plan and get out by mid-January, all the annoying and complicated business/personal tax stuff to figure out, our 2010 organic certification paperwork to complete and submit (including digitizing and formatting all our 2009 records), employment practices for 2010 to research and decide upon (more on that soon), updates and changes to our website, and so on. There's more; we figure we have about 3 months of office work and 3 months of outdoor work to cram into 3 months of down time before farming starts up again in late February. It's going to be a busy winter.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Yes, there is. All we have to do (OK, not all) to fix it is pass one basic law:
Farm to Consumer Free Choice Act
Farmers may offer for sale, and consumers may choose to buy, any farm-raised or -produced food product, whether whole items such as produce and fruit, or processed on-farm such as cheese and meat, without government inspection or regulation, if the following conditions are met:
a) The product being sold has been grown, produced, and processed on the farm by the farmer, with any agricultural ingredients sourced from the farm or from a regulated source. For example, dairy products must be made on the farm using only the farm's own milk, meat must be raised and butchered on the farm, and meat products such as sausage must contain only the farm's own meat. Exceptions may include necessary ingredients such as rennet or sausage casings if from a regulated source. Small-batch processors, such as artisan cheesemakers or sausage-makers, may source their ingredients from regulated sources such as Grade A dairies or inspected meat lockers, though the final product does not have to be inspected if in compliance with other aspects of this act.
b) The product being sold is offered to the final consumer only; no resale or supply to restaurants or grocery stores. Processed and packaged products should carry a label stating "product not inspected by government agencies; not for resale; produced and packed by (farm name here) on (date).
c) The consumer has visited the farm, inspected its premises and methods for themselves, and signed a mutual agreement with the farmer in which the consumer accepts responsibility for their decision to purchase the product outside government regulation, and the farmer accepts responsibility for producing a safe and healthy product.
d) The sale or transfer takes place on the farm, or at a delivery location agreed upon by both parties. No product covered under this agreement shall be offered for direct sale to the general public, as at a farmers market or roadside stand, but shall only be marketed through advertising until a customer has visited and inspected the farm as per (c).
The beauty of this law would be to create consumer freedom where desired, but in no way undercut or affect the integrity or functioning of the overall national/international food system. No product sold under this act would get into the food system, and any problems would be very easily traceable through the consumer reporting the problem. It allows those who want this right to use it, while not affecting those who do not want such things.
Would there problems and violations? Almost certainly. But they could be easily and quickly located and dealt with, and the hazards are still far lower than the gaping holes in our current system. And implementing this would cost the government nothing, while generating new tax-paying businesses and providing employment and opportunity for rural areas.
Something like this would open the door to so many entrepreneurs who may be good at making cheese, but can't afford a commercial dairy facility; or who are good at raising and butchering animals, but can't afford to work with large and/or faraway meat processors. And it would give those people a chance to grow into a business that would end up subject to the standard regulations, and rightfully so. A small artisan homestead cheese-maker could spend a few years building up their skills and customer base, then afford to take the risk of investing in a real commercial facility to keep growing. But they'll likely never do that if their only options are Do Nothing or Do Everything At The Outset.
Feedback please; this seems so obvious to me, I'd like to know what I'm not seeing. Why isn't this a slam dunk?
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Two undercover investigators with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department allegedly caught (Bechard family farm) on two occasions selling a gallon of milk each from a Springfield parking lot. Charges followed in municipal court. Piling on, the state Attorney General's Office used the health department's information to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Armand and Teddi Bechard of Conway.
Now, Missouri law is fairly clear on this (MRS 196.935):
an individual may purchase and have delivered to him for his own use raw milk or cream from a farm.
My initial reaction to this was a combination of annoyance at the government for having nothing better to do, and annoyance at the farmers for violating a clear law against selling milk outright vs. arranging prior deliveries. I feel very strongly that regardless of a law's stupidity, we are a country of laws and we are best off obeying them until we can change them. I felt that situations like this, where I thought someone was ignoring the law, made things worse for those of us trying to change it by giving ammunition to over-zealous regulators. There's a reason we refuse to sell our cheese, despite a standing list of people who would buy it from us, no question asked.
However, in a very well-written editorial, the News Leader goes on to elaborate that:
This seems absolutely right to me. I've written plenty on raw milk, such as here and here, and noted our own local Health Department's recent foray into banning otherwise legal raw milk here. It is simply absurd and offensive to me that consenting adult consumers, in a proudly free-market country like America, are banned from entering a private business relationship with farmers providing a product they want. Think of all the crazy things Americans are allowed to buy, and eat, and use...yet health departments and government spend their time on something this basic.
Armand told us the sales of the two gallons were an anomaly, caused by entrapment. He also says his family now delivers only milk that has been paid for in advance, which no one disagrees he has the right to do. The Bechards contend that the daughters, age 17 and 21, sold the two gallons only because a buyer failed to show for the pre-ordered milk in the parking lot where the Bechards meet customers to deliver various kinds of home-grown or homemade products from their family farm. Officials, though, contend that the selling constituted violations of both city and state law.
Obviously, we're not supporting willful violation of the law. But with state statutes allowing consumers to order raw milk and buy it from a family farm, the Bechards' minor screwup seems better handled through a conversation than a courtroom.
Think of all the family farms and entrepreneurs out there, or potentially out there, who aren't getting started or expanding because they're forbidden from meeting consumer demand for small farm products like milk, cheese, and meat; or because the regulations and requirements and costs for doing it the "legal" way are too difficult to meet. It's truly sad that the biggest growth sector of American agriculture (small, direct-market farms) is also the sector most targeted by government harassment and regulations, and least supported by subsidies or other beneficial actions.
Missouri, supposedly a farm state, should be ashamed of itself.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
One effect of our recent foray into Julia Child videos was an inspiration to try home sausage making. Her episode on the subject clearly laid out the basic points, and make it clear we could do this. I also turned to Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie, which does an excellent job of providing both clear instruction, useful background information, and specific explanations of key techniques like keeping all equipment and meat as cold as possible (for reasons of quality, to keep the fat from separating) and the proper and improper ways to cook a well-made sausage.
You can find lots on sausage making online, and I don't need to reinvent the wheel with a full set of instructions or definitions. What I do want to do is share a few things we tried and learned in our specific setting.
Meat/fat ratio: You have to have some good fat to make good sausage. Ruhlman suggests 5lb of fatty meat, or 4lb lean meat to 1lb fat. We were using our venison, and went with 3lb lean venison to 1lb raw (uncured) Organic pork belly from JJR Farms, from the Columbia Farmers Market. That combination worked perfectly. We violated our rule about not buying meat off-farm, but the quality of the sausage is worth it in this case (goat and deer fat just won't cut it for sausage making. One more reason to start raising hogs here...).
Spicing: After perusing all the different recipes in Ruhlman, I decided to adapt his spice mix for proper Peperone, as I wanted a spicy sausage and Joanna wanted fennel. So I used hot peppers, allspice, fennel, and paprika in Ruhlman's ratios (adjusted for 1lb less meat).
Chilling: We kept everything very cold, per Ruhlman's strenuous insistence, and it worked great. I stuck all the equipment and bowls in the fridge for a long time, and had the meat half-frozen. If the meat you're using is frozen, overnight in the fridge thaws it perfectly to the consistency of a hard potato; cuttable but not slippery. The quality was very good and the fat stayed bound with the meat.
Grinding: With all the meat cut into 1" dice, grinding went very quickly with our electric grinder.
Stuffing: We were fortunate enough to be given a set of casings by a chef friend whom we'd told about this initial experiment, and they worked great. We don't have a stuffing attachment for our grinder (that will be remedied), so I stuffed the casings by hand, using these basic kitchen tools:
These are a funnel with a narrow attachment, and the plunger from our meat grinder. I was able to slide about 2-3' of casing at a time onto the nozzle of the funnel, then held the funnel with one hand while stuffing ground meat into it and pushing it down with the other. I couldn't feel my hands by the end, with the cold meat and metal. This method doesn't give you enough pressure to fully pack the casings on the first try, so when I'd filled most of it, I slid the casing off, tied one end, and gently worked the meat fully into the casing by squeezing slowly at the open end and working up. You have to be gentle, as you're creating pressure in the casing to force the meat in, and I broke a couple. But it works well, and then I would slide the open end back on the funnel and stuff some more, then repeat. Overall, it probably took me about an hour to stuff 4lb of meat into the casings. I also did one big, round sausage wrapped in cheesecloth, a Julia Child idea for those who don't have or want to use casings.
Preservation: We froze all the sausage, as I didn't want to mess with smoking and aging on the first try. We ended up with a gallon bag full of 6-8", fat links, plus the big log in cheesecloth. Pulling these from the freezer and cooking as needed has worked great.
Cooking: Another area where Ruhlman's advice really comes in handy. He gives very specific instructions for properly cooking sausage, arguing that it should be treated like a high-end cut of meat and cooked slowly and gently, not fried over high heat as the standard American way is. After doing it his way, I would have to agree. We've slow-cooked several over low heat, turning occasionally, and gotten a very tender, juicy, evenly cooked sausage that is nothing like the blistered, blackened hot dogs I remember cooking long ago. We've also tossed chunks into soups, and added it to fresh calzones and pizzas, all with fantastic results.
Taste: This stuff is amazing. I'm going to need to try many different recipes, but for a first try it's delicious, and those we've shared it with have agreed. It's really not hard to do at home, and is well worth a try.
Friday, December 4, 2009
A sunny but cold, windy day that barely broke the freezing mark. We had a slow morning, highlighted by a batch of our favorite luxuriant breakfast, Finnish pancake. Initially the plan had been to visit Greystone Farm in Howard County, and maybe go hiking or something afterward, but our hosts had to cancel at the last minute. We ended up stopping by Goatsbeard Farm to deliver a load of firewood and pick up some goat grain, then went into Columbia for a birthday lunch at Sycamore (courtesy of a parental-in-law gift certificate). Back home for the afternoon, I did my best to get a deeply-desired second deer for her, but failed.
I did succeed at another long-anticipated present, the opening of 2009's first batch of aged cheddar, which we had saved for the birthday. We both agree this was the best batch yet. As always, Joanna made her own cake, and we enjoyed a nice dinner at home with the fire roaring.
Happy birthday, my love.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Six episodes later, we were quite impressed. I'm really not one for how-to TV shows, and expected to be at best mildly interested for historical value. But her show did an excellent job of being engaging and useful, with the right blend of showmanship and practical information. There was very little of the pomp and circumstance I normally associate with TV, simply a practical walkthrough of complicated yet basic recipes and methods. We watched shows on making sausage, making tripe, cooking lobster, roasting chicken, preparing Beef Bourguignon, and preparing whole fish, and learned a few very useful new things in every one (such as the trick of blanching whole pearl onions to make skinning them whole far easier).
I was immediately inspired to try Beef Bourguignon, which I did with some fresh venison and our own pearl onions. It was good, but for the work involved I'm not sure it was that much better than the basic braised venison I make with a red wine-juniper berry sauce that takes a few hours rather than a whole day.
We were also inspired to try sausage-making, which I'll write about in another post. Also using fresh venison, this turned out fantastically with the inspiration from Julia and the detailed guidance of Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie, which I dusted off from its neglected corner of our cookbook shelf.
Beyond the cooking tips, we found the show to be a fascinating look into the American food system in the 60's. We noticed many things that Julia took for granted which are gone now, and other things which have developed.
For example, she made the now-quaint observation that chicken-butchering laws were different in each state, and the viewer should find out whether their state's laws are sound or loose. This, of course, operates on the assumption that the chicken you buy at the grocery store COMES from your state, or is butchered in your state, which is rarely the case anymore.
She also assumed that viewers had access to an independant butcher who cut up whole animals as a matter of course, such that you could get unusual or interesting pieces or cuts just by asking. That is certainly not the case anymore in most of the country.
We also noticed that she was very laissez-faire regarding kitchen cleanliness, blithely handling all sorts of raw meat with her bare hands and going all over the kitchen touching everything without ever washing her hands or wiping anything down. In later-dated episodes she started using a towel to wipe her hands off after handling meat, and making mention that raw meat could be dangerous, but it was still a far cry from today's baseline opinion of raw meat. The shows we watched probably couldn't be aired today without a disclaimer about food safety, or at least without a serious sanitzer bath for the whole kitchen after every episode.
All in all, it was a fascinating look into an influential part of American food history, and we learned a lot. Hopefully we can find more episodes for long winter nights that cry out for interesting new cooking ideas.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
We hate mayonnaise, and much prefer vinegar-based coleslaws. Our all-time favorite is the Asian cabbage slaw on p. 103 of Moosewood New Classics, which uses a fantastic dressing of sesame oil, orange juice, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and more with a simple base of shredded cabbage and carrots. We make it pretty much by the book, which is worth the purchase just for the specific recipe (though it is one of our best cookbooks in general).
Joanna found an unusual-sounding recipe for Swedish cabbage soup on p. 23 of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, which uses potatoes, onion, caraway, cabbage, and dill to produce a really nicely flavored soup that is excellent on a cold day. She made a big batch and we enjoyed it for days.
Commercial kraut tastes nothing like the real thing, whether made fresh or home-preserved. We're very partial to our homemade lacto-fermented kraut, which is very easy to make with just a few ingredients, but has just the right flavor. You can also make a fresh version of kraut by simmering chopped cabbage with apples, white wine, broth, cider vinegar, salt, and anything else you might want. This is an easy way to complement potatoes, sausage, stew, or other Teutonic meals.
Chopped cabbage adds excellent heft to stir fries, spring rolls, soups, and other vegetable dishes with Asian roots. I rely heavily on it for family Filipino recipes like pancit.
Cabbage can also add flavor and heft to salads; think of it as a tastier and heftier version of Iceberg lettuce. I've seen restaurants serve just cabbage wedges with dressing, and when shredded it complements more tender greens nicely.
GROWING IT FOR MARKET
We haven't ever tried to grow large quantities of cabbage for market. Organically-grown cabbage is quite susceptible to insect damage, and is particularly troublesome to sell as often these little buggers creep down into the tightly packed head where we can't wash them out or find them prior to sale. Our first line of defense against insect damage is row cover, but we've found that even a few holes will let the adult moths through to lay eggs that soon hatch into ravenous caterpillars. Also, we have had occurrences of aphid outbreaks under row cover, and when that happens, we find that taking the row cover off is the best strategy to combat the aphids, because natural predators of aphids (such as lacewings) can come to the rescue. However, removing the row cover gives free access to the cabbage moths.
Because we're stubborn and refuse to use even organically approved sprays (such as Bt), we often end up hand picking lots of little caterpillars off of cabbage plantings. We can keep their populations in check to produce nice-looking heads, but they're pretty well guaranteed to have some damage on the outside and some worms and worm poop on the inside.
We don't care about this for home use, as it's mostly cosmetic and can be dealt with by cutting the cabbage open and rinsing through the leaves before using. Some customers would be fine with that, too, to get nice big cabbage heads that haven't been sprayed. But it's taking a real risk to bring those heads to market when they could just as easily sell to someone who will be really offended by the worms and give us a P.R. black eye. Plus, the going price for cabbage is pretty low, held down by the sprayed variety that's pretty simple to grow if that's your thing. So it's not something we've really focused on, though we quite enjoy our own supply with its built-in protein supplement.