Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

Homemade apple cider vinegar is easy to make. There are 2 basic methods, and if you happen to be a home-brewer, you may elect to start by making your own 'hard' cider. For the rest of us, the easy way is similar, but much shorter and less complicated.

Either way, the fruit sugars must be converted, first into a fizzy alcohol, then the alcohol breaks down in the presence of oxygen into acetic acid, which is vinegar. (Many home wine makers have inadvertently made wine vinegar instead of wine, myself included.)

To begin, you  will need a container, some apples and a bit of some raw apple cider vinegar to use as a culture. Choice of apple varieties greatly affects the resulting taste, and I'll post later on apples for making cider. For now, just juice your own apples, or if you are lucky enough to be at a country fair where someone is pressing apples, get some fresh juice. Using bottled apple juice will not give you the health benefits of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

(I apologize... I lost who took this photo)

Fresh apple juice will start to ferment into alcohol on its own within a day or two (due to the yeast that naturally occur on the apples and in the air), so don't delay in starting this process unless you want to make hard cider. When you have your fresh juice, measure it, and add 5-6% by volume of the raw apple cider vinegar you obtained, or had on your pantry shelf. A half-gallon canning jar works well for fermentation, but if you have a crock, by all means use it but don't fill either one up all the way. Stir the mix well, pour into the jar, cover with several layers of butter muslin (fine muslin), and stick it in a dark closet. I fasten the cloth with a rubber band. The object is to keep dust out yet allow oxygen in, necessary for the bacteria to convert the alcohol into acetic acid.

The bacteria do their conversion work on the surface, so surface area affects total time to usable product. That's what makes a crock work better: less liquid depth to surface area. In a canning jar, it might take 3-6 months. During the fermentation, a "mother' should form on the surface, perhaps with spots or strands, formed by the bacterial digestion, and it will have a clean but sour smell. There should be no mold forming on the surface.

After several months, it should no longer have any fizz. When the fizz is gone, you know all the sugars have been converted! It should have a sour taste on your tongue, not a fizzy residual taste... and you have vinegar! Now, siphon off half the vinegar into a bottle, cap it, and you have raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar ready to use. Take it internally, use it topically, use it on salads with extra virgin olive oil, cook with it... you'll love it!

With the remaining half still in the bottle, top it off with more FRESH apple juice, starting the fermenting procedure all over again. This process can go on for years, giving you a continual supple of good, healthy apple cider vinegar.

Now, if you want to make hard cider first, I suggest you begin by checking with your state laws as they all vary in the legality of making hard cider. If it's legal, go for it. I have never made hard cider, so here's a link that sounds like an excellent starting point. Once you have your aged hard cider, here's their link for making some of it into cider vinegar.

Here's another easy method I have read about but not tried: Put apple cores in a jar and cover with non-chlorinated water. Add 2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar. Put a breathable top to the jar, such as a fine-woven cloth fastened with a rubber band or string. When the bubbling calms down, you should have vinegar. Not much to lose. Hey, were you planning to save those apple cores for something else?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Raw Apple Cider Vinegar?

Raw, unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar (not the sterile, distilled, nutrition-less apple cider vinegar sold in grocery stores) has mainly been used for centuries for its health benefits (and some surprising benefits in and around the household). I have been buying and using Bragg's apple cider vinegar off and on for at least 40 years, but only lately have I become convinced that this unassuming vinegar is potent for my health. (There are other brands, but Bragg's has national distribution in natural foods stores and in many grocery stores, and has been around almost a hundred years.)

Now I have learned I can make it myself. There are 2 basic processes; one is by the purists who first make real hard (alcoholic) cider as the base. The other, easy home-method, is starting with freshly pressed apple juice, adding the culture and processing...

I'll cover both ways in following posts, but first... why should anyone use raw, organic ACV daily, what will it do for each of us, and why bother to make my own?

There is so much emphasis today in marketing about everything being pasteurized or irradiated to become sterile (thus devoid of health benefits) that I'm sure an immediate concern, if you are unfamiliar with raw apple cider vinegar, is that raw ACV is not pasteurized. Vinegars in general, raw or distilled, have antiseptic properties. Raw vinegar is perfectly safe because pathogens cannot live in that acidic solution. Because it is raw, it contains all the natural acids, enzymes, minerals and nutrients that are destroyed from distilled apple cider vinegar in processing.

Raw apple cider vinegar taken internally helps the body with digestion, metabolism of minerals (esp. calcium), balance pH, support the immune system, and is said to help control weight and help longevity. Applied externally, it soothes skin problems and helps aching muscles.

Around the house, raw vinegar is an excellent all-purpose cleaner, particularly in the kitchen and bath. Use it in cooking by adding a bit to the water for poaching eggs... it helps them clump. Add some to potato or cauliflower cooking water to keep veggies whiter. Add some to gelatin to help hold it firm, and to the water for boiling eggs so the whites don't leak from cracks in the shells.

Use raw vinegar to clean galvanized metal objects before painting. Add some to animal/pet water to reduce pet odors, keep coats shiny, and promote health.
Bragg's advertises their "Bragg Healthy Cocktail" is designed to flush out wastes that are clogging the organs of elimination, the bowels, lungs, skin, and the kidneys. Take it at least twice a day, and you will start to see changes like increased energy, soft skin, and decreased muscle and joint aches from exercise. Make sure you use raw, organic vinegar, never dead, distilled vinegar because the natural enzymes, minerals, and nutrients are destroyed in the distilling process. Any vinegar that is clear and has no "mother" (the strand-like substance in the bottom of the bottle) has no nutritional value. Natural raw vinegar should be pungent, with a rich, brownish color and a visible "mother."

Patricia Bragg, N.D. Ph.D., Health Crusader and daughter of founder Paul Bragg, recommends a "healthy cocktail" of 2 teaspoons of their ACV twice daily, in distilled water, sweetened with a natural sugar if you prefer. I don't sweeten mine as I rather like the taste, and  I don't use distilled water, although I do avoid using chlorinated water. I took 2 tsp. twice daily for about a month, and now generally take it just in the mornings, or just at bedtime. There was an almost immediate, noticeable difference in how I felt.

It seems to me that something used for great benefits for so many centuries deserves merit. ACV was used by the Egyptians as far back as 3000 BCE, used as well as the Babylonians, and Julius Caesar's army used a vinegar tonic to stay healthy and fight off disease. Hippocrates, in 400 BC, treated his patients with apple cider vinegar.

The Greeks and Romans kept vinegar 'vessels' for healing, and for flavoring and preserving food. In Paris, vinegar was sold by the barrel and was used for deodorant, and for a delicious tonic drink to keep the body ageless. Even Christopher Columbus took vinegar barrels for his sailors on his long sea travels to prevent scurvy and disinfect wounds.

There is nothing 'magical' in Bragg's ACV; it is simply a raw apple cider vinegar (which you can make) with a bit of the 'mother' still in the bottle. ('Mother' is the substance containing various bacteria that forms on the surface of liquids undergoing acetous fermentation. It can be added to wine, cider, etc. to promote vinegar formation. Also called "mother of vinegar."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Japanese Beetle Infestation

It's too late to do any prevention for this year's Japanese Beetles, but here's a suggestion for capturing some this year before they do much damage. I use it in preference to the 'pick and squish' method.

You could also try interplanting with species that are known to actively repel the adults: white mums, rue, tansy, larkspur, garlic, citronella. Down below the recipe is a prevention suggestion for next year.

Japanese Beetle Mix
This recipe is to be used in the height of the Japanese Beetle season.

1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 mashed banana
1 pkg yeast

Mix all ingredients in a milk jug. Place the jug (with the top off) in an area where Japanese Beetles gather. The bugs get in but not out. (It doesn't draw all the neighbor's Japanese Beetles the way the traps do.)

A very organic way to go after those beetles!

Prevention is not much help for this year, but controlling grubs in the immediate area will reduce the numbers in succeeding years. Chemical controls are best applied in late summer, after the current season's eggs have hatched and the grubs have begun to feed. There are numerous products available for eliminating grubs, the one you choose must be labeled for white grubs, and the package directions must be followed exactly. Your local Cooperative Extension Service can help determine the best time to apply in your area.
Biological controls include beneficial nematodes and Milky Spore disease, and both of these attack only grubs, and prevent recurrence for years. See "Help! Grubs are killing my lawn!" for more info on biological controls for grubs.

Keeping Potatoes

I keep potatoes all winter and into spring in my root cellar, buried in straw. The standard tips for storing potatoes are storing them out of light, having good air circulation, and optimal temps of 42-55ºF and high humidity so they don't dry out. Potatoes should not be washed before storing, and they should be allowed to cure for 2-3 days in a cool place to harden the fragile skins.

Check carefully for blemishes and soft spots, or damage from digging. Use those right away (or discard) instead of storing. Store in paper bags but not plastic bags so they can breathe. (As I said, I bury mine in straw.) Potatoes exposed to light will develop a green tint which make the potatoes bitter, and eating a lot of green potatoes at one time is potentially toxic.

Potatoes will enter a period of dormancy, and research has shown temperatures of 42-50ºF extends dormancy the longest although that varies somewhat with variety. The colder temps, however, will cause the potato starch to turn to sugar, and those potatoes if fried will be dark. Do not store potatoes next to onions or fruit, which produce hormones and gasses that will spoil both crops.

I always lose a few from rot, probably from a blemish I overlooked when storing them. But, by the time spring rolls around and the temps are warming, the remaining potatoes always start to sprout, even in the absence of light.

Recently I read on The Old Foodie a notion she took from old ship's logs (logged 200 or more years ago). It seems the potatoes stored on ships for the long voyage from England to Australia didn't fare well. One log said if you drop the fresh potatoes in boiling water for a minute or so, then chill immediately, it 'cooks' the eyes just enough that the potato will not use it's energy to sprout, and will keep better on the long journey.

I'm curious to see if it really works, so I think I will experiment with a few potatoes this winter. I always have an abundance from my garden. The only thing is for me to remember that the potatoes I dip have to be set aside so I don't try to use them in spring as seed potatoes!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hide your Salt Shaker

 Rock Salt Photo from nate steiner's photostream

Now the Feds want to regulate salt...

The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.

"We can't just rely on the individual to do something," said Cheryl Anderson, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who served on the Institute of Medicine committee. "Food manufacturers have to reduce the amount of sodium in foods."

So, the FDA wants to regulate the amount of salt in manufactured foods, which on the surface sounds like a good idea. In my opinion, manufactured 'foods' are way too high in sodium. Of course in my opinion manufactured foods aren't real foods at all, but that's not relevant to this post.

Salt essential for animal life in small quantities, but salt is harmful in excess to plants and animals. The sodium it provides regulates the heartbeat and the body’s balance of fluids. And not only does salt keep you alive, it’s also pretty tasty. Salt flavor is one of the basic tastes, making salt one of the oldest, most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salt is essential to much of our food preservation. 

Salt works in tandem with fat and sugar to achieve flavors that grip the consumer and do not let go — an allure the food industry has recognized for decades. “Once a preference is acquired,” a top scientist at Frito-Lay wrote in a 1979 internal memorandum, “most people do not change it, but simply obey it.”

So instead of controlling the salt, maybe the Feds should control ALL the known but hidden addictive ingredients so prevalent in our foods, and making us fat and unhealthy?

Back in March, when I wrote about gun control, I questioned why the government has the right to regulate things like helmet laws, or seat belt laws. Now that the Feds are in the Health Care business they want to regulate things which, in their opinion, will make us healthier? (And save them money on our healthcare costs?) As long as the Feds continue to promote the erroneous opinion that natural saturated fats are bad, and GM products are good, we will have rising health care costs, and salt has very little to do with it.

I drink real cream (not half and half) in my morning coffee... the almost real stuff (not totally real because it is pasteurized). What would keep them from deciding that's too much saturated fat in their opinion, and they outlaw cream? Or that no one should ever have a cocktail because it leads to alcoholism in a few people?

Corporations enter the Battle
Cargill is the world's largest marketer of salt products, with the ability to sell over 18 million tons annually. Last November, they kicked off a campaign to spread their own message, with star chef Alton Brown, to promote cooking with salt. They are aware of the health concerns and are recommending 'smarter salting'...

“Salt is a pretty amazing compound,” Alton Brown, a Food Network star, gushes in a Cargill video called Salt 101. “So make sure you have plenty of salt in your kitchen at all times.” Mr. Brown suggests sprinkling it on foods like cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and coffee. "You might be surprised by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss."

I'm not against salt at all, and in fact I agree with Alton Brown on the importance of salt in foods. I just wish Mr. Brown wasn't speaking for Cargill. I use salt in my cooking (haven't tried it ice cream) and most of the salt I use is grey salt, full of minerals, hand harvested from the coast of Brittany. Much of my food would taste pretty bland without a pinch of salt. (Salt used in cooking and at the table, coupled with naturally occurring salt in foods, all together add up to well under 1/4 of the average daily intake of most Americans.)

It's not the salt alone that I worry about. I'm leery of giant corporations in general, for the power and influence they can bring to bear, and more so when they launch a dedicated 'sales' campaign. Over this past winter, road salt increased 156% in some areas. Grocery prices are up and expected to increase 7.5% every year for at least the next 5 years, especially staples... and certainly salt is a staple in every kitchen.

Here are some remarks about Cargill, from Wikipedia:

Cargill, Incorporated is a privately held, multinational corporation, and is based in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota. It has grown into the country's largest privately held corporation (in terms of revenue).

Cargill's business activities include purchasing, processing, and distributing grain and other agricultural commodities, and the manufacture and sale of livestock feed and ingredients for processed foods and pharmaceuticals.

The company also supplies approximately 22 percent of the United States domestic meat market. All of the eggs used in McDonald's  restaurants in the United States pass through Cargill's plants. They are the largest poultry producer in Thailand.

I'm sure the battle will go on, and probably with a furor, since the FDA thinks it is their appointed duty to save us from ourselves.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Protecting Computer Equipment cheaply with Faraday Cages or a Microwave

There has been a lot of talk for several years about protecting electronic equipment from magnetic storms, solar flares, and any potential nuclear explosions when some idiot hits the panic button and sets off the bomb, or even a suitcase nuke is set off by terrorists. NASA warns solar flares from 'huge space storm' predicted soon will cause devastation. Every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks, while the number of sun spots – or flares – hits a maximum level every 11 years.

Dr Fisher, a Nasa scientist for 20 years, said these two events would combine around 2013 to produce unprecedented levels of radiation. (Other scientists give a wider range of potential timing, and spanning several years.) 

In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken. Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.

Due to humans’ heavy reliance on electronic devices, which are sensitive to magnetic energy, the storm could leave a multi-billion dollar damage bill and “potentially devastating” problems for governments.

As an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) travels to earth, whether from a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME, projected for 2012) or a nuclear detonation in the atmosphere, it hits and runs along electrical power lines as well, building up voltage and amperage, which is what happened during the last solar storm a dozen years ago, blowing out transformers and leaving 6 million people in eastern Canada without power for weeks.

There are lots of sites online on how to build a Faraday Cage, which blocks the radiation and grounds it outside into the earth. When Einstein and others first refined and purified uranium, they took time off and studied its properties. That's when they discovered the "rays" that were harmful, as well as the phase transformations. In the course of their work, one of the scientists discovered that simply covering an object with a grounded copper mesh would stop virtually all electromagnetic radiation, whether proton or neutron. Obviously, they had to protect their monitoring equipment! Thus was born the "Faraday cage."

Solar flares vary in strength and in impact on Earth’s magnetic field. The flares are highly radioactive, although humans are protected from this radiation by the atmosphere. What suffers is technology. The heat from the flares can damage satellites, and magnetic rays can disturb radio communications. 

The bottom line is that we don't know for sure 'when'... but we do know the possibility of electromagnetic energy affecting our electronics, esp. computers along with magnetic hard drives and back-up disks is always lurking, whether from solar flares or some nut with a trigger finger. So, the time to prepare is now.

Building a Faraday Cage actually isn't expensive, nor hard to do. (The easiest idea is below.) It can be as simple as getting 2 cardboard boxes that fit tightly one inside the other. Wrap the outside box with heavy duty aluminum foil, then plastic to protect the foil from ripping. Run a ground wire from the foil outside to the ground, and attach the end to a ground rod. Place the smaller box, which provides insulation, inside the lined box and put your computer and drives in it. (Or radios, TV's, etc. You should always have a protected emergency radio.)

Something like a printer paper box with a lid might work and give you daily access to the computer, just be sure to line the lid. I have no idea if one layer of HD aluminum foil would block really strong magnetic pulses, but I might consider building a copper foil-lined box for small electronic items (other than my computer and stored data).

However, here's a much quicker and cheaper solution. Microwaves ARE Faraday cages. They are made to contain the RF signals generated by the cavity magnetron which cooks the food. Since they are made to block RF signals from escaping the unit, they will also block RF waves from entering it. And it has a door for easy access.

Get an old, non-working but intact microwave free from a landfill, town dump, or recycling center (or your neighbor!). Put it in your office, and keep your valuable magnetic data and computer in it when you aren't using it. You should cut off the electric plug and run a heavy copper ground wire from the ground wire in the cable outside and ground it. The heavier, the more juice it will carry, but be sure it is small enough in diameter you can bend it into corners, and out. I'm inclined to buy the cheap grounding rods that are pounded deep in the earth and used to ground your house electricity. Most are about 8' long, pointed on one end, and used to be under $5. Get a good clamp, too.

I have a huge over-the-stove microwave stored out in the barn. (It works, I just won't use a microwave for the damage it does to foods.) It's big enough to hold all my disks, drives, and 17" laptop. Plus, it will keep everything dust-free... something my office does not. I'll park it on the counter in back of my desk, along with the coffeepot, where it will be handy enough to access every day.

Another tip
You could buy a small sheet of pliable copper foil in a craft shop, and line a cell phone pouch with it. The phone wouldn't receive a signal inside the pouch so you wouldn't use it normally, but you might have some warning of when to use the shield. Any strong geomagnetic storm will likely come with extraordinarily intense aurorae. This won't be just visible at the poles -- during the 1989 storm, the aurora borealis was seen as far south as Texas, and the auroras of 1859 are thought to be perhaps the most spectacular ever witnessed throughout recent recorded history. 

Such a visual display could prove useful as a warning of incoming magnetic disruption, giving you time to shield your cell phone immediately. Hopefully, you put your computer in the old microwave before you left home!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Some effects of my new food protocol

I have been tracking my weight loss on my new food protocol since early April, over on the right column here. However, I haven't said much about how I'm doing, or feeling otherwise so it's time for an update.

I am now off all my prescription meds. One was for acid reflux (the dosage had even doubled from last summer to last December); another was a beta blocker and my blood pressure is staying lower, and the third was thyroid.

I was very aware I had no stomach distress (nor belching) within 2 weeks of dropping starchy carbs (mostly legumes, pasta and breads) and all sugars from my diet. However, until I recently saw a crass TV ad where the man farts loudly, I hadn't really noticed that I never get gas anymore either. That means my digestive system is processing (and hopefully absorbing) what I eat quite nicely, without having to work hard on non-digestibles.

On the days I start off with my vitamins taken just before breakfast, I have good energy all day, and sleep well through the night. Unfortunately, lately I have been getting busy some mornings and forget. I sure can tell the difference if I have skipped even 1-2 days. I take half a teaspoon or so of a butter-oil / fermented cod liver oil (it's really not too bad, more like swallowing a soft pat of butter, and I wash it down with coffee); the oil is high in natural Vitamins A and D; additionally I take another 1,000 units of Vitamin D with lunch and again with dinner. I also take 1,000 mg Vitamin C at breakfast, and 2 horse-size tabs of calcium citrate with D at breakfast and dinner.

Typical meals for a day start with 2 cups coffee with heavy cream (non ultra-pasteurized), bacon and 2 farm eggs, maybe a side of left-over veggie. A late lunch might be a hamburger patty or 1-2 hard boiled eggs, some homemade plain yogurt and a wedge of a raw milk cheese. Dinner is a portion of meat (lamb, beef, chicken, pork or sometimes trout) that I sauté in cold-pressed coconut oil mixed with organic summer butter, or in bacon fat. I have a small green salad (my tomatoes are just nubbins on the vine so far) dressed with EVOO and raw apple cider vinegar, and a green veggie, depending on what's in the garden. Every 2 weeks or so I may have a small baked sweet potato, with butter of course.

I am told to never let myself get hungry, which leads to popping just anything in my mouth, even if it's wrong. So I always keep a snack available, especially when I leave the house. I keep some good cheese, yogurt and hard boiled eggs in the fridge all the time.

Amazingly, I didn't miss sugar after the first week. Bread was a lot harder! I do eat a small bit of fruit, like berries from my garden, but my endocrinologist wants that kept to a bare minimum until we know more about my thyroid triggers. (Fruit is very high in sugars, same for milk but I can have fermented milk products like yogurt and kefir because the sugars have been converted into lactic acid.) I drink lots of water with fresh lemon, all day long.

I don't eat anything processed nor packaged (except butter and milk which of course come in a 'package'). My skin is healthier-looking, even with my 70-year old wrinkles. I need to walk more; the only exercise I get is gardening and it isn't enough.

I have blood work scheduled July 7th, a complete lipid panel, so I'll know about cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, my doc forgot to order the lipid panel in March just before I started this protocol so I don't have a good starting point. Ten years ago my cholesterol was almost 400.  My doc at the time started me on chloresterol-lowering meds when it was near 400, but I turned out to be allergic to all the meds;  after switching to just butter and EVOO, it dropped to around 220 in less than a year. I doubt it was much lower when I started this, as I had no idea how many bad fats (partially hydrogenated soybean and other vegetable oils, plus trans-fats) were in the fast foods and prepared foods I was eating.

For only a scant three months of eating this way, I must say I feel a lot better. Not 100%. I only wish someone had clued me in about this when I was 50!

Summer Overheating and Homemade Electrolytes

Two weeks ago I had a young man working for me in the garden, weeding and hauling new mulch for the beds. It was a hot, still day (hot here means temps in the upper 80's) and within an hour his face was beet red and he was sweating profusely. I made him sit in the shade with a cool cloth on the back of his neck but he continued to feel dizzy and nauseated. I finally realized he was drinking LOTS of water, flushing out the various salts the body needs for normal function. I took him home, but wished my pantry held some kind of electrolytes.

This time of the year finds many couch potatoes out in the garden, over-exerting and upsetting their electrolyte balance. Gatorade and/or Pedialyte are good to have on hand, but a simple solution may be easily made at home.

Electrolyte Solution
1 quart water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp. Lite Salt (which is a salt and potassium chloride blend, or use regular salt if that's all you have)
6-10 teaspoons granulated sugar
(For flavor and color you might add half a package of unsweetened Kool-Aid*)

Mix well. Store in refrigerator for up to one week. Freeze some in ice trays or as popsicles to use later.
Helps replace lost electrolytes due to dehydration (diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating). Do not give to small children, instead seek medical advice.

This is not meant to be medical advice for anyone.

*The "unsweetened" form of Kool Aid contains fruit flavoring, citric acid, calcium phosphate, salt and Vitamin C. The "sugar sweetened" mix adds sugar, sodium citrate, and the preservative BHA. The "sugar free" mixes add aspartame (Nutrasweet) and acesulfame potassium.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kucinich Announces Right to Know Legislation

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, (D-OH), a long-time advocate of family farmers and organic foods, made the following statement after the Supreme Court voted 7-1 to allow the experimental planting of genetically modified alfalfa seed before an environmental review is completed:

"Today the Supreme Court ruled that when it comes to genetically modified organisms, we as consumers have to wait until the damage is done and obvious before we can act to protect health and the environment, even if that damage could be irreversible."

"Haven't we learned from the catastrophe in the Gulf of the dangers of technological arrogance, of proceeding ahead with technologies without worrying about the consequences? Why do we continue to throw precaution to the wind?

"Tomorrow I will introduce three bills that will provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for all Genetically Engineered (GE) plants, animals, bacteria, and other organisms. To ensure we can maximize benefits and minimize hazards, Congress must provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for all GE products. Structured as a common-sense precaution to ensure GE foods do no harm, these bills will ensure that consumers are protected, food safety measures are strengthened, farmers' rights are better protected and biotech companies are responsible for their products."

While I think that is both a necessary and a laudable idea, (and I haven't seen the bills yet) Dennis Kucinich has sponsored 98 bills since Jan 7, 1997 of which 94 haven't made it out of committee, and only 3 were successfully enacted. (Note: those numbers do not include co-sponsored bills.)

The Economics of Skim Milk

Do you ever wonder why skim milk is so highly advertised as "good for you?"

Consider this: Butter is a big selling, profitable item, so dairy producers (not the underpaid dairy farmer!) make lots of butter. Then, the question is what to do with the left-over "milk by-product" because it certainly isn't milk anymore? There's nothing left in it but water, a little protein and a small percentage of water soluble vitamins. For every pound of butter produced, there remains 26 liquid pounds of 'milk by-product' to do something with...

By definition, a 'by-product' is a secondary or incidental product deriving from a manufacturing process. A 'by-product' can be useful and marketable, or it can be considered waste.

If the cow was in your pasture, you might also have a pig, and use the 'milk by-product' to feed it because it still contains the protein. Not so in a factory. No pigs. A gallon of 'milk by-product' (skimmed milk) has a density of 8.637 pounds per US gallon. So, 26 pounds of 'milk by-product' is roughly 3 gallons. And it's perishable.

"Gee, what if we do a big advertising campaign and sell it as "good for you"? Heck, we could probably bottle it and sell it for the same price as milk!"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cross-Pollination and Saving Squash Seed

Species joined by a solid line do not cross, but crossing may occur between species connected by a broken line.

One of  my friends has started a large CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this year, and the subject of saving seeds came up. Obviously, if you can save seeds from OP (open pollinated) and/or heirloom varieties, you can save some money the following year by not having to purchase seeds again. However, some vegetables are notorious for cross-pollinating, like peppers and squash. Commercial pepper farms isolate varieties by 1500 feet, which isn't practical for CSA's or the home gardener.

Beans (P. vulgaris) rarely cross naturally, but lima beans (P. lunatus) and runner beans (P. coccineus) will. Tomatoes will cross, although it's hard for insects to actually get to the pollen. You can isolate varieties by a trap crop (like peppers) between them. With any vegetable saved for seeds, save only the very best, and save several of the same variety mixed together, even mix with a few of the original seeds if they are only a year or two old. ALWAYS save enough of the original seed to plant out the following 2 years in case of a crop failure.

Any vegetable that cross-pollinates will still grow the first year just as it is supposed to do, but any saved seeds will likely produce some strange looking veggies the following year. Here's a lesson on cross pollination on the Curcurbit family, and down below that, a tip on how to easily isolate seeds so they do not cross pollinate.

To be honest, this information is most likely copied word for word from someone's site on the internet, but I've had it in my files for ages, with no source listed. It may even be copyrighted material and I apologize, but I'm just using it for education, which is allowed by law.

Plants in the Cucurbitaceae or gourd family belong to four species among which crosses may occur. The success of such crossing depends on the species to which a variety belongs. Plants belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family produce separate male and female blooms on the same plant. Insects are usually required to cross-pollinate blooms.

This refers to the drawing above: Species joined by a solid line do not cross, but crossing may occur between species connected by a broken line.

The more common varieties of gourd, pumpkin, and squash belong to the species indicated below:

C. pepo: Casserta, Cocozefle, Connecticut Field, Delicata, Early Prolific Straightneck, English Marrow, Golden Custard, Orange Gourd, Pea, Gourd, Small Sugar, Table Queen or Acorn, Tours, Tricolor Spoon Gourd, Uconn, White Bush Scallop, Winter Luxury, Yellow Crookneck, and Zucchini.

C. moschata: Alagold, Butternut, Calhoun, Chirimen, Dickinson Field, Golden Winter Crookneck, Kentucky Field, Large Cheese, Sugar Marvel, and Turkish Honey.

C. mixta: Green Striped Cushaw, Japanese Pie, Silverseed Gourd, Tennessee Sweet Potato, and White Cushaw.

C. maxima: Banana, Boston Marrow, Buttercup, Delicious (all types), Essex Hybrid, French Turban, Hubbard (all types), Mammoth, Mammoth Chili, Marblehead, and Olive.

Pumpkins and squashes do not cross-pollinate with cucumbers, watermelons or citron. Watermelons and citron both belong to the same genus Citullus and, therefore, will cross-pollinate each other. Muskmelons and Casaba melons will cross since they are both in the same genus Cucumis and also in the same species melo.

Here's a tip on how to get non-cross-pollinated seed:

You can plant squash of the same species and save seeds too. Check your blossoms the night before and pick a male and female that should open the next morning. Take a bit of masking tape and tape the blossom ends shut. The next morning, pick your male flower and untape. Untape your female and hand pollinate it. Tape it back shut, and mark that blossom with a bit of yarn or something. 

Squash produce so many seeds, that you can do 2 or 3 flowers and have tons of seed for growing, trading or selling. Then let everything grow and pollinate as they naturally do. When harvest time comes, you have your marked squash to save seeds from. Once a flower is pollinated (and not subject to pollen carried on the wind), you could also put it in a little net bag; just don't use the drawstring as it can be hard to remove. Use a twist-tie or a bit of cotton around the stem.

Cucurbit flowers open shortly after sunrise and remain open until late afternoon or early evening. Accordingly, each flower is open for only a few hours. The honeybee is the most common and effective pollinator of cucurbits. Honeybee activity closely coincides with the period when the flower is open. Honeybee visitation begins an hour or two after sunrise and continues until midafternoon. If temperatures are very warm, bee activity may decline about noon. Research on cantaloupe pollination conducted in California showed that bee visitations increased until 10 a.m. and then declined until 3 p.m. when activity almost ceased.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pickled Garlic Scapes

I didn't plant garlic last fall to harvest this summer, first time in years I haven't grown garlic. I need a new bed with better drainage, although most years the bed I have is adequate. Last year I lost about half my garlic, shallots and leeks to a wet year and poor drainage.

I seldom used all my scapes when I grew garlic, and many went to waste. This recipe for Pickled Garlic Scapes came in a newsletter from Southern Seed Exposure and it sounds delish. They adapted a recipe for dilly beans found in Sandor Katz's book Wild Fermentation. These are not naturally fermented like Katz would do (which would be healthier and full of lactic acid) but made like today's vinegar canned pickles.

Pickled Garlic Scapes
Garlic scapes. Trim by snapping off the tough flower end and breaking into lengths that will fit into quart jars with at least half an inch of head space. We get 1 or 2 pieces per scape.

Whole dried chili peppers
Celery seed
Dried dill
White vinegar (champagne/white wine vinegar is less harsh and smoother than distilled vinegar)

1. Thoroughly clean as many glass quart canning jars as you think you'll be filling - make your best guess.

2. Place in each jar: 1 tsp. salt, 1 whole dried pepper, 1 Tbsp. dill, and a small pinch of celery seed. Then pack each jar as tightly as you can with the trimmed garlic scapes standing on end.

3. For each jar, measure 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water. Bring the vinegar-water mixture to a boil, then pour it into the jars over the scapes, up to one half inch from the top of the jar, being sure all scapes are covered. Top off all jars, leave about a quarter of an inch of headspace; make more brine if necessary.

4. Close the jars with new lids, then place them in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes to heat process. Once the jars are cool, make sure the seals are good by checking that the button at the center of the lid doesn't pop.

"While you can let the flavors meld for a few weeks, we think these are pretty tasty after just a few days. You can skip the last step and keep the jars in the refrigerator and they'll stay good for several weeks. But if you do this step, you can store them for years without refrigeration."

They sound yummy enough that I will make some next year when I grow garlic again, but I will do a natural fermentation.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monsanto's Supreme Court Spin in High Gear

"It should be no surprise that Monsanto's PR machine is working hard to spin the truth in this morning's decision in the first-ever Supreme Court case on genetically engineered crops (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms). Despite what the biotech seed giant is claiming, today's ruling isn't close to the victory they were hoping for.

The 7-1 decision issued today by the Supreme Court was on the appeal of the Center for Food Safety's (CFS) successful suit, which resulted in a ban on GMO alfalfa. And, while the High Court ruled in favor of Monsanto by reversing an injunction that was part of the lower court's decision, more importantly, it also ruled that the ban on GMO alfalfa remains intact, and that the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa remains illegal.

The Supreme Court ruled that an injunction against planting was unnecessary since, under lower courts' rulings, Roundup Ready Alfalfa became a regulated item and illegal to plant. In other words, the injunction was "overkill' because our victory in lower federal court determined that USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws when it approved Roundup Ready alfalfa. The court felt that voiding the USDA's decision to make the crop legally available for sale was enough.

And yet, Monsanto is out there in a public statement saying that they've won a great victory. They claim that they're ready to sell Roundup Ready Alfalfa seeds now, and that they hope that their farmers should be able to plant by fall 2010. It's a canny statement, but neither of those potential situations is by any means possible at this point. The bottom line: the ban on planting Roundup Ready Alfalfa still stands.

In addition, the Court opinion supported the Center's argument that gene flow is a serious environmental and economic threat. This means that genetic contamination from GMOs can still be considered harm under the law, both from an environmental and economic perspective."

From another source, "The Court further recognized that the threat of transgenic contamination is harmful and onerous to organic and conventional farmers and that the injury allows them to challenge future biotech crop commercializations in court."

Did we gain a toehold today in the fight against Monsanto? Well, at least for the moment...

Homemade Sugar

Sugar, as we all probably know, is sucrose... and we get it from sugar cane. Usually the sugar we get is refined and filtered in many steps to a pure white, although raw cane sugar is a light tan color. Cane sugar was often hard to come by, and expensive, in earlier times in this country. When I was a child during WWII, sugar was rationed and almost impossible to get, so I didn't get a birthday cake until I was five, and then it was only 5 inches across. In those earlier times of scarcity and expensive prices, our great-grandmothers may have made their own sugar from sugar beets (or sugar maples, depending on where they lived), which are the same form of sugar: sucrose. Even today 30% of the sugar produced in the US is still made from sugar beets, sadly mostly GMO sugar beets. :(

Sugar beets are not those red globular things we grow in our gardens. Regular beets have only a low percentage of sucrose. Sugar beets, Beta vulgaris 'altissima' or Beta vulgaris 'saccharifera', are white beets with an elongated root, and 12-15% sucrose (by weight). Unlike sugar cane, beet sugar is free from uncrystallizable invert sugar but does contain a small amount of the sugar raffinose, which humans do not digest. (The result may be a slight form of gas, like eating beans.) You can still get seed to grow sugar beets, with diligent searching. One source I found is J.L. Hudson, Seedsman, in California; they carry open pollinated, non-F-1 hybrid, non-patented sugar beet seeds. I have emailed 2 other companies to find out if they also have open pollinated heirloom sugar beet seeds, which I think they might. I will post them when I get an answer.

I am, of course, concerned because Monsanto has a patent on a GMO sugar beet, now used by 95% of commercial sugar beet farmers in the US since the introduction 3-4 years ago.

As it happens, there is a "shortage" of GMO sugar beet seed. Capital Press, an informative weekly agricultural newspaper, ran an article on the front page of their November 13, 2009 issue about sugar beets and how commercial growers will be affected "by a recent decision to halt the sale of the genetically modified Roundup Ready sugar beet seed until the USDA produces an environmental impact statement. Without GMO sugar beet seed on the market, commercial farmers are forced to go back to conventional seed—but finding conventional sugar beet seed is going to be a problem."

My heirloom seed-saver friends say to sow sugar beet seed in May and pull the beets in October, after the first hard frost, when they are sweeter. They are a good cool weather crop, and can be sown as early as soil can be worked. Sow 1/2" deep in rows 1 foot apart. Thin to 4", using the tender seedlings as early greens. A rich, light sandy loam, kept moist, is best for growing crisp, tender beets. Mature roots are about 8" long, some longer, weighing 2 - 5 pounds.

Sugar beet is a temperate climate biennial root crop. It produces sugar during the first year of growth in order to see it over the winter and then flowers and seeds in the second year. It is therefore sown in spring and harvested in the first autumn/early winter. The beet stores the sucrose in the bulbous root which bears a strong resemblance to a fat parsnip. Beets being biennial, they will produce seeds rather than beets the second year. If you plant some early in the spring for use that same year, you can plant more later in the summer, then you can save the summer beet plants to produce seed the following year. (They will flower the first year but no seeds.) In mild winter areas you can leave beets in the ground all winter.

In severe winter areas, you can dig the beets before the first frost and save some with the best roots to replant the following spring.To store them, treat them like carrots: cut off all but an inch or two of the tops and store them in a root cellar in damp sand or sawdust and fully covered. Not too wet or they will rot. These may be replanted in spring, where they will grow tall again, produce a flower, then a seed pod. Cut the stalks when the seed pods are dry to the touch, and hang upside down in a dry, ventilated area. You can cover the seedpods with a paper bag to collect the seeds as they dry and fall out, but some pods may need some help giving up the fully dry seeds...

The basic home procedure for obtaining sugar from sugar beets is just like making any other sweet syrup, whether cane syrup, ribbon cane syrup, maple syrup or sorghum molasses (all are sucrose), except beets do not readily crush at home to exude juice (unless you have a hydraulic press). The easy way is to shred the beets (clean well, remove green shoulder and any soft or bad spots), put them in a pot or pan, add a little water and cook until they are soft.

From there it is just like cooking down any sugary liquid into a thick syrup. Strain the juice through several layers of muslin or cheesecloth, squeeze the pulp to extract as much juice as possible. Put the filtered juice in a heavy pot and cook long and slow over low heat, keeping it below boiling. Any impurities will rise to the surface where they may be skimmed off. When it is as thick as molasses, let it cool, then transfer to a container (wider will make removal easier later on) with a loose cover for storage. (The loose cover is to let it continue to evaporate, and to keep it clean.)

Check it often. If there's too much moisture still in it, it could mold on top. If that happens, scrape the mold off and cook more of the moisture off. I have read to use a tight lid rather than a loose lid. I guess it depends on how much you have cooked it down.

The syrup will very slowly crystallize over time, just like cooked honey does, and quicker of course in a dry storage area. If some of it becomes hard, you could pound it into small chunks or crystal flakes. I suppose if you were most careful, you could probably cook it down almost to crystals instead of a thick syrup, but I'd be afraid of scorching it, tainting the taste of the whole batch.

Here's a link to the basic commercial beet sugar process.

One thing you may try as an experiment that will fascinate the kids (and make a good science project) is to make rock crystal candy. Put some cooled syrup in a jar with several inches between the top of the syrup and the top of the jar. Place a pencil across the top, and run a string from the pencil down into the syrup a few inches. Coarse cotton string like butcher's twine works best, and it's food-grade. Cover with a paper towel to keep clean. Store in a cool dry place. The sugar should precipitate crystals on the string, and they will continue to grow. (Growing rock candy crystal candy is dependent on the sugar saturation of the liquid. You may have to take some and dilute it to grow crystals. Trial and error?)

Our great grandparents may have used this beet syrup as a sweet spread on bread, perhaps as an 'icing' on a cake, to sweeten tea... In all likelihood, they used it in the curing of meats for the winter, and since sugar is topically antiseptic they probably used it in this manner too. In fact sugar was only used as a medicine (particularly in China and India) for centuries, and didn't became a 'common food' until well after the Spaniards introduced it to the West Indies.

I have read commercial processing of sugar beets into sugar is more complicated than the process for cane sugar, partly due to the odor, the presence of about 1.25% nitrogenous matter, and a comparatively large amount of salts (like magnesium salts). Molasses from sugar beets is about 50% sucrose. The objectionable odor and taste can be eliminated during home processing by completely removing the green shoulder (the part growing above ground) of the beets, avoiding cooking the juice in a copper pot, and storing the beets longer covered but frost-free before processing.

Other options for making sugar or sugar syrup at home include sorghum (sweet sorghum aka cane sorghum, not grain sorghum) and sugar maples. I have a friend in the next county who taps several kinds of trees for syrup: birch, box elder and black maple (the last 2 are maples just not the sugar maple). The process is all the same.

Making your own sugar from sugar beets, cane, sorghum or sugar maples (if you have access) may not be ideal, but if there is NO sugar available at all, it may come in handy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sugar... and Bone Char

 If you are one of my Vegan friends, this may interest you. According to a lengthy article in the fourth issue 2007 Vegetarian Journal, refined cane sugar is filtered through bone char (from cows) as one of the several steps to remove impurities.

Sugar in your grocery store may be labeled "100% pure cane sugar" and most likely it was filtered through bone char. Sugar labeled "Granulated Sugar" and "100% Sugar" are ambiguous, as are private store-labeled sugars. There's no way to know if they were filtered through bone char or not. Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to refined white sugar, so the companies that use bone char to make their refined white sugar will also use it to produce brown sugar. The same is true for Confectioner's Sugar, which is just finely ground white sugar with cornstarch added. Invert sugar (used by bakers and candy makers) is also filtered through bone char.

Fortunately, there are some sugars that are not filtered through bone char. 100% beet sugar is not filtered through bone char. Molasses, turbinado, dememara and muscovado sugars are also not bone char filtered. Evaporated cane juice is not filtered through bone char, and fructose may or may not be.

Buying organic sugars, or foods that list only organic sugar or evaporated cane juice as an ingredient may be your best bet. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Whiskey, Bourbon, Beer.. and Sugar

This was not a subject I had planned to post about... but one thing led to another, and here I am. This post will eventually lead to another one on how to make your own sugar.

Several days ago I ended up on a site with a post about making moonshine, although I don't remember how I landed there except I was searching lacto-fermentation. (I don't drink anymore, I have no interest in making moonshine, and making it is illegal anyway!) The article was for a simple fermentation of water, sugar and yeast, and interesting from an educational point of view, but the more than 500 comments added some insights and complexity on various themes including the history and use of sugar in this country. 

We import most of our sugar (In 2007, the United States imported US$826 million worth of cane and beet sugar from the rest of the world), although imports are slightly down due to the rise in our government-subsidized HFCS (high fructose corn syrup, mainly GMO) increasingly used in foods. The world-market sugar price is currently 12 cents a pound (editor's note: its slightly higher at the moment), but Americans pay 23 cents guaranteed to our sugar farmers. Not done yet, we then turn around and sell that same sugar for an 80% loss to ethanol plants. Big Thanks to the Farm Bill.

Brazil is the largest producer of cane sugar (sucrose) and within 8 years they expect a significant portion of their sugarcane will be GMO sugarcane. I didn't find any statistics on how much of our imported sugar in earlier days was used for fermentation rather than household use in desserts, baking or candy-making, but I suspect it may have been substantial.

In 1790, United States government figures showed that annual per-capita alcohol consumption for everybody over the age of fifteen amounted to thirty-four gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of distilled spirits, and one gallon of wine. (That's slightly over one 12 oz. can of beer or equivalent amount of cider per day, less than 2 oz. distilled spirits per day, and half a glass of wine per week.)

I live in the Appalachian Mountains, long known as a haven for illegal moonshine (aka 'shine), so named because it was often done in moonlight to avoid detection. Tales of ATF destroying stills hidden in the mountains abound, along with stories of people blinded or dying by drinking impure shine. Moonshine is virtually a clear, unflavored alcoholic beverage, and 'proof' varies with the distilling process. 

A common quality test for moonshine was to pour a small quantity of it into a metal spoon and set it alight, the theory being that a safe distillate burns with a blue flame, but a tainted distillate burns with a yellow flame. Practitioners of this simple test sometimes held that if a radiator coil had been used as a condenser there would be lead in the alcohol, which would give a reddish flame. This led to the phrase: "Lead burns red and makes you dead." While the flame test shows the presence of lead and fusel oils (German for 'bad liquor'), it does not reveal the presence of deadly methanol, which also burns blue. Shine was easy to make: water, sugar and yeast were the only ingredients required, but two hundred years earlier sugar was very hard to come by. 

Sugar came from mostly from sugarcane grown in the Caribbean, and England had a strong lock on the trade. There was a sub-tropical ribbon cane syrup widely produced later on in the southern states, and as far north as coastal North Carolina. Horse or mule-powered crushers extracted the juice, which was then boiled like maple syrup. It is no longer a commercial crop, although it is still produced as an artisanal product. Google 'ribbon cane' for suppliers.

Rum was king in the colonies before the Revolutionary War (distilleries controlled mainly by the British), made from molasses imported from the tropical sugar plantations. It was often smuggled by small local coastal distilleries, along with what was legally imported (with high taxation).

The beverages of the common man were hard cider and beer, simple to make, with the raw materials (apples, corn, wheat, oats) readily available. Americans thought alcohol was healthful; they thought it aided digestion and increased strength. They took toddy's for the common cold, and women in labor were given a shot to relieve discomfort. Americans also knew water could make you sick; the European polluted waterways had taught their forefathers to substitute alcohol, so it was easy to continue that tradition here.

Whiskey began to gain ground during and after the Revolution. In the late 1700's, inland roads were seldom more than dirt tracks passable only by mules or horses single file. If a man grew corn and wanted to take it to market, it was almost impossible to transport it via a wagon over steep mountain terrains, and we weren't yet navigating the Mississippi. They figured out that by fermenting the corn into grain alcohol, they could reduce a wagon-load of corn to a product that could be strapped to a mule and easily taken to market across the mountains. 50 pounds of corn mash (which is just barely sprouted corn where the starch has converted to sugars) was the equivalent of 10 pounds of sugar for fermenting alcohol.

The Scots-Irish immigrants in Pennsylvania, Maryland, western Virginia and North Carolina became flourishing spots of alcohol production based on corn and rye. Kentucky capitalized on the abundance of corn, limestone-filtered water and hardwood for barrels, in making the famous whiskey coming out of Bourbon County. George Washington was one of the country's largest distillers at one time. His Mount Vernon whiskey distillery went from 600 gallons in 1797 to 11,000 gallons in 1799, the year Washington died.

Distilled spirits became popular and widely available; they kept better than beer or cider and were more potent. Distillation required more equipment but was also more economically feasible, and the raw materials (grapes, plums, blackberries, pears, cherries and apples) were abundant.

Of course, the government wanted a share. After the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton (as Secretary of the Treasury) saw a way to fund the national debt by taxing whiskey in 1791. This was the first "internal" tax levied by the national government. Although Hamilton's principal reason for the tax was raising money to service the national debt, he also justified the tax "more as a measure of social discipline than as a source of revenue." Most importantly, however, Hamilton "wanted the tax imposed to advance and secure the power of the new federal government." That ultimately led to The Whiskey Rebellion which soon became an armed rebellion. This marked the first time under the new United States Constitution that the federal government used military force to exert authority over the nation's citizens. It was also the first of only two times that a sitting President personally commanded the military in the field. (Source: Whiskey Rebellion.)

The hated whiskey tax was repealed in 1803 but alcoholic beverages continue to this day to be heavily regulated and taxed by the government. Home brewing of wine has been allowed since the repeal of Prohibition, and legal home-brewing of beer since Jimmy Carter signed the omission into law in 1979. Federal laws permit something like 100 gallons of beer per adult per year, max 200 per household, but state laws take precedence. All 50 states are free to restrict or even prohibit the brewing of beer, wine, mead, hard cider and other alcoholic beverages. In fact some state laws say you can make wine but cannot take a bottle of it next door to your neighbor.

Alcohol interests me for its disinfecting and antiseptic properties, and also alcohol products to use in marinating and cooking.

Sugar interests me for its use along with salt in curing meats. Salt and sugar draw out moisture, and harmful bacteria do not flourish in that dry atmosphere. Of course, there's a bit more to properly curing meats than just sugar and salt, but those ingredients are basic. 

The price of sugar doubled in 2009 alone, and the financial crisis is greatly affecting sugar production world-wide. We can only expect the price (and GMO sugar) to continue to increase.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Campbell Soup recalling SpaghettiOs


Campbell Soup Supply Company is recalling approximately 15 million pounds of "SpaghettiOs with Meatballs" canned products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

See for details.

Photos from the Garden

I thought I'd post a few photos from my garden. Above are some hollyhocks I planted as seedlings summer before last. This year they finally grew more than 6" tall, and actually bloomed! They are perennial so I'll have them around for some time, just don't know the life-span. I'll save seeds, for sure.

Last spring I planted a few small whips of some fruiting trees and shrubs. Three are Nanking cherries, and this year two of the three bore fruit... a whopping 2 to 4 cherries on each! I planted these for the birds, in hopes they might leave my blueberries alone. Ya think?

I have some small fruit on my potted Patio Peach. It is not winter hardy here so it goes in the root cellar for winter. I got it last June, in a 6" pot.

I have several blueberries in pots but I think the space is ready to put them in the ground this summer. The pH of my yard is too high for blueberries so I have been amending a spot with elemental sulfur.

Here's the covered bridge leading from the road and crossing the creek to our house. Older photo but nothing's changed.

And finally... the great old single-lane stone railroad underpass leading from the highway down to our neighborhood. The stones look like the ones the stonemasons chiseled for the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway stonework for the many tunnels and bridges.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Yogurt Cheese and 'Boursin'

Yogurt Cheese is simple... just line a strainer with finely-woven cheesecloth, dump in a large container of plain yogurt, cover, and drain for 24 hours. I used Dannon plain, not low-fat or non-fat, and had a creamy cheese spread the next day. I saved the nearly 2 cups of whey that drained off to use for fermented vegetables, as it contains live cultures.

Here's 2 easy recipes for a homemade Boursin-style cheese, substitute yogurt cheese:

Homemade Boursin
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chives
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese or yogurt cheese
1/4 cup pitted & drained black olives

Chop the garlic & herbs in a food processor. Add the cream cheese and blend until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and chill.

Homemade Boursin-style cheese
2 garlic cloves
8 ounces butter, at room temperature
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (the real stuff, and freshly-grated)
1 tablespoons fresh dill, minced or 1 teaspoons dried dill weed, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon chives
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
(all herbs minced or crumbled)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Have cheeses and butter at room temperature.
Crush garlic. Mix cheeses, butter and garlic.
Add remaining ingredients, mix well.
Pack into a container just large enough to hold the boursin and store in refrigerator.
To serve: For best taste, you must bring it to room temperature (because of the butter). Serve with crackers.

Another thing you can do in a pinch is add some of a dry salad dressing to taste, like Ranch Dressing, although I don't buy those anymore.