Saturday, July 31, 2010

How Monsanto got their Permit

In late 1986, four executives of the Monsanto Company, the leader in agricultural biotechnology, paid a visit to Vice President George Bush at the White House to make an unusual pitch.

Although the Reagan administration had been championing deregulation across multiple industries, Monsanto had a different idea: the company wanted its new technology, genetically modified food, to be governed by rules issued in Washington — and wanted the White House to champion the idea.

"There were no products at the time," Leonard Guarraia, a former Monsanto executive who attended the Bush meeting, recalled in a recent interview. "But we bugged him for regulation. We told him that we have to be regulated."

Government guidelines, the executives reasoned, would reassure a public that was growing skittish about the safety of this radical new science. Without such controls, they feared, consumers might become so wary they could doom the multibillion-dollar gamble that the industry was taking in its efforts to redesign plants using genes from other organisms — including other species.

In the weeks and months that followed, the White House complied, working behind the scenes to help Monsanto — long a political power with deep connections in Washington — get the regulations that it wanted.

It was an outcome that would be repeated, again and again, through three administrations. What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto — and, by extension, the biotechnology industry — got. If the company's strategy demanded regulations, rules favored by the industry were adopted. And when the company abruptly decided that it needed to throw off the regulations and speed its foods to market, the White House quickly ushered through an unusually generous policy of self-policing.

Even longtime Washington hands said that the control this nascent industry exerted over its own regulatory destiny — through the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and ultimately the Food and Drug Administration — was astonishing.

"In this area, the U.S. government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do," said Dr. Henry Miller, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, who was responsible for biotechnology issues at the Food and Drug Administration from 1979 to 1994.

In June 1986, the company's lobbying effort for regulation began to show its first signs of success. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration were given authority over different aspects of the business, from field testing of new ideas to the review of new foods.

On May 26, 1992, George Bush's Vice-President, Dan Quayle, proclaimed the Bush administration's new policy on bioengineered food.

"The reforms we announce today will speed up and simplify the process of bringing better agricultural products, developed through biotech, to consumers, food processors and farmers," Mr. Quayle told a crowd of executives and reporters in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. "We will ensure that biotech products will receive the same oversight as other products, instead of being hampered by unnecessary regulation."

With dozens of new grocery products waiting in the wings, the new policy strictly limited the regulatory reach of the F.D.A, which had oversight responsibility for foods headed to market.

The announcement — a salvo in the Bush administration's "regulatory relief" program — was in lock step with the new position of industry that science had proved safety concerns to be baseless.

"We will not compromise safety one bit." Mr. Quayle told his audience.

In the F.D.A.'s nearby offices, not everyone was so sure.

Among them was Dr. Louis J. Pribyl, one of 17 government scientists working on a policy for genetically engineered food. Dr. Pribyl knew from studies that toxins could be unintentionally created when new genes were introduced into a plant's cells. But under the new edict, the government was dismissing that risk and any other possible risk as no different from those of conventionally derived food. That meant biotechnology companies would not need government approval to sell the foods they were developing.

Dr. Pribyl, a microbiologist, was not alone at the agency. Dr. Gerald Guest, director of the Center of Veterinary Medicine, wrote that he and other scientists at the center had concluded there was "ample scientific justification" to require tests and a government review of each genetically engineered food before it was sold.

Three toxicologists wrote, "The possibility of unexpected, accidental changes in genetically engineered plants justifies a limited traditional toxicological study."

The scientists were displaying precisely the concerns that Monsanto executives from the 1980's had anticipated - and indeed had considered reasonable. But now, rather than trying to address those concerns, Monsanto, the industry and official Washington were dismissing them as the insignificant worries of the uninformed. Under the final F.D.A. policy that the White House helped usher in, the new foods would be tested only if companies did it. Labeling was ruled out as potentially misleading to the consumer, since it might suggest that there was reason for concern.

-The entire text above is excerpted from "Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle," by Kurt Eichenwald, New York Times, January 25, 2001; the underlining and bold text is my emphasis.

Friday, July 30, 2010

She was Old and Cranky, but I Loved Her

 July 2002

I was quietly having my morning coffee on the front porch one summer day of 1994, when I spotted this small gray striped kitten weaving in and out of the potted plants on the steps. She was starving, flea-ridden and skittish... but obviously looking for a home, or at least for food.

Once fed, she stayed... and I named her Baz for the main character in a book I was reading. The character later turned out to be a terror, and so did the kitten as she grew into a big, fat and cranky cat who never stopped being hungry.

Fearless Hunter
Baz and I lived in nine different places from 1995 until now, and she was always a willing companion, a guard cat, and 'fearless hunter' when she was younger. I never walked the garden without her trailing my every step.

I wish I could say she was a most intriguing cat, like Tom Jones in May Sarton's The Fur Person, but in truth she was a rather ordinary-cat kind of cat, with an obsession for food.

Playing 'possum while watching the squirrels

Baz loved to be warm, in front of the woodstove or sleeping on my feet at night. She loved to sit in the sun, and in winter as all cats do, she would follow the shafts of sunlight as they moved across the floor.

There are joys and tribulations inherent in sharing one's life with a cat. Baz would lie next to me on the couch and purr if I wasn't feeling well, and she made sure I was "safe" if I went in the bathroom. (I couldn't go alone!) She 'talked' to me, although mostly when she was hungry, but she was a 'Johnny One-Note'... and her one-note was strident. Her voice was the same whether she was being petted, or louder if you accidentally stepped on her tail, or when she was protesting the tardiness of dinner. 

She loved to sit outside on the warm walkway in summer, and always came in when called by name (especially at dinnertime) or for the night. Four days ago she didn't come when called for dinner, and that had never happened in all the 16+ years she lived with me. I haven't seen her since, and I know in my heart she is dead.

Several neighborhood cats (including the barn cat I inherited when I moved here) have disappeared recently, and the rabbit population seems down as well. There is talk of a predator in this very wooded rural area, and I am convinced something must have taken her.

She will be missed, strident tone and all, but most especially at dinnertime.

Update: I just found her body in the weeds close to the creek, under a low clump of trees. She has been mauled but not eaten. Judging by the matted area in an 8 foot diameter, I'd say she put up a good fight.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

When is Yogurt no longer a Probiotic?

Many yogurt manufacturers in the USA seem to have made a change in the yogurt sold in stores. Is this change to increase their profits by eliminating live cultures in the yogurt?

Yogurt is widely touted as probiotic... According to Wikipedia, "Probiotics are live microorganisms thought to be healthy for the host organism. Probiotics are commonly consumed as part of fermented foods with specially added active live cultures; such as in yogurt, or as dietary supplements." We all know to eat more yogurt to replenish good bacteria in the intestines after we have taken a round of antibiotics, but those days may be over in many locations.

I know the "trend" is the small snack-size yogurt cups with lots of HFCS-sweeetened fruit/flavor which add unhealthy calories to the diet, but I thought at least they also contained some live cultures. (I don't buy them; they're just a snack-size candy bar.)

I generally make my own yogurt, which is an easy process that gives me a healthy probiotic at a much lower cost than buying it from a store. The ingredients are simple: milk, and a store-bought yogurt to use as a starter (which is nothing more than a small portion of yogurt containing active live cultures). My preference for a yogurt to use as a starter is the Greek FAGE yogurt, but there is not a store within a hundred miles that carries that brand. So, typically I have used Dannon's plain yogurt, which has always stated it contained live cultures.

Over the last 6-8 months a local friend and I both have had trouble making yogurt; we concluded the commercial yogurt available around here (including Dannon) must contain fewer live cultures than they did previously. Then just last week I looked in the Kroger store for more yogurt to use as a starter. Not a single container stated it contained live cultures, not even the Dannon brand! Even the "Greek-style" yogurts on the shelf had no live cultures.

Most of the yogurt brands did contain some form of a thickening agent, but no live cultures. That's not much of a problem for me since I can plan ahead and save one jar of homemade yogurt from the last batch to use as a starter for the next batch. I can also buy dried yogurt culture on the internet even though I have been told it really isn't as good as using live cultures.

However, this may be a problem for folks who don't read the labels every time. They may think the yogurt still has live cultures simply because it used to, and fail to read the label.

Checked another store in another town this week; they carried 2 brands containing live cultures: Stoneyfield, and Brown Cow. However, there were not many tubs of either... in fact just 3 of the Brown Cow.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dairy Money in Congress

This information should have been included in yesterday's post about Dairy Companies playing dirty, except I didn't have it at the time.

According to, in the 2 year period ending last month, Milk and Dairy Producers have 'contributed' over $3 million to members of Congress. That link page has a list of special interest groups who want something from Congress, and are willing to pay for it with visible 'campaign contributions'. Who knows how many invisible contributions there are?

If you want to see how much money your congressperson has received from special interests, click here, and then click on the name. For example, the House Congressman for my district (one of the poorest districts in Virginia) is Frederick (Rick) Boucher. In the last 2 years he has received $1,764,764 in contributions... and on his tracking page at MapLight, the contributions are broken down by Top 10 Interests, Top 10 Organizations, by geography (90% of his contributions come from outside his district.), and by proximity to the actual Vote in Congress.

MapLight tracks all current legislation, who voted Yes or No, and how much money they received for that piece of legislation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dairy Companies Play Dirty

Behind that glass of milk, there are BIG problems. Not only is it almost impossible for a consumer to choose to buy healthy unprocessed milk, the dairy farmers are being forced into what amounts to either slavery or bankruptcy.

The price of raw milk paid to farmers has dropped to its lowest level in 40 years. Dairy farms are going under across the country, and a few dairymen have grown so desperate they've taken their own lives.

Since December 2008, dairy farmers across the country have experienced the greatest economic crisis they have faced since the Great Depression as the price they are paid for their milk has dropped by almost half.

It may be hard to believe, but the story behind the milk your children drink or the ice cream they eat this summer is more murky than the scandals that have rocked Wall Street in the past several years. In fact, speaking about an investigation into dairy price fixing during the George W. Bush administration, one Department of Justice official said the dairy industry was “more corrupt than Enron.

While dairy farmers suffered historic low prices in 2009, the dairy processors and the “farmer-owned” co-ops that are supposed to offer them a fair price, have been skimming off all the profits. In 2009, Dean Foods' (the largest milk processor in the US) profits soared to $76.2 million, more than 254% higher than 2008. During this same time, farmers have been taking on record debt, with a 100 head dairy farm losing more than $10,000 per month on average.

The other large dairy player in the US is the the nation's largest dairy cooperative of over 17,000 members, Dairy Farmers of America. Over the past decade, through mergers and acquisitions of co-ops and dairy processors, both Dean and DFA grew bigger and bigger. Then, the goliaths linked arms: DFA entered into a 100 percent, full-supply agreement with Dean.

So as Dean came to dominate regional markets, any dairyman who wanted to sell to one of Dean's 50 brands had to go through DFA, whether they wanted to or not.

Milkmen have been gaming the system for years. 

Back in the 1980s, prosecutors in two dozen states got 100 convictions or guilty pleas for milk processors who were charged with bid-rigging on school milk contracts. 

In 2008, two former executives of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) were fined more than $12 million for “pricing fixing” and “manipulating” milk prices. DFA was fined by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in 2008 for attempting to manipulate cheddar cheese prices. 

As of 2009, 17 dairy farmers are suing DFA, alleging that it is engaged in anti-competitive behavior by setting up a monopolistic "cartel" in the southeastern United States.

The antitrust division of the Justice Department spent two years investigating anti-competitive conduct in the dairy industry. Congressional and legal sources told NPR that in 2006, investigators recommended charges be filed against Dairy Farmers of America and Dean Foods, among others, for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Under President Bush's Justice Department, the case was shelved.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fruit Fly Trap

Since I started lacto-fermenting vegetables and fermenting plum pits recently, I seem to draw an abundance of fruit flies into the prep area. Both of the types of ferments I am doing allow the CO2 pressure inside the containers to push past the seals and run down the sides of the containers... and sometimes even pool in a saucer underneath them.

There is an easy way to attract and trap those pesky fruit flies, though.

Take a small glass or jar and put a fruit scrap, some beer or some fruit juice in it. (If you use a fruit scrap, add some water.) Then put a drop or two of dish detergent in the liquid (the detergent changes the surface tension of the liquid).

Cover the top with a piece of plastic wrap and secure it tightly over the top with a rubber band. Take a small pointed object like a pencil or large nail and poke several small holes in the plastic wrap. The fruit flies are attracted to the smell, get in and cannot get out; most will drown. Instant fruit fly trap!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pitting Plums and Plum Vinegar

I don't have posts lined up in advance like I usually do; in fact, this is the only post in the pipeline for now. I'm very sorry, but I will pick back up in a few days. I have been very busy helping a friend in the next town pit plums for wine, and we think we'll have about a thousand pounds by Sunday when we finish. 

Pitting plums is just plain messy and tedious, but at least with 2 of us, we pass the time with conversation and it goes faster. I haven't done my fair share of pitting because after about 4 hours, my back begins to spasm. That, in turn, prohibits anything else I might do during the day, including writing posts for this blog.

In this post, I mentioned I'm playing around with making real fruit vinegar. The jug of fermenting plum pits above is merely a trial of the process; I don't expect it to be a viable comestible but I have to start somewhere. The best way to make real fruit vinegars is to first make fruit wine, and the folks who make plum wines do not all agree on fermenting the pits or not. Most don't ferment them, because 'everyone' says the pits make the wine bitter, although some who do include the pits have won awards for the wine. Go figure.

So I decided to do some of each. Here's why:

I'm sure you've heard the story about a young wife who cut off the end of a whole ham before baking it? Her husband asked why, and she replied because her mother always did. Questioning her mother about why brought the response "because your grandmother always did". Well, the grandmother was still alive, and when questioned about the 'why' she replied "because the pan was too small". So it had nothing to do with the actual ham at all.

Now, it may turn out that the pits fermenting for more than a week or so actually make the juice bitter, but at least I will know firsthand... and not from hearsay!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Making Real Sauerkraut

I made the time to start a jar of sauerkraut fermenting, using Sandor Katz's method of pounding the lightly salted cabbage to release the juices. The dark speck is one of the juniper berries I added for flavor. You don't really see the juice in this photo below, but there was enough to fill the very tightly packed jar.

I pounded the cabbage (half at a time) with the butt of my chef's knife, mainly because it was handy, and heavy. The carrots were added just for color, and I barely managed to pack the entire shredded and pounded 6-or-so-pound cabbage into the jar. 

I started it at suppertime, and used about 1-1/2 tablespoons of sea salt. The juice tasted salty but it hadn't had time to penetrate the cabbage so I'm hoping it isn't too salty when finished. (This is my first kraut in years and it's trial and error again. You can always rinse it before serving.) It started fermenting quicker than I thought it would (less than 24 hours), and I hadn't placed the jar in a container to catch overflows yet. When I came home from pitting plums the next afternoon, it had already spewed juice out all over the counter!

In another few days it will get moved to the cool and dark root cellar until October. YUM!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Visitor # 10,000!!

 Photo from bfick's photostream

Yesterday, Thursday July 22, 2010 at 12:39:12 pm, this blog celebrated its 10,000th view! The viewer was from Beachwood, New Jersey, and although there is no 'real' prize, I offer my heartfelt Thanks and Congratulations!

This blog was started on May 15, 2009, and I feel quite honored to have had over 10,000 views in not much over one year, considering I do no personal pleading to read my blog. Some came here by word of mouth, some by a search engine, and some by mere happenstance. Since I do not accept paid ads, I generally do not rank high on search engine results, except by a specific topic or phrase, so I am doubly grateful that you arrived here!

Some of those 10,000 views are repeat views by 'Followers' whether anonymous or with a screen name, and I laud your interest and loyalty. A few of you actually 'talk' to me via Comments or by email, and you are what keeps me posting. Thank You, One and All.

Grandma's Home Remedies 1

Arthritis pain in your hands? Mix 2 cups oatmeal (not quick or instant) and 1 cup of water in a microwave bowl. Heat for a minute or two, allow to cool enough to handle and apply to hands for soothing relief.

Bruises? Soak a cotton ball or small piece of cotton fabric in white vinegar. Apply to the bruise for one hour. The vinegar reduces discoloration and speeds healing.

Splinter? Apply a drop of Elmer's White Glue on the splinter, allow to dry, and peel away. Usually the splinter will stick to the glue.

Rust stains? Soak an abrasive sponge (like a kitchen scrubby pad) with Coca-Cola and scrub the stain. The phosphoric acid in the Coke works to get the job done.

Skin scrapes? Apply honey, and cover with a bandaid overnight. Honey kills any bacteria, thus keeping the wound from infection, and honey speeds the healing.

Headache? Rub half a fresh-cut lime half on your forehead; the throbbing will go away.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Egg Cupboards and Fresh Eggs

If you have eggs in the refrigerator that have been there for days or maybe even weeks, there is always a question of freshness and safety of the egg. If I absolutely have to buy factory eggs during the winter when fresh farm eggs are not available, I often keep them far too long because I really don't like the taste. 

The easy test for eggs is to fill a deep bowl full of water, and place an egg in it. The air pocket on fresh eggs is about the size of a dime, and thin. Very fresh eggs will sink to the bottom and lie on their side; eggs a week or so old will lie on the bottom too, but bob slightly. As the eggs get older, the air pocket inside the shell increases; a 3 week old egg will float with the narrow end pointed down, and a bad egg will just float and/or bob around. A fresh egg cracked onto a flat plate will have a yolk that stands firm and high, with a white that is thick and close to the yolk. As eggs age, the yolk and egg white both lose elasticity; the yolk becomes flatter, and the white runny.

Why do they float? Partly due to the 'cleanliness' fetish. 

All eggs (chicken, duck, goose... ostrich) are laid with a mucilaginous coating on the outside of the shell, which acts as a protective barrier. It is designed to keep air (and thus bacteria) out of the egg while the embryo grows into a chick. All factory eggs are washed of this protective coating, leaving the shells porous. Porous eggs do not keep well or long, even refrigerated, as they allow air penetration and ultimately spoilage. Also, most refrigerator air will hold odors of stored (or overlooked, spoiled) foods and can transfer those odors to the already porous eggs.

My mother kept eggs, unwashed (unless exceptionally dirty) in an egg cupboard on the wall in the cool pantry. Most eggs were used within a week or so of being laid, only washed just before cracking, and with a date penciled on each egg so the oldest were used first. My grandmother kept eggs in the cool cellar for months by coating them with paraffin or vaseline and storing in a bowl, or immersed in a crock of lard, but the eggs had to be fresh and unwashed, and preferably non-fertile.

The reason for using non-fertile eggs has to do with incubation temps of fertile eggs. Fertile eggs are usually in a nest (before the hen actually sets them) for only a day or so at normal outdoor temperatures. However, if the proper incubating temperature of about 102.5ºF is not reached soon and maintained, the fertile embryo will die and cause the egg to decay.

You can use fertile eggs for storage but you must be sure they are fresh that day. One bad egg in a crock of lard is just as bad as one bad apple in a bushel... both will spoil the others around them.

Almost all of the fresh, free-range eggs I find lately at the farmer's markets have been washed. So while they look clean and pretty, they don't keep well, and I have to refrigerate them even though I use them within a week or so. I'm working on a couple of farmers to keep some unwashed eggs aside for me until I have my own layers. They usually forget, probably because one of the children collects and washes the eggs... and not always the same child.

Once I have my own eggs, I will experiment with different long-term storage methods including coating with beeswax, immersing in waterglass (sodium silicate), lard or olive oil in a crock; coated eggs covered in bran or sawdust mixed with salt, and perhaps other methods as I find them. I doubt I will try vaseline or any other petroleum-based material except probably paraffin, just on general principles (same for GMO oils). 

I really would like to be able to store local free-range eggs over the winter in my root cellar so I always have good eggs available even when the local hens aren't laying. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Monsanto in Federal Office

Michael Taylor, former Monsanto Vice President, is now the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

Roger Beachy, former director of the Monsanto-funded Danforth Plant Science Center, is now the Director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Islam Siddiqui, Vice President of the Monsanto and Dupont-funded pesticide-promoting lobbying group, CropLife, is now the Agriculture Negotiator for the US Trade Representative.

Rajiv Shah, former Gates Foundation agricultural-development director served as Obama's USDA Under Secretary for Research Education and Economics and Chief Scientist and is now head of USAID.

Now, Ramona Romero, corporate counsel to Dupont, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Those are just the Federal Appointments, listed above.

Some states don't seem to be immune to the Monsanto epidemic, either. In Ohio, there is a law called CAUV, which stands for Current Agricultural Use Value Assessment. It allows owners of farmland the opportunity to have farm parcels taxed according to their value in agriculture rather than full market value. Sounds like a good deal for the farmer, right?

No, you will NOT get the tax break if you don't plant from a list of 'approved' seeds which just happen to be Monsanto patented seeds. At least one county-supplied list is even printed on Monsanto paper with the Monsanto Roundup logo in the corner. No collusion there!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dwarf Nigerian Dairy Goat Farm Visit

While I was in the Charlottesville area recently, I had the opportunity to visit some Dwarf Nigerian Dairy Goats at Timberwood Farm. The photo above is the current crop of babies, ranging from 9 weeks to 14 weeks old. They were so cute, I could have brought them all home!

Of course, I am not ready for any backyard farm animals yet. I need to build housing and fencing, and because of problems (expense) of fencing up the hill, I am considering smaller animals. Of the smaller milk goats I have seen so far, these seem the most likely in terms of temperament and care. I would want to get one (and a neutered male for a companion) at a young age like these so they become people-friendly. 

However, that means feeding them for 2 years before breeding the doe, and another 6 months' gestation. They typically throw twins, so I might get another doe... or maybe not. Then a time lag while the babies nurse, so it would be close to 3 years before I could actually have goat milk. If the doe threw just bucks, they would have to be sold as I don't want one on the premises. (I can take a doe to be bred.) They do not make good meat goats, so either sell, or castrate and feed as pets.

The mature milking does (above) average around 28" tall, and give about a pint of milk each, twice a day.

Lots to consider, and I am far from making a decision! However, it was a fun visit, and the owners were quite helpful and gracious.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Addictive Foods

A recent study in Nature Neuroscience found that rats allowed to binge on high-fat, high-calorie foods – junk food bought at the grocery store – not only became obese, but also became compulsive eaters. The neuroscientists found that changes in the brains of the obese rats are similar to those found in people with a physical addiction to drugs.

This comes as no surprise if you have read David Kessler’s book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, which states that overeating comes not from character flaws, but from biological conditioning.

Eating foods high in fat, sugar, or salt reinforces the desire to eat those foods again. The more people eat them, the less rewarding they taste, which drives them to compensate by compulsively eating even more. The food and restaurant industries know this. Tons of research and development goes into designing foods that are literally irresistible, or as the industry calls them, “cravable.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Week in Retrospect

All in all, this was not my favorite week, but as weeks go... it could have been far worse.

First, my coffeemaker died; I think this one lasted 2 years. I made the decision not to replace it, but instead to drag my 30-year-old Chemex off the top shelf in the pantry, remembering how good the coffee made in it tasted. Naturally, I had none of the large, thick square Chemex filters anymore, but thought I could use up the 2 boxes of unbleached #4 cone filters I have on hand.

Wrong! Want to guess how many times the filters split and dumped all the coffee grounds into the coffee? (Nearly every time, even when using 2 filters!) I checked all the grocery stores within a 30 mile radius... no Chemex filters, but then I didn't really expect to find any, knowing the word 'gourmet' doesn't exist in this area.

Online, a box of 100 Chemex square filters runs from $7 to $9... about twice what I have been paying for unbleached filters. Well, I could live with that, for good coffee... but then the shipping charges were added. Every single place that carries them charged more for shipping than they charged for the filters. Somewhere along the years in transit, I lost the wooden 'handles' for my Chemex, and only have a cloth 'cozy' which isn't guaranteed not to slip when pouring coffee, so I added a new set of wooden 'handles' to my order. That doubled my product cost, but only added 50¢ to the shipping.

Hopefully the package will arrive Monday, and I can have coffee without a mouthful of grounds again. Now I just need to root around the boxes in the barn and find my old Stanley stainless steel thermos so I can keep freshly-made coffee hot.

The next thing that happened was an inability to access the internet. My calls to Comcast resulted in a menu that kept taking me back to 'start', over and over, but never to a live person. It took 2-3 hours attempting to reach a real person before I finally got one. Let me tell you, 2-3 hours of communication frustration coupled with a coffee cup full of grounds did not turn me into a Happy Camper!

Once I finally reached a Comcast Tech and we fiddled around a bit trying a few things, the problem turned out to be a dead wireless router. Sigh. I've had it about 2 years, just like the coffeemaker. The cable from the Comcast box reaches my Mac laptop so I had internet access as soon as I switched to the cable. However, I have no back-up router, so my sister's old PC and my Mac cannot both be online at the same time.

There are some slick wireless routers on the market now which I would love to have... but most of them don't have the right technology for my sister's old PC, and it took some searching to find one. It should ship today, and by mid-week all should be right in this tiny 'computer corner'.

The third crappy thing has been running nearly 2 weeks... the worst flea infestation I have had in 30 years. My 2 cats are banished to the outside for now, and I have sprayed, vacuumed, and washed all clothing, throw rugs and bedding every day until I am sick of it. Turns out the flea stuff I put on the cats is good for adult fleas but does not interrupt the egg cycle. I finally have some good premise spray coming, and some flea treatment for my babies... both will kill eggs, larvae and adults so I should have some relief soon... assuming what my sister does for her dogs and cat is also effective.

After getting all my 'replacement' product orders placed online, I went down to the next town to help a wine-maker friend pit plums. Bushels and bushels of plums. It will take us probably 2 more days to pit them all, and she hopes by next year to have a proper commercial plum/peach pitter. The plums are too large to go through the tube in my cherry pitter, although we tried with the smaller plums!

I brought home all the pits from yesterday's pitting, and started them fermenting. I'm playing around with making real fruit vinegars, which I understand are exquisite in taste... and very expensive to buy in the US if you can find them. Most fruit vinegars are really just fruit-flavored vinegar made from distilled vinegar (acetic acid and water) with added fruit juice; I've made, used and sold many of those myself, and while they are tasty, they are not the real thing. There's not enough flesh on these pits to make more than maybe a pint, so my goal is merely to learn the process now.

Also, I am now back on my food protocol. Actually I wasn't off it very far, but over the 3 weeks I ate many things not on my list... like pizza, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Jamaican real ginger-ales brewed with pineapple juice and a bit of honey (but at least not instant 'fake brews' with HFCS), and I sampled several 'no-no' dishes at a pot-luck picnic. I've now lost close to 25 pounds, which is nice; but more importantly, I am feeling better and have more energy. Still have a long way to go, even though I don't expect to ever again have all the energy and stamina I had at 50, or 60.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Keeping Pickles Crisp

It is always a challenge to keep homemade pickles crisp, but it is a lot easier with fermented pickles that are never cooked. Even in fermented pickles, there is some slight decomposition due to fermentation, and adding some tannins helps keep pickles crisp. Many plant leaves, such as oak, contain tannins. You could use white oak leaves but they are so high in tannins that you probably could not eat the pickles for the pucker! 

 Red Currants photo from guldfisken's photostream

Some better options:
Horseradish leaves and/or peeled and chopped roots
Grape leaves
Black or Red currant leaves
Red raspberry leaves
Apple skins

Raspberry photo from Zaggy J.'s photostream

Some home brewers use organic green or black tea leaves in brewing beer to provide tannins (which give body to the beer). I don't see why that wouldn't work in keeping fermenting vegetables crunchy, but I haven't read of anyone doing it. Of course, we are just now re-discovering the benefits of fermented veggies, and surely many of the tips and techniques were lost when our grandparents' generation stopped making them. I read somewhere that wild greens like purslane also help keep pickles crisp but I cannot find the reference again.

Salt also hardens the pectins in vegetables, making them crunchier. (Plus, salt inhibits the growth of bacteria [other than lactobacilli] and extends storage time.) However, there is a fine line with the amount of salt used for preservation so it works, and yet the vegetables aren't so salty you cannot eat them even with rinsing. I think it takes an individual 'trial and error' to find the right amount of salt you prefer.

Another tip: Every type of fruit/vegetable has enzymes whose purpose is to break down the food to make it decompose... the whole point of food from a growth standpoint is to make seeds, then decompose so the seeds will grow. Most of those enzymes are concentrated in the blossom end (not the stem end) and by cutting a bit off the blossom end, you discard a lot of those enzymes and help keep your dill pickles from getting mushy. 

Here's a recap with links to the recent posts on fermented vegetables:
Eating Lacto-Fermented Vegetables
Science and Hysteria in Lacto-Fermenting
Crock Fermented Garlic Dills
Fido Jar Fermenting Basics
Fermenting in Ball Canning Jars
Keeping Pickles Crisp
Pickles, Lacto- Fermentation or Old-Time Fermentation
Preserved Grape Leaves

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fermenting in Ball Canning Jars

Fermenting in canning jars with 2-piece screw-type lids is another method used in many places. I knew a husband/wife team in Sweden who made their living selling fermented vegetables 4 days a week at farmer's markets. The majority of their fermented foods were things like sauerkraut and pickles, but they also made about a hundred other combinations, many with hot peppers.

Every year this couple made 2000 kilos (4400 pounds) of squash and cucumber ferments, 3000 kilos (6600 pounds) of red and white cabbage ferments (sauerkraut) and around 200+ kilos (400-500 pounds) of fermented carrots and gold beets. So, I am inclined to think this method worked very well for them!

His basic method was simple: Take a 7 dl canning jar (about 24 fl oz. or 3/4 quart), add some clean leaves of black currant (to keep veggies crisp), dill, garlic and small cucumbers. Add one tablespoon non-iodized salt and fill the jar with non-chlorinated water. Seal it very tightly, and keep at room temperature 4-6 days until you see bubbling, then put it in a cold cellar for some weeks or months. (I think you could adapt this basic recipe by increasing or reducing the amount of salt for quart or pint canning jars, the common sizes available here.) He said you can do it the same way with every kind of vegetable. but you have to boil any beans several minutes, and slice cabbage thin. He had seen whole cabbage fermented by drilling holes in the cabbage and filling the holes with salt but they didn't do cabbage with that method.

My friend said his cucumbers were good to eat after 1 month and up to 1 year; cabbage (sauerkraut) can be eaten after 3 months and will be good for 3-5 years unopened. The taste of all will be sour and taste good, but if you have made a bad batch it will smell terrible and rotten. Use only the best quality organic vegetables.

The room temperatures in Sweden during the growing season when he starts his ferments are about 77ºF/25ºC; cold cellar temps for long, slow fermenting should be 50-59ºF/10-15ºC. He cautions to open a jar over the kitchen sink as contents will be under some slight pressure and some of the brine may come out.

Many people in this country only use canning jars, even Sandor Katz, the fermenting guru. You can watch a video of him starting sauerkraut here.

Note: The lids of canning jars will rust easily from the salty brine. Some folks put a piece of plastic wrap over the jar mouth before placing the lid and ring on the jar.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fido Jar Fermenting Basics

 Carrot Slaw on left, Carrots with Fresh Ginger on right

This is just an introduction to lacto-fermenting in jars; there is much more to know about lacto-fermentation and I'll post some of it as time goes on. After trying several types of containers for lacto-fermenting with only slightly differing methods, I have decided the safest for me is using Fido Jars. Here's why:

There is no reason to open the jars prematurely. Using a clear jar, I can see what's going on inside without the temptation to open the jars or crock. Because of the rubber seal which has a slight 'give' to it, the fermenting gases (CO2) can push their way out but O2 cannot push it's way in. Using a canning jar with a 2 piece lid is similar, but most people who use that method have problems with the lids working loose and losing the top portion of the contents, or sometimes the whole jar.

There is also no rim with water to keep filled as on a Harsch crock. I'd forget to check it almost as soon as I stuck it in a dark closet!

The first regular canning jar I fermented something in gave me a problem with keeping the contents submerged. I used a glass sugar bowl lid but it wasn't heavy enough. I even went so far as to look online for 1/2" thick glass 'rounds' that would fit inside the neck and keep the food submerged. Once I switched to Fido jars, that is no longer a problem. I fill the jars with about 80% capacity with food, and then brine up to about half an inch to an inch from the top; yes, some things will float... However, as soon as the lactic acid process begins on Day 1 or 2, any air space inside the jar fills with CO2, so anything floating will not spoil.

See the ferment bubbles at the top of the liquid? (Beets with garlic and onions)

Basically, I do this: Fill the jars. Snap down the lid. Place the jar in a catch-pan because it may overflow a bit of liquid in the first days of fermenting. Cover with a dark towel. (Ferments are best done in the dark; light diminishes nutrients.) Leave on the counter in a warm spot and visually check it daily. When the bubbling stops, move it to a cool place (45-50ºF) like a basement closet. If you don't have a cool spot, refrigerate the jars. After a couple of months, you may want to sample the contents. If you do open the jar, you must then keep the jar in the refrigerator to avoid spoilage.

I know folks who don't touch their ferments for 6 months to a year, or more. Once the active fermenting (bubbling) stops, you are still a long way from good ferments. As they age, more vitamins and enzymes are formed, and the taste mellows or 'matures' much like a fine wine.

Most ferments will keep in a cool, dark spot for 1-3 years. Fruits are the exception. I haven't fermented any fruits so far, but everything I read says they spoil rather quickly, like in a couple of months. If I do ferment any, they will go into the fridge as soon as the active fermenting stops.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Crock Fermented Garlic Dills

This is just an introduction to lacto-fermenting in crocks; there is much more to know about lacto-fermentation and I'll post some of it as time goes on.

In the past few years I have pretty much stopped eating garlic-dill pickles; actually, stopped eating most pickles in general. I think it is because they all taste like vinegar, which has become the 'norm' for any store-bought pickles, and for almost all homemade pickles. Last year I made and canned dozens of types of pickle relishes, but I no longer consider those a 'true' pickle... or at least not a fermented pickle.

There are several differences in a fermented pickle and a vinegar-based canned pickle, whether it is a cucumber, cabbage, carrots, beets or whatever you choose to ferment. A ferment is the action of bacteria producing lactic acid, which makes the food more digestible. As the lactic acid works on the fruit or vegetable, it also produces additional vitamins and amino acids that were not in the raw foods. We all know the benefits of the probiotics in fermented milk (yogurt), and it is the same for fermented vegetables and fruits.

There is lactobacillus bacteria all around us... in the air, on our skin, on the vegetables, and even IN the vegetables. Unfortunately, there is also an abundance of harmful bacteria. The basic idea in fermenting is to use salt, or a salty brine, which keeps the bad bacteria at bay until enough lactic acid is formed. The bad bacteria cannot exist in a lactic acid environment. Keep in mind the growth of lactic acid is very dependent on temperature. If you try to ferment at an initial temperature that is too cool, the bad bacteria will grow quicker than the lactobacillus can make lactic acid, and your 'pickle' will spoil.

The range of suitable temperatures varies for different vegetables. Carrots ferment best around 68ºF, cucumbers @ 64-68ºF, and sauerkraut @ 68-72ºF. Since I cannot control my kitchen temps that closely, I depend on length of time instead. Generally it takes about 2 days of room-temps to get the lactic acid-producing bacteria going. I have found if I use some fresh whey along with the brine, it seems to jump-start the lactic-acid bacterial action. After 2-3 days to as much as a week depending on room temperature, the bacterial action slows and you can move the crock to a cool place like a basement or a root cellar. 

The remainder of this post is about crock fermenting but for the most part, I am no longer doing my fermenting in a crock unless I have a huge batch of something. Instead, I am fermenting in the old fashioned jars with a rubber gasket and a wire bail to fasten the lid, sometimes called 'Fido' jars. The next post tomorrow will discuss that method, which I think is much safer for the novice fermenter.

Two things happened this year to change my attitude about making and eating pickles... my determination to eat nutritionally better foods, and my neighbor, Buster, losing his 19 year old son. Buster's wife cannot tolerate the thought of making pickles now because it reminds her of her son and his love of pickles of any kind. Although Buster loves them too, she can't get past the reminder of her son enough to make pickles for her husband. So I made some for Buster.

The traditional way my grandmother and my mother made pickles or sauerkraut was to put the ingredients in a crock, add a brine, put a clean plate with a weight on top to keep the contents submerged, cover with a clean dishcloth, and let them ferment. They will develop a harmless white yeast film on top, which they just skimmed away. With a Harsch crock it's almost the same, except if you have confidence in what you are doing and don't open the crock, the water seal will keep a yeast film from forming.

Several weeks ago Buster gave me a big bag of cucumbers he picked that morning, and I drug out my Harsch Crocks (7.5L) to be cleaned, and to start some garlic dill pickles. I think in New York City, these are called 'half-sours' and most delicatessens serve them. I have only made pickles in my Harsch crocks once before, right after I got them 3 years ago. Those pickles spoiled. (In retrospect, they probably didn't spoil; I saw the white yeast film that developed and assumed they were spoiled.)

The Harsch Crock has a moat around the top where the lid fits, and you keep it filled with water so no bad bacteria can enter the ferment. I had my crocks sitting on the kitchen floor after they had fermented about 10 days on the warmer counter top. (You can keep pickles in the Harsch crocks for months if the temperature is cool, the contents stay submerged in the brine, and you keep water in the seal; just occasionally skim the yeast film.) Buster and his son had already tasted the pickles and said they were great, just needed to mellow in the crocks.

Every morning when I went into the kitchen to make coffee, the water would be completely gone from the lip of the crock, so I'd fill it. It wasn't warm enough for that much water to evaporate overnight and I was quite perplexed. After about 2 weeks of filling the water trough every day, I thought the pickles were beginning to spoil, and just before I decided to trash them, I came into the kitchen late at night and found my sister's CAT drinking the water from the rim!

So, this current batch was made in my pantry room which has a door I can close, keeping thirsty cats out. One crock had cucumbers cut into spears, and the other had whole cucumbers. (The whole cucumbers need a longer time to ferment and I haven't opened that crock yet.) In each crock I put a large horseradish leaf on the bottom, added half the seasonings, then half the cukes, the rest of the seasonings, the rest of the cukes, 4 tablespoons of fresh whey, and the brine. Put another horseradish leaf on top, add the weights (photo below)... making sure 1-2" of brine covers the weights, place the top on the crock and fill the rim with water. Notice the lid has 2 notches; those are to let the build-up of CO2 escape through the water moat.

If you never open the crock until you want to taste a pickle, you will not get the white, thin film of yeast on top of the brine (see photo just above). However, every time you open the crock, all the CO2 that developed from fermenting will escape, and oxygen contacting the brine surface will allow the Kahm yeast (I'm not sure of the spelling) to grow. It is harmless, and you can skim it off daily in an open crock or in a Harsch crock.

This morning I opened the crock of spears, transferred them to 3 quart jars and took 2 jars to Buster to store in their refrigerator. (Once they are out of the crock, you need to refrigerate them.) The pickles are cloudy in the picture above, but they taste just fine. Buster said they had just the right amount of garlic, seasonings and salt to suit him.

My seasonings, per 7.5 liter crock about 1/2 to 3/4 filled:
4-6 cloves peeled garlic
1 onion, sliced into rings
4 fresh dill heads, medium to large
1 teaspoon dry dill seed
1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole coriander
1 teaspoon whole mustard seed
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 large bay leaf, torn smaller
3-4 fresh horseradish leaves
4 tablespoons fresh whey (drained from yogurt)

The brine had 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons sea salt per 4 cups non-chlorinated water; if you don't use whey, increase the amount of salt, to taste. Should taste like the sea; if it's too salty after fermenting, you can always rinse, or soak and rinse before eating. Since the only reason to use salt is to keep bad bacteria at bay until the lactic acid starts to take over, and by adding fresh whey, I have jump-started the lactic acid process, I felt confident to reduce the amount of salt.

Fermenting can sometimes be hit or miss; even long-time, accomplished fermenters lose a batch now and then. First-timers lose more than one, I'd bet. I lost my grape leaves because I used an airlock (like for fermenting wine or beer) on a half-gallon canning jar lid that came loose. I lost a jar of sugar snaps because I didn't blanch them. If a jar has slimy and smelly contents, just trash it; do not be tempted to taste it! Start small, so there's not too much to lose.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Science and Hysteria in Lacto-Fermenting

Over the next few days I will be posting several methods of making lacto-fermented vegetables. One question which always arises is the 'safety' of eating home ferments. I know, because I myself threw away what was probably a perfectly good 2 gallon crock of garlic dills just because I 'assumed' they might be bad, based on the kahm yeast on top!

In my nearly 70 years of existence in this lifetime, I have watched the increasing media-induced hysteria about sanitation in foods. You see ads for hand-sanitizers everywhere, and there are chemical wipes for hands and cart handles at most grocery store entrances (for cold and flu germs, not food germs). Some doctors suggest we may be too clean, giving rise to the inability to fight off normal bacterial infections. Today even most of the foods we buy are sanitized, irradiated, or cooked until all life, good and bad, in them is dead.

When I was a kid in school, we were taught the average human in this country eats more than a cup of dirt over a lifetime. I suspect that figure is much lower now, and few farmers even know how to taste the dirt to see if it is sweet, much less actually do it!

Most of us who home can foods wouldn't touch a jar of another's home-canned vegetables with a 10-foot pole if we don't know the person who made them, lest they contain odorless and tasteless botulism and kill us.

Don't get me wrong... I absolutely believe in cleanliness, and especially in the kitchen and my foods. But because of our learned fear of potentially contaminated food, it is hard for us to accept the safety of food made in a jar and left at room temperatures for several days, then weeks or months more in somewhat cooler room temps, all without any refrigeration. 

Most people freak if they even see butter sitting out on a counter. My mother always kept butter in a covered dish in a cabinet; summer temps rarely exceeded 75ºF and if they did, the butter merely got a little bit softer. I keep my butter in a butter bell (on the counter) which has water in it; the water keeps the butter soft at higher temps than my mother's home had.

Leaving foods unrefrigerated for 2 weeks or more can be very disturbing to people who were not raised with a crock of pickles in a hall closet, basement or garage. USDA Research Microbiologist Fred Breidt (who works at a lab at NC State University where they have been studying fermented foods since the 1930's) says properly fermented foods are actually safer than raw vegetables that may have been exposed to pathogens like E. coli on a farm across the nation or world somewhere.

So, what makes lacto-fermented foods safe?
Breidt said that there are no documented cases of food-borne illness from fermented vegetables, and they are much safer for novices to make than home-canned vegetables. Pressurized canning creates an anaerobic environment that increases the risk of deadly botulism, particularly with low-acid foods. "With fermented products there is no safety concern. The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world's best killers of other bacteria."

While the lactic acid keeps the bad bacteria from growing during the fermentation process, the salt and oxygen in the jar or crock initially create an environment where botulism cannot live (aerobic). As the lactic acid begins to form it creates a gas which slowly pushes out the oxygen, but by then enough lactic acid has been produced to lower the pH to an acidic environment where bad bacteria will not survive.

So... take a deep breath, turn off the media warnings in your head, and take the plunge. Your grandma would be proud!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Eating Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

I will be posting a series on lacto-fermentation all week, beginning here with health benefits.

Lacto-fermented vegetables are intended to be eaten in small amounts with each meal, both as a digestive aid and as a nutrient-booster, although some people like a full serving on their plate. It's a matter of choice, but just a few tablespoons daily will improve your health. Put some pickle slices or kraut on a sandwich at lunchtime... and add a tablespoon or two of fermented carrots, broccoli or cauliflower on a dinner salad.

When I was out of high school and dating, my boyfriend always took me to one of the wonderful open-24-hour delicatessens for late-night dessert treat after a movie or a play. I remember there was always a 'relish' tray with perhaps 5-6 small dishes of pickles, kraut, beets, and several other items; Howie said they were to help with digestion. (They didn't go with my cake and ice cream, though.)

I didn't really understand that concept back then, since my family didn't make lacto-ferments and I had not grown up with eating them. It was only in recent years I understood my grandparents couldn't make them anymore due to the year-round warm weather they found in South Florida after moving from the dust bowl during the Depression. Much later, my mother moved to the NC mountains, and she started making sauerkraut and garlic dills for my step-father, who was born in Holland.

I doubt my mother knew the added nutritional benefits of ferments; she made them because they tasted great and my step-father loved them. Once any vegetable ferment has finished over the first 2-4 weeks, all of the ferments will taste great. However, the growth of added nutrients has just begun, and the taste just keeps getting better. The longer they mellow, the smoother the taste and the greater the nutrients (within a reasonable time, which is a variable of months to 2-3 years).

Lactic acid fermentation is a biological process by which sugars such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose, are converted into cellular energy and the metabolic byproduct lactate. (Probiotics) The term probiotics refers to bacteria and yeast found in food that are good for our bodies. Our skin and intestinal tract are completely covered in bacteria and the idea is that inviting the right kind of bacteria into our systems has health benefits. 

The human gut can contain over 2 lbs of intestinal microflora (beneficial bacteria) and they do some pretty important work there. They help digest food and create vitamins, they make it hard for bad bacteria to live there, and they stimulate the part of our immune system (70%) that is in our digestive system. In fact, there is more and more evidence that everything from acute intestinal upset to allergies to autism can be helped by normalizing gut bacteria and using probiotics.

Yogurt, kefir and buttermilk are all very common probiotic foods. These are all fermented dairy products that are eaten while the bacteria are still alive. Vegetables and fruit can also be cultured into probiotic foods through a process called lacto-fermentation. The Old-Timers merely called it 'pickling'.

The lacto-fermenting of vegetables is basically just covering vegetables with a salty brine and letting the bacteria do its work. The brine serves as a protection against the growth of putrefying microorganisms, and allows the growth of the desired of bacteria, Lactobacilli. Fermentation breaks nutrients down into more easily digestible forms. 

Lactobacilli transform lactose into easier-to-digest lactic acid. These cultures then create new nutrients: B vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin. Lactobacilli create omega-3 fatty acids, essential for cell membrane and immune system function. Some ferments have been shown to function as antioxidants, scavenging cancer precursors (free radicals) from the cells of the body. 

Sally Fallon says, "The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation [for a varying amount of time] but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine."
The bottom line is this: Fermentation is tasty, and makes food more nutritious.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Time to Order Saffron Crocus

 Photo Courtesy of AYankeeCat  
Note the long red saffron stigmas coming off the centers

Saffron is the most expensive spice you can buy, costing thousands of dollars per pound (or several dollars for what would be half a teaspoonful), yet it is incredibly easy and cheap to grow your own. Saffron, the bright red-orange spice, is the dried stigmas of the fall Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) flower. It takes over 80,000 flowers to produce one pound of saffron, and it must be picked by hand. We tend to think of crocus as an early spring flower yet there are many that bloom in the fall, including Saffron Crocus. Without saffron, paella or curries wouldn't be the same.

Now is the time to order saffron crocus corms for fall shipping. (Just like some garlic varieties... they both become scarce if you wait until fall to order.) You can search the 'Net for good values; I found some for 32¢ each, buying 50 or more. 50 is just $16. And, they multiply!

Caveat: Always check any vendor in The Garden Watchdog, where companies are rated by actual customers relating their experiences. A company with a change in management can quickly go downhill... or uphill.

Saffron crocus are hardy in USDA Zone 6-8 in the South, and 6-9 in the West. Plant the corms 4" deep and 4" apart immediately when you receive them. They do best in full sun, and well-drained soil. If you have moles or voles, you might line the bed with hardware cloth. The flowers will appear about 4-6 weeks after planting, and last 2-3 weeks. Look for the stigmas after the morning dew has evaporated and the flowers are fully open. Carefully pluck the 3 red-orange stigmas, dry carefully and store in a small, airtight container. 25 corms will provide enough saffron for 2-3 tasty meals.

If you live in those zones above, you can leave the corms in the ground year 'round. Otherwise, plan to dig and store them before the ground freezes in winter. To make digging easier, plant them in small pots (and in a good soil mix) and place the pots about 2" below the soil surface so the pots don't show. After digging the corms, cover them with dry sawdust or peat moss and store in a cool(40-50ºF), dry area like a basement. Replant in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Don't water them (except rain) until leaves appear in fall.

About every 4-6 years you should divide and replant the corms after the foliage has faded in fall. Dividing will keep them from over-crowding which cuts down on flowering.

A word of advice: mark the area where they are planted, since most of the year it will look like a bare spot begging for a new plant. I learned that the hard way, and accidentally dug my corms 2 years in a row!

Buying and Using Saffron
If you buy some saffron to use until you have some of your own to harvest, avoid powdered saffron as it is often inferior and has turmeric added. Look for small vials or bottles containing just red stamens without the yellow filaments attached. They add nothing but weight and cost.

Steep the threads in a hot liquid like broth, water or milk depending on the recipe, for about 10 minutes before adding. Add the saffron/liquid early on in cooking or baking because it takes a while for the color and flavor to develop. Don't add saffron directly to hot oil; the flavors will evaporate quickly, and although the dish may smell wonderful, the flavor will be absent.

Saffron Bread in a Bread Machine
Great toasted with butter and honey!

1 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground saffron
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
3 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast
3/4 cup raisins

Mix saffron with 1/4 cup of the warmed milk. After 10 minutes, add to rest of the milk. Add all ingredients, except raisins, to the bread maker pan in the order listed (or as directed in your bread maker instructions).

Set bread maker to the regular setting and start. Add the raisins when the beeper sounds to add additional ingredients.

Recipe from: