Monday, July 19, 2010

Celt's Garden - Favas and Everson Farm Stands

The green fava beans are swelling in their pods. Ah, shelly fava beans simmered with garlic scapes or green garlic. Harvest the bottom favas first. If you leave them, they will turn into dry beans, but it will take until late August. As they age, the beans first develop a tough outer skin, which slides off after cooking. Then they harden into dry beans. The pods dry and shatter, so you want to get your favas in as soon as the beans are hard and let them finish drying under cover. Then you can store them or save the seed for your own cover crop.

After they are dry, clean your beans by taking the pods off and then putting the beans in a sifter or sieve and shaking off the dust, pod debris and bug bits. A simple hand sifter available at ethnic grocery stores works well. Home dried beans may have a little bug action. A simple fix is to seal them up in a waterproof container and freeze them for a couple of weeks. Then let them come up to room temperature in the unopened container and transfer them to a jar. A bay leaf in the jar with your beans will keep the bugs away.

Check your home dried beans monthly and plan to eat them over the winter. It's difficult to get beans down to a uniform low moisture level at home. If they get a little yellow powdery mold on the beans in storage, it's not toxic but the shelf life is over. Check over and remove any funky ones, rinse off the powder and cook them up. You can freeze the extra.

If you have some European ancestors, fava beans are your heritage. The old world beans are favas, peas, lentils and chickpeas, all originating in a large blob area in southwest Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. Favas, peas and lentils are cool weather beans. This is great for the Northwest. We have lots of coolish weather. The Palouse, which overlaps eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho, grows most of the pulses for the whole country. The dry conditions discourage pulse diseases.

Fall planted favas may survive. I find they do better with a nurse crop of oats. Plant a mixed handful of oats and favas in November. It might turn out to be a cover crop instead of beans. In February, the main fava crop goes in for fresh and dried beans. Favas are upright, so you get a surprisingly good harvest from a garden bed. I plant Banner, which can go to six feet and sets heavy pods of smaller beans. Windsor is the traditional eating fava, but the big beans don't yield as much food per plant.

Lentils and chickpeas are delicate little vines. On a garden scale, they are mainly good for practice recognizing the different growth stages. The yield from a bed fits in your hands. Lentils were prized in the ancient world for their delicious taste. Lentils are such a bugger to harvest and clean that they must have also been grown for their value as a convenience food. They are the only pulse that cooks in under an hour.

Despite all the work involved in growing dried beans, they have always been a portable, long storing way to time shift food energy. Beans and pulses have 1500 calories a pound.

Everson has a new farm stand. Joy Monjure, a laid off City of Bellingham employee, opened Field of Greens at the bend where Everson Road turns into Kale Road on the way out of town. She's working with four local farmers to provide the fresh organic goodies. It's a tad tricky to find: slow down going around the curve. The entrance is through the mini-storage place, onto an apron of chips. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

The Breckenridge farm stand is at the other end of Everson on Main Street. The cream top (non-homogenized) milk was rated "that's really good" by my taste test panel. They also have butter, cream, and the best soft serve ice cream that I have ever had, made from their own milk. 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. M-S

Farther out of town is La Gloria Market at 7310 Everson Goshen Rd. A nice selection of spices, many varieties of chilis and dried goods in the back corner, groceries, Spanish language videos, Mexican style milk candy and soft pastries, run by very nice people. Just walking in the door induces Tex-Mex border culture deja vu all over again. Co-located with the market is Taqueria El, run by a cheerful Spanish speaking lady named Erin. Go figure. Erin makes everything from scratch, the salsas (mild and killer), the rice and beans, the fillings for the tacos and burritos. Taqueria El is worth a pilgrimage to Everson just for the salsa and Erin's real Tex Mex tacos. Not large, not expensive, just flavorful grilled meat on a double corn tortilla with a fresh garnish. Excellent burritos in the Northwest tradition (if you can eat the whole thing, you're either working hard with your hands or nursing a baby.)

Check it out.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira on July 12, 2010 at For more recent posts, check out

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Celt's Garden - Start with a Live Chicken (Rated NV)

That would be rated NV for No Vegans. No 12 year old girls either, who are shocked, just shocked, to find out that meat comes from DEAD ANIMALS and spend the next ten years living on spaghetti with plain Marinara sauce and Cheetos. Vegans, perhaps you would like to check out "That French Feeling" which is a nice earlier post about growing herbs.
To go from live chicken to dead chicken, first you have to catch the chicken. This can be tricky, as chickens are telepathic about being approached with a sense of purpose. Food works sometimes, but your best bet is herding the chicken into a corner. If you have control over the birds' last night, it's best to segregate them about the time you would be locking them up for the night and don't feed them in morning. That gives them a chance to calm down after the catching. Starving the chickens overnight makes cleaning them a lot less disgusting.

In the morning, set up your work area. You will need a place to kill the chickens, a large pot of almost boiling water to get the feathers off (your canning kettle is a good size), a very sharp large knife, a work surface that you can keep clean, a small pair of needle nose pliers, a covered container for the guts, another container for the feathers, and a bowl for the innards. If you are refrigerating or freezing your chickens, a cooler of ice water to quickly bring down the body temperature is very helpful.

For one or two birds, killing them outside and plucking and cleaning them in the kitchen sink works fine. For a big chicken killing day, an outside work area is much easier to clean up afterwards.

Here's my method for killing chickens: one at a time, hang the bird securely by its feet. It will flop around a lot, so I wire it up with piece of electrical cable. Being upside down sedates the chicken. Then hold the head firmly and thank the chicken. If you feel too self-conscious thanking an upside-down chicken, take a minute to reflect on the oneness of all being, or bless the chicken. I am partial to "Blessed are you, the source of all life", which is not from any organized religion. Not addressed to the chicken, of course.

Then take the knife and quickly cut its throat. Watch out for your knuckles. Hold on to the head. The wings will flap furiously. The wing flapping helps to pump out the blood, which you want for better meat. After scrubbing chicken blood off vinyl siding, I learned to keep holding the head during the flapping stage and just let the warm blood run down over my hand. It's respectful to the chicken. You're not twelve years old, right?

If the chicken gets loose, you will have a graphic example of the expression "run around like a chicken with its head cut off." This is bad, because you want to keep the wound clean and have the chicken rapidly bleed out. It's also a big mess.

Other methods for killing chickens can be found on you-tube. The one of the two good old boys, fairly lit up on beer, using an orange traffic cone to hold the chickens, is at least good for entertainment value.

Once your bird stops flapping, take it down and cut off the head the rest of the way. Hold it by the feet and immediately dunk it in a large pot of water just off the boil. The hotter the water, the easy to pull the feathers off. Grab handfuls of feathers and stuff them into the receptacle which you conveniently staged during set-up. Get off as much as you can, using the pliers to pull out the wing feathers as needed. Then cut off the feet and put them in the offal container. There will be pinfeathers left on. Best to clean the guts out before rigor mortis sets in and come back later for the pin feathers.

The chicken is starting to resemble something you would buy at a supermarket. Take a sharp knife and cut carefully around the anus, being careful not to pierce the intestines. Make a shallow cut from thigh to thigh to increase the opening. Now, reach in and remove the guts. You're still not twelve years old, right? Gently reach up the back of the opening and pull out the insides. Here's where starving the chickens overnight really helps. The intestines go in the offal can.

The liver looks just like what comes in those little paper packets inside a purchased chicken, except that it's attached to the gall bladder. The gall bladder is full of green bile, which will ruin the liver if it ruptures and spills. Carefully cut off the gall bladder and set aside the liver in the bowl. The heart is recognizable, set it aside as well. The gizzard is a large nasty looking ball that holds gravel. Chickens have no teeth; they digest food by grinding it up in the gizzard. Slice the gizzard along the equator and open it up inside out. Pull out the gravel and food remains. There is a tough membranous yellow muscle covering the gizzard. Peel it off and put the gizzard into your useful parts bowl. Sometimes the lungs will partially adhere to the inside. It's not a problem. If you have ever wondered what that stuff is on the inside back of a purchased chicken, it's lungs. Cut off the neck and set it aside. Remove the crop, the sack the chicken holds food in. 

If you are butchering an old layer, you will get quite a bit of egg laying apparatus out. You may find a fully formed egg. The egg is fine to eat, and the immature eggs are fine to use in cooking if you care to. Retired layers are mostly feathers, fuss and egg laying apparatus. There's not much meat on them, but they make superb soup.

Now, rinse off the chicken and use your pliers to remove the pinfeathers. This is the most time consuming part. If you are freezing or refrigerating the chicken, drop it in a cooler of ice water to cool down, then drain and package. If you are eating it immediately, cut up (if desired) and cook.

If you are butchering a retired layer or cull rooster, the best cooking method involves liquid and long, slow cooking. A true free range chicken is a tough bird. If you want to raise your own meat chickens, get a breed intended for the purpose. Plan to raise a batch to the age of 10-12 weeks and have a chicken butchering day.

In countries without refrigeration, the chickens run around until they are eaten. Authentic chicken curry and chicken tandoori recipes involve sauce and hours of cooking on low heat.

The feathers can go straight onto garden beds, or into the compost. The heart and gizzard can go into stock. The liver is delicious cooked up immediately. If you have a lot of livers, they freeze well.

Turkeys are butchered just the same way. I like to respect the bird's life by using every bit except the offal.

The first time butchering a bird takes a while, and an emotional readjustment from buying packaged, impersonal food. You will pick up speed with practice. Be sure to allow time for clean up and packaging and freezing your birds. If you have have household members who bond unduly with dinner, send them out while you do the deed. Otherwise, they may be so emotional as to be unable to eat the nice meal that you have worked so hard to prepare for them.

It is about impossible for a backyard chicken grower to sell a plucked and drawn bird legally in the State of Washington. However, if you buy (or get free) a live bird and butcher it yourself, the transaction is totally above board. You might be intending to to keep it for a pet, eh? There are folks who don't want to butcher the layers they have grown attached to, and don't want to keep feeding them in their dotage, either. Try to get the old girls for really cheap or free. There's not much to them, for the amount of work involved.

Liver and Eggs:
hard boiled egg
chicken or turkey liver
Slice onion, saute sliced onion and liver. When liver is brown outside, but still a bit pink in the center when sliced through, mince up liver, onions and hard boiled egg. Season with salt, thyme, savory and coarse black pepper. Originally a recipe for stretching a single liver to make an appetizer for many, this is excellent on crackers or toast rounds while you package up those birds for freezing.

If you have meat chickens or a purchased bird, you may want to cook up only the breast and legs for dinner, saving the neck, back and wings for stock. Reserve the heart and gizzard.
Put legs, neck and wings in a baking pan. Cook in a 300 degree F oven for an hour, turning halfway through. Put the meat pieces, heart, gizzard, a bay leaf, rosemary, thyme and savory in a four quart soup pot. Pour some water or wine into the bottom of the pan the chicken pieces baked in and scrape off the bits. Pour it into the pot and add water to cover. Simmer on very low for one hour. Strain out the pieces and remove the meat from the bones. Put the bones back in the pot, with a chunk of carrot, some celery and a piece of onion. Simmer for another 1-2 hours on very low heat. Strain out the broth. This makes about two quarts of stock. The meat and stock can be used to make soup immediately. Otherwise, use the meat in something strongly flavored, such as curry or tacos. It won't keep long.
Stock stores very nicely in quart canning jars in the fridge. Mayonnaise or spaghetti sauce jars are not recommended. I've had them literally burst at the seam, spraying boiling stock everywhere. A layer of fat will rise to the top of the jar as the broth cools. Don't disturb it. The fat seals air out and preserves your stock. When you are ready to use the stock, you can peel off the fat layer if you like. Traditionally, the schmaltz (the fat layer) was used to brown the onions and garlic for the soup. Home raised birds sometimes have a lot of yellow fat, which was used for cooking in the days before vegetable oils were readily available.
If you intend to freeze the stock, leave a full inch of head room in the jar and let it cool first in the refrigerator. Then put the jar in the freezer with the lid off. When it freezes solid, put the lid on. This keeps your jars from cracking.

Coq au Vin Rouge:
That extra rooster that came in the shipment
2-4 cups red wine
plentiful garlic, carrots, onions, black peppercorns, rosemary and a bay leaf
A crock pot or heavy soup pot.
Butcher rooster. Assemble rooster and other ingredients in the pot. Add stock or water to cover. Cook a long time on very low heat, adding more water if needed, until the meat falls off the bones.
Serve meat and broth over cooked egg noodles or red potatoes. Amazing.

Consult the Joy of Cooking, Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook, or other general purpose cookbook for directions on freezing your birds.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on July 3, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Cheap Garlic Tricks

It's time to go out and snap off those cute curly garlic scapes. You want the plant to be frustrated in its reproductive mission and direct its photosynthesis into making a bulb. The bulb stores energy for another try next year, unless you get there first and put it into the spaghetti. The scapes have become quite the high priced delicacy, a side benefit of growing your own. It's also time to hill up the potatoes. This means burying the stems so that the plant will grow more tubers. Otherwise, you get all top growth and few spuds.

Your early garlic may be ready to harvest. When the stems fall over, any growth that is going to happen has already happened. Growers harvest the field when half the stems have fallen over. Gardeners can be picky and get their garlic as it is ready. You want to catch the bulb at that point where it is fully mature, but the top has not yet opened up. Open tops allow dirt to get in among the cloves. Wash those ones off and use immediately; they won't keep. When you have the bulbs out of the ground, brush off most of the dirt and lay it out, stalk and all, on newspaper indoors or in a covered porch. If you have a well-ventilated barn with an elevated drying rack, more power to you, but then you hardly need tips from me.

The main season hard neck garlic comes on in August. We're getting the early soft neck varieties now. If you are looking for an early garlic, try planting Chinese Pink from Territorial in October for an early summer harvest next year.

Garlic comes in soft neck and hard neck types. The soft neck varieties keep longer. That's the ones that can be braided. To braid your garlic, lay it out and let it dry until the tops are no longer green but not completely shriveled. Clean off the dirt as it dries. Then start with three bulbs at the top. Cross the stems just like braiding your kid's hair, adding another bulb with each cross. Cinch the bulbs up good and tight as you braid, because the stems will continue to shrink as they complete the drying. When the braid is as heavy as you want (over enthusiasm results in a braid heavy enough to pull the hook out of the wall), finish braiding the stems and put a knot in the end to hold the braid together. Or decorate with a calico ribbon and some rosemary branches, if you want to impress your friends.

With a little practice, you will be making very nice garlic braids. The point of this work is to get the garlic in a compact form where it can be hung up in a well- ventilated spot with sufficient humidity. Your kitchen out of direct sunlight is an excellent spot. I keep mine in the basement.

Hard neck garlic has stems too tough to braid. For storage, pick the best ones and lay them, stems and all, to dry. The stems will shrivel, but leave them on so that the bulb cures properly. As they dry, clean off the dirt. When the stems are fully dry and the bulbs resemble something you would buy in a store, clip off the stems and store the bulbs someplace well-ventilated. A small net bag hung on the wall works well.

Besides the pricey scapes (excellent in stir-fried dishes), you can use the bulbs and stems that are too small, oddly shaped, or have open bulbs. Cut off the bulbs to use fresh.

The stems are hard and fibrous. Here's Walter Haugen's garlic stock recipe:

Clean off the dirt and shriveled leaves from the stem. Cut into short pieces. Use fresh, or freeze the pieces. When you want to make garlic stock, pull several stem pieces in a pan with some water and simmer. Use immediately, or keeps in the fridge for several days.

Garlic is a notorious source of contamination in preservation. To use garlic in pickles, peel the cloves and cut off the heel. Then clean up any dirt on the counter before going any further. Rinse off the cloves.

Here's a five-minute garlic dill:

Scrub pickling cukes thoroughly with a soft brush. Get your steam canner ready to go, and fill the reservoir with boiling water. Pack cukes into scalded jars with a dill head and one or more garlic cloves in each jar. Add pepper corns, a bay leaf, an optional small hot pepper and 1 level teaspoon of kosher salt per quart jar. Pour in boiling white wine vinegar until the jar is half full. Add boiling water to fill within a half inch of the top. Seal with scalded lids. Process in a steam canner for 5 minutes.

If you are up in the north country around Birch Bay, check out the Farmer's Market. Local meats (Keizer, buffalo, Farmer's Market house brand), fish (Barleans), poultry, dairy (Edaleen, Twin Brook, Appel Farm cheese), Barb's pies (Ferndale), honey (Guillumette's), knitted items, two local coffee roasters, bulk beans and rice, garden center, gifts, huge decorative clay flower pots (Mexico and Thailand). Plenty of vegetables and fruits. The fruits and vegetables are conventional and predominantly from elsewhere, but they look good.

The new owner might be open to carrying more local fruit and vegetables in season. John Sheehan, owner of Sundance Beef, purchased the Farmer's Market from Terry Smith and will be renaming it The Sundance Market. The place is larger than it looks from the road, and has more stuff in it than can be comprehended in one visit. The market has 10,000 square feet, which is the size of a supermarket in the 1960's. The Smiths added a huge pole barn last year, so business must be good.

A word to the entrepreneurs out there: they could use more local value added products, such as soap, herb teas, pasta, salad dressings, salsa etc.

Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, 3591 Birch Bay Lynden Rd, Custer, WA 98240.

Buffalo Link Soup (Buffalo Beenie-Weenie)

Soak 1 cup small white navy beans in water to cover over night and simmer until tender, keeping just enough water to cover.
Slice and brown a small onion and the buffalo links in a soup pot. Cut up the links.
Add 1 quart garlic stock (or other stock), savory, thyme, a bay leaf, cooked beans and 1/4 cup tomato paste, and simmer it all together for a bit.

For a fast workday meal, make garlic stock and cook beans ahead of time and store in the fridge. The then whole soup goes together quickly. Buffalo links are really good. A bit pricey, but one package can be divided to make two batches of soup. It's actually better that way, with a higher bean proportion to balance the rich flavor of the links.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on June 24, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Moo Juice Season

"Wow, that is really good. That tastes so creamy!" "Now, that tastes like the milk we used to get out of the tank back on the dairy farm." Jackie's Jersey milk got raves from my taste test panel. Jackie's Jerseys (Terra Organica, Coop, Sumas IGA) is a dairy farm with 18 cows, all Jerseys. Eighteen cows is too many to be a hobby and nowhere near enough for a conventional dairy. The normal conventional dairy in Whatcom county has 500 - 600 cows. In California, dairies can have 10,000 cows.

To help visualize this cow, Elsie, the mascot of Borden's cheese familiar from the label, is a Jersey. (Despite Elsie's mug on the package, Borden's cheese tastes like glue.) Jerseys are small (800 to 1200 pounds) brown to grey girls, beloved for their sweet temperament and high-butterfat milk. They have very good grazing efficiency due to their small size, which means that it is possible to pack more Jerseys on a pasture and actually get more for the milk from the same area.

That genderless bovine on the Whatcom Transport Authority bus is a Holstein heifer, a young female whose udder will be noticeable after she calves, technically called a Holstein-Friesian. The familiar black and white Holstein is the mass market milk cow. Holsteins were brought to the U.S. in the 1850's and have been the dairy industry's cow of choice since. They remain popular because they produce abundant milk on grass. Which is interesting, because the big California dairies don't actually feed the cows on grass.

Holsteins have been bred to give astonishing milk production, in the neighborhood of twenty gallons of milk a day. There has been concern about using recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) to boost milk production even higher. By comparison, the famous prize cow in Ten Acres Enough (written in the 1860's, available in the library, well worth reading) gave five gallons a day and she was legendary throughout the whole county. All that hyped up milk production is hard on the cow. Modern Holsteins have a productive life of 4-6 years. In the 1920's, cows were expected to give 4 gallons of milk a day (already up from 1860 averages) and had a productive life of 12-14 years.

All of which would just be more about cows than you really wanted to know, except that Jackie's Jerseys got in trouble with the Raw Milk Police. There is no way to have a conventional dairy business model with 18 Jersey cows. However, Jackie's does raw milk, and it's really good stuff. They are targeting a niche market and the Raw Milk Police targeted them. Two people in Washington State got sick from e-coli recently. There was no evidence that the e-coli came from Jackie's milk, but it was the only thing that the investigation could find in common. Hence Jackie's was in big trouble.

This happens all too often. Joel Salatin tells exactly the same story of raw milk producers in Virginia in "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal". If anyone gets sick from e-coli, the milk is blamed, even though they could have contacted the bacteria cleaning up dog poop on the street or any number of other ways. If the dairy survives the investigation, the publicity alone may put them out of business. Grace Harbor went out of the raw milk business after an e-coli incident and even got rid of their cows for years.

When I heard about the e-coli incident, I ran out and bought a half gallon of Jackie's milk. It was such a hit, I plan to keep buying it.

It is seldom pointed out in e-coli scares that the human digestive system processes small amounts of e-coli very well. There were no Health Department inspectors checking the milk in our thousands of years of pastoralism. We are co-evolved with the little critters.

However, cows evolved to eat grass. Normal cow digestive system e-coli eats the grass the cows eat, breaking down the cellulose into vinegar. When cows are fed a high grain diet, they develop a different strain of intestinal flora. We are not adapted to it, and it can be lethal to persons with compromised immune systems. In California, the dry conditions allow keeping mind boggling numbers of cows. They are fed plenty of grain to keep milk production high. One dairy cow produces 148 pounds a day of manure. The poop product of 10,000 cows is difficult to imagine. In California, runoff from monoculture dairy production in a desert contaminated the irrigation water used for monoculture spinach production in the desert and bagged spinach sickened people all over the country.

What to do, besides staying away from vegetables that come packed in little bags of nitrogen? The local milk is very good right now. The rainy weather grew excellent grass. The taste test panel also really liked Fresh Breeze, which jumps through all the hoops to maintain organic certification and Twin Brook, which is "98% organic practices but paperwork free". Local conventional dairy Edaleen's milk was judged so far superior to Haggen's store brand (both available through WIC) that taste tester's shopping habits have changed.

Jackie's beat the rap. The State of Washington was able to identify the culprit DNA strain and it was not from Jackie's. Grace Harbor is back in the cow business, with a really good yogurt. Yogurt is a pasteurized product, unless of course you make it yourself from the other half of a container of raw milk.

1 quart raw milk
1 cup commercial yogurt (look for the label "contains live cultures", you want the bugs)
or 1 envelope yogurt culture (look for Yogourmet brand)
dial immersion thermometer (Cash and Carry, an excellent investment)

Warm milk to 120 - 130 degrees F. Ignore all propaganda about higher temperatures, otherwise why buy raw milk in the first place. 

Allow to cool to 110 degrees. The really organized recommend immersing the pot into a larger pot filled with ice water for rapid cooling. This resembles work, so I generally just let it sit there and cool off. Add culture. Ideally, keep around 80 degrees for six hours until it sets. I put the oven on warm, then turn it off and set the pot in there. 

This produces a thinner yogurt than commercial products, more like a yogurt drink. Attention to detail (rapid cooling, keeping it warm during culturing) will result in a somewhat firmer product. Flavor with a little vanilla and sugar or maple syrup, if desired. Really good stuff. Smash up some fresh strawberries and stir in the yogurt for an amazing beverage.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on June 21, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Crunch Time in the Garden

The summer garden planting time is upon us, and a right good trick it is. In between the downpours, it's time to rush out and plant tomatoes, peppers, basil, summer and winter squashes, sweet corn, beans and cucumbers. Those brave and blessed with a good microclimate may try some northern adapted melons. Russian Collective Farm Woman melon is my choice this year. Last year, I planted a French heirloom cantaloupe thingy and got a half dozen drippingly sweet softball sized melons. The full force of weather off Bellingham Bay hits my garden, and melons are a stretch.

It's also time to get the big brassicas that will take you through the winter started in little pots to transplant in six weeks: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts. Look for broccoli and cabbages that say fall, winter, overwintering in the description, such as January King cabbage and Purple Sprouting broccoli (a show stopper, that one.)

We could use a dry stretch to get the herbs harvested. They are flowering, or just about to flower. That early flowering stage is just what you want. Wait until the dew has dried on the herbs to pick them. Late morning, or an overcast day, after a night without rain is best, but it's to the point that soon we'll have to get them in as best as we can, and spread them to dry on the dining table if necessary. Try to avoid the really soggy stage, because the herbs tend to mold instead of drying. The lavender is just budding out. For potpourri and medicinal use, harvest the lavender when the buds are fat but still unopened.

Meanwhile, the garden is trying to revert to temperate rain forest. Blackberries are springing up in the lawn. Small trees are sprouting among the shrubs. The weeds are waist-high. In last year's seed production beds, there is a sudden abundance of kale, a mat of stringy volunteer beets coming up too close, a thicket of radishes already bolted and flowering. No doubt your lawn, or what is left after you put a garden on it, is reaching for the sky as well.

While you're doing all that gardening and keeping up with your day job, strawberry season is upon us. The map of u-pick berry farms from Sunday's paper is on line at There too, a dry day is best, because wet berries mold. Sometimes they mold before you can get them home.

As you are up late stirring jam before getting up early to start work the next day, it may cross your mind to wonder why bother putting in hours planting, drying herbs and jamming up on top of everything else you already have going. Good question. I ask myself this every year, particularly when it's past bedtime and I still have jars to fill and process. Then in winter, I crack open a jar of homemade jam and the fragrance of strawberry fields in June fills the air. Could I buy organic broccoli in winter and artisan preserves as good as homemade? Sure, but then I'd have to make twice as much. Far better to spend the time here than driving I-5 to some techno-geek job in Seattle. I did that for a while, and decided that with the garden as part of my business plan, I had far less stress and about the same take home income, after the cost and time of commuting. Besides, it's difficult to get laid off from gardening.

Go for it.

And, hey hey, if your potatoes are flowering, the new potatoes are ready. Reach in, feel around, and taste the summer.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on June 10, 2010. For recent posts, see

Monday, June 21, 2010

Celt's Garden - Getting Real About Winter Gardening

Just as a filthy cold spring is delaying planting the summer garden, it's time to get ready to plant your winter garden. The winter garden feeds you, your family, and possibly your laid off friends through next fall, winter and spring with fresh delicious veg. That eight months of food you grow yourself provides fresh food when it is most expensive and most likely to be imported from California, Mexico, China and Chile. Personally, I wish Chile all the best in a changing world, but tying a great chunk of their national prosperity to our continued ability and desire to buy air freighted perishables in midwinter deserves a rethink.

As Kenyan green bean and flower growers discovered when the volcano Eyjafjallajökull blew in Iceland and disrupted air freight for a week, it's a vulnerable business model. As Kenyans fed roses to cows by the truckload and scrambled to find closer markets for green beans (Kenyans don't eat green beans), Britons got a view of their supply chain that most people never notice. In Kenya, distributors struggled to stay afloat, growers were hit hard, field hands were laid off and had no pay packets to take home to momma. In Britain, eaters got an abrupt insight into just in time supply.

Despite all the publicity around local eating, we're not organizing our supply chain much differently from the British. I ran smack into that in November 2005, when I was gardenless. I was suddenly back to buying fresh food. Good ruddy luck buying winter vegetables from Washington, much less the Fourth Corner region, in a state that raises a good part of the world's supply of seed for winter vegetables. Yup, you heard me correctly. Washington State grows 50% of the world's cabbage, carrot, spinach, cauliflower, brussels spout and table beet seed, 40% of world radish seed and 20% of world onion seed. (Source: WSDA, dig around and you can find it.)

So I wander into the Co-op on a Tuesday in November and ask the nice lady in the produce section about local winter vegetables, seeing as all the chard, kale, onions, beets, spinach, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and suchlike are from California. First response: the local farmers want a vacation in winter after the summer growing season. Thinking of farmers I know who have winter jobs to keep it together, that sounded doubtful. Second response: not enough farmers. She was putting out two and a half cases of kale a day and local farms couldn't supply the volume. Winter vegetables don't grow around here because the farmers don't plant them. That makes sense: no market, no planting. Since we were standing in a market, I kept on it and got the third response: kale and suchlike doesn't grow around here in the winter time. Now, I had to tell her that I been eating kale out of a patio garden in Bellingham for five winters. By which time, wanting to get back to arranging the organic tomatoes from Chile and clearly fed up with idiots like me, she told me that if I wanted local winter vegetables I should grow them myself.

So back by the canned beans aisle I found Derek Long, who at that time was in charge of the Local Food and Farming initiative with Sustainable Connections and also on the Co-op board. I asked Derek about the shortage of local winter veg. Derek rolled his eyes, gave an exasperated snort, and said "Get real, Celt! What do you expect from us?"

Derek is normally a fairly easy going guy, so I took this as indicative of tripping over a larger issue.

In fact, I had tripped over the kale strand in a whole plate of organic vegetable production spaghetti. Just one piece of it is that the Co-op (and Terra Organica, which really tries hard to buy from local growers) has to make margin to stay in business, and making margin means adopting supermarket standards. Customers expect fresh tomatoes in midwinter and they don't expect to find a sign that says, "Sorry, all out of kale. Fred's Farm in Snohomish County will be sending a shipment Thursday."

Another piece is that the big growers in far away places can offer lower wholesale prices. Even with the paperwork for USDA organic standards jacking up the price and hysteria over illegal immigration (there is no other kind for Mexican farm workers, the legal immigration quota is zero) choking the supply of skilled agricultural workers, the big growers in California can offer a reliable volume at a lower price than local growers.

Even with the economies of scale for big growers, multiple subsidies to the energy industry to get the produce transported here, multiple subsidies to the water industry to grow irrigated vegetables in the desert, and considerable taxpayer subsidies for the overhead of organic certification programs and rest of the USDA, the stuff isn't all that cheap by the time it hits our shelves.

Growing your own is one answer. If you have some space that you can devote to a winter garden, it will save you beaucoup bucks. If you have 10-20 square foot per eater, you can have something fresh all winter. The storm in 2008 froze out my normally reliable winter garden, but even then it got growing again after a couple of months.

If you are growing your own starts, June is the time to get the heavy veg (leeks, cauliflower, winter cabbage, and brussels sprouts) started in little containers for transplant July-August. Kale tends to bolt in summer's heat and can wait another month. Beets, chard, bok choi, napa cabbage, Walla Walla onions and carrots are direct seeded in July. Winter spinach, mustard family greens, radishes and lettuce are direct seeded a bit every week July through September. Arranging some protection for tender greens will extend the season and give you fresh salads until it gets really cold.

The other option is to get to know your farmer. Attempts by producers to generate a market for the off season have failed miserably so far. Growing Washington kept the farm stand on Railroad Avenue open last fall until it was clear that it wasn't going to work. Various farmers have tried to offer extended season CSA's. That hasn't worked either. If we want local farmers to plant for us instead getting jobs bookkeeping and fixing cars, they need to feel comfortable that they have customers through the winter. We eaters will have to step up and make a commitment to buy consistently.

The longer season at the Farmer's Market is a step in the right direction. Talk to the farmers there and see what you can arrange. There are many more farmers in the area who aren't selling at the Farmer's Market. Look for them on the Farm Map, and by asking around. If you are out in the county, look for on-farm sales signs. The Smith Road is one long farm stand. There's a cluster around Ferndale, another around Everson, and a few down Highway 9 towards the county line.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on May 28, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Eating to Scale

A few years ago, just as the local food movement was popping on to the radar, Joel Salatin, farmer and writer, wrote a passionate book titled, "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal". Salatin's point is that a half century of consolidation, increasingly large food processors and "eliminating the middleman" has eliminated the middleman. Nearly the entire local food processing and distribution system has gone out of business or been buried in regulations. In some cases, the regulations are aimed at controlling industrial food processing facilities. In other cases, they seem intended to eliminate the small processors.

Salatin has more than once had to pay legal fees, enlist his his legislative representatives, invest in expensive infrastructure, drive hundreds of miles to have his meat processed in an abattoir with the right certification and spend hundreds of hours of grief and time better invested in his farm.

The federal regulations are the same, although they may be differently interpreted by inspectors in different states. The state regulations vary. Salatin's head-on collisions with the State of Virginia differ in the details from what we are up against here. There has been increasing support for local value added products from the Washington Ag Extension service and WSDA during the last few years.

Larry Stap, owner of Twin Brook Creamery in Lynden, gave a tour a couple of years ago and told the tale. This is a story with a happy ending: the family farm is still in operation, still in the family, and Twin Brook Creamery products have a solid local following. Larry's story of getting there was just gruesome. Twin Brooks uses returnable glass bottles. People love the milk. Turning an old farm building into a licensed bottling facility was very expensive and took a couple of years of paper work on top of the renovation. Larry's tale of the regulatory hoops they had to jump through to get up and running was sobering. Seems the glass bottles are made in only one factory in Canada, more infrastructure that we have lost. Larry abides by 98% of organic dairy regulations because he feels that it's the right way to farm, to take care of his customers and his animals. He refuses to apply for organic certification because he feels the paperwork is not a good use of his time and the other 2% of the regulations are just a scam.

Salatin is surrounded by small producers of baskets, jam, cider, etc. He can't sell any of it in a farm stand because it isn't his product. The other producers are not interested in dealing with the public for one transaction at a time. Selling one chicken to a neighbor, by the book, requires a $100,000 investment in upgrading the road, installing handicapped accessible bathrooms, and on and on.

And then there's the certified kitchen problem. No value added product can be sold to the public unless it is made in a certified kitchen. In Washington, a certified kitchen has to be separate from the family kitchen and have a separate entrance and a stainless steel double sink. That's an impossible barrier for someone with four bushels of backyard fruit to jam up. It's too much fruit for the family to eat and there's no legal way to make it into jam to sell. The only option is to give it away. Meat, eggs, dairy and baked goods each have their own intricate regulations, separate from the jam and salad dressing rules.

Tiny entrepreneurial enterprises need to start in the home kitchen. No sensible person starts a small business by investing $30,000 - $50,000 in a commercial kitchen before finding out whether they like getting up at 3:00 AM to bake scones every day. No sensible entrepreneur spends three months making jam without spending a couple of years in low overhead mode, testing recipes on customers first. The barriers to entry are too high for most people to attempt.

There are some local nano-capitalists out there. The burrito lady retired but there is a tamale lady on the east side of town. Tamales like you have never tasted (unless you have a Mexican granny), if you know the tamale lady. I did some chicken deals in parking lots years ago. My middle-aged hippie friends cracked up at the story, because it reminded them of drug deals from the 70's. "Leave the money in the glove compartment, the chickens will be in a cooler in the back."

We are seeing some progress away from a condition of complete paralysis of the local food system. The Washington State Extension service has been positively small farm friendly by comparison with Salatin's experiences in Virginia. The Northwest Agricultural Business Center ( rents an approved poultry processing kit to farmers. Demand has been high. They tried to offer ten-month class on value-added products for farmers last year but it didn't happen. Seattle, always the home of the micro food enterprise, has a few restaurants buying local animals and doing their own charcuterie. San Juan County was out front. After a multi-year process to get a USDA inspected mobile abattoir for small farmers, they got a co-op up and running, hired a butcher, jumped through the hoops and started operation in 2002. Demand is so high that they are adding a second trailer.

Investing in a certified kitchen has been a disaster for two local small businesses and the kiss of death for one. One guy has been able to make it work because he started with a tiny residential kitchen in an old house that was previously absorbed into commercial zoning. As work space, it is terrible - it's a one-butt family kitchen and there is no room to process 100 lbs of fruit or pickles. But it came with the required bathroom and two doors. With a fire extinguisher, a stainless steel restaurant sink and two refrigerators in the former back mud room, he was up and running in an affordable space.

Even as there are a few hopeful signs for local food processing, we are still losing infrastructure. Reid Boiler Works, possibly the last U.S. manufacturer of small scale commercial canning equipment (called autoclaves and retorts on that scale) auctioned everything to the walls this month. Hey, the waterfront property in South Bellingham is a great location for more upscale condos to add to the unsold inventory already lining South State Street.

If you are interested in food nano-capitalism, the Green Book is a summary of Washington State food processing regulations. It's available as a free download. Dig around on the WSU ag extension website. It is always advisable to get a food handler's license and take some classes from the Master Preservers before jumping off the deep end. And of course, test your recipes on friends and family.

Salatin's book is in the library. The queue is a couple of months long.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on May 22, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Change the World, One Tomato at a Time

As you buzz about happily planning your garden, give thought where your seeds and starts come from. If you are going to the effort of growing your own, grow the good stuff. No point in working that hard for the same tasteless cardboard tomatoes you can buy in the supermarket. When you buy seeds and starts, look for heirloom varieties. Heirloom seeds are open pollenated seeds that have been passed on for years, sometimes decades or centuries. Heirloom and open pollenated seeds can be saved and passed on by backyard plant breeders, and often have been. The heirloom varieties that are for sale taste much better than conventional ones. Seed saving is work, often quite a bit of work, and there is no point in saving seed from a variety unless it's good, really good. Besides, there are sorts of wild and wonderful vegetables out there: Purple Dragon carrots, Black Krim tomatoes, Romanescu broccoli with a fractal spiral head, a riot of many colored and shaped lettuces, favorite ethnic vegetables that you may be too cheap to buy even if you can find them.
Heirloom tomatoes are unsuited to industrial agriculture, because they don't travel or store well enough. Imagine biting into a sun-ripened tomato, tender skin busting with juice, real tomato flavor capturing your full attention. Contrast that with the cardboard tomato bred to withstand being machine picked as a uniformly sized green orb, tightly packed in boxes, shipped 1500 miles, gassed with ethylene gas for a reddish color and piled up on display for days.

A home garden version of the tasteless industrial tomato is Early Girl and other "Girls", widely sold varieties.

Open pollenated varieties are just that. The plant grows in the open and is pollinated by insects (tomatoes, beans, squash and other fruits) or wind (corn.) Left to its own devices, the seed will mature and ripen. For the summer fruits like zucchini, that is long past the time that you want to eat it. The seed can be saved and planted. In an open pollinated variety, next generation will come true from seed.

Hybrid seeds are created by tightly inbreeding two different lines, crossing them, and selling the resultant F1 generation. There are some big differences between heirloom and hybrid seeds, starting with taste and price. By and large, heirlooms taste better and cost less.

If saved and planted, hybrid seeds will naturally revert to a parent generation, which may not be something you want. The Sungold tomato is a case in point. Sungold is a favorite gold-orange hybrid cherry tomato. I keep hearing the same story from keen gardeners who tried to save seeds from Sungold. The next generation plant sets tasteless, sour, hard little pale yellow fruit. The Sungold lover will be buying seeds or plants forever.

Open pollinated vegetable varieties have more ability to adapt and respond to their climate and environment. Hybrids do very well if given optimal growing conditions and the professional attention of market growers, but may be less adaptable to backyard gardening. Last summer I did a grow out of Sungold, Gallina's Yellow Cherry and Czech Yellow Cherry. They were all delicious little golden bites. The two heirlooms, Gallina's and Czech, sailed through the summer of intermittent rain, sketchy weather and home gardening conditions. The Sungold cracked when it rained and drooped first when I wasn't Jane on the spot with the hose during dry spells.

Gallina's Yellow Cherry and Czech Yellow Cherry come out of the former Iron Curtain countries. Industrial agriculture collapsed well before the Soviet Union did, leaving home gardeners on their own for plant breeding. The gardeners did a wonderful job as custodians of their heritage. A few tomato varieties were smuggled to the west before the Berlin Wall collapsed, dozens more after the break up of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet economy imploded, home gardening was even more important. I like the "Post-Soviet" tomatoes because they are selected for great taste, do well in our climate and are exactly suited to backyard organic gardening. There is a wonderful riot of colors: Black Krim, Pirkstine Orange, Zarayanka Sunrise, Aurora (red).

Heirloom varieties come with stories: Moskovich, Brandywine, Cherokee, Extra Eros Zlataslava, Ispolin, Giant Syrian, Lakota, Red Fig. The stories are intertwined with culture, with food, with family histories, with sense of place and heritage. Nothing grown in a giant field in California and picked by machine can compare.

So how to get heirloom tomato starts? Check around, there are starts for sale everywhere. Some heirlooms are even marked, or labeled OP for open pollinated. Reputable companies will mark hybrids with an F1.

Watch out for newest scam, though. Monsanto, through its 30 odd fully owned companies (kept with different logos and publishing separate catalogues to make it look like they are still independent small companies) has been pushing a line of "heirloom hybrids". "Heirloom hybrids" is an oxymoron. The press release says that market growers wanted a more uniform, better storing, more easily transportable "heirloom" tomato, and Monsanto responded to their customers. Maybe. The university agricultural research stations have been really good about breeding stabilized open pollinated varieties, so I am skeptical that only hybrids met the needs of growers. More likely, Monsanto bought up the breeding stock of many small seed companies for less benign reasons.

Oh, and it's still a bit cold to put tomatoes out. They need to stay above 50 degrees. If you want to put your tomatoes out early, use a cold frame, row covers, hot caps or other protection.

Really cheap hot cap: cut the bottom off a gallon plastic milk jug. Remove the top. Cut a hole in the top of the handle, and stake down the jug through the handle, covering your tomato start. Be sure to take it off before the plant starts growing through the top.

Coming soon: How to save your own tomato seeds.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on May 7, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Jam Session

Jam season is coming sooner than we think. We seem to be having an early spring - when it isn't winter again. In the usual scheme of things, strawberries arrive in June, followed by the early raspberries, cherries, blueberries, plums, apricots, peaches, figs, blackberries, fall raspberries and the rare treasures, local Lynden Blue and Madeline Angevine grapes. Apples ripen from June to October, depending on the variety. Where to start?
The first step is to plan. How many people are you jamming for? Will your family want gifts of jam for the holidays or do their tastes run to high end electronics? Do they adore strawberry and scorn figs? How much jam would you go through if you weren't paying $8 a jar for the good stuff? Then, gather your equipment. Fruits, pickles and tomatoes are canned in a steam canner or water bath canner. Having used both, I suggest a steam canner. A steam canner inverts the water bath canner construction, with a shallow water tray and a large cover to hold the steam. Pressure canners take so long to come up to temperature that there is no advantage in owning one unless you want to can green beans, meat or fish.
Steam canners are available on line (Territorial, etc.). I saw a few at Yaeger's last year. Yaeger's also has water bath canners and half gallon jars, which are about useless for canning but ideal for storing dry beans. They have the second best price on canning jars. The best is the Fred Meyer on Lakeway. The supermarkets jars are ruddy expensive, only useful in an emergency. I suggest laying in your canner and jars well ahead of time, as in now. Check craigslist for used jars, but they go awfully quickly. Jars will last indefinitely unless abused. Check used jars for a smooth surface on top, no nicks or scrapes. The most useful sizes for jamming are 12 oz, pint and 8 oz.

The wonderful thing about jamming is that you can control the amount of sugar in your jam. The sticky sweet flavor of commercial jams, required to be 55% sugar, never appealed to me. However, even with the low sugar recipes, you will go through quite a bit of sugar. Plan on buying the giant 25 lb. sack of sugar. You will need it unless you make completely sugar free fruit spreads. It's cheaper to get a large sack of sugar and split it with a neighbor than to keep buying 5 lb. bags. Terra Organica and the Coop will order bulk organic sugar for you at a slight discount to the bulk bin price. Last year, I got a 33 lb. sack of raw sugar (dried cane juice), Fair Trade, from Paraguay, distributed by Sunspire, very nice stuff, at a price I could live with. After the jam season, the rest of the bag went into coffee all winter.
Low or no sugar jam is made with low-methoxyl citrus pectin that is activated by calcium, commercially available as Pomona Pectin. The stuff is not cheap if purchased in little boxes. I suggest getting a half pound ( and splitting it with a friend. It comes with recipes. It's easy to use, but the procedure is a bit different from regular pectin.

Low-methoxyl pectin needs sufficient acid to set, so it is advisable to purchase a jar of organic lemon juice concentrate before you are headed home from the U-pick with 35 pounds of leaking raspberries in your car and discover that the lemon juice concentrate is all sold out.

Regular pectin made with less than recommended sugar produces an uncertain thin syrup, so plan on following the recipe if you use Sure-Jell.

Apricots come from the other side of the mountains. You can generally order a case. Apricots dehydrate wonderfully, so those not eaten can be dried.

If you are reusing jars, check the discount grocers for lids. The best time to do this is December, but a person can't think of everything ahead of time. Rings can be reused unless bent or rusty, but you will need new lids every time.

Additional equipment needed is a widemouthed jar funnel, jar tongs and a regular set of tongs for handling lids. There is a magnetic wand sold for this purpose, but I like to keep single use tools to a minimum.

The Master Preservers will run classes on canning in the summer. They are required to use only official recipes and techniques, which must be very frustrating for the instructors. The official USDA recipes appear to be designed to terrify people into buying everything ready made, in supermarkets. The instructions that came with your canner and the pectin box are actually sufficient for making beaucoup great stuff. Last year's classes were standing room only, so if you are interested, you will want to sign up early. I recommend taking the pressure canner class if you are thinking about canning meat, fish or low acid vegetables such as green beans and carrots.

For jam, applesauce, tomatoes and pickles, a steam or water bath canner is not difficult to use. You won't poison anybody if you exercise due caution about food safety. Check each jar edge by running your finger around it to inspect for cracks and nicks, carefully that is. Put boiling jam into scalded jars, seal carefully with hot lids and process according to directions. There are just a few tricks of art: wash new lids, pour boiling water over them, and let them sit for 15 minutes to soften the glue. Fill jars to within a half inch of the top to allow room for expansion, and wipe off the tops of the jars with a paper towel dipped in very hot water before putting on the lids and rings. You don't need to reef on the rings, just get it snug. Handle the jars carefully and keep them upright as you put them into the canner and remove them after processing to cool on a folded towel. The glue is hot and the seals are fragile. Allow to cool overnight. After the jars cool, the rings will be loose. Just unscrew and remove the rings. Cranking down will break the seal. Check each seal by trying to move the lid sideways with your fingers. If the lid moves, the seal is broken. Put that one in the fridge and eat it. Wipe off, label and store your jars in a cool, dark cupboard. Every so often, check your seals. Apply common sense here, if it looks or smells funky, don't eat it and don't try to save the jar. If your home canned jam grows something Technicolor in storage, the seal is broken and pitch the whole thing, jar and all. I have had two seals fail during storage in 30 years. However, someone I know (not saying who, as my mother will get after me) lost more than one batch from tightening down on the rings after processing, hence breaking the seals. 

Check out the books Summer in a Jar, Putting Food By, and Preserving the Harvest for small batch recipes. If you have grandma's jam recipe, use the instructions on your canner for filling and processing the jars. Some old recipes call for the long-discredited overflow method of jar filling. Use common sense about whether grandma's recipe has enough acid for safe preservation, by comparing it to modern recipes.

There are small farmers in the county who aren't on the Farm Finder map because they didn't pay up. As you go about looking for sources, note who else is in the neighborhood.

The most affordable fine jam starts with free fruit, quite doable with blackberries, apples and to some degree plums (ask around), less so with other fruits. The next level is the U-pick operations. The farmer is struggling to make a profit, so perhaps we can forgive them for the usual practice of having the professionals in to pick and pack commercial orders before opening to U-pickers. U-picking may take longer than expected, if you end up gleaning rather than picking.

Dedicated dumpster divers often end up with cases of well ripened fruit. The challenge there is dropping everything else to jam up. There is no time to lose, as the next step is compost.

If you are planning on getting your jam fruit at the farmer's market, you may have to call ahead to reserve a case. In any case, show up early. The farmers get nervous with fruit sitting in the sun, and may sell your special order to someone else.

Once you make your own, you will never go back. For one thing, your family will refuse to eat the cheap stuff. Then again, I am way too cheap to buy the expensive stuff. You can make jams, jellies, chutneys, and fruit spreads of the very best quality for a fraction of the cost of buying it. And you know exactly what's in it.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on April 28, 2010. For recent posts, see

Friday, June 18, 2010

Celt's Garden - Cheese and the Tax Man

It's all about the cheese. French cheese is a story of cookery and resource depletion. Cheese preserves milk, an otherwise fragile commodity. Cows, goats and sheep can make milk from pasture land that may be too steep, rocky or poor for grains or row crops. Cheese can be compactly transported. A gallon of milk makes 8-16 ounces of cheese, so the volume goes down and the shelf life goes up. Cheese has terroir, the flavors of origin. What the animals eat, the breed, the time of year and the cheese making methods, all contribute to unique cheese types. Every valley, every hamlet, almost every farmhouse, can have its specialty. What's not to like?

Best of all, cheese can be sold in towns and cities for cash. In cash poor rural France, turning poor soil on rocky slopes into cash by way of cheese is a centuries old survival strategy. For centuries, very little cash circulated outside the cities. Even rents were often partially or fully paid in wheat, sheep and wine. Taxes have ever been paid in cash.
In the 18th century, France was the western hemisphere's great maritime power. Three long lived kings in the 17th and 18th centuries (Louie, Louie, Louie, otherwise known as Louis 14th, 15th and 16th) paid for their wars by devaluing the currency. The way it worked was to issue currency with a higher and higher proportion of base metal but the same face value.

French maritime power was based on great wooden warships. Each warship took 1000 acres of old growth oak forest. Once the oak forest was logged off, the soil underneath was often too steep, poor and rocky for farming. With France well into resource depletion by the beginning of the 18th century, a new source of old growth timber was needed. It came in the form of the Mississippi Territory, a wide strip from what is now the Canadian border to New Orleans.
In the early 18th century, France had a liquidity crisis. This a common problem in advanced economies, where there are goods and services to trade a plenty but no one wants to part with cash to pay for them, in this case very likely due to the high probability of being repaid in debased metal. Louie's financial advisor, John Law, solved the problem by issuing paper notes against the money in the king's treasury. That did the trick: the increase in the money supply got the economy moving and pretty soon commerce was back on track. Louie like the idea so much that he just kept printing money, until the treasury was leveraged many times over.
Since the value of the total goods and services produced by the economy of the world's greatest maritime power hadn't changed much, all that cash in circulation had to go somewhere.

The problem with developing the Mississippi Territory for its genuine wealth in timber and other resources was that it was a decades long project and hugely expensive. The territory was largely unmapped. It was inhabited by people justifiably unhappy with recent events. It was only accessible by water, because the population collapse of the First Nations following the epidemics of European diseases in the 16th century had left the forest depleted of its keystone species. Grassland turned to shrub land, shrub lands turned to impenetrable young forest. Without people to set fires, old growth forests were overrun by under story shrubs and the trails vanished. So, the Mississippi project was conceived as a joint stock company. Buying shares was marketed as a patriotic duty. It might have worked, in the same way that people buy college bonds for infants, except that it came right as Louie was running the printing presses overtime.

The resulting bubble collapsed in 1820 and bankrupted the middle class. John Law took the fall and Louie carried on as before. By the middle of the century, France and England were deep into Peak Trees and still borrowing to finance their wars, mostly with each other. The money had to come from somewhere. England took it out of the colonies. France took it out of the citizens. The elites in both countries voted themselves tax exemption after tax exemption, until the greatest landowners paid almost nothing. England's colonies got restive from being sucked dry by the mother country and turned to Louie to finance a revolution. Which Louie, eye ever on the trees of the new world, did, reducing the next generation of middle class to penury and the peasants to starvation. We know how well that turned out.

If any of this sounds familiar, we will just move on to the cheese. Cows have to give birth in order to give milk. Only half the offspring are potential future dairy cows. Some of the males were castrated and used as oxen and perhaps 1% of them for breeding. That still leaves a lot of veal calves. The roots of haute cuisine reach back to Louie's cooks. Not coincidentally, just about everything in haute cuisine starts with veal stock.

The Mississippi territory changed hands several times and was finally sold to the U.S. as the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The peasants grazed sheep on the plateaus once occupied by the old growth oak forests of central France. Some of the forests came back as secondary growth, mostly from being ignored in the commotion. Modern farmers hunt for truffles (also a declining resource) in the oak forests and fatten feral pigs on the mast, the calorie rich acorn litter. The rural economy is still cash poor and partially informal. Cheese is still the cash cow for many farmers, although European Union rules are making it difficult for farmstead cheeses to be sold legally.

Yogurt Cheese:
The easiest soft cheese is just made with yogurt, plain or any flavor and a jelly bag or quadruple layer of cheese cloth. Set the cheese cloth in a colander in the sink. Put the yogurt in the cheese cloth, tie up the top and suspend it until the whey drains out. The resulting cream cheese is quite nice. Yogurt can also be baked in a 300 oven to make a crumbly, dry cheese.

Cheese resources:
Cheese Supply ( Our local Bellingham source, less product range than the larger companies.
New England Cheesemaking Supply Company ( Books, kits, ingredients.
Leeners ( Pure cultures and supplies for all kinds of fermented foods.

More on the events mentioned above:
Charles Mackay, Extrordinary Popular delusions and the Madness of Crowds
David Hackett Fischer, The Great Wave

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on April 23, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Value from Small Spaces

It's time to plant onion sets and potatoes. If you haven't started some peas, lettuce and spinach already, now is the time. Leave some space for the summer garden, even if your summer garden is two patio tomatoes and a butterstick summer squash in pots. Bush beans, compact summer squashes, determinate tomatoes in cages, trellises to train pole beans, squash, cucumbers will help you grow a lot in small spaces.

Back when I had just built the first raised bed on my former front lawn, a 13' wide sorry looking strip of dandelions and grass, an old gentleman stopped on his walk to patiently explain to me that I wasn't going to be able to live off that. Thinking to myself, "That's right, Bozohead, I am not going to get 2000 daily calories times 2.3 FTEE (Full Time Equivalent Eaters) out of a 48 square foot raised bed", I smiled broadly and told him, "Gardening is such an INTERESTING hobby, don't you think? And it's a great way to meet people."

What I got was nine varieties of lettuce, spinach, green onions, radishes, flat and curly parsley, boy choi, tatsoi, edible chrysanthemum, chives, Pacific Pearl onions, Asian red mustard, snow peas, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, pattypan spinach, green beans, beet greens, green garlic tops, and a handful of fancy Italian red torpedo onions. I didn't keep a detailed account, but it was at least $30 a week worth of fresh organic veggies. It was November before I had to break down and buy lettuce. With some herbs in pots, the little garden produced the makings for excellent meals for most of the year. I bought the the heavy veg (more broccoli, cauliflower, brown onions, carrots, garlic bulbs, winter squash, sweet corn, a couple of Brent's Harrison's massive solid head cabbages to make 7 quarts of sauerkraut, pickling cucumbers and green beans for freezing) from the farmer's market.

The city required 24" setback between the sidewalk and the raised bed made a great flower bed. I stuck a few nasturtium seeds in to grow up and tumble over the sides. The chives flowered and by midsummer, it was positively charming.

In August, I put in chard and Lutz Winterkeeper beets to replace bolted lettuce and spinach and planted fall lettuce, six cabbage starts, kale, chicory, and winter radishes. In October, I pulled up the spent tomatoes and squash and put in their place fava beans and some onions that had gone sprouty in the kitchen. The two broccoli plants produced side shoots until the following February, when they got really bushy and I pulled them up.

Kale, leeks and chicory are gifts that keep giving until they bolt. Just cut kale back and as long as the weather is cool but not frozen hard, a frequent condition in these parts, the kale grows back. In the spring it bolts dramatically and makes exuberant bee forage for your wild pollinators.

In one year, that small garden produced over $1000 worth of vegetables. It was delicious, fresh picked stuff. Dried herbs from the herb plants in containers went into meals all winter.

A small garden makes a huge difference to the gardener's quality of life. That's money you don't have to earn, or something extra every week to put towards upgrading your meat and dairy to local and naturally raised. You don't need to grow every calorie you eat. Just by growing some fresh food and laying off the processed food, you can vastly improve your eating.

Gardening is part of my business plan. The nature of engineering is that it is seasonal and project oriented. The self-employed develop techniques for coping with an intermittent cash flow (most of which amount to don't run out and spend the entire check when you get one, eh?) However, I'm not so keen on intermittent eating. And I really don't like big fluctuations in lifestyle, eating dinners in restaurants after getting paid and warming up canned mac and cheese from the discount store when the cash runs out.

Besides, gardening is such an interesting hobby.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on April 19, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Ag Mech for Grownups

Dr. Steve Jones, when he was here talking to us about small scale grain growing, suggested looking around for old threshers, balers, tractors and other medium tech equipment. He also suggested that if we find something, try to buy more than one, because the parts are hard to find. The equipment is itself hard to find. The high price of scrap steel has led to collecting up the old machines from the early 20th Century and shipping them to China to be melted down. Once you beat the scrap dealer to some agricultural equipment, it has to be maintained. Everything about farm equipment takes a beating. It is operated in mud, dust, rain, high starting torque, often long hours of operation followed by sitting in the loafing shed for months. Belts slip, chain drives break, motors break down, bits fly off and metal fatigues. And, as Steve reminded us, the stuff is dangerous.

This is not idealistic back to nature stuff, this is personal protective equipment, lockout tagout, maintenance schedule, job site hazard analysis, do the research, know what you're doing and have multiple backup plans, park the little kids at Grandma's, and be aware of where all your parts and pieces are in relationship to the machine.

The Real Dirt on Farmer John (DVD, check the library) has some cringe inducing opening scenes of little kids frolicking in the path of the disk harrow and riding behind the driver on a high wheeled tricycle tractor. The movie is a thought provoking piece about Farmer John's journey from failing at industrial agriculture to successful organic farming. Just as the sigh of relief hits that there are no more scenes of home movies from the sixties with little kids playing around big iron, there's Farmer John as a grown man, welding without gloves. At the end, John takes his investors on a conga dance on the ridge line of the newly raised barn, leading me to leap up from the couch and say "John, you idiot! That's your sponsors! You leave the money on the ground and feed them barbecue until they roll into their cars and go home!"

Sadly, this is not just theoretical. Older farmers in Whatcom County remember the family who lost a little girl because one of the neighbors thought it was cute to let her ride on the back of the tractor. One day she fell off, into the fail mower.

Job site analysis is a basic tool. It is no more than thinking through the process and identifying what could go wrong at each step. Drive out to the county to pick up horse poop, and the drive out is no big deal. Then the pickup has to be backed up to the pile, so check the path first for holes and obstacles and stay in the driver's view during the backing. Returning with the truck heavily loaded, stay off the interstate and allow plenty of stopping distance. Stop traffic to back the truck into the garden space. Then ground guide the driver while he backs the truck downhill. Put a block under the wheel while offloading poop.

Labor and Industries tells us that most work site accidents are the "struck by, caught between, impaled by, crushed under" types of mishaps, and that they are 99% preventable.

Most of us chair butt cubicle monkeys got a great grounding in French verbs and writing comparative literature essays in school, but maybe not so much practical training. Some folks out there maintain their own vehicles, took Agricultural Mechanics in high school, or took Art Welding at BTC, and they have a big head start on the rest of us cubicle monkeys.
Where then to get the safety training, the mechanical training, the small engine repair and tap into the network of local know-how and suppliers? How to get off that cubicle butt and learn which wrench is used for what application?

We have a great local resource at Bellingham Technical College, in the Electrical Mechanical Technology (EMTEC) program. EMTEC was started as a way to provide training for employees of Alcoa and the refineries on Cherry Point. A typical class meets one night a week for a quarter. There is a large range of classes (electricity, hydraulics and pneumatics, belts and drives, maintenance management, welding, etc., etc.), enough to get a two year degree with different areas of concentration, if so desired. Recently laid off persons may even be eligible for some retraining funds. Better apply quickly, before the State of Washington runs out of money.

The EMTEC program is going through an identity crises lately, since the heavy industries quit paying tuition for their employees. The program is reorganizing and putting more emphasis on day classes. You can get an idea of what they have offered in the past, in the 2008-2010 catalog at Scott Stidham (360) 752-8568 ) runs the EMTEC program. If there is a class that would help you gets hands-on with equipment, and you are willing to pay three hundred bucks and spend ten weeks going to night school for, call Scott and talk to him about it. There has been limited overlap so far between the type of people who groove to the bands at the Great Unleashing and the type of people who take Introduction to Hydraulic Circuits. This is unfortunate, because that wealth of medium technology built up over the past three centuries is your inheritance, as much as heirloom tomato varieties and quilt making.

Some folks would just rather stick to hand tools. Youtube has a wealth of how to videos. Brian Kerkvliet will teach you how to use a scythe or sickle without cutting your fingers off, for a modest fee. An internet search on "scythe" will produce a wealth of resources. The challenge is the social organization rather than technology. Harvesting a field by hand takes 30 person hours for every comparable one machine hour. So to get in even a modest grain harvest by hand, you have to mobilize your friends.

This was once normal. Lawrence Durrell described how the contractors remodeling his house on Cyprus in the 1950's downed tools and went into the orchards for the lemon harvest. Anybody who is interested in helping to harvest grain by hand or dig potatoes this summer can call Walter Haugen.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on April 12, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Preserved Ginger and Pad Thai

Look for fresh ginger, tumeric and galangal roots in the markets now. They are in season someplace in world, and we get to share. The fresh juicy roots are the ones you want. Ginger is a familiar element of Asian cooking. Galangal is a hard root that ripens to rock-hard. It is the secret ingredient in Pad Thai. It was widely grown and used in Europe until it was lost during the calamitous 14th century. Tumeric, used in Indian and Asian cooking, is usually found as a dry powder. The fresh root is a revelation, so good that it's hard to resist snacking on it as you work. Here's how to preserve a year's supply in a compact form. Scald some small glass jars with metal lids. (That just means wash them in hot water, set the hot jars in the bottom of a soup pot, in the sink, with the lids off. Also put the lids in the soup pot. Pour boiling water slowly over the jars. Pour some in the pot as you go, to equalize the temperature between inside and outside. If you are reusing commercial jars, pickle jars for example, look for heavy ones. Pour no more than a half inch of boiling water in at a time. Stand well back as you pour. Thin glass can explode from thermal shock.) The flavorful roots are not cheap, but you only need a couple of slices to flavor a whole meal. Unless you really eat a lot of Pad Thai, a year's supply of all three will fit in both hands.

Ginger is preserved in alcohol. Scrub the roots with a brush and peel thinly with a potato peeler. Save the peels. Cut the root into chunks that will fit comfortably in your jar. Use tongs to fish out a scalded jar from the soup pot. Pack the ginger in the jar, leaving enough room to cover the chunks with at least a half inch of alcohol. Pour cooking sherry, Asian rice spirits or in a pinch white wine fortified with a tablespoon of vodka over the ginger and seal with your scalded lid. To use the ginger, fish out a chunk, slice off some quarter-sized pieces, and toss in your stir-fry. The ginger-infused alcohol is also used to flavor your cooking. Just pour off some to use and add more alcohol to keep the ginger covered.

Galangal and tumeric are preserved in sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar. If you are going to pay a fortune for one galangal root, there's not much point in pickling it in the harsh white vinegar you use for cleaning the floor. Put up your galangal and tumeric when you get home from the market. They dry out if left sitting around. Scrub, thinly peel, and slice the galangal in slices the thickness of a quarter, using a heavy chef's knife. Be careful with this, the root is hard and the knife can turn in your hand. Pack the slices into your hot jar and cover with sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt. Tumeric roots are little things the size of those shaved "baby" carrots. They just need to be peeled, cut into chunks and packed into a jar with vinegar and a little salt.

Wipe and label your three jars and store in a dark cupboard. You just put up a year's worth of seasonings. You have the makings for Pad Thai, teriyaki, curries, soups, and stir fries. No more buying shriveled, out of season ginger for your special salad dressing, tiny bottles of prepared sauces or dubious packets of "Stir fry Seasoning". Now you have a pile of ginger peels and another pile of galangal and tumeric peels. Simmer the ginger peels in a saucepan full of water. Just put it on low and let it pop up an occasional bubble for a hour or more. Strain, and you will have a powerful ginger flavored herb tea. I find it rather strong to drink straight, but diluted with some hot water, lemon and honey for tea, that's good. Other uses are to add some sparkling water for your own ginger ale or jazz up your orange juice.

Put the tumeric and galangal peels in a small piece of doubled cheesecloth and tie up with cotton string. Drop it in pot of soup and add your favorite vegetables. Pull it out before mealtime, eh?

To use galangal, drop a slice in the broth and cook. The galangal is supposed to be removed before serving. To use the tumeric, finely mince a chunk of root about a half inch long and drop into whatever you are making. Tumeric gives a nice golden color to the dish. I'm sure you can come up with creative uses for the sherry vinegar, perhaps a little in your sauce.

Cash and Carry sells an excellent sherry vinegar to fancy restaurants in gallon plastic jugs (Four Brothers brand.) They also carry Michui rice spirits in a large bottle. They supply a lot of the smaller restaurants in town. Check out the Asian shelf. Rice noodles, bean thread, all kinds of goodies. Cash and Carry also has a good selection of woks, cleavers and Asian cooking implements.

There are wonderful things to be found in the two Asian grocery stores on Meridian Avenue in the Fountain District. Watch out for embalmed food; read the ingredients. There's a mom and pop grocery store on Samish way that sells Korean condiments. I want to support them by shopping there, but everything I looked at was full of MSG and worse. The Koreans have a great racket going: buy commodity American GMO soybeans by the shipload, ferment the beans into miso, flavor it up with hot chilies and embalming fluid and sell it back to us in little tubs at a markup.

Look for: Thai Kitchen brand coconut milk (just coconut milk, nothing weird), dried spices, miso in the cooler, fresh lo main noodles, palm sugar (comes in a lump, just scrape some off to add a hint of sweetness to curries), dried beans, rice in large bags, fresh lemongrass, and more.

Many Asian dishes start with mincing up a couple of slices of your preserved ginger with garlic and scallions. Saute this briefly and add broth for soup or any combination of vegetables and or meat for stir fry. Towards the end, add a little soy sauce and some of your ginger-flavored alcohol.

Terriyaki Sauce

In a small bowl, combine minced garlic and ginger, soy sauce, some alcohol from the ginger and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Taste it and adjust the proportions to your liking. Hot red paper flakes optional. To thicken, slowly stir in a teaspoon of potato starch into the cold sauce. It will thicken as it cooks.

Basic Pad Thai

Saute your garlic, ginger, and scallion with a little oil in the bottom of your soup pot. Add a quart of chicken broth, a slice of galangal, a little minced tumeric, sliced sweet onion and sliced carrots. Simmer until the carrots are soft. Add a tablespoon of lime juice, two tablespoons soy sauce, a tablespoon of brown or palm sugar and some hot pepper flakes. Taste it and add more seasoning if you want. Bring it to a boil and drop in some rice noodles. It's done when the rice noodles are cooked. An optional dash of Thai Kitchen (or other brand with nothing weird) fish sauce in finished soup provides a hint of unami flavor. Once you get a basic flavor balance that you like, there are endless variations.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on April 3, 2010. For recent posts, see

Monday, June 7, 2010

Celt's Garden - Seasonal Herbs

Herbs from the garden are seasonal. The season for leaves is just beginning. The thyme and sage are already leafing out. The savory will be strong enough to start taking clippings next week. The chives are already starting to form flower buds. Just cut those off and chop them up and drop them into an omelet.
This is the time to delight in the return of fresh herbs to the kitchen. Soon, we can start harvesting handfuls and drying them. The thyme, savory, oregano family are harvested and dried from April to August. Cutting them back after mid-August may cause them to winter kill. Cut back at most a quarter of the plant at any one time. Rosemary is tender, let it warm up more before you start harvesting. The mints are slow to get going this year. All the laminacae (square stemmed mint family herbs) are harvested by cutting just above the joint, where side shoots are forming. Then the side shoots will grow up to form new leaves. You want to get them in the leaf stage or bud stage, just before the flowers open. That is when they are the most flavorful. If you start with a four inch rosemary plant in the spring, you may not want to stress it by harvesting the first year. Just take off a few pinches from ends of the branches.

The basil is just going in the first week of June, when the harvest of perennial herbs is peaking. The fennel seed will be ready in September, when the fennel has grown into a huge shaggy bush and the seed comes off easily into a bowl. The seed also flies all over the place and it ripens unevenly, so you have to keep harvesting.

Wait a second, you're saying, how are you going to make your world famous Amy's plain cheese frozen pizza customized with canned olives, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil, now, in March, if the tomatoes from your garden ripen in August and the basil isn't even started indoors until May? What about that?
Good point. BC Hothouses grows some regional out of season tomatoes that are decent if you are desperate for a fresh tomato. Those cardboard winter tomatoes from California are a waste of money even if you get them free. If you must have fresh herbs out of season, look for locally grown ones (Haggen's, The Market, the Co-op, Terra Organica.) Brent, Nick, and the rest of our Whatcom County farmers need the money. Pizza crust recipe below.

If you are cheap like me, you will find that the rhythm of the seasons feels pretty good. Two people told me today that they are putting in their herb gardens, and they are all excited about it, too. Soon the smell of drying herbs will fill the kitchen.

If you are going to harvest your lavender for the fragrance and medicinal qualities of the flowers, cut off the heads just before they open. The flowers start losing intensity as soon as they open. You may get a second harvest as the frustrated plant tries to reproduce. For herbes de Provence, wait until after the blooming season and prune your lavender. Cut the new growth back almost to the woody stems. This was done to keep the plants compact and producing high quality buds instead of sprawling all over. Pruning generates a large quantity of lavender leaves, which are dried and used as seasoning.

The tarragon you babied is cut and packed into scalded jars of vinegar. That whole tarragon vinegar business is to preserve the tarragon. The flavored vinegar is a by-product. Use decent vinegar. White wine vinegar is traditional or use 100% apple cider vinegar if you are sensitive to sulfites. Cash and Carry sells Four Brothers brand of good quality vinegars and cooking wines in gallon jugs for a reasonable price, just the thing for putting up the harvest. Or, you could buy cute little 12 ounce bottles of wine vinegar, one at a time.
About that basil: eat it fresh, dry some, make Italian pesto or French pistou, freeze it in little blocks in ice cube trays, and pickle it in sherry. This last has an appealing effort level: chop basil into little pieces, and pack into scalded small jars with a pinch of salt. Pour cooking sherry to cover by a half inch and seal with a scalded lid. Keep it in the dark. If you are paranoid about food safety, refrigerate after opening. Otherwise just make sure you have plenty of sherry covering the basil.

Which brings us back to home French cooking. Your traditional French farmhouse is sans indoor toilets, running water, electricity, a range, a refrigerator, a telephone, and central heating. The next time that you see a glossy magazine spread on "Charming Country French Whatever", just try keeping a straight face.
Even though most farmhouses now have indoor plumbing, and many have been bought by city dwellers as vacation homes and tarted up with electricity, propane ranges, and other fripperies, French cooking comes out of intensely local and seasonal eating.
The wonderful jams, preserves, chutneys, cheeses, pickled this and that, sausages, cured meats, sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented vegetables and oh my gosh, fresh cherries preserved in brandy and sugar syrup, are all techniques for traditional food storage.

More on that later. If you haven't seen Keeping Food Fresh by Centre Terre Vivante, a compilation of traditional recipes and preservation methods, you might want to check it out. There are a multitude of gardening and preserving books in the library, on everything from how to put in your herb garden to how to make your own liqueurs.
And if you haven't put in your herb garden, now is the time to build it. It's still a little cold to put the perennial starts in. Herb starts are already available all over town.

Herbes de Provence:
Dried savory, fennel seeds, basil, thyme, and lavender leaves.
Start with equal proportions and adjust to your liking.
Myriad variations abound. Throw in a few lavender flowers for fragrance and drama, but too many will make it smell like an old lady's sock drawer.
Used to flavor poultry, meat, grilled vegetables, sausages and fish since Roman times. Amazing in potato soup. And you were thinking of paying $12 for a little crock of the stuff, eh?

Pizza Crust:
Refer to previous post on Slow Bread. At the stage where you would form loaves of fast or slow bread, pull off a chunk the size of a man's fist (one pound on the kitchen scale) and roll it out on a floured board. If it feels stiff and hard to work with, walk away for a few minutes and do something else while the dough relaxes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sprinkle coarse cornmeal on a baking sheet and transfer the pizza crust. Drape it around the rolling pin to make the transfer. Pinch up the edges to hold the sauce.
Bake for 5-10 minutes, depending on whether you made thin or thick crust pizza, remove from oven and top. Return to oven and cook until the desired state of bubbly, cheesy goodness is reached.
To make your own frozen crust, allow to cool after the initial baking and slide the whole thing, baking sheet and all, into the freezer. When the crust is frozen solid, remove the baking sheet and wrap the crust in freezer paper. You may want a piece of cardboard as a support.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on March 30, 2010. For recent posts, check out