Forage Patch

The industrialization of agriculture has been, without argument, very successful. It’s successful in that it produces large surpluses of high-calorie food. But it’s successful in that it’s effective, not necessarily efficient. Coop farming and companion planting have proven to be far more successful in the latter when measuring yield per acre, but subsidies motivate the former. Endless swaths of feed corn are not symptomatic of a natural symbiosis. Instead, they’re exploitative.

They’re also naturally particular. Plants that grow well in their original form, without genetic manipulation, are lower-yield but far less demanding of intervention. But the low yield excludes them from agriculture, as they are not cash crops. They are relegated to home gardens and their native environment. Forgotten or ignored. The province of hobbyists.

And as a hobbyist, it presents an unconventional opportunity: foraging. Or even more unusual: cultivated foraging.

The former herb garden.

First attempts at an herb garden were less than successful. The selected patch wasn’t nearly sunny enough for everything, and some of the initial selections turned out to be uncontrollable, e.g. mint. But the uncontrolled were still culinarily desirable, so they were left to be – picked as needed and then ignored.

Then I considered what else might fit with the patch? What else could compete alongside the verdant aggressors, hold their own, and still serve a purpose in the kitchen? Then I discovered the Jerusalem artichoke. A native, edible, perennial sunflower? That spreads wildly with few soil requirements? Sounded like a good candidate to me.

Apparently they’re still common in French cuisine (go figure), but fell out of general favor due to their affiliation with “poor people food”. Like cassava I guess. Perceptions drive people to make odd choices. Barbecue is technically poor people food, but you don’t find many elites snubbing their noses at it.

It’s also something that had to be sourced through online nerds, just like the hops. And true to their reputation, they started growing quick with little care.

Their name is a misnomer. They’re neither from Israel nor are they related to artichokes. And the tomato isn’t Italian, and the potato isn’t Irish. These are all American natives and I’m taking them back. Cultural appropriation countered!

On this continent, they’re more often called sun chokes. I briefly called them “Jew chokes” and “choke a Jews”, (I’m not feeling particularly pro-Semitic currently, what with the genocide and all), but settled on “feist chokes”, after the stupid dog kept eating and regurgitating them, prompting a net to be installed.

So now we have what I call the Forage Patch. It’s overgrown, resistant to organized cultivation, but all useful for food and drink, and all planted intentionally. It’s an unconventional approach to gardening, and falls more under the classic “kitchen garden”, rather than the “victory garden” concept, but it’s proving to be useful regardless. I’ll be curious how the feist chokes cook up.

–Simon

Hipidy Hopidy

The Reinheitsgebot of 1516 represents what only a most civilized society could mandate. It is a perfunctory requisite, in its raw essence, but it permits our modern world to exist, for who would haven given it a second thought were the market not now saturated with fruit-infused abominations? Law and order, dammit! Advanced political discourse cannot take place on massive social policies without something to drink. If you disagree, you’re un-American.

Okay, maybe that’s not fair to our Islamic community. I’ll forgive you for your other culinary contributions.

I speak of course of beer! Even though I usually prefer bourbon (something infinitely more American). Which, now that I think about it, beer isn’t really American at all. It’s a cultural inheritance from northern continental Europe – and from second-class immigrants at that. If OG blue-blooded Americans are WASPs, then British carryovers would define American beverage culture. And I think the British were more into hard apple cider at the time than beer. And we like that too. And we made it better by creating applejack, which is not the same as Calvados, even without the “appellation d’origine contrôlée”. Calvados is sweet sissy apple syrup. Applejack is for real Americans! Pioneering Americans. The fuck you Americans! Raaah!

Okay, so bourbon and applejack are the most American of intoxicants. But we like beer too. And to show my appreciation, I have planted hops! Also, to out-do my father-in-law, because he started growing them first and I couldn’t allow him to be successful at gardening something I hadn’t yet tried.

They’re one of those plants that’s oddly difficult to find through traditional distributers, e.g. Burpee’s, but very easy to find through any gardener with an internet connection. A couple weeks later I had some rhizome cuttings that very quickly took to my sunny fence corner.

They’re not very big yet, but growing quickly. And while I have no plans for home-brewing, I’ll appreciate the coolness factor. And doing a better job than Liz’s dad. And for my ancestors.

Drink your sissy Zimas and Smirnoff Ices. And Calvados.

–Simon

Hocus Crocus

I have a fondness for crocuses (…croci?). They are the first of the perennials to bloom in the spring, and they were always out in the yard at the Lubbock house, so childhood nostalgia there. They represent the first marker of seasonal change with a dramatic splash of color – a much appreciated change from the brown and grey winter, and they do so at the most needed moment: the heart of suicide month (or at least they do now anyway, what with climate change and all).

They also indicate a phenologic marker! Time to plant radishes. We don’t really eat many radishes, but as the first cold-weather crop that can be grown, I plant them for the sake of planting them.

Also, the crocus bulbs are planted on the whippet graves, so there’s a bit of an “awwww” factor as the blooms remind me of dogs past. Rest in peace, you naughty dogs.

So here’s some pics to celebrate and mark the occasion, as well as honor late canines!

Historically, daffodils will be next.

–Simon

The Deep Chill

I would hazard to say that safe food storage temperatures are general knowledge. If you don’t know what they are, then I’d encourage you to pay more attention to food safety, unless you enjoy full digestive purges:

  • <0 F for frozen food
  • >32 to <40 for refrigerator food

But these temperatures are for static storage. 0 F isn’t cold enough for the act of freezing, because it’s too slow and allows big ice crystals to develop in the food during the process. Sure it’ll still be safe to eat, but the quality will suffer. This dilemma has long bothered me as a gardener, hunter, and possessor of meat-cutting skills. How do I freeze that which was never frozen without adversely affecting its cellular integrity?

Vitrification would work, but I’m apparently the first person to ever search the internet for “how to vitrify beef”. So I’m guessing it’s not practical, or perhaps it’s very expensive.

That option ruled out, I’m left with one choice: cool things as quick as possible. I surmise 3 methods:

  1. Flash freezing
  2. Blast freezing
  3. Just freeze things in as low a temperature as possible

I’m not going to source liquid nitrogen, so option 1 is out. Nor will I go buy dry ice every time I want to freeze things. Blast freezers are more assembly line industrial systems, so obviously I’m not going that route either. Which leaves option 3.

Sushi restaurants accomplish option 3 with medical-grade freezers, which get as cold as -123. They also cost thousands, which I didn’t want to spend. But in my searching, I found a growing market for ultra low-temp consumer grade freezers. Apparently enough people wanted these that they’re available for reasonable prices. And so, I got this little number:

Cute, isn’t it? I like the frostbite warning placard.

3.5 cubic feet, with a low temperature setting of -40. Not bad. And after adding some cold packs to stabilize it, and using an expensive thermometer that could actually read temps that low without malfunctioning, it goes even lower.

That’s pretty darn cold.

So far I’ve only used it a couple times, and I haven’t eaten what I froze in it yet, so the verdict is still out. I’m hopeful though. Here’s to some non-mushy frozen food!

–Simon

The First Seedlings

Peppers have been started and I’m growing some lettuce just for fun. Also, I’m trying to start new sweet potato plants from last year’s tuber harvest. One rotted, but I’m seeing some roots on the others. Hopefully that’s a good sign.

I also supplemented the grow lights this year. LED tech is getting very versatile now. I can get something made in just about any configuration I can think of. In this instance, it’s some narrow strips to fit between the traditional bulbs.

Off to a good start. Things look happy. It’s almost time to plan radishes and begin tomato starters!

–Simon