Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seed Dreams

Placing my bets on the future, I ordered my seeds this week, from Territorial and a new place for me--Bountiful Gardens, in Palo Alto.

The Bountiful Gardens order gets me scorzonera and Tyfon, two crops I've had trouble finding seeds for. 
Scorzonera, from
Scorzonera is often called black salsify or black oysterplant, which I suppose only takes it up a notch or two on the recognition scale for most people. It's a long, slender, very dark-skinned root, extremely hardy, with a rich, mellow taste that I prefer to parsnips or rutabagas.One drawback is that it requires deep, workable soil, which is hard to come by in my clayey backyard, but I have a plan. My nephew-in-law Andrew has provided me a couple 50 gallon food-grade plastic barrels from his job at the fish processing plant. I'm already using two of these as rain barrels. These new ones are destined to be root towers. I'll cut them in half to create four containers deep enough for fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, and scorzonera, fill them with nice loose soil, and we're off to the races. When it's harvest time I can just tip them sideways onto a tarp collect the roots, give the soil a compost boost, and replant with a rotation crop. This is the time of year when all these plans seem foolproof. 

Last year my sweet potatoes didn't get nearly enough heat, but as the global "hottest year on record" stats keep piling up, it's surely only a matter of time before Western Washington gets its turn and I am rolling in sweet potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes while my peas and lettuce wither or bolt.

Here are a couple of recipes for scorzonera. The first is from Winter Harvest, courtesy of Bruce Naftaly at Le Gourmand in Seattle

1 pound salsify or scorzonera
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon chopped chervil, Italian parsley, or sweet cicely
Peel salsify or scorzonera and cut into pieces the size of your little finger. Put cut pieces in acidulated water as you go. Drain, then steam until barely tender, about 5 minutes.
Combine cream, nutmeg, pepper, and herbs in a heavy, nonaluminum saucepan or sauté pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and cook gently until cream is reduced almost to the consistency of sauce. Add salsify or scorzonera and continue cooking until liquid makes a sauce. Add salt to taste.
Serves 3 or 4.
Vegetarian, gluten-free

Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine is another good source for scorzonera and other unusual varieties, and their catalog includes this simple vegan treatment:

Oven-Fried Scorzonera
10 or 12 scorzonera roots
4 cups water or stock 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
chopped parsley
Wash scorzonera but do not peel. Parboil in water or stock for about 10 minutes. They should still be firm.
Drain thoroughly. Peel and cut in half—lengthwise. Brush slices with oil and arrange in a shallow baking dish.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Outside should be crisp and the inside tender. Garnish
with parsley. 
Serves  4-6 

Tyfon is a very hardy mustard/broccoli cross that is used for livestock feed and green manure and is also a good kitchen green. I used to sow it as a winter cover crop in Sumas. It has vigorous roots that are supposed to be able to penetrate clay. That wasn't an issue in Sumas, but it certainly is here. When you cut off the tops come spring, the plants die, the roots decay, and the soil benefits from more organic matter and better drainage.

This just in: the Territorial order came today, minus the sweet potatoes, which will arrive in May. That was fast, and I am excited. In fact I'm heading out right now to do some soil testing. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winter Harvest Cookbook Corrections

The good news is that a second printing is planned for Winter Harvest. That’s really gratifying. 

The embarrassing corollary is that in going through the book to mark any needed changes before the presses roll again, I found I had made some careless errors in labeling that were not caught during editing.  My intention was only to label recipes that are vegan or gluten-free “by nature,” meaning that you don’t need to modify them or to shop selectively for condiments or prepared ingredients. I did not always follow through with that.  Especially if you are following a vegan or gluten-free diet and you have a first printing copy of the revised edition, please note the following: 

Broccoli Yogurt Soup on p. 53 is not vegetarian unless you substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

Oyster Parsnip Stew on p. 75 is generally gluten-free as most brands of bacon are, but you need to check the label. 

Broccoli Dal Curry on p. 122 is not gluten free unless you omit the flour. To do that and still get the same texture, mash some of the lentils into the liquid when you make the sauce. 

Brussels Sprouts in Lemon Curry Sauce on p. 161 is vegetarian but may not be gluten free depending on the chili powder. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes on p. 163 may not be gluten free, depending on the soy sauce and hot sauce. There are gluten-free versions of both, but you need to check. 

Dry Spinach Curry on p. 212 is not vegan if you are using ghee.

On the other hand
There also are some more gluten-free and vegetarian or vegan options that I forgot to label as such  in the rush to publication. Here they are:
Beet Salad with Garlic Sauce on p. 81 is vegetarian and gluten free.

Tibetan Salad on p. 93 is vegetarian.

Rutachoke Salad on p. 96 is gluten free.

Polenta-Stuffed Cabbage on p. 106 is vegetarian.

Jerusalem Artichokes with Rice on p. 187 is vegan and gluten free.

of course Kale Sprouts on p. 190 is vegan and gluten free, since it is ingredient free except for the kale.

Mint Chutney on p. 234 is vegan and gluten free.

Ghee, another one-ingredient recipe on p. 236, is vegetarian and gluten-free.

The idea behind the labeling was not that cooks can’t figure out what’s what for themselves, but to save time for busy people. I’m sorry if I caused any glitches in your dinner preparations.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Unplug that second fridge...and read this article

I've been wishing I had an easy-to-follow breakdown of energy use along the food chain. Now I do, thanks to Grist food and ag writer, Tom Philpott. The basic good new/bad news for home cooks is that a larger proportion (larger at least than I had realized) of the energy use bound up in food comes from personal choices rather than agriculture food miles. Food production and preparation takes energy--whether it's human in the form of gardening, cleaning, and chopping, or mechanical in the form of tractors, trucks, factory trimmers and baggers. A second refrigerator out in the garage, a impulse car trip to Trader Joe's (or the farmers market), running the dishwasher for a few dishes, the choice to buy premade burger patties instead of forming them one by one with your own two little hands--all those indulgences add up to way more energy than it takes to ship loads of rice or sweet potatoes across the continent. All those teenagers standing lost in thought in front of all those open refrigerators all across this great nation?---fire up another coal plant.

This should be great news for environmentalists in, say, South Dakota, where the local sourcing options must be pretty thin on the ground this time of year. It should not, in my reasoning, let us off the hook in terms of supporting local food production, especially in regions like this one that are so well suited to it.

Here's the article: