I often braid my onions, but my braids aren’t all neat and pretty-like. Stylish onion and garlic braids are nice, but I don’t have the time, energy and patience to sit around making something that I produce essentially for functional reasons look like I bought it at a country chic boutique. Last year though, we braided onions for the market. I spent a lot of time trimming the bulbs and making them look presentable, then dipping the dried leaves in water to re-soften so tonia could braid them neatly. We added dried lavender and stuff to spiff them up a bit. they turned out pretty nice and It was kind of fun, but it was also time consuming. A major motivator was that it allowed us to sell our onions for a lot more. If you really added up our time though, it was more like having another mediocre paying job to our lives, which is actually okay, but not high incentive. I liked our onions braids, but something never quite sat right about the whole thing. I think in a way we were diminishing the value of the food we grew by making it into something that may be viewed as art first and food second. Also, I couldn’t help thinking that we could have spent that time growing more food or making something more lasting.
I have this neighbor up here. He’s always saying sustainability and permaculture and stuff like that, but I was surprised in a recent conversation to find out that he did not know the term, or concept of, biochar. For others who don’t know, that’s a catchy marketable name for charcoal that is intended as a soil amendment, the claimed benefits of which I’ll delve into further on. I’m not even sure I like the term biochar. Why name something that already has a name? Maybe so you can market it? Charcoal with special properties? Anyway, I guess I thought it was more in peoples consciousness than it probably is, and since my sustainably hip neighbor was unfamiliar with the concept, I got to wondering how many other people haven’t yet encountered the concept and thought I’d present some thoughts and information here in case I might be able to convince more folks to delve into experimenting with the idea.
I had seen some interesting, and even exciting, articles and videos on using charcoal as a soil amendment. But, all the references were based on the discovery of terra preta, which are these human modified soils in the Amazon containing a large amount of charcoal. The claim is that these soils are still highly fertile compared to the natural soils surrounding them, even after many hundreds of years of heavy Amazonian rains. The mysteries of terra preta are still being prodded and examined, but clearly charcoal is a major player, and likely the key ingredient. If it functions as advertised, adding char is a permanent improvement, unlike the treadmill of organic matter and nutrients that we add to our soils every year and which mostly flush away in the rain. I’ve seen what happens to gardens when they are abandoned. The fertility quickly declines remarkably fast and eventually disappears. The possibility of making really permanent improvement to gardens, orchards and pastures is very compelling and worth some great effort. Read more »
Tomato season is finally on here at 1800 feet in coastal Northern California. Having just mentioned canning tomatoes in the Mega Canner post, as well as also having recently been enjoying my few remaining jars of them, it occurred to me that my method of canning tomatoes might be of some use to other people. Over the years, I gradually devolved toward a very simple tomato canning system that is not too much work and leaves me with a very versatile product.
My mom made tomato sauces and such, but what I really remember was the whole canned tomatoes. I would sometimes beg a jar of them, open it, and just eat them out of the jar with a fork. Yum, they were so good! Home canned tomatoes are so much better than store bought!!! I don’t care what brand you buy, there is just no comparison, because the commercial tomatoes are always bred for processing rather than flavor, and are harvested too early… just what we should expect from an industrial model. One day I was thinking about what I wanted to eat. I thought spaghetti sounded good. I got the pasta water going, got the pasta cooking, saute’ed some onions and ground meat, then rummaged in the cupboard. NOOOOO!!!! I was out of home canned tomatoes! I was already salivating and could taste those yummy sweet tomatoes as they oozed into the spaces between the noodles, topped with slowly melting shreds of Asiago cheese. But wait, there was a can of storebought tomatoes, that would have to do. Nope, they were soooooo lame! Total buzzkill :-/
Since horking down cans of my moms tomatoes at 12, I have sometimes made sauces and paste, but anymore I only can whole peeled tomatoes. Aside from fond memories, the main reason I do so is versatility. I don’t have to figure how many cans of sauce I’ll use, or what kind of sauce I want to make, or anything like that. My whole canned tomatoes can be reduced to small pieces in the jar with a butter knife in a matter of seconds, or tossed in the blender to make pizza sauce, dropped whole into a casserole, or dumped straight into a pot of minestrone. I can use them in Asian food, Mexican, Italian etc and so on. There are no skins to get in the way, and the extra juice in the jar tastes amazing with a splash of hot sauce, perfect to sip on as an appetite stimulant while cooking, or as a treat to share with someone. Read more »
I already posted about marinated artichoke hearts briefly in my !ARTICHOKES! post a few years ago, but I thought I would revisit it in a slightly expanded and more visual post. I did a little surfing to see if I should bother writing this up (as in maybe it has been covered well enough already), and was surprised to find that almost everyone recommends using canned or frozen artichoke hearts! We live in a society besieged by convenience. If you have the will and inspiration to make your own artichoke hearts, consider doing it from scratch all the way, and even planting some artichoke plants to have them to can in the future. It’s not that bad to process a pile of artichokes. Just make sure your knife is the right kind and plenty sharp, put on a movie or a book on tape, or just sit in the shade and let your mind wander. The more you do this kind of stuff, the better you become at it, and that includes that part of falling into a different rhythm of work where time slips away and is measured against quality of life instead of against money. I wanted to write a detailed post that walks us visually through the steps. I hope that this post might attract adequate search engine hits to compete with the average short, un-detailed recipes out there using frozen and canned hearts, but it’s difficult to compete with sites like ehow which rank high in the engines even though they are often fairly useless. If you find this article really useful, please leave a comment. Posts with lots of comments rank higher in search engine results which should make it easier to for others to find in the future.
Home canned artichoke hearts from scratch are really good and if you have a lot of artichokes, they are hard to beat as a way to preserve what you can’t eat fresh. I like artichokes a lot but there were way more artichokes than I could keep up with eating fresh this year, so I canned almost 40 half pints. Your marinated artichoke hearts will be excellent, better than store bought.
Marinated artichoke hearts from the store are often fibrous and may even contain a few weak spines. That does not have to be the case. When you can your own, and you can make the highest quality hearts, picked young and peeled down to only the tender parts. The artichokes must be picked at the right stage though and processed carefully by hand. the artichokes sold in stores are very mature having hard stems with the scales and base well developed. The choke, or hairs, in the center of store artichoke are also well developed. For marinated hearts, you need to pick them when the choke is still soft and edible. Picking cues may vary by variety, but I look at several things…. Read more »