Category Archives: Eating locally

May UFH Foraging Challenge Round 4: Something for Dessert

Sweetened Salmonberries on a Biscuit

This month on Sustainable Eats, you’ve seen our suggestions for foraging dandelions, morels, and a savory dinner. Our guides have been some of the best foragers on the West Coast. But for the uninitiated, the doorway into foraging is often through the sweet tooth. This is true in my family too, where wild berries are the incentive I use to get my family into the woods.

Salmonberry Harvest

This time of year, there’s really only one game in town: the salmonberry. It’s the first sweet thing to ripen around here, beating out just about every other fruit in both farm and forest. You’ll spot the first ripe berries along stream banks in the lowlands, then increasingly in drier areas and at higher elevations (I harvest mine near the ponds at Seattle’s Discovery Park).

This earliness offers the fruit some advantages. First, it beats by a month the pest insects that infest so many of our soft berries later in the summer. August blackberries may be sweeter, but you have to ignore what’s squirming around inside of them. And as stated before, salmonberries ripen first. So you prefer our local huckleberries? Good luck finding them in the last week of May.

Salmonberry - one of the first NW woodland flowers in spring

If you’ve tried and failed to fall in love with salmonberries, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The only thing separating them from the big boys (such as blackberries) is sugar content. Fruits need an unforgiving sun to develop sugars, and many of our native berries favor the shade of the forest floor, where they develop subtle, woodsy flavors. They may express terroir, but it’s nothing you’d want to put on top of your grandma’s shortcake. But add a little sugar and you’re in for a big, delicious surprise. These berries don’t just compete, they rock.

Salmonberries

Salmonberries

I understand why you would not want to eat sugary preserves all the time. But there’s something delightful about playing the “what if this tasted sweet” game with our native berries. What if oregon grape – that sour berry that tastes a little like lettuce – had high sugar content? Answer: it makes a wonderful jam with an unusual taste. Repeat the experiment with salal berries, and you’ll discover a secret cinammon flavor. Once you’ve used sugar to discover the hidden joys of one of our native berries, you’ll want to try them all. For me, this activity transforms every simple hike in the woods into a treasure hunt.

To wrap up foraging month here at Sustainable Eats, we’re offering you this challenge: Take a walk in the lowland woods, somewhere near a stream, and harvest a few cups full of salmonberries. If you live somewhere else, you can substitute another wild berry of course. Sweeten them with sugar and eat them on top of something. Then, post a comment here and tell us about your experience.

Sweetened Salmonberries on a Biscuit

Salmonberries on a Biscuit

Sweetened Salmonberries on a Biscuit

Topping: 

4 cups salmonberries, gently rinsed, drained and tossed with 1/4 cup of sugar.

Cornmeal-Maple Biscuits (based loosely on recipe from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking):

1 cup (4.875 ounces) cornmeal
1 cup (4 ounces) all-purpose flour (I used fresh ground soft white wheat)
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 T unsalted butter
1/2 c buttermilk (ordinary milk will work in a pinch)
1/4 cup maple syrup

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter. Combine liquids and stir into dry mix until just moistened. Form into ball, flatten to 1/2 inch thick, slice in eighths like a pie, dip in flour to prevent sticking and spread on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Top with salmonberry topping and serve warm.

All they needed was a little sugar.

May UFH Foraging Challenge Round 3: Forage for Dinner


image credit Langdon Cook, Fat of the Land

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that Hank and Langdon have joined in for the foraging challenge because the collective knowledge of these two foraging gurus is extensive. I’ve been following both of them for three years now. If ever there is a local ingredient you can tap into on your own, it’s certain to be on one of their sites.

Langdon forages in my neck of the woods (literally), and like Hank, has gorgeously photographed meals prepared to the exacting standards of the highest foodie. His book, Fat of the Land, is an entertaining read that will get you excited to start your own foraging journey. At the end of this month it will be one of the prizes you can win for linking up with your foraging comments or blog posts. If you can’t wait until the end of the month to win it, you can support him by purchasing it through the link on his website. And if you are really lucky you may be able to attend one of his upcoming events and classes. See his site for a list of them.

Now head to his blog and then come back here at the end of the month to enter yourself in to the drawing for a copy of Langdon’s book and some other great foraging prizes. Go forth and forage!

May UFH Foraging Challenge Round 2: Morel Mushrooms.

Have you seen Hank’s website, Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook yet? It’s fantastic, and has been a source of inspiration and personal challenge to me in the three years since I first found it one night in someone’s blog reader list. I knew when I read about curing olives that I had to try my own hand at it. And while I had to buy my olives whereas Hank, who lives in California, managed to forage for his, the thrill of preparing something as mysterious as a cured olive hooked me.

Hank’s site is populated with fantastic recipes from small game like rabbit and squirrel to venison, seafood and pheasant. He’s got vegetarian recipes, acorn recipes, fern recipes and camas bulb recipes. Hank is a creative chef with an eclectic pallet and the photographs are gorgeous. Expect to get lost on his site for days. And while you are there lost on his site, be sure to check out his book, Hunt, Gather, Cook – Finding the Forgotten Feast which is equally fantastic.

Right now Hank has the next foraging challenge for you – and if you find that one doesn’t work, feel free to peruse his site and come up with your own foraging challenge. So trek on over to Hank’s site and get hunting!

Songs at Dinner

When I was a kid, we used to say grace at every meal. And though I’ve lost my faith, I haven’t lost the urge to show thanks for the meal before us. Given the option, our kids would inhale their food and split. So we look for ways to teach them to be thankful.

Lately our family has been experimenting with secular grace, in the form of a song. We hold hands and sing before dinner. Some days, such as when we have my religious parents over for dinner, it can feel contrived and a little silly. And I can already imagine what a great satirical sketch this would make on the show Portlandia (are you listening Fred Armisen?). But we keep at it, because it expresses gratitude. We want our kids to understand that eating is a transaction: we get something from the earth, and in exchange, we must give something back. We must be stewards of the soil and treat plants and animals with respect. And so, every night we sing:

Orchard and Ocean
Farm and Field
We thank the Earth for all she yields
For soil and for water
Flower and seed,
We’re thankful in thought, word and deed.

The idea of secular grace took on new meaning for me when it came time to slaughter my two eldest hens and a younger one that happened to be in the wrong flock at the wrong time.

Lottie and Fannie had been with us since the very first flock. But their egg production had dropped off, and they’d picked up mites and the annoying habit of eating their own eggs from a beautiful but troubled hen we adopted from a friend. On a farm, these hens would have been culled long ago. A young, unnamed Speckled Sussex had picked up these habits too. I could have saved her, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble of curing mites organically – not for a single hen. Finally, we made the decision to cull the lot of them. I’d take the winter to remodel the coop (for the fifth time), during which time the mites would all die off, and then we’d start over with a young flock in Spring. As the execution date approached, I found myself singing an old gospel hymn constantly: Lucinda Williams’ version of “Great Speckled Bird.” In that song, the bird is an allegory for the Bible. As I sang it to myself, over and over, the allegory dropped away, and it became an anthem of respect for the backyard hen.

What a beautiful thought I am thinking
Concerning that great speckled bird (or substitute golden bird, ruddy bird)
We remember her now and we thank her
At our table and in every word.

I am glad that she dwelled in my garden
I am glad that she ate all my weeds.
At the table we proudly recall her
And recount all her noblest deeds.

The grammar in this song is a little screwy, and the lyrics don’t exactly make sense, but the original song didn’t make sense either. Sometimes you must compromise grammar to make the song lyrics fit. If you can work out better lyrics, please post them below.

As slaughter time approached, my friend Janelle Maiocco told me she wanted to participate. Janelle is a chef, with mad skills. I have a tried and true recipe for backyard hens, but would love to learn more recipes and techniques for tenderizing their rather toothy flesh. So we worked out a deal. I taught her how to slaughter and sent her home with a few hens. In exchange, she promised to invite us over for dinner when she cooked them. You can read more about that meal in a wonderful post on her blog, Talk of Tomatoes.

As our big dinner date arrived, I began singing Great Speckled Bird to myself again. I thought I might sing it before dinner.

Janelle Maiocco

But as Janelle brought out the steaming bowls of pasta in backyard chicken broth, the chicken liver pate, the tender meatballs, I realized I didn’t need a song. Food prepared with a loving hand, achieving the highest and best use of an animal, is itself a kind of song. Simply slowing down and cooking with care – these actions show our children, perhaps better than any song – that we don’t take our food for granted.

For now, I think we’ll keep singing our dinnertime song – our kids have grown fond of it (you can hear it in their lusty rendition), and it marks the beginning of our daily family supper with a sort of exclamation point. But I recognize that spending time in the preparation of food, inviting my kids to help chop vegetables at the counter – these activities will drive home the value of food more than any song.

How do you show thanks for your food at the dinner table?

Jackie’s Pupcakes

Today’s post is a guest post from Jackie of Auburn Meadow Farms.

“We are a very small farm in western Pennsylvania. We raise American Milking Devon cattle for dairy and beef. Our aim is to reintroduce an extraordinary eating experience while providing a simple, joyful life for our animals.”

 

If you’re here, reading Sustainable Eats, chances are you’re taking steps towards weaning yourself from highly processed industrial food.

Can I be bold and just a little bit greedy and ask you to consider one more thing? I really need to sit up and beg you to stop feeding your dog mass produced commercial dog food. I know, I know…. but truly. There are seriously hardcore reasons why this is a project you should consider.

Not to worry, I’m not about to whip you with all the horrors of commercial pet food – I’d much rather talk about positive actions we can actually do something about today. If you want to stick your wet finger in a light socket learn more about the pet food industry, check out Pet Food Politics by Marion Nestle or Foods Pets Die For by Ann N. Martin.

If you are a dog or cat owner, you really need to own this book: Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. While full of interesting information about our modern systems of food and agriculture and their dangers to our pets, Dr. Pitcairn’s book is positive and proactive. Still, this kind of paragraph from the chapter What’s Really in Pet Food does tend to stick with you:

“As you see, by itself the chemical analysis on the label does not mean a whole lot. To underscore this point, one veterinarian concocted a product containing the same composition of the basic proteins, fats, and carbohydrates as a common brand of dog food by using old leather shoes, crankcase oil, and wood shavings. My point is that labels don’t always tell us enough. Be especially wary of pet food that lists its ingredients in generic categorical terms like these:

• Meal and bone meal
• Meat by-products
• Dried animal digest
• Poultry by-product meal
• Poultry by-products
• Digest of poultry by-products
• Liver glandular meal
• Chicken by-products
• Dried liver digest
• Fish meal
• Fish by-products.”

I expect that when I’m buying commercial pet food, I’m supporting the worst of the worst. The worst animal welfare, the image twisting marketing I resent the most, the worst environmental practices and the worst nutrition for my dog. And, I resent it enough to do something about it.

But I also struggle being just one human with a busy family to feed and a time consuming career. As much as I wanted to cook for my beloved Charley, I knew I would fail if sustaining the dog’s diet was too nasty, extreme or troublesome. I needed to come up with a system to fit my dog’s new diet into my life as painlessly as possible.

Five things my dog food system had to be:

1. Healthy – I needed a noticeable improvement for the effort to feel worthwhile.
2. Tolerable – too disgusting, sloppy or hateful and I knew I’d quit.
3. Manageable – the system had to fit into my own food preparations. Too many extra errands or difficult to find ingredients and I’d fail.
4. Appreciated – if the dog wasn’t excited about it, I wouldn’t be rewarded by seeing him gobble it up with enthusiasm.
5. Affordable – this one goes without explanation. I wasn’t buying my dog filet every twice a day no matter how much I loved him.

I researched and tweaked, then tweaked some more, adapting versions of meals I found online and in books. Finally I was satisfied with a recipe that we came to call Pupcakes; a portable, easily portioned meatloaf cupcake. It was appealing, affordable, perfectly sized, mobile, cleaner & easier to use than a can of dog food.

Click here for the Printable Pupcakes Recipe

One of the things I like most about this recipe is that it is forgiving. The meat, grains and vegetables can be easily interchanged based on what’s available – in fact, more variety is better. Ground beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, venison & other game is all good. If you prefer other types of meals, Dr. Pitcairn’s book offers a variety of loaf, stew and omelet recipes for your lucky pup. But pupcakes were the workhorse of my dog’s pantry.

I located a nearby supplier of bulk organic grain for my dry ingredients and frozen vegetables and bought in large bags. I searched around and found a butcher shop in my area raising their own cows. All my human-grade ingredients were reasonably priced, humanely raised, readily available and not too far out of my way. The few trickier ingredients, I was able to find at my local food co-op or to order online from Frontier Co-op.

My feeling is always that if you use the freshest ingredients grown in the healthiest soil in their least processed form, you don’t need much in the way of additional supplementation. But, my food was lacking the calcium my dog would be getting from the raw bones that would be part of his diet if he were foraging for himself, so I used Dr. Pitcairn’s recipes to compensate.

Now, I am not a nutritionist or a scientist, so my approach to adding supplements may not be as scientific as you would like. I was thoroughly satisfied with my results, but you may want to adjust your supplements according to your own research. Here is another area where you will find Dr. Pitcairn’s book to be extremely useful.

Each week, dog food preparation was just part of my regular family food routine. The grains I was using in the pupcakes that week, I prepared in large batches and we also ate in soups, fried “rice” or risotto. We would usually eat the same meat and the same veggies too.

The night before pupcake day, I would cook the grains, cook and puree the vegetables and the beans. I’d refrigerate it all and the next morning, I’d assemble the recipe, bake and freeze the pupcakes.

That way, it really wasn’t a big deal. And, the grain is improved from the overnight refrigeration. The only part I actually tired of with the pupcakes was the muffin tins, but I appreciated the portability and simplicity of feeding portions so much that it was totally worth the additional effort.

Charley weighed about 55 pounds, and two pupcakes twice a day was the perfect amount for him. Each pupcake should weigh about 4 ounces and have between 200 – 220 calories. It took a very little bit of finessing and trial and error to arrive at the perfect quantity per day, but was no harder than calculating portion control for yourself or your kids.

One last note: home made pet food does not include additives like stool stiffeners so your pet may have unusual and/or messy poop while he adjusts. The worst thing you can do is to immediately think something is wrong and go back to the commercial food. What is wrong is that the commercial food includes stuff like stool stiffeners in the first place which is more for your delicate sensibilities than for your pet’s health. Make the switch gradually and stay the course, and the problem should correct itself. Or, as in Charley’s case, I just had to lay off the ground poultry and all was fine. You may find a particular type of meat, beans, vegetable mix or grain doesn’t suit your pet as well as others; pay attention as you get used to this system. Honestly, it’s not hard and the results are so, so worth it.

Healthy, happy dog and no more support for the industrial pet food system. Charley and I both slept well; he with a full belly and healthy skin and me with a clear conscience…

If you prefer, you can make pupcakes in a loaf pan and serve in slices. Though the muffins take a little more work, it’s well worth it in ease of serving, storage and portability.

Pupcakes are a complete, balanced meal with meat, eggs, grains, beans, vegetables, and minerals. Clean, simple, portable and definitely yummy.

Our fearless farm poodle Charley. Charley (and we) suffered miserably from his skin disorders and allergies. His home made pupcake diet helped support his weakened immune system and helps reduce the systemic overload for any pup with autoimmune disorders like allergies, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and skin disorders.