Why Heirloom & Why Organics

I don’t often get the time at the Farmers Market to talk with customers in depth about the benefits of heirloom varieties and organics. So I thought it would be helpful to commit those thoughts to my blog.

So what makes heirlooms and organics so great anyway?

First, and this may surprise you, many heirlooms ARE hybrids, in the sense that they were often the attempt to capture the positive attributes of two or more varieties, but unlike today’s hybrids, they have been grown out for so many successive generations that the genetics became standardized and the new variety was “open pollinated,” i.e., you can save the seed and that seed will grow true to the parent. These are the varieties venerated and saved by our grandparents and great grandparents, often brought with them when they emigrated from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, and grown as family heirlooms.

But in modern times, seed companies have developed new strains specifically for commercial growers that often sacrifice the very qualities we seek as home growers for those qualities valued by the commercial growers and their end customers – the grocery stores. That is: higher yields, ease of transport and longer shelf life. A tomato that can be harvested green, gassed to color and brought to the store red and without bruising is, in their business plan, more desirable than a red, luscious, extremely flavorful heirloom tomato that could never make the transit from farm to grocery to table when hundreds or thousands of miles are involved.

Unfortunately, these same hybrid seeds are also marketed to home gardeners, who like the ease of growing such hybrids (high disease resistance and germination) and are unaware of the sacrifice of flavor and other qualities they are making with such choices.

Now, what is the advantage of growing heirlooms in an organic fashion? EVERYTHING!

First, there is the health advantage. Good organic gardens are built on compost rich organic soil populated by earthworms and a healthy beneficial microbiome. It may take years to create that if you are starting with poor or compromised soil, but it is worth it. Non-organic soils depend on chemical fertilizers, which take a heavy toll on the environment, and also deplete the nutrients in your produce. Study after study has shown that produce grown organically has a far richer nutrient composition than its non-organic competitors. Add to that the advantage of the freshness of home-grown, or locally-produced, which reaches your table faster with less loss ofnutrients, and there is no question that organically produced home grown or locally grown produce is far superior in every aspect.

An additional, and perhaps more important, advantage of organic produce is the lack of pesticides. Pesticides are toxins. Whether sprayed on your lawn or your broccoli, or imported via the produce seedlings you buy at your local nursery, they can wreak havoc with your and your family’s health. Just to give one example, if you use pesticides when pregnant or nursing, your children will have a 3x to 9x increase in the possibility of leukemia. There are countless other health implications.

Finally, organic gardening supports the environment. Everything from the richness and health of the soil, to the health of pollinators, including honey bees, to birds and animals. Chemical fertilizers not only pollute the water, they do nothing to enrich the soil — the very heart of our agricultural system. Worse case, pesticides such as neonicotinoids — widely used by US-based growers and nurseries — not only pollute the plant they “treat,” but migrate into the soil of your garden and toxify all your plants for pollinators such as honey bees. That is why they are banned in Europe!

So, to sum up, organic heirloom plants and produce are LESS EXPENSIVE, MORE SUSTAINABLE, AND HEALTHIER! What’s not to love? I grow and eat organic, and I sleep better as a result!

 

 

 

Wonderful New Organic Farmers Market Offerings this Saturday in Warrenton NC!

I will not have time for any Lucky Like treat making this week because my Savannah family are visiting. But I will have some wonderful CherryGal ORGANIC seedlings at the Warren County Farmers Market on Saturday (8-Noon) including:
Heirloom Tomatoes:
  • Brandywine, which dates to late 19th C and considered by many to be the best tasting beefsteak ever. Large pinks up to 2#.
  • Cuore Di Boef (Heart of Beef) a large 1-2# Italian heirloom oxheart
  • Hillbilly, a large bi-color (red and yellow) slicer
  • Costoluto Genovese, (only one left) a personal favorite Italian heirloom grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello
  • Black Krim, a popular Russian heirloom that produces early and continuously till Fall. Rich, sweet flavor on pounder fruits.
  • San Marzano, (only one left) an Italian heirloom that is considered the gold standard for paste & sauce

Peppers:

  • Sweet Italian Pimento (only one left) a great all-purpose salad/fryer/roaster/pickler
  • California Wonder (only one left) with thick-walled sweet flesh very productive
  • Ancho/Poblano, classic spicy Mexican heirloom pepper most associated with Chille Rellenos and Mole sauce

Cucumber, Diva – my favorite, and the plants are getting bigger by the day

Costato Romanesco Squash – a wonderful Italian heirloom squash with great flavor.  These need to go in the garden now, so they will be discounted on Saturday.

Herbs:
  • Bay Laurel trees
  • Chives (regular, not garlic)
  • Parsley Gigante (flat leaf Italian)
  • Rosemary
  • Nasturtium (edible climber)
  • Basils (various, depending on what’s ready)
  • Mints (various)
  • Blood Sorrel
Also several decorative & house plants including more Pastel Daylilies which are ready to start blooming!
Please note that I have many other varieties of tomatoes, herbs and decoratives growing out right now. It will be a week or longer for them to be ready for market, but I do hope you will be thrilled with my unique growing choices. I only ever start a few of each variety, so don’t wait too long or your favorite may be gone. ALL ORGANIC, of course. I so enjoy talking with you about them and about organics.
See you Saturday!

Fabulous Offerings next Saturday!

I want to thank everyone who turned out on Saturday May 13 at the Warren County Farmers Market. Despite inhospitable weather all day, we had our SECOND BEST DAY EVER in terms of sales, so thank you so much!

This coming Saturday I think I can confidently predict more new offerings that may interest you. Keep in mind, these are heirloom ORGANICALLY GROWN so I’m sorry if the prices are somewhat higher than others but they do require more attention then hybrids. But they are without a doubt HEALTHIER for you and your family and if gardened properly will be just as productive and satisfying (more so).

TOMATOES: In addition to a few Costoluto Genovese and Hillybilly tomatoes, I will have some Black Krim, Brandywine and Coeur Di Boeuf (oxheart). My favorite “spicy” pepper is Ancho Poblano, and I will have a few ready by Saturday. I will continue to offer Diva Cucumber, and they are getting bigger and stronger by the day. This is a stellar performer in the garden, with disease resistance. I will also have some Rosemary, regular Chives and Parsley Gigante (Italian flat leaf) for your pleasure. I will also have some beautiful Nasturtiums, which are so lovely in the garden, but can also be put to culinary use in salads and as toppers for soups.

I will send out another email before Saturday’s market, so you know exactly what to expect. As with all my offerings, early bird gets the worm!

Special Italian Heirlooms on Saturday at Warrenton Farmer’s Market

It’s been a quiet morning  listening to the gentle rain and the birds while I potted up various herbs that have outgrown their tiny hydroponic start pods. I have some special offerings this Saturday, and I thought I would give you a heads up since, as is my habit, I only have a few of each.
I am pleased to offer three of my favorite Italian heirlooms — organically grown of course. The first is a delicious slicing tomato called Costoluto Genovese. An indeterminate, it can require more attention from you to get to full fruiting (I recommend caging and pruning), but when it does produce it does so abundantly! This old Italian heirloom from Genoa features deep red pleated fruits that have the most extraordinary “slickery” texture and delicious flavor. It was grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, who had very discerning tastes. You can use for cooking, but I particularly like it chopped fresh and combined with homemade mozzarella and basil.
Another Italian heirloom that is the quintessential paste & sauce tomato San Marzano — an Italian heirloom gifted to the Kingdom of Naples in 1770 from the Kingdom of Peru! Since that time, it has become renowned as the best paste/sauce tomato bar none. Recent research by cancer specialist Dr William Li indicates that the cooked San Marzano tomato is the best cancer fighter (prostate and breast) of all tomato varieties! Grows just 4′ high, so very manageable.
I will also be bringing a my special Sweet Italian Pimento Pepper that is a single-lobed, thick walled heart-shaped sweet pepper with excellent flavor and perfect for roasting and adding to any dish or pickling.
Finally, a gourmet summer squash grown for use in traditional Italian cuisine. Costato Romanesco has a rich, nutty flavor and firmer texture than others so it stands up well to various recipes. The green flecked fine ribbed fruits are best picked when no larger than 4″-6″ and for a special treat, pick them even smaller when the large flowers are still attached, which you will gently batter and saute. This bush plant produces an abundance of male flowers if you want to cook just the flowers without sacrificing potential fruit, stuffing with soft cheese and gently baking till runny, then sprinkling with chopped basil. Or add the sliced fruit to soups or shred raw into salads. This variety is just too fine to use for zucchini bread.
If you buy one of these great Italian heirlooms, you will get a special recipe from “Vegetables from an Italian Garden” by Phaidon. Be sure to ask, as I will have them printed out and ready, but if I am distracted I might forget to give you.
I will also have a few heirloom gorgeous bi-color Hillbilly slicing tomatoes and the newer California Wonder Bell Pepper plants and more herbs, including basils — all organically grown of course.
And some Lucky Like treats — reduced because they are from last week that did not sell. I won’t have time this week to do a fresh batch. Since they last a month or longer in the fridge, this is your chance to pick up a bargain. The Lucky Bucks you have collected will be honored.
See you on Saturday!

Farmers Market Fun continues!

Had so much FUN at this week’s Warrenton NC Farmers Market which coincided with our local Spring Fest and Earth Day. I love being a member of the Warren County Growers Association. It has been wonderful being able to offer Organic Herb and Decorative Garden Seedlings and Seeds in addition to the Lucky Like Organic and All Natural Dog Biscuits! Each customer is an opportunity to educate on the importance of organics as well as the background of the ingredients or plants. I make new friends, which is always nice too! This week I started a new program to encourage return customers for Lucky Like Treats. In each bag was a “Lucky Buck” which provides $1 off the NEXT purchase of a bag of Lucky Like Dog Treats. We have so many wonderful local vendors this year — Shiitake Mushrooms, Natural Beef, Caribbean Jerk Sauce, Hannah’s Eggs, local produce and wonderful crafts.So, if you are within driving distance, please join us next Saturday, April 29, for the next Market Day! Hope to see you there!

Earth Day April 22, 2017

Come celebrate Earth Day this year at the Warrenton NC Farmer’s Market where CherryGal will be offering a range of organic seedlings for your garden.

This week’s herbs will include more Bay Laurel, various Basils, Cowslip, Dill, Epazote, Bronze and Bulb Fennels, Garlic Chives, Lavenders, Lemon Balm, various Mints, Oswego Tea, Purple Bee Balm, Oregano, Rosemary, various Sages, Stridolo, various Thymes, and Valerian.

In addition, I will have Victoria Rhubarb, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Evening Primrose, Golden Creeping Jenny, Gooseneck Lysimachia, McCartney Rose and Wysteria.

I will also have a selection of organic seeds from my vast inventory. And of course, Lucky Like Premium Dog Treats will be offered as well: Bacon Cheddar Barley Bones, Crunchy Peanut Butter Biscuits and Chicken Jerky.

And just down the block you can also visit Warrenton’s Spring Fest!

Hope to see you on Saturday 8 am – Noon!

Warrenton NC Farmer’s Market Season Opens April 15

Lucky Like Premium Dog Treats will be back weekly at the Warrenton NC Farmer’s Market opening 8 am to Noon on April 15. We will be offering our Best Selling Crunchy Peanut Butter Biscuits and NEW Bacon Cheddar Barley Bones.

In addition, we will be offering a NEW Heavenly Herbal Elixir for your dogs, cats and chickens. Just add a tablespoon or two to your pet’s food or water to get the benefits, which are many, from keeping bugs at bay to putting a spring in your elder pet’s step, addressing skin issues, and building strong teeth and bones, anti-depressant and pain reducer and anti-inflammatory. All this achieved with an Organic brew of apple cider vinegar and organic herbs that are safe for your pets! Comes in a beautiful corked bottle which can be returned for a discounted refill.

Finally, get your gardens going with CherryGal Heirloom Herbs offering a wide range of ORGANIC culinary and medicinal herb seedlings, and a few decorative seedlings, during the opening weeks. It is so important to grow organic for anything that you will be utilizing for food or medicine. Most varieties will be in very limited supply, so please come early on the 15th. I can’t bring them all, so there will be more in following weeks until gone, but again it will be first come first served (and no pre-sales). A partial listing:

Allheal (Prunella vulgaris), Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens), Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), Blood Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Cinnamon Basil (O. basilicum), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Bronze Fennel  (Foeniculum vulgare), Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum), Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), Gooseneck Lysimachia (Lysimachia clethroides), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus), Lemon Mint (Monarda citriodoro), Thyme, Lemon (Thymus citriodorus), Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), Macartney Rose (Rosa Bracteata), Oswego Tea (Mondarda didyma), Painted Sage (Salvia horminium), Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Syrian Oregano (Oreganum maru), Tri-color Sage (Salvia officinalis v. tri-color), Variegated English Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosum), to name just a few!

There will be so many returning vendors this year and some new ones so I hope to see you there!

Goodbye Winter … Hello Spring!

Goodbye Winter …

I spent the day yesterday in the garden. It felt so good. Although I saw my first robin weeks ago, it has been below freezing most nights until this week. We finally had a sunny, warm day without strong breezes and a decent rain during the night. So, I took advantage of the soft soil to lift two roses that had succumbed to our cruel whiplash weather winter, and to move two others that I think will do better in their new bed.

It always brings such joy to my heart to see the peonies pushing up through the earth, and the Major Wheeler honeysuckle has fully populated its part of the fence with its red buds ready to open. I take inventory of my perennials and shrubs. My bay laurel, which I harvested a bit too heavily last fall for seedlings and my kitchen, took a hit from our 20 to 80 to 10 to 60’s winter. I pruned the dead branches while my chickie girls bustled around me clucking their concern. Adversity, if it doesn’t kill you, does make you stronger, and my Laurus Nobilis will be fine once the weather settles into Spring.

So much new growth. The girls have been enjoying lush patches of Chickweed for weeks now. My Bee Balm Oswego carpets its area, ready to send up stalks soon. It is one of my absolute favorite May flowers, brilliant full fluffy fragrant red blossoms that attract bees in droves. If I’m able to keep it deadheaded, I get a second, less vigorous but still pretty, blush in August.

I greet my yellow lilac with joy! The flower heads are forming fully and it has suffered no loss to its foliage. It will perfume the girls’ coop soon. My dwarf cherry which I installed in a huge pot at the center of the chicken compound has some buds blooming! My apple tree espaliers are leafing out which means they too have survived! The yellow daffodils are done, but my whites that grace the front of my white house are in full bloom and lovely. The prolific sweet violets are sprinkled everywhere. I love them! The cowslip and red primrose are starting to bloom. And a few surviving Judith Leyster tulips (always such a risk here in NC) are ready to open.

So much to do. Today I’ll move another rose and a small shrub and the hawthorne, which all need better situations. Sometimes when I am rushed or tired I will “park” a plant inappropriately, but now is the best time to give them better quarters. These are the days when I steal time from sleep and other chores to be in the garden. I’ve been sleeping all winter. Now, we will have a beautiful warm Spring. Hello!

 

Bell Pepper Lovers …

Know them by their fruits! I think it is cute that the number of bumps on the bottom of a sweet bell pepper correspond to its gender … if you think about it, it corresponds to people’s gender parts (sort of) lol!

But actually, it is not true. Check this out.

Makes you kind of wonder about the person at AWM Food who was sitting around contemplating peppers and sex enough to create this false pix haha!

 

Autolyse to the rescue

No, its not a contract for car rental, and is actually pronounced as it if were an automatic bug infestation (lice), but AUTOLYSE is a remarkable, innovative, dare I say … “miraculous” way to achieve the kind of flavor, lift, crust and really open chewy crumb, sourdough bakers all strive for.

Autolyse Sourdough Loaf

It does require time and attention. Want to get that out front at the get go. Not a method you can use quickly, or leave and forget it. But not a lot of “hands on” time. In fact, this is perfect for bakers who do not have the upper body strength or energy for vigorous kneading, nor the ability to safely use heavy dutch ovens required for previous “no knead” recipes.

Autolyse is an ancient term meaning “self digestion.” The term was applied to baking by Raymond Calvel (1913-2005) who taught Julia Child, among others, and developed a profound body of research on various flours and in the process developed the autolyse method of baking. In sourdough baking, it translates to a wet, shaggy dough that is allowed to begin the flour hydration process before the sourdough starter is even added, thereby relaxing the gluten.

In the autolyse method I have adopted, this is followed by several short periods of bulk fermention “bf” punctuated by gentle folding of the dough, not kneading (which incorporates oxygen but dulls flavor), and returning for another bf period. After several such sessions, the dough becomes more manageable, builds flavor, and eventually can be shaped, though it will still be soft and appear to not have much lift at all. That is deceiving. The actual baking method is also critical, because it is here that the lift, crumb and crust all develop. You will be astonished. I am every time I do this.

To begin, you will need a mixer with open paddle attachment (not bread hook), a bench knife, a good ceramic bowl, a clean kitchen towel, unbleached baking parchment, and baking trays (not flat cookie sheets). I have my preferences on all these things but I don’t do ads on my blog so no brand names mentioned here.

First Steps:

  • Start your dough by heating 3 Cups water to 85F-90F (I put in my microwave for 1 minute on high) and to that add 3 Cups White Bread Flour and 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour (this is suggested ratio, you can play around with amounts and types all you want) and work vigorously in the mixer until you have a shaggy wet dough. Use a spatula to push all the dough down and toward the center, then cover with towel and let rest for 40 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the type of dough you want to achieve. This is your Autolyse.
  • Activate your starter in a clean glass bowl. So easy! Microwave a cup of filtered non-chlorinated water in your bowl for 30 seconds on High. Then add your wild caught sourdough starter (which is usually about a cup if you bake regularly) and a cup of bread flour and use a wire whisk to give it a thorough talking to. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and put in proofing box (I use my microwave — turned off of course). It is ready to use when it develops a top layer of micro-foam. (You will know it when you see it.)
  • Add to the Autolyse: 1 Cup of activated starter (put remainder in clean glass jar in fridge for future use), 4 t salt, 1/4 C water (again, unchlorinated and 85F-90F) and any other additions your recipe calls for such as oils, sugars, honey, citric zests, olives, herbs, nuts, cheese, etc). [The reason you hold off on adding salt until now is that hydrating the flour first in the Autolyse allows enzymes to free up more sugar for the yeast to eat, whereas salt tightens gluten strands.]

Bulk Fermentations / Folds

  • Begin by removing your dough (a wet shaggy mess at this point) to a floured board) and using your floured bench knife to slide under an edge of the dough, lifting and folding it over toward center. Do this all around several times until the dough is more cohesive but still very soft. You do NOT want to achieve a stiff dough at any point.
  • Put in large ceramic bowl, cover with clean towel and move to the proofing box (i.e. microwave) for the first Bulk Fermentation (bf) of about 30 minutes.
  • Repeat the folding / fermentations up to six times, until dough is still soft, but ready to take shape. At this point you can divide and shape, placing onto unbleached parchment (doesn’t burn at high temps like bleached) on trays. Cover with towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
  • While your loaves are resting, heat oven to 500F.
  • When oven is ready, put the trays at center.
  • Add 1/4 C filtered water to bottom of oven to produce steam (or in pan at bottom of oven) BE CAREFUL as this will produce a hot cloud of steam so you must remove your hand and shut the door very quickly lest you be burned. TURN OVEN DOWN TO 450F and set timer for 30 minutes. [Please note: pouring directly into your oven bottom can risk your oven’s electronics if it doesn’t have a steam clean function, hence use a pan instead.]
  • Repeat the “steam shots” at least once during bake. This is how you achieve the wonderful dark golden crisp crust.
  • Baking times will depend on your recipe and mostly importantly your additives. An olive bread, for example will require up to an hour. A simple ungarnished dough only 35-45 minutes.
  • Your bread is done when the crust color is right and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Using a good sharp serrated bread knife will preserve your loaf. Reserving the heel end to cover the open end will keep your loaf fresh. Use a piece of baker’s twine to keep in place. You do not need to cover if kept in this manner, but you can put in a bread bag or poly bag once it is completely cool though the crisp crust will soften a bit. As with all wild-caught sourdough breads, flavor continues to develop so that your last slice is more flavorful even than the first (which is awesome).

This may seem like an extremely complicated way to bake! It is — the first time you do it. After that, I promise, you will see the simplicity and ease of it and you may find yourself baking bread much more often than you ever have before. Enjoy!