Why Organic Seeds? It really IS so important!

Is it really important to buy organic seeds, rather than non-organic? Are non-GMO seeds also organic? And what about organic hybrid varieties? And can an organic seed be treated? Is that so bad? These questions confound even experienced gardeners these days.

Conventional commercial seed propagation methods utilize chemicals and other treatments that can leech into the soil, migrate to other plants, drain off into the ground water and eventually water supply, affect pollinators in a very profound way and, affect your health as well.

Using conventional non-organic seed, even if it is non-GMO or untreated, is a poor start to an organic garden and can have lasting effects. This is why organic certification takes so long and is so expensive — the soil has to be redeemed from conventional assaults, and that typically takes 3-5 years, depending on the history of the growing area, surrounding areas, and type of soil and rainfall.

More and more, people are recognizing that organic produce not only tastes better … it is better — healthier, with more vitamins, nutrients and protein than conventional produce. But it is also important to grow your herbs and flowers organically, and for that you also need organic seed.

Hybrids, by the way, are not genetically modified. They are simply produced using natural methods. Many heirloom varieties began as hybrids that have been “stabilized” so that they are now “open-pollinated” — in other words seed gathered from them will grow true to the parent as long as no cross-pollination has occurred. So hybrids are not wrong, they just are not yet of the stability that you can save the seed. Also, most modern hybrid varieties are created for the convenience of growers and grocers, not for superior flavor or other characteristics that home gardeners value.

Certified organic seed cannot be genetically modified, so anytime you purchase certified organic seed you are also purchasing non-GMO seed. But that seed might be treated to ward off fungal diseases when sown in cold wet soils. The “fungicides” most commonly used by such commercial growers are Thiram, which has been around for decades, and Apron and Maxim, newer brands. You should know a seed has been treated if it is brightly and unnaturally colored — hot pink, for example. You should not handle such seed with bare hands. These chemical coatings can cause kidney and liver damage when used over time, and they are acutely toxic to fish, so runoff can be poisonous to the environment. And since their purpose is to protect vast growing fields, a home gardener does not need them, and an organic gardener should never use them.

But more recently, systemic pesticides have become common among commercial growers. Known by their scientific name as Neonicotinoids, they are pushed by Bayer, Sygenta and Monsanto and have now unquestionably been linked to bee death. You see, this type of systemic poison not only affects the plant it produces, it leaches and migrates in the soil to surrounding plants. So importing just one beautiful flower from your local nursery can create a toxic zone in your otherwise organic garden. Some commercial nurseries have pledged to, or stopped altogether, offering plants that are grown with neonicotinoids. We encourage you to ask your local nurseries what their practice is.

So, that brings us full circle as to why Organics matter. They are healthier and safer for you and the planet and all God’s creatures. This is why CherryGal Heirloom Seeds has gone ALL ORGANIC for the 2017 season, and we never offer treated seeds. In fact, we are signatories of The Safe Seed Pledge. Happy Gardening!

 

Nature’s Pharmacy … Turmeric

turmeric

I recently went face down on some wet leaves chasing my dogs. Not fun for a 67 year old. I was actually very lucky – nothing broken. But I was in tremendous pain in my face, shoulders, knees, ankles — basically everywhere. I was concerned about inflammation so my friend and neighbor who is a nurse gave me an aspirin (haven’t had any in the house for over ten years). Turns out I don’t tolerate aspirin – it gave me tremendous gerd all night long (oh yeah, that’s why I stopped having it in the house). So I turned to my spice cabinet.

Turmeric, which is the leading spice in curry (which I love and eat lots of) is a pain and inflammation reducer. So, in addition to my beloved curries, I am now including turmeric in everything I can, even if only an insignificant dash that doesn’t add to the flavor. In so doing, I am building up the curcumin (the active component) in my system.

Just a few delicious ways you can easily incorporate turmeric in your diet (aside from yummy curries):

  • Toasted/grilled cheese on bread with turmeric sprinkled on top
  • Squash or carrot soup with a healthy (literally) dose of turmeric
  • Scrambled eggs with turmeric
  • Dips for vegetable crudites
  • Smoothies and lattes (recipes abound on the Internet)
  • Yogurt based sauces for vegetables, fish, chicken, beef and pork
  • Cooked rice of any type is improved with turmeric added
  • Marinades or rubs for meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Add to cooked/roasted vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, potatoes
  • Add to the spice brine for homemade pickles

I encourage you to start incorporating this incredible spice in your diet on a daily basis. Also research for yourself the many peer-reviewed studies of its effects on cancer, diabetes, depression and many other illnesses and be amazed. And if you have a special way to use turmeric, let me know!

Regional Comfort Foods — Boston Baked Beans

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Boston Baked Beans From Scratch

Boston Baked Beans are iconic with their namesake, but their origins are actually Native American. Those indigenous peoples schooled the Pilgrims on survival and the wonders of baking beans, teaching the intricacies of such recipes back in the early 1600s! When Boston became a trade exporter of rum (made by the distillation of molasses), molasses were added to the beans and left to cook in brick ovens overnight on Saturdays. Barley and corn were combined to make the traditional Boston Brown Bread which was served after Church with the beans. By the way, this also earned Boston the nickname of “Bean Town.”

I have a full cast iron Dutch oven of beans cooking in the oven right now. They have been there since around 11:30 am (it is now 2:40) and I hope to have them for supper tonight. It is really such an easy recipe, I am amazed that more people don’t cook this from scratch. But like Sourdough Bread, because it takes a lot of time, folks think it takes a lot of effort — which it does not.

If you have a ham hock (like that leftover from your Thanksgiving ham) or a piece of salt pork, 2 bags of Navy beans, and various condiments, you can whip up the makings and put them to work for you in a few minutes and then enjoy them baking in your oven for 7 hours. (Yes, that’s how long it takes). But the aromas are divine, and season your Saturday, while you do things like raking leaves and cleaning out the chicken coop!

Here’s the very simple recipe:

Prep 2 bags of Navy Beans by one of two methods (or something in between)

Method 1: Put beans in large pot with LOTS of water to cover and let sit overnight. Okay, you’re not going to do that one.

Method 2: Boil the beans in water and apple cider for a few minutes and then let sit covered off heat for an hour. That’s a winner.

Then put the beans and liquid in a Cast Iron Dutch Oven with about a cup of black strap (non-sulphured) molasses, and appropriate (to taste) additions of Apple Cider (and/or Balsamic) Vinegar, real maple syrup, brown sugar, mustard, Worchestershiire Sauce, salt. Add a meaty ham hock and an onion studded with 6-8 cloves. Put in a 350 oven for about an hour until its bubbling, then turn heat down to 250 and check/stir/taste/adjust seasonings every hour for an additional 6 hours (7 hours total). Before serving, remove the ham bone and return any meat still on it to the pot. Similarly, remove the onion and chop up and return to the pan.

You can freeze in small portions and enjoy every time the snow falls, contemplating the harrows that our forefathers endured in those Bostons winters, and if you have the energy, make some brown bread to enjoy with it!

If you have any hacks on this traditional recipe, I’d love to hear them!

Regional Comfort Foods … The Cornish Pasty

My paternal great grandfather hails from Cornwall England near St Austell according to one relative — an area full of tin, copper and china clay mines. Cornwall is known as the home of a recognized distinct ancient tribal peoples called “The Cornish.” My great grandfather was a miner, and his son (my grandfather) became a mining engineer when he emigrated (as part of the great Cornish diaspora) to the great open pit Iron Ore mines of Northern Minnesota.

cornwallmine

We were taught as children (and I presume it to be true) that a traditional lunch prepared for miners by their wives was the Cornish Pasty (rhymes with nasty, though it is anything but) carving their husband’s initials in the half moon pastries so that they would not be confused with others’.

The traditional pasty that we grew up eating and baking consists of a pie circle, filled with chopped beef, suet (which I now have to beg the butcher for), onion,potatoes and — most importantly — rutabaga (called turnips in Cornwall but milder in flavor). But many iterations contain other meats (like pork) and vegetables (like carrots). Folded in half and crimped on the unfolded side, these are baked for about 45 minutes at 350 F and are delicious! You can brush the tops with egg wash or milk.

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Preparing for the bake …

I have a hard time finding rutabagas here in NC and when I do they tend to be so large as to be difficult to chop, so I recently substituted purple top turnips, which have a somewhat sharper flavor but are tender and smaller, and the pasties are still delicious! In our family, we always ate them warm, with ketchup on the side. But the ketchup is not mandatory. In fact, I have met folks who eat these with mustard as they do tend to be a little on the dry side undressed. But there are any manner of things you could dress them with if you do not like ketchup.

pasty

If you have a special family comfort food that you can trace to ancient times, please let me know!

 

Just Treats … No High Fructose Corn Syrup

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Chocolate Peanut Butter & Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Ever since an isolated incident back in the early 70’s gave us all a fright, the commercial candy industry has been aggressively persuading us not to give out apples, popcorn balls or other home made treats on Halloween. So for years, especially when I had a young son, I dutifully purchased commercial candies in miniature form each year (and ate a fair share of them myself). However, I have long questioned this practice.

I live in a small community with a very high incidence of diabetes and obesity … even among children. So for the past few years I have resisted giving out candy, choosing instead to buy expensive organic cheese crackers in little boxes from Annie’s, which the kids have loved. But since I get 100 or more Trick Or Treaters each year, this adds up! Then there came this report from the Cornucopia Institute … detailing the problem with most treats passed out this time of year and suggesting solutions. As a professional baker (at least for dogs) I decided to go the cookie route instead. It is an economical way to put a little love in each colorful treat bag (bought on ebay for just a few dollars).

I started out with some vintage cookie cutters of a bat and a scaredy cat (tail straight up). This quickly became unworkable with the tender cookie dough. So I switched forms to Acorns and Pumpkins. I added easy decorations of chocolate sprinkles on the acorn caps and chocolate covered dots to make jack-o-lanterns of the pumpkins. Each bag gets two large cookies, one of each kind, and is tied with a string of raffia (also from ebay, also very inexpensive). The cookies are delicious! Here are the recipes, in case anyone wants to try them.

Triple Threat Chocolate Peanut Butter Cut Out Cookies (makes 2-4 dozen cookies, depending on size)

Preheat oven to 400F

  • 1 Cup Unsalted Butter (softened to room temp)
  • 1 Cup Light Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut Butter (smooth)
  • 1/4 Cup Melted and Cooled Chocolate (I used chocolate chips with 60% Cocoa)
  • 2 T Dark Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Egg
  • 3 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 1 t Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 t Baking Powder (Double Acting)
  • 1 t Salt
  1. Cream the butter & sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add Peanut Butter and Chocolate
  3. Add Egg and Vanilla
  4. Add Flour, Baking Powder and Salt
  5. Keep dough cold while not working, but no need to pre-chill before rolling
  6. Roll out between parchment to 1/4″ thickness and cut shapes.
  7. Decorate
  8. Bake on parchment, keeping 1″ or more between cookies, about 12 minutes.
  9. Remove to wire racks to cook completely. You can store in zip locks until packaging in treat bags.

Pumpkin Spice Cut Out Cookies

Preheat oven to 350F

  • 3/4 Cups Unsalted Butter (softened to room temp)
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 T Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 t Double Acting Baking Powder
  • 1 t Salt
  • 1-1/2 t Cinnamon
  • 3/4 t Ground Ginger
  • 1/4 t Ground or Grated Nutmeg
  • 1/4 t Ground Allspice
  • 1/8 t Ground Cloves
  1. Cream Butter and Sugars together until light and fluffy
  2. Add Pumpkin, Vanilla and Egg
  3. Add dry ingredients
  4. Chill dough for 15 – 20 minutes before rolling
  5. Roll out between parchment to 1/4″ thick and cut shapes
  6. Decorate and put on parchment to bake
  7. Bake 12 minutes
  8. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely before packing in treat bags
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Cut shapes close together & then remove xtra before lifting shapes with spatula

Enjoy! And have a safe and Happy Halloween!

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Give Us This Day …

Our daily bread!

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It is actually true, that bread — at least healthy fermented bread — comes pretty close to supplying what we need on a daily basis to live.

But bread has come under fire from dieters and dieticians alike ever since the bastardization of the baking art in the mid-20th Century. Done to achieve shorter baking times, long shelf life and enhance profits, commercially made bread relied on wheat stripped of all nutrition. When that created a nation of sick people (true), companies like Wonder Bread began adding the “health” back into the bread and using that as an advertising tool. But in reality, even with nutrients added, the process and ingredients of most commercial breads to this day do nothing to promote your health, and may in fact be unhealthy. The type of flour used, additives (some of which are known carcinogens, un-fermented gluten and commercial yeast have produced many celiac disease sufferers, but also many more who react to the lack of fermentation, experiencing bloating and other gut problems. Lack of fermentation in bread has also contributed to an epidemic of diabetes and may be responsible for the spike in Candida diseases and allergic reactions that may contribute to cancer. Fermentation actually pre-digests those elements of the bread that produce such discomforts. It releases nutrients in the bread so that your body can absorb them. It helps control candida albicans, where commercial yeast encourages it. And it contributes to a healthy microbiome, slowly recreating the friendly lactobacillus digestive bacteria in your gastrointestinal system, which in turn boosts your immune system.

In generations past, bread fermentation was the ONLY way bread was made. But it took time (at least overnight and sometimes days) to produce delicious healthy loaves. Now, however, the pendulum has begun to swing back. Consumers are starting to realize the health benefits of fermented sourdough bread. Now, please don’t run out and buy a loaf of sourdough bread from your local grocer. It is likely to have no fermentation in it and may not even have any real sourdough in it … just vinegar to produce a “sour” flavor. Real sourdough bread is so easy to make. Even making your own wild caught sourdough starter is easy. And the flavor … I can never go back to store bought bread again.

I bake bread a couple of times a week. I live alone so 2 loaves a week is usually all I need unless I have company. What I don’t eat before it begins to go stale goes to the chickens (who love it) or I make croutons or bread crumbs with it. So there is no waste. Just deliciousness.

I encourage everyone to read my previous posts how to make a sourdough starter, and various approaches and recipes for creating healthy bread. Again, they are not difficult and require little hands-on time, mostly just waiting for the magic to happen.

Lunch Girls!

Jane

Whenever I come out with a plate of “lunch” for the girls, they come running! Here is a typical lunch for them. Using my ulu board and knife (curved to capture and hold anything you chop — really a must for making my chickens’ lunch) I chop everything up pretty good, especially if it is at all stringy like celery (only in moderation).

Starting with the bottom layer: Bok Choy, Collard Greens, Celery, Green Beans, Broccoli, Hard Boiled Egg (shell and all), Ripe Banana, Styrian (hullless) Pumpkin Seeds, Chia Seeds, Old Fashioned Oats (raw – just a sprinkling).

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But the list of potentials for such lunches is very broad and I regularly also include dried meal worms and bread. This meal is in addition to their organic layer feed and scratch. And of course, plenty of clean water. But there are some no no’s — things chickens should never eat — such as avocado, potato, tomato or eggplant leaves, dried beans, apple seeds/core, onion or garlic, rhubarb, anything with caffeine.

My girls are happy, healthy, energetic, and produce gorgeous large organic eggs which help keep ME happy and healthy too!

Matthew Stew

I am totally with Michael Pollan on the sensuality of having a pot of something aromatic and delicious cooking all day. This is heightened, I think, when the weather is particularly nasty — a huge snow storm or, as today, the push off from Hurricane Matthew. So I took my usual African Peanut Stew recipe and revised it somewhat to accommodate what I had in my fridge. The result is awesome and will have you daydreaming while it slowly stews for hours in the other room.

Matthew Stew

Sirloin Chunks (I am using approximately 1 pound) cut in 1″ cubes, sauteed on high heat in a dutch oven (preferably a cast iron one) in olive oil with two large bay leaves and a teaspoon of salt and fresh ground pepper until the meat is browned.

Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and sautee one onion and some celery stalk, finely diced. A minute or two later add two cloves of smashed minced garlic. To that, after a minute, add fresh roughly chopped ripe tomato and chopped collard greens. After a minute, return the beef & bay leaves to the mix. Add about a quart of water. Cover and simmer for an hour or so.

Add Chunky Peanut Butter to thicken sauce (I use the same organic brand I use in my Lucky Like Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits). Taste and correct seasoning if necessary, cover and simmer until meat is falling apart. Then it is ready. Enjoy!

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If you just stick with something long enough …

A new day, a new loaf, a new recipe, and a new approach. Now, I’ve got it. This recipe is sooooooooo easy you can practically bake bread sleepwalking. Take 2 cups of your wild caught sourdough starter. Add one cup warm water (I put it in the microwave for 20 seconds) and 1 cup bread flour. Whisk well and cover with wrapper and clean dish towel. Put in the microwave and shut the door. (Or a proofing box if you have one). Check on it in an hour. If it is active starter you will have a nice frothy foam on top. If your starter is a bit sluggish, you may need to give it more time but be patient and wait for that froth to form. When it does, you have a “sponge.”

Now you will only need 2 Cups of the sponge for your bread, so you can put the rest in a jar for the next time and refrigerate. To your 2 Cups of sponge add 3 Cups of Bread Flour, 2 T olive oil (or melted butter), 3 t sugar and 2 t salt. This is where a Kitchen Aid mixer with bread hook really makes the difference. Use it to mix well until a solid ball of dough forms. Put the dough in a a large bowl rubbed on the inside with olive oil (not too much). Cover, put back in microwave, and let rise until doubled.

You are now ready to “punch down” and knead to form your loaf (or loaves if you want to divide). Shape anyway you want and put on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a towel and let rise until you can lightly press your pinky into the dough without it springing back. Then its ready to bake. Slice the top. Put in a cold oven set to 350 and 45 minutes. When done your loaf should be brown, smell wonderful, and thump (sound hollow when you tap the bottom). Let it cool on a cooling rack for at least an hour. Sourdough bread develops more flavor as it cools, so if you cut too early you are cheating yourself. I cannot claim originality on this, but unfortunately neither can I offer attribution as I have been pushing through so many recipes lately I lost track of where I found this. But enjoy!

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A New Loaf

Nothing better than Wild Caught Sourdough!

With a few tweaks gleaned from Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked” I am now routinely able to produce truly wonderful bread from my wild caught sourdough starter Audrey. The two most important changes are (1) testing the starter for readiness by dropping a spoonful in a glass of water and if it floats it’s ready, and (2) doing the bulk fermentation overnight in the fridge. Still one achievement left to go (we are never completely satisfied) and that is a good “ear” as they call it. I need to get a “lame” lol! But this bread is wonderful. Easy to slice, chewy inside with good “crumb” with bubbles (not too big or too many) and crispy bottom crust. And stays fresh (though it doesn’t stick around very long … it is that good)! Great for sandwiches!

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My Wild Caught Sourdough Bread

Fermented Wild Caught Sourdough is so easy to make on your own. My “Audrey” (we sourdough fanatics name our starters) was caught by soaking some golden raisins in water for a week then using the drained off water mixed with flour until the wild yeasts and lacto-bacteria (they are everywhere) colonized. Once you have that wonderful starter, it is a “pet” in the sense that you are going to be responsible for the care and feeding of it, but that’s not hard, and it yields such wonderful results. Most important of all, the health benefits of fermented bread (and not all sourdough you buy is truly fermented) are just so great! If you think you cannot digest gluten, the slow fermentation of sourdough may just solve that problem. There are true celeriacs, but there are many more who are actually just responding to the lack of fermentation in commercial bread. As Michael Pollan so eloquently catalogues, fermentation is a form of digestion, so sourdough actually pre-digests the gluten! And then there are the pro-biotic advantages of fermentation. We are vessels for a whole community of millions and millions of microbes known as the “microbiome” the genes of which actually outnumber our own cells by a factor of 100 to 1! Maintaining a healthy microbiome keeps the bad microbes in check, protects us from toxins and influences our digestion, immune function, even our personality! Much research is ongoing. Baking a sourdough loaf takes so little hands-on time – no kneading, just a few stretch & pulls. It does take time to re-activate your starter, and ferment your dough, but that is not time that involves you directly, other than as an observer. I hope you will give it a try!

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