Sourdough

Sourdough starter

Sourdough starter

The past couple of years have been revelatory for me in baking bread. Up until two or three years ago, I was a quick-bread type of person; yeast terrified me. Part of that was intimidation — my mom is a terrific breadmaker. White, wheat, baguettes, marble rye, dinner rolls, etc., she makes them all. Eventually I realized I’d never get the technique down if I didn’t start trying. So I made some really bad loaves and some passable ones. Now they’re consistently decent to great (great bread seems to depend on weather patterns and possibly how happy the bread gods are). Having the technique down, I’ve decided to try my hand at sourdough.

My grandpa made sourdough, but usually not as bread. He made flapjacks, delicious flapjacks (don’t call them pancakes!). Sourdough was his specialty, along with campfire coffee. I don’t know exactly how he made his starter, so I’m using a basic starter recipe that I found online from a guy who is really into his sourdough, S. John Ross http://www.io.com/~sjohn/sour.htm. Starting the starter worked exactly like he said it would, and now I’ve moved the starter into the fridge to keep, feeding it once per week. He also has a bread recipe on the site, which I haven’t tried yet, but plan to before the week is out. As for Grandpa’s flapjacks, I need to get in touch with my cousin to see if she has the recipe. I’ll let you know how they turn out!

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Jelly on the way

My vineyard, okay, grapevine

My vineyard, okay, grapevine

So it’s not exactly a vineyard yet, but I have high hopes, but not for wine. I’ll leave winemaking up to the good folks at Prairie Berry and Stone Faces Wineries. Nope, I’m shooting for jelly.

When I lived in Newell, my next-door neighbors gave me jelly from their Concord vines that covered their propane tank. It was the grapiest, purpliest, best grape jelly I have ever eaten, hands down. After another 40 years of practice, I might be in Bert and Eleanor’s class of gardener (maybe), so I doubt that I can reproduce their efforts, but I’m at least hoping to improve upon store-bought jelly.

Since this is my first vine, I doubt I’ll make jelly this year, but I figured I’d never have jelly if I didn’t plant grapes. I chose a Valiant grape because it’s hardy up to Zone 3, which should help it survive the winter at our elevation. If this one lives, I’ll add more vines next year. Now I watch and wait, and dream of jelly.

Ever grown salsify?

Salsify shoots resemble grass

Salsify shoots resemble grass

Have any of you ever grown salsify? It’s a pale-colored root vegetable resembling a skinny parsnip. However, the tops look like grass, as you can see in the photo. It gave me pause when I was checking the garden the other day; I thought, “what is that grass doing here?” Then I realized it was growing in a row and remembered the salsify.

Salsify can be used like many other root vegetables, steamed, boiled, mashed, or in stews and soups. Everything I’ve read about them compares their flavor to that of oysters, so I’m looking forward to trying it this fall.

SD cheese

While I was pushing  my cart around the Lynn’s Dakotamart here in Custer the other day, I noticed something new in the deli section. As I rolled over there, dodging small children wheedling frosted cupcakes from their parents, I saw that it was a whole new line of South Dakota made cheeses. I love cheese, have even made my own once (but that’s another post), so I stopped to take a look.

The cheeses come from Dimock Dairy Cooperative in Dimock, which is located in Hutchinson County. It’s the state’s oldest dairy coop, having started up back in 1931. Currently there are about 40 shareholders in the coop, and it produces a wide variety of cheeses.

In fact, there were so many cheeses, I spent about five minutes in deep perusal in front of the deli case. Since I live with a couple of purists when it comes to cheese, I opted for Colby Jack and Cheddar rather than some of the more daring types, such as Habanero, Black Pepper, Dill, Tomato Basil or Garlic Parsley. They also have Smoked Cheddar, which I’m anxious to sample because I dearly loved smoked cheese.

Watch for Dimock cheese at your local grocery store. Supporting South Dakota cheesemakers is well worth your money, and your tastebuds will thank you.

Local meat

Finding a source for local meat might be the biggest challenge for people who want to buy local or directly from a producer. Knowing farmers and ranchers helps, but that’s easier for folks like me who grew up on a cattle ranch and have friends/family who still raise livestock.

For example, each year we get half a beef from my parents. I know how that yearling lived, what it ate, and where it was processed. Also, we get half a hog from my brother’s friend over near Ft. Pierre, which is then processed in Kadoka. I won’t nitpick over whether or not that’s local; there is a direct connection with the producer, it all comes from South Dakota, and it’s a lot closer to home that pork produced by Smithfield, plus, it’s not CAFO pork. I get lamb and chickens from a good friend up near Lemmon. As for lamb, I just tell them how many packages of the cuts I want; the chickens are still clucking. We arrange a day, pick up the birds and then go back to my parents’ place to butcher them. I think it’s important to have the fortitude to harvest your own meat once in awhile if you eat it. The cellophaned cuts people buy at the store can serve to completely sever our connection with the animals that provide us food.

So I’m fortunate, I know enough people that I can bypass the likes of IBP and Tyson, but what about folks who don’t have those rural connections? Luckily, there are several options. First of all, check out Dakota Rural Action’s Local Foods Directory online at http://www.dakotarural.org/. It lists local food producers by region all across South Dakota. Next, look for meat producers the next time you’re at the farmers market. The Black Hills Farmers’ Market is open Saturdays in June and will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays as well starting in July, http://www.blackhillsfarmersmarket.com/. Another resource for finding local producers is Local Harvest at http://www.localharvest.org/; there are listings for producers who direct-market, CSA’s, and more. Also, ask for local meats at Good Earth Natural Foods in Spearfish and Breadroot Natural Foods Co-op in Rapid City.

If you know of other contacts for locally produced meat, or if you are a producer yourself, please comment.

Why bother with local?

Once in awhile I’ll come across a newspaper article or blog ranting about the Luddites/hippies/crazies/commies who eat local and/or organic, likening the local foods movement to that of a cult. While wrapping themselves in the flag, they rail at us for acting un-American, unpatriotic and downright elitist. Evidently, if we were true patriots, we’d rush right down to Wal-Mart to buy processed food products as well as a new stereo and underwear. Buying into the corporate culture doesn’t make you patriotic, and the recent economic melt-down has demonstrated that it doesn’t help the economy either.

Our global food production system is broken, controlled by a handful of multinational corporations, and entirely dependent on oil. It’s fragile rather than secure, no matter how much money the government pumps into Homeland Security. The food we buy at the store has traveled an average of 1,500 miles,* which means that if the trucks stopped coming for any reason, our communities soon would have no food. I remember the stores’ shelves getting bare quite quickly after a couple of these spring blizzards that shut down I-90. Depending on those trucks is the essence of insecure; local food systems help stabilize food availability.

Nor are those food frequent-flyer miles very efficient, using more calories (energy) than the food being transported has available. For example, shipping one strawberry from California to New York uses 435 calories,** and flying a head of iceberg lettuce from the West Coast to the East Coast uses 36 times the energy contained in the lettuce.^ When you crunch the numbers, it doesn’t add up to a sensible system. 

I don’t claim to be Gary Paul Nahban or Barbara Kingsolver, but I’m making an effort, as are many others in South Dakota and around the world. The more local foods we eat, the healthier we are on many levels, as people, a nation, a planet, and an economy. So haters can just keep smugly munching their GM corn products from Wal-Mart and sneering at us hippies/hicks/seditionists with a little dirt under our nails. Thomas Jefferson believed a farmer was the highest profession to which a person could aspire, and I’m pretty sure he was patriot too.

*Deep Economy, Bill McKibben, 2007

**This Organic Life, Joan Dye Gussow, 2001

^Deep Economy, Bill McKibben, 2007

No excuses

Container gardening is a great way to grow veggies in small spaces

Container gardening is a great way to grow veggies in small spaces

Yes, you. Even though it’s mid-June, even if you don’t have a garden plot and the only seeds in your house are salted sunflower seeds, you can still grow some vegetables this summer. Think container gardening.

Head down to your local hardware store to pick up a couple of pots and a bag or two of potting soil. Heck, if you’re really in a hurry, forget the pots. You can cut holes in bags of soil and place bedding plants directly in the soil! Get pots large enough to grow vegetable plants; mine in the photo are about 13 1/2 inches across at the top and 10 1/2 inches tall. They work well for tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, and lettuces. Make sure they have a drainage hole in the bottom.

Now head to the greenhouse for plants. Though it’s late in the season, the nurseries still have a decent selection of plants. Dakota Greens here in Custer still has several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and cukes on hand, and Jolly Lane Greenhouse in Rapid (and the others, too, I’m sure) still had a plethora of vegetable plants. If you’re craving salads, pick up some seeds. Lettuce and greens are easily grown in containers. The pot in the lower left corner of the picture has micro-greens sown in it, and they’re growing like mad.

Take everything home and plant it. Don’t fill the whole pots with soil, put something in the bottoms to assist with drainage. I’ve used a mish-mash of items over the years, including rocks, which work fine but make the pots heavy, packing peanuts (look at it as a way of recycling them), old pine cones, and yes, the 6-pack containers your bedding plants come in, just crush them a little bit. Water them, give them sun and a little love and you’ll be rewarded with homegrown produce.

Maybe you only have room to grow one potted tomato, but it’s a start. Taking responsibility for growing anything you eat is an important step.

Compost bin

My homemade compost bin

My homemade compost bin

This is my homemade compost bin. It’s made from scrap lumber, and is about 3 x 3, give or take. The boards are spaced to allow air circulation, and the bottom is made from plastic netting. The netting is the same stuff I use to keep deer and rabbits out of the herb garden (which is not located in the fenced backyard). The netting also allows for more air circulation, and once materials have decomposed enough, they drop down through the netting, making it easier to get at the ready-to-use compost. It was very simple and inexpensive to make.

There are many other ways to build compost bins. When I was a kid, my mom’s compost bin was a large circle of woven wire. At my former home, my compost bin was made from old pallets I had wired together. Make do with what you have; look around, you probably have something on hand that will work. If you don’t have to worry about animals, a pile on the ground will do!

I keep a five-quart ice cream pail under my sink to collect the scraps destined for the compost bin. Just rinse it out after dumping it. I’ve had some questions about what Icompost, and the answer is practically all the kitchen scraps, including past-due leftovers, unless they include meat. I know there are differing theories on whether or not to compost items with meat. I don’t for a couple of reasons, first, my dogs would want to be in there all the time. I keep the bin outside of the backyard, but it is next to the fence, and I don’t want to tempt them. Also, if the smell would attract my dogs, it would attract other visitors I’d rather not have in the yard, like coyotes, skunks, bobcats and mountain lions. So I’ll compost the pasta, but not the meat sauce. Since the stuff from my kitchen is carbon-heavy, I occasionally throw in some grass clippings to boost the nitrogen. If we go through a dry spell in the summer, I dump some water on it to keep it working. Stir it every now and then, and the compost pretty much makes itself.

Share your composting tips with us!

Making butter

Why should making butter be that special? People have been making butter for thousands of years, since the domestication of livestock. Truly, making butter and cheese are ancient arts, but we’re losing those skills, especially in the U.S. Personally, I’ve met one person who regularly makes cheese; she has her own goats and lives in Montana. I can’t say that I have ever had a conversation with someone about the butter they made last week, or ever. The last time I made butter was the third grade; it was part of our Pioneer Days history lesson.

Until Wednesday afternoon. Using “Making Cheese, Butter & Yogurt” a Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin by Ricki Carroll (the Cheese Queen), I turned a pint of store-bought cream into fresh butter. Though I have a churn, for this small amount I followed Ricki’s instructions to use a quart jar. After letting the cream ripen for a few hours, I poured it into the jar and shook it for 5 – 10 minutes. Then I spoon the solids out into a bowl and poured the buttermilk into a smaller jar. I poured some water over the butter and started pressing it against the bowl with the back of spoon, pouring off the water and adding more as needed until the water ran clear. Then I popped it into a covered bowl and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. The whole process was less than 20 minutes.

The next day, we had fresh butter with freshly baked bread, what a treat! And I used the butter and buttermilk for biscuits. Now, if I could just get fresh cream…..anyone got any suggestions?

Black gold & a new bed

My cart half-full of compost

My cart half-full of compost

No, this has nothing to do with oil-company profits, but rather the compost I dug into a newly built raised bed. For the past two years, I’ve raised vegetables in two raised beds in the backyard; these were graciously given to me by a neighbor who wasn’t using them. This year I wanted to expand the garden, so I built another bed out of scrap lumber. When we bought our home, we inherited a pile of lumber odds and ends, enough to build some bluebird houses, a compost bin, and now a 3 x 8 raised bed.

I’ve been diligently composting here for over two years (my former compost bin stayed at our old house; let’s hope the new owners used it well), and yesterday reaped the benefits. My husband built the bind with a mesh bottom; this allows the compost to get air circulation as well filter finished compost. All I did yesterday was tilt the bin up with some wooden blocks and shovel out the compost right into my garden cart.

Our dog, Espn, checks out the new bed

Our dog, Espn, checks out the new bed

I dug it into the dirt I’d hauled to the bed and stuck in some seeds, which I’m sure are benefitting from this rain. I’m crossing my fingers for sun in the near future!

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