European Peasant Bread

A fresh loaf of peasant bread

A fresh loaf of peasant bread

Last week we woke up to temperatures in the 40s, seemed a good reason to bake a loaf of hearty bread. This earthy bread is a snap to make using the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Once you’ve mixed up the dough (in about five minutes), you’ll have enough dough for four loaves; it keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Here is the recipe from the book, along with my “tweaks:”

European Peasant Bread

  •  3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 ½ tablespoons granulated yeast
  • 1 ½ tablespoons salt
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • ½ cup wheat flour (I use 1 cup)
  • 5 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour (I use 5 cups because I used more wheat)
  • Cornmeal for the pizza peel (when you bake)
  1. Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a 5-quart bowl, I use my stand mixer bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients (not the cornmeal) without kneading either by hand or in a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook (which is what I use). Mix until all the flour is incorporated into the dough but do not knead the dough.
  2. Cover dough and allow to rise at room temperature until it rises and collapses, about 2 hours (I let mine go about 2 ½ hours at this elevation). The dough can be used immediately after rising, but it will be very wet; it’s easier to handle after being chilled overnight. Refrigerate in a lidded (but not airtight) container and use over the next two weeks. I use a 5-quart ice-cream pail and leave the lid cracked.
  3. On baking day, dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound piece (about the size of a grapefruit). Dust with more flour and shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn each time. Allow to rest on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel for 40 minutes (I have left mine for an hour at it’s still great).
  4. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray (a metal cake pan works just as well) on any other shelf that won’t be in the bread’s way. Sprinkle the loaf with flour and using a serrated knife, slash lines, a cross, or a tic-tac-toe pattern on the top of the bread. Leave the flour in place for baking, but you can tap it off before eating.
  5. Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the into the broiler tray/cake pan and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is deeply brown and very firm. It’s better to go longer on time than shorter since this is a fairly wet dough; it’s easy to underbake but very hard to overbake. Allow to cool before slicing.

Squash trial

Anyone living in the upper elevations of the Black Hills probably has written off winter squash as a viable crop. I’ll admit, I had as well until I decided to try to grow it in a container this year. Maybe it’s a harebrained idea, but I felt it’s worth a shot.

So I bought a couple butternut squash bedding plants down at Dakota Greens, stuck ’em in a pot, and placed it on my south-facing deck. The deck is high, frosts later than the raised beds and gets several hours of sun each day. I figured the conditions would be more conducive to fruit production. If it doesn’t work, I’m not out much and have learned something in the process. I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, Mother Earth News has an article on growing winter squash in their latest issue, read it at Growing Winter Squash.

Grocery Lists

In Amy Colter’s The Locavore Way, she breaks down local eating into steps, lists and activities, making it fun and approachable. She put together a list of crops to grow yourself in order to save money. And who doesn’t want to save money?

Grow to Save $$: artichokes, berries of all kinds, edible flowers (nasturtium, calendula, pansies), fingerling potatoes, garlic, heirloom or any unusual cultivar, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, leeks, melons, mesclun, perennial herbs, and shallots.

I don’t know anyone personally who has grown artichokes in this region, but for folks with a greenhouse, it might be worth trying.

The Locavore Way

The Locavore Way by Amy Colter

Read this book!

Amy Colter breaks down eating locally into easy tips, fun lists and producer-spotlights, all while presenting cogent information on how local/regional food systems are beneficial to people, animals, the economy, and the planet. She also gives the most succint definition of locavore that I have found: anyone who seeks out and savors foods grown, raised, or produced close to home.

It may be too early to start sowing seeds, so read this book while waiting for the soil to warm up. It will get you in the mood.

The Compassionate Carnivore

Carolyn Friend is a meat-eater and entirely unapologetic about that fact. When she started farming in southeastern Minnesota, she began to realize the immense difference between conditions on her farm and those factory farms where the animals lived who were destined for the grocery store meat case. The fact that her sheep and chickens lived normal animal lives, weren’t mistreated or pumped full of hormones and antibiotics starkly contrasted with the lives of the animals whose meat she purchased at the store. This niggled at her conscience, ate at her sense of animal-husbandry, and finally moved her to action. The entire book is written with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor and zero preachiness.

Friend breaks the book into parts that take you from an overview of factory meat production to steps people can take even if they don’t raise livestock. She also reviews the differences between “organic” and “sustainable,” explaining how the organic movement was hijacked by food industry, who recognized the huge growth potential. Yes, organic still means some important things like no hormones or antibiotics, but it doesn’t mean the animals of any species have enough room to move around, have access to the outdoors, and don’t have to lie in their own feces. Organic is a step up from convential, but Friend explains that if you want to be sure that the meat you buy comes from ethically treated animals, go to the source. Find a farmer or rancher; visit with him or her to see how the animals live, what they’re fed, etc. Not only does this take money away from the behemoth industry that feeds factory farming, it also keeps family farmers and ranchers on the land. As a country, we need farmers and ranchers, and buying directly from them puts more money in their pockets so they don’t disappear.

Friend’s passion about farming is contagious. She cares deeply about her livestock, her land and the future of farming (and food) in this country. If you’re queasy about buying that Smithfield ham at the grocery store (and you should be) but don’t know where to start, The Compassionate Carnivore will push you in the right direction.

Article on Avoiding GMOs

This article in Urban Garden Magazine came to me by way of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), which has long worked to keep genetically modified organisms (GMOs) out of our food system. This article is a how-to kit on avoiding GMOs in our food. Remember that corn and soy are the biggest culprits and are present in nearly all processed food. Since GMOs are so new in the environment, and so unnatural, we really have no idea of what their long-term effects will be. Click here to read the article: How to get genetically modified food out of your diet.

One Step Closer

Backyard Poultry and McMurray Hatchery catalogue

They’re heeerre….. no, nothing requiring an exorcism, just my first issue of Backyard Poultry and the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalogue. I’m one step closer to chickens. Now my problem is deciding what kind of chickens to order, not so bad as problems go.

My main purpose in raising chickens is to have my own eggs, so I’m looking closely at the egg and dual purpose breeds. I’d like brown or colored eggs, so that helps narrow things down a bit as well, and I need a winter hardy breed. And for the same reasons I like heirloom vegetables, I’m interested in breeds who’ve been around for a long time.

In the Backyard Poultry magazine, I came across an article about the American Buckeye, an old breed being brought back from the brink of extinction. They sound perfect: cold hardy, pea comb, good layers, and quiet. However, Murray McMurray doesn’t offer them yet, so I’ve ordered a few more catalogues from other hatcheries. If I can’t order any of them, I’ll have to choose something else, maybe even a couple different breeds just for comparison. Like I said, a fun dilemma.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

My well-read copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Winter is a favorite time of mine to reread favorite, thought-provoking books, like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Her luminous account of her family’s year of local eating always inspires me to do grow more vegetables, to appreciate good food, and to think about the role of food in my life.

What I appreciate about the book is that this family took on this project in an approachable way that most of us could manage, at least those of us with ample garden space. They did not “leave the world” or even the 21st century in order to grow most of their own food. Her family continued on with regular jobs, school and community activities, and I think that’s important because that’s the situation where most people find themselves. She understands that if eating locally meant quitting our jobs or selling up and moving to Amish country, no one would ever do it; the undertaking would be too overwhelming as well as impractical. My favorite quote from the book is, “It’s the worst of bad manners — and self-protection, I think, in a nervously cynical society — to ridicule the small gesture.” Little things like buying fair-trade coffee, growing herbs in a window-box or baking your own bread do matter; eating locally can be accessible, and that is a great lesson of this book (that and the turkey sex!).

Despite the rosy pictures of vegetables glowing out from the pages of the seed catalogues, there’s a lot of winter left. We have more than two months before the calendar even says “spring,” so there is plenty of time left for reading. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Seed Frenzy!

A sampling of the seed catalogues arriving daily

 This is a sampling of the seed catalogues arriving daily in my mail. I’ve recycled a few that I never order from because they don’t have a good germination rate or come from a zone too warm to thrive in the Upper Great Plains. When the snow covers the ground and spring seems an age away, I tend to have delusions of grandeur about the upcoming garden. By circling photos and dog-earing pages, I rack up a wish list longer than the Iliad. However, in time, I come back to reality and pare down my orders. I order from several distributors each year, but my two favorites are Seed Savers and Territorial.

So let the snow fall and wind howl, curl up with a good catalogue and dream of spring.

A Nation of Farmers

A Nation of Farmers

A Nation of Farmers

I just finished reading A Nation of Farmers by Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton, which I picked up at the Custer County Library. In a nutshell, it’s a treatise on overhauling our industrialized, corporate food system in favor of, well, a nation of farmers. Astyk and Newton raise the call for 100 million new farmers and 200 million new cooks in the United States alone, and many more globally. Yes, those are big numbers, but not unfathomable.

Remember that the United States is home to over 300 million people; do the math. This means that 100 million people will be growing some sort of food and at least 200 million will be cooking it (and some of those folks will be the same). Now even though I’ve delved into the numbers here a little bit, please don’t get all hung up on them in order to avoid the larger topic. If you go to the U.S. Census Bureau website and start crunching the numbers, you’re missing the point. Their proposal is for millions more people to grow and cook food.

“Cook food? Well I cook every day,” folks may say. Some people do actually cook from ingredients, but many more do not. The vast majority of Americans reheat a processed food product and call that cooking. We heat up a can of soup (I’m as guilty as the next gal), make cakes and muffins from a mix, and preheat the oven for frozen pizza. The book urges us to start cooking from scratch with whole foods and not to look at that endeavor as drudgery or a waste of time.

As for the farming aspect of the book, it’s eye-opening as to what the average farmer looks like worldwide: a woman who farms an average of four acres. So that may change your perception of who can farm and what you need in order to do so. Does that mean we dump all of our farmers and ranchers? No. It means we start farming suburbia in addition to the countryside. People will say that they live in town, don’t have room, etc., etc. If you have a lawn, you have room to grow food. And if you don’t have a lawn, you might have a balcony or a stoop for pots. Community gardens are excellent spaces for apartment-dwellers to grow some of their own food. Astyk and Newton challenge people to look at under-utilized land as food-growing space — boulevards, vacant lots, and lawns.

Lastly, the authors elevate farming as a noble pursuit. Let’s admit it, American culture does not value farming anymore and labels them with a hefty list of derogatory names. We don’t want our children to grow up to be farmers; somehow a computer programmer who writes code for video games has more status than a farmer. Ever try to eat a Wii?

So let’s raise the call: be one of those new farmers and cooks, spread the word, and teach our children. Let’s regain control of our food system with a spade in one hand a wooden spoon in the other.

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