The Milkweed Diaries

Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy the Pantry. . .

. . .and the fridge, and the cupboards, and the stovetop, and the plate. And while we're at it, let's occupy the pasture and the hen house and the dairy barn and the vegetable garden.

Watching the Occupy Wall Street movement crop up, proliferate, and bloom over the past few weeks has been good for my soul.

Enough has been written about corporate control of food systems and how it serves the 1% while harming the planet, our health, and workers. I don't need to add my own long diatribe here. Suffice to say that the multinational for-profit food industry is part of the problem that OWS is rallying against. Industrial agriculture and the food policy it has spawned by way of corporate control of our political process contributes to hunger, pollution, and the destruction of small farms and farmland.

So taking control of your own food supply and working for community food justice is part of the solution. And it feels good to be aware of doing that one small part while a bigger movement grows all around us. I like thinking of planting lettuce in our winter gardens and gathering eggs in the morning and canning tomato sauce as actions in solidarity with the Occupiers all over the world.

Some of my favorite posts on related notes:
  • Occupy Your Kitchen (great post with lots of tips for wresting your food supply from corporate control by Laura Everage/Family Eats)

Along the same lines, check out this great Ted Talk on gardening as a revolutionary, subversive activity:

Roger Doiron reminds us, among other things, that "food is a form of energy...but it's also a form of power. And when we encourage people to grow some of their own food, we're encouraging them to take power into their own hands. Power over their diet, power over their health, and some power over their pocketbooks. And that's quite subversive because we are also necessarily talking about taking that power away from someone else -- from other actors in society who currently have power over food and health. You can think about who some of those actors might be." I also love his statement that "gardening is a healthy gateway drug to other forms of food freedom."

To wrap it all up, here's a great quote from the ever-amazing, Frances Moore Lappé, one of my heroes, whose recent article in The Nation I highly recommend:

‎"At its best, [the food] movement encourages us to “think like an ecosystem,” enabling us to see a place for ourselves connected to all others, for in ecological systems “there are no parts, only participants,” German physicist Hans Peter Duerr reminds us. With an “eco-mind” we can see through the productivist fixation that inexorably concentrates power, generating scarcity for some, no matter how much we produce. We’re freed from the premise of lack and the fear it feeds. Aligning food and farming with nature’s genius, we realize there’s more than enough for all."
~Frances Moore Lappé, "The Food Movement: Its Power and Possibilities"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seed Saving Season

My kitchen is piled high with seeds drying on screens and sheets of newspaper at the moment, along with the end-of-season glut of imperfect peppers and tomatoes. We had our first killing frost on Friday night, and everything that needs to be kept warm and dry is now crammed into our tiny seven-hundred-and-something square foot house. Being surrounded by seeds feels very comforting somehow, though. All of that potential under one roof.

Look out for lingering pollinators

Red Zinger hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as red sorrel or roselle) drying for seed and tea

Texas Sage seeds drying (although why I bothered, I don't know - they self-seed so prolifically that saving seed is really gilding the lily, so to speak...I'll have some seed to give away and trade).



Zinnia seeds drying on a screen

Those beautiful Red Zinger calyxes again

Monday, October 24, 2011


I harvested amaranth this week and it was so gosh darn photogenic that I just had to post some photos. I can't get enough of its beautiful colors and textures.

I blogged about growing, harvesting, threshing, and using amaranth last year around this time but this year I'm just going to post these photos.

Luscious. The varieties we grew are Mercado, Golden Giant, and Burgundy, all heirlooms.
Something about these photos just really does it for me. They just feel like the essence of this beautiful Fall to me.

If you are not into the full-on supermodel of homescale grain production photoshoot, just click over to the more practical post from last year here. But here are some more photos for those of you who feel me on this.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pickled Peppers Two Ways

Even with hoophouse protection, pepper season is over. It was a great year for peppers in our garden, probably the best pepper season in the past five years, but all good things must come to an end. We had our first killing frost last night, and the temperatures dropped low enough to blitz the last of the peppers and tomatoes that had been barely hanging on in our unheated high tunnel.

So it was time to pick the rest of the fruits, lay the unripe ones out to finish ripening on the kitchen table in the sun, and preserve the rest. I usually fall back on my tried-and-true Sweet Pepper Hash recipe for preserving peppers, but I had already put away such a tremendous stockpile of Sweet Pepper Hash this year that it was time to diversify.

I tried out two new pickled peppers recipes, both of which look very promising. Both recipes are based on ones I found in "Stocking Up," a classic Rodale publication by Carol Hupping Stoner of which I have a treasured 1977 edition. (The entire book is amazingly available online here: Stocking Up: How to Preserve the Foods You Grow Naturally, Carol Hupping Stoner, Rodale Press, 1977.)

Here are the recipes:

Pepper Pickling Method #1:
Pickled Whole Peppers
  • 4 quarts whole, ripe long peppers (these can be hot peppers like Hungarian or Banana, or sweet frying peppers - I used Jimmy Nardellos)
  • 1 1/2 cups salt
  • 4 quarts plus 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbs prepared horseradish
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 10 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey

Jimmy Nardellos after soaking in salt water for 18 hours, ready for packing into jars.

  1. Cut two small slits along the long sides of each pepper
  2. Dissolve salt in 4 quarts of water. Pour the salt water over the peppers and let stand for 12 to 18 hours in a cool place, covered.
  3. Drain, rinse, and drain again thoroughly.
  4. Combine 2 cups water and all remaining ingredients except the honey and bring to a simmer. Add honey.
  5. Pack peppers into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Pour boiling pickling liquid over peppers, ensuring that the 1/4 inch headspace remains. Adjust sterilized lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Whole pickled peppers after processing

Pepper Pickling Method #2:
Pickled Sweet Pepper Strips

Wash, stem, and core peppers, and slice lengthwise into strips. Steam blanch the strips for 2 minutes, then plunge them into ice water to cool. Drain.

Pack the cooled strips into hot, sterilized pint or half-pint jars. Cover them with a boiling syrup made from 1/2 part honey to 2 parts apple cider vinegar. Leave 1/4 inch headspace. Cap with sterilized lids and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Red bell pepper strips ready for steam blanching, canning pot boiling on the woodstove

The finished product

The second recipe is much quicker, easier, and less involved than the first, so if you're looking for a speedy way to deal with a pepper onslaught, I recommend pickling them in strips. It turns out looking really lovely, too, especially when you mix red, orange, and yellow peppers. The pickled whole peppers didn't turn out looking as glamorous as I thought they would, I think because the horseradish makes for a little cloudiness. I'm sure the horseradish could be left out for a clear, pickling liquid that better shows off the pretty peppers.

We grew about 20 varieties of heirloom and open-pollinated sweet peppers this year, plus a few seasoning peppers and hot peppers mixed in. My long-time favorite sweet peppers are Jimmy Nardello, Corno di Toro, and Kevin's Early Orange, and they did not disappoint. But Chocolate Bell and Quadratto di Asti Rosso were standouts this year too, and we will grow them again.

Peppers are a great lesson in patience in the garden, starting out from seeds indoors as early as February and only really coming into their prime in September or even early October. The big, ripe bells always feel like treasures to me after all the months of waiting.

Having enough peppers to preserve for the winter feels like such abundance. Store-bought out of season peppers are such a luxury item, pricey both in terms of cost to the customer and cost to the planet. To have a few jars of peppers stashed away on the shelf feels like real wealth--what better riches than beautiful, bright, sweet peppers on a dark winter day!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bean Season

I spent the afternoon shelling dry beans with my sister Mary. The heirloom varieties we grew are just so lovely, so I had to post a few shots.

Calypso beans

Lina Cisco's Bird Egg beans

Ireland Creek Annie's beans

And our old standby, Cherokee Trail of Tears beans