ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

A locavore moves from Wisconsin to New Hampshire and rediscovers what "local" means.


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Wide Mouth Canning Jar Accessories

Thanks to Cool Tools for their recent overview of wide mouth canning  jar accessories.

They covered:

  • The Cuppow: A lid that lets you drink from your canning jar.
  • The Kraut Cap: An airlock for a canning jar for anaerobic fermenting.
  • Re-Cap: A pour spout and lid for a canning jar. This would be great for salad dressings.
  • The Holdster: A handle for a canning jar.

I would also add these other accessories that extend the usefullness of your canning jars:

  • The Bnto from Cuppow: A cup that fits inside a canning jar, giving two separate storage spaces.
  • Plastic jar lids: Dishwasher-safe and reusable lids for foods that are NOT shelf stable.
  • Shaker jar lids: Turn your jar into a spice shaker. I use this for nutritional yeast on my popcorn.
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Blueberry Picking

I traveled to Super Acres Blueberry Farm in Lyme, NH with my colleagues from work to pick blueberries. This was my first you-pick blueberry experience. Blueberries are easy to pick because they grow on 5 to 8 foot tall bushes, meaning you get to spend a lot of time in the shade and pick berries standing up. No bending and straining your back for blueberries.

With our berries, I made blueberry jam (3 lbs, 10 half-pints), blueberry buckle (1.5 lbs) and ate the rest with breakfast. I think we may go back again and pick more for the freezer.

Super Acres farm is also dog-friendly, so I can take the pooch with too!


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Sandor Katz Fermenting Workshop

On Jul 22-23 I participated in a Fermenting workshop with Sandor Katz, the author of The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation. Shelburne Farms, just outside Burlington, Vermont hosted the event. If you’ve been to Shelburne Farms before, we were in the Coach Barn for the event. Over two days we covered the basics of fermenting, lactic-acid fermentation of vegetables, a hands-on exercise making our own ferment, (day 2) dairy fermentation, fermenting grains and legumes, and fermented beverages like kombucha.

In general, I was impressed with Mr. Katz knowledge and experience with fermenting. He clearly has a passion for the art and has experimented with a lot of interesting techniques. Admittedly, that was where my enthusiasm stopped. Sorry to drag work into my blog, but I was criticizing Mr. Katz classroom technique throughout the workshop and found his teaching to be lacking. The entire second day was blocked out into 2-hour chunks with 30, 60, and 30 minute breaks between (8 hour day total). Most of the content was basic lecture with a few quick demonstrations (blueberry soda and yogurt). We had a hands-on activity after lunch on day 1, but day 2 was uninterrupted sitting. To compound the fatigue from sitting, the space had uncomfortable chairs and was not air-conditioned. We were pretty short tempered and sweaty in a 90+ degree room with little moving air. I didn’t get much out of the second day, even when I abandoned my uncomfortable chair to stand in the back of the room and hope to catch a little breeze. I did learn a lot, and the course definitely met my objective of motivating me to make better kraut and kimchee. I think I may even start to make our own yogurt.

I had three major takeaways from the event:

  1. Everything is rotting, being digested and broken down by microbes. Fermenting is just using different techniques to control the process of rotting food by favoring different microbes over others. Malted barley plus water makes sugars that can be digested by yeast to make alcoholic beer, or by other molds to make nasty undrinkable stank.
  2. Fermenting refers to two different processes. Process 1 is where yeast convert sugar to alcohol in the presence of oxygen, then acetobacteria convert alcohol to acetic acid (vinegar), again, still with oxygen. Process 2 is where lactic acid bacteria convert carbohydrates and sugars to lactic acid in the absence of oxygen. The following table may help clarify the difference between the two foods:
    Process 1 Process 2
    Microbe  Yeast  Lactic Acid Bacteria
    Substrate  Sugar  Carbohydrates and Sugar
    Oxygen  Present  Absent
    Byproduct  Alcohol + CO2  Lactic Acid + CO2
    Secondary Process  Acetobacteria convert
    alcohol to vinegar
    Food Characteristics  Alcoholic, Bubbly  Tart, tangy, softer
    Tasty Examples  Beer, Wine  Sauerkraut, Yogurt
  3. Fermentation has become very “faddish” due to confusion and misinformation about the well-supported versus not-so-well supported benefits of fermentation. Fermentation has three well-known and supported benefits: pre-digestion of food,  preservation of unstable foods, and increased diversity of gut flora. With pre-digestion, the bacteria or yeast break down the substances in the food into simpler forms. Complex carbohydrates (e.g. cell walls) become simple carbohydrates (sugars), and complex sugars (disaccharides like sucrose or lactose) become simple sugars (monosaccharides like fructose or glucose). Fermented foods are more stable over time – sauerkraut lasts longer than a plain cabbage, and yogurt lasts longer than milk. Additionally, fermented foods are home to a culture of microbes that have been shown to have benefits for diseases of the gut.The confusion comes from the secondary effects. In the process of fermenting foods, some people argue that the food becomes more nutritious, makes certain nutrients more available for the body to absorb, and may have broader effects on the whole immune system of the body. Some participants at the workshop even argued (from their own personal experience) that fermented foods helped them recover from cancer, HIV, and other serious diseases. While these are nice stories to tell, the research just doesn’t pan out to support these effects. I’m working on a systematic review of the literature and when it gets complete, I’m happy to provide detailed citations. In the few areas where there have been studies, the studies have been small and results are non-conclusive. In the absence of good evidence, it’s fine to eat fermented foods because you like to eat them and drink them, but don’t do it because you think it will be some health panacea. It’s just a fad.

I know them’s fightin’ words, so please give feedback in the comments.


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This Week in Veg: I’m OK with cucumbers coming out my ears

We got a healthy load of cucumbers this week. I’m completely OK with that. First, I’m at my fermenting workshop this week learning all about lactic acid fermentation and making old-fashioned “sour” pickles. Second, there’s nothing to beat the heat like an ice-cold cucumber. We’ll see what happens.

I’m also happy to see an influx of full-sized onions. We’ve been running low on aromatics over the past week. Spring onions are past, green garlic is scarce, and there’s not a ginger root or shallot to be had.

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This Week in Veg: We don’t eat all of these vegetables

20140709-094250-34970703.jpg When talking with my non-– CSA friends about joining a CSA, one of the first concerns that comes up is, “how do you eat all of those vegetables?”

My answer? We don’t.

Sure, we do eat a good portion of these vegetables, or else we wouldn’t have joined the CSA. But, honestly, there’s a lot of things that still will turn bad in the bottom of our refrigerator. Arugula and red lettuce are common culprits. We don’t sweat it, we have a compost pile. The food isn’t “going to waste”, we’re making fertilizer for next year’s garden.

But only about 5% of our CSA box will go bad. That’s because I often anticipate foods that we might not eat, and I’ll either find a special recipe to use with that vegetable, like I did with the pesto and arugula. Alternatively, some of the foods we put away to eat in the winter. This week, we received a large head of broccoli. Broccoli is really easy to blanch and freeze, and we eat it all throughout the winter in different dishes like stirfry and garbage rice. I know that the value of that broccoli will be greater to me in November or March then it will be this week. So, into the freezer it goes.

Last, I know there’s some vegetables that we just don’t eat in our house. Eggplant is probably the best example. What I will do is leave the eggplant at the CSA pickup point. There’s often someone else there picking up their vegetables who might enjoy an eggplant which would otherwise just rot in my refrigerator. I also occasionally give away CSA vegetables to my friends and neighbors when we are really overwhelmed with too many vegetables.

So, when you look at these pictures and you think “how do you eat all of that?” We don’t. We have figured out how to cheat the CSA system so that we don’t have to eat all of those vegetables. But importantly we don’t let the vegetables go to waste.