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Breaching the Cultural Divide

This might be the first article to tackle what I have seen to be the largest obstacle to suburban/urban residents wanting to learn to hunt animals for food.  

Most hunters are residents of rural communities that include other hunters. Even if no one in their immediate family hunts, there is someone in that community who does. The social network in rural communities includes hunters. The connections are there for buying guns, learning about local game, learning about hunting spots, and most importantly accessing land to hunt on.

rifle first time

What if you grew up in the city? What if you don’t know a single person who hunts for food? Many new hunters are trying to find a way to do this from the outside of that rural social network. It’s daunting. Even if you buy a gun, gets lots of shooting practice, read a lot of books about hunting, get out in the woods and practice tracking skills… where do you go to actually hunt? Who do you go with?

I have been trying to answer this question for myself. I have acquaintances of acquaintances who hunt, but no one who I feel I can ask to either accompany them on a hunt or hunt on their land. I can pay money and go with a professionally-led hunting trip, like this company. So I decided to start asking around in the intersections I have with rural communities- the farmers at the market and the butchers at the custom deer processing butcher where we get the animals for the cow pool butchered. The farmers I asked were all too busy to do much hunting but they all had cousins, brothers, or neighbors who hunted and every single one had been hunting at least once in their lives. The butchers at Crawford’s Custom Meats are all women right now. Surprising to me, they were all active hunters, and what they hunted was hogs. Then a few months ago a friend and I drove out to a farm to pick up a load of compost in her pickup truck. The man showed off his hunting dogs while we were there, and it turned out that the hunting dogs also belonged to his wife, and she hunted hogs with them. Apparently that’s the usual game for women to hunt in this area is hogs, though I wouldn’t even want to guess why hogs (which are big and quite dangerous) and not deer or turkeys or quail.

One of the women I spoke to invited me along with her to hunt hogs this fall, and even though I don’t know her well, I said yes. I don’t have the “right” clothes, and I need a lot more target practice, but even if I don’t fire a single shot I am sure it’ll teach me more than reading books ever will. I am hesitant, but how else can I learn?

My husband and I will probably also go on a hog hunt with a professional this fall, because my field dressing skills are mostly book-learning at this point and I will happily pay to have a professional hunter teach me field dressing. But this weekend, more target practice!

My First Mayhaw

Last Friday was the Native Plant Sale, and I found a seller with a half dozen mayhaw trees in good shape. So I bought one and planted it.

mayhaw

It’s 5′ tall and mine, all mine.

I was chatting with a co-worker who’s also a gardener and mentioned that I planted a mayhaw tree over the weekend. And she said “Have you ever eaten a mayhaw fruit?”

Uh, nope. Actually, I haven’t.

Does that matter? Not to me, frankly. It’s a fruit tree that’s supposed to grow well in this area, it’s disease-resistant, and it’s beautiful. That’s enough for me to want to try and grow it. Mayhaw fruit is like a tiny crabapple, the size of a large blueberry. They grow naturally in wet riverbanks, but can grow in drier areas with irrigation.

Established mayhaw with fruit from Mayhaw.net

What I didn’t know was that you need two of the darn things for cross-pollination, so I’ll be heading up to Just Fruits & Exotics soon to get one of the cultivars. It’s times like these that I’m particularly glad I have a large yard… sure I have room for another tree that spreads to 20′ when fully mature!

The only other tree I purchased at the Native Plant Sale is a pawpaw! Pawpaws are difficult to transplant and have special requirements. It’s going to take some more observation & thought before I decide where to plant it but it’s kind of a race since it needs to be transplanted before it leafs out. My husband was very amused that I paid $10 and was so damn excited about “a stick in a pot”.

So now I have these fruit trees:

10 orange & tangerine (7 varieties, I think)
2 kumquat (2 varieties)
5 pomegranates (four varieties)
3 peaches (two varieties)
1 fuyu persimmon
2 strawberry guavas
1 pineapple guava
2 plums (2 varieties)
2 wild plums
2 figs
1 mayhaw (soon to be 2!)
1 pawpaw

Whew! I think that’s probably enough for a while. No matter how much I want an avocado. And a couple bananas. And a pecan tree. Once you get started, it’s kind of hard to stop.

Collards and Cracker Cooking

kitchen

We had a great time cooking at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings historical home March 22nd. I found out the home had a smokehouse, so I made a “mess” of collard greens with smoked bacon the night before. I brought collard greens, Val Leitner from Blue Oven Kitchens brought fish she had caught herself a few days before and sour orange marmalade she made from Seville oranges growing in the historic home’s citrus grove. When we arrived, Stefanie Hamblen, writer of Hogtown Homegrown, made biscuits, cornbread, and then stuffed the fish with cornbread stuffing and roasted it. Val made a delicious drink with sour orange juice and orange blossom honey, like sour orange lemonade. I made hoecake, which is just cornmeal, salt and water, fried on an iron griddle. The tour group arrived at 11am, and we did our Cracker cooking and homesteading talk at noon, and then served samples of all the food. We had so much fun! The docents enjoyed it too, and asked us to come back next year!
messofcollardsFunny story about collards- We went into a grocery store in Denver and I saw a sign for collard greens in the produce section, so I went over to take a look. The “bunch” of collards was five leaves not much bigger than my hand and it cost $5!! That was a defining “I am no longer in the South” moment. For any of you not in the South, that photo above is a “mess” of collards, which is considered a generous serving for 5 people when cooked. That is $3 at a local grocery store.
baconI was kinda surprised when I posted about the Cracker cooking demo and several people said they had never heard of the Crackers. I am not a Cracker. Although parts of my family have been in Florida for three generations, those parts lived in Miami and were thoroughly urban. The rest of my family came down from Kansas (father’s side) and East Tennessee (mother’s family, which is why she pronounces “wash” as “warsh”). However, I have a passion for native and local foods and especially food history. If we explore eating only what grows here, then Cracker cooking is where we need to look. They were the pioneers, not only of the back woods of Florida, but also of the first fusion cuisine in Florida- the Scots-Irish, African, and Spanish food they brought with them combined with the foods they found here, and were largely introduced to by the Indian tribes living here.
collards

The Best Collard Greens

The secret to good collard greens is long cooking and quality pork products. Bacon, ham hocks, or fatback is fine, so long as there is plenty of smoke and very little (if any) sugar. I highly recommend Graham Farms smoky bacon ends, available at the Alachua County Farmers’ Market.

1 mess of collards
1/2 lb smoked bacon, diced
2 whole dried red chile peppers

Pepper sauce/vinegar, to taste

First the rinsing. Fill your sink with cold water. Cut the thick stems off the bunch of collards, all the way up to the leaves. Then plunge the leaves into the water and swish vigorously. Collards grow in sand, and it’s tough to get all the sand off. Swish some more.

Get out a large stockpot with a heavy bottom and tight-fitting lid. Start the pot on medium heat. Put the diced pork into the pot and get it sizzling. Now lift a manageable bunch of collards out of the water and shake some of the water off. Put them down on the cutting board in a rough stack. Take one end of the stack and roll the leaves into a tight cigar. Now cut into narrow ribbons with a big sharp knife. Add the cut collards into the pot. Stir briefly to coat the collards in the fat. Then continue until all the collards are sliced and in the pot. You may have to wait between stacks for the previous stack to wilt down before you can add more, depending on the size of your pot. They will wilt down quickly. Once all the collards are added to the pot, stir until all the greens are coated in pork fat. Add the dried peppers and about a cup of water. Wait for the pot to come to a boil. Then put the lid on and turn the heat down to low. Cook, stirring about once an hour, for at least two hours. Three is better. The best is to let the collards cool, put them in the fridge overnight, and then get them piping hot the next day.

Serve with plenty of pepper vinegar/sauce, cornbread, and fried catfish.

Easy Orange Curd

So the trees started flowering last week. That’s wonderful. The only problem is that there were still fruit on most of the trees. Unpicked fruit goes bad quickly if it’s still on the tree when it flowers, so my kids went out after school and picked every single orange off the trees that were flowering. There were way more than I thought- two 10-gallon buckets full! We immediately gave away a couple dozen, pulled out the four oranges with the most perfect skin, and then juiced the rest. All of those oranges only made a little over a gallon of juice. I haven’t done much with the oranges this year, we’ve mostly just been giving them away and eating them fresh.

orangecurd1

Then I took the four best oranges and decided to try making orange curd. I’ve made lemon curd so many times I almost have the recipe memorized, I think I always open the book because I love the book itself so much. The 1979 A Feast of Scotland by Janet Warren was given to me by my husband I think before we were married. He’s second-generation American, and he recognized many of the foods in the cookbook from his childhood with his grandparents.   The only recipe I use is from this book- no double boiler needed and works without fail. I’ve made minor changes to incorporate modern kitchen appliances, but otherwise left it alone. Success!

orangecurd4

Easy Orange Curd

4 large eggs
4 organic thick-skinned oranges, scrubbed and dried
2 sticks salted butter
1 1/2 c blonde organic sugar

Take the oranges and peel the orange outer skin off in strips with a sharp vegetable peeler, leaving behind the white pith. Get every bit you can. Mince the peel with a sharp knife. Combine the peel and the sugar in a food processor and process until the sugar is like a paste. Now juice the peeled oranges and set aside the juice. Make sure there are no seeds or large pieces of pulp. Get out your heaviest-bottom saucepan.

Melt the butter in the saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar/peel paste and stir until the sugar melts into the butter and the mixture is barely simmering. Add the orange juice. Beat the eggs separately in a small bowl. Start beating the eggs and add a small ladle full of the hot orange mixture. Add three small ladles of the hot mixture, beating constantly, until the eggs are hot.This tempers the raw eggs so they don’t turn into scrambled eggs when you pour them into the hot orange mixture.

Now slowly pour the hot eggs into the orange mixture, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon without dripping off. Mine took about 20 minutes. Ladle orange curd in hot clean jars, cool completely, and then store in the fridge. I don’t know how long until it goes bad, it never lasts that long. This recipe makes about 2 pints.

Other than eating it a spoon, what should I do with this orange curd?

Use-All-The-Coriander Chutney

The relatively wet and mild spring has made my cilantro and parsley grow like crazy, and then the few sunny days that reached almost 80· was like Mother Nature shouting “Bolt! Bolt now!” with a megaphone.

chutney3

Once the cilantro bolts, it basically stops making leaves and starts making flowers. You can retard the bolting by cutting off the flower spikes, but here the plant will still eventually peter out. I enjoy collecting and drying my own coriander seeds so I want to allow the plants to eventually complete their flowering cycle, but not before I get some more leaves. As soon as my summer culantro is transplanted out, I’ll let the plants flower and set seed.

chutney2

We are reducing our grain consumption again. Dear husband’s blood sugar has been creeping up again and so far the primal diet has been the most effective at reducing his blood sugar and keeping his weight stable. When we’re eating mostly vegetables, I use fresh herb sauces and condiments constantly. They add big flavor to simple dishes, and they can be used as flavor bases to more complex dishes. Indian fresh herb chutneys have no oil, unlike pesto, but they have a short shelf-life. A batch will only last about a week in the fridge, and will spoil quickly if left out.

chutney1

Use-All-The-Cilantro Chutney

Use by the spoonful on roasted vegetables, over eggs or plain chicken. Mix with yogurt or sour cream and drizzle over potatoes, cauliflower, and shrimp. You can also replace part of the cilantro with parsley. 

4 c cilantro, packed
1″ fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 green chile, minced
2 lemons
1 heaping tsp ground cumin
salt & pepper

Get out a sturdy blender or food processor. Chop the cilantro. Combine everything except the lemon in the food processor. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice out of the whole lemon into the mixture. Blend, adding water by the tablespoon if necessary, until the mixture is a smooth paste. Taste. The salty/sour/spicy should be bright and balanced. Adjust the salt and lemon juice. I ended up using quite a bit of salt (over a teaspoon) and 1 1/2 lemons.

Planting the Spring Garden

I can’t believe how late I’m planting everything. This spring has sped by with too much travel and not enough seeds started or early vegetables planted. I’m feeling pretty puny today and yet I’m absolutely driven outside to plant, weed, and start seeds.

spring garden1

See that mass of weeds around the cauliflower on the upper right? That is Florida betony. Over the winter, that betony took off like a rocket all over the garden, punching right through cardboard and 6″ of hay mulch in places. This is the only weed that tempts me to use herbicides. To clear the bed above, I had to rake out 4″ of betony infested hay mulch and the top two inches of decomposed hay/soil and pull as much of the tubers and runners as I could. Then I added a wheelbarrow full of new soil. I’ll dump the betony-infested hay mulch under the citrus trees in the back, where it’s too shady for the betony to grow.

mugwort

In better news, some of my over-wintered medicinal herbs are doing quite well. The mugwort is thriving and the ashwagandha is coming back from the roots like I had hoped. Its “nap” was pretty short, but should serve to intensify the medicinal strength of the herb.

orange and azalea

The citrus trees, azaleas, loropetalum, and camellias are all in bloom together. It’s stunning. The first weekend in April is slated for “citrus feeding weekend”. Last year the trees didn’t get anywhere near enough fertilizer so this year we’ll be giving them several inches of compost, rotted hay, trace minerals, and giving foliar feeding a try if I can afford the equipment.

Springtime Flowers

I just returned from Colorado and having a heck of a time climbing back on top of the vacation backlog. Until I catch up, enjoy some garden photos for the Spring equinox!

borage flower

Borage flowers.

two tone camellia

A glorious two-tone camellia in my next-door neighbor’s yard.

old mans beard

Old Man’s Beard, Chionanthus virginicus. This small tree is in a terrible place tucked behind a navel orange and some camellias. I’ll probably attempt to move it this year.

ruffled camellia

Ruffled camellia. These flowers are often full of predatory lacewings.

loropetalum

Loropetalum, which I call the “muppet-hair tree”. The wet winter means these are blooming like crazy.

Primal Sarson Ka Saag

saag2

There are some recipes that once you have them once, they kind of haunt you. One of the first Indian foods I tried was sarson ka saag- Punjabi mustard greens soup. The Nashville farmers’ market back in the late 90′s was run down and didn’t have much local produce, but it did have a central enclosed building that housed the most amazing collection of tiny international food shops and restaurants- an Indian-owned grocery, a Caribbean place, an Asian grocery that specialized in Japanese food, a gyro stand, a very good barbecue stand, a junky import shop, a real butcher shop, and more, all tucked inside a building the size of a big box retailer. It was just across the river from our neighborhood so I shopped there almost every week. The Indian-owned grocery carried foods from everywhere between Turkey and India, plus some tortillas and beans just to round things out. Back in the dusty shelves was the Indian equivalent of canned soup- canned “homestyle” curries that were vegetarian, had no preservatives, were “native” spicy, and I absolutely loved. The flavor of that canned sarson ka saag is still distinct to this day.

Back in the late fall, when greens were just starting to ramp up for the cool season at the farmers market, I bought a gorgeous bunch of mustard greens on impulse. I didn’t want to make the standard Southern greens recipe because I had also bought collards. I did the usual casual google and Tastespotting searches to browse recipes and came across a sarson ka saag recipe. That’s it! I’ll make that soup! But of course, I didn’t have all the ingredients in the recipe, so I just made some substitutions here and there… left out a few things… and two hours later, I had a giant pot of inedible green goo.

asafoetida

I made variations of sarson ka saag three more times over the winter, trying different recipes but always making substitutions for out-of-season ingredients, and failed miserably each time. Fortunately mustard greens in the winter are cheap, and since the soup has no fat until you add the final temper, each batch fed the compost beast instead of going down the sink.

Finally this past Saturday I spotted the missing ingredient, the one ingredient that almost all of the traditional recipes call for, the one ingredient that had been unavailable all winter- lambs quarters, called quelites in Central America and bathua in India. I grew lambs quarters last year, but lambs quarters are a summer green here… they don’t grow at the same time as mustard greens except, apparently, right now.

lambsquarters2
It was pretty late in the morning, but I found a farmer with mustard greens left, and then bought the rest of the fresh ingredients to try again. And finally, last night, success. The array of greens in this soup are crucial to the flavor. The hearty but “sweet” lambs quarters and spinach balance out the hot/bitter mustard, supported by the onions, tomato, garlic, and ginger. In India this is considered a winter dish, but if you’re eating seasonally, this soup belongs whenever the ingredients are available together- and here, that’s March.

saag1

Sarson Ka Saag- Grain-free Spicy Mustard Greens Soup

1 bunch mustard greens
1 bunch lambs quarters
1 bunch fresh spinach
1 small white sweet potato (orange will probably work too, or a regular potato)
1 large tomato
1 large yellow onion
2″ ginger
8 cloves of fresh garlic (don’t skimp!)
1 heaping tsp ground fenugreek seeds (can sub fenugreek greens if you have them)
1 heaping tsp salt
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
4 dried red chile peppers, or 1 heaping tsp of ground chile
1/4 c of salted butter

Fill your sink halfway with cold water. Even if your farmer swears he triple-washed his greens, even if you bought them at the grocery store, you should always wash your greens before cooking them. Gritty soup sucks. Cut the thick stems off the bunches of greens and plunge the loose greens in the cold water. Do not try to do this in a colander, it won’t work. Swish them vigorously. Then lift the greens from the water (this leaves the sand, grit, and critters behind in the sink), shake off the water, and chop the greens coarsely. Put them in your large stock pot. Chop the tomato and sweet potato, add to the greens. Cut the onion in half. Set half aside. Peel and chop the other half and add to the greens. Peel and chop the garlic and ginger, add to the greens, along with the fenugreek, salt, asafoetida, black pepper, and dry chiles.

Put the pot on the stove over medium heat and put a tight lid on. Once the greens start steaming, add one cup of water. Steam the greens for 30 minutes, or until the greens are completely wilted and the sweet potato is cooked. Puree the soup in batches in a blender, or use a sturdy stick blender. I like this soup completely smooth. Put the pureed soup back in the pot and taste for salt and spice. I added at least another tsp of salt at this point and another 2 chiles, but your taste may vary. This soup should be spicy. Then bring back to a simmer, cover, and simmer for at least another hour. Long cooking mellows the mustard greens, but since we’re not draining any water off, the vitamins and minerals stay in the soup.

Take the remaining half onion and slice thinly. Heat the butter until foaming, add the onions, and cook until crispy and lightly browned. Serve the soup in big bowls topped with generous spoons of crispy onions and melted butter. Let the hot soup drive out the spring chill and damp, and walk away afterwards feeling supercharged. Eat your greens!

Florida Herbal Conference & Florida Food Forests visit

The Florida Herbal Conference was a complete blast, but the unexpected theme for me was connections. I was so busy, I only caught a few shots with my cell phone camera, so please excuse the poor photos.
herbal gathering This was half of the merchant circle, and shows some of the trees covering Camp Winona. The site was gorgeous, easy to navigate, and March in Florida is blessedly mosquito-free. The cabin beds were terrible, but they were clean and warm. The only thing at the conference I heard real complaints about was the food on the meal plan. I’m glad I brought my own food.

I only attended a few workshops- a class on moxa with Bob Linde, and the class on growing medicinal and culinary herbs in Florida by James Steele. James Steele is a long-time acquaintance and he was one of the professionals supporting my grant proposal. I was able to chat with him about my second try for the grant after his class and he gave me some great suggestions.

Saturday afternoon was the regional breakout session. Each region of Florida had its own space where locals could meet and talk in person. I got to meet herbalists from the local facebook group in person and some new locals, too. After the breakout session was “free time”. Free time at a conference? What a great idea! I decided to browse the merchant area, and ended up in a long passionate conversation about composting, gardening, food security vs homeowners associations in subdivisions, the concept of food miles, and local food culture with a brand-new gardener from Tampa. I never would have taken the time to relax in the market area if the workshops had been scheduled all day long. I met two new plant geeks who were both excited about my farm plans and gave me tons of suggestions for further networking- Willow LaMonte, who owns Willow Herbal Delight Gardens in Valrico and Bob Linde, acupuncturist and herbalist in St. Pete. Bob Linde happened to mention in his class Saturday morning that he grew Chinese medicinal herbs in his backyard garden, and we ended up chatting for over an hour Sunday morning about growing herbs, the Chinese medicine trade, herbal conference suggestions… inspiring and powerful connections for me.

me and david goodman

Glaring sun in front, food forest behind at David Goodman’s place.

Then I packed up and headed off to the wilds of Marion County to visit David Goodman, his lovely family, and his new nursery, Florida Food Forests, Inc. David writes Florida Survival Gardening and we have been commenting on each others’ blogs for a while now and met in person finally at the Florida Earthskills Gathering. He has a one-acre homestead with a diverse food forest. There were so many interesting projects going on there, I could have stayed all day. He send me home with water chestnuts to plant in the pond, a baby curry leaf plant, and an edible leaf hibiscus to try. I hope he can come up here soon.

Seeds Organized, Finally

So it’s taken the better part of a week, chipping away at it at hour here and there. After several seed swaps, my own home-saved seeds, and a few online seed orders, I had seeds in boxes, envelopes, and filling a whole basket. First I made out a spreadsheet with all the information I wanted to record. The whole spreadsheet won’t fit here, but here’s part of the spreadsheet for the medicinal herbs.

Seeds Latin Growth habit
Dan Shen Salvia Miltiorrhiza herbaceous perennial
Chai hu Bupleurum falcatum herbaceous perennial
madder Rubia tinctoria herbaceous perennial vine
She gan Belamcanda chinensis lily
Mugwort artemisia vulgaris 4′x 3′ bush
She chuan Zi Cnidium monnieri looks like parsley
Huang lian Coptis chinensis needs part shade, moisture, small
Ku shen Sophora flavescens 4′x 3′ bush
ban zhi lian scutellaria barbata small but speading
huang qin scutellaria baikalensis small but speading
Ashwagandha Withania somnifera 4′x 3′ bush, nightshade
huang qi astragalus membanaceus small, leguminous
Huang jing xitex negundo small tree
jie geng platycodon grandiflorus mounding perennial, purple flowers
dang shen codonopsis pilosula needs part shade, moisture, climbing
han lian cao eclipta prostrata keep contained, full sun
chuan niu xi ox knee sprawling bush
xuan shen Scrophularia ningpoensis needs moist soil

Next to organize the seed packets themselves. I’ve usually just used an old shoe box, but the seeds don’t all fit any more. Drifts of seed packets in a basket on my desk was not a long-term option. So I stole an idea I saw at the Grow Gainesville seed swap: using an expanding bill folder for organizing seed packets.

seed folder

My seed collection is now organized, portable, and fairly damp-proof. I feel so organized now!

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