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Cassava Bread- A Food History Rant

I really wanted to title this “Cassava Bread is Not for Hipsters” but I don’t want to limit this to hipsters- it’s not all their fault.

Today I came across this recipe for Cassava Flour Tortillas, made with New and Improved Cassava Flour. New and Improved Cassava Flour is $18 for 2 lb. New and Improved Cassava Flour “is the very highest quality cassava flour available. Other cassava flours are hand peeled and sun dried. That sounds romantic, but unfortunately hand peeling misses small pieces of peel, resulting in grittiness or a “sand-like”crunch in the finished product.  If that’s not bad enough, sun drying presents its own issues. Because drying cassava in the sun takes so long, the cassava flour ferments and takes on a sour, musty smell and taste.  Otto’s Cassava Flour is thoroughly peeled and flash dried into a beautifully clean smelling and tasting flour you can count on again and again.”

You can count on it to make fake European baked goods that are supposed to be made with grain flours, maybe. Take a look at the recipes. What about all the traditional ways to eat cassava?

cassava 2014

Before Otto convinces you that he can improve on lowly and obviously inferior traditional foods, let’s learn more about cassava.

Did you know that cassava is the staple food for a huge swath of tropical and subtropical countries? Cassava was the main starch and staple food for the entire Amazon until the Europeans came, killed most of the native peoples and started trying to grow wheat, their native grain. They killed so many of the native people they had to import African slaves. Many of the African slaves escaped into the vast jungle and adopted native Indian customs, including the foods like cassava. Traders took cassava and introduced it to Africa, and then southeast Asia. It would be impossible for me to communicate the importance of cassava as a staple food without writing a very long essay. There are some better ones here and here. Cassava is important.

Cassava bread, called casabe, is also important. Cassava bread is made from ground fresh cassava and is the daily bread of millions of people in the Americas. Get that? Tortillas are made from nixtamalized corn and are the daily bread of the peoples of Mexico and Central America, before and after the Europeans arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Europeans wanted wheat, which was difficult to grow and therefore a status symbol. So native cooks started making tortillas with wheat flour instead of corn. So that “Cassava flour tortilla” recipe above is making a copy of a copy of a copy. It is re-inventing the wheel (or in this case, the flat bread) with a big side helping of cultural ignorance.

Now on to “gritty, sand-like crunch” and “cassava flour ferments and takes on a sour, musty smell and taste.” You’d better hope a Brazilian or Indonesian doesn’t read that, because that stuff is fermented on purpose. To imply otherwise is a lie. You don’t think people know how to prepare their traditional foods to make them taste good? There are countless ways to prepare cassava all over the world: simply boiledgrainy and dry like farofa, made into flatbread, made into dough for fritters, tamales, and empanadas, processed into starch and made into sago pearls for boba tea and tapioca for pudding, ground and dried for fufu, shredded and used in sweet desserts like cassava cake and singkong, and the starch makes incredible cheese rolls. And that’s just traditional cassava recipes! You can make just about anything with fresh cassava roots, which cost about $1 a pound. You can buy peeled frozen cassava in the freezer section at Walmart. You can buy tapioca starch at Asian grocery stores for like $3 a pound, and dried ground cassava of all kinds at any large Caribbean grocery store. If you live here in Florida you can grow it yourself.

Seriously people, if you really want a completely gluten-free flat bread, what about traditional corn tortillas? You can buy a pound of those for like $3. And who the heck pays that much for flour? If you’re doing the paleo thing, go find some fresh cassava roots and try some traditional recipes with cassava first. I promise you’ll love them.

Elephant Poo!

This is 1.5 cubic yards of composted elephant manure. Yep, you heard me right. Elephant poop.

All that poop comes from Two Tails Ranch, an elephant sanctuary in Williston, about an hour away. Some of the gardeners on our local facebook gardening group recommended it because they will deliver small amounts. We can get compost delivered from lots of places but only 5+ cubic yards and that’s a hefty chunk of money all at once.  So we’re going to give the elephant compost a try.

Really, isn’t that cool?

Florida Herbal Conference- Year Two

So glad I volunteered for a work study position! Last year I didn’t know many people and felt disconnected. This year I had a great time, got to know many of the teachers and the other work trade volunteers, attended some great workshops, and made many more connections.

Some of the awesomeness, in no particular order:

1. Seeing Jeannie Dunn from Red Moon Herbs again. Her workshop on growing herbs for the wholesale market last summer at the Wild Herb Weekend was incredibly important to me- she made me feel like this wasn’t just a dream, that this was an attainable goal. It was more than inspiration, it was hard data. It was names and numbers and facts. It really took the whole project out of the fantasy dream realm and gave it shape and reality. Walking up to her on Saturday and telling her that the dream I had at the last conference is now happening, that I have in fact started that farm, was awesome indeed. I think she was happy that someone took her advice!

2. Hearing Juliet Blankespoor’s keynote speech. Her speech brought me to tears. She started her first herb business in a shack in Citra, FL in 1990. One of her first books, one of the books that inspired her the most, was Hygeia: A Woman’s Herbal. Want to know where I was in 1990? In Gainesville, 30 miles away, reading Hygeia: A Woman’s Herbal and considering becoming an herbalist.  The last third of her speech was about creating regional networks for medicinal herbs: herbalists, growers, and wildcrafters. My time is now.

3. This. Steven Foster signed my copy of Herbal Emissaries!

4. Meeting Andy Firk from Bamboo Grove. I have been at events with him a couple times but never actually taken one of his workshops. At the conference I moderated his Edible Gingers class. There ain’t no geek like a plant geek! I liked him immediately. We were able to speak briefly about trading gingers, I bought one of his black cardamom plants, and gave him the contact info for a ginger taxonomist he did not know. I look forward to going down to his farm in April for a plant weekend.

5. Networking. Networking is not easy for me, I have a terrible time walking up and talking to strangers. Having a spiel that I practiced, business cards, and a sign-up sheet in my hands helped, but what helped most is that everyone I spoke to was welcoming and kind and interested in the farm.

I missed Earthskills to go to the herb conference, and I think I made the right choice. Such wonderful people!

Spring Seed Starting- Chinese & Ayurvedic herbs

Been taking a break from blogging during the long dark winter. Spring is definitely springing around here and plants are sprouting right and left.

So far I have started:

Dan Shen Salvia miltiorriza
Dang Shen Codonopsis
She Chuan Zhi Cnidium monnieri
Ashwagandha Withania Somnifera
Huang Lian Coptis chinensis
Nirgundi Vitex negundo
Xuan Shen Scrophularia ningpoensis
Ku Shen Sophora flavescens
Huai Niu Xi Achyranthes bidentata

Also planted five astragalus plants that have overwintered wonderfully, repotted a Xuan Shen that also survived, and I am gently coaxing the turmeric to come up.


The Ku Shen has already sprouted!

Low-Histamine Diet- The Plan

So after reading for the past two days and all morning trying to get a better feel for the science, I’ve found some interesting things:

Many of the foods I posted yesterday are not on other lists, or are contested for either histamine levels or histamine-releasing actions. So I compiled the ones that are on *all* the lists, which is much less intimidating:
Seafood and shellfish, unless it’s caught, gutted and cooked immediately
Preserved and smoked meats
Leftover cooked meats
Vinegar and all foods preserved with vinegar
Yeast and all foods containing yeast including bread, beer, wine, and cider
Red tomatoes, especially cooked
All fermented dairy
All dried fruit (but it’s unclear whether it’s the fruit itself or the yeast present on the fruit)
Citrus, but especially orange juice

The jury is out on lacto-fermentation. Some say yes, some say no but only when the fermentation is anaerobic. I can’t figure out why olives are on the lists since they’re not pickled with vinegar but brined in a salt-water solution.

Since I have noticed reactions to all of these (strangely, except the fish and leftover meats) then these are all now out of my diet for the next 30 days. My personal other reactive foods: coffee, non-dairy creamer and kool-whip, and large amounts of raw garlic. Black tea is on all of the lists because it’s fermented, but while I’m willing to give up wine and cheese I’m not willing to give up tea. Or Chocolate, despite it being on most of the lists. I eat it infrequently enough. I know I am allergic to mold, I had a scratch test 10+ years ago and that was one of the only items that tested positive, so I should be more vigilant about mold in my food, too. I’m often the “scrape the mold off and eat it anyway” type, and I’m probably not doing myself any favors.

International Chronic Urticaria Society
Another food histamines list, with notes on debated foods
The Low Histamine Cook, who is also grain and sugar-free
Anaerobic fermentation- some of the science I’ve been looking for
Histamine and Tyramine

I’m annoyed that certain foods are listed like “curry powder” but curry powder is a mixture of spices. Cayenne is listed, too… are all chiles high in histamines? I’ve never noticed a reaction specifically to chiles so I’ll probably not worry about that one.

I’m really interested to find out if this will reduce my sinus and weird skin issues.

Trying the Histamine Diet

So, I may be developing a reaction to histamines in food. I’ve been reading more and more about histamine allergies and my symptoms match the descriptions exactly. The list of high-histamine foods makes up most of my current diet, alas. That may be why I’m noticing symptoms getting worse- my interest in lacto-fermentation and increasing skill means I’ve been eating more fermented foods. And I drink my share of wine, too.

Histamine-Rich Foods (including fermented foods):
Alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine.
Cheeses, especially aged or fermented cheese, such as parmesan, blue and Roquefort.
Cider and home-made root beer.
Dried fruits such as apricots, dates, prunes, figs and raisins (you may be able to eat these fruits – without reaction – if the fruit is thoroughly washed).
Fermented foods, such as pickled or smoked meats, sauerkraut, etc.
Processed meats – sausage, hot dogs, salami, etc.
Smoked fish – herring, sardines, etc.
Sour cream, sour milk, buttermilk, yogurt – especially if not fresh.
Soured breads, such as pumpernickel, coffee cakes and other foods made with large amounts of yeast.
Spinach, tomatoes
Vinegar or vinegar-containing foods, such as mayonnaise, salad dressing, ketchup, chili sauce, pickles, pickled beets, relishes, olives.

Histamine-Releasing Foods:

So basically I can eat fresh meat, vegetables (but not any of my favorites), fresh fruit (except for my favorites), fresh dairy, whole cooked grains but not bread or any of the other fermented grain foods I love. Seriously, how will I survive without pepper sauce? I am going to gradually step down as I figure out what I still can eat. The foods that I know affect me the most- red wine, beer, vinegar, yogurt, salami, and fresh pineapple- these immediately make my cheeks flush hotly, itchy sinuses and sneezing, red eyes, and abdominal bloating. I had some homemade sangria a couple weeks ago made with red wine and freshly-squeezed orange juice and my nose ran for two days straight. These foods go off the menu today. I think the constant histamine reaction is triggering the new allergic reactions to other foods that have started recently like mangoes, coconut, and dates, complete with blistered palate and tongue, itchy throat, and upset stomach. I’m also going to keep a health log starting today to track symptoms. Supposedly if I can wean myself off these foods, let the symptoms calm down, and then slowly reintroduce them the reaction will calm down. Like all other inflammatory conditions you have to get the inflammation down first.

Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season

climbing aster

Happy Solstice everyone!

Signs and Portents

So when my husband and I were scoping around the property, we spotted this plant. It’s growing around the edges and all over one of the neighbor’s yards. My husband noticed that bees and other pollinators were practically swarming around the flowers, so I snapped a photo to look it up later.


This, my friends, is Tōng Cǎo – 通草 , Tetrapanax Papyriferus, traditionally used to promote lactation. That’s right. There are Chinese medicinal plants already there. Not only is this a Chinese medicine, it’s also widely used to make paper. The translated name is “rice paper plant”. Did I look it up? Nope. I subscribed to a Chinese herb study group and was scrolling back through herbs, and this was the November 12th herb of the day.

Those kinds of things keep occurring. It’s kind of wonderful.

Welcome to the Jungle

We finally had our first big cleanup day at the incipient Springstead Herb Farm.


This is the entrance- my property is on the right, with all the giant trees. And vines. And trash.

jungle2This is one of the trash piles we made after an hour of raking and digging cans and bottles out of the ground.


A good percentage of the south end of the farm looks like this. People have been dumping trash here for decades. It’s possible that the original owner of the property dumped trash here before there was garbage service. We joked about being archaeologists learning about long ago cultures by digging through their middens.


Yeah. 80% of the trash pile is Budweiser cans with pull tabs.


I have the best family ever. What’s not pictured here is that about five minutes after this photo we discovered a large yellowjacket nest. My younger son and I both were stung, he much worse than I. Thankfully they left us alone after we moved out of their clearing and we were able to keep working. I am taking this as a clear sign to slow down and proceed carefully.


 We did find some amazing things, like this beautiful little box turtle hiding in the trash. There’s a couple feral orange trees that I swear are twice as healthy as the ones in my yard. There is a high ridge along one side that faces east- a possibly perfect microclimate for several of the herbs I want to grow.


This (rather unflattering) photo is a decent representation of the entire property. I got a little teary at the end- the property is so beautiful and overwhelming. I am cramming about forest agriculture, forest farming, wild-simulated herb farming, and alley cropping. Now that paths have been mown and enough has been cleared that we can get to all areas of the property, the next step is to go out there and just document everything- make a list of species found, take soil samples from different areas, start on a ground map.  This starts tomorrow!

Tropical Crops- Disappointment & Lessons

I harvested the rest of my tropical crops on Friday: Cassava, pigeon peas, and jicama.


cassava 2014

This is the third year I’ve grown cassava. The first year was a complete bust. Last year was much better, I actually had enough cassava to make pasteles for a family Solstice feast. This year absolutely sucked. This is just under three pounds of trimmed cassava roots. I should’ve included something for scale- these roots are small. See how few long, straight roots there are? I think I’m crowding the polyculture. Cassava has large shallow roots. The cassava is planted next to ginger, elephant ears and pigeon peas- all of which have shallow roots. Siembra Farm grows fabulous, huge cassava every year. The next time I can get to the farmers’ market I’ll be grilling them about growing cassava as well as buying a bunch of theirs to shred and freeze along with mine.

Pigeon Peas/Gandules


Last year I planted one decent-sized seedling tree from Edible Plant Project in a native flowerbed. It grew huge and we got a decent amount (about a pound) of dry, mature pigeon peas before the first freeze. This year I planted two  seedling trees from EPP in the back yard, thinking I’d get about double the harvest. Despite this being a year of more-normal rain (48.4 inches so far this year) the trees never reached the same size and didn’t start producing peas until very late in the year. Then we had a snap freeze and a week later it was 80. I missed the harvesting window entirely. By the time I harvested the pods off the trees the tree was long dead and the pods were covered in mold. After shelling that entire tray of pods we ended up with about a cup of dry pigeon peas. Most weren’t formed and at least half the mature peas were moldy and ruined. I almost cried.



Did you know jicama is a legume? I didn’t. It may be the only legume with an edible root. The plant part is a lovely large vine with large leaves and lovely purple pea-blossom flowers that drive the bumblebees mad with desire. The vines perished in the freeze (along with their unripe seed pods, darnit) so I dug up the roots. The first root (bottom if the basket) was very large but at some point it had split in the ground. The other three were very small, about the size of small turnips or apples. Again, after all the lovely heat and rain, I expected a good return. They are small but interestingly- they have ZERO insect damage. None.

What I’ll do different next year

Plant earlier. Try the pigeon peas in the forest garden, more sun and more pollinators. Plant the cassava in the same place- it’s literally the only place in the yard to grow something that big that isn’t already full of roots- but I’ll amend the soil heavily with compost and spread the plants out more. I’ll move some of the gingers and add something with a deep taproot instead. The jicama is the tough one. Knowing that I’ll only get one root per plant, and knowing now how bloody huge the vines get, will make it a challenge to grow in a greater quantity. Jicama may remain a treat.

These are “crops” that are passively grown. They receive zero irrigation or fertilizer after they’re planted. They never needed any pest intervention. There is a beetle that bores holes in pigeon peas after they’ve started ripening but they rarely ruin more than one pea in the pod so I don’t mind. That’s the only pest I’ve noticed. Not too shabby if I could increase the number of plants.

What was your greatest garden failure this year?

 write my essay prompt essay