Fermenting culture wih Sandor Katz

Katz chats up Master Food Preserver and author Kevin West

Last night Erik and I went to see a talk by fermentation guru Sandor Katz, hosted by the Environmental Changemakers. Being a huge Sandor Katz fangirl, I was thrilled to get a chance to see him in person. These days he’s sporting a charming 19th century mustache!

His first book, Wild Fermentation, was one of those really important, life-changing books for me. It might sound strange to say this about a book on pickling, but it opened my eyes in many ways. And it taught me how to do vegetable and salt ferments, which are the backbone of my pickling practice. The daikon pickles we wrote about in The Urban Homestead are due to Wild Fermentation.

Now he’s got a new book out, The Art of Fermentation, which I’ve got to get my hands on:

Here are some excerpts from my notes:

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Picture Sundays: Uncle Sam Calls For Fruit Plantings On Every Farm & Suburban Homestead

At a lecture at last week’s National Heirloom Exposition, Gary Nabhan passed around this in-house newspaper directed at the sales force working for Stark Brothers Nursery in 1946.

To assist the Government’s new Home FRUIT PLANTING campaign, Stark Bro’s have been conducting a huge Direct-Mail drive to create interest in this important subject. Inquiries from the huge Direct-Mail Campaign are referred to YOU as soon as you start selling Stark Nursery Stock. As a result, aggressive salesmen and women are finding doors open to them everywhere.

Imagine that world of Government fruit tree planting programs and aggressive door to door nursery stock salespeople. Somehow I doubt the decline of apple tree plantings will come up as a topic in this year’s presidential campaign. If it did we’d be talking about something important for a change.

Fewer Linkages Today But More To Come

Not the usual link dump today since I was away all week at the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa. I camped, so the only tweeting I heard came from actual birds.  I’ll blog about the many talks I went to this week, but until that time, here’s some info from two of the speakers I heard at the conference.

A very different take on bees: www.gaiabees.com

From Sonoma Compost, information on:

How to compost: http://www.sonomacompost.com/Documents/Simple-Guidelines-to-Composting.pdf

A temperature/turning chart: http://www.sonomacompost.com/Documents/Temp-Turn%20Sheet1.pdf

Infinite Green Onions

Here’s a handy little tip. I’m pretty sure I heard it first from Mr. Jack Spirko:

Save the root ends of your green onions (aka scallions) — the parts you cut off when you’re cooking. Plant those, roots down, under about an inch of soil and they will generate new green onions. Keep this cycle going throughout your growing season and you should have an endless supply of green onions for your table. It’s much easier than starting from seed!

Green onions are shallow rooted, so work very well in pots. Also, they’re so unobtrusive and easy to grow that you can just tuck them here and there in your garden–anywhere that gets water–and forget about them until you need them.

Happy growing!

Don’t be so quick to clean up

A lot of magic happens in the “dead” parts of a garden. Flowers gone to seed feed birds. Dead stalks support important insect life–from spiders to pollinators. Fallen leaves and sticks give habitat to lizards and toads and mushrooms and myriads of invisible creatures.

Yet dead growth is not attractive to the human eye, and around about this time of year we’re all itching to make a clean sweep of all that brown stuff. I know I am, but this morning I was grateful that I’ve procrastinated thus far, because I saw a flock of tiny little gnat catchers (adorable!) feasting on whatever tiny bugs live on the scraggy stand of fennel standing in our front yard, and a couple of hours later I found a flock of house finches enjoying the withered heads of our long, long dead sunflowers. I almost cut those stalks down yesterday, and am so glad I didn’t.

It’s a balancing act. If your garden is in your front yard you pretty much have to be tidy to appease the neighbors. If you have a small back yard, like we do, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to clear the decks, because everything is right in your face. Blessed are those with big yards, because they might have the option to keep the areas closer to the house tidy while allowing the “back 40″ to go to seed.

I guess all you can do is keep the little creatures in mind and put off the clean up as long as you can. Leave dead leaves and sticks on the ground year round. Designate small corners as wilderness. The more you support all levels of life in your garden, the more your garden will thrive.

Your Essential Oil Toolkit

A few bottles of essential oils are an important part of the DIY toolkit, but some people don’t ever try them because they are so expensive. I can’t deny that they are pricey, but once you start using them, and you see how far they stretch and how many uses they can be put to, you’ll start to understand why they’d be a bargain at twice the price. Best of all, the most useful oils (to my way of thinking) are the cheapest.

My picks are: lavender essential oil, peppermint essential oil and tea tree oil. These three would make a good starter set for anyone, and are also a good trio to take traveling with you. All of them are on the low end of the essential oil price scale.

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Deodorizing Wash

Deodorizing wash? Freshening wash? In Making It we called it cleansing spray. I’ve never been quite sure what to call this. It’s not a deodorant, in that it doesn’t really stay on you, deodorizing continuously. It’s not a body wash in that you don’t use it in the shower. This is a little mix I created, a simple blend of water, baking soda and essential oil. It’s something you can splash on and towel off real quick when you’re in a hurry. I use it when I don’t have time to shower, but suspect I’m a little too fragrant. I also bring it camping to help reduce the fugg. The baking soda cuts through body grease and deodorizes. The tea tree oil kills any stinky bacteria that remain.

To be clear, this is specifically used to cut sweat on the upper regions of the body–pits, chest, neck and back. I wouldn’t recommend using it “south of the equator.”

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Barley Water

Being an American, barley water is not part of my mental landscape. Perhaps it was big in the U.S. back in the Victorian era, but it seems to have faded from our national consciousness. Indeed, if you’re one of our American readers, you may be asking now: what the heck is it? My fellow Americans, barley water is a drink made from barley, lemon and sugar, known to be cooling and refreshing in the summer and perhaps somewhat healthy.

Meanwhile I do know that it is more popular in other parts of the world. I’ve seen it sold in bottles in Great Britain, and from the Internets I can see it’s known in Ireland and Australia. What say you, Canada? I’ve had unsweetened barley water in a can from a Japanese supermarket, and I believe unsweetened barley water is a health drink all the way from India to Japan. And of course, there’s hot and cold roasted barley tea in those parts, too.

Health claims for barely water vary depending on how and where it’s made. It has been used as a pap for infants, as a balm for digestive systems, to sooth sore throats and to cure UTIs, to promote lactation, and even to combat high blood pressure. This is all fascinating, but I’m just making it as a summer drink.

There’s lots of recipes for barley water on the web, and most of them seem to produce something very like lemonade, i.e. they are made with lots of citrus juice and sugar. But I found an old recipe in Google books (unfortunately I lost the source) which made a  mild, barely sweet drink. I cannot say this is at all representative recipe, but I like it precisely because it is so mild–more in the family of cucumber water than lemonade, if you see what I mean. I also like it because there’s no cooking involved. I offer it as an alternative.

 After I share my recipe, I’ll give some tips for finding your own barley water path.

I hope our readers will chime in and tell us where they’re from, if and how they make barley water, and whether they use it as a health drink, or just drink it for fun.

Mild, Not-So-Sweet Barley Water

2/3 cup uncooked barley (pearl or hulled)
4 cups (1 qt) boiling water
1 lemon
1 Tablespoon of sugar or other sweetener
A quart Mason jar

  1. Rinse the barley well, as you’d rinse rice. If you don’t, the finished drink looks even more like dishwater than usual.
  2. Put the rinsed barley into a quart-sized Mason jar.  
  3. Peel the yellow skin (not the pith) from one half to one full organic lemon with a zester or vegetable peeler.  Put the zest into the jar with the barley. You can go ahead and add a squeeze of lemon juice at this time, but I find I like less lemon flavor, so only use the zest.
  4. Add 1 Tablespoon of sugar.
  5. Pour boiling water over everything, filling the quart jar.
  6. Let the mix sit on the counter until it cools, about an hour. Then strain the liquid into another container and refrigerate. Drink when cold. Makes a quart.

Variations and notes:

–There are a million recipes for barley water out there. The most common cooking methodology, though, seems to be a short simmering of the barley in the water, instead of the soaking technique I’ve outlined above. A 20 to 30 minute simmer seems pretty standard. This will yield a more cloudy liquid. After straining the mix is flavored to taste with lemon juice and sugar.

–Longer simmering times result in a more viscous liquid which contains soothing properties and some vitamins. This is what they fed invalids and babies in the old days.

–Similarly, the more barley you use in proportion to water, the thicker and more barley-flavored the result.

–How much lemon and sweetener you want to use is entirely up to you. The recipes run the gamut from having no sweetener to super-sweet.

–Variant flavors include using other citrus flavors, like orange and lime, as well as ginger and mint.

– It is important that you remember to rinse the barley. I found swishing it in a bowl through a couple changes of water enough, but I’ve also seen it recommended that you rinse it with boiling water, and several recipes asked you to bring the barley and water to a boil for five minutes, then pour off the dirty water, replace it with clean and continue cooking.

–Pearl barley is barley that has had the bran scrubbed off of it. It’s what I find around here in grocery stores. Hulled barley is less common, but if you have access to a good health food store you should be able to find it. It’s more nutritious than the pearled kind.

–You will have leftover barley when you make this drink, but it need not be wasted. If you use one of the cooking methods, you’ll end up with a bowl of cooked barley. If you follow my recipe and just soak it, you’ll need to finish the cooking. Cooked barley can be dressed up many ways–it can become a nice snack (with salt and pepper and Parmesan cheese) or breakfast (with honey and fruit). Cooked barley can also thrown into stews or folded into breads. I just found an interesting barley cake recipe that I just might share soon, if it works.

Some other recipes you might enjoy:

A post explaining why barley water is ancient history (with recipes!): http://blog.kathrynmcgowan.com/2010/09/13/barley-water-an-ancient-refreshing-drink/

A Chinese barley water: http://www.noobcook.com/lemon-barley-drink/2/

Super citrus barley water: http://www.thekitchn.com/old-school-cooler-barley-water-122687

Tree Tobacco as a Stinging Nettle Cure

Tree tobacco or Nicotiana glauca. Image from Wikipedia.

Yesterday’s Solanum nigrum (Black Nightshade) post reminded me of a fascinating tidbit about another plant from the nightshade family that I learned from foraging expert Pascal Baudar: the leaves of tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) ease stinging nettle rash. We were out gathering nettles with Pascal, so the lesson was much appreciated–and field tested. All you have to do is rub a Solanum nigrum leaf on the sting–make sure some of the leaf juice gets on there– and the sting goes away. So if you plan to harvest nettles, I’d recommend you keep a tree tobacco leaf in your pocket.

The classic herbal antidote to nettle stings is Jewelweed, but I don’t believe it grows in the southwest–at least I’ve never seen it. Tree tobacco is a good substitute for folks in our region

Native Americans smoked Nicotiana glauca and used it as a topical medicine. It is poisonous if taken internally.

A late note from Kelly, who is out of town and so didn’t get to consult on this post before it went up: 

As Erik says here, Nicotiana glauca totally works for nettle stings–I highly recommend it– but I have some contradicting information regarding Native American usage.

I took a herbology class with the late Cecilia Garcia, who was a Chumash medicine woman, and she told us that Indians used this plant as an appetite suppressant during hard times. The adults would drink tea made of its leaves so they could give what food they had to the children. This sad story always gives me chills when I think of it.

That said, I would never drink it myself! There are safer appetite suppressants out there. The toxicology report Erik links to seems to indicate that the fatalities occurred in people who mistook it for an edible green and ate a lot of it.

As always…toxicity is related to dosage!

Also, I wouldn’t smoke it. If you want to smoke natural tobacco, it would be safer and probably better tasting to grow an interesting old strain of heirloom smoking tobacco. Native American smoking blends tend to be mixes of many plants, so I’d be wary of a 100% glauca cigarette. Again…dosage!

Clicker Training Chickens

Our new pullets aren’t as used to being handled as were our last flock of hens. And because they don’t come when called, they can’t leave the chicken run to wander the yard.

So I’m working on training them. I know I could do more, but for now all I’m doing is taking special treats to them once a day and feeding them while making my chicken call (cheeck-cheeck-cheeck). They’re beginning to associate me and the call with treats. This doesn’t mean they trust me yet, but at least they have started making greeting noises when they see me. I hunker down in the run with the treats and hold very still. I put the treats close to me and make them come near to get them. The boldest one will sometimes take a treat from my hand.

This may work eventually. Or I could step up my game. Do you know that chickens can be clicker trained? My dog trainer friend tells me that in dog training seminars, trainers are often taught clicker training (a form of positive reinforcement) with chickens instead of dogs. This is because chickens are 100% food motivated and learn fast. Also, using hens takes away the potential mind games that occur between dog and trainer. Free of that distraction, the trainer learns the correct rhythm for training. It’s pure stimulus-response–reward.

Here’s a video of a chick learning the basics. You can find others of this sort on Youtube:

You might be able to find a chicken training seminar in your area, probably under the banner of dog training. With the rise of urban chicken-pets I think there is opportunity to be had in offering classes for would be chicken trainers. Googling around, I found this one in Lake Oswego, Oregon which is booked months in advance.

Have you trained your chickens to do anything?