How to make your soup wonderful: Wild food soup stock

nettle soup stock

We’ve mentioned urban foragers and foodie extraordinaires Pascal Baudard and Mia Wasilevic before. They not only forage food, but go on to make really good stuff with it. One of their websites is Urban Outdoor Skills, and I like to go there to check out a section called the Food Lab, where they talk about food products they’re experimenting with, and give how-to’s.

A few months ago Erik brought home a beautiful bouquet of nettles. I decided to try one of the Food Lab projects that intrigued me — Wild Food Soup Stock Preserved with Salt. This is no more than a bunch of finely chopped vegetables, herbs and greens (wild or not) mixed with plenty of salt to preserve it.  I made mine with onion, celery, parsley and those nettles. It makes a strong, salty paste that keeps well in the fridge. My first jar is almost finished, and I’ve been using it for months. It still looks good.

Pascal says this is a traditional European method of making instant soup stock, but instead of using it as a stock by itself, I’ve been using it as a finishing touch at the end of cooking up a pot of something.  It really helps at that tricky moment when you’re standing over your soup pot, spoon in hand, asking yourself, What does this soup need? Somehow it improves the flavor in a subtle, magical way–and in the meantime, garnishes the soup with tiny bright confetti flecks of green. Note that this stuff is super-salty–so I hold back on the salt until I add this, and then add more if necessary.

Is Urban Homesteading Over With?

It seems that we’re back in a period of irrational exuberance. I know because I keep hearing about people lining up to buy crumbling 1,000 square foot bungalows in dodgy Los Angeles neighborhoods for $1,000,000. History tells us that during these periods folks ditch their chicken coops and vegetable gardens and head to the mall to shop.

I hope I’m wrong, that during our next economic bubble people will be more sensible. And the fundamentals have not changed, specifically the uncertain future of fossil fuels. I’m not trading my trips to the feed store for a shopping spree at Hot Topic anytime soon.

So I thought I’d plug a few search terms relating to urban homesteading into Google Trends to see what is going on. This is, of course, highly unscientific–Google Trends may just reflect media generated interest, not what people are actually doing. Here’s what I found:

Backyard Chickens

Many urban homesteading activities are seasonal–in spring people start searching for information on chickens and vegetable gardens, so you’ll see upward spikes towards the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Judging from the results on “backyard chickens,” it looks like that it’s a trend that is growing in popularity. Some of this activity may be related to legalization efforts, but I’d like to think that it reflects a growing dissatisfaction with our industrial agriculture system.


It seems that searches for gardening of all kinds–I tried “vegetable gardening,” “vegetable seeds,” “rose pruning” and “lawn care,” are down. I think this may reflect a demographic shift–an older generation dying off. We need to get young people gardening!

Bread Baking

No wonder I can’t seem to offer enough bread baking classes.


Cycling is down, but I’m sure this reflects disenchantment with Lance Armstrong and professional cycling.

Searches for “bike commuting” are up slightly.

It’s inevitable that media interest in home ec topics will decline when the stock market is up. Just remember how quickly vegetable gardens and chicken coops were abandoned in the 1980s. But I have a good feeling that the lessons of the last few years will stick better than they did in the 1970s. What do you think?

Citified Parched Corn

parched corn

Dried corn on the left, parched corn with peas and blueberries on right

I was thinking about trail food, and wishing for a portable snack which was not based on nuts and chocolate chips (though there’s nothing wrong with that!) or too sugary, like dried fruit or energy bars. Then I recalled parched corn.

Parched corn–dried corn which has been roasted–is one of those legendary Native American foods, like pemmican, which you hear about but don’t necessarily ever get to try. Parched corn is a lightweight, long-keeping, high-energy trail food. It can also be ground into flour and used in cooking. I have vague elementary school memories of claims that a warrior* could walk a whole day nourished on just a handful of parched corn.

(They did not mention that the warrior might be cranky at the end of the day–which I suspected might be the case. I’ve heard similar claims about Roman soldiers marching on handfuls of barley. Poor guys. But now that I’ve tried parched corn, I must admit that it is strangely filling. I managed to spoil my supper by doing too much tasting as I roasted the corn. So maybe the claim are real and–geek alert!– parched corn is our homegrown Lembas bread.)

Parched corn, being tasty and useful, was widely adopted by the Europeans who arrived here. So it was turned out to be the Official Snack Food of wagon trains and trappers and the like.

I went looking for a recipe and found my idea was hardly original. Preppers and outdoorstypes love their parched corn and there are plenty of recipes and tips out there. The only thing that I have to offer that is different is that this is a rather sissified, citified, consumerist version of parched corn.  And it is delicious. Chewy, sweet, a little salty… and most of all, corny.

Continue reading…

Someone Please Buy Me a KoMo Grain Mill

KoMo Medium Mill

KoMo Medium Mill

So out of the hundreds of vendors I visited at the Natural Foods Expo I’m literally down to only one that I found interesting: KoMo grain mills. Being an avid fan of baking German style breads such as Volkornbrot, I almost fainted with excitement when I stepped up to the booth of Pleasant Hill Grain, who imports KoMo mills to the US.

KoMo’s products are designed by a German/Austrian team, Peter Koidl and Wolfgang Mock. Unlike cheaper grain mills that have metal grinders, Komo mills use a corundum/ceramic stones. This kind of material generates less heat and higher quality flour. KoMo makes quite a few models in varying capacities. Some are motorized and some are manual. They also make an interchangeable milling insert if you need to keep glutenous and non-glutenous products separate.

The salesperson showed me how easy it is to disassemble the mill for cleaning.  The two models I was considering were the KoMo Magic and the KoMo Medium Grain Mill. I got so excited that I had to use supernatural powers of resistance to keep the credit card from flying out of my wallet on the spot.

Komo's "FlicFloc Manual Flaker."

Komo’s “FlicFloc Manual Flaker.”

In addition to grain mills they also make a manual flaker, the “FlicFloc” with a striking, triangular design. For now, I’ll stick with my crapular $30 surplus store flaker. They also make a number of kitchen granaries that had me reaching for the credit card.

The only downside I can see to KoMo products is price. But these mills seem so well designed that I’m fairly certain they will long outlive cheaper mills. If you have one please leave a comment.

Thankfully there’s an entire youtube channel devoted to spinning KoMo grain mill porn. I’m cancelling my Netflix! And, sorry, but I have to note how much these mills look like a herma (NSFW!)

Is Bob’s Red Mill’s Farro Actually Spelt?

Bob's Red Mill's "Farro"

Spelt or farro?

Bob’s Red Mill has introduced a new product they are marketing as “farro,” identified on their website as Triticum spelta or . . . spelt. What’s going on here?

Three grains, emmer (Triticum dicoccum), spelt (Triticum spelta) and einkorn (riticum monococcum) are, according to Wikipedia, “sometimes (but not always) distinguished as farro medio, farro grande, and farro piccolo, respectively.” To add to the confusion spelt and einkorn, are also known as faricella, or “little farro” in Italian.

Confused? According to a 1997 article in the New York Times, “Farro, Italy’s Rustic Staple: The Little Grain That Could,” “true” farro is emmer (Triticum dicoccum) and considered superior to spelt.

The distinction between farro (Triticum dicoccum) and spelt (Triticum spelta) is important. Triticum dicoccum, has different genetics than Triticum spelta. Specifically Triticum dicoccum has four chromosomes, Triticum spelta has six. There are unproven theories that more chromosomes may equal more allergenic compounds. This is why there’s an interest in primitive wheats like Triticum dicoccum and einkorn (which has only two chromosomes). There are also important culinary distinctions between true farro and spelt. They taste and are prepared differently.

I’m not saying that spelt is bad. And Bob’s Red Mill is not making any health claims for their “farro.” None of these grains are gluten free. I’ve written Bob’s Red Mill for clarification about their “farro” and will include their response when I get one.

To learn more about why genetic distinctions between wheat varieties is important, watch this Extension Service webinar, “The “Ancient” Grains Einkorn, Emmer, and Spelt: What We Know and What We Need to Find Out.”

Update 3/9/2014: I spoke to a sales representative from Bob’s Red Mill who told me that their farro is spelt that has been scarified. Sorry Bob, but farro is not spelt.