Mandrake!


Homegrown Revolution chanced upon an amazing book at the library, Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers that has inspired ambitious plans of a fall and winter season of beer making (things are too little too hot around right now for fermentation). What separates Buhner’s book from both the geeked-out world of middle-aged home brew aficionados on the one side and the Budweiser frogs on the down-market other is his emphasis on the ancient and sacred elements of beer making which used to be, he claims, the duty of women, not men.

His chapter, “Psychotropic and Highly Inebriating Beers” contains a number of recipes, including one making use of the mysterious mandrake plant, a member of the nightshade family and popularized lately in a certain series of books about a wizard school (Homegrown Revolution suffered through the first film based on these kid’s books on a transatlantic flight a few years ago, finally falling asleep during an endless video game inspired broom chase scene).

Apparently wherever it appears in the world, mandrake (Atropa mandragora) has always inspired unusual beliefs. Buhner says,

Though all indigenous cultures know that plants can speak with humankind, mandrake is almost the only plant from indigenous European practice about which this belief is still extant. Throughout its Christian European history, it has been believed that when mandrake was harvested, the root would scream, and that the sound would drive the harvester mad.

The roots are said to resemble a human with the top of the plant representing the head as in the illustration above. The plant belongs to the nightshade family and has been used over time, as a purgative, an aphrodisiac, treatment for rheumatism, a means to expel demons among countless other purposes. Pliny used it as an anesthetic, and Buhner offers a beer recipe using a 1/2 once of the dried root. Seeds for mandrake, an endangered plant in many places, are available from Horizon Herbs, a company trying to revive cultivation of the plant.

This summer season we’re surrounded by nightshade plants, tomatoes, ground cherries and eggplant. These common nightshade family members, as well as mandrake and the datura that the local Native Americans used for there spirit journeys, have a strange relationship to human culture, at once edible, sometimes poisonous, sometimes psychotropic. We think we can almost hear them talk.

The Real Injera

Homegrown Revolution was delighted to receive a comment from “Watch Woman“, who is from Ethiopia, reacting to the injera recipe we posted earlier,

From my experience of baking injera, the baking soda/powder, self-rising flour or commercial yeast alters the real taste & texture of teff injera. I say, the restaurants here in the US have the look alike of the injera, but far from the real taste & texture of injera. Sorry but the truth. Just by using one of your starters you can bake good decent injera. No need to add the baking powder/soda.Trust me. See, the reason injera is always sour dough back home is, that it will take some of the bite out of that spicy rather hot stew (doro-wote- spicy, hot chicken & hard boiled egg stew ).

I remember, once I invited a friend of mine (American of course) for lunch. Served this real doro-wote hot, I mean this was the real deal, real hot. Only I forgot to warn him. I remember his face turned pink & his eyes red, bulged out. O my God, what was I thinking? Well my first culture shock. That was some 27 years ago. Now I do not make doro wote that hot myself. I guess —when you live in Rome, —as the Romans,

Best of all, if you go to Watch Woman’s blog she has posted her own recipe for injera and we can’t wait to try it!

Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter Recipe

UPDATE : we have a whole (so to speak) new take on making a starter. See our sourdough starter video for a better way to do this.

Back in March we showed how to make a sourdough starter with white flour. This month we converted a white starter over to whole wheat and have baked many successful loaves of bread with it. The reason that we have to do this conversion rather than starting out with whole wheat flour is that whole wheat tends to get moldy before the beneficial cultures have a chance to take over.

You can use our “Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf” recipe to bake loaves with a whole wheat starter by simply substituting it for the white flour starter. You’ll end up with a loaf that’s about half white, half whole wheat.

To convert a starter from white flour to whole wheat flour do the following:

1. Begin with your white flour starter. Our recipe for creating a white flour starter is in a previous post.

2. Instead of feeding your white flour starter with the usual routine of a half cup of white flour and a half cup of water each day switch to feeding it a half cup of whole wheat flour and a half cup of water.

3. After about a week you will have “converted” your white starter to a wheat starter–hallelujah!

As we emphasized with our recipe for white starter, you must feed the starter every single day or it will begin to rot. This is particularly important with whole wheat flour which will go bad much more quickly. If you can’t keep up with the feeding you can temporarily store the starter in the refrigerator, but for no more than two weeks with whole wheat starter. White starter will last in the fridge for longer.

If this turns your crank, you can sit around your compound watching your sourdough starter bubble while geeking out on Cornell Professor Steven Laurence Kaplan’s book Good Bread is Back, which details the revival of sourdough bread making in France in the early 1990s. Kaplan notes that sourdough,

“rises less than a dough made with baker’s yeast and also more slowly. Its crust is thicker. It keeps significantly longer. It has greater nutritional value, partly because it is richer in certain vitamins and enzymes that are by-products of lactic fermentation, and it contains less phytic acid, which blocks mineral absorption.”

So get that starter going and forget about that crap bread at the supermarket!

A Recipe for Injera


One the many searches that leads folks to this cranky web site is the topic of the Ethiopian sponge bread known as injera. We think we know what’s going on. People go out to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant and come home wondering how to make the bread, leading to a fruitless search of the internets for a recipe and our old post about one of the ingredients, teff flour.

The recipe we used comes from the excellent book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. This is a life changing recipe book that every urban homesteader should own–so go out and buy a copy!

So here’s how we made injera based on Katz’s recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups sourdough starter (check out our post on an easy way to keep and maintain a sourdough starter)

5 cups lukewarm water

2 cups whole-wheat flour

2 cups teff flour (an Ethiopian grain available from Bob’s Red Mill at Whole Foods)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda or baking powder (optional)

Vegetable oil

1. Mix the sourdough starter, flours and water. The result should resemble a pancake batter.

2. Ferment in a warm place for 24 hours.

3. Just before you cook add the salt.

4. Katz gives several options with the baking powder/soda. He says that if you like the sour flavor and don’t mind a less bubbly bread skip the baking soda. We like sour, but we thought the final result was too sour so we added the baking soda. Katz says that using baking powder will provide leavening but leave the dough sour. Again, we recommend adding some baking soda.

5. Stir well and let sit for a few minutes after adding baking soda or powder.

6. Heat up a pan and and lightly coat it with oil.

7. Spread the batter thinly in the pan and cook on one side only. Cover the pan and cook the injera over medium heat.

Injera works as both bread and utensil and the batch we made tasted better than what we’ve been served in restaurants.

Daikon Radish Pickles

 Don’t cut your radishes like this!
Cut them in coins. See comments.

Even though we know–intellectually–that for centuries people have preserved food via lacto-fermentation, again, as with cultured milk, it is a head trip for grocery store kids like us to soak some veggies in brine for a few weeks, open them up and chow down.

Lacto-Fermentation is a process in which naturally occurring lactic acid producing bacteria are allowed to multiply. The lactic acid that they produce prevents the growth of the kinds of bacteria that cause spoilage. Thus lacto-fermentation is a method of preserving foods as well as a way of creating a distinct flavor. Lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, Swiss cheese, and sourdough bread among many others.

Lactic acid producing bacterias, and there are many different varieties, tend to have a high tolerance for salt unlike their unwanted bacterial cousins. The process of lacto-fermentation begins with creating a brine, which is the is the way pickles used to be made–most store bought pickles are now made with vinegar due to unwarranted safety concerns over lacto-fermentation.

Today, sauerkraut is the best known lacto-fermented food. Dill pickles are traditionally made this way too. In an old country store pickle barrel, lacto fermented pickles would sit out all winter long. All they’d do is make sure the brine always covered the pickles. They’d get stronger flavored, and softer textured as the year went on, but they lasted.

We look forward to trying this with cucumbers, but for this first experiment we used a big, pretty daikon from the farmers market. The entire process is amazingly simple:

Stir up a brine solution of 2 Tablespoons sea salt (un-iodized salt) to 1 quart water. Note that you must use salt that has no additives-check the ingredients of your salt to make sure that it contains nothing but salt. Additives in salt can prevent the lacto-fermentation process from occurring. Bottled water is best, but we used LA tap with no ill effects. The worry is that the chlorine in tap water will also interfere with the culture.

Peel and slice the daikon, and pack it into a very clean quart sized mason jar. Add a peeled garlic clove if you want. Pour the brine over the slices until the jar is nearly full. Leave just a little room at the top for gas expansion. Put the lid on, and place it your cupboard for as long as you can wait. A week, two weeks, a month–the flavor changes over time. We waited 2 weeks.

When we opened the jar it hissed and fizzed, and let off the powerful aroma of sauerkraut. We fished out the first slice, sniffed it and eyeballed it like curious but frightened monkeys. An uninformed and vague discussion of botulism followed. Finally the gauntlet was thrown down, and the challenge could not be ignored: are we wimps or are we homesteaders? So we ate of the fruit. Or one of us did. The other stood by ready to dial 911.

Yum! Our pickled daikons are salty and garlic-y and firm, and taste a lot like a good garlic dill, only with a different texture. Now that the jar is open, we’re keeping it in the fridge.

Fallen Fruit

Homegrown Revolution tagged along on a neighborhood tour with the beige jump-suit clad fruit foraging collective known as Fallen Fruit. Our capable guides, David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young, led a group of well over fifty folks through a hilly part of Silver Lake just above the 99 cent store in search of street grown loquats, (in great abundance right now) kumquats, oranges, lemons, bananas, carob trees and more. We all ended up back at LA’s non-profit du jour, Machine Project for banjo music and samples of the evening’s harvest.

At times our tour group, resembled a sort of pedestrian critical mass as startled motorists gawked at the sight of people actually walking in LA. Along the way Fallen Fruit eloquently stated the case for public edible plantings and a plea for a neighborhood dynamic based on sharing a street-grown harvest. Like the folks behind Rebar, who turn parking spaces into temporary parks, Fallen Fruit’s mission ultimately is to get us to profoundly reconsider our neglected and underutilized public spaces. And these citrus revolutionaries have issued a manifesto:

A SPECTER is haunting our cities: barren landscapes with foliage and flowers, but nothing to eat. Fruit can grow almost anywhere, and can be harvested by everyone. Our cities are planted with frivolous and ugly landscaping, sad shrubs and neglected trees, whereas they should burst with ripe produce. Great sums of money are spent on young trees, water and maintenance. While these trees are beautiful, they could be healthy, fruitful and beautiful.

WE ASK all of you to petition your cities and towns to support community gardens and only plant fruit-bearing trees in public parks. Let our streets be lined with apples and pears! Demand that all parking lots be landscaped with fruit trees which provide shade, clean the air and feed the people.

FALLEN FRUIT is a mapping and manifesto for all the free fruit we can find. Every day there is food somewhere going to waste. We encourage you to find it, tend and harvest it. If you own property, plant food on your perimeter. Share with the world and the world will share with you. Barter, don’t buy! Give things away! You have nothing to lose but your hunger

They also have a set of handy maps of publicly accessible fruit in a couple of neighborhoods and a video for those who missed the fun last night. Rumor has it they will be doing a jam making session sometime this summer and SurviveLA will be there.

Now we just need another collective of clever revolutionaries to deal with LA’s other great street resource–abandoned mattresses and couches.

Fermentation Update–Filmjölk

Survive LA declares Fermentation Month a success!

During the month of March the Homegrown Revolution kitchens were full of strange jars full of burbling mixtures. We are pleased to report that none of these experiments have failed, and that we have not yet succeeded in contracting food poisoning.

One of our most successful ferments was a Swedish milk product called filmjölk. This starter came to us as an unexpected gift. We’d never been filmjölk drinkers before, but were willing to give it a go. There are three ways to get the culture you need to produce this beverage: live in Sweden and buy a carton of it in the store, order the culture from a supplier such as G.E.M. Cultures, or what we did–meet someone who smuggled it back from Sweden.

Like sourdough you must keep your filmjölk milk starter alive: we made more filmjölk with the small amount we were given by putting 2 teaspoons of the culture in a quart of milk and leaving it out on our counter top overnight. Filmjölk culture, by the way, is not something special–it is just filmjölk, the same as you drink–you just use one week’s filmjölk to make the next week’s, and so on and so on.

Now, as a thoroughly industrialized people, it does go against the grain to leave dairy products just sitting around at room temperature. But power to the people, it works! The next day we had a jar full of kind of chunky, yogurty stuff, which was not rancid, but really quiet tasty. We shook it up to remove the lumps before drinking it.

We must confess that only one of us partook of that first glass, since our other Homegrown Revolution compound comrade is a bit of a, dare we say it, pussy when it comes to drinking questionable milk products.

As of now we’re treating the stuff like a salty lassi –meaning we pimp it out with a little salt, fresh cracked pepper and crushed fresh mint.

Loquat Season

For some mysterious reason our corner of Los Angeles has an abundance of loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica) that, at this time of year, produce prodigious amounts of fruit that mostly goes to waste. Many of these trees live in public spaces, the parkway and people’s front yards making them prime candidates for urban foraging i.e. free food.

The tree itself has a vaguely tropical appearance with waxy leaves that look like the sort of plastic foliage that used to grace dentist office lobbies back in the 1960s. In short it’s a real tree that looks fake with fruit that nobody seems to care about.

The loquat tree invites considerable derision from east coast types. Blogmeister, extreme cyclist, and fellow stair climber Will Campbell came to the defense of the under-appreciated loquat in one of his missives a few years back. And up-and-coming rock musical performance artists My Barbarian give the loquat an amusing cameo appearance in their video Pagan Rights, Part IV.

We’ve noticed that the street loquats we’ve sampled vary widely in quality, due perhaps to genetics or simply the amount of water they get. Apparently most loquat trees are sold as seedlings, but if you’re planning on planting one of these things it’s best to get one that has been grafted specifically to produce quality fruit. Much like an apricot tree, the loquat tree will produce larger and better quality fruit if you cull some of the future harvest early in the season.

So while the geeks at boingboing link to the latest Second Life phenomenon, Homegrown Revolution is proud to present a more useful set of loquat linkages:

General loquat info

Loquat jellies and jams

Loquat wine

Loquat chutney

Dog Cheese

As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin put it, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman who lacks an eye” and we’d add that a cheese without life, without flavor, without character like so much of the tasteless plastic wrapped crap to be found in our nation’s supermarkets simply isn’t worthy of the table.

As urban homesteaders we’re particularly interested in finding sources of food in our dense concrete jungles, and we are not alone. The movement is full of solutions to small scale animal husbandry: from pigmy goats, to pot-bellied pigs, city dwellers are trying to do that farm thing in the city–but sometimes with limited success.

So we were thrilled to find out that one of the best solutions for the urban livestock problem might be just underfoot. Two weeks ago we hooked up with some true revolutionaries out in the San Porn-ando Valley who are breeding dogs specifically for their lactation abilities. For obvious reasons they wish to remain anonymous just now. They have three bitches currently lactating.

We went to pay them a visit, and after a few beers we gathered up the courage to milk the bitches. This ain’t Bessy the Moo Cow we’re talking about here–but no one ever said living in the city was easy. We came home with a bucket full of dog milk.

We’ve already proved that a decent Neufchâtel can be produced in a home kitchen with store bought cow’s milk and bottle of rennet (which curdles the milk). Improvising on the same recipe we managed to turn that gallon or so of dog milk into a soft farmhouse-type round of what we believe to be a first . . . dog cheese.

The taste? It is full bodied, and a little musky at first whiff, but salting the cheese really brings out a nice, distinct Frito odor which makes it a natural pairing with beer and three bean dip. Kids like it too.

L’hamd markad – Preserved Salted Lemons

One of the big problems with citrus trees is that you get a whole lot of fruit all at one time. There are two ways to deal with this–share the harvest and/or preserve it. Homegrown Revolution has done both this week by mooching some lemons off of a friend’s tree and preserving them by making one of the essential ingredients of Moroccan food, L’hamd markad or preserved salted lemons. L’hamd markad is easy to make. Here’s a recipe from Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Morse:

12 or more unblemished organically grown Meyer or other lemons, scrubbed
Sea salt
fresh lemon juice as needed

Pat lemons dry. Cut a thin dime-sized piece from both ends of each lemon. Set each lemon on end and make a vertical cut three quarters of the way through, so halves remain attached at the base – do not cut all the way through. Turn lemon upside down and make a similar cut through at a 90 degree angle to the first. Fill each cut with as much salt as it will hold. Place lemons carefully in a sterilized wide-mouth glass quart jar. Compress lemons while adding them until no space is left and lemon juice rises to the top. Lemons must be covered with juice at all times, so add lemon juice if necessary. Seal and set aside in dark place.

Keep for 4 to 6 weeks before using. To use, discard seeds, and rinse lightly if necessary. Once opened, store in refrigerator where they will keep up to 6 months.

In the photo you will see that we added some spices to our lemons. This is an optional thing. A traditonal spice blend would be something like 3 peppercorns, 3 cloves and one cinnamon stick.

Also, we found it impossible to follow the command in the recipe to cut the lemons this way and that, cleverly leaving them whole and stuffing them with salt. That just didn’t work because our lemons were too big to fit in the mouth of the jar while whole. You see, we’re using honkin’ big ghetto lemons, not nice little Meyers. So we cut them up into quarters and just made sure they were well coated in salt.

You can use your L’hamd markad in a variety of dishes, from salads to meat stews. You use them in a relish sort of way, as a salty-sour accent. We want to try chopping them fine, blending them with other tasty things, like garlic, and sprinkling them on everything from greens to pizza.

There’s also an expensive condiment you can recreate at home by blending together 2 preserved lemons lemons, 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, 1/4 cup honey, 1 garlic clove, salt and pepper. Blend in some olive oil until it gets the consistency of mayonnaise.

Moroccan cuisine makes a lot of sense in Los Angeles as the two places have similar climates and all the stuff that grows in Morocco also grows in Southern California–olives, tomatoes, fava beans, dates, and mint. The only thing we’re missing are the sheep . . .