Primitive Grain Storage Technique

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When thinking about technology, I like to play with the idea of what is the absolute minimum you need to get the job done.  This may be because I’m not very handy at building things, but yet have survivalist tendencies. So while I’m pretty sure I’ll never actually have any need for these skills, it’s fun to think about how I’d get by in a DIY world.

So I was delighted when I ran across this minimalist grain storage technique on the BBC documentary series, A History of Celtic Britain (2011), hosted by Neil Oliver of the Delicious Scottish Accent. (I am watching it on YouTube. Fingers crossed the BBC will not take it down before I finish it!)  I love this technique because while it is simple, it is far from stupid.

The technique is described by the Dave Freeman of the Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire, where they’ve been experimenting with grain storage iron-age style (c. 400 BCE.).  Turns out all you need to do is dig a pit in the soil. The pits they dug are circular, and look to be 2 or 3 feet in diameter, and maybe 3 or 4 feet deep.

So you may ask, how can you pour grain into a hole in the ground and expect it to keep? The secret is a clay cap on the top. In the screen grab below you can see the cap and some feet for scale:

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If you go to YouTube,  you can watch this sequence starting around 52:36, but what Freemen says is that when the grain goes in the pit and is sealed with a clay cap, the clay blocks out moisture, air and light. Moisture is still available at the sides and bottom of the pit, of course, especially as they are in green Hampshire.

The grain touching the sides of the pit sucks the moisture out of the soil at the edges, and uses it to attempt to germinate. The germination process sucks up oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, effectively clearing the chamber of oxygen. At that point, as Neil puts it, “Time stops.” Nothing can grow, nothing changes. The grain cache keeps for at least a year, perhaps two years, and provided a very handy safety backup for hard working iron age farmers. And some very basic appropriate tech for modern armchair survivalists to ponder.

Saturday Linkages: Killer Bees, Bikes and Cold Coffee

Low tech bike lever via

Low tech bike shift lever via No Tech Magazine.

Low-tech Bike Shift Lever http://www.notechmagazine.com/2013/10/low-tech-bike-shift-lever.html …

Before The Age of Automobiles, Cyclists Fought For Better Roads http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/before-the-age-of-automobiles-cyclists-fought-for-bett-1450090817 …

Stop Trying to Make Killer Bees Happen http://shar.es/IqK8T 

Designing Urban Agriculture: http://www.cityfarmer.info/2013/10/27/designing-urban-agriculture-a-complete-guide-to-the-planning-design-construction-maintenance-and-management-of-edible-landscapes/ …

Why the Brain Prefers to Read on Paper http://www.notechmagazine.com/2013/10/why-the-brain-prefers-to-read-on-paper.html …

HOWTO make a bike-charged emergency battery: http://boingboing.net/2013/10/29/howto-make-a-bike-charged-emer.html …

Easy cold-brew coffee with a French press: http://boingboing.net/2013/10/30/easy-cold-brew-coffee-with-a-f.html …

Ten Steps You Can Take Right Now Against Internet Surveillance https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/10/ten-steps-against-surveillance …

Whole Grain Baking Class With Craig Ponsford

As a co-founder of the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, I’m happy to announce a special whole wheat baking class with Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie gold medalist Craig Ponsford. Craig will be coming to Los Angeles November 19 and 20th. Registration is on the LA Bread Baker’s meetup page. Here’s more info on the class:

Join award-winning baker Craig Ponsford in a six-hour hands-on exploration of baking with whole grain flour made from California wheat. Craig’s demonstrations will feature four of the following: English Muffins, Cinnamon Morning Buns, Vegetable Croissants, Pretzels, and Challah, among others. This class will repeat on the 20th.

Craig Ponsford graduated from the California Culinary Academy with top honors and opened Artisan Bakers with his family in Sonoma California in 1992. In 1996 his breads won the Gold medal at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris. He then went on to coach the US Team to victory in 1999. He has coached or trained each U.S. team since and served as U.S. judge at the 2002 and 2005 Coupe du Monde and 2007 Louis LeSaffre Cup held in Argentina. He currently is an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California and has his own bakery/innovation center, Ponsford’s Place, in his home town of San Rafael.

The classes will be held at Guittard Chocolate’s facility in Los Angeles. Lunch is included and will be prepared by Donald Wressell, Guittard Pastry Chef.

Class size is limited to 12 students per day. Due to the hands-on nature of this class and limited number of spots available, there will also be a 7-day cancellation policy in effect. No refunds will be issued after November 12th.

Sponsored by the California Wheat Commission and the Los Angeles Bread Bakers.

Bad Forager: Mistaking Hemlock for Fennel

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Hemlock (courtesy of Wikimedia)

Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) are in the same family, the Apiaceae or carrot family (which also includes dill and parsnips and chevril and cumin and anise and corriander and parsley and Queen Anne’s lace and more–a very nice family, all around). Hemlock and fennel share characteristics of that family, having those distinctive umbrella shaped flower clusters which beneficial insects adore, but otherwise they don’t look a whole lot alike.  They do grow to about the same size and have similar growth habits, which means they look sorta the same if you look at them with squinted eyes. But fennel foliage is thready, whereas hemlock leaves are triangle shaped and lacy. And fennel has yellow flowers while hemlock has white flowers. If you bruise a hemlock leaf or sniff a flower it smells kinda nasty, whereas all parts of the fennel taste and smell deliciously like anise/licorice.

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Fennel (courtesy of Wikimedia)

Really, all in all, it’s easy to tell them apart.

Except when they are all dried out.

When they’re all dried out, as they are here after a long, bitter summer which has left everything brown and gasping, they look a lot alike. They are both whittled down to nothing but tall brown flower stalks with a few seeds still clinging to the uppermost stems. In this state, they can look remarkably similar.

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Fennel or hemlock seeds? (photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

And so I was fooled while out on a food forage hike last week. It was grim pickings out there! Acorns seem to be the only thing left to eat in the wild until the rains come. I’d sampled something unpleasant which lingered on my tongue. I wanted to clear the taste and spotted what I thought was the remains of a fennel plant. I pinched off a couple of seeds and put them in my mouth. They didn’t taste like fennel. They didn’t taste like anything at all. So I think I spit them out. Maybe.

As I was in the midst of doing this, I said to our teacher, Pascal, “Here’s some fennel?” As I said it, I wasn’t entirely sure, because the seeds didn’t taste right.

He said, “That’s not fennel, that’s poison hemlock.”

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