Eating In: The Biosphere Cookbook

This has to be one of the strangest cookbooks ever published, Eating in: From the Field to the Kitchen in Biosphere 2. Author Sally Silverstone was the food systems manager during the much hyped and ultimately disastrous Biosphere “mission” that began in 1991. Without falling down the rabbit hole of discussing what went wrong and why the Biosphere project became fodder for a Pauly Shore movie, I’d just point out the hubris of thinking that you can simulate mother nature in her infinite complexity.  Watch episode 2 of Adam Curtis’ All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace for more on that problem.

Philosophical quibbles aside, what’s interesting about this cookbook is that ambitious suburban homesteaders might be able to, like the Biospherians, source entire meals from the backyard and make use of the bare-bones recipes in this book. And don’t worry about having to grow your own cooking oils–the Biospherians had trouble with that and have thoughtfully skipped any deep fried items.

The Biosphere’s kitchen.

But let’s get to those recipes! For relaxing next the the shore of the Biosphere’s simulated ocean there’s “Beach Blanket Bean Burgers,” “Bean Balls in Cheese and Tomato Sauce” and “Banana Bean Stew.” For meat eaters there’s pork, chicken and tilapia but, as this is the Biosphere, you’ll have to do the slaughtering yourself. And for desert there’s “Biospherian Rice Pudding,” “Biospherian Baked Doughnuts” (made with potatoes) and “Banana Wine.”

Like Archdruid John Michael Greer, I find it hard to believe that the fantasy of orbiting space colonies that inspired the Biosphere seemed doable when I was a kid. It’s obviously time to revise those plans. I have a strong suspicion that in the future we’ll be “eating in” just like the Biospherians, except that our “in” will be good old terra firma.

Don’t store your cucumbers in the fridge

Image courtesy of UC Davis. Photographer: Don Edwards

Just in time for cucumber season, some news that surprises me. Did you know that you should store cucumbers at room temperature?

Credit for my enlightenment goes to UC Davis. (May I just say bless UC Davis for all the good it does?) In this case I’m referencing their department of Post Harvest Technology. According to them, cukes should be stored at room temperature. If you do feel the need to put them in the fridge, they can tolerate up to 3 days of cold storage if they are used soon as they are removed from the refrigerator.

Seems that cucumbers are susceptible to cold injury if held more than 3 days at temperatures lower than 50F/10C. Signs of cold injury are wateriness, pitting on the outside and accelerated decay

Another factoid: Cucumbers are sensitive to ethylene gas, which is put off by some ripening fruits and vegetables. So for longest storage, don’t keep your cukes near melons, tomatoes or bananas.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are also damaged by cold, so keep these on your counter as well.  I’ve highlighted cucumbers in this post, because I think most people refrigerate them as a matter of course–I did, at least. Whereas its more common, I think, to leave tomatoes to ripen on the counter. If you want to read up on any particular fruit or veggie, see the fact sheets linked below.

UC Davis Fact Sheet on Cucumbers

Index of all their many fact sheets

“Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste” — a handy .pdf chart to print out and hang on your fridge.

Erik and Kelly to Speak at Stories Cafe This Saturday

Join us this Saturday June 23rd at 7:30 PM at Stories Books and Cafe in our own neighborhood of Echo Park for a lecture and book signing of our first book The Urban Homestead. We’ll share what’s going on around the Root Simple compound along with some tips and tricks. Looking forward to seeing some blog readers! Stories is located at 1716 West Sunset Blvd. in the beating heart of Echo Park, Los Angeles.

Four Ways to Preserve Prickly Pear Pads (Nopales)

For my final project in the Los Angeles Master Food Preserver Program I attempted to see how many ways I could preserve the abundant pads of the prickly pear cactus that grows in our front yard. Of course they are best fresh, but I like them so much that I wanted to see if I could preserve some for use later in the year. Incidentally, I prepare them fresh by first cutting them into strips and boiling them for five minutes to remove the mucilaginous texture. After boiling I pan fry them and serve them with eggs. It’s a meal that comes, except for the salt, entirely out of the yard. What follows are the methods I used to preserve those tasty pads.

I removed the spines, cut the pads into 3/4 inch strips and boiled them for one minute. I then marinated them for ten minutes in soy sauce and dried them until brittle in an Excalibur dehydrator at 135º F for a couple of hours. Prepared this way they actually taste a bit like beef jerky. You definitely need to spice them–when dried plain they have a bit of a dirt note in terms of taste. Next year I plan on trying some more dried “nopalitos” with some different marinades.

Once again, I removed the spines. cut them into strips and boiled them for one minute. I then packed them in to freezer bags. Freezing is the best method in terms of taste and nutrition. It’s easy and it works great.

I used the this okra recipe from the National Center for Home Preservation for my pickled nopalitos. They turned out very tasty.

Pressure Canned
Prickly pear is sold canned both in water and with a small amount of vinegar.  Unfortunately there are no tested home canning recipes for pressure canned prickly pear pads (this needs to be rectified but is difficult in an era of reduced funding for Extension Services). I used a tested recipe for okra and consumed the product immediately as I don’t trust my own untested pressure canning recipes. The results were acceptable but not exciting–basically they tasted like canned vegetables and had a slightly mushy texture. If I had a tested recipe to work with, that used a small amount of vinegar, perhaps the processing time could be reduced, leading to a crisper result.

Lastly I should mention that I’ve dried and made jelly with the fruit in previous years. If you’ve got a favorite way to preserve the pads or fruit please leave a comment.

Picture Sundays: The Huddle Couch

“It’s a bed. It’s a couch. It’s a multi-functional piece of furniture for laid back lifestyles. The HuddleCouch® offers new possiblilites for entertainment and comfort.”

Believe it or not this ad is dated 1994. And apparently you have to wear a suit to enjoy your HuddleCouch. But the formal attire doesn’t stop this couch from being, “the most fun you can have on a couch or a bed. It’s a way of life!” Indeed.