Olive Questions

Lacking an Italian or Greek grandmother, I’ve got to crowdsource my olive curing questions. So, my dear Root Simple readers: have you cured olives? What method did you use and how did they turn out?

The Frantoio olive tree that I planted in the parkway a few years ago produced a bumper crop of olives this year. Last year every single olive hosted olive fruit fly maggots. This summer, to reduce the olive fruit fly population I put some torula yeast lures in a McPhail trap in the tree and removed any fruit that had any signs of infestation. I change out the yeast tabs every month. The strategy seems to have greatly reduced the infestation. I lost probably around a third of the olives but had more than enough un-maggoty olives to fill three half-gallon jars. Today I plan on sweeping up any olives on the ground and removing any remaining olives from the tree to, as much as possible, further knock the olive fruit fly population.

Contents of the McPhail trap.

I chose a brine method to cure the olives and followed the recipe in the informative UC Davis publication, Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling. With any luck I should have olives in three to six months. The Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog suggests changing out the brine periodically, which leads to more questions for readers: do you change out your brine? How did you season the brine?

While my attempt at growing annual vegetables was a disaster this year, let me say how thankful Kelly and I are to have planted fruit trees ten years ago. The most successful: pomegranates, figs and olives.

If you’d like to try curing olives, but don’t have any trees of your own, you can always forage them. In the past month I’ve spotted fruiting olive trees in Hollywood on a side street adjacent to the Kaiser complex, in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. Just don’t use the scarred fruit as that’s the sign of maggots.

133 Trees of Power with Akiva Silver

On this 133rd episode of the Root Simple podcast Kelly and I talk to Akiva Silver of Twisted Tree Farm, described in his author bio as a “homestead, nut orchard and nursery located in Spencer, New York where he grows around 20,000 trees a year using practices that go beyond organic.” Akiva’s background is in “foraging, wilderness survival and primitive skills.” He is also the author of Trees of Power: Ten Essential Arboreal Allies (Amazon, library) just published by Chelsea Green. In our conversation we discuss how trees could replace a lot of the staple crops in our diet. During the podcast we also rap about:

  • J. Russel Smith Tree Crops (Free download on Archive.org)
  • Kat Anderson Tending the Wild
  • Mulch, soil and water
  • Processing acorns
  • Exotics vs. natives – should we learn to love the invasives?
  • Tree of heaven!
  • Coppicing and pollarding
  • Arborist fails and #arboristfails
  • How to plant trees

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Pegu Club: The Perfect Summer Cocktail

Don’t you hate those internet recipes with the book length introductions? So let’s get straight to the point. It’s hot, there’s a lot too worry about in this world and you need a cocktail. You need to make the Pegu Club your official summer libation.

Pegu Club Cocktail
1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce orange curaçao (or Triple Sec if you’re cheap like me)
1 teaspoon lime juice
Dash bitters

Shake with crushed ice, strain and serve in a martini glass with a slice of lime. The Angostura bitters will give the drink a pleasant, pink tinge and a flavor reminiscent of grapefruit.

Yes we’ve blogged about this vintage cocktail before. But I’ll repeat the backstory now that you’ve proved yourself to be one of the freaks who like to read verbose internet recipes. This was the house cocktail in the 1920s at Burma’s Pegu Club, a gentleman’s establishment for British Army officers and government officials. The cocktail faded into obscurity only to be revived during the heady early years of the vintage cocktail revival of the aughts. The cocktail went viral and even inspired a new Pegu Club in New York.

Now, really, put down your phone and go mix one.

Raw Pork Sandwich Anyone?

Image: Nize from Wikipedia.

Our web and book designer Roman Jaster dropped by the Root Simple compound for an annual look under the hood at our website’s internal workings. After spending most of the meeting calming me down over my existential crisis relating to the troubles of running a blog long past when blogs were still a thing, Roman mentioned an unusual sandwich called Hackepeter that he ate on his last trip back to where he grew up in East Germany.

Image: Boris Kumicak + Kai Namslau from Wikipedia.

Also known as Mett, let it be known that we’re talking about a sandwich made from raw pork. The buffet version is, inexplicably, shaped into a stylized 1970s hedgehog with the addition of chopped onions. Hackenpeter or Mett is a simple dish consisting of just pork, salt, pepper and sometimes caraway seeds, garlic and raw onions in the case of the hedgehog version. Sometimes it’s topped with a raw egg. Germans commonly buy it from a butcher already spiced.

As our web design meeting continued, my aversion to barfing prompted an extended conversation on food safety that, as usual, left the question of the wisdom of culinary thrill seeking unanswered. Sometimes you just have to have to strap on the wingsuit and visit the raw oyster, fugu and Hackenpeter buffet line. In the case of raw pork the safety issues involve salmonella and, more rarely, trichinosis, which is caused by a nematode. Trichinosis is rare in Germany as all pigs are inspected for the disease at slaughter.

As for the etymology of this dish, Mett comes from the Old Saxon word for “food.” German speakers will have to help me figure out why this pork tartare dish is also known as “hackepeter” or “chopped Peter” in English.

While looking up hackepeter recipes I came across the German version of Eric of Garden Fork who has a Hackepeter video for you as well as a nice pyramidal greenhouse thingy. Here’s a recipe in English if you’d like to roll your own batch of Hackenpeter.

Roman had the idea of creating a special Root Simple podcast, in the vein of Serial, where we trace the origin of Hackepeter and eat and drink our way across Germany. Guess that’s what our Patreon is for folks . . .

The Virtues of Gerard’s Herbal

That last bastion of sanity on the internets, Archive.org, hosts a copy of John Gerard’s 16th century bestselling foraging manual, The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes. I’ve embeddified it as an alternative to spending an evening staring at the Netflix browse menu or as an opportunity for workplace dinkering.

Here’s how the University of Virginia describes it,

Gerard was superintendent of the gardens of William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth. Gerard was one of the most respected plant experts of his time, but, strangely, he was not the primary author of the famous herbal that bears his name. Except for the additions of several plants from his own garden and from North America, Gerard’s herbal is simply an English translation of Dutch scholar Rembert Dodoen’s highly popular herbal of 1554.

I appreciate Gerard’s (Dodoen’s?) Herbal for two reasons, first the beautiful illustrations but principally for one word that Gerard uses. Where a modern plant guide would have a section devoted to the “uses” of a particular plant, Gerard uses the word “virtue” instead. I propose a revival of this word when we speak of plants.

“Use,” like so many other things in our culture, is far too utilitarian. Speaking of the “uses” of plants reminds me of a professor in my music department who, when arriving at a party, asked the department secretary, “who’s the most powerful person in this room?” so that he would not have to “waste” his time with simply enjoying the company of other people.

Speaking of the “virtues” of plants seems much more civilized.