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

How to Stake Tomatoes

Our tomato staking method around the Homegrown Evolution compound is simple and lazy. We plant our tomatoes and then surround them with rolled up concrete reinforcing wire. Normally used to reinforce concrete slabs, reinforcing wire comes in 3 1/2′ by 7′ sections. We use a circular saw with a metal blade on it to cut off the bottom rung, so as to leave spiky wires with which to stick the reinforcing wire tubes into the ground, but this is not absolutely necessary.

Once in place that’s it. According to So Cal gardening guru Pat Welsh, tomatoes surrounded by a reinforcing wire staking system need not be pruned nor will they need any additional staking.

Over time the reinforcing wire rusts lending the garden a certain deconstructed vibe.

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 Neufch√Ętel 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 . . .

The 10 Day $25 Survival Pack

This month’s issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, what Homegrown Revolution reads when we’re in a foul Unabomber type mood, has a handy article inspired by this winter’s Kim family tragedy. As you may recall the Kim family got lost on a seldom travelled road in Oregon and spent 10 days without supplies before James Kim finally made a fatal attempt to hike out through the cold. Playing armchair quarterback, the gun-toting off-griders at Backwoods Home have come up with an inexpensive survival pack and the best thing is the article is free and online!

Backwoods Home’s $25 survival pack makes extensive use of the sort of highly prepared ready-to-eat crap food easily found in America’s bloated supermarkets. Normally we wouldn’t touch this stuff, what the French call malbouffe, but its long shelf life and ease of preparation make certain items, such as Knorr chicken and pasta dinner and Maruchan ramen noodle soup ideal foods for emergency kits. These convenience foods are also great for backpacking as they are much cheaper and often tastier than freeze dried camping foods. And Homegrown Revolution can’t resist the irony here, that if and when the “shit comes down” we’ll be using the very products that let to our own destruction.

Of course, the Backwoods Home survival pack is designed for the typical SUV drivin’ American so you’ll have to pimp it out with some lighter weight items to make your “escape from LA” on a bike (trust us, a delightful form of transport in gridlocked traffic). For some lighter options check out the new topics list you’ll see on the right, particularly the preparedness section.