Friday, October 28, 2011

Hermit Cookies

Healthful cookies to have on hand for Halloween! (or anytime!)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
7/8 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup date pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease two cookie sheets.
Use wire whisk to beat the eggs in a large bowl.
Add oil, sugar, and molasses, and whisk again.
In a medium bowl, combine flours with baking soda, salt, and spices.
Add to sugar mixture and mix well.
Stir in nuts and date pieces.
Roll into balls the size of walnuts and place on cookie sheets 2 inches apart.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes.
Transfer to wire racks to cool.
Makes 3 dozen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Planting Garlic

Cool weather is here in New England.  Time to plant daffodils and garlic.  I mention the daffodil, because, if you're familiar with the life cycle of the daffodil, that will help you understand the timing for the different elements of garlic culture.  Since the garlic is planted in the fall and not harvested till mid-July, you need to plan to put it where you can work around it in your garden bed in the spring. 
So let's begin with the garden plan.  Like most things in the vegetable garden, garlic likes full sun and rich, friable, well drained soil.  Having a plan on paper is a good way of keeping track from year to year of the locations of various plantings.  Rotation of crops is one of the cornerstones of organic growing and effective rotation requires a blueprint for the future based on an accurate record of the past.

The next step is to lay out the bed.  Our beds are four feet wide, and allow for four rows, spaced twelve inches apart. 

But before laying out your rows, it's a good idea to soften the soil by double-digging it or by using a broadfork.  This is to break up the compaction of the subsoil. 

A good broadfork can be purchased at Johnny's Selected Seeds,
 but we had this one fabricated by a local blacksmith.  Our soil is very rocky.  Even this tough fork has been back to the shop for repairs!
Once you have softened your soil and raked it out smooth, draw shallow trenches in the soil 12 inches apart. Poke 2 inch deep holes every 4 inches.

Next, tuck a clove into each hole, basal end down.  One half pound of garlic cloves should plant 100 row feet.
Here you see the "basal plate" of the clove, which goes downward when planted.  The roots will grow from this base, while the leaves will shoot up from the pointy end of the clove.
Use a rake to fill the holes, and then add 5 - 6 inches of straw mulch. 
We've added a chicken wire cage as protection from marauding deer.

Here at Full Circle Farm, we grow two types of stiffneck garlic, "Red Chec," and "German Extra Hardy."  Stiffneck garlic varieties are generally considered to be more flavorful than softneck varieties, and are thus more popular with
home growers and gourmet restaurants. 
I hope you are inspired to plant even a small patch of garlic.  Its health benefits are widely recognized.  And you can never have too much.  Because its flavor is superior to grocery store garlic, it is always a welcome gift for friends and family.  When we harvest more than we need for the year for ourselves and friends, our local food co-op is always happy to purchase whatever we can supply.

And you can save out part of your harvest for next year's "seed!"

 For more information on garlic varieties and production, see the book
"Growing Great Garlic" by Ron Engeland

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Blueberry Pancakes

Sunday morning 9 AM phone call: our son is calling from his home in Boston to get Jack's pancake recipe.
Sunday morning pancakes are a tradition around here, usually with fresh or frozen blueberries.  
If you wish to use frozen blueberries, get them out of the freezer the night before.  Shake out one cup of berries and let them thaw overnight.
Here's the recipe:

2 eggs
2 cups milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 and 1/2  cups whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder.
1 cup blueberries

(If  your baking powder has lumps, push thru a strainer or otherwise break them up.)

Beat the eggs, then add milk and oil and beat well.
Mix the dry ingrdients thoroughly.
Mix dry and wet ingredients together.  Stir in berries.

Heat your griddle.  It's ready when a drop of water flicked on it jumps and sputters and is gone. Lightly oil the griddle.

Ladle batter onto the griddle, and cook 2 - 3 minutes on the first side, until bubbles form, but before they pop.

Flip and cook about 2 minutes on second side.

Serve with organic butter and real maple syrup.  Smiles all around.


Saturday, October 8, 2011


This year we had a good crop of Storage #4 Cabbage.  We started these cabbages from seed in the greenhouse on April 9th and put them out on June 2nd.  We put a thin row cover over the plants to keep the cabbage moths out of them.  We kept this protective cover on all summer.

In the past we've made lacto-fermented sauerkraut in quart jars, but this year we're making it in a five gallon crock.  Here's how:

Remove the outer leaves and any damaged portions from firm, mature heads of cabbage.  Wash them off and allow to drain.  We use modified laundry baskets for this purpose.  They have holes drilled in the bottom so water can drain out.

Cut cabbage into halves and quarters and remove core.  Shred with a box shredder or use a sharp knife to cut into shreds or chunks.  Ours is pretty chunky.
Place in a large bowl as you chop it.
We use a baby scale to weigh out 5 pounds of cabbage.

 Recipes vary as to how much salt to sprinkle on the cabbage to draw out the moisture that creates the brine in which the cabbage will ferment.  We decided on two teaspoons per pound, so we added 10 teaspoons to our 5 pounds.  Then we stirred the salt in well and let the cabbage sit until it looked wet and shiny.
Next pack an even layer of cabbage into your crock, about two inches thick.

 Tamp it down with your fist or a sturdy kitchen implement.  We use a sturdy little glass vase.  The tamping packs the kraut tight and helps force the water out of the cabbage.  Keep adding cabbage in two inch layers, tamping them down as you go.

I'm not sure if this photo conveys this, but the sides and bottom of this vase are very thick:
thicker than a canning jar, for instance.
 Once all of your cabbage is packed in, tamp it down and let it rest until you can see the level of liquid is up to the top of the cabbage.*
Place a plate on top of the cabbage and weigh it down with a jar full of water.  This will continue to force water out of the cabbage and keep it submerged under the brine.

Cover the crock with a clean dish towel to keep the dust and flies out.  A room temperature of 68 - 72 degrees is best for fermenting cabbage.  Check the kraut every day or two.  The volume reduces as fermentation proceeds.  As a result of contact with air, sometimes mold will appear on the surface. Skim this off as best you can with a spoon. (Don't worry if you can't get it all - this is just a surface phenomenon and your kraut is safely under the anaerobic protection of the brine.)  Rinse off the plate and the weight before returning them to the crock.
The kraut will be tangy in just a few days.  You can scoop out a jarful to keep in the fridge for easy consumption as soon as you like.  Just be sure to repack the kraut carefully: make sure the kraut is packed tightly in the crock, the surface level, and the dish and weight are clean.

*Some cabbage, especially if it is old, contains less water.  In this case, the level of brine may not be visible by the time you need to move on to other projects.  Go ahead and cover with the plate and weight and dish towel.  Press down on the weight.  Repeat every hour or so, until the brine rises up to the plate.  If the brine is not up to the plate by the next day, make up a brine solution of 1 tablespoon salt per cup of water. Add enough of this salt water to bring the level of brine up to the plate.    

Enjoy your sauerkraut: the taste and the benefit to your digestion that comes with adding lacto-fermented foods to your diet. 

References for this posting are:
WIld Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hot Pepper Rings

This is a recipe for pickled pepper rings.  The Original recipe, in The Homesteading Recipe Book by Patricia Crawford, called for sweet peppers, but we love it with hot peppers.
These are Anaheim peppers, hot but on the mild side of hot...
Be sure to wear your rubber gloves when you handle hot peppers. 
This is a very easy way tp preserve your peppers, if you are set up to do water bath canning.  If you're not, you can make these as a refrigerator pickle. You will need:

6 green peppers
6 red peppers
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups vinegar

In a large pan, mix together the vinegar and the sugar. Bring to a boil, and stir and simmer for five minutes.

Remove the tops, membranes, and seeds from the peppers and slice into 1/4 inch wide rings.  (See top photo, not the one with the gloves.)

Place in a large, non-reactive bowl (ceramic, glass, or stainless steel.)  Cover with boiling water and let stand for two minutes.

Drain and pack into hot, sterile jars, preferably straight sided.

Pour the syrup over the peppers to within 1/4 inch of the top of the jar. To remove air bubbles, run a plastic butter knife gently down the inside edges of the jar, and then press toward the center.  You will see the bubbles rush to the top of the jar.

Adjust the amount of liquid, if needed, to have just 1/4 inch of head space.  Seal and process* for 10 minutes for half pints or pints.
*If you have never done water bath canning before, please refer to the Ball Blue Book  guide to home canning and freezing. Canning is not rocket science but neither is it foolproof. There is more to know than I can provide in this blog format so please don't risk spoilage or foodborne illness.

You can also learn about water bath canning at:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Roasted Hot Peppers

This was a good year for peppers, and with the deer starting to wipe out everything in the garden, we've harvested all of the peppers, sweet and hot.  These peppers are Anaheims, not real hot, but hot enough for us.  (In the past we pickled Jalapenos and never ate them.)
For us, roasting peppers is a two day process; Jack grills them in the evening and lets them cool overnight.  Peppers should be grilled until the skin turns black and crispy.  Then put the peppers in a paper bag and fold over the top so the peppers are in a little steam bath.

When the peppers are cool, put on rubber gloves and strip the skins off with a sharp knife.  This is a messy job, but these peppers are so good on sandwiches all winter, you'll be glad you made them!!
Now pack the peppers in freezer jars: (straight sides, slightly wider at the top, because liquids EXPAND  as they freeze.) We put a little olive oil in the bottom of each jar, and drizzle a little more on top of the peppers once they're packed in there.  Probably not necessary to their keeping quality, but it gives them a nice consistency when thawed out, and after you eat the peppers, you can use the remaining oil in your salad dressing.

Put on the two part lids, label, and freeze. Be sure to leave 1/2 inch "head space" at the top of the jar to allow for expansion.

Here's a close-up of Jack stripping the skin off the pepper. 
I hesitated to post it here because I took this shot before he remembered to put on his gloves.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Leek Potato Soup

Here's a good way to use up some of those less than perfect potatoes from the home garden.  You know the ones I mean...poked by the potato hook, or tasted by the vole...
If you look closely, you may be able to see the holes in the potatoes.  I will cut away any bad parts and put them in the compost.  Also shown are my newly harvested leeks and some chives for garnish.  Leeks are great for cooking in a chunky soup like this because they break down so completely in the cooking process: giving the soup a full, creamy texture without the addition of cream (extra calories,) or the need to puree in an appliance (extra dishes to wash.)

Once you have gathered all your ingredients, set a kettle of water on to boil.  About two quarts will do.

Now chop your leeks into medallions about 1/8 inch thick.  Saute them right in the soup pot, to keep your dishes down to a minimum.  Saute in oil or butter, or a little of each.  Add salt, pepper, and dried basil or oregano.  I added some chopped chives and parsley as well. When leeks turn golden and translucent, carefully add about two inches of boiling water.  Then cut your potato into bite sized chunks and add to the boiling stock.  Add some chopped carrots if you have them. Keep chopping potatoes and adding them to the soup, adding more water as needed to keep everything covered. Simmer until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.
You'll notice that I've not given you specific amounts.  I've given you my basic process for making soup:
  • bring 2 qts. water to a boil in a tea kettle while you chop vegetables
  • in a stock pot saute the "aromatics:" onion or leeks, garlic, peppers, carrots, celery
  • add boiling water or reserved vegetable cooking water from an earlier meal
  • chop and add remaining vegetables from those needing most cooking time to those needing least
  • simmer until all vegetables are desired tenderness.
  • turn off heat and add 1 tablespoon miso dissolved in 1 cup cold water and stir in well
  • garnish with fresh herbs and serve

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Digging Spuds

Potatoes may be dug soon after they flower (mid-July here in the Northeast) for "new potatoes."  New potatoes are small, with thin skins.  The potatoes are tender and delicious with a minimum of cooking time.  "Parsley Potatoes" is a classic way to enjoy them.
Jack pulls up a potato plant in August to show a young fella
where potatoes come from!

For storage potatoes, however, we leave the potatoes in the ground till fall, allowing their skins to become a bit stronger, to keep good things in and bad things out, as they say...

You may dig potatoes for storage as soon as the plants die back.  The ideal tool for this is a potato hook, as seen in this photo.  My suggestion is to shop the tag sales for an inexpensive older tool, which will probably be more well-made than any that you would find for sale new.  Plus, you will be keeping your money local.
Here you see the straw much being pulled back to reveal the soft soil beneath.  And you usually find some small beneficial animals like this spotted salamander living under the protection of the mulch as well.

Spotted Salamander

Salamanders and earthworms improve the soil tilth (texture and permeability) by digging through the soil, and in the case of the earthworm, digesting it. Organic gardening practices allow these animals, and the soil micro-organisms that we can't see, to survive.  Chemical fertilizers and heavy machinery create dead, compacted soil that cannot easily absorb water.  (Recent flooding of the American Midwest can be blamed in part on short-sighted, profit minded, agricultural practices.)

Use the potato hook to gently lift the potatoes from where they rest, just below soil level.  Some damage from the hook is unavoidable, and any potatoes with holes poked in them should be eaten soon, for they will not keep.  Better yet, dig the potatoes with your hands.  Then you can feel around for the potatoes and pull them out without any damage at all.
Be sure to choose a dry, sunny day for potato harvesting.  The potatoes will come out of the ground with a bit of earth clinging to them, and you want to remove as much of this as possible before storage.  By leaving the potatoes to lie in the sun for a short time, this earth witll dry out, and can be easily rubbed off as you collect the spuds.  But you do want to get the potatoes out of the sun, and out of the light for that matter, as soon as possible.  This is because light causes poisonous alkaloids to form, showing up as a green tinge on and just under the skin.
Ideal storage conditions are cool, dark and humid.  A cold cellar is ideal, but the basement may work as well.  You don't want to store your potatoes in the garage or in a shed where they might freeze.  Store only damage free potatoes and do not wash before storing; just wipe off any excess soil, as mentioned above. 
These potatoes have been separated out because they have suffered some damage and aren't good candidates for storage.  Some have fork pokes, but most have been nibbled on by voles.  Voles look like moles, but they eat vegetables, whereas moles eat meat. (V=vegetables, M= meat, get it?)  These potatoes wil be eaten right away as soup.  Just cut off the damaged portions and salvage what you can.  Approximately 20% of our potato crop was attacked by voles.  Just one of many examples I could give of why I have no patience with people who complain about the prices at farmer's markets!

But just so I don't end this posting on a rant about voles, I will share a photo of our friend the earthworm.  One of the many benefits you gain from a nice layer of straw is great crop of large, happy earthworms!