More Morels

Monday, May 30, 2011

We keep finding morels, and we're in love with them. Last weekend we filled another basked with the beautiful fungus. There's something about nature providing you with a small window of a specific food. A window that is easy to miss, or worse, you might never have heard of.

When you begin to learn the rhythms of nature, food becomes a lot more special. It's this sense of special that the supermarket tries to kill with button mushrooms available all year round. It's also sad that when you hear "mushroom" you imagine that simple button, and disregard the thousands of other unique varieties hidden in its shadow. But those button mushrooms are safe. No thought goes into whether they're poisonous or not, someone else has done that thinking for you.

The morels we ate this year were the first foraged mushrooms we found without an experienced forager. They're hard to get wrong, however there's still this sense of comfort that is rattled a bit when you eat something you've found in the woods. But we're still alive, and after bringing the basket to a party (and eating them first), everyone tried them and for most, it was their first taste of a morel.

Field Trip: Tomato Days

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Over the long weekend, Tree & Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm held their annual Tomato Days. We visited Linda Crago, the heart of the operation in April to get advice before we started our own tomatoes from seed. She's was incredibly helpful and continues to give us lots of advice as we start our own vegetable garden. She said we had to come back for her big sale, so we did.

When we arrived on Saturday, her driveway and a section of lawn were covered with thousands of plants. Every other square foot was covered by people picking through the hundreds of varieties looking for something new to try this year. It's incredible to think that Linda started, nurtured and transplanted each of these plants by hand.

Cake & Loaf, the bakery that we visited a few months ago, were there with a refreshment stand. They were brewing some Detour coffee and brought along a lot of baked goods. I know Cake & Loaf bakes with ingredients they grow in their back yard, so it was a good fit.

We picked up some herbs, tomatoes and interesting eggplants. Gone are the days of visiting a garden centre to buy a "tomato plant". This year we planted around 20 different varieties in our garden and Linda was definitely an inspiration.

If you want to pick up some seedlings, and can get down to the Niagara region, go for it. I know Linda will be more than happy to guide you through her jungle of plants, and you can be happy growing something nobody else on your street is. On top of tomatoes, she has many different varieties of heirloom peppers, eggplants, melons, squash and more.

UPDATE: For all our Toronto friends, Culinarium, in Mt. Pleasant Village has a fresh stock of Linda's seedlings, so you don't have to trek to Niagara (Even though it's worth the trip!).

Tree & Twig Heirloom Vegetables
74038 Regional Road
45 Wellandport, Ontario
(905) 386-7388
Twitter: @treeandtwig

Field Trip: Spring Foraging

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

This year, in our move to use the supermarket less, we've been trying out the most primal form of harvesting food—foraging. And because we're so new to it, we totally missed the rockstar of spring foraging, fiddleheads. Just a few hours north of us, the season is still on, but for us, we missed it.

But it's ok, we're not into rockstars anyways. Fiddleheads dot the forests in the spring, they're more or less simply a matter of timing.

But something more elusive was on our minds. We wanted to find the beautiful morel mushroom. I had seen them on my parent's farm growing up, but never tried them. I homeschooled for most of elementary school and can remember tripping over them during long days spent more in the woods than behind a desk.

I never tried them as a kid. I was a terribly picky eater, but I'm happy to have grown out of that, and this year Melanie and I tried our first morel. I was skeptical, since it's a pretty hyped mushroom.

So I shook all of the dirt out, cut the one in the photo above in half, removed the unwanted, many-legged protein that was lurking in the hollow stem, and threw it in a pan with butter.

I have to say I'm 100% converted. It was delicious, mild, and gone in seconds!

So now we need more ideas. Or maybe frying in butter is best. Let us know if you've tried morels and how you use them.

Kefir from the Home Dairy

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Once the milk is up to room temperature, a few tablespoons of grain-filled starter are added.

We're lucky to have a go-to person with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to natural foods. My mother in law Jane had an awakening similar to ours when she had my husband's oldest sister. She began to see the importance of nutrition and how she could set her kids up for a healthy life. Her journey was probably not as easy as ours. "Health food" was a hippie notion, as the general population was still in awe of the convenience of the T.V. dinner.

Jane bought a goat and started milking it to feed her children. She also made yogurt, has been baking her own bread, gardening, sprouting grains and more for years. If we ever need advice, we know where to turn.

It's stirred, covered with a few layers of cheesecloth, and then allowed to ferment. Is it a coincidence it looks like a shepherd to me?

A few years ago she discovered kefir and its many benefits. Kefir is an ancient fermented milk that is said to be discovered by shepherds who kept their milk in leather pouches. Although similar to yogurt, Kefir has a different blend of bacteria, as well as some yeast. These cultures work on the milk at room temperature and create an effervescent and lightly alcoholic drink that has the consistency of runny yogurt. After you drink it, the cultures work together in your gut to help your body fight off pathogens like intestinal parasites and E. coli.

The grains are strained out and it's ready!

Instead of continuing to purchase a tiny, overpriced container of kefir at the grocery store, Jane decided to make it herself. She started by trying dried starter culture, adding it to room temperature milk and letting it ferment overnight. After some research she purchased live kefir grains, which look like a chunk of sea salt, and can now make kefir by simply adding them to her milk. The grains grow with use and are strained out after each batch. They have been said to have been passed down from generation to generation, so she is pretty much all set, she just needs to keep buying milk.

If you want to make your own dairy products, a great starting point is Ashley English's Home Dairy. We're huge fans of her Homemade Living series, so we were pretty excited when she sent us Home Dairy. Since she includes a section on kefir, we passed the book on to Jane and she asked to hold onto it since it had some details that were left out of other guides. She's planning on trying out some of the cheese recipes, and I know my father-in-law has a DIY project on his hands with the homemade cheese press plans.

Jane ordered the grains online and was fermenting right away. Kefir couldn't be simpler to make, and it probably couldn't be any healthier for you. It's safe for lactose-intolerant people and it's got an exciting and bubbly flavour. Pick up some starter or grains and get fermenting. Or simply make your own grains with that goat leather you've been wondering what to do with.

Garden Status Report #2

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This weekend, it was finally time to bring our tomatoes, peppers, herbs, melons, and pumpkins to the greenhouse we built back in March. This spring's weather has been pretty lousy, so the big move was much later than we expected.

We start most of our seeds indoors where they have the best chance to germinate, and then we slowly introduce the seedlings to the elements. A wintery April gave us few chances to harden them off outside on the porch. And by the end of April, after transplanting all of our tomato seedlings into 4-inch pots, and moving them in and out of the house every day, we were ready to start charging rent.

We've learned our lesson about starting too many things too early. We gave a tray of 72 tomato seedlings away because we simply didn't have the room. We started a new tray, and since they're canning tomatoes, we won't need them right away.

A lot of the push to start things as early as possible comes from commercial growers, to whom having the earliest crop at the market means a premium. We're happy to have home-grown produce as soon as possible, but we're excited to still have tomatoes at the end of summer. We're growing for sustenance, not profit.

Our greenhouse is eight feet square, and we thought it would have more than enough room. However, it immediately filled up. We've got quite a few plants we've started for friends and family, so we might have to start giving them away a little early to make room for all the things we're starting this weekend.

The more tender vegetables will spend most of May in the greenhouse waiting for spring frosts to pass until they can safely be planted in the field, traditionally on the Victoria Day/May 24 weekend. Others, like asparagus crowns, hop rhizomes, onions, peas, and early potatoes can tolerate light frosts and go into the ground as soon as it can be worked. However with this eternal rain we seem to be getting and very little sun, the ground hasn't had a chance to dry out.

The garlic we planted last fall gives us the best hint of what is to come this year. Long rows of tall, green leaves seem to be tolerating this spring a lot better than we are. They're lonely out there, and we can't wait to introduce them to the rest of the garden.