Cooking--Farming--Thinking

Eat--Work--Ponder
Posted 7/28/2015 10:58am by Judy Lessler.

Last winter I bought the two-volume Cambridge World History of Food. Each volume is over 1000 pages long and printed in two columns and in about eight point type. There is a huge amount of information available in these volumes. The nutritionist, historians, horticulture experts, and botanist who prepared this book recruited a large number of authors to write various sections. The book is well researched and has lots of references. You don’t need to buy one; call me if you need to know anything about any vegetable.  

We grow potatoes on Harland's Creek farm. Potatoes are considered as staple food throughout the world. The editors of this book divide staples into two groups. The first group is grains and includes amaranth, barley, buckwheat, maize or corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum and wheat. The starchy staples includes bananas and plantains, manioc, white potatoes, sago, and sweet potatoes or yams. 

Potatoes are the fourth most important staple food. They evolved in the Andes and spread throughout the world. Different varieties of potatoes are found throughout South America and Central America. There are over 200 different varieties of wild potatoes. It’s not clear when potatoes began to be domesticated because hunters and gatherers also assembled stocks of potatoes from the wild. In Peru and Bolivia, there’s evidence of their use as a domesticated plant between 10,000 and 7000 years ago. In South America, there was a vertically integrated production system in which quinoa and corn were grown at lower altitudes and potatoes and other tubers grown at higher altitudes. Llamas were raised at the very tops of mountains. There was communication between farmers at the various altitudes, and crops were traded with the llamas being used as the "beast of burden." 

Sir Francis Drake is credited with bringing the potato to Europe. There is however some doubt about that. He did write about the potatoes on his round the world voyage which lasted from 1577 two 1580.

The potato spread throughout Europe and was such an important crop, that it is credited with the elimination of famines by the early 19th century. Potatoes were cheaper than wheat bread and could be grown on small holdings. Combining potatoes, some greens, and flesh from farm animals resulted in a nutritious diet. One of the disadvantages of the potato is that it can be not be stored for many years the way some grains can. Therefore, it must be planted every year. In some places, particularly Ireland, people became so dependent upon the potato that there was widespread famine d when the potato was hit by late blight.  

Potatoes are spring crop in North Carolina. We plant them in late March and have usually harvesting them completely by the end of June. Were able to grow organic potatoes in North Carolina easier than farmers in the northern regions can because we plant them, cultivate them, and harvest them before late blight blows through. Our yields of organic potatoes are as high as yields of non-organic potatoes in northern region.

Harland's Creek Farm grows organic  red, Yukon gold, and two varieties of fingerling potatoes,. You can buy them at our stand at the Durham Farmers' Market.

Posted 5/26/2015 9:37am by Judy Lessler.

Recent research on plants has elucidated their multiple defense mechanisms. Plants have physical structures that protect them against herbivores. One of my favorite are glandular trichomes which “secrete secondary metabolites including flavonoids, terpenoids, and alkaloids that can be poisonous, repellent, or trap insects and other organisms, thus forming a combination of structural and chemical defense.”

Plants respond to attacks by herbivores by creating more of these little organelles. Scientists know this is happening by examining the numbers of trichomes before and after an insect attack. They have studied both trees (gray willows and gray alders) and herbaceous plants (wild radish and pepper grass). The range of increase is usually between 25 to 100 percent; however, induction of 5 to 10 times as many trichomes has been observed.  

Trichomes have important social and economic effects on our society. THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana is secreted by trichomes. Consequently, if you search for trichomes on the web you will find many articles on how to increase the number of trichomes on cannabis plants.

This fact raises interesting evolutionary questions. For example, did cannabis survive and flourish because the plants wigged-out herbivores or did they survive because gardeners embraced them due to them chilling-out farmers and gardeners.

 

Quote from: War, Abdul Rashid, et.al. (2012) “Mechanisms of Plant Defense against Insect Herbivores” Plant Signaling & Behavior 7:10, 1306-1320; October 2012 

Posted 5/19/2015 10:07am by Judy Lessler.

Collards, Strawberries, and Green Garlic:

For years collards were slow cooked to almost a puree. Southern cooks would simmer them with “seasoning” on the back of their stoves. Seasoning was generally ham hocks or fatty pieces that had been trimmed from hams, chops, or loins, and sometimes it was bacon or fatback. Recently, chefs have woken up to the benefits of this traditional vegetable It is healthy and has a robust flavor when prepare raw.

There are strawberries everywhere in NC this week and collards are at the end of their season. Try this great, raw collard recipe:

LINK TO COLLARD AND STRAWBERRY SALAD RECIPE

This version of the recipe calls for using Tahini Sauce as the basis for the recipe. Harland's Creek Farm suggests that you make the Tahini Sauce and store it in your refrigerator for use with greens all spring long. 

LINK TO TAHINI SAUCE RECIPE

News Alert: I have been telling people that the stiff leaves on the green garlic are not edible. Yesterday, I remembered that Chef Justin Meddis of Roses Meats and Sweets  in Durham told me that he put them in stock. As I prepared to slow-cook a chicken I had purchased at the Apex Farmers’ Market, I decided to put it on a bed of stiff green garlic leaves.  When the chicken was done, I scraped up the fat-infused leaves and discovered that they were soft. Soon I had eaten them all with a bit of salt. I did not even wait to spread them on toast or crackers. They were delicious.  

Wind. I have been reading all about weather. Aristotle wrote Meteorology in 350 BC and discussed wind. He ridiculed people who thought that wind was moving air; rather, he taught that wind was a substance, like an invisible smoke, that was exhaled from the earth. In those days, the main natural philosophers used logic and deductive reasoning rather than observation, experimentation, and induction. Aristotle said that wind was a dry substance that was exhaled from the earth and that it coalesced and flowed through air similar to the way in which water coalesces and flows from rivulets, springs, branches, and rivers. According to him, a stiff or strong wind is analogous to a rushing or raging river.  

The ancients were very committed to logic only, and that impeded progress. This is why Julius Caesar did not have an I-Phone

Posted 12/11/2014 2:49pm by Judy Lessler.

Harland's Creek Farm has firewood for sale. It is a mixture of oak and hicory and is harvested from trees that are down in the forests that surround the growing area of the farm. 

Cost for 60 cubic feet (~0.5 cord): $200 delivered and stacked; $160 you pick up and load. If you would like to order a load send an e-mail to hcffarmers@gmail.com or  call us at 919-274-0024. 

Posted 11/14/2014 6:04pm by Judy Lessler.

  Ann Silverman, my neighbor and a local artist who makes paper out of unusual materials and is going to make paper with our okra. When I started reading about how paper was discovered and its history, I kept wandering through the internet and reading about other writing materials. The firsts were barks and stones and this was followed by papyrus (Egyptians) and clay tablets (Sumerians), both in around 3000 BC.

Then I discovered that, people needed writing material because with the start of the Neolithic revolution (farming + towns) there was a need to keep track of the sale and distribution of surplus agriculture products. Thus, changes in agricultural production drove the creation of writing.  Most of the original written materials were accounting records. Only later did we write about or loves and the beauty of butterflies. I do not think that the Sumerians or Egyptians of 5000 BC were insensitive to love and butterflies. My guess is that they felt that these were topics for songs and poetry spoken face to face. Marks on tablets and papyrus scrolls were for tallying the beer and barley.   

Below is a picture of a piece of okra paper that Ann made a re weeks ago. She harvested the okra stalks, steamed, stripped the leaves, and scraped off the brown bark.  She then cooked it in a caustic bath for three hours to separate the fibers.  These were washed, beaten, and spread on a felt, and dried.  

okra paper

The next picture is a paper sculpture of books within a book that she made sometime ago.  It was exhibited in the Man Bites Dog Theater on Foster Street. 

 

At piece by Ann Silverman

Posted 10/23/2014 11:34am by Judy Lessler.

I preparation for winter, we are planting the fall cover crops. We rotate our cash crops across three summer fields so that two are under cover crops each year. This builds soil and helps control diseases and pests since bacteria, viruses, and bugs have to hunt around for their favorites.  

Cover cropping has been employed for thousands of years. The ancients did not understand soil chemistry at the elemental level but had good knowledge of what worked and what did not. In spite of its ancient origin, this knowledge was not always widespread. For example, in the 1800s farmers and plantation owners moved into Alabama because they had depleted their soil by constantly planting of cotton in the same fields in South Carolina.  

Marcus Terentius Varro lived for nearly 90 years (from 116BC to 27BC). When he was 80, his wife purchased a farm and asked how to increase it fertility. In response, he wrote a treatise on agriculture for her. Presumably, his wife was considerably younger because he stated that, "while I still live, [I will] bequeath my counsel to my nearest and dearest. I will then write three books for you, to which you may have recourse for guidance in all things which must be done in the management of a farm."  

He starts the book by "invoking the divine approval...from the solemn council of those twelve divinities who are the tutelaries of husbandmen. He starts out with Farther Jupiter and Mother Earth and ends up with "Lympha, goddess of the fountains, and Bonus Eventus, god of good fortune, ...."because without water vegetation is starved and without good luck all tillage is in vain." I think Bonus Eventus is an excellent name for a god and intend to invoke his help from now on.  

Varro writes in the form of a dialog. He sets that stage by saying he went to a temple on a holiday called Sementivae because he had been invited to dinner by the Sacristan (chief caretaker of the temple). Others are there also waiting for the dinner and began a dialog on agriculture. The characters in the dialogue speak with eloquence and authority citing other writers as sources for their statements, and occasionally personal observations.  Most likely this did not happen as described--it was a method for writing an essay.

During the dialogue, a character called Scrofa states that, "Certain plants are cultivated not so much for their immediate yield as with forethought for the coming year, because cut and left lying they improve the land. So if the land is too thin, it is the practice to plow in for manure, lupines not yet podded, and likewise, the field pea, if it is not yet ripened so that it is fitting to harvest the beans. " 

This is exactly what we are doing at Harland's Creek Farm. We are planting winter rye and Austrian winter peas in Plot G and will follow pink-eyed purple peas next spring and summer. Crops will be in Plot G in 2016. Plot I will have the cash crops next year, 2015, and will be planted with clover and vetch this fall. Plot I has already had Sudan-grass and cow peas, winter rye, and Essex kale in 2013 and 2014.  

We are, as advised by Varro over 2000 years ago, planting with "forethought for the coming years."   

Posted 9/24/2014 12:30pm by Judy Lessler.

For the Chronicles of Okra, I have been reading about the history of agriculture and have found some translations of ancient writings--Varro, Pliny and so on. This week I found a very interesting contemporary article on the history of grafting. Here are some cool things I found out. The article is A History of Grafting, by Ken Mudge, Jules Janick, Steven Scofield, and Eliezner Goldschmidt. I found it with a Google search and was able to download the PDF.  

Gathering of grains and pulses began about 10 to 12 thousand BC. Pulses are legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and peas. Soon after, these were domesticated. I am not sure when the Neolithic Era, which is defined as settled agricultural communities, actually is considered to have started. The Neolithic transition includes the development of towns and settled communities, clearing of land, and other characteristics of agricultural communities. Apparently there is no start date, and the transition occurred at different times all over the world. However, food collected from trees fruits and nuts were also an important part of the diet of these more settled communities.  

Growing new trees from the seeds of existing trees was problematic in that they did not breed true. Thus the first orchards were confined to fig, olive, pomegranate, grape, and date palms which can be propagated from cuttings or division of root stock. This type of orchard production was wide spread by the 4000 to 3000 BC. It was not until about 1000 BC that apple, pear, and plum orchards were wide spread. By then people had discovered grafting. This greatly facilitated the spread of fruit orchards and the improvement of varieties.  

Grafting involves cutting a scion from the desired tree, making a matching cut on the rootstock, and binding them together by carefully lining up the vascular cambium layers of the two trees. No one knows how ancient people discovered this. Whoever did was the creative genius of his or her time and has had a larger impact on the world than either Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, or modern innovative heroes. I suspect that it was discovered in many places by many people.  

When we made our grafts for the coming pear orchard, we wrapped them with masking tape and covered the tape with a tar that kept water out and held moisture in. The ancients used a mixture of lime, bark, mud, and hair to seal the graft. They were aware of the need to keep moisture in, and not having any tape or tar, they sometimes suspended a pot of water over the graft and let water drip on the graft to keep if from drying out.  

The ancients did not know about genetics, and some reasoned that the roots of a plant determined the nature of the fruit and growth because of the liquid that flowed from the roots up into the tree. This posed a serious problem for explaining why, for example, a red rose grafted on a white rose only produced red roses. No hybrid mixing was observed. One theory was that the scion sent down its own roots through the branches and trunk of the rootstock and was, thereby, able to maintain its innate characteristics.  

So cool.

Posted 9/23/2014 8:44am by Judy Lessler.

Creating a Pear Orchard

Harland's Creek Farm is located on  the Alston-DeGraffenreidt national historic site.  When my husband and I purchased this property in the 1970's, we just knew it was a beautiful piece of land with an old house on it.  Later, we found some old farming records that dated back to the early 1800's. We donated these papers to the NC Department of Archives and History, and they, in turn, had the house declared a National Historic House.  Later some of the land was also put into a national historic site.

We did not have heat; we had kudzu growing everywhere, including the porches which we did not consider as a valued alternative to heat. But, we had a fancy name and aspirations to go with it. 

One of the first things we did was to clear kudzu.  We uncovered old pastures, old roads, and an old orchard.  The orchard was to the east of the house and contained pear and apple trees, all of which were gnarled and cracked here and there. We harvested the fruit for many years, and I made pies, apple sauce, and served cooked pears over ice cream.

The pear trees were an Asian pear variety and some were more than 30 feet tall. Over the years, these trees died out, but, occasionally my husband, who died in 2002, would bring up some that he had found in the woods at an old building site. I pretty much forgot about them.

In 2011, I had to cut down most of a stand of trees that were on the south of our main growing fields because the pines and hardwoods had grown tall and shaded the fields. One small Asian pear tree was not cut because if was of no interest to the loggers. In a fit of joy at having survived the logging or maybe just better growing conditions, it put out several bushels of pears--without spots and with absolutely no attention from us farmers. I realized that this was an offspring of the pears in the old orchard and that it was totally adapted to the conditions on our farm. Thus, we came up with the idea to make it the basis for an orchard.

I talked to my uncle, Uncle LQ, who taught horticulture for years, and he recommended that we graft them on a smaller tree to keep them from growing 30 or 40 feet tall. Unfortunately LQ died in late 2012, and our plans to do this together were never to be. Thinking of him and of this tree that had such a long family history on this farm, I decided to go ahead without LQ.

I did some research and contacted Lee Calhoun who is a master orchardist and author of Old Southern Apples. Lee came out to help us and we grafted about 100 trees this spring. About 50 of them have survived. We are now in the process of preparing the planting area.  The first step has to be putting up a fence to deal with the pesky dear.  We should have a full crop in 5 years. 

 

Posted 9/15/2014 12:55pm by Judy Lessler.

Okra grows in the field from summer until frost. It is at its peak when it the weather is hot, hot, hot, but will continue to produce during the chiller days. Because of this, you can find in season okra just when the farmers' markets and CSA boxes in our area start also having salad mix. A green salad with Okra Croutons can be the center piece in many easy meals. For example, try it with a grilled cat fish or hamburgers. If you have small amounts of okra, you can use it in cornbread or corn muffins. At the Burkville Alabama Okra Festival I had corn muffins with hot pepper and okra. You could use a muffin mix and add the jalapeno and the okra. I would not use more than half a jalapeno pepper with the seeds removed and finely chopped. After all you do not want to look over and find your spouse or children picking through their muffin to remove the jalapeno.  

Another great recipe for okra and late season eggplant comes from Virginia Willis's wonderful okra cookbook. It is a large recipe and makes use of both okra and eggplant and would be good choice for entertaining. I modified it a bit to fit with the oriental eggplant that HCF CSA customers get in their boxes. Iranian Okra Khoresh.

Tags: eggplant, okra
Posted 9/2/2014 10:45am by Judy Lessler.

Cooking:  On Saturday at the Burkville Alabama Okra Festival I had the best succotash that I have ever eaten. It was made by Doris Green who is the sister of Alice Stewart who was a founder of the Okra Festival (see below). Doris was dead tired on Saturday after cooking multiple dishes for the festival, and I still need to get her recipe for the okra succotash. I think, however, I have a good idea why it was so good. It was how she had prepared the vegetables. She used okra, squash, tomatoes, and onions. She had thinly sliced some baby squash and the okra—piece were less than a quarter inch thick. The onions were cut into pieces that matched and the tomatoes were in small pieces. There was some other squash that was quartered and also sliced into small pieces. It was salted, probably on the heavy side since I like salt a lot and did not have any desire to add any. She did tell me that she used no oil and just gently simmered the dish. I aim to experiment when I get home and to get in touch with Doris to find our more details.  

Farming and Thinking:  I am writing this from Montgomery Alabama where I attended the Okra Festival in Lowndes County Al on Saturday. This is a very small community festival started some 15 years ago by Barbara Evans and Alice Steward who lived across the street from each other on Harriet Tubman Road in Lowndes County.

Harriet Tubman Road is a narrow paved road, more like a track road. It is the size and structure of what we would leave as a gravel road in NC because, in NC, we have enough freezing and thawing that a paved road would not survive the winters without buckling, cracking, and forming potholes. They do not have that problem in Alabama where signs on bridges do not say “Bridge Ices before Roadway” but rather give a mile warning “Bridge May Ice in Cold Weather.” Alice died in 2002 but her family still participates in the festival with her sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, and assorted others coming together to cook food and welcome people to the festival.   Amos Kennedy, an artist who does letter press printing, has made a poster for each year of the festival since 2002.

Barbara is a community activist and many of the poster have a message that leans in that direction. Examples include:   2014: GO GREEN EAT OKRA; 2012: WE PICK OUR OKRA FROM THE LEFT; 2011: THE PEOPLE'S VEGETABLE  

More about this festival in later posts.   

 

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