20 Cups of Mashed Roasted Pumpkin From “Volunteer” Rumbo Pumpkins

The Pumpkin Cookbook, 139 Recipes Celebrating the Versatility of Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash

Volunteer rumbo pumpkin on vine growing out of compost bin

Pumpkins washed & cut into large chunks (with seeds removed) and brushed lightly with sunflower seed oil before roasting for 80-90 minutes in oven heated to 350º

Roasting and then mashing the volunteer pumpkins produced 20 cups of the superfood for use in recipes

Two loaves of delicious pumpkin cornbread

Two years ago, just before Thanksgiving 2015, we shared Francesca Zambello’s delicious recipe for Pumpkin & Kale (or spinach) Lasagna, a perfect option for vegetarians as a Thanksgiving entrée (or for a hearty dish on a cold and snowy winter day). In preparing the recipe, the Berry Patch Farm in Stephentown (Rensselaer County, NY), which has a farmstand at the year-round Troy Waterfront Farmers Market in Troy (Rensselaer County, NY), was the source of the creamy colored gumbo pumpkins used to prepare the lasagna.

This past summer during the 2017 growing season I watched with wonder as a vine of pumpkins took root in the backyard compost bin. Even more wondrous, the backyard army of squirrels for some miraculous and unknown reason (but might it be the neighborhood cats?) left the pumpkins alone, no squirrel nibbling or scratching of the pumpkins as they grew. Were they growing from seeds of the 2016 Halloween Jack O’Lantern? It turned out that they were rumbo pumpkins related to the 2015 Thanksgiving pumpkins used for the pumpkin and spinach lasagna prepared two years ago.

With six or seven “volunteer” pumpkins growing out of the compost bin, I had “pumpkin on my mind”, and serendipitously, I noticed a reference to Deedee Stovel’s The Pumpkin Cookbook, 139 Recipes Celebrating the Versatility of Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash, 2nd Edition (Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA, 2017) in my local newspaper and decided to order a copy. This wonderful cookbook not only has a range of recipes using pumpkin but also a fascinating chapter voicing praise for the versatile pumpkin which Stovel proclaims a superfood.

In a succinct and even profound paragraph, Stovel argues her case effectively:

Pumpkins happily grow in all climates across the United States. In fact, they grow on every continent except Antarctica. One of the many winter squashes, pumpkins have long been prized for their nutrition, adaptability, and staying power. The sturdy outer skin allows them to be stored in a cool place for months. Native to North America, pumpkins have been cultivated for about 9,000 years. For the indigenous people, pumpkin was a mainstay of their diet, and it has served as such for succeeding cultures. Pumpkin offers protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, potassium, and huge amounts of vitamin A and beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. It is high in fiber and low in calories. For sustenance, pumpkin is hard to beat.

Deedee Stovel also includes in her highly recommended cookbook (first published with the title Pumpkin: A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year and recently reissued as a 2nd Edition), a page on Cooking Pumpkin which describes the range of ways, from boiling, steaming, grilling, microwaving and roasting. I decided to roast half a dozen of the volunteer rumbo pumpkins and then mash the cooked pumpkin to prepare once again Francesca Zambello’s Pumpkin & Kale Lasagna. And after thumbing through Stovel’s cookbook (which has many appealing recipes for pumpkin main courses, side dishes, soups & salads, breads, pies, cookies, cakes), I decided to prepare her pumpkin cornbread recipe with some personal tweaking, by adding cranberries, using organic blue cornmeal, and substituting honey for sugar.

In substituting honey for sugar, good advice (in the form of four rules) is provided at www.thekitchn.com: use less honey than sugar, reduce the liquids, add baking soda, and lower oven temperature. The two loaves of the cranberry, pumpkin cornbread (made with organic whole wheat pastry flour from Farmer Ground and organic blue cornmeal), which I baked at 325º instead of 350º resulted in a longish hour plus (65 minutes or so) in the not so hot (since recipe called for 350º) oven. Even so, the next morning the middle of one loaf, pulled out of the oven a few minutes before the second one, had sunk in a tad, indicating that another few minutes were needed! Delicious nonetheless.

(Frank W. Barrie, 11/21/17)

Pickling Foods: A Vital Part of the Good Food Movement

Fermentation on Wheels by Tara Whitsitt

Homemade classic sauerkraut using ruby red cabbage

A plateful of delicious real food including classic ruby red sauerkraut and sour dough pancakes

The natural fermentation (or pickling) of real food, such as cabbage, cucumbers, carrots and beets has become a big part of the good food movement. And Tara Whitsitt’s Fermentation On Wheels is Exhibit A in proving that tasty food, sustainability and community building is the inspiriting consequence of spreading knowledge about pickling food. The fermentation process, which depends on naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria to preserve nature’s bounty as tasty sustenance long after harvest season, is succinctly described by Whitsitt as a testament to the deep intelligence of age-old processes.

The recently published account of Tara Whitsitt’s life on the road across the United States in her 1986 International Harvester bus turned fermentation lab, Fermentation On Wheels, Road Stories, Food Ramblings, And 50 Do-It-Yourself Recipes from Sauerkraut, Kombucha, and Yogurt to Miso, Tempeh, and Mead (Bloomsbury, New York, NY, 2017) is a very personal narrative, much like a revealing memoir. In addition, it’s full of sharp insight into the depressing state of the American food system with industrial agriculture’s tight grip on farmland.

Whitsitt has a profound understanding on how massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are harmful to the rich soil that is America’s major natural resource and on our bodies. And her 50 recipes (conveniently indexed on two pages at the end of the book) are easy to follow and confidence building for a cook attempting to ferment the bounty of nature, making her narrative as much a cookbook and guide to fermentation (complete with Whitsitt’s own illustrations) well worth having handy in the kitchen.

This Jack Kerouac of the fermentation world (as nicknamed by David Leite of The Splendid Table) visited dozens of organic farms, homesteads, communities, and activist spaces intent on raising awareness of the lost art of fermentation and the spirit behind it. I read her account with increasing awe at the grassroots movement that has bubbled up like a sourdough starter to offer a roadmap to better health in our bodies and communities. Whitsitt’s work has helped to restore her own understanding of the wonder of farmland and the working of it. In her words: To have a connection to and understanding of food and land now, through growing food, fermentation and communal feasting, made me feel that I was in on an old family secret.

Inspired by a recurring dream and supported by Heart and Spoon, her home community in Eugene, Oregon, Whitsitt decided to mobilize her talents and share them with anyone willing to learn. Her fantastic tale of taking to the road is prefaced with all you need to know about fermenting, with the first chapter focusing on fermentation basics, including why one should ferment and what supplies you’ll need. She makes it easy and clear, including charts like her salinity table, which could inspire even the most hesitant cook to give it a go. For those of us already familiar, she provides plenty of technical terms to bring out the geek in us without bogging down her story in science or making the reader feel intimidated.

While intrigued by some of the more complex ferments, like fermented green tea salad or black eyed pea fritters, I decided to prepare some of the simpler recipes in Fermentation on Wheels. I can say that preparing Whitsitt’s recipes for kombucha, sauerkraut, dill pickles, and sourdough pancakes was fun and a pleasure to share with friends. As an initiation in the art of fermentation, give her classic sauerkraut recipe a try. A daily dose of something fermented, like this delicious sauerkraut, will help get and keep a healthy gut-biome going! You might even be tempted to make up a batch of Whitsitt’s sourdough pancakes (a favorite potluck item for her as well as a tasting option for youth fermentation classes) and follow her lead: She likes to roll sauerkraut into a pancake and eat on the go.

Classic Sauerkraut

Yields 1 gallon, 1-4 weeks

Ingredients
7 lbs cabbage (2 medium-sized heads)
2 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp juniper berry
2-3 tbsp salt

Materials
Gallon glass jar or crock
Weight and cover

Process
1. Cut cabbage into quarters and finely chop. Place chopped cabbage into a large bowl. If you have outer leaves of cabbage, rather than compost them, place them aside.
2. Add caraway seeds and juniper berries to the bowl of chopped cabbage.
3. Add 2 tbsp of salt and massage the cabbage for 5-10 minutes. Your cabbage will release water, which will serve as the kraut’s brine. Taste the cabbage—you may want to add more salt to your liking.
4. Check for a puddle at the bottom of your bowl and squeeze a handful of cabbage above the bowl to check whether it has produced enough brine. Once gently squeezed, brine should drip with ease from the cabbage.
5. Pack the cabbage into your gallon jar until it’s submerged below brine. Take the cabbage leaves you set aside from earlier and layer them on top of your kraut, pressing down.
6. Add weight, such as scrubbed and boiled river rocks or a small jar filled with water, on top of the layer of cabbage leaves. Secure a tea towel to the mouth of your jar with a rubber band to keep dust and bugs out.
7. Wait a week and taste—you may want to keep it going another week, but it’s good practice to try your ferments along their journey. Vegetables will ferment at different speeds depending on their environment—the warmer it is, the faster it will ferment, while the colder it is, the slower it will ferment. Most vegetable ferments thrive between 68ºF to 76ºF.
8. When the sauerkraut is to your liking, cover it with a lid and store in the fridge. Keeping your new kraut cool slows fermentation, so you can more or less enjoy the fermented flavor from when you sealed the jar.

Tara Whitsitt is getting ready to embark on the second voyage of her mobile fermentation recruitment station, as neatly described by Sandor Katz, the author of The Art of Fermentation. Whitsitt’s description of her meeting up with Katz in Tennessee, who she calls “the master of controlled rot,” is inspiring, and another reason to get your own copy of Fermentation on Wheels (if only I had three thumbs to put up in recommending this book, but two will have to do). And a further suggestion, Whitsitt’s non-profit of the same name that provides free food education and inspires people through workshops, literature, and visual art projects that raise awareness about food sustainability alongside teaching fermentation is worthy of support.

(Lucas Knapp, 11/17/17)

Paul McCartney Voices Support for Meatless Mondays In Advance of UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP 23)

We’ve long admired Michael Pollan’s Food Rules and its central message: Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much, and a Meatless Monday is a simple step to take to follow Pollan’s advice. Prior to the start of COP23, the gathering of 23 countries for the United Nations’ annual Climate Change Conference, Paul McCartney, a long time vegetarian, along with his daughters, and Woody Harrelson, have summed up convincingly the reasons to support Meatless Monday in a short video that, in less than five minutes, notes the negative impact industrial animal agriculture has on the environment.

The facts are stunning. One-third of the land on earth is used for livestock production. Ninety-five percent of all soy and one-third of all cereal crops are turned into feed for farm animals. Thirty bathtubs full of water are needed to produce one beef burger. Every day, substantial swaths of rain forest are cut down to create room for grazing cattle.

And this website’s mission statement, citing Jonathan Safran Foer and his powerful and personal story on becoming an “engaged vegetarian,” Eating Animals (New York, Little Brown and Co., 2009), specifies additional reasons to support a Meatless Monday (especially in the United States): (1) antibiotic overuse in raising 450 billion land animals each year, (2) the sewerage produced by farmed animals in the United States which is “30 times as much waste as the human population- roughly 87,000 pounds of shit per second,” and (3) the “profoundly cruel systems” which produce meat as a product.

Slow Food USA, noting that food is a solution to climate change, to encourage reducing meat consumption, has teamed up with Meatless Monday to invite chefs to create signature plant-based dishes. Its Cook Up a Better Future map on its website shows participating chefs and restaurants nationwide. These dishes feature Sea Island white flint corn grits, an Ark of Taste ingredient provided by South Carolina’s Anson Mills, one of the praiseworthy growers/millers of organic and artisinal grains and flours (not part of the commodity grain trade), included in our Flours/Grain directory (now with listings of thirty growers/millers in the U.S. and Canada).

Meatless Monday was founded in 2003 by Sid Lerner in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In May, 2009, Ghent, Belgium, became the first non-U.S. city to go meatless. In the U.S., Indianapolis recently passed a resolution in support of Meatless Monday, joining Sacramento, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Jose, among other U.S. cities. The movement is now active in 44 countries and continues to grow, with different nations finding innovative ways to make meatless and vegetarian dishes part of their everyday culture, customs and cuisine.

(Frank W. Barrie, 11/10/17)

Australian Chef and Food Educator Stephanie Allen’s Beautiful New Cookbook: The Cook’s Table

With the proliferation of cooking websites and blogs, a cookbook these days needs to be something special to justify the expenditure of one’s hard-earned cash. The Cook’s Table by Stephanie Alexander (Lantern, an imprint of Penguin Books Australia, May 2016, distributed by Independent Publishers Group in the United States) is one such book.

Alexander is an Australian cook, restauranteur, writer and food educator; doyenne of the Australian food scene. As the title of this – her most recent – book suggests, it is inspired by her joy in gathering friends around a table to share a home-cooked meal. Her philosophy can be summarized by a statement in her entertaining preface when, having expressed puzzlement at those who reserve treasured tableware for special occasions, she simply states her opinion that any meal with friends is a special occasion, one to be enjoyed as often as possible.

The book is set out in 25 chapters. Some are devoted to a specific celebration, such as Mother’s Day, a teenager’s birthday, Valentine’s Day or Christmas. Several other chapters are inspired by memories of food experienced in particular parts of the world. In the latter category Alexander ranges widely, from Istanbul (Mezze in Istanbul) to America (A Weekend At Cape Cod), France (Classically French-Paris Toujours) to Jamaica (Jamaican Jerk Party), and for each location she provides a wealth of memories and colorful anecdotes. She has obvious respect for the traditions that imagined the featured cuisines, the hands that cultivated the produce and the skills that brought each dish to the table.

One chapter honors famed British food writer and cook Elizabeth David, the queen of food writers and includes some of her classic recipes; another is inspired by novelist Sybille Bedford and a particular meal recalled in her semi-autobiographical novel Jigsaw. Finally, there is a chapter playfully entitled A tour de force: a menu for show-off cooks!

Each section provides a suggested menu, from appetizers to dessert, but obviously dishes can be selected to suit individual tastes and purposes. Ever practical, Alexander extols the rewards of simple organization and provides a shopping list and timeline for each menu. The timelines range from preparations best begun as much as a week in advance right down to tasks that lead to service of the meal on the table. The detailed lists include a sly reminder an hour before the arrival of guests to get changed: the frazzled cook can never be too careful! Noting that there is no fun to be had in slaving away in the kitchen and missing the freshest news and best stories, last-minute stovetop procedures are kept to a minimum so that the cook is away from the table as little as possible and can enjoy the company of her guests.

At 500 plus pages, weighing in at over 3 lbs. and containing over 120 recipes, The Cook’s Table is a formidable book but is far from intimidating. Alexander claims that every recipe can be made by a careful home cook and to this end she delivers practical advice in a user-friendly format. Her language is refreshingly unstuffy: raspberries are whizzed to a puree and classic Spanish alioli is described as containing a frightening amount of garlic – she suggests the toned-down French version instead. The book is generously and beautifully illustrated with photographs by Mark Chew. Apart from anything else, with its wealth of anecdotes, observations and backstories, it is an entertaining read. And how many other cookbooks are bound with a ribbon bookmarker to avoid a maddening rummage with sticky fingers through a book that has fallen shut?

One gets the feeling that Alexander had great enjoyment writing the book. This is not to trivialize its value as a very useful addition to any cook’s library. The author’s depth of knowledge and practical approach allows the reader to have complete confidence in her. Anyone looking for a fresh perspective and an authoritative manual could not do better than The Cook’s Table.

(Eidin Beirne, 11/7/17)

[Editor’s note (FWB): We have listings of over thirty farm to table dining destinations throughout Australia. For a special meal downunder, check our dining listings as well as three Australian listings in our Dine on the Farm directory; we’re pleased also to include a listing for Ewingsdale Coffee (100% Australian grown coffee beans) in Byron Bay, New South Wales, in our coffee directory]

Potted Peppermint Porch Plants Prospering Into November in Upstate NY

Porch hanging pot of basil & peppermint with runners dangling

Vase of spearmint plant flowers, cut from potted porch plants, adds a wonderful scent indoors

Ready to bake at low temp for two hours cookie pan of fresh mint leaves: spearmint on left, peppermint on right

Crushing with fingers dried mint leaves to save in glass jar

Crushing with fingers dried basil leaves to store in glass jar

For the 2017 growing season in upstate New York’s Capital District, I decided to grow a mixture of peppermint, spearmint, and basil plants in hanging pots on the front porch of my home in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany. With the mildest autumn I can remember in the nearly 40 years of hanging pots on the old front porch, the mint and basil plants, continue to add a touch of greenery even in early November.

And the runners hanging off the mint plants added a spooky atmosphere for this year’s Halloween trick or treaters, who came around by the dozens a couple days ago. (It also helped that black rubber tarantulas were added as Halloween decorations to the hanging pots.)

A wonderful benefit of growing the mint and basil in the porch hanging pots was the ability to make homemade mint tea for use in wintry months (to arrive perhaps later than sooner) and to dry basil leaves to use to spice up tomato sauces for hearty cold weather pasta dishes.

The question of how to dry mint leaves for tea was answered by the Brooklyn Farm Girl who has easy directions to follow that worked perfectly. Pamela, the Brooklyn Farm Girl, describes herself as “Recipe Maker. Urban farmer. Vegetable grower. Film director.” And her guidance was appreciated and gave confidence in this first time experience.

The Brooklyn Farm Girl’s directions also worked perfectly in drying basil leaves for use later this winter. A comment on the Brooklyn Farm Girl’s website from Shashi, who noted that she “NEVER thought to use the oven to dry out any herbs- oh my- thank YOU!!!…possibilities for dried herb usage are limitless!” led to my drying of basil leaves. Following these same directions, I join in commenter Shashi’s enthusiasm, and dried basil, made from basil homegrown in hanging pots on my front porch, is ready for sprinkling into spaghetti sauce and safely tucked away in a glass jar in a kitchen cabinet.

Ingredients

Peppermint and spearmint leaves

Directions

Pick mint leaves.

Preheat oven to 170 degrees.

Put mint leaves in one layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for two hours and check to see if completely dry. Two hours was sufficient time in my preparation.
But if not completely dry, continue baking and check every additional 15 minutes.

After removing from oven, let cool. Then crumble leaves by hand and store in a glass container with a tight lid. Store in a dry dark cabinet shelf, away from heat.

When using for tea, use one teaspoon of dried mint leaves and steep for at least 3 minutes in hot water, that had been brought to a boil.

(Frank W. Barrie, 11/2/17)

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