Local Food

December 2021
Join the Adventure: Grow Food in Your Backyard

Home gardening is booming. Due to the pandemic, demand for seeds has skyrocketed and seed companies have run short of vegetable seeds. Apparently being stuck at home with time to kill moved folks to look for healthy exercise, healthy food, something educational to do with the kids, and stress relief. Gardening fills that bill.
Even better, gardening is scientifically proven to make you happier. That's because dirt has microbes in it (mycobacterium vaccae) that produce the mood elevator and antidepressant serotonin in the brain. (“Soil Bacteria Work in Similar Way to Antidepressants,” medicalnewstoday.mom)

Early this spring I Zoomed in on Prescott College's “Food Systems Friday” and listened to a presentation by Gwen Garcelon of the Roaring Fork Food Alliance, who described her project to build community resilience and food-security by teaching people how to grow food. She enlisted university-trained master gardeners from her area, matched them with beginning gardeners one-on-one, and the gardens happened. I thought, “this would be a great pandemic project for Slow Food Prescott,” of which I am the chair. “We can do this.”

I called Gwen for help and we approached Jeff Schalau, director of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Yavapai County, and Mary Barnes, program coordinator for Yavapai County Master Gardeners. Master gardeners are required to put in a number of volunteer hours, and they were hard-pressed to find pandemic-safe choices. They liked the idea and we joined forces.

We distributed applications and found 20 experienced mentors familiar with local growing conditions and 20 enthusiastic beginning gardeners. Then we matched them up, and the Grow Food In Your Backyard Project was launched to teach people how to grow food.

What does it take to start a backyard garden?

The mentors acted as advisers and coaches, while the gardeners put in the labor. They worked together to analyze the particular climate, location and soil conditions, build garden beds and install irrigation systems, select the right seeds and plants for the season(and account for family likes and dislikes), identify weeds, resolve disease, insect, and pest problems, and know when and how to harvest. That's a lot to figure out and learn.

I started growing food in my backyard over 50 years ago, knowing nothing. I made a bazillion mistakes. I overwatered and underwatered, over-fertilized and under-fertilized. I planted the wrong crops at the wrong times. I planted in bad soil. I harvested too early and too late. I battled strangling vines, sucking aphids, invasive Bermudagrass, corn borers, blister beetles, tomato hornworms, mold, viruses, snails, rabbits and javelina, and sometimes I lost. My garden was flattened by hail and heavy winds, scorched and shriveled by searing heat and restored by life-giving monsoons. Eventually it paid off with fresh, healthy, delicious and abundant garden harvests, while enjoying the wonder and reward of it all.

Growing food is a dance with nature, a grand adventure, and you never know what’s coming next. It teaches us patience, humility and persistence. In the words of my favorite vegetable grower, farmer Corey Rade of Whipstone Farm, “Just don't give up.”

What does it take to start a community of gardens?

The project needed labor and money to build garden infrastructure like raised beds, irrigation systems and fencing. It needed donations for seeds and seedlings, soil, fertilizer and tools. Here's where the real magic happened.

Armed with a strong letter of intent and the backing of the UofA Extension, we marched out into the community and asked. We received a fantastic response in seeds, soil, plants, tools, drip systems, water timers, liquid fertilizer, lumber and cash. We are grateful for grant support from the Yavapai Community Foundation, the Alta Vista Garden Club and Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Wonderful volunteer gardeners and mentors worked together to build raised beds filled with composted soil, install water timers and drip tape, fence out rabbits and trap gophers. Seeds were planted. They came up! The seedlings grew into peppers, chiles, squash and other veggies. Weeds were pulled. Lush gardens gave us a bountiful harvest.

The Grow Food In Your Backyard Project developed into a community, sharing problems and solutions over Zoom, touring each other’s gardens and enjoying a potluck garden celebration. Thanks to Rita Carey of YRMC's “Your Healthy Kitchen,” we have a video on the project, with interviews and a garden tour. To see it, search for “The Grow Food In Your Backyard Project” on YouTube.

In the final evaluation there were certainly some problems this first year, but every single gardener said that they will be growing food in their backyard next year. Of course, growing food is addictive and contagious, and we're doing it again.

Grow Food In Your Backyard 2022

The Grow Food In Your Backyard Project is powering up for an even more successful 2022 season, and we need you. If you're an experienced gardener, we need more mentors. (You don’t have to be an expert.)If you're a beginning gardener, we want to help you succeed. Request applications for both mentors and gardeners at PrescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org.

If you live outside the Prescott/Yavapai County area and would like to bring this project to your town, contact Gwen Garcelon of the Roaring Fork Food Alliance: gwen@roaringforkfood.org.

Photos by Molly.

September 2021
Sweet Red Pepper Season

What do autumn leaves and red peppers have in common? They both start off green, full of chlorophyll, and turn red in the fall.

Chlorophyll is a huge, complex molecule responsible for photosynthesis, which“ is largely responsible for producing and maintaining the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere and supplies most of the energy needed for life on Earth,” says Wikipedia.

So your green leaves and green peppers both produce oxygen and energy. The cooler temperatures and shorter days of fall trigger change. Trees and peppers degrade the green chlorophyll into bright yellow, orange, and red compounds. In the peppers these are health-promoting phytochemicals and antioxidants, like vitamins C and A. The shift in flavor is astounding, changing from grassy and slightly bitter to aromatic, fruity and sweet. (I haven’t tasted the leaves .…)

Fall is the season for sweet red peppers, and now is the time to use them lavishly. Yes, red peppers cost more. That’s because they ripen on the plant longer while developing those beneficial compounds and rich flavors. At the same time, they are exposed to more destructive forces like insects, molds and sun scald.

Pick thick-fleshed, bright red, firm peppers at the grocery or Farmer’s Market. Raw sweet red peppers are a delight in salads as a crunchy garnish or as scoops for dips. Cooking concentrates and intensifies the natural sugars and flavors. Try the following experiment and see which method you like. To start, buy three pounds.

Fry the first pound:

Chopraw peppers into half-inch pieces and sauté in olive oil with chopped garlic, onions, salt and pepper until the peppers are shriveled and have brown spots. Taste. Adjust seasoning.* Taste again. Wow! Fried red peppers are great alone, but don’t stop there. Toss them with pasta and grated Romano cheese, scramble them with eggs, make Chicken Cacciatoria, or try my Sweet Red Pepper Fritatta recipe below.

Flame-roast the second pound:

Canapeswith roasted red pepper paste

Place whole peppers on a grill over a hot flame. If you have a gas stove or barbecue, set them on the burner grid; if your range is electric, roast under the broiler. Grill over a wood fire for an even more complex, sweet-smoky flavor. Using tongs, turn the peppers often. You’re looking for a blush of char (not charcoal) here. When lightly blackened all over, toss the peppers into a bowl and pop on a lid. Allow them to cool, then the skins will easily slip off underrunning water. Remove the skins, stems and seeds.

Fora sumptuous Roasted Red Pepper Salad, cut the peppers up, drizzlethem with extra-virgin olive oil, a grind of pepper and a flourish ofsalt. Add another layer with sliced, fresh mozzarella. Mamma mia, dothat’s good! Expand this idea with cooked cubed potatoes, Greek olives, white beans and/or chopped fresh herbs. You don’t need a recipe.

I freeze hundreds of red peppers every fall to add some color to the gray days of winter. I love this recipe from Spain: Potatoes in Roasted Red Pepper Dressing. Check it out under Recipes, below.

Grind the third pound

and make red pepper paste: Remove the stems and seeds and put the peppers into a blender. Add a few teaspoons of olive oil, a pinch or two of salt and sugar, and grind as smoothly as possible. Pour this puree into a wide skillet and heat over a gentle flame. Cook slowly and stir regularly, to a jam-like consistency. Taste and adjustseasoning.* Chill. Then get out the crackers and cheese for a smackdown super-flavor, super-healthy appetizer.

Absolutely modify the spices — garlic, onions, curry powder, marjoram, thyme, etc. — to your taste. Use red pepper paste on and in anything, like toast, in sandwiches, minestrone soup or hummus. One pound of red peppers will give you about ½ cup of highly concentrated summer sunshine. You will not have enough. Make more.

When the leaves start turning it’s red-pepper season. Fresh, fried, fire-roasted or paste, enjoy them now and fill your freezer for a taste of summer sun all winter long!

*Adjust seasoning: While cooking always taste your dish before you serve it. Add salt, sugar, pepper and more spices or herbs to achieve a perfect balance.

RECIPES

Sweet Red Pepper Fritatta

Makes one 10-1/2”-diameter skillet, 4-6 servings

1/4-pound pasta, spiral rotini or tubes

6 eggs

1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound (about 3) red peppers, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup onion, chopped

½ teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped firm tomatoes

2 large pinches cracked red pepper, more or less to taste

Additional olive oil, as needed

Cook pasta in boiling water al dente. Rinse with cold water. Toss with a little olive oil and set aside. Beat eggs together and add cheese.

Heat1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet (preferably cast iron)and sauté peppers, garlic and onion until golden. Add salt, tomatoes and cracked red pepper. Remove from pan, scrape clean and set aside.

Pour the remaining olive oil into the scraped pan. Heat over medium flame, then add enough eggs to cover the bottom of the pan. Add half of the other ingredients, distributing them well. Cover with half the remaining eggs, then the other half of the ingredients. Finish with the remaining eggs. Cover and cook over low heat until set. Flip the fritatta over and cook the top. Alternatively, slide the fritatta under a broiler and cook until the top is firm. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.  

Potatoes In Red Pepper Dressing

A classic Spanish tapas dish.  Serves 6.

2 pounds red or white potatoes, all about the same size

2 eggs

1 pound red bell peppers

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less to taste

Pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon anchovy paste or miso

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

12 black olives, pitted (preferably Greek)

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes in simmering water until just tender for 20-30 minutes depending upon the size of the potatoes. Drain and chill.  Peel and cut into one-inch pieces. Boil eggs 15 minutes.  Run under cold water and peel. Cut olives into quarters.

Roast the peppers. Place them under a broiler, on the open flame of a gas range, or on a charcoal grill. Turn frequently until the skin is well charred and bubbly all over but not burned through. Wrap in a damp towel. To peel, dunk pepper in cold water. Skin will peel off easily. Remove stem and seeds.

Place the peppers, cayenne pepper, sugar and anchovy paste or miso in food processor or blender and process until pureed.  Add oil and vinegar and buzz until blended.

Ina medium bowl combine potatoes, roasted pepper sauce and olives. Toss lightly.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.  Keeps refrigerated for five days.

Photos by Molly

October 2021
Two Bites Bakery

What Allee Steinberg of Two Bites Bakery loves most is when customers say, “That was the best (blank) I’ve ever had.” Patrons of her stand at the Prescott Farmer’s Market have a multitude of reasons to say it: Green Chili Cheddar Scones, Chocolate-Chip Chili Cookies, Triple-Citrus Gingerbread, apricot biscotti, buttermilk honey rolls, asiago-cheese bread, challah, deli rye and Sun-Dried Tomato-Basil Bread, among many, as well as her best seller, Chocolate Halvah Sweet Rolls, which are stuffed with chocolate chunks, sesame paste and halvah (a sesame chocolate confection).


But Allee and Al, her husband and business assistant, weren’t always deliciously creative bakers. In 2005 they were another retired couple, escapees from harsh Midwest weather, enchanted by the Prescott area and bumping around for something to do. Allee had been a dental hygienist. She had never run a business or gone to culinary school, or even worked in food service. Then she discovered the Arizona Cottage Food Program, which licenses baking in home kitchens. Allee told herself, “I’ll just bake some stuff and sell it at the farmer’s market.” They were already dedicated market patrons, and Allee found the PFM requirements consistent with her own values — 10% local ingredients, and producer-only sales. So the adventure began.

Allee loves cooking and had been baking since she was 16.When she married Al in 1974 she was determined to learn to bake whole-wheat bread. The first loaves were heavy, “thick as a brick,” and she learned to balance the heaviness of whole grain with lighter flour. Then there was the sourdough experiment. Allee caught, cultivated and adopted her own lively starter that she’s been dedicated to ever since. They even take it on vacation!

A producer-only market means that everything sold at the market is grown or produced by the seller. Allee loved the idea of knowing where her food comes from and having a personal relationship with the farmer, rancher, brewer, candy maker or baker. She incorporated this concept by sourcing ingredients from Hayden Mills, The Honey Man, Danzeisen Dairy, Whipstone Farm, Skull Valley Lavender Farm, other PFM vendors, even eggs from her backyard chickens. Allee believes that fresher, high-quality, local ingredients make for a better experience.

In 2013 Allee and Al opened Two Bites Bakery at PFM. Monday through Friday Allee starts baking at 7am and works through till 4:30, when she “takes a break” to cook dinner. Then she packages and stores everything and finishes around 8:30. Every Saturday year-round Allee and Al stock their table with 100 loaves of bread, trays of sweet rolls and scones, eleven different cookies and biscotti in a wide variety, with seasonal variations. Every Saturday Two Bites Bakery practically sells out. Allee says “I never thought it would be so successful.”

Interested in experiencing “the best” baked goods you’ve ever tasted? Visit the Two Bites Bakery stand at the Prescott Farmer’s Market, and get there early if you’d like to try her Chocolate-Chip Chili Cookies or Chocolate Halvah Sweet Rolls.

Photos by Gary Beverly

September 2021
The Prescott Tomato Story

Several years ago I stumbled on an interesting listing in the Native Seeds-Search catalog: “Prescott Heritage Tomato. Given to Native Seeds by a member of a family that had grown this variety for many generations in Prescott AZ.”

My mind’s eye pictured the old Prescott, dirt roads and small cabins with homestead gardens over-spilling with prized tomato vines. I fantasized that generations of seed-saving gardeners had selected a tomato perfectly adjusted to our place on earth. I wanted to taste it. I wanted this tomato.

I ordered seed, which germinated quickly, grew rapidly, and produced nice fruit early and abundantly, right up to frost. The tomatoes surprised me. They were smallish but definitely not cherry tomatoes. They had a lot of characteristics of plum tomatoes, with dense flesh and no belly-button core. And they ripened well, sitting on the counter, resisting rot and mold. They were substantial and pulpy enough to make a rich tomato sauce. Best of all, they were not too sweet or too sour, extraordinarily balanced, and actually fulsome delicious. That first season we enjoyed Prescott tomatoes fresh, dried, sauced, and canned.

Alas, the next time I checked, Prescott tomatoes were no longer listed in Native Seeds-Search offerings. A search brought me to only one company, Tomato fest in Carmel, California. That's when I decided that this tomato has to come home, back to Prescott. I took this on as a challenge.

Tomato fest (tomatofest.com) owner Gary Lloyd Ibsen generously donated hundreds of seeds in 2018 and 2019 to be distributed at local seed-exchange events. Over the pandemic year I put in 20plants and distributed the seeds freely. Seeds and plants went out to Slow Food gardeners, the Farmer's Market seed exchange and the Public Library seed bank.

I wanted to learn more. I called Native Seeds-Search and asked, “Who brought these seeds in? When? What's the backstory?” The answer was “Sorry, they were dropped off by someone from Prescott, but we have no other record. We just don't know.”

Meanwhile, Native Seeds-Search needed someone in the Prescott area to grow seed for their collection. Of course I volunteered. For the 2021 season I planted exclusively Prescott  tomatoes and no other variety so they wouldn’t cross-pollinate. I planned to save seed, replenish the Native Seeds-Search stock, and distribute seed and tomatoes (with seed-saving instructions) to all of Prescott.

Native Seeds-Search sent me 400 seeds that were last grown in 2011, with a tested germination rate of only 24%. I planted them all in flats. After a week a few tomato sprouts came up. As they grew, I transplanted them into cups. Six weeks later they were still coming up. By that time the first emergent tomatoes were ready to go into the garden I had the 80 plants I needed and 80 more to give away.

That's how I wound up at the Farmer's Market on a mid-May Saturday morning with trays of Prescott tomato plants. And that's when I ran into my longtime friend, Prescott native Janet Markham. 

“How would you like a Prescott Tomato plant?” I asked.

“Oh,” Janet said, “are those the tomatoes that John Hays grew for years? The little rosy plum tomatoes that grow so vigorously and reseed themselves everywhere?”

“Is that the John Hays, former Arizona state senator, of the historic Hays Ranch in Peeples Valley?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, that's right.”

I say, “Can you put me in touch?”

Janet told me, “I’m meeting his daughter in an hour, I'll get you her number.”

State Senator John Upton Hays died in 2016 at the age of 88. His daughter, Becky Hays Rovey, still lives on the family ranch (established in 1912) and keeps his garden.

So I took the drive to Peeples Valley and met Becky. She talked about how her father loved this tomato, grew it for 50years, saved seed and distributed plants to friends. He wanted to share and preserve this unusual variety, so probably was the one who took it to Native Seeds-Search. “That's the kind of thing he would do,” she said. As I talked with Becky, more story unfolded.

“Where did the seed come from?” I ask.

Becky pulled out a repurposed plastic medicine bottle, labeled and filled with tomato seeds, and explained, “Dr. Brailler of Wickenburg developed these tomatoes and many other plants for our arid environment. He was the first medical doctor in Wickenburg and a good friend of my dad's.”

I plan to follow the trail of tomato seeds to Wickenburg to learn more about Dr. Brailler. Stay tuned.

You can purchase and taste Prescott tomatoes this season from the Schaffer Farm booth at the Prescott Farmer's Market. Watch for them there at seed-saving events too. Next spring you'll be able to find Prescott tomato seeds at Farmer's Market seed distributions and in the library’s seed library. Native Seeds-Search should also have seed for their spring 2022 catalog listing.

Let's bring these tomatoes back to every Prescott garden and farm, home to our kitchens and plates, and celebrate the past, enjoy the present and pass Prescott tomatoes on to the future. And let's send our gratitude to John Hays for passing them on to us.

Photo by Gary Beverly

“Native Seeds-Search is a nonprofit seed conservation organization based in Tucson, Arizona. Our mission is to conserve and promote the arid-adapted crop diversity of the Southwest in support of sustainable farming and food security. Native Seeds-Search seeks to find, protect and preserve the seeds of the people of the Greater Southwest so that these arid adapted crops may benefit all peoples and nourish a changing world.” Nativeseeds.org

How to Save Tomato Seeds

1.    Usefully ripe, mature tomatoes

2.    Cut them in half around the center (equator). Have a bowl ready. Using your fingers, tease out the seeds and the watery pocket around them. Save the rest of the tomato for eating. I buzz them up in the blender as a base for sauce.

3.    Pour the watery, seedy mixture into a glass jar. Add 1/4 cup water for every cup of seed mixture. Cover lightly.

4.    Allow the mixture to ferment for a few days. It might develop a covering of white mold.  This process dissolves the gelatinous seed coat and destroys seed-borne viruses

5.    Add more water and slowly pour off any floating seeds (which are sterile).  Again fill the jar with water and slowly decant. Viable seeds sink to the bottom. Repeat this process until the water is clear.

6.    Pour these seeds and water into a kitchen strainer and rinse under running water.

7.    Spread the seeds on a coffee filter, paper plate or parchment paper to dry.

8.    Allow to dry fully, for 2-4 weeks.  Seeds are fully dry if they easily crack in half when bent.

9.    Store in sealed, labeled glass jar in a cool dark place.

August 2021
Gardens, Good Food, Great Friends, and Poetry

Slow Food Prescott broke the pandemic isolation with a celebration of the Grow Food in Your Backyard Project, connecting teachers and gardeners in a project co-sponsored by Slow Food Prescott, the University ofArizona Extension Office, and Master Gardeners.

We matched 20 experienced gardeners with 20 beginners, with the goal of teaching them to be successful backyard gardeners.

We received generous community support of soil (PrescottDirt), lumber (Foxworth-Galbraith), supplies (The Home Depot and Prescott True Value Hardware), liquid fertilizer (Agro-Thrive), seeds, plants, labor, and money.

Delisa Myles captured the garden lessons in the poem below. Delisa is a former Prescott College professor, dancer, choreographer, educator and co-creator of Delicious Earth Farm.

Delisa Myles and Earl Duque of Delicious Earth Farm.
Photo by Molly

What to Expect in the Arizona Garden

by Delisa Myles, June 2021

Expect images on the seed packet to be what will grow in your garden. Expect feeding your family, friends and neighbors the overflowing abundance, the cornucopia of colorful foodstuffs harvested on the dates predicted on the packet. Expect big flowers and cantaloupe, peaches heavy on the limb.

Expect unrealistic expectations.

Expect insects, aliens from another planet, who appear overnight and suck the life right out of every hopeful leaf. Insects who munch with their relentless mouths, carving diminishing designs out of petals, leaves and roots.

Expect disappointment.

Expect javelina, deer, gophers, chipmunks, skunks, rabbits, finches, quail, snails and other unnamed crawling, flying, jumping, wily creatures who invite themselves to dine in your garden beds. Expect the disappearance of entire plants, roots and all. And expect the clean-cut stems of flowers just about to bloom, laying shriveled on the ground.

Expect starting over.

Expect daily work and watering. Expect bindweed and foxtail as your most prolific crop. Expect the wonder of a minuscule seed turning into a green shape all its own. Expect to look closely for the smallest of changes, in color, size, plumpness or wilt.

Expect to look to the sky and pray for rain. Expect to love clouds, the ones that bring rain and the ones that give shade, just a little relief from the blistering days. Expect 100-degree temperatures, expect drought. Expect existential angst about global warming.

Expect magic.

Make magic. Hang crystals on your fence, like raindrops, to inspire and seduce the clouds. Charm the clouds with your tears so they will show mercy on your parched patch.

Expect high water bills, and dry wells.

Expect deep fear for the longevity of the water table. Expect to think about moving to a wetter place. Expect to wrestle with the saying, “bloom where you are planted.”

Expect plants to grow where they prefer, where you didn’t plant them, like hollyhocks growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk. Expect cucumbers to complain about the heat and petition for shade. Expect even tomatoes and chilies to ask for shade. When the seed packet says plant in full sun they did not mean Arizona. No one here, not one plant, even a cactus, or any human would not rejoice with a sliver of shade or a few cloudy days and a good soaking monsoon.

Expect exhaustion, frustration and overwhelm.

Expect dirt in the cracks on your heels, dirt on your face and dirt permanently under your fingernails. Expect to wear a large hat and long-sleeved shirts.

Expect awe at the tenacity of sunflowers, yarrow and mullein. Expect pampering your basil a little, just till it gets to a certain size and then watch it take off. Eat pesto for months, and freeze some for February.

Expect to feel quiet satisfaction when you eat a salad from your garden, each lettuce leaf a testament to your good work.

Expect to treat your tomato plants like blood children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Expect to save seeds for generations so those tomato children, with your diligence, will continue.

Expect to fall in love with life a little deeper, to respect yourself a little more for accompanying your garden through another season of failures and victories.

Expect to believe in faeries, the rare desert variety, and to put your faith in invisible friends, the allies and the aliens.

Expect to gaze deeply at the vibrating colors of flowers, how they emerge out of nowhere, how they open, attract and wither. Expect to see your own face do the same.

Expect to learn firsthand that you are an indivisible part of this Mothership Earth. You are the living history, the one kneeling down as countless ancestors before you, tucking seeds into soil. Expect to make a promise to the future, that you will keep believing in magic, hard work and the miracle of water falling freely from the sky.

Expect to open your garden gate with a silent prayer, with curiosity and presence, with hunger and humbleness.

Please contact Delisa Myles for permission to reprint: delisa.myles@gmail.com.

Join the Grow Food in Your Backyard Project: PrescottAZ@slowfoodusa. org, and learn more about Slow Food Prescott at: facebook/slowfoodprescott.

July 2021
Tomato Sauce, Unpacked

It's Tomato Season!

Start with vine-ripe tomatoes. Taste them. Great flavor is the key to great sauce. I adore the Carbon variety (seed available from johnnyseed.com) and love traditional Italian plum tomatoes like San Marzano and Roma.

The best tomatoes, of course, come from a backyard garden or local farm. Soft tomatoes are best for sauce, a small flaw is okay. Tell the farmer that you want “seconds.” If you need to ripen tomatoes, do that in a single layer, at room temperature, stem-end down. Stem-end down is important: they'll ripen evenly and keep twice as long.

Al dente and other pasta lessons

Italians are pasta connoisseurs, eating 60 pounds a year for every man, woman and child, more than anyone else in the world. That boils down to a serving every day for everyone. (Americans eat just 26 pounds per person per year.) Buy Italian pasta; it just tastes better.

Select a shape that fits the sauce. Chunky sauces need chunky pastas. Smooth sauces need skinny pasta. Cook that Italian pasta in a large pot with lots of vigorously boiling, salted water. It's ready when the pasta is al dente, i.e. chewy, just after firm but before soft and way before mushy.

Notes on ingredients

Basil and oregano, both members of the mint family, are interchangeable, but they are not the same. Basil is delicate. Use it fresh, stack the leaves up and slice them thinly, add it at the end of cooking or as a garnish. Oregano is basil's tough cousin. Buy whole-leaf dried, and add it early in the cooking. I like to crush it in my palm and toss it into the sauté with the garlic. (Find whole-leaf oregano with the Mexican spices in your grocery store, or buy an oregano plant for your yard and you'll have it forever.)

I grind pepper right out of my pepper mill into the sauté as well. Dried oregano and cracked peppercorns are rich with oil-soluble aromatic compounds. The best way to extract them is in a gently heating pool of oil. I recommend extra-virgin olive oil. Trader Joe's has a big selection with great prices. Scientific evidence shows extra-virgin olive oil to be the “healthiest fat on earth.” (Check out healthline.com)

Garlic, garlic, how I love thee! After 35 years of growing Chino Valley Silverskin, both commercially and in my home garden, I feel like an expert. Raw garlic should be used sparingly and micro-minced to diffuse the punchy flavor. Oil-toasted garlic is my cooking signature. I chop it and treat it to a slow olive-oil sizzle until golden, developing a mellowness that complements many things, including tomatoes. You can buy Chino Valley Silverskin from Whipstone Farm at the Farmer's Market or at their farmstand in Paulden. [whipstone.com]

If you use cheese, please buy a block and grate it yourself. I keep it in the freezer, handy and ready. I'm partial to Pecorino Romano, a salted, hard sheep cheese from the island of Sardinia with a 2,000-year-old origin. It is full of rich nutty flavor, and a super bargain available at Costco.

Last but not least: salt. It is true that salt is the balancing act in flavor, harmonizing the sweet and sour elements of your tomatoes. Use it wisely: add a little at a time at the end of cooking until the flavor is perfect.

Potter's Pasta: An Uncooked Sauce

I made this for lunch every day back when I was a potter. It comes together fast and serves four.

Start with 1/2 pound of thick pasta (tubes, twists, shells) cooked al dente in lots of salted water. While the pasta is cooking, chop 2 pounds of very ripe tomatoes. Then mix them with 2 cloves of finely minced garlic, 10 Greek olives cut into big pieces, 6 basil leaves finely sliced (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano), and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the pasta is done, drain quickly and return it to the cooking pot. Add the tomato mixture and 2 ounces of freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, and stir everything together. Grind in some black pepper and a couple of dashes of salt, mix and taste. Of course, serve this immediately. Enjoy! and get back to work.

Sugo Fresco di Pomodoro: Gently Cooked Fresh Tomato Sauce

For four servings start with 1/2 pound of spaghetti cooked al dente in a generous amount of salted water. Drain, toss with olive oil, and set aside.

Peel the tomatoes and crush the pulp. There are two ways to do this. You can cut the tomatoes in half, around the equator, and then grate the pulp side on a hand grater, leaving the skins behind. Alternatively, drop those tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds.  Remove quickly and chill them in ice water. The skins will slip right off. Crush the resulting naked tomatoes with your hands or in a food processor.

Now place 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped,  in a wide skillet. Put the pan over medium heat and let the garlic sizzle slowly. Add a couple grinds of fresh pepper and a teaspoon of dried whole-leaf oregano. When the garlic is golden, slowly pour in the tomatoes. Simmer about 20 minutes until the sauce thickens. Taste and add salt, pepper or oregano as needed. Drop the pasta into the sauce and allow everything to simmer together for a minute or two. Serve with a grating of excellent cheese.

Triple-Seared Tomato Sauce: cast-iron skillets required

I developed this recipe while cooking on a fierce, fire-breathing two-burner propane stove at the Farmer's Market. The farmers donated flawed tomatoes that they couldn't sell. The characteristic seared flavor comes from sugars caramelizing on the hot skillets. 

Start with 2-1/2 pounds of very juicy, very ripe tomatoes. Chop them finely and mix them with 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Let this sit for an hour or so. Meanwhile. coarsely chop up a whole bulb of garlic.

Put two large cast-iron skillets on two burners at medium heat. Right away put 2 tablespoons of olive oil and all the garlic in one skillet. Add 1 teaspoon whole oregano leaves, or skip this step and add basil later. Sizzle gently until the garlic is golden. Turn up the heat on both skillets to high. Slowly pour the tomato mixture into the pan with the garlic. Let it come to a rolling boil. Now, very carefully, pour the contents of the first skillet into the second skillet, letting the liquid go first.  Let it boil ferociously for a few minutes, then carefully pour it back into the first skillet. Repeat pouring back and forth until the sauce thickens.

In a large pot of salted water cook 1/2 pound of your favorite pasta al dente, drain well.  Add your pasta to the sauce. Toss and heat for a minute. Top with finely cut basil (if you’re using it instead of oregano) and a grating of excellent cheese.

Buon appetito!

June 2021
Big Dreams on Heidi Lane: A Tale of Two Red Barns

A waitress and a bartender (Emily Hughes and Joe Swifka) meet in Seattle. She likes to grow vegetables, he likes to cook.

They move to New York. She plants a garden on the fire escape. He moves into management. They move to LA. She plants a backyard garden. He trains in restaurants. After two decades in this story they get tired of the hospitality industry, of the pressure and responsibility, of never seeing time off and of working long hours.

So they put together a plan, explaining it this way: “We decided that we were done with the big-city thing. We decided to move where we would have some space and start a garden farm that’s more serious.”

“Where,” I ask, “do a waitress and a bartender get the taste for farm-fresh?”

“In the finest restaurants where we worked,” they replied. “Once you’ve tasted food that is grown in season by people who care, you can’t go back to the convenient, commercial stuff. Once you’ve tasted a tomato in season, grown in the sun, there’s no going back.”

So they started to search. They looked far and wide for their ideal small farm. California was too expensive. Emily’s parents had retired in Prescott, so they searched around Northern Arizona. In 2018 they found the perfect property on Heidi Lane in Chino Valley, with a big red barn, good old buildings, fruit trees, a well, and 2-1/2 acres adjacent to protected farmland (Chino Valley High School’s Cooper-Morgan Ag Center).

They planned on selling vegetables at the Farmer’s Market, and serving special farm dinners. Then they saw the restaurant space available on the highway, another red barn. “We liked the idea of having a smaller farm, and shifted our focus to the farm as an extension of the restaurant,” Emily explained. Working backward from Emily’s gardening to the restaurant, using Joe’s experience and excitement — that’s the definition of Farm to Restaurant. Emily sparkles with enthusiasm: “I have so many ideas, I can’t process fast enough. It’s a stretch on attention and ambitions.”

The Heidi Lane restaurant opened in December 2019 with six tables and counter service. Emily and Joe feel lucky to have opened before the pandemic took hold, establishing a small clientele. Then business got very slow. They pivoted to bring in what they could get through the restaurant purveyors and became a mini-general store. It was a tough time for restaurants, especially startups. They almost closed. They stuck it out with a very limited menu and no employees. This fall, business started rebuilding and is better than ever.

Now the restaurant is moving toward what they would like to see — more vegetable-based specials, more creative main dishes, and a special menu of small dishes. Joe bakes bread daily. All soups, sauces, pickles and desserts are made on site. Produce and eggs (“when the girls are laying”) come from the Heidi Lane Farm. Other ingredients come from local farmers, in season whenever possible.

When you go, don’t miss the buttery, feather-light biscuits and Bread Pudding with Chard, Feta, and Green Garlic. When you go, try the Carrot Torte. Here’s the description from their Facebook page: “Carrots are sexy. Yeah, I said it. Dig our Carrot Torta — A spread of black beans, a layer of coriander, pickled carrots, a grip of roasted carrots topped with a delicious carrot molé sauce. Finished with crema, cilantro, and lettuce.” Or try the Mushroom and Herb Toasted Cheese Sandwich, described here: “The mushrooms come from our pals at Sun Valley Harvest and are a mix of shiitake, oyster, king oyster and maitake. The sandwich is spread with an herb cream sauce, and then toasted in the oven with a blend of provolone, Swiss, and Oaxaqueño cheeses.” These are specials, so you might miss them, but whatever Joe has on the menu will taste unforgettably great.


You can also find Emily and Heidi Lane Cafe at the Prescott Farmer’s Market with hot soup (like Carrot Posole or Spinach Green Garlic and Potato), freshly baked bread, and local honey and vegetables.

Back at the farm, it’s all potential. They just cleared a quarter-acre of the nasty weed tree, Chinese elm, installed an irrigation system, and planted heritage apple trees. Another quarter-acre is laid out and planted in sweet and grinding corn. Emily is planting perennials and fruit. I tour the initial plantings of asparagus and artichokes, rhubarb, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, currants, gooseberries and grapes. “The grapes are from the old vines on this property and at the cafe make delicious eating and wine.”

Emily took cuttings and is now ready to plant the vineyard. I tour the greenhouse and see all the flowers, herbs and vegetables waiting to go out into the summer warmth to the other quarter-acre of vegetables. This and everything else is grown with strictly organic practices.

Emily is ecstatic, Joe is excited. She grows, Joe cooks. We win.

You can find Emily and Joe at Heidi Lane Cafe, 838 W. Highway 89 in Chino Valley, open Tues-Sat 8am to 3pm. Also at the Prescott Farmer’s Market, Saturdays 7:30am–noon, Instagram and Facebook @heidilanecafe, and watch for farm dinners coming in the future.


May 2021
Smoky Braised Tempeh

I spent some years trying to like tempeh.

This cross between a mushroom and a soybean cake originated over 1,000 years ago in Java, Indonesia. Soybeans are an excellent pantry staple because they are super-high in protein, however, like other beans, they are solidly difficult to digest. In China and Japan they are ground and soaked and cooked and strained. Then the “milk” is congealed into curds and pressed — that's tofu. It takes all this processing to make soy easy to digest.

Tempeh developed in tropical Java, where perfect conditions for fermentation exist —high heat, high humidity, native soybeans and the Rhizopus oligosporus fungus. It occurs naturally on beautiful yellow-flowered sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus) and on teak leaves, which are both used as traditional food wrappers. Perhaps ancient people compressed cooked soybeans into a cake, then wrapped that cake in the right leaves, and set it aside for a day to discover that cake of soybeans transformed into an appetizing delicacy, bound and encased in a fluffy white mycelium. It smelled fresh; it tasted delicious; it was filling and energizing.

A mycelium consists of the threadlike branches of fungi. They move into a food source on a microscopic level, secreting enzymes and dissolving big molecules, breaking them into simpler carbohydrates that we can use. In soybeans, mycelia digest the oligosaccharides, complex carbohydrates that are not easy for us to digest and end up causing “digestive distress.” Rhizopus works so well that the resulting tempeh digests easily with none of the dreaded gassy effect.

Tempeh is an excellent substitute for meat. It has 18 grams of protein per three-ounce serving. Unlike the plethora of meat analogs on the market today, it comes about through a totally natural process. Consuming less animal products is a powerful weapon against many environmental challenges and an effective way to improve your own health.

These are good reasons to eat tempeh. Lately, I’m excited about the Smoky Grilled Tempeh recipe in Veganomicon, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moscowitz. She is a marvel at making vegan tasty, and she isn't afraid of punchy spicing. It's an inspirational recipe that caught me up. Now after a multitude of trials I have added my own adaptations, including more garlic, easier methods, and, best of all, using it as the heart of a great burger.

I’ve tried a lot of veggie burgers, finding them mushy, squishy and meh on flavor. The Smoky Braised Tempeh burger is firm, charred, smoky and very satisfying. This burger dances with all those traditional burger accompaniments — pickles, mustard, ketchup, red onions, tomatoes. Leftover Smoky Braised Tempeh bits just disappear from the refrigerator as nuggets of flavor on salads, in stir-fry or soups, fried into eggs, on pizza, and onward. We love this stuff.

And here's how to make it!

Smoky Braised Tempeh, serves 4-6 

Start with a pound of tempeh (available at all the natural-food stores or make it yourself.) Cut the tempeh into burger-sized slabs and lay them in a wide pan, one layer deep. In a bowl mix together 1 cup water, ¼ cup each of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and olive oil, 2 tablespoons of both liquid smoke and smoked paprika, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Pour this over the tempeh slices. Let marinate for 15 minutes to an hour, then turn the slices over and marinate another 15 minutes.

Pour a thin slick of olive oil into a large cast-iron skillet and heat over medium heat. Place the tempeh slices in the pan in a single layer. Let sizzle until browned, then add half the marinade. Simmer uncovered until the marinade has evaporated. Turn the pieces over and add the rest of the marinade. Simmer to evaporate, and let the slices brown a little at the very end. Remove from heat, serve on toasted buns with all the usual burger fixings.

Enjoy the delicious and satisfying experience of a high flavor, healthy and planet-supportive burger.

References

From the Mayo Clinic, “Meatless meals: The benefits of eating less meat”

From Greenpeace, “Eating Less Meat, More Plants Helps the Environment”

From The New York Times, “What If We All Ate a Bit Less Meat?”

How to Make Your Own Tempeh

Adapted from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz

You'll need some simple equipment to prepare the beans and simulate the growing conditions of Java.

Purchase the soybeans and starter online. 

I could not find them at local stores, so I bought 25 pounds of organic soybeans on the internet. Order the tempeh spore online, too. I bought a pound (a lifetime supply for me) on Amazon for under $10.

Soak, cook, drain and dry the beans.

Soak 2-1/2 cups soybeans overnight. In the morning rinse and rub them well until the casings come off and the beans split in half. Rinse and rub until casings rise to the top of the pan, then skim them off with a strainer. Now cook the beans for 40 minutes, until they are firm but al dente. Skim off any more casings that have risen to the top. Drain the beans fully, let sit a few minutes in the strainer to cool. Then pour the beans onto a towel. Roll them up. Unroll and then let them sit out to air dry. 

Inoculate the beans: Put the beans in a large bowl and add 1 teaspoon tempeh starter and 2 tablespoons cider vinegar. The vinegar creates an acid environment that discourages unwanted microbes. Mix well.

Form the tempeh: I use baking sheets lined with parchment paper placed so it wraps all around the beans. I compress the beans into a cake about an inch thick and secure it with tape. Alternatively you can put the mixture in a one-gallon zip bag and poke a bunch of holes in it for air circulation.

Put the tempeh in an incubator: The ideal incubation temperature is about 88F (31C) degrees. We use an old refrigerator rigged with a set-point thermostat and a pan of water for humidity. Here’s an even lower-budget solution: outfit an ice chest with a small crock pot. You'll have to fiddle around to get the right temperature. Check out this site for more instructions: thetempehlab.com.

When is the tempeh ready? The mycelium takes 24 hours, more or less. Check the temperature often. The process gives off its own heat, so you may need to adjust the temperature. You'll know it's done when the entire mass is covered in a nice white fuzz and the beans hang together. If you leave it longer, you might see some grey spots begin to form. That's the fungi sporulating.  Don't worry, still good to eat.

Cut, and chill the tempeh immediately in a single layer. Then you can pack it. Refrigerate for up to five days, or freeze it for up to six months.

April 2021
Advice for New Gardeners

With the insecurity of the pandemic, popular interest in growing food has resurfaced. Victory gardens and raised beds are all the rage. Seed companies are reporting shortages. Even the local compost company is having trouble keeping up with the demand.

Ashley Fine

What I get out of my garden is pure joy. After 50 seasons of gardening, I'd like to share some helpful advice for newbie and continuing gardeners alike.

This time of year it's flat soil, a blank canvas. The garden emerges as a co-creative dance with seeds, soil, sunlight, water and the variants of nature. Every day it's a challenge and experience of discovery, wonder, frustration, and beauty, and I get to have a role in it. It is awesome. I swear, there is something in dirt, some anti-depressant, stimulating component that has a deep effect on me.

My advice for new gardeners is to plant trees. I live on the open prairie land of Yavapai County, where the wind and sun are desiccating and fierce. In 1979 we planted a windbreak of Arizona Cypress. Now they are fifty feet high. These trees changed the climate by blocking the wind, the June hair dryer blast and the winter blizzard. Now I can grow berries; my peppers don't shrivel on the plants; the seedlings don't wilt. Trees have the power to change the microclimate and affect climate change. Plant some.

For a broader perspective, I asked experienced local gardening friends for their opinions. “Why do you garden? What advice do you have for new and beginning gardeners?”

Gabe Kerbs, Assistant Market and Compost Project Manager, Prescott Farmer's Market

Gabe Kerbs

“There is much that is not in our control (weather, pests, diseases). Learn from your failures and observe them closely. Then try again with your new information. Learn to let go. Remember gardens don't have to be neat to be productive.

“The soil is everything. Start a compost pile and actively manage it. Get your neighbors to give you their food waste to build your pile faster. Consider it a resource! When I started growing food, I began to put more thought into what I was buying and where it comes from. Food grown with love tastes better.”

Ashley Fine, Skyview School Fourth-Grade and School Garden Teacher

“I've learned countless personal and universal lessons as a gardener, but one thing I always say to my students is that gardens teach us patience. The plants in a garden show us that you cannot rush things to mature, and nurturing things patiently, over time, is the only way to fully enjoy their sweetness.

“Start small and add on, or try new things bit by bit as you are successful. Plan ahead for wildlife pests. Fencing and electrical deterrent systems are essential for success. Use an automated watering system that is water-efficient and consistent. This is smart water use for our dry climate, and the plants love it.”

Jeff Schalau, Director, Yavapai County, University of Arizona Extension Office

“Growing a garden isn’t difficult to do, but the rewards go far beyond putting food on the table. Your garden will teach you something every day, all year long if you are out there trying new things, learning new techniques, and constantly trying to improve your skills and increase your knowledge.”

JanetWilson, Professional Gardener, Consultant and Teacher, JanetWilsonGardens.com

“Start small and ask questions! Gardeners love to talk about gardening. Be patient with yourself and your garden, and rejoice in your successes!”

Earl Duque, Delicious Earth Farm

“The big lesson I have learned is that gardening and growing food are community-builders. They help break through political views. My neighbors (of a different political persuasion) and I share our crops, our experiences, and even our compost and manure.

“My advice for beginning gardeners is to get in there and plant something. Remember it's a grand experiment. A third is for the critters, a third may just die for no reason, and one third you'll be able to eat and enjoy. I call that success.”

Gary Beverly, retired farmer, now a home gardener, Chino Valley

Gary Beverly

“Take time to look and observe, then ask yourself lots of questions, like, ‘What is that bug? Who's digging up my plants? Why do the peppers on the north side of the plant look better than the south side? Why is the corn taller on one end of the row?’  There are a ton of questions, all interesting and wonderful.

“Plant more than you think you’ll need so you can share the surplus. Accept that not everything will work out and plenty will go wrong, so take delight in solving the little problems.”

Landen Schaeling, Dharma Farm, Paulden

“The biggest lesson I have learned from growing food is the investment and work that it truly takes. You'll never scoff at food prices again, and you'll see for yourself how mass-produced food can only be as cheap as it is because of subsidies. The gratitude I feel for every meal is reflected in the effort I've put into gardening. You have no idea how good food can taste till you grow it yourself.”

Justin Brereton, Professor of Agribusiness Technology, Yavapai College

“Growing food for me is rewarding in many ways. I like the planning, physical activity and therapy that come from cultivating something. I have learned to plant what we can consume and what we enjoy as a family, but have struggled to learn how to preserve, store, can and eat it fresh. I’m that guy with a hundred pounds of extra zucchini.”

Kathleen Yetman, Executive Director, Prescott Farmers Market

“It seems really obvious and simple, but plant what you like to eat. Every year I plant tomatoes because they're easy to grow, but no one in our house really likes tomatoes. This year I'm focusing on the things that we actually love to eat.”

Corey Rade, Whipstone Farm (whipstone.com)

Corey Rade

“Persistence and patience are important. Don't give up! It will get better. Growing food takes practice. Don't plant too early. Don't pick too early. Just wait.”

Kathleen Corum, Certified Master Gardener

“I like gardening because it meshes nicely with adjusting to climate change, providing a healthy diet, and supporting the planet. For new gardeners I advise starting with something fast. Plant things now that grow in cooler weather, when there are few bug problems and it's easier to keep the seed bed damp (like leafy greens, beets, turnips and radishes). These easy-to-grow crops will be harvested and out of the ground before the scorching-hot, dehydrating days of June.”

Juan and Keeton Aguiar Bravo, Blooming Reed Farm, Paulden

“Be really patient and don't expect to do everything right. Farming takes a lot of trial and error. When we started we overdid it and realized that we didn't have the ability to take care of everything. Ask for advice from people you know. We thought other farmers were secretive, then we realized that they have a community mindset and are happy to give advice.”

Jennie Wolfe, Garden Manager and Sustainability Educator, Orme School

“Grow things you like and grow lots of herbs. Having a garden you can tour with  tastes and smells is a true delight. A pinch of cilantro, a whiff of tulsi, the year-round warrior that is rosemary, are all ways to pack a huge flavor punch in your food in a small footprint. You'll also visit the garden more often, making it more likely that you'll be on top of the weeds and fertilization needs. When that kale plant you've lovingly tended into a tiny tree is getting attacked by aphids, you'll notice. If you don't like beans or okra, you'll never pick them before they're woody and you'll feel like a bad gardener. You're not. You're human.

“The biggest lesson I've learned from growing food? There are so many, ranging from a profound appreciation for a perfectly grown carrot to the delicate balance between life and death, to the lessons of true wealth inspired by saving one's own seed. I look at the grocery store differently, see potential in piles of leaves, and say real prayers of gratitude before I eat. Having an inkling of what it takes to get the food to my plate, whether it comes from my own garden, farmer's market, or grocery store, has inspired deep humility and gratitude — and a hefty dose of worry for our planet and its inhabitants. Summing it up in a single lesson seems the antithesis of what gardening can be. I suppose, though, that it could be simple: we are all connected in this tangled web of life.”

RESOURCES

The Backyard Gardener, written by University of Arizona Extension Agent Jeff Schalau

Yavapai County Master Gardener's Help Desk - prescottmg@gmail.com

Prescott Public Seed Library

Groundhog Garden Chat via Zoom, sponsored by Slow Food Prescott, every 2nd and 4th Tuesday at 6:30 pm.  Contact: prescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org


March 2021
How To Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

Sourdough causes certain endocrine glands to secrete hormones that affect your feelings and behavior by making you happy. Therefore, it counteracts depression, in turn reducing the stress of depression. Your stress-free life helps you maintain a youthful disposition, both physically and mentally. So, eat lots of sourdough bread!” —Chris Geiger, Great British Bake-Off

What is sourdough?

Sourdough is a yeast and bacteria colony growing in a flour and water matrix. The magic that makes it more than a flour-and-water paste are the microorganisms that hang out in the flour and in the air, waiting for the moment they can grow. The organisms are microscopic, of course, but their presence is abundantly obvious when activated by water. The flour provides food sources — complex carbohydrates and proteins — that break down to produce sugars, acetic acid, lactic acid, carbon dioxide and alcohol. Here's Wikipedia's simple explanation:

“Sourdough is a stable culture of lactic-acid bacteria and yeast in a mixture of flour and water. Broadly speaking, the yeast produces gas (carbon dioxide), which leavens the dough, and the lactic-acid bacteria produce lactic acid, which contributes flavor in the form of sourness. The lactic-acid bacteria metabolize sugars that the yeast cannot, while the yeast metabolizes the byproducts of lactic-acid fermentation. During sourdough fermentation, many cereal enzymes, particularly phytases, proteases and pentosanases, are activated through acidification and contribute to biochemical changes during sourdough fermentation.” 

It's much, much more complicated than that, so check out the Wikipedia entry if you're interested in digging deeper.

Sourdough is nothing new. It's ancient. Wild fermentation of grains, what we call sourdough, started over 10,000 years ago with the origin of agriculture.

For thousands of years sourdoughs were the only leavening, and they were treasured and protected. Modern bread, made with consistent and uniform baker's yeast, dates from the 1870s. Dried granulated yeast, the kind that went so missing after the pandemic flurry of panic baking, was introduced after World War II. But we can do better without it. Wild yeasts and bacteria that you can capture yourself are everywhere, and they are much, much more flavorful, delicious and delightful.

Capturing your own starter

Making your own sourdough starter is easy. It's just flour and water. But there are some important nuances. 

You want a clean, glass one-quart jar with a non-metal lid. Starters need plenty of room because they expand, sometimes tripling in size. You need a lid that can be left loose so extra carbon dioxide can escape. A good wrap of plastic, secured with a rubber band, will do the trick.

1 cup water: If you are on city water, it's probably treated with mild anti-bacterials (like chlorine). In this case we want the bacteria to live, so use bottled or filtered water.

1 1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour (see note on rye flour, below):Standard commercial flour is bleached and bromated, and both processes kill naturally occurring microorganisms, so use the natural, organic stuff. I like to replace a couple of tablespoons with rye flour, it's a big booster. Look for it in natural food stores.

Mix the water and flour together in the glass jar. Cover lightly. Within hours the microscopic community starts working, and you'll start seeing bubbles. Stir twice daily. To build strength, feed it daily for three days by adding 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cups of flour, then stir. If the jar gets too full, make some flatbread (recipe follows). After three days the mixture will start bubbling with life! It will be foaming out of the jar. (Make some more flatbread or cookies. Check out the recipes for sourdough discard.)

Keep the jar covered loosely so gases can escape. Careful! A tight lid will result in pressure buildup and a big mess when you finally let it all out, so watch out! At this stage someone doing the dishes might try to clean up your starter. Label it with warnings: “Live Active Starter, do not destroy!”

With daily feedings you'll have a good, going starter ready to use. By feeding daily you select for very active microbes that prefer a less acid environment. Now your starter can be used and “refreshed” regularly with a flour-to-water ratio of 1.5 to 1.

Sourdough starter is designed to be a source of leavening for continuous use. That's how it works best. It can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks. It will separate and turn brown, but you can revive it by pouring out most and refreshing every day until it revives. Really, if you were an ancient Jew in Egypt or a sourdough gold miner in Alaska, you would want to use it every single day. It's a commitment.

When you have too much starter to fit in the jar, you can use the “discard” for many things. For example:

Sourdough Flatbread

1 heavy skillet (preferably cast iron)

1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil

1/2 cup sourdough starter mixed with a pinch each of salt and baking soda 

Optional: A sprinkle of powdered garlic, herbs, spices or chili powder Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add the oil. When a drop of water sizzles in the pan, pour your sourdough starter in like a pancake. Sprinkle with seasonings if used. Cook until bubbles form on the top side. Turn over and cook until browned. Eat!

I've got my starter, now what?

It’s time to use that active, bubbly, tangy anti-depressant starter for sourdough breads and anything else you bake — pancakes, biscuits, cookies, even sourdough chocolate cake. I'm feeling better, happier and younger already!

Resources

Northwest Sourdough, Teresa Greenway, is the gold standard for learning more: northwestsourdough.com

Sourdough Recipes

Sourdough Pancakes or Waffles by King Arthur Baking Company

Sourdough Chocolate Cake by King Arthur Baking Company

Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies by I AM Baker

Classic Alaskan Sourdough Biscuits

I can see the old Klondike prospectors making biscuits this way, but they probably used bear grease instead of butter. Modern baking powder is an option if you don't want to wait for the biscuits to rise. A cast-iron skillet is a necessity for best results. (See “Molly's Method of Curing and Caring for Cast Iron.”)  Makes 8

9-inch cast-iron skillet

1 cup organic all-purpose flour

1 cup organic white wheat or whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon salt


1 tablespoon sugar


2 teaspoons baking powder (optional)

2 Tablespoons butter, melted

2 cups active sourdough starter (freshly fed 12 hours in advance)

Additional melted butter as needed

In a large bowl, mix flours, salt, sugar and baking powder (if using). Add butter and mix in.  Form a hollow in the flour mixture and pour in 2 cups sourdough starter. Using a fork, slowly mix starter around until it has picked up all the flour. You should have a soft, sticky dough.  Add a couple teaspoons of water if needed. Pinch off balls about the size of an egg (2 1/2 ounces each), flour them and pat into rounds 1/2 inch thick.  Butter the skillet and fill with the rounds with edges touching. Brush with melted butter.

Baking powder is an optional convenience in this recipe, but it's been around since the 1840s. If you add the baking powder you can bake the biscuits right away. For authentic sourdough biscuits, cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 2-1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter.  Let them cool a few minutes and then enjoy your hand-made, wildly fermented biscuits. Pass the butter and the peach preserves, please!

Molly's Method of Curing and Caring for Cast Iron

Whether a new pan or a rusty pan, the curing method is the same.  If your pan is crusty from years of service, you can clean it by “burning” it in a fire or in the self-cleaning cycle of your oven. Then you have to cure it again like new.

1. Wash and dry pan completely, removing any rust.

2. Spray pan all over, front and back, with vegetable oil.

3. Using a paper towel, rub the oil into the pan, rubbing off any excess.

4. Place the pan in the oven or on the stovetop (the stovetop method will smoke some, so turn on the fan), or on the gas grill outside. Set the oven, stovetop or grill to high and let the pan get very hot. When you see it start smoking, turn off the fire and let it cool. 

5. Repeat the oil treatment and heating treatment twice more.

Now your pan has a good initial cure. Whenever you wash it, and you can wash it with soap and scrubber, dry it over heat. If the pan gets rusty, wash off the rust, spray with oil, and heat-treat again.  

February 2021
Start with Seeds

A proper pandemic pantry needs seeds. To build a food supply that will get you through hard times, pandemics and climate change, you need seeds, and you need to learn how to use them to grow food, at least a little, and at best enough to be able to walk out your door and harvest something you can eat. Seeds are the starting point for your pandemic garden.

10 Easy-to-Grow Food Plants

Here's my list of the easiest-to-grow food plants for the Prescott area.

#1: Sunflowers – You can grow sunflowers from raw in-the-shell seeds that you buy to eat at the natural food store. They come up fast, easy and strong. If you don't plant anything else, plant a sunflower, because they will cheer you up and spitting sunflower-seed shells revives our childhood joy.

#2: Beans – Beans themselves are big seeds and come up quickly once frost has passed. There are bush and pole varieties. Pole beans need support and will gladly climb up the sunflower you are going to plant. Beans are a three-in-one package. They can be harvested as green pods (aka green beans), as green shell beans (when pods are stringy but the beans are fat, green and luscious), or as dry beans to be shelled and cooked or stored for next year's garden.

#3: Radishes and Salad Turnips – Radishes and their not-so-spicy cousin, the salad turnip, will give the impatient gardener the quickest reward. The seeds are small but they come up fast, like gangbusters, and then form nice crunchy roots in less than 30 days. Go for it!

#4: Summer Squash – Summer squashes include many varieties of zucchini — yellow, patty pan, crookneck, and green. They have big seeds and spring up with big leaves, powering into a hearty bush. Yellow varieties are easier to see; green squash hide among the foliage and, if you miss picking them, turn into squash monsters. Pick the summer squash when they are young and tender. These plants will continue bearing from July until frost.

#5:Winter Squash – Winter squash (including pumpkins) have hard shells that protect flavorful, nutty meat. Large seeds are easy to plant, sprout quickly, and grow vigorously. They are creepy crawlers and will spill out of your garden beds onto the paths, or climb up a trellis. By fall the squash look like gourds, but inside they are rich in nutrients, orange, and sweet. In October they are fit for pies or storage for winter eating. My all-time favorite choice for reliability, taste, and best storage is the standard heritage variety, Waltham Butternut.

#6: Swiss Chard and Kale – Get those greens on! Swiss chard and kale are in different families, but have the same cut-and-come-again habit. Get them going and they just keep giving, even after a light frost in late October or November. You'll never want to buy chard or kale again when you see how easy they are to grow.

#7: Potatoes – Nothing is more delightful than growing potatoes. Instead of seed you plant chunks with eyes that sprout with vigor. It’s important to start with "certified seed potatoes" because potatoes may carry big, nasty diseases like scab, dry rot, or black scurf. Look for them in seed catalogs, online or in garden stores. A couple of months after planting you’ll be able to explore under the roots to harvest "new" potatoes, the best ever.

#8&9: Tomatoes and Peppers –What would a garden be without tomatoes and peppers? For beginners, start with plants, which are available just about everywhere in the spring. Cherry tomatoes and small sweet or hot chilies are the easiest and fastest to grow. Put them in pots on your porch and you'll be enjoying tomato or pepper gems all summer.

#10: Garlic – Anyone who knows me knows that garlic is my middle name. At one time Gary and I harvested 12,000 pounds for wholesale markets. That was long before the Prescott Farmer's Market existed. Now we harvest only 100 pounds a year. Chino Valley Silverskin is a true Prescott-heritage variety. 

We have grown it for over 40 years, and we got our start from a gentleman whose father grew it here for 35 years before us. Chino Valley Silverskin has huge, fat cloves and keeps for up to a year, perfect for garlic-crazy cuisine. You can buy this locally adapted variety from Whipstone Farm. Thanks to Cory and Shanti Rabe for making it available to the public.

Garlic is planted in the fall after the rest of the garden has retired. Early October is good. Break up the heads into individual cloves, each clove makes a plant. Your garlic garden will sprout in the fall, hibernate through the winter, and start growing again as soon as spring warms the ground. By late June it will be bulbed up and ready for harvest. Don't miss your chance to grow this easy crop while you commune with the garlic fairy.


Harder to Grow

As a beginning gardener, here's what you should avoid and why:

• Carrots take up to 21 days to emerge and then they come up the size and delicacy of an eyelash.

• Corn requires a block of at least 20 plants to properly pollinate. If you have a 10x10’ bed dedicated for corn, go for it. 

• Lettuce hates heat and dryness and needs special protection to grow here without getting bitter and tough.

• Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower also hate our hot and dry climate. If you want to plant these crops, research hoop houses to shade the plants.

• Basil seed is so, so, so very tiny and so are their emerging leaves and they are so very delicate and so very sensitive. Beginners: buy a plant.

• Melons are tough. Look for a variety that will produce sweet fruits in our climate. I have grown a lot of beautiful yet flavorless melons, but I keep trying.


Help Is Available

Are you excited or scared? Gardens are not simple and a host of problems wait to crash your dream — soil, sun, disease, insects, gophers, javelina and hail. But Prescott is gearing up this year to help.

Join the Grow Food In Your Backyard program. Slow Food Prescott and Yavapai Extension Office Master Gardeners are partnering to help beginning gardeners with one-on-one, virus-safe mentoring for real garden success. Get advice, support and monitoring. Applications are taken in February or March. Send an inquiry to prescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org.

Get free seeds at the Prescott Farmer's Market Seed Exchange on Saturday, February 20, 10am-1pm at the Farmer's Market location on the hospital annex lot at 900 Iron Springs Road. Find the best varieties for the Prescott area, meet the growers and get growing advice.

Coming in March 2021 is the Seed Library at Prescott Public Library (co-sponsored by the Prescott Farmer's Market). You'll be able to check out seeds and growing information from the card catalog and website, just like books. Call the Prescott Public Library main line for more information: 928-771-1526. Watch for free online beginner classes from The Prescott Gardener, Janet Wilson. (More information at janetwilsongardens.com.)

For weekday help the Yavapai County Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Help Desk offers free gardening advice, M-F 9am-noon and 1-4pm. 928-445-6590 x222


UofA Cooperative Extension Agent Jeff Schalau, online:

Ten Steps to a Successful Vegetable Garden

Backyard Gardener Newspaper Columns (23 year archive


When this season is over, you’ll be eating food right out of your home garden, maybe just a radish, maybe a whole dinner. Most important is to get out there and put the seed in the soil. Start with the seed to build your pandemic-pantry connection.

Other Resources

I love seed catalogs and seed-company websites. You can dream over the pictures and enticing descriptions. The best parts are the detailed growing instructions, blogs and videos. 


I recommend:

Johnny's Selected Seeds: johnnyseeds.com

Fedco Coop Seeds: fedcoseeds.com

Native Seed/Search: Tucson-based heritage seed conservation organization; nativeseeds.org

Terroir Seeds: local seeds and gardening advice from Chino Valley; underwoodgardens.com

January 2021
Quinoa

Remember those pesky weeds coming up in your garden last summer? Pigweed is the most aggressive. If you don't get them out early they grow into tough, invading plants that send up sticker-covered, skin-irritating stalks.

Quinoa and potatoes were the nutritional base of the powerful Andean and Incan civilizations.

Two years ago, when I was in a native village in the Ecuadorian Andes, I noticed pigweed planted in gardens. What? No, it was quinoa! Pigweed and quinoa are cousins, both members of the chenopodium (goosefoot) family.

Envision the Andean altiplano, the cold, 12,000-foot-high plains around Lake Titicaca, on the border between Peru and Bolivia. It’s home to the highest concentration of natural chenopodium variants, and the birthplace of quinoa. Thousands of years ago the Quecha people selected, domesticated, and cultivated these weeds, creating quinoa in hundreds of specialty cultivars, including chullpi for soups, coytos for flour, reales for grains, and dozens more.

Quinoa and potatoes were the nutritional base of the powerful Andean and Incan civilizations.

The nutritional value of quinoa is astounding. The leaves are edible and delicious, like spinach (also in the chenopodium family). But quinoa is mainly grown for seed. Quinoa seed is the only natural vegetable source of all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) necessary to support human nutrition. Quinoa is an excellent substitute for meat or dairy products and a rich source of minerals (calcium, iron, and potassium), vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. It is low in fats and naturally gluten-free. For more information check out "Quinoa 101, Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits" at healthline.com.

In all their variants these tall plants with colorful, six-foot-high plumes were the sacred Mother Grain, the chisaya mama, of the great Andean civilizations. Before the European conquest, quinoa and potatoes were the nutritional base of the powerful Andean and Incan civilizations. After the wave of plagues and conquests brought by the Europeans in the 16th century, European crops pushed out quinoa. The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro destroyed quinoa fields as a tactic to crush indigenous power.

The Quecha protected the sacred quinoa by growing it in small plots. Five hundred years later quinoa has made a comeback. In the 1990s the UN Food and Agriculture Organization surveyed neglected crops of the Americas and identified quinoa as a potential food for development. 

The United Nations General Assembly designated 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa, “… in recognition of ancestral practices of the Andean people, who have managed to preserve quinoa in its natural state as food for present and future generations, through ancestral practices of living in harmony with nature,” and encouraged worldwide dispersal and development. 

Now quinoa is growing in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. You can buy it   practically everywhere — Costco, Whole Foods, Safeway, Target. The internet is afloat with a gazillion recipes in publications ranging from Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart to The New York Times and Vegan Heaven.

Quinoa is exceptionally easy to use. It comes in a variety of colors — white, red, black, mixed. The darker colors are a bit firmer and nuttier, but they all work the same. Quinoa cooks up in 15 minutes and holds well refrigerated or frozen.

In its simplest incarnation quinoa is embarrassingly easy to prepare. Basically rinse (see the note on saponin below), simmer, then steam like rice. Use two parts water to one part quinoa; yields three cups cooked for every one cup dry.

Quinoa is universally adaptable and neutral-flavored, a seamless substitute for rice or other grains, easy to add to stuffed mushrooms, work into soups, salads, breakfast cereal or cookies. It can be toasted, ground into flour or flaked. New quinoa products are steadily coming on the market — cereals, chocolate and energy bars, chips, pasta, even whiskeys!

Saponin
Saponin is a natural bitter coating that protects the quinoa seeds from pests. It is water-soluble, and commercially available quinoa bought for food is pre-washed, but it’s still a good idea to rinse quinoa before cooking.