Guest post by Amy Urquhart
Today I got around to grinding up my dried herbs. Why? Because I found a great deal on a coffee bean grinder at Loblaws…$9.99! It worked really well.
Each weekend lately I’ve been harvesting from the garden whatever edibles I can. I managed to bring in almost all of the sage I had growing, along with all of the thyme and a bunch of mint, too. I hung them up in little bundles on an old wine rack in our laundry room. Today I found they were all nice and crunchy, so I brought them upstairs to the dining room, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work separating all those mint and sage leaves from their stems. The sage leaves came off very easily with a satisfying little snap as they popped off the stem. The mint was a bit more problematic, though. I basically just had to crunch whatever I could into a bowl. The stems were much more unwieldy. This is an herb that would do better if you cut the leaves off the stems before drying.
Herbs ready to be ground.
At some point I hope to get ahold of an old window screen, so I can spread leaves out on it for drying. For now, the hanging bundle method will have to suffice.
The new grinder did a bang-up job of whizzing catnip, mint and sage. I kept the catnip and mint around the consistency of tea (since I intend to use the mint as tea) but ground the sage as finely as I could. It smelled wonderful, and I inhaled a little catnip, but found it extremely satisfying to pour the contents of the grinder into a Ziploc bag, marking the contents as I went. I feel like I’ve moved on to “Advanced Gardening” now that I’m harvesting everything!
Of course, Farley had to help, too.
He just has to get in the middle of everything!
Davin and I went on a dandelion picking mission at the community garden the other day, harvesting what we thought was enough to make the dandelion Hortopita recipe. As we picked, I repeatedly muttered that I didn’t think we had enough. I went to the garden without reviewing the recipe for amounts but I was certain that whatever we picked would boil down to a smallish blob. It turns out that this 9″ wide bowl holds what does not come even close to 2 lbs of dandelion greens. In fact, what you see here is more like just over half a pound.
Lacking the correct amount of greens called for slashing the size of the finished Hortopita significantly and reducing the ingredients accordingly. I don’t think I have ever in my life followed a recipe exactly as written so not one to be deterred we marched ahead rather than waiting another day until we could go collect more. It still came off famously! I have never before boiled dandelion greens. They smelled surprisingly like spinach while boiling and completely lost their bitterness in the process. They were so delicious on their own as a boiled green that I plan to continue harvesting them with vigor for what remains of the growing season and eating them as-is with a dash of salt and sprinkle of oil.
The Hortopita itself was light and crispy on the outside, salty and fresh on the inside. In the future I will try adding eggs for protein and supplementing with other greens or veggies as I don’t expect to harvest enough dandelion leaves at any one time to make the full-sized pie.
My new plot at the community garden has been a revelation. I have enjoyed my time there and am thoroughly bummed that it will all be done in a month — I don’t want this gardening season to end! The plot is in the sun and has not only opened up new in-ground growing opportunities, but provided a few surprises of its own. Our cool, wet fall (boo) has been the perfect breeding ground for dandelions and they have been coming up both in that plot and the communal herb plot. It’s saddens me that the dandelion is so maligned as a pest. I associate its yellow flowers and puffy seed heads with spring and childhood wishes. I love its toothy leaves that are useful as a healing edible green great for flushing out your kidneys.
Some contempt for the plant is obviously connected to the way it can take over a lawn, which is laughable to me because it is the conditions created by a lawn that allows it to thrive there in the first place. However, I think that a lot of our North American predjudice against the dandelion is culturally embedded, tied up in eliticism, class, and race. I am currently reading the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and there is a passage near the beginning of the book in which he describes the poverty his family endured after his father was murdered. At one point the family was “reduced” to dinners of boiled dandelion greens and rumours were soon spread that they were eating “fried grass.” This shocked me given that this was rural America in the early 30s. Eating and using dandelion parts is also commonly associated negatively with immigrants. Growing up in Southern Ontario, Canada I can recall many sunny spring days watching old-world Italian women collecting the bright yellow flowers for wine. The women would pick mostly in public parks where dandelions were prolific, while their middle class neighbours would scoff at the primitiveness of it. I discovered an edible weeds book at the library in highschool and became fast obsessed with all of the wild foods growing unawares in public parks, backyards, and cracks in the sidewalks. One particular book (I wish I knew the name) placed each plant into historical context outlining how some plants had been in use abundantly before they became marginalized or passe. It’s shocking to me how much good food is overlooked simply because our ancestors collectively decided it was beneath us.
And so I’ve been collecting the young, tender dandelion greens from my community plot. While the books often state that commercially available varieties tend to be less bitter, I have found that they harvest those when they’re too large and mature. My greens are bitter, but no more so than the arugula. We’ve been able to eat a handful raw and mixed with other greens. I have read that dandelion leaves taste better in the fall than in spring and that may also account for the difference. I am planning to try out this Hortopita recipe using spelt filo. It’s the perfect time since onions and leeks are also in season. Dandelion leaves and roots can also be collected and made into a calcium-rich herbal vinegar. The book, “Herbal, The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living” suggests blanching the leaves right on the plant by inverting a plant pot over the plant and overing the drainage holes with stones. “After a few weeks the leaves turn pale green and lose their bitterness.”
I spent yesterday afternoon multi-tasking between a series of deadlines and making fall treats: pumpkin pie, and green tomato chutney. The chutney recipe can be found on page 154 of the You Grow Girl book. Since the oven was blazing, I also threw in an assortment of tomatoes for roasting, and an over-sized zucchini.
My spouse Davin took over late afternoon, making the pie crust and assembling the pie since I have complained umpteen times that I am always stuck with the task. Of course he had to go all out and raise the bar on pie presentation by shaping and assembling the top crust by hand. Until this point, cutting leaves with a cookie cutter and slapping them on top has been considered above standard.
Ann Slater of the Ecological Farming Association of Ontario takes on CropLife Canada, a trade association for the manufacturers, developers and distributors of pesticide and GMO products that has been working on a smear campaign targeting organic food production.
Why is CropLife Canada so keen to smear organic? According to their survey of Canadian women, 77% sometimes buy or consider buying organically grown fruits and vegetables. Twenty-one percent say they buy organic because they are concerned about pesticides on their food and 22% believe organic produce is more nutritious. On top of that, 14% say they sometimes feel guilty about buying cheaper conventional produce when organic is available.
- Full article here
Her argument references this article by two market farmers from Oklahoma who carried out an experiment to tackle the question: “Are supermarkets cheaper than farmersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ markets?” Their results are interesting.
The results reveal that perceptions rather than facts influence the false assumptions that grocery store food is always cheapest.
…grocery store food is not as cheap as some customers believe it to be. Nor is local simply for the wealthyÃ¢â‚¬â€œit is competitively priced since our research showed grocery storesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ low posted prices tend to hide lower weight and quality.