Wheat, a journey of pride

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Yesterday, I ground wheat berries from our own harvest! My family and I have been experimenting with the highs and lows of growing our own supply of hard red winter wheat. This is our second harvest.

We’re not farmers by any means, just a family on a journey to self-reliance with a passion for food that is homegrown and natural. We went into this knowing the labor and agreeing that we were not going to invest any money in fancy equipment. We’ve made many mistakes and learned from each one. Our original 1/32 acre plot has since grown to a whopping 1/8th of an acre (and switched locations to allow the original plot to rest). I sometimes wonder if it’s worth all the labor, the trial and error, when I can order a 50 lb. bag of hard red wheat berries online for a very reasonable price.

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hard red winter wheat berries, harvested late summer 2015

It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in my opinion. To grow something, to await the wonder of germination from something in stasis and ostensibly barren of life, never ceases to amaze me. After planting our winter wheat in late September, days later we witness a carpet of vivid green. It grows for a bit, and then it stops with the arrival of the short winter days. Winter wheat needs this cold period, and in the spring it takes off again, this time continuing its journey upward to becoming a mature plant with offspring of its own. We watch the stalks turn golden and the heads start to bend sideways, an indication that the seeds are ready for harvest. Then the real work begins (the labor that makes me doubt this endeavor sometimes!). We harvest, we thresh, we winnow. And then we have something amazing — pride in our work, a sense of accomplishment. Oh, and of course bushels and bushels of nutritious wheat!

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weighing the freshly ground flour to make bread dough

We haven’t purchased store bread in almost six years, except occasionally while I was pregnant with my now four-year-old daughter, when the smell of yeast made me even more sick than I was in general during those months. We’ve been grinding our wheat for the past two years, but this is the first year I will be baking extensively with my own homegrown wheat. The first year yielded little more than enough to save for seed the following year. We’ve been gradually building a supply of heirloom seed over the past two years, and this year there is surplus!

For many this journey may not be worth it, but I enjoy a challenge and I enjoy hard work.

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stretching & folding the dough before a second rise

We’ve always kept a big garden that provides fresh vegetables throughout the summer and enough surplus to put by for leaner months. Growing wheat has been something my husband and I have always talked about. I love the sense of accomplishment of working the land and producing food myself. It’s one of the few things that always makes sense to me.

There’s nothing more satisfying than the smell of baking bread. And there’s nothing harder than waiting for freshly baked bread to cool enough so everyone can enjoy that first warm slice with butter!

 

[edit: after posting this on Facebook, a friend commented with a link to this very interesting article, called Bread is Broken. It seemed appropriate to post it here as well!]

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four 13″ loaves, baked in un-lidded pullman pans.

 

From Plant to Plate: The Delicacies of Summer Enchant Us

 

 

 

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It’s that time of summer, when the bounties from the garden start rolling in. It is a satisfying feeling to know that the food on my table is so fresh, only hours or sometimes minutes since it went from plant to plate. It is this time of year that I start using my surplus vegetables to create delicious recipes that I preserve so that I can bring my family the fresh taste of summer throughout the dead of winter.

Today I made this year’s first double batch of homemade salsa. I had been looking forward to this day all week. Tomatoes had been ripening. Peppers had been growing bigger. The garlic had been curing. And the onions, still dirty from their garden row, had been filling the mudroom with a particular aroma that older onions just don’t have have.

Salsa has been among my repertoire of food preservation recipes for several years now, but this year was different. This was the first year that I was able to create the recipe using 100% ingredients that I had grown myself. In prior years, there was always something missing: cilantro that had already gone to seed, with a new crop not rightly planned; a pepper crop that had failed; or garlic that was not quite ready. This year, everything was perfect.

 

 

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I love hearing that sound of jars cooling on the counter, that one-by-one clicking pop when the lids spontaneously concave as the pressure difference between the jar environment and that of the room create a vacuum seal. I love that feeling of success when the jars audibly seal in the distinct taste of natural, fresh food. It’s a signal. It’s a voice that says, “You did it. Be proud.”

DSC_0642This year’s tomatoes are beautiful, with no cracks or blemishes, and oh so delicious. Eating the summer’s first tomato sparks a memory of how tomatoes are supposed to taste, and one that gradually fades as winter deepens and you’re forced to consume the mealy red hothouse globes utterly void of zest. Garden tomatoes provide the base for much of our winter eating. With their high acidity, they are very easy to put by. We choose from a variety of salsa recipes, delicious tomato-based chutneys, sauces with different spice combinations, or just jarring them whole, they carry us through the cold season when the concept of growth seems at times forever incomprehensible in upstate New York.

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DSC_0650I start all of my vegetables from seed, including a variety of hot pepper plants that have been generously producing a gorgeous palette of vividly colored fruits.  It doesn’t take much to give a dish a kick. While I like my salsa on the spicy side, my children do not and I am forced to halve the called for amount of these little gems.

DSC_0653The growing season has been good. My herb garden is a treasury of abundance. Each day we choose our particular palate from herbs such as parsley, basil, sage, mint, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and marjoram. My salsa recipe calls for cilantro and I was happy to oblige. I love the flavor of cilantro and I cherish the bouquet of  it freshly chopped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I grew a variety of onions this year: white, yellow, and red. They too did well… that is until two specific mother hens and their brood of chicks kept escaping and decided it was quite lovely to scratch around the organic mulch of the onion patch for insects and worms. Unfortunately, this disturbance damaged the delicate green part of the onion above ground and stunted the growth of the bulbs under the earth. These onions never reached the full potential of size, but none the less made a delectable homegrown addition to my salsa.

 

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We harvested beautiful garlic this year. After enjoying delicious garlic scapes while they were in season, the bulbs themselves continued to grow in their furrows, producing extra large cloves on some of the hardneck varieties. Most of the bulbs are still drying for longterm storage, but the fresh cloves were a delightfully spicy inclusion in this year’s salsa.

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This double batch of salsa used 20 cups of chopped tomatoes, 10 cups of chopped green peppers, 10 cups of chopped onions, 8 cloves of minced garlic, about 1 1/2 cups of chopped hot peppers, and about 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro. With the required addition of cider vinegar and some salt, we produced 16 pints of storable food. This is just the beginning! We await many more happy returns from our vegetable garden before the end of summer arrives. There are plenty of small peppers still growing. The tomatoes are really just starting. And summer squash, green beans, corn, eggplants, and more grow presently in our gardens.

Growing Seeds & Smiling Faces

Today was a fun morning.  My son and I helped the Pre-K class at our school start seeds!

Back when my son was still enrolled, I had offered to do a mini workshop with the kids.  Just because he no longer attends doesn’t mean that my interest to be involved in our school has suddenly waned.  So, his former teacher and I made arrangements.

The kids were so excited to see their former classmate and were very enthusiastic about the project with positive YESes when I asked if they liked to eat vegetables, and mostly YEAHs when I asked if they had a vegetable garden at home and if they liked to help out in it.  And an astounding YAY when I asked if they wanted to grow their own seeds today!

First I read them a book.  It was called From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer.  I didn’t mind the many interjections as they responded to different parts of the story!  Then they divided up at two tables and my son helped pass out supplies.  They each had a paper cup with drainage holes already poked into the bottom.  They filled up their cups with potting soil using spoons. Then my son gave each child two seeds (to insure that at least one germinated– would be so sad if someone didn’t produce a plant!), and they poked them down through the soil.  Finally, we passed around a spray bottle so that each child could water their seeds.

The seeds will grow into California Red Kidney Beans.  Once the seedlings grow big enough, they will be transplanted into the school’s greenhouse garden.  If all goes well, the 18 plants will thrive and produce enough kidney beans so the kids can make chile next year in Kindergarten! (That would be my long-term plan anyway!)

I know all of these kids by name.  I know many of their families in this community.  It was good to see them again, and although my son will not be attending school, these curious faces remind me that there is so much worth fighting for.  These kids deserve the best education.

On a different note, my family recently returned from a San Francisco vacation.  While we were there we visited Alcatraz.  Today, while my son and I were walking down the hall of the school on our way out, he remarked out of the blue, “This kind of reminds me of Alcatraz.”  I assure you this was completely unprompted; We hadn’t even discussed San Francisco or Alcatraz this day nor in the past week.  Just something to think about. 🙂