From the Land 9.12

announcement
Sandor Ellix Katz is coming to Prescott! Sandor is a self-taught fermentation experimentalist and self-described fermentation fetishist and the author of Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green, 2003), The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements (Chelsea Green, 2006), and The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World (Chelsea Green, 2012, co-authored with Michael Pollan). Sandor has taught hundreds of fermentation workshops around the North America, and soon Prescott will join the list! So…we are looking for local businesses or interested supporters to become sponsors! We need to raise a few hundred dollars for Sandor’s honorarium, and would love all the help we can get! Please contact me or Allison Jack (allison.jack@prescott.edu) if you’re interested and able to help.

Are you interested in a Thanksgiving turkey share? We’re putting together a turkey share from Ridgeview Farms. The birds are farm-raised in Paulden and fed locally-grown, organic, non-GMO feed, and never given antibiotics or growth hormones. The turkeys are $3.75/lb, and will probably be in the 10-14 lb range. We require a $25 deposit, with the rest due upon distribution on November 14.

food for thought
full share: cucumbers, hot or spicy peppers, okra, garlic, carrots, summer squash, and eggplant from Rabbit Run in Skull Valley, and your choice of hand-made pasta from DeCio Pasta in Tempe!

partial share: carrots, summer squash, eggplant, and DeCio pasta

veg of the week

eggplant: Solanum melongena

As a member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, the eggplant is closely related to tomatoes, potatoes, and tobacco. Though we most often associate eggplant (or aubergine in France) with a purple color, the name comes from certain varieties that are off-white in color. Because of the presence of nicotinoid alkaloids, the seeds tend to be bitter, necessitating certain methods of preparation. And because of its relation to the nightshade family, it was long believed to be poisonous; surely, the leaves and flowers are poisonous when eaten in large quantities, but humans are rarely sensitive to the fruit itself; those that are report itchy skin or mouths, headaches, or upset stomachs. Eggplant has been cultivated for thousands of years in India and other parts of southern and eastern Asia, and came to the Americas as early as the 1500s, but was used most often for decorative rather than culinary purposes. New varieties were discovered and developed in the 1800s, after which the fruit’s popularity soared.

uses: Though bitter when raw, cooking eggplant sweetens and tenderizes the fruit. It is often suggested to salt and rinse the slices to decrease the bitterness, though this is less necessary with Japanese and newer larger hybrid varieties. Keep in mind, though, that salting reduces the amount of fat it is able to absorb, so this remains common practice.

If you choose to (or your kids demand it), there are two ways to de-bitter the eggplant: sweating and de-seeding. If choosing to “sweat” it with salt, cut into desired shape and thickness and sprinkle with salt; let sit for 30 minutes, then rinse and dab dry with paper towels. This tenderizes the eggplant, as well as reducing the bitterness and its ability to soak up oil. OR – according to the lazy homesteader you can slice it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

Eggplant can be stewed, battered and deep-fried and topped with a tomato or yogurt sauce, roasted, grilled, mashed with other vegetables, or baked and stuffed with vegetables, rice and meats. Try these simple ideas:

  • For homemade baba ganoush, purée roasted eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil.
  • Use it as a dip for vegetables or as a sandwich filling.
  • Mix cubed baked eggplant with grilled peppers, lentils, onions and garlic and top with balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Stuff miniature Japanese eggplants with a mixture of feta cheese, pine nuts and roasted peppers.
  • Add eggplant to your next Indian curry stir-fry.

nutrition: Eggplants, high in chlorogenic acid, have been shown to protect braincell membranes from free radicals, whose benefits include anti-cancer, antimicrobial, anti-LDL, and antiviral properties. In addition, regular consumption has been shown to improve cardiovascular health.

to store: Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size with smooth and shiny skin. It perishes quickly once cut, so store uncut and unwashed eggplant in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. They should last easily for 4 or 5 days.

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Sandor Katz and fermentation for social change

In lieu of an article, we’re reprinting a Grist interview with Sandor Katz from 2007 published here. He has some great and interesting things to say about why it’s important to not limit one’s role to mere consumer, the health benefits of fermented foods, food politics and the future of agriculture – AND he says much much more eloquently than I could! In coming weeks, we’ll highlight some fermentation techniques and health benefits. Please enjoy…

You suggest, through your work, that we shouldn’t mindlessly consume processed food, but instead get involved with production — why?

We’re living in this time where people have largely lost our direct connections to the natural world and it’s all mediated for us by a few people in the middle. And as with any kind of an organism, food connects humans to their environments and the natural world. So if you’re gathering food you have to know about the local plants. If you’re hunting, you’re interacting with animals. When you’re just going to the supermarket, you lose that interaction.

Katz teaches the joys of fermentation.

Identifying solely as consumers is just a limiting, infantilizing role. Sure, we can be consumers, but we also can be producers and everybody can be both of those things. And fermenting your own food … you’re not only producing food, but you’re interacting with invisible natural forces.

I meet so many people who have a memory of a grandparent who had some sort of an annual fermentation ritual, whether it was making sauerkraut, making wine, making pickles. Really until 50 years ago, 75 years ago, it was really, really common at the household level for people to ferment some of their foods.

In a small but profound way, getting involved with fermenting food in your home is a way to embrace the bacterial allies that are all around us. And rather than getting caught up in the foolish, indiscriminate war on bacteria, we can embrace the bacteria around us and turn them into our physiological allies.

Why shouldn’t we fear those invisible creatures?

Bacteria can be your friends.

Well, on every head of cabbage, on every vegetable, for that matter in every breath that you ever take without going to the grocery store, there are untold numbers of different microorganisms, including not only bacteria, but fungi, and who knows what else?

The art of fermentation is about creating the conditions that support the growth and proliferation of certain types of organisms rather than certain other types of organisms. So for instance, if you took a half of a head of cabbage and went away on vacation for three weeks and came home, obviously it would not turn itself into delicious, sour, crunchy sauerkraut. If you go away for a really long time, molds can start to reduce your vegetables to a puddle of slime. The simple key to getting the acid-producing bacteria to grow [instead] is to get the vegetables submerged under liquid, typically a salty liquid. It’s just a matter of learning simple secrets for encouraging healthy types rather than unhealthy types to grow.

Farmers do something very similar: suppress some plants so that desired ones can flourish. What you’re describing is a kind of micro-agriculture.

Fermentation techniques appear to have coevolved along with agricultural techniques — let’s picture the domestication of animals for milk. The various places that happened, they didn’t have refrigerators to put their milk into and keep it fresh. So it only made sense to ferment the milk into cultured products, like yogurt and kefir, to enable people to enjoy the milk, be nourished by the milk, for longer than the day or so that milk will stay fresh.

When you look at plant agriculture, archaeologists continue to debate whether people in the Fertile Crescent settled down into patterns of agriculture for bread or for beer. And both of those are products of fermentation, so the history of agriculture has everything to do with the history of fermentation.

Just as a footnote I think that that debate is kind of moot, because the earliest written recipes from the Sumerians for beer call for an undercooked loaf of bread with the yeast of the center still raw as the starter for the beer, and they call for skimming the foam off of the top of the beer as the starter for the bread. So those two wonderful fermented products of grain agriculture have always had an intertwined history.

Interestingly, the word we use for bacteria that we use in the fermentation process is culture — the same word that we use to describe literature, language, music, science, the totality of human knowledge. It’s not an accident that we use the same word for both of those things. And most religions have ritual iconography organized around fermentation and fermented products … In the Jewish tradition that I live in, we always have reverential toasts to the creator of the fruit of the vine, and drink wine. Really, anthropology is full of examples of rituals structured around fermentation.

How did you go from writing about fermentation to writing about food politics? How do you relate the two?

Well, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved was inspired by people I met as I was traveling around talking about fermentation, farmers who were trying to re-create markets for local food and figure out value-added products to help make their farms viable. Then dumpster divers, who often will find a great abundance of some random vegetable or fruit, have found that fermentation is a really great way of turning abundance like that into a resource that people can enjoy over time.

So at one level the book is the story of people who I met … traveling around teaching and talking about fermentation. And then at another level, at the end of the book Wild Fermentation, I talk about this other connotation of the word “fermentation,” which comes from the Latin word fervere, which means “to boil.” That’s because the visible action of fermenting liquids is the same bubbliness you see in boiling liquids. But there’s this other connotation of the word “fermentation” that’s about the social ferment, the intellectual ferment, the spiritual ferment, and it has to do with people who are passionate and excited about something and so they get like a bubbly quality to them where they want to talk about it, they want to do something about it, and I think that that’s the point of departure for The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. People who want to create better food alternatives for themselves and the people in the communities around them. The book is about food activism and people trying to create better choices.

I like the way you address the fallacy that in order to “feed the world,” we have to hand agriculture over to Monsanto and a few other giant companies.

We’re all constantly subjected to this propaganda that without intensification, without genetic modification, without pesticides, without chemical fertilizers, without tractors, there would be no way of feeding the growing numbers of people in the country, in the world, and that the only thing standing between us and mass starvation is the intensifying technology of agriculture.

But that’s all about really maximizing production per unit of labor. I mean right now less than 2 percent of the American population is engaged in direct agricultural production and this is held up as a miracle, freeing us up to do all the other important things we do like be real-estate brokers or stock brokers or produce widgets or other things like that … anything but getting our fingers dirty in the soil.

But it turns out that using more labor-intensive methods, an acre of land can definitely produce more if it’s not monocultured. You know, if you have different crops growing at different levels: things growing underground, things growing on the ground, things growing above the ground, things growing at different periods of the season. If you’re cultivating by hand you don’t need lots of space between the rows for tractors to go.

If the imperative were maximizing the production per unit of land, which really is the fixed variable, then I think more labor-intensive methods actually could be much more successful at feeding a growing population. Land is limited, but there’s no shortage of people.

That would mean more farmers and fewer stockbrokers and telemarketers. As someone who’s crisscrossed the country talking to people about food, what do you think the prospects are for such a switch?

There are so many exciting, inspiring, hopeful, small projects happening. The thing is that they’re small, especially in comparison to the dominant food system where the trend continues to be toward market concentration at every level.

I’m not blindly optimistic — looking at the big picture can lead to despair and pessimism. For me, though, it just feels like a better choice to put my energy, and for anyone to put their energy, into projects that create hope. And I think that there’s nothing more hopeful that somebody can do than get involved in local food production.

I’m very inspired by Wendell Berry, who talks about how thinking [small] solves half the problem. All the problems of globalized commodity agriculture and foods traveling thousands of miles from farm to the plate, those are the result of people sort of thinking bigger and bigger, and I think the solutions come from people thinking smaller. And that’s why community gardens and community-supported agriculture and community kitchens and things like that are all part of the solution, because they enable people to focus on their needs and their community’s needs and satisfying those needs. I really think we need to just focus on small things within our realm that we can actually do.

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eggplant with bell pepper, feta and green olives
adapted from epicurious
serves 12

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into six 3/4-inch-thick rounds, then halved to form 12 semicircles
  • 1 long slender red bell pepper, cut into six 1/4-inch-thick rings, then halved to form 12 curved strips
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • 12 small inner leaves of butter lettuce
  • 10 large green Greek olives, pitted, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano

Pour enough oil into heavy large skillet to coat bottom; heat over medium heat. Add eggplant to skillet, arranging in single layer. Sprinkle eggplant with salt and pepper. Sauté until cooked through, but not browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer eggplant to sheet of foil; reserve skillet.

Arrange 1 bell pepper strip atop rounded edge of each eggplant piece, trimming to fit, if necessary. Sprinkle cheese atop eggplant.

*Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Arrange lettuce leaves on platter. Reheat oil in skillet over medium heat. Place eggplant, cheese side up, into skillet. Cover and cook until cheese softens and begins to melt, about 4 minutes. Place 1 eggplant piece atop each lettuce leaf. Sprinkle each with olives and oregano.

roasted garlic and eggplant soup
adapted from all recipes
serves 8

  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 (1 1/2 pound) eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3/4 cup tomato puree
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Peel away any excess paper from the bulb of garlic, then cut the top off to expose the cloves. Rub exposed cloves with 1/4 teaspoon olive oil, and set onto the prepared baking sheet. Poke the eggplant all over with a fork; place onto baking sheet.

Bake in preheated oven until the garlic has turned golden brown and the eggplant is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool until cool enough to handle. Peel eggplant and chop into large chunks; peel or squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin, and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in broth, then stir in reserved eggplant, roasted garlic, tomato puree, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Once cooked, carefully puree soup in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return soup to the stove in a clean saucepan. Stir in half-and-half, season to taste with salt and pepper; cook over medium-low heat until hot.

eggplant and cucumber salad sandwich
adapted from saveur
serves 4

  • Peel of 1 large yellow onion
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • 7 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs. large eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/4″-thick slices
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 small cucumbers, unpeeled, finely chopped
  • 1 small tomato, cored and finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tbsp. tahini
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped and mashed into a paste with a little salt
  • 4 pitas, warmed
  • Amba (mango relish), for serving (*found in Middle Eastern stores)
  • 1/4 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves

Place some tea bags and onion peel in a 4-qt. saucepan with 8 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to lowest setting, add eggs, and cover; let eggs steep until they’ve darkened in color, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12″ cast- iron skillet over medium-high heat until oil is shimmering. Season eggplant with salt. Working in batches, add eggplant and cook, flipping once, until golden and very soft, 3–4 minutes. Transfer eggplant to paper towels and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, and olive oil; season cucumber salad with salt and pepper and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the remaining lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and 5 tbsp. ice water. Whisk ingredients until creamy and season with salt; set tahini sauce aside.

To serve, slice off the top quarter of the pita breads and spread some of the tahini mixture on the inside of each pita. Put about 7 slices of eggplant into each pita along with one egg. Add some of the cucumber salad, top with some of the amba, and stuff some of the parsley into each pita. Drizzle the top of each sandwich with the remaining tahini sauce.

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