Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Basket 18 - All's Well that Ends Well
We were reminded week to week about the importance of supporting local small scale producers, as well as the necessity to conserve water and support public water policies that will allow for agriculture to co-exist with developement. I have some interesting new ideas about foods to try in our own backyard garden next growing season, and I even have a new native flowering seed bearing shrub to try in the front yard that will hopefully frustrate the "all you can eat" tendencies of our local deer population.
I've eaten a lot of delicious, fresh, healthy food and felt good about where it comes from. I've met some fascinating new folks who share my enthusiasm for responsibly sourced healthy foods. I've gotten new recipes, had a lot of fun photographing beautiful fruits and vegetables, and learned a lot more about my food and where it comes from than typically happens in any grocery store.
For me, the great CSA Basket Experiment of 2008 ended with a bang as the folks at Tecolote Farms pulled out all the stops to give us a memorable last taste from their little corner of Texas. There were many of the usual suspects in this last blast from the Farm; cucumber melons, eggplant, thai basil, more acorn squash, okra, a sweet yellow Granex onion, some Yukon Gold potatoes and a last Galia melon are all old friends.
But there were also a few surprises this last go-round.Most notably in the "takes both hands to carry" category, we each had a large Rouge vif d'etemps French pumpkin in addition to a full sack carefully stacked with fruit and vegetable goodness.
According to our ever helpful newsletter, these pumpkins are tastier, moister, better suited to making soups than being baked, and will last for months if kept cool and dry. Dry will be easy but cool? I am such a fan of pumpkin pie. I might be tempted to go to the extra step of draining the pureé before adding it to pie crust just for the fun of an extra-extra tasty pumpkin pie. Who wants to fit into a bathing suit anyway....
We had a couple of wonderfully smelly epazote stems with the suggestion to use them in making a perfect pot of pinto beans. Apparently epazote is taken from the original Aztec term for this plant "epazotl", often found growing wild here in the US where it is more typically called pigweed or wormseed. Such appetizing names. Epazote is a carminative (like fennel or peppermint) which means it can reduce gassiness. So for epazote to be considered as "essential" to cooking pinto beans is a natural leap.The leaves are quite (ahem!) aromatic. Some compare the smell of the crushed leaves to gasoline or creosote. It is fairly pungent, I'll admit. If I didn't know this was a plant you could cook with I am pretty sure the smell would encourage me to leave it well enough alone. The taste, though, once acquired, means that beans cooked any other way will always be lacking a "certain something" for your palate (and no, by that certain something I do NOT mean flatulence). I have not had a lot of experience with epazote (yet!) but understand the older leaves are more pungent than the younger smaller leaves. Most advise throwing a stem/sprig in during cooking that is to be removed (a la bay leaves) before adding salt to taste at the end of the cooking time.
And last but not least, the smallest and perhaps more delightfully bizarre of our basket offerings for the season, a Devil's Claw seed pod. Proboscidea louisianica, is also known as Ram's horn, or Unicorn plant, all names referring to the woody seed pod left after the fleshy fruit falls away and then splits as these have. It grows wild in Texas and Mexico as an annual, and has reportedly been cultivated for centuries by Southwestern Native Indians for use in basketry as well as a food source. The black seeds found inside the pods can be cracked open to reveal a small white kernel that tastes quite a bit like a pine nut.According to one source, an infusion and/or powder form and capsules prepared with the active ingredients from Devil's Claws are marketed medicinally in Europe as an anti-inflammatory agent against rhematism. These active ingredients, mostly sourced from a variety of the plant found in Namibia, are believed to be iridoid glycosides called harpagosides, which are found in the secondary root.
While it always fascinates me to learn how so many of the oldest plants known have medicinal as well as nutritional uses, I am going to forgo the pharmaceutical and the snacking route, saving most of my seed to plant in my front yard. There I am hopeful the deer will find Devil's Claw a top contender for their constantly evolving "Deer Usually Avoid" list. We have worked hard to take out all the St. Augustine from the beds in front. I am always on the lookout for native plants that will flourish on low water, be interesting in form or flower, AND not simply end up as a main component for Bambi's Salad Bar. Our neighbors have been very kind and patient with us as we've worked to create an interesting variation on the standard swath of water guzzling green. It will be fun to have some Devil's Claw out there in the mix next year, a subtle reminder of the many ways we feed and are fed by, local crops.
Finally, I just couldn't stand the idea of being "all done" with eating locally or seasonally so I decided to do something concrete about that. I have plans to join the Wheatsville Coop. This is something I have meant to do for years, sort of like I'd meant to try out CSA baskets and/or shop at the Farmer's Markets more regularly, and I figure there is no better time than NOW to sign up.
I will be back to you later, reporting on my trip over to Wheatsville where I hope to live through the discomfort of subjecting my newbyness to the ever so much more "crunchier than thou" "I was here long before you" crowd. I may be doing everybody there a huge disservice with that characterization, and I'll apologize right here on this blog if I have, but I will admit it is my fear of encountering a vast array of unknown products and having to ask questions that will trigger condescension bordering on scorn that has kept me out of there for far too long.
Another part of reinforcing my continuing wish to use our food dollars to invest in local, renewable, sustainable and healthy produce involved going online to the FoodRoutes.Org site to take their Buy Local Challenge. I chose to sign up as pledging to spend 10 dollars a week on locally produced food for the rest of this calendar year. As I did that and noted a listing of folks who have taken the pledge by states, my competitive nature kicked in. There is this scoreboard, and as you can see when you go there, Texas is not making too good a showing in terms of folks willing to sign up and pledge their dollars towards supporting locally produced foods.
I'd be really truly shallow to suggest that if you have any stirrings of Lone Star pride in you that you should visit and put your own pledged dollars into the mix to improve our state's standing. I'd be shallow and pushy to imply that if you were any kind of REAL Texan, (or Idahoan, or Indianian or whatever it is you actually are), that you would want your home state to be riding up towards the top of the list to prove to the world how wonderful you and your fellow Texans/Indianians, etc. are. Because at the moment those Californians have the top spot all sewn up and although I have wonderful dear friends there, I simply don't think we can let them get away with that.
At the same time I do realize it is much more important to SPEND that money on locally produced foods than it is to sign a pledge on a website, but I also know that every time I take a step towards a more public proclamation of my intention to eat locally produced foods, I am that much more likely to follow through and not succumb to convenience or comfortable old patterns of just going to that nearby chain market and buying whatever is cheapest on their shelves.
And the more I read, the more I see that even the best local players on the largest scale when it comes to supermarkets, have their own issues with responsibly sourcing food for the masses. Our homegrown gone national giant, Whole Foods, has it's issues:
Supermarkets Failing to Adopt Sustainable Seafood Buying Practices:Report.
Worthwhile pursuits are rarely quick or easy. Signing up for the CSA baskets pulled me out of my comfort zone, but as so typically happens, I am better for the stretch.The vast majority of people I've met who are interested in eating responsibly and supporting local farms are not all overpiced negative heel shoe wearing, tie dye t-shirted, crystal toting, aging hippie flakes, so much as they are kind and thoughtful people of all ages and stages who have taken time to learn about and understand the impacts of their economic choices.
So it is with some unexpected sadness that we bid a fond farewell to CSA Baskets from Tecolote Farm for this year, and move on to Wheatsville and the Farmer's Market. Stay tuned to see if I can make good on my pledge to spend $10 dollars a week on locally produced food for the rest of 2008.