Sunday, October 24, 2010

Carrots in the Washing machine?

Louise Froese, who taught me to cook beets, casually mentioned that she doesn't bother scrubbing her garden carrots.

I looked at her with some incredulity. Dirt isn't as bad for you as us sanitized parents like to think, but didn't dirt affect the flavour? Not to mention the texture.

Good thing I pursued it. Turns out, she lets her washing machine do the scrubbing for her.
I couldn't believe it would work so I headed home and threw about 5 pounds of carrots and turnips from the garden into the washer along with two large bath towels (I made sure to brush the excess dirt off the veggies).

I have a small front loader that boasts a lot of unused settings. Putting a tiny bit of soap in the reservoir, I set the machine on the lowest, shortest setting (hand dry) then watched the veggies whirl about. The towels lessoned the rattling which I imagined would assume the din of a tympani.

Outside of my skepticism, my main concern was for the machine. I asked Louise about wear and tear and she shrugged that it never had been a concern for her machine: a top loader that has washed many pounds of carrots over many years.

The buzzer announced the 20 minute cycle was up. I pulled the veggies out and, of course, they were as clean as if I'd spent 20 minutes scrubbing them. The odd one had a little dirt residue that came off with a scraping from my nail.

I think my next (and last- welcome winter) batch of carrots, I'm going to try in the top rack of my dishwasher. Will report back!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dehydrators are a Dream

Next to cinnamon twists fresh out of the oven, there is nothing else that creates a buzz in the kitchen like apple fruit leather hot from the dehydrator.

Our community league sponsored the purchase of this dehydrator, for use by any Alberta Avenue community members (let me know if you'd like a turn!):

There are four drying trays, however you can stack them up to eight high, if you buy extra trays. Heat settings are clearly marked, and the dry time is mostly due to your preference.

 To make fruit leather, pureed fruit is smoothed on donut shaped trays. I've mixed strawberry and raspberry in with apple sauce for occasional variety, but I prefer straight up sour apple.  You'll need about a 3/4 - 1 Cup of sauce per tray.

After about 6- to 8 hours (depends on the thickness of your layer of sauce), voila, fruit leather like none other.

Generally, our family of four will eat the bounty from all four trays in the scope of 24 hours.

It's a good thing we have a ready supply of Grandma's homemade apple sauce waiting in the freezer!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

From Local Farms- A Video Project

Folks! Check out Kevin Kossowan's blog for some exceptional photos and tips on eating, drinking and living well. Most interesting is the host of video interviews he's collected with local farmers in a series called "From Local Farms". A kind of "We Eat Together" meets video series. Meet him November 7, 2010 at the upcoming Slow Food Edmonton General Meeting.

Here's a video of the The Sun Dog Folks (Jenny has many connections in the Alberta Avenue area):

From Local Farms - Sundog Organic Farm from Kevin Kossowan on Vimeo.

And for all you chicken farmers that want to go organic and have volume, here's an interview with Ron Hamilton at Sunworks Farms (one of the larger/est local organic chicken operations):

FROM LOCAL FARMS - Sunworks Farm from Kevin Kossowan on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Growing Grapes in the Alberta

My first grape harvest. This is from a two year old vine- so bunches are still small.
Grapes are one of those fruits that visitors are often surprised to see growing in our climate. While many locals have heard of the long-suffering Valiant grape, there are at least eight varieties of grape that grow in Zones 2-3. I have four varieties, 2 white and 2 red, and this year I had my first (small) harvest from the Eona vine. Planted two summers ago, the grapes grow on the south side of my stuccoed house. Thanks to the wall radiating heat, its extra hot and sheltered.

 The grapes were each about a centimeter in diameter and packed with the flavour of Welches Grape Juice. Picked at the end of September, they had survived (and possible thrived?) through one hard frost. The skin was soft, the fruit juicy. Then there were the seeds: Two! Two 2 mm seeds in each grape! The taste and value made the seeds worth the work- but they definitely slowed my consumption speed. Perhaps this is nature's way of reminding us where life comes from? Perhaps this is creation's way of imposing discipline in these times of fast food and eating on the run?

"Every prairie fruit you find will have a seed or pit," Shannon says. My wee grapes had 2 seeds per fruit! 

The process of food-scaping my yard has been long and slow; most plants require at least three to four years before they produce a harvest of significance (damn it, once again I am forced to be patient!). Shannon at Shallow Creek Nurseries- sadly now closed- has been a wealth of information and source of many varieties of fruit. Here are some of her recommendations for growing grapes in regions with hot summers and hard winters:

1. Where you place grapes is crucial- they need a sheltered spot with full south exposure. Be particularly careful to choose a home out of the wind.
2. Fall pruning should always be done to protect the plant from winter kill. Prune each vine down to the fourth bud.
3. In preparation for winter, shovel lots of snow on the remaining plants.
4. Don't expect fruit until the third season. Let the plant focus on its root system for the first few years.
5. After the third year, if you want to encourage fruit production then keep the vines pruned at about four feet high. If you want leaves for a trellis, of course let it grow, but don't expect a lot of fruit.
6. If the grapes are tart, you've picked them too early. Water them and wait another week or two. The fruit should get plumper and sweeter in this time.

While Shallow Creek Nurseries are no longer open, their website is a wealth of information on local fruit for the Prairies and can give you an idea of the possibilities for fruit in your yard. Read about the 8 different kinds of grape, 11 types of cherries, and 6 kinds of saskatoons. They also sold hybrid fruit varieties like Chums and Jostaberries, and unique cuttings from the Goji bush.

The greenhouses offer a disappointing number of varieties of berries. But I believe that the more people ask for them, the more likely that a market will grow- so ask ask ask!

Here are a few nurseries and garden centres that carry berries and fruit (there is still time to plant a clearance shrub or tree before winter!):

Greenland Garden Centre
- Sunstar Nurseries
Address: (780) 472- 810 167 Ave. NE (Not as great a selection but they do have: apples, pears,  plums, honeyberry, saskatoons, currants, grapes, cherries)
- Arrowhead Nurseries- (780) 472-6260, Address: 2503 211 Ave NE (graft their own plums, apples, cuttings for honeyberries and cherries (romance series, sour cherries), grapes (valiant and beta), currants, josta berries, and pears))
DNA Gardens (for black currants and hardy apples/plums/pears- Southeast of Red Deer.)
- Holes Greenhouse

Also, the online service at T& T Seed's is very good and their selection is better than most.

If you find other sources of great, hardy fruit, please let me know!