Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Food Crisis By 2050 Is Not A “Maybe”

Utter the words “food crisis” today and many people think that you are simply referring to the plot of the latest Hollywood disaster flick. But the world’s leading scientists agree that if we were to continue with our current food production methods for the next 40 years we would (a) not even come close to feeding the world’s population, and (b) destroy the earth by stripping it of all of its natural resources. And obviously with no more earth, there would be no more us. We’re not talking about 200 years in the future. We’re talking about seeing this happen within our lifetimes.

This recent article from The Guardian  does a good job of breaking the problem down into numbers:

  • By the year 2050, 9 billion people are expected to be alive on earth.
  • Even with new technology, such as genetic modification and nanotechnology, hundreds of millions of people could still realistically go hungry.
  • To attempt to feed the population of the world, global food supplies must increase 70% in the next 40 years.
  • A population of 9 billion would also require twice as much water as we currently use.
  • This would mean an 18% decrease in the water that is available to the agriculture industry for crops.
  • Today, up to 70% of energy needed to grow and supply food is fossil fuel based. This fuel is expensive, in limited supply, nonrewable, and currently contributing to climate change.

Because of these drastic numbers, scientists are considering “novel” ways to increase food production.  One of these methods is growing artificial meat in vats. Yes, you read that correctly. It said growing artificial meat in vats.

So, in theory, would I consume fake meat that had been farmed in a huge vat? Well, yes, I suppose so. It’s just cultured meat, basically, grown from cells that are taken from an animal fetus. If you eat meat in the first place, well, this isn’t really so terribly different. However, here’s what I’d like to know:

  • Will we know the possible “side effects” of eating this cultured meat? Smoking was once thought to be healthy, too, you know.
  • Where will the artificial meat come from, and how will it reach consumers? Will it be marketed by several companies, such as today’s soy products, or will one company have a patent? Worse yet, will the government produce it?
  • Just how much will this fake meat cost?
  • Will the fake meat be called Soilent Green? (Okay, that’s just a joke. But you can see the comparison, right?)

So in theory, I would consume fake meat. In practice, I would not like to. Today, 1 in 7 people in the world do not receive enough protein in their diets. Hence the push towards farmed meat. However, no one needs to eat meat to get protein. You can receive more than enough protein by including beans, nuts, and legumes in your diet. With my homegrown Jacob’s Cattle Beans, as well as quinoa, soy, and lentils in my diet, I’m pretty sure that I would be just fine without meat, real or farmed. You can grow all the protein you need in your very own backyard.

Each time I read about the inevitable food crisis I renew my faith to spread the word about the Survival Seed Bank, crisis gardening, and prepping. It is the very best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family. Don’t allow yourself to fall victim to the global food shortage. Be proactive and be prepared.

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Who is Jimmy Nardello?

One of my favorite vegetables that I was introduced to three years ago in my Survival Seed Bank is the Jimmy Nardello’s Pepper. (I know, I say that pretty much all of them are my favorite. But this one really would make the top three.) From outward appearances, you may assume that this 10″ inch long pepper, which turns from kelly green to scarlet red when it is ripe, is a pepper that will produce heat on your tongue. But it is actually not hot at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. These peppers are deliciously sweet and can be munched raw, right from the garden.

Last month, while harvesting my sweet peppers, I held one of the crimson gems between my thumb and forefinger, and pondered its name. “Just who is Jimmy Nardello, anyway?” I wondered. Thanks to today’s internet, it was easy for me to find out.

The lad for whom my peppers are named grew up in southern Italy, in a rocky and mountainous region called Basilicata. He was the son of Giuseppe and Angela Nardiello, (the family later dropped the “i” in the last name) and had ten brothers and sisters.

For several years in Basilicata, gardeners Angela and Giuseppe nurtured their favorite variety of sweet pepper. They then brought a handful of these seeds with them when they immigrated to Connecticut in 1887. Their son James is said to be their only child who inherited his parents’ love of gardening. He planted peppers as his mom taught did herself in southern Italy, in terraces, and grew hundreds of peppers, but the sweet pepper that his parents nurtured remained his favorite.

Jimmy Nardello passed away in 1983 in his hometown of Naugatuck, Connecticut. But before he died, he donated some of his prized pepper seeds to the Seed Savers Exchange  (SSE) in Decorah, Iowa. The SSE specializes in protecting and preserving heirloom seeds, and has over 11,000 seed varieties that they keep in special climate-controlled vaults.

When you add a crop of Jimmy Nardello’s peppers to your garden, you are adding a pepper that is delicious, versatile, and even somewhat rare. The seeds are listed as  endangered by the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Tastes  (the vegetable version of the endangered species list). One of the best ways to preserve this crop, however, is to grow it yourself and harvest the seeds.

Once you harvest your sweet peppers, (which in the Northern Hemisphere, you can do in July) you will find a whole array of ways to use them. Like I said before, they are good and sweet just eaten raw. But this kind of pepper is most popularly known as a “frying pepper” because of the tastes that come out when they are fried- they turn deliciously sweet, creamy, and flavorful. Try simply slicing them and frying them up in olive oil with a tad bit of garlic. This makes a terrific topping for meats such as steaks, burgers, and chicken. These peppers are also excellent in chili and salsa. They also are great in Mexican dishes such as fajitas, and classic Italian dishes such as antipasto.

To preserve your peppers, pickling is an excellent option. For an even easier alternative, try drying them. Jimmy Nardello himself discovered that a great way to preserve his peppers for wintertime consumption was to dry them. In order to do so, string them onto a thread using a regular sewing needle. Be careful not to pierce the fruit itself. Pierce only the stem. Then, hang your threaded peppers on a porch, or near a sunny window. As a bonus, they will keep their red color and look very pretty as they dry out.

To consume your dried peppers throughout the winter, just fry them up in a bit of olive oil and add them to your favorite dishes. They add a distinct flavor, sort of like peppery popcorn, and even hold their texture and shape while cooked.

‘Tis Almost Time to Plant Lettuce

 

There are two times of year that are the best times to plant lettuce and other greens: the first is in early spring, and the second is in late summer. Many gardeners miss this end-of-the-season chance to plant lettuce and harvest a fall crop. But I’ll tell you, it is an opportunity that should not be missed. Lettuces such as butterhead, loose-leaf,  and romaine grow very well when planted during the last week of August. In fact, I am convinced that the sweetest and most tender lettuce leaves I have ever harvested have come from my fall crop.

By this time of year, I have been harvesting quite a bit of lettuce throughout the season. I use the “cut and come again” method of harvesting lettuce, which means that I pick only the outer leaves, and therefore can harvest again from the same plant in just a few days. Alternately, when you pick lettuce, you can harvest a plant only once by cutting off the entire head at the ground. Regardless of which harvesting method you use, lettuce is a great crop to plant because you can harvest a great deal before the plants go to seed, (which, with lettuce and spinach, is known as bolting.)

My favorite lettuce varieties are… drumroll please…

Over the years, I have experimented with a number of different head and loose-leaf varieties of lettuce and salad greens. My personal favorites are the Red Salad Bowl Lettuce, a wonderful deep-lobed bronze loose-leaf lettuce, and Susan’s Red Bibb Lettuce, a curly red and green loose-leaf lettuce with a very mild flavor. Both of these varieties are heirloom lettuces that I received in my Survival Seed Bank. In addition to being quite tasty, a plus is that they are not as delicate and fragile as many lettuces, and they are slow to bolt, therefore they produce a large number of crisp leaves every season.

In terms of lettuce, both of my favorites are rather slow to grow. They take about 50-60 days until harvest, while some types of lettuce are ready in only a couple weeks. Fortunately, this year I harvested most of my spring-planted lettuce in early July, before the grueling heat wave hit Virginia, (and the majority of the country.) Lettuce generally thrives in cooler temps, whereas temperatures in the 90s, such as those that we have been experiencing lately, cause lettuce leaves to wilt and rot. Loose-leaf lettuce does a bit better in hot weather than head lettuce varieties do. But with temps close to 100 lately, I think that even my Red Salad Bowl and Susan’s Red Bibb Lettuces wouldn’t be looking so cheery. They definitely prefer weather on the milder side. This is why I find it best to plant once in the spring, and once again at the end of summer or beginning of fall. While plenty of my crops, especially my tomatoes, love high temps and a surplus of sunlight, lettuce does not thrive in these conditions.

As you prepare to plant a late summer lettuce crop, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Lettuce likes full to partial sun, and should be planted in a spot where it will be sheltered from the wind.
  • Greens thrive best in raised beds. It is very important to ensure that you plant greens, any greens, in soil that drains well. If the soil is swampy, your leaves will be bitter. Before planting, prepare your soil by mixing in plenty of compost and peat moss. This will ensure that it drains well.
  • Good natural fertilizers for lettuce and other greens are blood meal and bone meal.
  • Do not use insecticides on greens. Their leaves are too delicate and you will just burn them out.
  • Do not overcrowd your lettuce plants, otherwise the heads will be very small and will not fully develop. Make sure to follow directions on your seed packets in regards to planting. Red Salad Bowl Lettuce, when given enough room to thrive, can grow up to 16 inches wide.
  • Keep your seed beds moist- do not allow them to completely dry out.
  • If you experience an Indian Summer in September or October, mulch around your lettuce seedlings to help keep them cool.
  • If there is danger of frost on a cool autumn night, protect your lettuce plants with a plastic tent, or a plastic milk jug with the bottom cut off over each individual seedling.

How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables Without Sulfites

Drying produce from your crisis garden is an excellent way to preserve it. Once fruits and vegetables have been dried, they become small, compact, and easy to store and carry. Plus, within the drying process, pretty much the only thing that is sacrificed is moisture. Most of the nutrients, vitamins, and fiber content of the produce remains. So even though dried fruits may look like leather, they are still quite nutritious.

Despite my love for dried things, you will never, ever see me purchasing them in a grocery store. Why? Well, why would I bother when I have all of this wonderful, fresh produce at home that I can dry myself? Drying your own fruits and vegetables at home is really not that complicated. The very best thing about drying your own garden fresh produce is that you can do it without sulfites.

You see, pretty much any time you see conventionally dried food of any sort at the grocery store, it contains sulfites. Sulfites keep fruits and vegetables looking “fresher” and more colorful once they have been dried, and increase their shelf life. You will notice that an apricot dried with sulfites looks bright orange and relatively round and smooth, whereas an organically dried apricot is brown and looks a bit more wrinkly. The ones dried with sulfites do not taste better, they just tend to look “fresher.”

All wines contain sulfites, as they occur naturally during the fermentation process, but many types of wine also have extra sulfites that have been added as a preservative. Conventional beef jerky always contains sulfites, as do many condiments, and dried food mixes such dried potato slices that come in boxes of instant au gratin potatoes. Oftentimes sulfites are also sprayed on containers of seafood and salad bars at grocery stores in order to keep these things looking fresh, and to prevent black and brown spots from forming. You should see a sign indicating that sulfites have been added “to preserve freshness.” Whereas sulfites used to be commonly used on all types of produce, the FDA banned this practice in 1986. Now, all products with sulfites must contain a warning label stating, “this product contains sulfites.”

Sulfites are supposedly not dangerous to the majority of the population. However, approximately 1 in 100 people have a sulfite sensitivity. A sulfite sensitivity can develop at any time during life. For these individuals, sulfites can cause headaches, diarrhea,  skin rashes, and asthma attacks.  In some cases, the asthma attacks can cause severe breathing problems and be quite dangerous.

Okay, the point of all of this is that it is obviously better to dry your fruits and vegetables without a preservative, if you can. So I’ll stop my yaking and get to how I dry my produce. This is the perfect time of year to start drying, when your garden really starts to produce, and you need to start preserving lest you waste half of it. You can experiment with drying different types of fruits and veggies to see what kinds you like best. Most types of berries dry very well, including strawberries and blueberries. For fruit, I would also recommend drying pears, apples, bananas, and apricots. (You can really dry pretty much any fruit except for citrus fruits and watermelons. The latter is 92% water so you wouldn’t really have anything left.) For vegetables, you can make your own sun-dried tomatoes, and celery, onions, beans, squash, okra, and carrots all dry well.

Drying Fruits and Vegetables:

Step 1- Begin by washing and drying your fruit or vegetable of choice. Thoroughly dry and slice your produce; fruits and veggies that are cut into uniform thin slices dry best. A sharp knife and steady hand is fine for this, but you may also find a mandolin slicer or food processor useful. Make sure to discard any stems and woody or rotten portions.

Step 2 for Fruits- In place of a coat of sulfites, the fruit slices still need something that is going to help preserve them and extend their shelf life. I find what works best is a dip in ascorbic acid. This is much safer, since ascorbic acid simply comes from vitamin C. You can buy it in powdered form at grocery stores and drug stores. To use it, mix one teaspoon of the powder with 2 cups of water. Immerse your fruit slices and let them soak for 3 minutes before removing them and patting them dry with paper towels.

Step 2 for Vegetables- Drying veggies is different from drying fruits because dried fruits obtain a leathery texture, whereas dried veggies become crisp. They contain less acids than fruits, so in a dried state they become brittle instead of chewy. To prepare veggies to be dried, they need to be blanched. This stops the enzyme action that causes loss of color and flavor during storage. To blanch your vegetables, fill a large pot 2/3 full with water, and bring this to a rolling boil. Fill a colander with your veggie slices, and submerge the colander in the boiling water. Delicate veggies such as tomatoes need to only boil for about 1 minute. Give beans 2 minutes, and harder veggies like carrots 3 minutes. (The water will calm down for a moment once you submerge the colander, so start timing when it returns to a boil.) Then, remove the colander, rinse the veggies briefly with cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels. Move immediately onto the next step, as it is best to complete step #3 while the veggies are still warm to the touch.

If you would like, you can buy a conventional food dehydrator at a local kitchen supply store. I have never purchased one of these, since the tend to be bulky and I do not care for kitchen tools that serve only one purpose. So, for drying, I use my oven. That brings us to…

Step 3- Create your own drying trays by placing cake cooling racks (the ones that look like little metal grids) on top of some cookies sheets. These racks will allow for sufficient air flow, which is imperative. Next, set your oven to 140 degrees. This is likely the lowest setting your oven has. During the entire drying process, you will need to keep the door to your oven ajar, so I would not recommend doing this in a house with very small children. Prop you oven door open with a ball of aluminum foil or a wooden kitchen spoon.

Step 4- It will take between 4 and 12 hours for your fruits and vegetables to dry, depending on what you are drying and how thinly it is sliced. Check them after 4 hours. Dried fruit is done when it feels dry and leathery to the touch, but still flexible. Dried vegetables are done when they are brittle, as they they will shatter if you hit them with your hand.

Step 5 for Fruits- After being oven dried, vegetables can simply be cooled and stored in an airtight container. However, fruits must be conditioned. Remove your fruits from the trays and place them in a tight sealing jar. They will need to remain in this jar for the next 10 days. Every day, give the jar a good shake. This will help to distribute the remaining moisture in the fruit, giving it the desired texture. After those 10 days, you can remove your dried fruit from the jar to store or consume it.