Food & Health Archive


A Small Thing But Maybe Not

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

All summer I raved and ranted at the squirrels that were eating the corn in my crib. I was particularly concerned because the drought seemed to be making sure this year’s crop was going to be a bust. I did not look forward to buying corn at drought-inflated prices just to keep squirrels fat eating my reserve supply. Eventually, we practically encased the whole crib in chicken wire. To no avail. Once a squirrel makes up its mind to get into something it will find a way even into a lead vault.

What is most infuriating about squirrels eating corn is how wasteful they are. They do not eat the whole kernel. They do not even eat half of it. They drill into the middle of the white heart of the kernel and with their incisor-like teeth extract a snippet hardly bigger than a flake of dandruff. Sitting on top of the ears of corn, they toss that kernel away like a drunk does an empty beer can, and snatch another off the cob. The wounded kernel then slips and slides down through the piled up ears of stored corn. Sometimes the wanton, fluffy-tailed rats jerk kernels from the cob and then drop them, eating nothing out of them at all. By summer’s end, the top layer of corn in the crib was only half-shelled cobs and the bottom layer mostly half eaten or whole kernels.

I realized on close examination that the half eaten kernels were really not even a third eaten and that there was still plenty of nutritive value left. I fed them to the chickens— at least I didn’t have to shell them off the cobs as I or the hens, usually do. The chickens ate the wounded kernels as well as they ate the whole ones and kept on laying eggs. Talk about a win-win situation. The squirrels got their fill and so did the hens.

There is, of course, another worry involved. Just why do the squirrels eat only the germ at the heart of the kernel and show little interest in the endosperm, bran, or the yellow hull of the kernel? If they are interested only in the germ, which makes up hardly a fourth of the kernel, of what nutritional value is the rest? Are the squirrels telling us something?

Read on over at Gene's blog The Contrary Farmer.

sanctuaryoftrees Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, A Sanctuary of Trees: Beech Nuts, Birdsongs, Baseball Bats, and Benedictions

What Is The Secret Of Parsnips?

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Whenever I go to a big supermarket that carries fresh food, I always find these long, wrinkled, ugly, rooty-looking things called parsnips on display. Someone must like them or they wouldn’t be there, but I can’t find anyone who admits to eating them, or anyone who knows what the attraction might be. It certainly isn’t phallic, as carrots sometimes get portrayed.  What is the allure of parsnips?

We grew parsnips once. They were slow to germinate so weeds got a head start on them. As for taste, I am not saying they weren’t edible if cooked with enough butter, but that is kind of true of cardboard too. Parsnips are “best” in early spring after having spent the entire winter in cold or even frozen soil. The cold enhances their taste which tells me that in the fall they must taste terrible. Nowadays, marketers sometimes refrigerate fall-harvested parsnips before selling them.

Parsnips have been cultivated and cherished at least back as far as ancient Roman times. The most obvious reason for their popularity is that they are available to eat before any new growth arrives in spring, a real advantage before modern storage methods came along. But there are other roots in the ground that also survive winter. Why parsnips?  Help me out here.

What little solid history I can find about the parsnip only increases the mystery.  In Gardening For Profit, an interesting old book by Peter Henderson, first published in 1867, the author goes to great length pointing out that parsnips are not a profitable crop for market gardeners to grow. But then in an about face, he tells about a year when for some reason a shortage of parsnips occurred in early spring when they were most in demand. The price rose so high that Henderson and his crew of workers actually used “crowbars, picks, and wedges” to pry the roots out of the half-frozen ground. He sold $800 worth of parsnips from less than an acre. Remember, this was in the 1860s! How much money would that be today? Normally, an acre of parsnips sold then for around $200.  My question: who liked parsnips enough to pay that kind of money for them?

Read the rest at Gene's blog, and find out what his other readers have to say to his root-vegetable cynicism.

sanctuaryoftrees Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, A Sanctuary of Trees: Beech Nuts, Birdsongs, Baseball Bats, and Benedictions

No Two Garden Years Alike

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

I kept reassuring Carol this year that we would get plenty of beans, and for once I was right. I am presently sick of breaking beans. I break them in real time and I break them in my dreams. We have them by the bushel. All of a sudden the vines just exploded. Unlike Russ’s situation, we have had plenty of rain all along, so the sudden bean deluge is even greater than Beth’s. A couple of the poles are breaking over in fact, and there is no way we will ever use even half the crop….

Read the rest over at Gene's blog, and find out more peculiarities of his growing season.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind

Gene Logsdon: Roundup Ready Alfalfa — Monsanto’s Big Goof?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

I don’t know how to jigger genes around to make biotech alfalfa or anything else, but I do know a thing or two about making alfalfa hay. Whether Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa is harmful to health or not I don’t know either and wonder if anyone does for sure. But the majority of scientists, after much study, have pronounced RR alfalfa safe to feed and to eat. I have to assume (I guess) that most of the people involved sincerely believe that their findings are reliable and that they are not being paid off by Monsanto to fudge the results. Maybe I’m wrong about that too, but in the long run, who can you trust if not the conclusions of science, imperfect as they often are.

I think RR alfalfa is a big mistake for another reason. Weeds are rarely a problem in alfalfa cut for hay, so who needs the stuff. Alfalfa seed is expensive enough as it is. If biotech alfalfa seed goes up horrendously in price like biotech seed corn has, who would want to buy it?

If I had a dime for every bale of alfalfa I’ve handled, I’d have a very nice nest egg in the bank right now not drawing any interest. Before farming went to the corn, soybeans, and Florida rotation where I live, weeds were not nearly as problematical as they are now. The rotation then was corn, oats/wheat, and two or more years of hay. If the hay was alfalfa, it meant that for those years it was cut three times a summer, sometimes four. A good stand of alfalfa over four years of regularly cutting quashed almost all weed growth very effectively.

Sometimes in the first year that a field is seeded to alfalfa, weeds can be problematical but the alfalfa will grow right along with them if growing conditions are normal. The stand might look bad for a little while, but after the first cutting for hay, the alfalfa will spring back faster than the weeds. After the second cutting, the alfalfa grows back strongly again and the weeds diminish. By the second year’s second cutting, weeds are mostly gone. I just watched my brother-in-law’s field down the road go through this transformation over the past four years. The alfalfa looked so weedy at first that we cringed every time another farmer ventured past to see the mess, but now it looks magnificent and ought to last two more years anyway. And another thing: during the time that weeds might be bad in this situation, with multiple cuttings all summer they will be mostly in a good vegetative state when cut and make good nutritional feed too.

So why RR alfalfa? As far as I can figure, the commercial alfalfa seed growers in the West must have a weed problem because when harvesting for seed, they are not cutting their alfalfa so frequently. Seems to me the money they save by not growing seed the old way they will spend buying the new biotech seed. Then if the weeds grow immune to herbicides anyway, like they have already started to do, who has gained?

Organic growers have a good way to solve the problem of biotech alfalfa contaminating their hay crop. Switch to red or white clovers. I did thirty years ago because on my heavy clay soils, alfalfa doesn’t grow as well as red clover. Also red clover does not frost-heave as badly as alfalfa and is immune to the alfalfa weevil which is a problem here. Red clovers and some whites are fairly easy to sow by frost seeding, certainly better than alfalfa, which alone was reason enough for me to switch. And we can grow our own red clover seed in the humid eastern half of the country, not true of alfalfa. If half the haymakers quit growing alfalfa, even though it produces more tonnage if you spend the money to fertilize it heavily, the commercial seed growers would be the ones to suffer. Of course, I suppose if we all go that route, Monsanto will rush in to save us with an RR red clover. I wonder if agribusiness will eventually RR everything in nature and charge us a fee to gather hickory nuts.

Read the original article on The Contrary Farmer.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

Tasty Meat Comes From The Kitchen, Not the Field

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Furious arguments sweep back and forth over the landscape about whether pasture-raised meat is better or worse than corn-fed meat. I think pasture-raised might be healthier food depending on the quality of the pasture, but when the debate focuses on taste, oh my. Years and years ago, a similar argument was popular: whether hogs fed on steamed slop (garbage) tasted better or worse than corn-fed hogs. A butcher could supposedly tell by finger-punching a hog carcass, whether the hog had been slop-fed or corn-fed by how soft or hard it was. We farm boys had a sort of ritual. We would finger-punch each other and, if praise were in order, pronounce the boy so punched as “corn fed.” If he were deemed soft and sissified for whatever reason, a finger punch would draw forth a derisive “slop fed.” In that kind of culture, pasture-raised meat was never going to have a chance over corn-fed even if the hams had no more give in them than anvils.

Then along came my father-in-law who raised and butchered his own hogs and smoke-cured the best-tasting hams in Kentucky, so everyone who ate at his table claimed. He told me that the way to do it right was to feed a hog for two years (none of this modern four to five-month wonder stuff) mostly on acorns and then cure the hams by his own special mix of salt (had to be a particular kind of moist salt he bought by the barrel), brown sugar and pepper, rubbing the mix into the meat every day for the first month of the curing process. He even specified how many rubs (ten) each ham should be given at each rubbing. Then he smoked the meat with hickory just so-so and left it hang in the smokehouse to age a month or more. Corn, or lack thereof, had very little to do with it.

I was out in Nebraska once talking to a tough old cowboy type whose flesh was as dark and sinewy as father-in-law’s hams. He sort of snorted at my praise for a corn-fed beef steak I had eaten in Omaha. He declared that a really tasty filet came out of the back strip of a four- year- old range cow that wouldn’t know an ear of corn from a watermelon. “Takes that long to develop real taste to the meat,” he drawled, “and that kind of steak is just about as tender at four years of age as at two.”

In time I raised and cured my own hams on a diet including corn, acorns and all the food garbage our family generated. I followed my father-in-law’s instructions to the letter. I made good meat, but not as good as his hams after mother-in-law worked her magic on them in the kitchen.

I also butchered a four year old beef cow I raised entirely on good clover pasture and found the meat every bit as good as Omaha steaks and almost as tender too. And baby beef from a 700 lb. calf fed entirely on mother’s milk and grass was even tenderer. But the real reason the meat tasted so good was because my wife had become as good a cook as her mother was.

Today we enjoyed pounded meat for dinner. You probably call it round steak, one of the cheaper cuts of beef because it is usually tough whether it is raised in a factory or in a jungle. That’s where the pounding comes in. Carol sprinkles flour on the meat, then beats the living hell out of it with the edge of a saucer. I helped today. In three minutes round steak became Swiss steak, tender enough that even a child can chew it up and swallow it without whining.

But the magic had only begun. Then Carol cooked the meat in a mix of sauces, spices, wines, garlic, and herbs that only she and “Fine Cooking” magazine know about. Out came meat as luscious as any New York Strip- Porterhouse- Omaha- Premium- Prime- Char-broiled steak ever to be produced from a truck load of Monsanto’s latest triple-stacked, borer- immune, Roundup- ready, Drone- resistant, super-biotech corn on the market.

Cheap chicken wings are great too, only now they are called buffalo wings for some weird reason. We practically lived on them in graduate school because they cost only 19 cents a pound back then. With Carol following her mother’s southern fried methods, those wings were manna from heaven. She could make cardboard taste good with those methods.

I’m sure the taste of our home-raised chickens today is influenced some by the way we let them run in the woods, and the way we butcher, chill and freeze them, but the real difference is Carol’s kitchen art. Her chickens taste great whether they eat mostly corn or mostly nightcrawlers and grasshoppers.

Read the original post at The Contrary Farmer.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.