Posts filed under food

Peasant King and My Tree Collard Selection Project

About 5 years ago, a friend gave me some tree collard seeds from Montenegro.  Some years since planting those seeds, I’ve selected one seedling that stands out from the rest to name, propagate and distribute.  I is ostentatiously and awesomely dubbed Peasant King. 

Tree collards are a perennial vegetable also variously known by other names like Tree Kale, Palm Cabbage, Walking Stick Kale, Tree Cabbage and no doubt more.  They are something like collard greens or Broccoli leaves, except that they grow all year for multiple years without flowering eventually becoming very tall.  They could be compared to regular collards, but generally are heavier in texture and maybe stronger flavored.  I also suspect they might be more nutritious, but who knows without an analysis, and I don't know that it's been done.  Tree Collards are a member of the species Brassica Oleracea, which includes, Broccoli, most Kales (not siberian or red russian, which are Brassica napus species), Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Brussel's Sprouts, Cabbage and Collards.  Many people are surprised to find out that these are all the same species of plant and and as such can inter-pollinate.  The only reason they look and act so different is that they have been bred in different directions for a very long time.

"In Jersey, the Palm Cabbage is much cultivated, and reaches a considerable height. In La Vendée, the Cæsarean Cow Cabbage grows sixteen feet high."  
PLANT LORE, LEGENDS, and LYRICS, RICHARD FOLKARD, JUN. 1884 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44638/44638-h/44638-h.htm

Tree Collards are traditionally grown in various parts of the world as fodder for both humans and animals.  They probably originating in the British Isles.  A variety referred to locally as Purple Tree Collard has been grown in my area by old and young back to the land types for a long time, but they are generally propagated by cuttings, not seeds.  That is because the purple tree collard that is grown around here rarely sets any seed.  Flowering is not very common to start with and they flower only weakly when they flower at all.  Also, they don’t seem to pollinate themselves and may only set seed when pollinated by another genetically unique variety of tree collard or other member of the Brassica Oleracea group. 

When I got these rare and unique seeds, I saw it as a chance to find out if the trait of resistance to flowering was transferable, with an eye to selecting out some new perennial varieties worthy of propagation by cuttings.  I grew up around 35 new plants in some out-of-the-way long term test beds.  I was impressed early in their growth that many of the plants seemed more vigorous than the standard tree collard I had been growing for years.  I wondered if our tree collards had picked up virus or genetic damage that caused them to grow more weakly.  I won’t be 100% sure if the average plant is more vigorous unless I grow multiple varieties side by side with the old type. What I'll probably do instead is yank out all of my old Purple Tree Collards so that they don’t infect my new varieties if they are carrying something infectious.

   Peasant King shows much darker purple and more completely colored leaves than the average seedling in the group.  The leaves also average much larger.  More average leaves are to the left.

Peasant King shows much darker purple and more completely colored leaves than the average seedling in the group.  The leaves also average much larger.  More average leaves are to the left.

Out of those 35-ish plants, I have selected just one so far that is clearly superior by a combination of leaf size, color, shape, vigor, uprightness and resistance to bolting.  It has beautiful, large, dark purple leaves.  While most of the seedlings more or less resemble the purple tree collard grown here, they vary in color, with a few being more or less purple.  The old cuttings everyone grows here are partially purple, but probably average 50% or more green.  My new selection is among the most completely purple of this seed population, though, like all of them, there are green patches.  Keep in mind that the color trait will vary somewhat with weather, soil and culture.  The leaf shape is a little more frilly and rounded as well.  All in all, it stands out from the crowd in it's physical attributes, and if random leaves are picked from all of the plants, it's leaves are easily distinguishable from the rest

The original plant is now about 7 feet tall at 4 years old.  it is not the tallest, but that may be just as well.  I think a combination of tall and short types might be best scenario in terms of design options for gardens.  It has resisted flowering through at least two hot California summers with no water, and two of the worst drought years in living memory.  Those trial beds have also gotten very little fertilizer past the initial establishment.  The conditions I’ve grown these in shows out just how tough these plants are.  We have no significant rain for usually about 5 or 6 months of the year, depending on the year, yet the percentage of plant loss to drouth was not all that high.  Heavy environmental stress often causes plants to flower, probably as a reproductive imperative- as in, "I might die, I better make babies to pass no my genes".  Growing these under these challenging conditions creates heavy selection pressure to weed out the weak.

I named the variety Peasant King because it is tall, with a beautiful crown of royal purple leaves, and tree collards are the epitome of healthy old school peasant food.  My home girl Sophia Bates acquired these seeds, which were gifted to her by the Matron of the farm she was staying at in Montenegro.  She said that they are a regular staple among the farming folks of that region and are grown in every nook and cranny of the homestead that is not used for anything else.  They are pretty neat.  A tough resilient plant that is easy to propagate from cuttings, nutritious and grows with little care in out of the way spots.  To boot, it looks cool.  I think further trial will show Peasant King to be more upright and handsome than the usual collards.  Only further trial will tell us for sure, or whether it will show out some other problems such as susceptibility to pests or disease.

So what’s the down side?  Some people don’t like them for one.  They are also not very hardy.  John Jeavons of Ecololgy action, a long time promoter of tree collard growing, says the usual purple tree collard can freeze out below 18 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods I do not recommend trying to grow them in areas where they don’t really want to grow, but see below for possibly more hardy options.  Being perennial, they can be host to long term pests, like aphids.  I have gotten aphids and if I recall, maybe some fungal disease on my Purple Tree Collards in the past, but they always seem to outgrow everything eventually.   Once I can grow more of them and get them to some other people, we will find out how they fare in the long run.  I hope to have cuttings of Peasant King to offer in the next year or two.  I should be rooting cuttings within a couple of months to grow more plants, to make yet more cuttings to distribute.  The first available cuttings will go to a combination of influencer types and content creators and as usual my patreon supporters.  Sometime after that I’ll probably distribute cuttings for at least a year or two as long as it keeps performing well here.

 

THE FUTURE

In doing research I ran across a blog comment somewhere by Chris Hommanics saying that he has been working with tree collard hybrids for some time.  He had actually contacted me last year about getting me some apple scions, which I unfortunately wasn't able to take advantage of.  Anyway, small world.  It turns out he is offering a population of hybrid Tree Collard seed that he’s been working on.  It is a randomly mixed hybrid pool of tree collards mixed with Kales and other oleracea types.  The seeds are available for experimentation and can be acquired here.  This seed offers a much more diverse genetic range, with improved texture and varying form.  This looks like a really promising project.  I also ran across a video by Plant Abundance on YouTube, showing a kale, tree collard hybrid which he grew from chance pollinations with Kale in his garden.  I think the future of tree collards is likely more along these lines than the more traditional inbred line I’m working with.  Only the future will tell if that is all good, but I’d say expect to see an explosion of tree Brassica diversity soon.  The internet makes spreading knowledge and plant material so much easier than it used to be and new people are inspired every day to do backyard breeding and selection.  Even a few years ago when I started this project, there wasn’t all the much about tree collards out there on the web.  Now there are lots of videos and blog post.  The internet has been good to the humble tree collard.

   The seeds are still viable and I planted two flats this spring

The seeds are still viable and I planted two flats this spring

My plan from here is to germinate a bunch more of this Montenegran tree collard seed.  This time, I’m going to do a pre-selection in the flats, choosing only the healthiest looking vigorous seedlings.  Then I’ll plant those in trial beds on a close spacing, of maybe 6 or 8 inches to do a second selection.  The winners will be transplanted to trial beds and once established, I’ll neglect them, just like I neglected the current trial beds and see what survives and thrives.  I would like to select out three or more plants worthy of naming and propagating from cuttings.  After that, if I continue working with them, it will probably be to hybridize in some other Oleracea varieties, like kales and maybe purple cabbage, and start growing those out.  I think Chris Homanics said that about 25% of hybrids inherit the perennial trait of seeding resistance and I think my seedlings might show about the same.  Transference of perenniality was my biggest question going into this project.  Now that we know that the trait is transferable, it opens up a huge window of opportunity to work with perennial tree Kales and Collards.

If you want to experiment with breeding and or selection, tree collards should cross with other members of the Brassica oleracea group mentioned above.  There are hybrids of Brassica napus with Brassica oleracea, but I'm not sure how easy that is to achieve.  The idea of a cross with the napus Russian or Siberian Kale is very intriguing though.  Read more about those inter-species hybrids here.

Please don't contact me about cuttings unless maybe you are a collector or breeder that will in some way ultimately benefit others by distribution, education, research or breeding.  If I have cuttings, they will be offered in the web store as they become available.  Since the variety is named, it should get into circulation from other sources eventually, as long as it proves it's merit over time.  I still have to look into options for release to the public.  I'm going to check out the open source seed initiative, an organization which one of my gardening heroes Carol Deppe is involved in, but I still need to think about whether I think their whole concept is a good idea or not.  My intuition tells me there is something wrong with it and that is usually the start of something lol.  I'm also not sure if they do vegetatively propagated varieties.  I have my own ideas about what the future of seeds and perennials, plant breeding the legal stuff involved, the plant breeding community, and the broader gardening and orcharding culture could look like, but that's another bag of worms.

Etter's Blood Apples, Unique, Beautiful and Tasty, Red Flesh, Red Flavor

gren bited.jpg

This year I have three of apple breeder Albert Etter's red fleshed apples fruiting.  They are very unique and interesting apples, though they still represent unfinished work.  Red fleshed apples will be coming more and more into the public eye over the coming years.  They could have arrived much sooner had anyone taken up Etter's work, which was already well started.  With all their faults, these apples are still worth growing.  Also a short video on Gold Rush, which might be the apple I've seen most universally endorsed by home growers for flavor, keeping ability and disease resistance.

Saffron, Growing the Most Expensive Spice at Home

Todays video is on saffron.  Saffron is expensive!  a quick look on Amazon shows the lowest price around $5.25 a gram, which is approaching $2400.00 a pound.  Um, yeah, right?  Fortunately it packs quite a punch flavor wise and not only does a thread of saffron contain a lot of flavor, but it is essential that you don't use too much of it or it's rather odd and dusty flavor can unbalance a dish.  So we can be thankful for that serendipity.  Anyway, $2400.00 a pound and up, what's up with that?  I'll tell you what's up with that from personal experience.  Saffron is expensive for two reasons.  Not a lot is produced per acre and more importantly, there are no saffron processing machines.  Each flower produces only three threads of saffron, which are the red female flower parts that receive pollen (or at least they used to, now the plant is sterile).  Every flower has to be plucked out of the ground, which is slower than you might think because they are buried in a brush of tough leaves,  Then someone has to pick that flower up and nimbly extract the three delicate red threads without pulling out too much of it's lower white part which has no flavor, and without any other unwanted stuff like bits of petal or the male pollen bearing parts.  If the worker is to neither starve nor be fired post haste, this must be done rapidly and preferably by plucking all three threads at once, not breaking them off short or pulling off one or two at a time.

Every year thousands of mostly young and lazy people flood the region I call home to engage in the harvest of cannabis.  One of the more time consuming jobs employing thousands is trimming the buds to remove the larger leafy parts. Of course there are no statistics for a black market industry, but thousands flock here for this relatively high paying job.  It is tedious work, just like saffron plucking, but the pay is vastly better.  If saffron were illegal, people would flock to saffron growing regions to pluck saffron and leave with enough to live on for 6 months or more.  Alas, saffron production is an entirely legitimate business and if you go to follow the saffron harvest, I think you'd better save up for a while first and bring extra money with you for your saffron processing vacation!  I had some illusions of possibly growing the stuff for side income.  Well, let me tell you, those notions came to a screeching halt when I weighed an hours yield of saffron plucking not even including growing and harvest.  I'm going to try again someday when I'm better at it, but at this point is looks like it's the kind of work that the first world always shuffles off onto some place where people have fewer choices for employment.  I can tell you, if you pay 2400.00 a pound for saffron, someone is getting royally screwed in that transaction and it ain't you!  You're certainly getting a bargain.

But hey, money isn't everything and I'm about the biggest fan around of divorcing ourselves from the everything-has-a-price-tag, time-is-money, market value mindset.  I've spent a lifetime unlearning that way of thinking in order to pursue the kind of knowledge that I'm after.  If I stopped to value the stuff I do all the time, I would do very little of it.  That means I am poorly adapted to the modern paradigm and really have low survivability in the current default society, but that's okay with me.  There are things more important than money or survival.  Look buddy, when the local economy collapses because of the legalization of marijuana I'll at least have saffron aplenty for my mixed rodents with gourmet mushrooms and acorn sauce as I slowly starve to death up here in the hills defending the last of my carrot crop from wandering bands of starving out of work pot growers.  Nope, the saffron industry will never replace the pot industry in the emerald triangle but, thanks to it's inherent potency, growing enough saffron for your own yearly supply is very easy and not even that time consuming!  I enjoy plucking those precious little red threads out, at least to a point, and processing the flowers from a bed 4x6 even at the peak of the season is basically the amount of time it takes to watch a tv show or part of a movie.  I would present for your consideration the idea that kind of busy work is good for the soul.

Saffron is easy to grow here.  I just plant the bulbs and maybe weed them and that's it.  I did get two different batches of bulbs and so far one batch is far out performing the other, so that is something to think about.  There are different strains, no doubt due to epigenetics or to random mutations over time since the plants do not produce seed but are grown solely by dividing the underground parts and planting them.  While the bulbs are rather pricey, it might be worthwhile to pay extra for a proven producing strain if you can find a seller you have that kind of confidence in, like a producer that sells bulbs on the side to subsidize saffron thread production.

The worst problem I've had is that rodents seem to love them.  I had to plant them in a wire lined bed to keep gophers out, which has worked well for a few years now.  I've also made a lot of naturalized plantings, but they have done poorly so far.  I had hoped I could just scatter the bulbs all over the hills and wander around plucking them with the theme song to The Sound of Music playing through my head, but it is looking like they are not well enough adapted to this climate or soil.  I haven't given up yet, but it's not looking good.  I'm not sure where all you can get away with growing the stuff, but you can look into that on your own.  It seems to grow well in my mild Mediterranean climate.

The flowers bloom in the fall and are harvested daily or up to every other day as they emerge and processed immediately.  Dry the threads quickly, but out of the sun and store in a dark jar.  It is an oddly flavored but delicious spice and I'm finding more and more uses for it.  Yesterday morning I made browned chanterelle mushrooms in a butter and caramelized maple syrup sauce with saffron, vanilla and candy cap mushrooms.  Was it good?  Do you have to ask?  Omg, it was so good.

Well, that's it.  Watch my short and very pretty video, because it's cool and I worked hard on it.  And share it with someone you love so I can get more views and buy axes!  I don't actually really want any more axes, (though I probably want different axes).  I just want to test them all.  I'm only interested in having a pile of axes to the extent that it serves the purpose of learning me all about them.  Once I determine an axe or other tool is dead weight, just like an apple variety or saffron strain that doesn't perform, It's getting the axe so to speak.  Skills and knowledge over gear.  I have too many possessions already due to my not-so-simple living.  I also don't need more saffron than I can process, or tons of saffron that I have to care for, but can only process for 3.00 an hour.  Okay, maybe with the right marketing, selling local organic saffron to fancy by area restaurants maybe I could hit the point where saffron production is at least equivalent to very low paying job like working at walmart.  Or, maybe I'm wrong and I'll get super fast and crack the saffron code to make it a potentially viable business.  I think saffron will remain a labor of love though.   Anyway, I was saying that I don't need tons of saffron plants, so I can sell the extra corms to other would be saffron growers, which is honestly probably much more lucrative than saffron production.  Once I dispose of the poor producing strain and expand the good producing strain, I'll probably have bulbs for sale in my little SkillCult e-store or on ebay.  Until then, I think you'll see saffron cropping up in a recipe here and there.

Note that there is no advertising on this site, nor am I constantly pushing you to buy products, but only occasionally link products that I can pretty much get behind with little or no qualification.  That is no accident.  I feel that having advertising everywhere is contrary to my goal of convincing people to learn and do more for themselves and consume less.  The medium is the message as they say.  However, when you do need to buy stuff, you can help me succeed at my endeavors by bookmarking this link ( http://amzn.to/1Ne861e )in your browser bar and using it whenever you shop on Amazon.com.  It costs you nothing, but it has the potential to help me a lot if enough people do it.  If you don't know how it works yet, that link contains an ID that credits me a small commission around 4% to 6% on anything you buy through it.  That's why most sites are covered in links and ads pushing you toward Amazon or other affiliate programs.  I really don't want to do that, and I don't think you want me to either.  And a huge thanks to those of you who already use that link, it does make a difference!

Hot Sauce, the Real Deal, Fermented, Delicious and Beautiful

DSC03166 (1).jpg

I recently wrote up a thing on the instructables site on how to make lacto-fermented hot sauce.  As of now, I’ve made the instructables home page as a featured post and have over 5000 views and 172 likes (edit, this morning this instructable also made the instructable daily email.  Likes and views are pouring in!  That's awesome.  I don't write this stuff for my mother to read ;).  It’s also entered into a contest.  I believe voting is open for another day here http://www.instructables.com/contest/preserveit/   I got my submission in kind of late, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to accumulate votes.

 

I’ve been looking forward to making this video because I get all fired up about fermented peppers and am prone to going on and slinging strong opinions about.  Many years ago, before fermentation was cool, I started trying to pickle some pepperoncini that I grew.  I love those wrinkly little things!  I looked up recipes for pickled peppers and they were all pickled in vinegar.  The results were basically inedible and certainly nothing like the pepperoncini you can buy in the store.  I was studying and experimenting with fermenting olives at the time and finally put two and two together, they had to be fermented of course!  I extrapolated off of a recipe for traditional fermented dill pickles and kaching!  Success!  I had figured out how to make pepperoncini that handily stomped the best brands you can buy (more on that and testing pepperoncini varieties some other time... and other pepper related stuff.  I basically can't grow enough of the things to supply all of my numerous pepper habits).  From there I started making pimentos and hot sauce and have done so ever since, gallons upon gallons of all of them.  I published my rather detailed and long article on fermenting peppers on the paleotechnics site 8 years ago, when there was very little on the web about fermenting much of anything.  It is worth reading if you want to know more and stuff like the rationale behind fermenting anaerobically in mason jars, though I think it could use some updating.  I haven't read it in a while. 

   Cupboard stuffed full of lacto-fermented pepperoncini, pimentos, hot sauce peppers and olives.  None are heat canned.  They are live ferments sealed up with a protective layer of carbon dioxide from the fermentation process.  Damn, this picture is making my mouth water.  I usually store my hot sauce peppers like this and just make up one jar at a time into sauce as needed.

Cupboard stuffed full of lacto-fermented pepperoncini, pimentos, hot sauce peppers and olives.  None are heat canned.  They are live ferments sealed up with a protective layer of carbon dioxide from the fermentation process.  Damn, this picture is making my mouth water.  I usually store my hot sauce peppers like this and just make up one jar at a time into sauce as needed.

 

This is the real way to make hot sauce.  Peppers ground up in vinegar will never be the real deal.  It is really easy too, no magic hoo-doo or lab coats required.  Read the instructable here, or you can just watch the video below, which is visually appealing and under 5 minutes long.  So here you go, full screen, HD recommended.



Video, All About Potato Onions #1 and Multiplier Onion Giveaway

Video

This introduction video is the first in a series on Potato Onions.  Future videos will cover planting, culture, harvest, curing and eating.  I forgot to address a couple of things.  One is the difference between potato onions and shallots.  I think there is probably not all that much.  My suspicion at this time is that they evolved along different lines, but it's hard to say.  I would be wary of any expert opinion on this matter.  The other is the disadvantages of potato onions.  They are really neat, and you dont' have to grow or save seed.  All that is cool, but you also have to save part of your crop, which means you don't get to eat it.  Since you can save mostly small bulbs to grow large ones for eating, that helps, but it's still something to consider.  I've been growing them for over ten years and they work for me.

Onion Giveaway

Also, I promised it and here it is, the great multiplier onion giveaway!  Yay!  What I'm giving out is packages  of 4 different multiplier onions that I sell on ebay. (THIS IS OVER NOW, SORRY...) 

Copper Shallot: Is a very nice true shallot, presumably of French origin.  It has pink tinged flesh and a coppery skin.  I really like this variety which I got in trade a few years ago.  It has done very well, keeps like a rock, shows no winter damage in our relatively mild winters and no seed stalks to speak of, even when overwintered.  Most (all?) commercial shallots these days are grown from seed, so if you plant a shallot start from the store, it will almost always run to seed.  True shallots like this are becoming rare.
Yellow Potato Onion: This is the standard old school potato onion.  It is very hesitant to flower under most conditions, it is very cold hardy and it keeps extremely well.  It resembles a shallot, but with more under-the-skin division (a negative trait) and it may be sweeter and milder, but I'm not sure of that.  I like to use them whole in stews and roasts, roasted in the skin over coals (yum!) and if you're patient, they are truly excellent when carmelized properly (properly meaning thoroughly cooked and not burnt!  Patience grasshopper, good things take time...).
Green Mountain Multiplier:  This is a newer variety bred from the yellow potato onion by Kelly Winterton of Utah, a champion of potato onions.  This is very rare and Kelly has people lined up to get his limited supply of bulbs every year.  I'm the only other person I know who has them available, though that is bound to change pretty soon.  It is larger than the yellow potato onion, with fewer under-the-skin divisions and generally with more compact uniform bulbs on average.  The down side is that it flowers readily, though it doesn't flower if spring planted here.  I have much higher loses to mould and rot during curing and storage with this onion than with the yellow potato onion and am phasing it out this year.  It's still worth a try, especially if you do a lot of canning with onions in the fall, in which case you can use the suspect ones up by september, and save the best for storage.  Though there are losses in storage the bulbs that do make it seem to keep very well.   It is earlier than the Yellow Potato Onion.  More on this and the yellow potato onion in the video
I'itoi's Onion:  A very small multiplier onion grown by the O'odham people of the SouthWestern U.S. for hundreds of years.  It is said to have been brought by Spanish invaders.  It can be grown as chives, or harvested as green onions.  The bulbs are very small, but if well grown are certainly worth peeling and putting whole into dishes.

Okay, so this is how it's going to work this time.  First, be subscribed or following on RSS.  Instead of first come first serve, which is not very equitable considering all the times zones and such, I'm just going to collect emails through Sunday midnight and do a drawing out of a hat (or some other opaque object, no, make it a hat, I have a black hat, that's opaque :).  Then I'll contact the winners and send you instructions.  This needs to happen relatively fast, so I can get them sent out.  You pay shipping, which should be under 4.00, but lets just make it 4.00 so I'm covered for sure.  

Email me through the "SAY HI" contact link at the bottom or top this page with the subject line  "Potato Onion Giveaway",  so that I can sort all the emails out easily.

Good luck!  I'm not sure exactly how many sets I'll be doing yet, but at least 8.  Fall planting is not uncommon with potato onions.  The yellows are cold hardy, the others I'm not entirely sure about.  I wouldn't recommend trying to save them till spring because there are always some losses in storage.

Good Luck!


Seven Summer Apples, Head to Head Taste Test

 Beautiful and Tasty Chestnut Crab

Beautiful and Tasty Chestnut Crab

Untold hours of research into apple geekery has resulted, among other things, in a fair collection of early apples of high reputation. Although many have not lived up their reputations, at least not in my climate, my last taste test of two early crab apples, TRAILMAN and CENTENNIAL was very encouraging  This week I got to taste 7 early apples that are in eating around early to mid August.  The results didn't surprise me. I've tasted most of these apples before. Still, it was very revealing to taste all of them at the same time and compare directly.  What did surprise me was significant red staining in the flesh of William's pride, making it a good candidate for my red fleshed apple breeding efforts, along with it's other merits. 

For anyone searching for good early apples,the winners in this tasting are good at any season and very exceptional for early apples. There are other apples which I grow that ripen in the same season, but for various reasons, like birds, Drought, and alternate bearing, I didn't have any specimens to add. So, they will have to wait for another year.  Most promising among those so far are probably St. Edmunds russet, Irish peach and golden nugget.  I also just today discovered an entire cordon Mother apples (Mother is the variety name) that I hadn't noticed. I've had them before, but I just ate one that was by far the best I've ever had, and it may have been a contender up against the winners of this taste test.  Extremely sweet with lots of rich flavor.  This one may have been an early drop.  It takes a while to learn when to pick and eat each variety.

  An old early apple variety known as Mother

An old early apple variety known as Mother

I now have a dedicated Frankentree in one of the orchards for only the very best early apples, which I will graft on over the years as I suss them out.

Some very cool films on Acorn and Buckeye Processing

There are lots of ways to process acorns.  These amazing old films show traditional processing in enough detail for a person to really learn something.  Processing of the California buckeye is much less common, but this video shows how it is done.  The buckeye nuts are poisonous raw, but they are not hard to process and it shouldn't be overly intimidating.  It's also just really great to watch these ladies at work with their deft hands, and listen to the singing, which is,  for lack of a better description, very grounding.   Thanks to the wonders of the information age, these once very hard to get films are now available to see.  Check 'em out!  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kQ9sA5ONxA

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhqNTgMaJIc

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxoOCHyOO_Q

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMSStfqEhsU

Posted on June 6, 2014 and filed under food.

Roasting Bay Nuts in a Popcorn Popper

roast bay nuts header
roast bay nuts header

By Steven Edholm

NOTE:  Bay nuts must be properly roasted to be edible to humans.  In spite of our best efforts to the contrary, we still commonly encounter people who are not roasting their bay nuts properly.  Most commonly, the nuts are not dried before roasting.  The second most common problem is roasting too cool.  The toxicity of unroasted bay nuts is unknown, but they are probably not good for you.  A tickling irritation in the back of the throat, almost like a burning sensation, is indicative of inadequate roasting.  Please read and follow directions.)

Bay nut season is early this year.  I usually find myself harvesting them around thanksgiving, but they’re dropping all over the place and have been for a while.  Roasting bay nuts in an oven is tricky.  They require very frequent stirring and because it is only practical to stir the nuts every 2 to 3 minutes, they often roast unevenly.  It has always been my feeling that the nuts should be kept in more or less continuous motion in order to roast more evenly, just as when roasting coffee.  I’ve even thought about approaching a coffee roasting company to see if I could try using their equipment, or maybe  building some type of makeshift roaster that would keep the beans moving constantly.

Last year we acquired a popcorn popper here at Turkeysong for roasting coffee beans.  This is the type with a crank handle on top and a wire inside that stirs the popcorn.  They work really great for popcorn and roasting coffee beans.  I’ve used it a number of times now to roast bay nuts, and it seems to work really well.  At this point I'm fairly well convinced that it works better than the oven.  A reader also contacted us recently saying that he has been using one too and liked the results, so I think we’re all on to something.

Here are some thoughts and observations on using the popper.  Don't forget to roast dried nuts only (that means the nut inside the shell is dry and somewhat hard, not rubbery or flexible).

*Stir the nuts constantly.  The burners on my small stove are weak, but it still seems to get extremely hot in the popper.  I think it's good to tone it down a little as the roasting progresses.  I start on high, (which is not that high on my stove) then turn them down to medium, or medium low at around 6 to 7 minutes when they are really starting to roast and smoke.  They should still roast hot for the finish, and should still be smoking lightly to moderately the whole time .  With my set up, roasting a pint in the popper takes about 13 to 15 minutes.  Don't use that as strict guideline, but you see what I'm getting at.  It is important not to roast too cool.  Our observation so far is that a high temperature really seems to help in driving off the volatile constituents that make bay nuts inedible when raw.  If it takes under 12 minutes, you're probably running a little hotter than you need to.  If it takes over 15 minutes, you're probably running a little cool.

*Once the nuts are nearly done, they finish roasting (or burning) extremely fast!  The difference between roasted and burnt, may be less than a minute.  This is one reason I like to turn down the heat a bit, in order to have a longer window for deciding when they are done.  Either way, check the nuts very frequently by cracking one open to observe the color, and remove to cool in a basket as soon as they are done and not a second longer.  Color can range from light brown, like coffee with a little cream, to dark brown.  If not roasted enough, they the volatile oils will tickle and irritate the back of your throat.

*How many nuts to roast at once?  I’m still testing out this factor, but for now I’m sticking with about a double layer maximum.  In a big popper, that’s actually a lot of nuts.  For personal use, less than a full layer is still going to be a lot of nuts.

*The poppers vary a great deal in build quality.  The one we have at Turkeysong now is a stainless steel unit called... are you ready?  The Sweet and Easy Snack Machine.  The build quality is very good.  It is heavy gauge stainless.  The lid can be a bit of a pain to take on and off, but otherwise, I’m fairly happy with it.  If you want a quality popper to use for popcorn and coffee too, I guess I’d recommend it, but with some reservations.  If you read reviews on amazon, not everyone is happy with this unit.  Most of them are aluminum, which is not very suitable for direct contact with food like popcorn and coffee beans scraping around in the bottom.  But, if you have a cheap aluminum one already, or can score one at a thrift store or yard sale, I’ll bet it’ll work just fine for bay nuts in the shell.

sweet n easy snack
sweet n easy snack

*The process makes a ton of smoke!  Turn on the vent if you have one.

*Remember to observe some basic rules of roasting bay nuts.

>Dry the nuts first!

>Roast in the Shell

>Roast pretty hot, should be smoking a fair amount

>Test frequently

>Roast small quantities to use soon, and keep the roasted nuts sealed in a jar to prevent staleness.

roast baynut macro
roast baynut macro

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Posted on November 10, 2013 and filed under food.