Archives

Ancient Grains

Farro with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds

Recently I decided to try some of the specialty ancient grains available in local stores.  The term ancient grains refers to cereals that were discovered and eaten millenia ago by our ancestors.  Many have fallen from use in modern times, replaced by more factory-farming friendly plants.  Judging from the variety available even in such an outpost of civilization as central Maine, the ancient grain business is good.  The grains I tried were all organic, meaning non-GMO, no pesticides or herbicides used for growing, storing or processing.  I decided to try kamut and spelt in addition to farro, a grain I’ve been eating for a year or so.  In the future I will try others.

The three grains are relatives of modern wheat.  They were first gathered from wild plants over 8000 years ago.  Man (as in most likely–women) learned to plant the wild seeds they gathered and cultivated the grain.  This provided a more secure food source for early communities.  Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and was eaten in Egypt.  It has a softer texture than some wheats, especially when it is pearled.  A semi-pearled grain has had some of the tough outer membrane, the bran, removed.  I use semi-pearled Italian farro because it cooks faster than the whole grain, yet still retains an impressive nutritional value.  A 1/4 dry cup serving of semi-pearled farro has 170 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 35 g of carbs with 5 g of dietary fiber, 0 sugar and 7 g of protein and also some iron.  It is not a complete protein since it does not contain a full supply of lysine and should be paired with another lysine source.

Farro is delicious.  It is a very nutritious alternative to rice, especially white rice which is a nutrition wasteland.  Farro has a smooth, creamy, rice-like texture with a slightly nutty flavor from the retained bran coat and a wonderful fruity, sweet fragrance.  I like to cook it with a handful of dried cranberries and some raw sunflower seeds, simmer in three times its volume of water, covered, for 15 mins until al dente, drain before serving.  A perfect breakfast or side dish for pork, turkey or chicken.  For a more authentic and jaw-exercising experience, try whole grain farro which should be soaked before cooking to soften the bran layer.

Kamut with a soup spoon for size comparison

The next culinary adventure is kamut.  Enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians and originating around the Nile, kamut grains or berries are huge.  They are 3/8″ to 7/16″ long when cooked.  Kamut reminds me of tiny beans.  It has the same combination of snappy hull with soft insides and enough size to make its presence known in your mouth.  The taste is more wheat-like for sweetness, but starchy and similar to beans.  The kamut I tried is whole grain, with the full bran coat retained.

Cooking whole grain cereals requires more time.  The berries are soaked overnight in at least twice their volume of water.  I place them in the fridge to soak.  In the old days before refrigeration, I suspect our forebears discovered alcohol through this soaking of the grain.  I imagine some slacking hut-wife left the grain to soak too long, (several days at hut temperature) and it fermented.  The woman probably drained off the water with the alcohol content into another container and, because she was so lazy, just left the liquid sitting around the fire.  Then the hut-husband arrived home from hunting rabbits and birds, an activity that apparently can lead to a powerful thirst, he grabbed the jug of fermentation water for a drink and became the first man to fall in love with home brew.

After soaking the grains overnight, drain the liquid and use it to water something, then add the grain to three times its volume of water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes until it is al dente.  Drain excess liquid before serving.  I tried kamut with a little salt and butter, yummy!  The whole bran definitely provides chewing exercise.  I would substitute this grain for any bean recipe or serve it as a side dish sweetened up by cooking with any dried fruit, including tomatoes.  A serving of kamut provided an excellent nutritional source for ancient Egyptians.  A dry 1/4 cup has 160 calories, 1 g fat (not saturated or trans fat,) 0 sodium, 32 g of carbs with 4 g being dietary fiber and 4 g sugars, and 7 g of protein.  Again, this grain is lacking in lysine and should be paired with an appropriate amino acid source to form a complete protein for vegetarians.  It is also a source of thiamine and niacin.

Piping hot spelt with a bit of salt and a pat of melted butter

Finally, I tried spelt.  This is a better known type of wheat, at least to me since I’d heard of it.  Spelt is related to durum wheat and came from the Middle East.  Its use spread to Europe and was especially popular in Germany where it fed the population during the Middle Ages and is still grown today.  The berries are smaller than either kamut or farro, very nutty and sweet and lead to plenty of chewing with the bran of the whole grain.

Spelt is prepared in the same fashion as kamut, soaked overnight in twice its volume of water for best results, drained then simmered, covered in three times the volume of water for 40-60 minutes to al dente.  Drain the excess liquid.  The grain is delicious served warm with some salt and melted butter.  The sweetness pairs well with fruits and light meats.  I even tried it with melted cheddar and loved it.  Mixed with cinnamon, a bowl of spelt did not last long when given to my two granddaughters aged 5 and 2.  They gobbled it up and wanted more!

This ancient grain, like the other two, is nutritionally superior to most modern starchy side dishes.  A 1/4 dry cup serving has 180 calories, 2 g fat ( not saturated or trans,) 0 sodium, 38 g of carbs with 5 g dietary fiber and 2 g sugars and 7 g protein.  Spelt is also low on lysine but is higher in many minerals than the other two grains I tried.  It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, among others.

Since all three of these grains are related to wheat, they contain gluten and are not for gluten intolerant diets.  I pity the ancestors with celiac disease who had to try and survive on wheat grains.  I wonder if they figured out what made their guts hurt and tried alternate foods?  Luckily, I love gluten and can digest it, so will be adding these heirloom wheat varieties to my diet.

Advertisements

Hazelnuts In Bloom

The three young hazelnut trees I’ve planted in the orchard all survived the winter and are in bloom.  Each plant has male and female flowers.  The males are long catkins filled with pollen.  The females are tiny, round, bud-like forms with projecting bright red styles.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinators, which explains why such copious amounts of pollen are produced.  The plants must cross-pollinate to produce nuts, they are not self-pollinating.  The woods are full of wild hazelnuts in bloom; some of their pollen could also easily reach my little trees.

The largest hazelnut bush grows in leaps and bounds every year.  This spring I trimmed out some of the oldest, least productive limbs.  I gave the trimming to my rabbits.  Bunnies love hazelnut wood!  This largest plant has produced a crop of nuts for the past 3 years or so.  This year it is covered in blooms, so if all goes well I will have hazelnuts to eat in September.

The other two trees are smaller.  One, the same age as the the largest bush, is only starting to thrive after its transplant a few years ago.  The other hazelnut survived the second winter.  The white bags on this tree are an experiment I conducted over the winter.  Last year, the poor sapling was nibbled by deer.  The original leader was nipped off and a side branch has become the new leader.  I had heard of placing human hair in cloth bags and tying them to the branches to deter deer.  When my husband got a haircut last fall, I collected the hair and tucked it in some small muslin bags I had on hand.  To my surprise, the tree was not touched by the deer last winter, although they had plenty of opportunity.  So perhaps this strategy actually works!  I’m glad, since this was an expensive little hazelnut, purchased from Stark Bros. nursery.  The other two were quite inexpensive and came from The Arbor Day Foundation.  I bought the Stark tree because it is supposed to produce large nuts.  Hazelnuts are my favorite for eating, so I’m rooting for these trees to do well.

 

Stump Experiment Revisited

d1

Subject stump 9/2015

Last September 13, I posted about an experiment I decided to conduct on a method for naturally removing tree stumps.  The subject stump is of a sweet cherry tree that had recently been cut.  There were several of the same species in the area so I used one as the experiment and one as a control.a1

The experimental process involved drilling several holes in the subject stump and filling them with 45-0-0, or full nitrogen, fertilizer.  The stump was then watered and covered with a plastic grain sack.  The covering was held down with rocks, but not made air tight.  The control stump was just left open to the air and not touched in any way.

This past year had warmer than normal temperatures throughout the seasons with two months of extreme drought in July and August.  No new growth sprouted from either stump, so I believe both are dead.  First we will look at the control stump to gauge any changes.

d3

Control stump 9/2015

a3

Control stump 11/2016

This stump has darkened in color and the oozing tree sap is gone.  Otherwise, the control stump looks pretty much as it did last fall.  The wood is still hard and solid.  It is not possible for me to push a screwdriver down into the wood.

a4

Control stump 11/2016

Peeling back the old plastic grain bag reveals that the experimental stump has undergone some changes.  While the wood is not soaked, it is uniformly damp.  The surface has a powdery coating that seems to be made up of dirt-like material.  Fungus is thriving on the surface, including an orange fruiting body of a mushroom-like fungus.  Much of the surface of the stump is soft. a2
When I drilled the holes in the stump, they were made in solid, hard wood. The wood in the areas surrounding the holes is now soft and punky. I can push the screwdriver at least 1/2″ into the surface near the holes.a5

Around the outside edge of the stump the wood is still mostly solid.  The hard wood extends about 2″-3″ into the stump before punky wood starts.

It seems to me that there is a definite difference between the subject and the control.  The subject stump is decomposing more quickly.  There is no way to be certain that the accelerated rotting is due to the added nitrogen, the plastic covering, or both.  I should have used a third stump that had nitrogen in drilled holes, but no covering to be more certain of the results.  The fact that the wood around the drill holes on the subject stump is all soft now could indicate that the added nitrogen does speed the decomposition process.

The results of the experiment are enough to convince me to treat all the remaining cherry stumps to a dose of nitrogen and a plastic grain bag.  It certainly couldn’t hurt!

Pseudoscorpion

p2

What could this little creature be?  I found it crawling across a ceiling.  Looks like a tick, maybe, or some minute crab.  It is about one-quarter inch long and a fast mover.

Over the years I’ve found several of these in my house, mostly in the library.  I’m sorry to say I killed the first few, before a friend told me what they are.  Pseudoscorpions.  The one pictured is likely a house pseudoscorpion, Chelifer cancroides.  They are members of the spider family.p1

These tiny, alert insects are quite beneficial in the home because they eat various insect pests including mites, springtails, ants, beetle larvae and book lice.  Hence their appearance on our book shelves.  They like humid areas with wood, probably because their prey prefer these places.

Pseudoscorpions are not a danger to humans.  They do have venom, in their large front pincer appendages, but they are too small to pierce our skin.  These spiders are known to hitch rides on larger animals to travel around.

Their lives are quite interesting.  The adults do not have sex in the way we understand.  The male deposits a semen packet in an area he specially prepares then waits until a female is attracted by his sexy scent.  When she arrives, he does a mating dance then guides her to the semen packet where she takes it into her body to fertilize the eggs.  The eggs brood in the mother and the nymphs sometimes ride on her back after they hatch.  The babies go through three molts before reaching adulthood.  The insect’s lifespan is 4-5 years.

Now that I know what these little guys are doing, I welcome them in our book-filled house.  They are performing quite a service for us.

Chick Hatch Tribulations

c2.jpg

The second hatch of Ameraucana chicks is safely in the brood boxes.  This time we got 14 healthy babies, a good hatch for me.

Sadly, so many of the 42 eggs in the incubator did not hatch.  Seventeen babies made it from the eggs, 3 died in the first day or so.  Many other eggs pipped or partially hatched then the chicks died.  Some of the babies that do escape the eggs are crippled and I must dispatch them.  I hate culling chicks!

I have been researching why the hatch rate is so poor when the fertility rate is near 100% and have come up with an answer.  It is the incubator.  I’ve been using a Hova-Bator styrofoam unit I purchased new several years ago.  It has a fan to circulate the air and help even warming of the eggs.  It also has an automatic turner.  I bought that one to replace an older still air model by the same manufacturer.  The styrofoam incubators are fairly affordable at around $200 for my current model.  Think I paid $189 about 4 years ago or so.

Last year and this year I sold hatching eggs locally, the same eggs I hatch myself.  Other people using more expensive models achieve 100% hatch rates or close to it with my eggs.  My hatchability is 70% at best, closer to 40% usually.  Technically, I’m only out a couple dozen eggs when the babies die, but it is still heartbreaking to see so many perfectly good chicks going to waste due to poor equipment.

I’m not sure what is going wrong with the incubator to cause this problem right at hatch time.  The chicks that die before completely hatching, I cannot explain.  I believe the crippled chicks become irreparably harmed trying to get loose from the shell.  They injure themselves and have nerve damage.  This is said to occur when conditions are too dry in the hatcher.  That is hard for me to believe since there is the correct amount of water in the  reservoirs and the inside of the view windows are nearly obscured by condensation.  I’ve been able to rule out faulty genetics or other factors that cause crippled chicks due to the success rate of people using better incubators to hatch my eggs.

For the last hatch, I even took the precaution of not opening the incubator at all during the first 24 hours that the chicks are breaking from the eggs.  No heat or moisture escaped.

Sometimes I have wondered if the hatched chicks moving about and knocking into their siblings who haven’t hatched, causing the eggs to roll, are somehow disturbing the process.  But, the year I partitioned the incubator with cardboard to limit movement, the results weren’t better.

So, I’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in a better incubator.  The next step up is in the $500 range.  These models are made of solid plastic and metal and are easily cleaned as opposed to styrofoam with all the pores that can hold bacteria and viruses and requires aggressive sanitation after every hatch.

The more expensive incubators have advanced heating units and better humidity control.  The viewing windows are also much better and they can hold up to 48 eggs as opposed to my current 42 egg capacity.  When you reach the $700 level, the incubators are cabinet models that can accommodate 200 eggs and have separate drawers for incubating and hatching so both these processes can go on at once.  This shortens the time between hatches and increases potential chick yield.

Investing in a better incubator should actually pay for itself in a couple years with increased sales of chicks.

Although I haven’t made a decision yet, I’m leaning toward the Brinsea 40.  This unit can hold 48 chicken eggs and gets very good reviews from users.  There are other choices and I’m still looking.  For certain, the styrofoam incubator has seen its last year of service on our farm.

 

Silver Polish

a1Today I am cleaning some old silver I recently picked up at a secondhand shop.  There are four pieces to be cleaned.  First is a silverplate creamer made by Wallace in pattern # 9024, very nice overall condition, badly tarnished.a5

a2Second are vintage silverplate (90) dinner knife and fork in the same pattern (the pattern name I have not yet identified) made by V.S.F. or Vereinigte Silberwarenfabriken or United Silverwaremakers, of Dusseldorf, Germany.  These have seen some wear, particularly the knife, and are fairly tarnished.a4

a13And, finally, a real surprise, an English solid sterling silver fiddle handle dinner fork!  It was tucked innocently in a plastic bag with a bunch of stainless flatware.  The hallmarks indicate it was made in London in 1844 by a maker with the initials LS.  I have not been able to identify the maker’s name.  The fork is quite substantial, weighing 80 grams, and worth about $36 weight-wise at current sterling prices. I suspect its age will help bring a higher price at auction.  The tines have some wear, reducing the value.

Dealing in vintage and antique items resale occasionally brings pieces of silverplate or solid silver into my possession.  Over the years I have learned a few things about proper care of old silver.

Sometimes a seller, mostly online, will tout the “patina” of the silver item they have to offer.  What they mean is the thing is badly tarnished.  Some pieces are nearly black.  This is not patina, this is oxidation. Tarnish on old (or new) silver is not desirable except in a very limited way.

The proper patina on old silver is a very good feature.  It is what a discriminating buyer is looking for. Silver patina consists of a multitude of tiny scratches and scuffs acquired over many years of use. These add up to a softening of the brightness of the surface, the finish is no longer mirror.  Such wear should not be too deep.  Deep scratches are not desirable.  Wear that removes silverplate to the base metal beneath is unwanted.  The scuffs plus the right amount of tarnish are the real patina.

The right amount, much sought after, tarnish on silver is the black that slowly fills the crevices in pattern details, making the engraved or cast features stand out from the surface.  In general, silver should be polished to remove tarnish down to just what clings in the crevices.  The rest of the surface should be as bright a metal color as can be achieved given the wear.

When I first began acquiring old silver and came across blackened flatware or hollowware, I made the mistake of using a liquid chemical cleaner to remove oxidation.  The liquid does a great job of clearing tarnish, but it takes everything right down to the crevices and hollows of the details.  A chemically cleaned piece appears nearly showroom bright with hard to discern pattern details.  Over time oxidation will recur in the detailing, but it is a slow process.  Such a heavily cleaned piece is not totally ruined, but its value is temporarily reduced.

For collectors of sterling silver jewelry, for instance spoon rings and turquoise Native American handmade pieces, the patinization of the details is very important.  a14This contrast of silver and black is highly prized.  A purported old piece of silver without the tarnish in the hollows is suspect.  Sometimes I purchase an old turquoise ring for my personal collection that needs to be sized.  I am careful to stipulate to the jeweler NOT to polish the piece.  I learned to do this the hard way after my vintage ring with lovely patina was returned to me freshly cleaned and polished, gleaming like new.

a3I don’t often endorse products, but have found one worth sharing.  A bit of serendipity brought me to this amazing cleaner that easily removes the worst tarnish from silver without destroying the patina. They are called Cape Cod Polishing Cloths and consist of a soft, felted material impregnated with an oil. This oil allows tarnish to only be removed mechanically, by rubbing.  If the cloth does not touch the spot, the tarnish remains.  The black in the hollows is preserved, not chemically stripped away.

This silver polishing product is now my go-to cleaner.  It works on all metals, clearing stains and oxidized areas.  Old gold, pewter, Armetale and stainless can be restored to their original beauty.  The best part is the cleaner works without a lot of endless rubbing and hard work.  I can’t say enough about how much I love my Cape Cod cloths.  They have made my life easier.a7

To polish a blackened piece of silver, first put on some exam gloves and protect the work area.  Wipe the entire surface of the item with the Cape Cod cloth to moisten.  a6Then lightly rub until the surface is cleared of tarnish.  Rinse the silver in warm, soapy water and dry with a soft cloth.  The piece may be further buffed with a jeweler’s cloth to bring out the shine.a9

The finished pieces have a soft glow that is only achieved through age.  Nice quality tarnished silver pieces acquired for very little investment clean up to become attractive inventory in my online stores!a10

Kittens at 12 Weeks

b1

Cary and Kai are now twelve weeks old.  They have come a long way since the week-old orphans I fell for.  They love to make a sling bed out of my work clothes hanging to dry on the clothes rack by the fire. Both are strongly bonded to me and frequently spend the night snuggled up under my chin on the pillow.  When I pick them up they purr.  They think I’m their mother, so sweet.

DSC01620 (2)Today they went to the vet for the first annual rabies vaccination. I put the carrier out in the livingroom with the door open.  In no time the kittens went inside for a nap.  It was simple to just close the door and take them away.  This is a trick I highly recommend to any cat owner who has a hard time getting their pet in a carrier.  Take the door off and leave the carrier out in a quiet corner.  Put in some comfy towels. The carrier will soon become a bed and the cat will be more comfortable going places in it.