Monthly Archives: March 2008

Pressure’s on

Dudes. I bought a used pressure canner!

In case you don’t know, a pressure canner is different from a pressure cooker, which is a smaller pot used to quickly cook beans and stews. Pressure canners are usually much larger–my behemoth comfortably holds eight quart jars.

Betty MacDonald, author of the sometimes funny homesteading opus, The Egg and I, famously hated them. In one of the chapters from Egg, she writes: “Canning is a mental quirk just like any form of hoarding. First you plant too much of everything in the garden; then you waste hours and hours in the boiling sun cultivating then you buy a pressure cooker and can too much of everything so that it won’t be wasted. Frankly I don’t like home-canned anything, and I spent all of my spare time reading up on botulism…”To her I say, girl, you’ve never tried my dry-farmed canned tomatoes. But like Betty, I do worry about botulism, and that’s where the pressure canner comes into play.

The beauty of a pressure canner lies within this formula: PV=nRT where R is a constant and n has something to do with quantities, pressure (P) is conversely related to temperature (T). When pressure goes up, temperature goes up too. Canning jars in a pressure canner increases the pressure and thus increases the boiling temperature. Harold McGee in his bible, On Food and Cooking, says it can reach 250 degrees F in a pressure canner. This higher temperature effectively kills all the spores which cause botulism in the jar.

It also means canning my tomatoes this summer will use much less energy, the water bath method that I’ve used in the past required one hour to process, using the pressure canner will cut that time in half. Wahoo!

By the way, I bought this gem from a gem of a guy named Dan at the Old Oakland farmer’s market. He’s usually there with a table of awesome cast iron cookware. Check him out. The Old Oakland Farmer’s market is held on Friday mornings.

Backyard orchards

Lovely article in the NYTimes today about people growing fruit trees in their backyards. The only thing they forgot to mention is how, in addition to being edible and local, the blooms and fruit of backyard trees are terribly beautiful, too. Here’s my apple tree in all her glory. See also a graft (King David apple) that may have taken!!

Flu frustrations

I got it. The dreaded flu: fever, cough, muscle aches. Here it is spring and I have hay to move, mulch to spread, crops to plant, hooves to trim, stalls to muck out, a milking stanchion to build (goat kids are due March 30!) and all I can manage is to watch my farm from out my window. So frustrating.
I also missed the bee symposium and the California rare fruit growers meeting this past weekend. Lucky for me, my rare fruit growing angel sent me a link to a video of the meeting!! Thank you Spidra!

The other thing I’ve been able to do is order goat supplies. I found a great website, Hoegger’s, where I ordered, from the comfort of my sickbed, all manner of goat-related items. Goats are prone to various kinds of worms, so I bought a natural de-wormer, made with Worm Wood, Gentian, Fennel, Psyllium, & Quassia. They also had buckets of goat minerals—calcium, phosphorus, salt and magnesium, selenium, and vitamin E. I picked up a kid bottle and some colostrum in case Bebe has a million babies. Finally, I got a bag of kelp in bulk—I’ve noticed the goats love wakame, but at $5 a bag, it was breaking me, so this should do the trick. In other goat care madness, I made them their first batch of sauerkraut. My goater friend Jim tells me goats love the stuff—it’s full of B vitamins—we’ll see how Bilbo and Bebe feel about it, they don’t seem like terribly adventurous eaters.

P.S. Here’s an article I wrote for SFGate about a foodie who doesn’t have much money, yet manages to eat well by growing her own, dumpster diving, and buying wisely.

Bees or Fruit?

This upcoming Saturday has me tortured. There’s the Rare Fruit Growers event about all the weird-ass fruit you can grow around here AND a Bee Symposium in Santa Rosa with the creme de la creme of the sustainable bee-keeping world: Randy Oliver, Eric Mussen, Serge Labesque, bee movies, “bee art”, and more.
Here’s their blurb: “In this time of global ecological challenges, the honeybee is an indicator species reflecting the enormous changes taking place in our world. Bee populations are dying and pollination ecology is deeply effected. As beekeepers, we must become stewards of the earth and change paradigms. This one-day symposium offers information and speakers with new perspectives on honeybees and native pollinators, beekeeping practices, innovative approches and ecological strategies for beekeepers.”
The fruiters are meeting at 1-4; but the bee symposium goes from 9-6! Like a smart couple, Bill said he would go to the fruit, and I’ll go to the bee thing. Divide and conquer, baby.
I’ll let you know everything I learn at both events, assuming Bill takes good notes and my car makes in to Santa Rosa.
If anyone wants to go to either, here’s the info:
Bee Symposium 2008
Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm
655 Willowside Road, Santa Rosa, CA
March 8; 9-6
$30 at door
by phone 707/824-2905
lunch for purchase on-site


CRFG: Unusual Edibles in the Bay Area
El Sobrante Branch Library, 4191 Appian Way, El Sobrante, CA
March 8; 1-4pm
“Not only is the climate different in different Bay Area counties, but even within a given town there are microclimates. Our members will talk about what’s growing for them and what’s not. What usually works but hasn’t in this wacky climate change year…”

**photo of my beehive courtesy Julie Johnson and the JSchool**


I have these genius friends who can sew and knit. They get together every Monday to craft. One lady, D, makes all her own clothes! And they look really great, not all falling apart like a certain pair of paisley shorts I made in HomeEc 28 years ago. I work Mondays, so I miss craft night, but recently there was so much craft in the air, they held a special night on Friday. I accepted the invite to join them with a little trepidation. W said if I wasn’t crafty, I could just bring my taxes, or balance my checkbook. Little does she know I do that less often than knit a scarf. But I knew exactly what I would do.

There have been these hanging bags of olives in our mud room for months now. They were starting to get oppressive, these salty bags of procrastination. My head would crash into them on occasion, and then I’d have salt hair for the rest of the day. I had potted some up in olive oil–but honestly, how many olives can one couple eat? Also, I noticed that some of the olives tended to be a little too soft so I didn’t want to give them to people as gifts.
But then I remembered: olive tapenade. It doesn’t matter if the olives are soft if you just blend them up into a paste! So an hour before craft night, I untied the olive bags, washed them of their salt, and set off to be, for just one night, an olive pitter from heaven.

While M and D worked a sewing stations, I sat at the kitchen table and peeled off the fleshy of about one thousand olives. My fingernails turned black, salt stung my hangnails (no i didn’t wear gloves), and we talked about such high-minded topics as Thai rap pants and their cultural ramifications. What a lovely evening. Once home, I whirled the pitless olives with some olive oil, then placed the olive spread in jars. True tapenade would include capers and anchovies, but I don’t have bags of those just hanging around…The olive tapendade is tasty with crackers, on bread, with deviled eggs, and probably, shoe leather.