Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Final Year of Testing Quinoa

I planted quinoa again in 2010. This will be an informal report because I gave up on taking data on it this year. The crop was a failure. I've decided that it is not the crop to try to grow in Olympia and it's time to think in terms of our climate.

It was a cool, wet summer all over the Pacific Northwest. The temperature never got high in Olympia, probably not hitting 80 degrees for more than for a day or two. It was a marginal growing year for tomatoes and I didn't even try winter squash.

I had decided to try one last thing with growing quinoa: to grow transplants in order to lengthen the growing season. I started seeds indoors in April and transplanted them in May. Most of the five varieties that I've been growing did not grow well this year, were "puny". One or two were better than the others but I failed to note which. The soil may have needed nutrients but since quinoa grows on marginal land in a marginal climate, I thought they would recover. For the most part the quinoa plants did eventually produce seed heads but they did not seem to fully ripen. I harvested a few branches but didn't clean the seed. By October I was allowing the chickens into the garden to harvest their share.

I had initially tried quinoa because I wanted to know if there was a protein food or grain that could be grown here. It's time to think about what does grow in Olympia This is a place of greens and berries. The climate is probably like Japan's but perhaps cooler, maybe a northern coastal Japan? If I'm still gardening in Olympia this summer, it will be the year of brassicas, greens, and onions. I will pick my berries in the wild.

The protein question? We are the people of Salmon Nation and we should be eating the seafood of this area: the salmon from our streams, Olympia oysters, Dungeness crab, and razor clams from the ocean beaches. If vegetarian, we might look for a short season dry bean or pea to grow. The alternative is to grow what grows best here and trade our goods for what grows well elsewhere. Sometimes you have to consider eating the foods of nearby regions (thinking of the Eat Local Movement). Eastern Washington has hotter, drier summers and people there do an excellent job of growing dried beans including lentils and chickpeas. They also grow wheat and it's a thriving wine grape growing region. To the south, the Willamette Valley grows much better warm weather vegetables such as corn and tomatoes than we can. Even inland Western Washington, where the sun shines and there is less of a coastal influence, even there gardens produce tomatoes, peppers, and squash that we can't grow. Yes, it's time to adapt the garden to the local climate.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


A friend recently returned from a trip to the Honduras and brought me great photos of the cacao plant and fruit. We've traveled together in the past and she knows what interests me (she brought me chiltepin peppers from NW Mexico). What she didn't remember was that we had seen cacao pods in Guatemala near Coban, but that's okay, these pictures are fantastic. From my bookshelves, I have the following books on cacao:

Coe, Sophie D. America's first cuisines. University of Texas Press, 1994.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. 2nd edition. Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Diccionario enciclopedico de gastronomia mexicana. 6. burrito-calabacitas con queso. Clio, 200-?

Young, Allen M. The chocolate tree : a natural history of cacao. Rev. and expanded ed. University Press of Florida, 2007.

My apologies for not putting citations in the correct format, will update and correct later.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Maguey and Los Otomies

I'm reading a report from the Washington State University Laboratory of Anthropology written in 1969. The title is: Los Otomies : papers from the Ixmiquilpan Field School / edited by H. Russell Bernard. It is the Laboratory's Report of Investigations ; no. 46. I upgraded the cataloging of this report while working as a Washington State Library cataloger so I knew of its existence and knew that I would find it interesting to read. The report contains papers by anthropology students who attended the WSU Field School in Ethnology and Linguistics where they studied the culture of the Otomi people, an indigenous group who live in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. I was interested because of the descriptions of agriculture as well as the descriptions of the diet of this group.

One of the papers entitled San Andres : land, produce, and power in an Otomi village / by Daniel Early is especially informative with illustrations of farm equipment, plates which further illustrate techniques and demonstrations of tools developed for various agricultural and harvest needs. There is also a good description on how Maguey (agave) is grown, the use of the leaves for fiber, how agua miel is harvested and how pulque is made from agua miel. I found the paper fascinating and thought of other books that I have in my own library that provide more information on Maguey. Now I am looking at a map of Mexico and comparing it to the areas of Mexico written about in the series Cocina indigena y popular (series published by Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes). If I do not have the book from that series about that area I will try to find one that covers the land closest to or including the Otomies' land. I also have Tequila : a natural and cultural history / by Ana Guadalupe Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan. I will be re-reading sections looking for more information on the agriculture of Maguey and of this area.

Sounds like a good project to start on, researching traditional agriculture and uses of Maguey. I will report back when I have more information.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ellen's visiting!

Ellen and Jim are coming up from Sacramento and I want to make them a real Pacific Northwest lunch. This is what I'm thinking: It's fall and the chanterelles are just about at the end of their season (it's been raining), I bought a handful of soggy ones yesterday. I have kale and leeks in my garden, the fall salmon is running (I'm hoping to take them out to Kennedy Creek to see the salmon running), I'm watching a little brown bird eating huckleberries in my front yard, and it's the weekend before Thanksgiving. I am starting to form a menu in my mind: mushroom-kale soup, locally caught and smoked salmon, squash stuffed with savory Thanksgiving style dressing, and a dessert with huckleberries or apples and pears.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tea Habits

It's October and it's time to publish the blog entries that I've written and saved and thought about but haven't posted. I still need to take a picture for this one.

We had a family reunion this past week (this was mid-August in Minnesota) and each day we stopped for at least one tea break. It brought up memories and discussions of the role of tea in our family and I've decided to try to put as much as I can remember down here in this post.

My mother grew up in England so tea drinking was a natural part of our growing up in Minnesota, much more so then coffee which was probably the preferred drink of many of our Scandinavian neighbors. We made tea at least three times a day: first thing in the morning to have with breakfast, around the kitchen table after school at about 4:00, and a final pot while we watched the 10:00 p.m. news. We often had Sunday afternoon tea together during the winter. For these family gatherings, we drank tea and ate warm scones while sitting in the living room around the fireplace.

First of all, the brands of tea that are preferred and currently drunk in the various family households include PG Tips, Yorkshire Gold and Yorkshire Red, Tetley's British Blend, and Earl Grey from Twinings or Trader Joe's. Those are the more recent brands, we grew up with Lipton's which was easily found in midwestern grocery stores.

There are certain rules to making tea well. These are our family's rules for our type of tea, our own tea ceremony. Boiling water must always be used. Hot water provided in pots in restaurants just doesn't do it, instead makes weak 'dishwater' tea. Then, especially in winter, the pot should be preheated by pouring a few inches of the boiling water into the pot, letting it sit for a few minutes and then, just before making the actual tea, pouring it off. This keeps the pot from cooling down too quickly. The other thing that helps keep tea hot in a cold climate is to use a tea cozy to insulate the pot. (Our tea cozies were crocheted out of bright colored yarns for our pots by my mother.) The best tea is made by putting loose tea leaves into the pot or a tea ball. If loose tea is used, a strainer is used to keep the tea leaves out of the cups as it is poured. I don't know what the proportion of tea to water is that makes the best tea (remember, I don't ever use absolute recipes) and think that the strength of the tea is a personal preference. I prefer strong and I use a couple tablespoons tea in a 3-cup pot. The tea is allowed to brew for at least a few minutes (again, I don't know for how long and I don't time it). After brewing it's poured into the individual cups or mugs, my mother likes porcelain teacups, I like substantial mugs. We drink our tea with milk and sugar. My mother says that the best way to pour a cup of tea is to pour the milk into the cup, then pour the tea in, and finally add the sugar and stir.

As I've said, we had scones on Sundays. We, my mother being from northwestern England, grew up pronouncing the word as rhyming with fawns. Apparently in southern England and in the U.S. it's pronounced as rhyming with phones. From what I understand, it's a regional thing and neither is wrong. The Sunday afternoon scones of my memories were plain, almost like baking powder biscuits but with raisins or currents. We buttered them but I can't remember if we used jam. Now we add other other ingredients including lemon peel, craisins, pieces of apples, a little cream in the scone batter, a bit more sugar (but only a bit) sprinkled on the scones before baking.

While I was riding in the car with my oldest sister and her husband, leaving my mother's home last August, I was talking to another sister on the phone, getting her recipe for scones. This is approximate, she was recalling it from the top of her head, I was taking notes on a scrap of paper. I wish I was a poet like her, I would write recipe poems.

Mary's Scone Recipe

1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk (or cream?)
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup flour

Mix flour, baking powder and sugar together. Add raisins. Cut in butter. Work in milk. Roll out and cut into shapes (I think we used the edges of glass drinking glasses to make round ones (that gives you a clue as to the approximate size.) Put on a;n ungreased cookie sheet or flat oven pan. Brush with a little milk or egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 400-425 degree preheated oven. They probably take 10 or 15 minutes so watch them closely, burnt scones are not tasty.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quinoa Planted Again

I planted quinoa last year (2008) with not particularly good luck (it was a total failure). The chickens relished the leaves and therefore, stripped the plants. Deborah Kean also planted it at the Oregon State University Vegetable Research Farm last year and had problems with top heavy plants lodging after fall rains. This year I'm trying again with fencing to keep birds out and a little more knowledge about growing the plant here in the Pacific Northwest (water sparingly!).

Five varieties were planted on June 7, 2009. These were planted a single time, no replication of planting, in short (two foot) rows in a raised garden bed. The bed is surrounded by a plastic chicken fence which probably shades the bed slightly. I'll remove the fencing over the top eventually but am being especially careful about keeping chickens out as they could decimate the whole planting in a very short time.

Four of the varieties were the same ones planted last year with the addition of one new variety from Nichols Garden Nursery.

1. Cherry Vanilla (Nichols): "100 days, 5' tall. Open pollinated ... Hot pink and white seed heads are striking in the late summer and fall garden."

2. Dave (Four-O-Seven, Seeds of Change): 90-100 days, 5-6' tall . "Medium sized seed is yellow brown on yellow gold seed heads.

3. Brightest Brilliant (Seeds of Change): 100-110 days, 3-4' tall. The seed packet has no variety description but the website says: "This ornamental and highly edible, nutritious grain blooms in late summer to produce gorgeously rich brugundy [burgundy], orange, yellow, white and pink flower head spikes. The most unusual and striking quinoa we've grown." Unfortunately, there was only a single seed left in packet, but fortunately, that single seed germinated.

4. Faro Traditional (Seeds of Change): 100-130 days, 4' tall. "Most adaptable, southern Chile sea level variety. Green and red topped plants with white/yellow seeds. Mid to long season, adaptable to much of the US. High Yielding."

5. Temuco Traditional (Seeds of Change): 100-110 days, 5-6' tall. "Delicious white-seeded variety. Tall plant produces yellow-green or brilliant red seed heads. One of the best choices for maritime areas, but also grows well in a variety of climates."

This year I had excellent germination (it was a dry June). Plants were thinned to about 6 inches apart (each variety has 1 to 4 plants) as of July 8. I've added the clearest photo I have, taken when plants were 3 weeks old. At this point they all look pretty much the same, they resemble lambs-quarters (another Chenopodium) for those of you who wonder.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mom's Birthday Memories

It's my mother's 85th birthday tomorrow and this is the email she sent to us:

Dear Childen, As I was remembering birthdays of my childhood and youth, I thought you might like to share some of my recollections. Because June's birthday, and mine, are so close together, we always shared a birthday celebration. We had very few birthday parties in those days, but we did always have strawberries and cream as our special treat. I know we always received a birthday present, but usually it was not anything very big. When Stella and Betty were in their teens, they would buy each of us a small gift, a paper doll cut out book, or such like. We must have been very allergic to strawberries, because we both broke out in huge hives. They itched badly, so we were told to "spit" on them. We were occasionally invited to a birthday party for some other child. It was quite formal, we had "party" frocks, usually taffeta, full skirts with rosettes sewn on. We wore white socks and black patent shoes, never with ankle bands, our Mother considered them to be "common". The games were very organised, and the "tea" usually consisted of molded jelly (jello) and molded blamange, strawberry flavoured, little sandwiches, and fairy cakes. I never liked going to these parties. I was quite glad all that stopped when I got to be about 10. I hope this isn't boring. Next time I will tell you about my 21st birthday. Love to all of you. Your Mother