Fall Crops

This was an excellent year for backyard gardens and we had good success even though we had difficulties getting into the garden this season. We seemed to get enough rain when needed and the temperatures never got that high or that low. I irrigated the gardens and berries the least in 2014 than over the last the five years.

Summer started poorly as our abundant crop of blueberries fell victim to the squirrels, crows and other birds. We harvested enough Bing cherries from our 4-year-old tree for a pie and the day before I was planning to harvest the Raniers something completely stripped the tree bare. We lost some beets to a wayward woodchuck but he got his just rewards in the end. Then towards early September a pair of woodchucks took up residence in existing river bank nests and managed to completely mow down a most excellent parsley crop not touching a single leaf of the adjoining chervil but they left the main garden alone. We will get on them early next spring and relocate far away.

I managed to rally around the end of July and planted a second crop of beets and another of edible pod peas. We harvested the beets late last week and the peas yesterday but the peas refuse to stop flowering as we haven’t had a real killing frost.

Fall Peas  Durham NH Nov. 2014

Fall Peas
Durham NH Nov. 2014

I regret that I didn’t have the energy to plant more spinach and lettuce crops when the beets and peas went in.

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Safe Cooking

Everyone’s residential oven has hot or cold spots, not all convection ovens operate alike, everyone doesn’t pre-heat the oven for sufficient time to ‘heat saturate’ the surrounding oven walls, and I permanently installed a pizza stone in the bottom of my oven. Oven temperatures fluctuate, greater in gas than electric ovens, the inclusion of a pizza stone helps maintain the temperature. This is also why, I believe, that cast iron cookware is superior to glass in the oven, once the cast iron is up to temperature (typically being started on the stove top) there is much less fluctuation inside the pot’s cooking chamber. My smoker’s cooking chamber temperature varies widely from top to bottom and throughout the smoking cycle and I suspect that barbecue grills have numerous differences between brands and individual operators.

Those are some of the reasons why you need a good thermometer or two or three. Thermometers will help you achieve consistent results.

I am not sure why the FDA overstates many of the temperatures that you need to achieve for safe cooking.  If I cooked a lamb roast to 145° F, no one here would eat it. I would be embarrassed to serve a duck breast at 165° F. I am still confused over the recommendation to cook fresh pork to 145° F, while you should cook fresh (raw) ham to 160° F. Raw oysters and steak tartare are obviously not acceptable; ceviche isn’t recognized.

I never cooked with a thermometer until I started making caramel, I read about the manual method for determining soft ball versus hard ball and quickly came to the conclusions that a thermometer was best for me. After ruining a few lamb roasts by seriously over cooking (thinking I could use some rule of thumb minutes-per-pound suggestion) I bought my first in-oven temperature probe. I rarely over cook lamb or roasts now and when I do it is more a matter of medium versus rare, not completely ruined. At least you can make a wicked good curry out of a medium lamb roast.

One thing that I really don’t do often enough is check the accuracy of my thermometers. Thermoworks, great product line, has publish a simple, downloadable guide for making an ice water bath and a cooler guide for determining the boiling point of water at your home, if you are really annal then they have an advanced calculator that lets you factor in your barometric pressure with local altitude to calculate a more precise boiling point.

If you are cooking chicken, turkey, racoon, bear or other local road kill a thermometer will help keep the holidays safe. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has a concise summary of common bacteria that consumers need to know about. Frequently it is not the last meal that made you sick, it could be something you ate many days ago.

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IDOKI – A New Food Label

Direct from Euskal Herriko Etxe Ekoizleen Elkartea comes a new food label designed to ensure that you get nothing but the best from the Basque homeland.

The IDOKI complements the existing EU Agriculture Biologique (AB) and Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) labels.

AOP and AB and IDOKIThe IDOKI’s focus is on small manageable farms (taille humaine or human size) that grow and produce products from their farm, managed by themselves, with a focus on local sales (proximité) by selling directly at markets and local venues. The IDOKI label requires certain practices and prohibits other practices, focusing on quality and individual management of the complete operations.

If you have never been to the northern border between Spain and France, the beloved homeland of the Basque people, then you have missed a wonderful culinary delight. The de facto capital of Basque is San Sebastian a modest sized city with more tapas bars then I could count. The local wines are as sturdy and reliable as the Pyrenees, a cuisine dominated by fish, pork, rice, espelette peppers and other local herbs and spices befitting the hard-working lifestyle of the Basque.

One can only hope Catalonia along with the former French counties now called Roussillon (Northern Catalonia) will take up the challenge and create a label that protects and encourages their historic culinary delights. Competition isn’t always destructive. The Catalonian and Basque cuisines at times seem very similar but the differences are worth eating, learning about and celebrating.

It is a pure joy to eat and drink your way along the Spanish/French border; start by going south from Saint Jean de Luz to Banyuls on the French side and then return north on the Spanish side from Figueres or Girona to San Sebastian. You might just decide to stay.

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Economic Development Opportunity for New Hampshire

There is a wonderful opportunity for New Hampshire’s Legislators to create a windfall economic event for the State without having to invest much time, effort or, more importantly, money. Simply propose a special referendum vote for Mandatory Labeling of all products that contain Genetically Modified (GMO) ingredients.

The pro-GM industry has spent more than $25 million to defeat a similar ballot measures in Colorado and Oregon; if those voters side with Big Ag then that would increase the amounts industry giants would funnel into a little State like New Hampshire.

Face it, do we really need to know what we are eating? Hasn’t our Legislature been saving us from reading labels by making them uninformative and ensuring that we continue to have full access to all of those out-of-state raised, produced, and manufactured products? Who still believes that the truth will set you free? It’s all about the money and in the grand scheme of things, Big Ag takes more money out of New Hampshire than it puts in so we have an excellent opportunity to get back some of our money Big Ag is throwing around elsewhere.

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Pollinator Health and Safety Conference

The University of Maine, co-sponsored by The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry is holding an important conference 20 November on Pollinator Health & Safety:


8:00 am- Registration and Check-in

8:30 am- Welcome and Overview
Moderator Jim Dill, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

8:45 am- Factors Affecting Bee Mortality In the US
John Skinner, Professor and Apiculture Specialist, University of Tennessee

9:45 am- Factors Affecting Bee Mortality In Maine Agriculture
Tony Jadczak, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry.

10:30 am- Break

10:45 am- Status of Native ME Pollinators
Frank Drummond, UMaine School of Biology and Ecology

11:30 am- Pesticide Risks
Nancy Ostiguy, Penn State University, Department of Entomology

12:30 pm- Lunch

1:30 pm- Use Patterns for Neonicotinoids and Other Pesticides in Maine
Henry Jennings, Director Maine Board of Pesticides Control

2:30 pm- Best Management Practices For Pollinator Safety
David Epstein, USDA Office of Pest Management Policy

3:30 pm- Panel Discussion-Questions All

4:30 pm- Adjourn Safe Travels!!

*Approved for 7 pesticide applicator recertificaion credits & 6 CEUs (5 IPM and 1 CM)
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Public Food Policy

I am among the first to remind that the devil is in the detail but there is something to be said for simplicity, plain language and perhaps, rarely – from remote time to remote time, a little socialism. The French do seem to get hung up on their government being more for the people instead of corporate interests. On 7 October, the French Minister of Agriculture, Stephane Le Foll outlined their updated Public Food Policy:

The Four Axes of the French Public Food Policy
• Social Justice
The Social Justice axis has the goal of ensuring that everyone has sufficient access to safe and nutritious food. By recognizing and responding to the population’s different dietary needs and preferences depending on factors such as wealth, location, religion and health, this pillar of French Public Food Policy strives to leave no man behind when it comes to leading a healthy and active life.
• Youth Education
Habits are acquired at an early age. That is why the French PPA emphasizes the education of its youth from the time they enter into the school system. This axis of the PPA has spurred the creation of many national school programs for nutrition and general food education. From kindergarten to high school, French youth are taught not only about the culture, variety and pleasure of food, but also about the breadth and importance of the food industry. The introduction and promotion of careers within the food industry to the county’s youth is a great way to raise awareness about the industry as a whole and foster a personal, mutually beneficial relationship between producers, retailers, cooks and consumers.
• The Fight against Food Waste
This axis takes a holistic approach to combatting food waste from producers to consumers and everyone in between. Individual practices for waste prevention retain their importance, but distributers and retailers are also encouraged to contribute through donations of the unwanted, but perfectly sanitary products that are otherwise tossed out or destroyed. The State has committed to the financial and organizational support of associations that work toward renewable solutions with these retailers and distributers all while employing and rehabilitating the marginalized and disadvantaged members of society.
• Reconnecting producers and consumers
The fourth and final axis aims to breach the gap between the agricultural industry and its consumers, with the overarching goal of supporting the French system of agriculture. Local communities and all stakeholders of the agrifood industry have a pivotal role to play in this effort and are called to assist by utilizing and promoting local products with cultural and economic ties to their community. The Ministry of Agriculture places a special emphasis on the incorporation of local and “terroir” (lien) products into the menus of community kitchens, such as school or work cafeterias, expressing its willingness to fund and support local initiatives that work to this end.

A future Agricultural Law will be drafted with the intent of carrying out these four axes of the Public Food Policy. The Ministries for National Education, Justice, Defense, and Health & Social Affairs have all joined in the promotion and implementation of specific policies within their respective departments.

You might find these links interesting as well:

How the French are fighting their growing problem with obesity.

Eating well is everyone’s business.


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Wine Jargon & Acronyms

Do you know the difference between OWC and AOC? When celebrating do you look for a Blanc de blancs, Crémant or Méthode Traditionnelle? Are you at all concerned about SOS or DC?

Like every other industry, the wine industry is replete with jargon, acronyms and specialize lingo. Wine Searcher is an excellent on-line reference source for these various terms and how to read the labels from different countries.

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Live Free or Die

New Hampshire, with the highest Median Average Income in the United States, has redefined miserly, appearing to have found the methods for legally discriminating against retirees on fixed income, homeless, and lower-income wage earners regardless of ethnic origin. Of course, we do know what that really means.

State politicians brag that we have no income tax but the reality is that we have a flat 5% income tax on dividends and interest, to the dismay of retirees who rely on this income. Regressive gasoline taxes, cigarette taxes, hidden liquor taxes, license fees, registration fees, prepared food taxes, and property taxes all contribute to keeping all them folks out and forcing out the ones that didn’t get the message the first time around. Historically, New Hampshire’s approach to welfare is a one-way bus ticket to Portland Maine. School administrators are scrambling to figure how to manage with declining enrollment as families with school age children find it more and more difficult to survive and eventually abandon the State.

For those who still haven’t received the message, one additional cartridge added to the State’s ammo clip, lets starve the children.

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Do You Save?

I always categorized seed savers right up there with hoarders and used parts collectors, harmless but slightly a bubble off plum. My grandfather was a potato farmer and held back enough potatoes each season to satisfy a third of his next season’s seed requirements. I understood that, never thought it odd nor that he was a seed saver, just fiscally conservative and as risk averse as a farmer could be. He didn’t borrow money, he lived within his means, sent three sons through private school and college during the Great Depression, he understood how to thrive in a challenging environment.

I’ve changed my attitude on seed saving and now view it more as a logical extension of a prudent strategy on dealing with an uncertain future. Frankly, in many cases it is simpler than you think. I have been harvesting nasturtium seeds for many years now, they literally fall on the ground in front of you begging to be picked up and allowed to dry on a plate in the sun, a single seed in the spring yields 10s of seeds in the fall. I harvest so many that I have taken to packaging them in seed envelopes and giving to friends in the spring. Burpee sells a package of 50 seeds for $3.95 to $4.95; last fall I harvested enough seed to make over 25 packages of 50 seeds, I actually got tired of counting and packaged 50 grams per envelope.

This year I am starting to save chervil seed, not as easy as nasturtiums but still not difficult. I also let a crop of sorrel get away from me and decided to let them fully mature and harvest the seed which is drying out now. The sorrel seed was pricy, I only found one vendor so saving seed makes a lot of sense. When I run out of bean, pea, squash and cucumber seed I will start to save those as well but that is probably a few years away. Once you begin saving seeds the challenge becomes having enough friends to take the excess off you hands so you can do it all over again next season.

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US Labeling

I briefly described the European Labeling scheme last year, and recently received an update from Slow Food USA Learn the Labels that does a good job describing some of the more important US labels.

Although State and Federal elected officials are still genuflecting for Big AG Lobbyists, I find it humorous that the business channels are all agog over the decline in McDonald, the need for Burger King to merge with Tim Horton, Kellogg buyout of Annies, and the overall slide in fast food. Except of course, for Chipotle, Panera, and other GMO free, organic leaning chains. People are speaking with their wallets with millennials leading the way.  All the while with an election coming, our darling candidates are still stuffing their campaign coffers with Big Ag largess.

The millennials have it right, when you can’t trust government to believe that you are smart enough to understand the truth and Big AG pours money into lobbying then simply turn your back on them until the truth wins out and a rational decision can be made. I must be getting old, I remember when government was for the people. I remember when Nixon started the EPA. I remember too many corporate failures at protecting the people and our environment to believe that my best interests will ever be placed ahead of profits. Will the highly productive corn, soy and wheat fields of Iowa become the next Superfund site?

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