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7/28/2015

Planting a New Garden 

In this season, the fruits swell fast and ripen in the heat. Each time I sit to write this blog my mind is redirected by current social events of our time. Do any of them connect to food? Does any aspect of human behavior not relate to how we feed ourselves? Still, with every ripening harvest of karmic fruit, I am challenged with how to write something that is useful and relevant.

We are witnessing the collapse of economies and violent fear attacks toward black, working poor of America. Simultaneously, there is a worldwide movement for clean local food, veganic living and GMO labeling. These concerns are often presented as projects for the privileged to advocate for.

Do the citizens of Greece find themselves thinking about the real benefits of small-scale urban farms as their banks close and the stores empty? Are the revolting citizens in United States cities considering the strategic impact of local food production during times of martial law and civic rebellion against police terrorism?

Grow Where You Are

Grow Where You Are is a collective that remains on the front line actively encouraging food sovereignty through urban awakening. We create mini-farms and fruit orchards in communities where our members live and work. We willingly sacrifice time, money and emotional comfort to complete the community prototypes so vital to educating us about resilience.

Our collective is majority women and people of color. This informs our service and demands that we be intentional and compassionate. So, as the world turns and the strange fruits drop worldwide, we are reflecting on our impacts. This blog post will outline some of our core projects and outreach methods in an effort to share best practices for developing local food systems in communities that are most in need. Health problems, economic barriers and systemic radicalized brutality can all be addressed by assisting people with the skills to recognize and activate the existing resources required to gain some level of food sovereignty.

“Food security” and “food access” are terms used by the corporate world to give themselves license to dump old, processed foods into underserved communities through food banks or inject funds into start-up businesses from outside the community to transform corner stores. All of these plans maintain the current status of communities of color as consumers.

We aim to restore production in our neighborhoods by utilizing existing land, people and funds that are allocated for food access projects.  This is an opportunity and a challenge to corporations and foundations to direct their money toward initiatives that are directed by growers on the ground.

Healthy World Gathering 

Building Urban Mini-Farms

Our Food and Faith project has been successful in partnering with land owning faith-based institutions to install and manage urban mini-farms that feed the community and have the potential to generate wealth. Nationwide, there are thousands of churches and faith-based institutions that own land in urban areas that are ready for a drastic transformation. This land can be the catalyst for a full revival of health and consciousness after it is made productive again. Residents can be trained, church members can be fed and meaningful relationships can be born.

These ground-level community relationships built on the foundation of serving one another are fundamental to decreasing community violence from the police and residents. When the youth can gain skills in urban agriculture, their level of self confidence rises dramatically as they become essential food producers for their family and neighbors.

The life skills that we train folks in at our farm sites not only build character; they also offer people a sense of stability as we all face some very significant social changes ahead. The economic collapse in Greece is a clear signal that the practice of fractional reserve banking has no happy ending.

The Virtues of a More Plant-Based Diet

As economies continue to disintegrate globally, the environmental impacts of our toxic, meat-based food system become vividly clear. We are in a time where it is imperative that we all move toward a plant-based lifestyle and veganic growing practices to source nutrient-dense foods. Veganic growing is free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers as well as the use of blood meal, bone meal and other animal inputs.

Amazing results can be achieved with plant-based compost and agro-ecological practices. As you begin to examine the current western consumption of meat the direct correlation to all the chronic diseases is apparent. What's more is the addiction to high-meat consumption has environmental impacts globally, as well as locally.

In the film Cowspiracy, there are some terrifying and often concealed statistics that point to industrial animal farming as the cause of more toxic greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. The wasted water in commercial agriculture that is causing tremendous drought in California and other agricultural regions of the world is due to the mono-cropping of animal feed and the water usage for satisfying the thirst of unnaturally large populations of large cows and pigs living in factory farms where there are no trees or green vegetation to cool them. This cruel treatment is wasteful and unnecessary.

Vegan BBQ 

Agro-ecology and Regrowing Healthy Neighborhoods

We recently hosted our second vegan community feats where we fed over 150 people a gourmet meal for free at our Good Shepherd Agro-Ecology Center in Southwest Atlanta. This amazing food production site is becoming a community gathering space where folks meet one another and develop trust which increases the safety of our community. The Agro-Ecology Center is located on the grounds of Atlanta Good Shepherd Community Church and the is a creative way to achieve the mission of serving the community as we work to educate folks on the impacts of their food choices.

These examples combine methods and approaches to spark the interest about the value of controlling our own food supply, as well as making the move toward a nutritious plant-based diet. At this time, we may have little control over fiat money systems or even the violent terrorism from the police and our own abused community members, so we must find ways to stabilize our food supply locally and begin to build the community connections that will quite possibly save our lives.

There is a tremendous amount of value in the strategically forgotten urban neighborhoods of this nation, and that is why there is such a push from outside communities to reclaim them. We as the current and long-time residents must recognize and add value to these underused pieces of land and begin to regrow our health, wealth and love around them.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/28/2015

Plums

Plums: The Backstory

My tree was so laden with golden plums, it was frightening. The limbs were starting to pelt the house, driveway and passersby with little yellow grenades. Hungry -- not angry -- birds perched lazily in the branches watching the fruit ripen by the minute. High time for me to research plum recipes.

Last season, I made the mistake of taking the “easy” way out to preserve the bounty of plums. I spent hours picking buckets of ripe fruit. I washed them, but was too lazy to pit, chop or otherwise prep them. I pricked the plums all over with a fork, then layered them in sweet and tangy brine, allowing them to marinate as they baked in a low oven. I put them in sterilized glass canning jars, sealed and processed them. And there I stood proudly with a full case of the little sweet plums. The problem? My family and friends love plum jams, preserves, conserves and pies but plain fruit with pits? Not so much.

I vowed this year I was going to put up only what we actually eat -- delicious canned foods like sweet and dill pickles, relishes, ketchup, mustard and preserves. I don’t want to endure another July where I find jars of punctured, unpitted plums lurking in the closet. Canned goods are a lot like clothes: if you didn’t wear it last year, chances are you won’t wear it this year. Only, in this case it’s about coming to terms with what you will and won’t eat.

Time to Think… and Pit

So, back to the original challenge as the steadily ripening plums wink at me from the tree limbs. For inspiration, I sit under the little golden globes with a basket of canning books and a tall glass of Jasmint (jasmine and mint) iced tea. I scan and dog-ear pages. Saving the Season by Kevin West has a wonderful chapter about plums and plum jam and plum sauces. The author experienced one incredible year with a bumper crop of plums -- and then the tree stopped producing. Well, that would be one solution. But mine appears to be the Whack-a-Mole of plum trees: pick one plum, and another two pop up.

As yet another plum plunked me on the head, I swallowed my last bit of tea, took my canning books out of the basket, and began to pick. The plums were beautiful on this blue-sky summer morning. I had settled on a wonderful preserve recipe that looked bothdelicious and simple. Like most of my canning recipes, it comes from the well-tested Ball Blue Book of Food Preserving.

Jars for Plums

Ingredients:

(yields about 5 half-pints)

• 5 cups pitted tart plums (about 2-1/2 pounds)
• 4 cups sugar
• 1 cup water

These are not in the Blue Book recipe, but I love their flavors in preserves:
• 1 teaspoon almond flavoring
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

Read through the entire recipe to be sure you don’t have to run out to the store for sugar in the middle of your preparations.

1. Wash jars, lids and rims in hot, soapy water. You can also wash jars and rims in the dishwasher, but wash the lids by hand so the rubber rim does not get compromised.

2. You can use jars, hot, right out of the dishwasher. Or, fill your water-bath canner with water, put it on the stove, bring to a boil, and immerse the washed jars into the simmering pot. They will sterilize nicely while you make your preserves. Put lids and rims in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them.

It’s the Pits

3. Is there anything more yawn-provoking then pitting fruit? At least when you peel a pile of tomatoes, you get the excitement of plopping them in boiling water and seeing the magic of how easily the peel is removed. But pitting? Ugh. Be sure to turn on NPR or your favorite music to make the chore a little less tedious. All I can say is: pit plums to measure 5 cups.

4. Pour your plums into a large non-corrosive pot along with all the ingredients. Mix well and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. You want to bring the mixture to a rolling, bubbling boil, cooking just to the gelling point. Be sure to keep stirring so the mixture doesn’t stick. Remove from heat and skim foam from the surface.

The Fun Part

5. Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Adjust the lid and screw on the rim. Lower each jar into your water-bath canner and process 15 minutes – or whatever length of time your altitude required. This guidance is readily available online or in a food preservation book.

6. After processing, lift jars out to rest on a fluffy towel like they are at the beach. They will reward you with satisfying “ping, ping, pings” as they cool and the vacuums form.

You can read more about my writing and published features on the Dashboard Communications website and in archived blogs of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/27/2015

Making fermented pickles requires us get friendly with bacteria.

As discussed in my previous post, a pickle is nothing more than a vegetable preserved in an acidic brine. Acid is the silver bullet against botulism and also gives pickles their signature tangy taste. For quick pickles, often called vinegar pickles, the brine is acidified with vinegar.

In making fermented pickles, also called brined pickles or lacto-fermented pickles, the brine acidifies naturally, thanks to the activity of beneficial lactobacillus bacteria. The microbiology is fascinating and complex, but all you really need to know is that the beneficial lactobacillus bacteria occur naturally on the vegetables you’ll pickle, and the fermenter’s role is to encourage them to do their thing. In one sense, fermenting is akin to gardening. Gardening requires patience, diligence, and careful attention, but you don’t actually make the garden grow. Instead, you create the conditions for the garden to flourish as nature takes it course. Likewise, with fermenting, you don’t make the ferment bubble, but you do tend the microenvironment of your ferment in order to foster conditions favorable to the beneficial bacteria. And, just as the gardener takes steps to discourage weeds, you take steps to discourage undesirable microorganism such mold and yeast.

Some people prefer the unique, rich flavor of traditionally fermented pickles (kosher dills, for instance) to the sharper flavor of vinegar pickles, but to me the most significant difference between the two classes of pickles is that fermented pickles are a raw, live, pro-biotic food. (See Michael Pollan’s New York Times Magazine article here for an overview of research linking our bodies’ microbiome, including gut flora, to health.) In my experience, the effect of fermented pickles on digestion is noticeable and beneficial.

Many firm vegetables—including cucumbers, summer squash, green beans, turnips, and green tomatoes—can be fermented. The only essential ingredients apart from the vegetables themselves are sea salt and bottled water.

The 6 Elements of Successful Fermenting

The six basic elements of all successful ferments are: vegetables, water, salt, aromatics, time, and care. At the bottom of this post, I’ll give you my Universal Fermenting Recipe, which is basically a simple ratio of salt to water with some added aromatics.

But the real secret to successful fermenting lies in your attention to the Six Elements, so I’ll start with each in turn.

Vegetables: As with all preserving, good results begin with good ingredients. Choose fresh, crisp, young vegetables picked at the height of the growing season. Rinse well, and trim the blossom end of cucumbers and squash to remove enzymes that can cause the pickle to soften. Vegetables can be sliced (zucchini spears), chunked (large cucumbers or squash), or left whole (green beans, small cucumbers, small green tomatoes).

As for greens: many dark leafy greens will develop an unpleasant chlorophyll taste. But when fermenting turnips I’ll sometimes add a handful of the tops, and trimmed chard stems make a good pickle.

Water: Tap water from municipal water systems has been treated with chlorine or chloramine to kill microbes. It will disrupt the beneficial bacteria you’re trying to encourage in your ferment. Always use bottled spring water instead.

Salt: Salt adds flavor, hardens the vegetables’ pectin to make pickles crunchy, and regulates bacterial growth. The brine will taste quite salty at first, but a portion of the salt is absorbed by the vegetables, and everything comes out right in the end.

Unrefined sea salt is the best choice. Salt’s weight-by-volume varies substantially with flake size, and sea salt will come closest to the recipe measurements. (Kosher salt, which is much flakier, will under-salt the brine.) Unrefined sea salt also contains trace minerals that yield a crunchier pickle.

Incidentally, there is no “right” amount of salt in a brine. The standard ratio of 5% salt by weight is a useful guideline, not a fixed rule. A less-salty brine will ferment faster, and extra salt will slow down a ferment. In summer’s heat, stick with the recipe below.

Aromatics: Be generous with aromatics, such as whole garlic cloves, sprigs of fresh dill and whole dill heads, and whole spices including black peppercorns, dill seeds, and caraway seeds. My recipe below gives suggestions, but don’t feel constrained by them. Other options include fresh horseradish, dried red chilies, and pearl onions.

Incidentally, one often sees the advice to add grape leaves or oak leaves to a ferment, the idea being that their tannins help crisp the pickle. It’s a nice touch, but not at all necessary.

Time: As mentioned, fermenting is a natural process, and it requires time to work. Warmer temperatures accelerate the process, and colder temperatures slow it down. In a comfortable room, around 70 degrees, the brine will begin to cloud in two days. Within three to four days, it will start to bubble and sour. The pickles will be half-sour in about a week, and fully sour in two weeks. At 80 degrees, the whole process might happen in a week. In a cool cellar, it might take three weeks or more. In a cold refrigerator, fermentation occurs imperceptibly over the course of months.

Care: Because of the variables inherent to each ferment (salt and temperature), the only way to judge your pickles’ process is to inspect them carefully. You can’t leave a crock or jar unattended for a week and expect good results. Instead, look at the pickles daily. Make sure they stay submerged (more on that below). Expect to find a thin film of yeast to form on the brine surface and maybe even tiny pinheads of mold. Don’t worry about these signs of life. Skim off the floaters and wipe the wall of the crock or jar if necessary. As long as you keep the micro-garden of your ferment well “weeded” by skimming daily, everything will be fine.

Once the pickles start to sour, taste daily. Once they are soured to your liking, put them in the fridge for keeping. They will last a month or longer.

Universal Fermented-Pickle Recipe

Yields about 2 quarts

2 pounds sturdy vegetables, such as Kirby cucumbers, small zucchini, green beans, baby turnips, or green tomatoes
• 6 4-inch sprigs fresh dill (including seed heads, if available)
• 6 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
• 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
• 1 tablespoon dill seed
• 6 level tablespoons sea salt (2.25-2.5 ounces)
• 2 quarts bottled spring water

1. Wash and trim the vegetables, and pack into a one-gallon jar or crock. Tuck in the dill, garlic, and other aromatics as you go.

2. Dissolve the salt in the water, and pour over the vegetables to cover. Weight the vegetables with a plate so that they remain completely submerged. Alternatively, fill a Ziploc freezer bag with brine, and use it to submerge the vegetables. (Make extra brine using the same proportions if necessary). If using a jar, loosely close the lid. (Do not seal it so because gases produced by the ferment need to escape.) If using a crock, cover it with a plate or board to keep out unwanted visitors.

3. Store the ferment in a cool, dark place, and check daily. Skim any scum or flecks of mold. Insure that the vegetables remain submerged. The pickles will begin to sour in less than a week. You can eat them at any point in the fermenting process. Once soured to your likely, transfer the pickles to the refrigerator, and keep submerged in brine. They will keep for a month or longer.

Click here for previous posts from Home Canning 101.

Click here for more information on blogger Kevin West.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/27/2015

 

In this post, I promised to go over pros and cons of the two food dehydrators I own: a Nesco™ and an Excalibur™. Both dehydrators are great and I'll start with the stackable Nesco™.

Nesco™ Dehydrator Pros and Cons

Pros:

• Can add as many trays as necessary
• Affordable accessories

Cons:

• No timer
• No on/off switch

When you're first starting out, you may wish to opt for the model with the fewest trays for the cost factor. Due to the Nesco™s stackability, please be aware that you must not run the Nesco™ with any less than 4 trays. Why? Four trays ensure enough height for proper warm-air circulation. If you find you love dehydrating (and why wouldn't you?!) you can purchase more trays online and expand your Nesco™ dehydrator's capacity. (If you only have enough food for two trays, simply insert another tray above and below one of the trays to make up the four tray total.)

Electric Outlet Strip

The great part about being able to stack as many trays as you need is just that! This way, you won't be running your dehydrator with empty trays as could be the case with a fixed-amount-tray unit — you'll be drying just the amount you want to dry.

On my Nesco™ dehydrator the temperature dial is right on the lid, making it very convenient to use. To start it, you simply plug it in. This is one of my peeves. If you're at all like me and don't like the idea of plugging something in and out of the wall socket to turn it on and off, then plug the dehydrator into a outlet strip first, and use the on/off switch on that.

The Excalibur™ Dehydrator Pros and Cons

Pros:

• Take out alternate trays for taller foods
• Affordable accessories
• Use as a bread proofer

Cons:

• A little more expensive
• Spend more and get a proper on/off switch, and timer

The Excalibur™ model I purchased was the "starter 4-tray" dehydrator. To access the trays, you lift out a very lightweight front flap and then you simply slide the trays out. The temperature dial is on top of the machine, towards the rear.

Just like the Nesco™ model, this also only works by plugging it straight in and out of the wall socket — so use the outlet idea here too. If you opt for a pricier Excalibur™, you will more than likely find that they did include a proper on/off switch-along with a timer — now that's handy! After you've filled your dehydrator in the morning, the timer will turn the machine off later on — if you're at work or out shopping or digging in the garden!

Another great use for the Excalibur™ is as a bread-proofer! Yes, you can use it to raise your bread dough. How? Take out the top trays, leave the lower one in. At the very bottom of the dehydrator, partially fill a foil pan with clean water. Put in your bread dough on top of the lower tray in its baking pan, cover the bread with a cloth to keep the dough from drying out. Follow your bread recipe after proofing. A 4-tray dehydrator is fine for proofing hot dog buns, but for a loaf of bread? A 9-tray unit is better suited as you'll get the required height to proof a full loaf.

A pro for Excalibur™ dehydrators is the ability to take out alternate trays. This is a great feature for foods that would otherwise get squashed between the trays such as broccoli and cauliflower florets which tend to be a bit on the "tall side."

For either machine that doesn't have a built-in timer, consider purchasing a timer that is used for turning lamps on and off. If you know you're not going to be home on time to turn it off, the handy timer will do it for you.

Dehydrator Accessories

In my next post I'll go over some of the accessories available to both the Nesco™ and Excalibur™ electric dehydrators such as mesh screens that keep your dehydrator trays clean(er), and a tip or two on affordable accessory substitutions that you may already have on hand.

To read all of Susan's posts, please visit this page on MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Since December of 2010, Susan Gast has operated Easy Food Dehydrating, a website dedicated to dehydrating fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooked meats. Susan teaches you how to safely store your goodies toofor long-term food storage. Keep your food pantry fullwhatever the reason or season!


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/27/2015

Dried Strawberries

My strawberry patch just exploded this year, so much so that I could barely keep up! After harvesting several flats, I froze half of them (see my post on how to freeze strawberries here) and sliced up the other half for Dried Strawberries with Black Pepper.  Dried strawberries are great on their own, but I like the kick of black pepper to spices things up. The fragrant berries pair beautifully with pepper, particularly when you add them to salads, cheese plates and yogurt. Cream cheese on toast with peppery dried strawberries?  Perfect.

Fresh Strawberries 

Dried Strawberries with Black Pepper Recipe

Ingredients:

• 2 lbs strawberries
• freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

1. Use homegrown or local berries when you can, as the flavor is far superior to store-bought berries. Wash and hull the berries, then slice them a 1/4 inch thick.  Lay them out on dehydrator sheets and sprinkle them lightly with freshly ground black pepper.

2. Set your dehydrator to 120 degrees and leave the strawberries to dry over night. Dry them only until the strawberries are flexible and not wet.  They should be the texture of fruit leather, with just a bit of moisture. Store in airtight jars or glass containers.  Makes one quart.

Photos by Tammy Kimbler

Tammy Kimbler is the blogger of One Tomato, Two Tomato. A cultivator at heart, Tammy’s passions lie with food, preservation, gardening and connecting to her local community through blogging and urban agriculture. She eats well and love to feed others as often as possible. She currently resides with her family in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/27/2015

 

 

After filling jars with delicious foods it's sometimes hard to find ways to use them. Last year, we raised and butchered 75 chickens. We have favorite ways to use it, such as chicken & dumplings, chicken pot pie, and chicken chunk gravy over mashed potatoes. But when you stare at more than 70 quarts of chicken in the pantry you start wishing you had more ideas for using it.

It begins with cooking the chicken. I boil the whole chickens in my five-gallon kettles for about an hour. While the chickens boil I round up jars and make sure they're clean, and get out lids and rings. I simmer the lids in a small sauce pan.

After the chickens are cooked I let them cool a bit, then lift them carefully out of the hot water into a strainer basket placed over a bowl. When they're cool enough to touch, I pull the meat off the bones. The meat goes in a bowl and the bones go back into one of the kettles to be simmered for broth. Later I strain out the bones and can the broth.

Spoon the meat into jars and cover it with broth, and add a teaspoon of sea salt. Then I run a narrow rubber scraper down the insides of the jar, up and down all the way around the jar, to release trapped air bubbles. I wipe the rim of the jar with a damp cloth, then use a fork to raise the edge of a lid out of the simmering water and place the lid on a jar and screw a ring over it. (There's a magnetic stick you can use to fish the lids out of the water).

My two pressure canners were on the stove with water steaming in the bottom of them. I set the jars in the canners, 7 quarts to a canner, then secured the lid on the canner. Before canning I always inspect the rubber seal in the lid where it sits on the canner pot, and the rubber safety relief valve, to make sure they're in good shape. Mine were, so with the lid locked in place I turned up the heat and in a short while steam started coming out the center post. After ten minutes of steaming I set the weight on the post.

The canning times for chicken are 75 minutes for pint jars and 90 minutes for quart jars, at 10 lbs of pressure for elevations under 1,000', and 15 lbs of pressure over 1,000'. Start timing when the canner is at the correct pressure. For a canner with a “jiggler”, begin timing when the weight jiggles a few times a minute. Try not to let it get too active at jiggling or it releases too much water from the canner in the form of steam. Not enough jiggling could mean the pressure is too low and it won't raise the heat inside the canner high enough to kill all the bacteria and pathogens that can spoil food.

On a canner with a gauge, stay nearby and check frequently to see that the pressure stays within a pound or two of the required pressure. After the time is up, turn the canner off and leave it sit for about half an hour. Lift the weight carefully off the post (if you have a canner with a weight) and see if pressure comes steaming out. If it does, set the weight back down on the post and wait until there's barely any (or none) steam coming out. On a gauged canner, watch the needle until it drops to zero or close to it.

Now I open the canner, lifting the back of the lid up first to direct steam away from my face. I used a jar lifter to carefully remove the jars and set them on a towel on the counter. This is to keep the jars from experiencing a drastic temperature change, which could cause the jars to break. Jars can handle a lot of change, but going from a hot canner to a hard cold surface is a lot of stress on the glass.

As the jars cool I listen for the “ping” as the lids suck down. The purpose of this seal is to keep any new bacteria from getting into the jars. The meat inside is basically sterilized at this point, and as long as nothing gets past that seal, it should stay safe to eat for a long time. Shelf life is determined in part by how and where you store the jars. A cool dark place with a steady temperature (no big daily or seasonal swings) will result in a longer shelf life. Officially the shelf life is one year. Although the quality may deteriorate after that, they can remain safe to eat for considerably longer.

ALWAYS inspect jars carefully when you open them. Tap the lid to see if it's still sucked down. If it bounces up and down, throw the contents away without touching them and sterilize the jar. Color changes in the food don't mean it's bad, but if it smells funny or for any other reason you aren't sure it's safe, throw it out. It's better to not take a chance.

Next post I'll share some of the other ways I use home-canned chicken, and if you have any ideas of your own to share, please do!


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/23/2015

No relation to the tropical, banana-like plant with the same common name, plantain is a common weed with edible leaves and seeds. It is also one of the best herbal remedies for scrapes, bug bites, and bee stings.

Where to Find Plantain

If you have a sunny driveway, you probably have some plantain growing along it. Plantago (plantain’s scientific name) loves sunny places with disturbed soils and is common in lawns, parks, and gardens.

Identifying Plantain

All of the plantains have in common that their leaves grow in a low rosette, and that the leaves have prominent, stretchy, parallel veins. If you pull off one of the leaves from the plant you’ll often see those veins sticking out of the stalk like threads (think celery). The leaves have smooth edges or a few soft teeth.

Plantago major (common plantain) has wide, oval leaves. P. rugelii (Rugel’s plantain) leaves are the same shape as common plantain’s, but with red or purplish coloration on the leaf stalks. P. lanceolata (narrow-leaved or English plantain) has narrow leaves that can grow anywhere from a few inches to a foot long, but are almost never more than an inch wide.

All three species have flowers and seed heads that emerge from the center of the leaf rosette on leafless stalks. Plantago lanceolata has 1- to 2-inch seed heads with tiny white flowers. The seed heads of both P. major and P. rugelii. cover most of their stalks and start out with green, scale-like seeds that eventually turn black or brown.

Harvesting Plantain

Plantain is an invasive plant and you do not have to worry about over-harvesting it. Gather the leaves spring through fall.

Harvest the seeds after they’ve turned brown or black. I don’t bother trying to winnow the chaff from the tiny seeds - just think of it as extra fiber.     

What to Do with Plantain

Use the smaller leaves raw in salads. Use the larger leaves to make chips. You can substitute plantain leaves for kale in any kale chip recipe: those stringy veins actually become an asset, adding extra crunch to the chips once they’re dried.

Plantain

Plantain Chips

Add the seeds to crackers, breads, muffins, etc.

Plantain leaves are anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving. They are an herbal remedy that works wonders on mosquito bites, bee stings, and minor cuts and scrapes. The simplest way to use them is to crush up a leaf and rub it on the bite or scrape. You can also turn the leaves into an herbal ointment. But by far the most effective way to use plantain (if you aren’t grossed out by it) is to make a spit poultice. Chew one of the leaves for a moment and then applying the wad of chewed up leaf.

Leda Meredith is the author of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and follow her food adventures at Leda's Urban Homestead. Her latest book is Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke...and More.

References:

The traditional uses, chemical constituents and biological activities of Plantago major L. A review, Department of Pharmacognosy, School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway, accessed July 2, 2015.

Health Benefits of Plantain Leaf, Global Healing Center, accessed July 2, 2015.

Photos by Leda Meredith

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