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‘Tomato Stuff’: Tapenade-Style Tomato Spread for Sauces, Dressings, and More

With a bonanza supply of dehydrated tomatoes put by, I made this delicious spread that we’ve always called just “tomato stuff.”  It’s like a tapenade, although without anchovies.

I use it by itself to spread on thin slices of baguette or water crackers for an elegant appetizer and also use it by the big spoonful for enrich a pasta sauce instead of tomato paste, make a quick pizza, add body to a vegetable soup, add big flavor to a vinaigrette dressing, dress a plain dish of spaghetti, and put a bit of zing into a bland stew.

It’s also quite tasty just on a spoon! One of my favorite one-pan meals is below.

‘Tomato Stuff’ Tapenade Recipe


• 1 cup oil cured black olives, pitted
• 2 cups dehydrated tomatoes
• ½ cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
• 8 fat cloves roasted garlic
• 2 tbsp homemade pesto if you have it
• 1 tbsp Herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning herb mix
• ½ cup very good extra virgin olive oil, possibly more


1. Pit the olives, using your cherry pitter if you have one. If you do not, use a small knife to slit the side of the olive and squeeze out the pit. Reserve the pits for a bonus (see below).

2. Snip the tomatoes with scissors to about ½ inch to make them easier for the processor to grind. If the tomatoes are really hard and tough, sprinkle them with just a little water and let them sit for a few minutes to soften.

3. Into your food processor, put the olives, tomatoes, cheese and garlic. Get it going and process until the tomatoes are chopped fine.

4. Add in the pesto if you have it and the herbs, and pulse. Don’t add salt — between the cheese and the olives, there’s plenty.

5. Add in most of the olive oil and process, adding more as needed. You want a rough but spreadable texture, not a smooth paste. If the tomatoes were quite dry, you may want to add more olive oil.

6. Pack your Tomato Stuff into small freezer storage tubs, coat the top with a film of olive oil. Stored in the freezer, it keeps for months.

Bonus: Olive Pit-Infused Olive Oil

Remember you saved the olive pits. Put these into a small jar and cover with your good olive oil. Be sure the pits are completely covered.

Set the jar on the counter for a week or so and then drain off the oil. You’ll have a delicious “fruity” olive oil that tastes like the most expensive kinds. Use this for your favorite vinaigrette dressing.

One-Pan Chicken and Pepper Dinner Recipe


Yields 4 hearty servings

• 1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
• extra virgin olive oil for the pan
• sea salt and pepper to taste
• a pinch or two of herbes de Provence or Italian herb mix
• 1 very large red onion
• 4 large bell peppers, assorted colors
• 4 to 6 fat cloves roasted garlic
• ½ cup white wine
• 8 ounces pasta, tagliatelli, mini penne, or similar, or mixed
• 4 heaping tbsp Tomato Stuff

Equipment: One skillet, one cutting board, one knife, one pot.


1. First, cut the onions into lengthwise slices ¼ inch thick. Then the peppers into slices about the same size.

2. Put a nice spill of the extra virgin olive oil in the skillet and heat. Put the onion in the pan and sauté over medium high heat. Give them a head start then drop in the pepper pieces, sauté a few minutes more.

3. Then, cover the pan and lower the heat to get the veggies to your preferred tenderness — don’t let them get too soft, leave some crunch. Remove the veggies to a plate while you sauté the chicken.

4. Slice the chicken breasts horizontally no more than ½-inch thick. Season each piece nicely with the sea salt pepper and herbs. Add more oil to the skillet and, over moderately high heat, sauté the chicken pieces until just barely golden. Work in batches — don’t crowd the pan. As they’re ready, remove the chicken to the plate.

5. When the chicken is all done, add in the garlic and smoosh it against the bottom of the pan. Add in the white wine and stir to deglaze the pan and get the garlic distributed. Add all the chicken back in and gently simmer to reduce the wine.

6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta to your preferred degree of al dente. Drain the pasta.

7. Add all the veggies back into the skillet on top of the chicken. Stir the pasta into the skillet of chicken and veggies. Cover the pan to reheat it all. Then, dollop in heaping spoons of Tomato Stuff and stir and toss to coat the whole pan-full.

Look the other way and smile when fingers swipe the empty plate clean.

Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Healthy Food Begins with Community


Photo by Jenny Nelson. Courtesy of Maine Farmland Trust

A group of Somali Bantu refugees have started a cooperative farm in Maine, whole continents away from where they were born. They’ve traveled treacherous terrain and faced down threats that could have taken their lives. Thousands of miles from Somalia, on 30 acres in Maine’s second-largest city, they’ve begun to feel like they’ve come home.

New Roots Cooperative Farm, though just recently started by four new Americans, is already a success story. Combine the complexities of farming with the uncertainty of navigating a system that is unfamiliar — and, at times, unfriendly — to newcomers and you’ll understand just a fraction of how far New Roots has already come. They’re inspired to help one another and the community, too.

“Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business,” says New Roots farmer Batula Ismail.

New Roots is a cooperative — the four co-owners work together to share land, markets, infrastructure, and resources — and they are demonstrating for other immigrant farmers that their co-op model is best for meeting their needs and building community.

The group used to farm before being forced from their homes during Somalia’s tumultuous civil war period.

“There was no control,” one of the co-op organizers, Hussein Muktar, told the Portland Press Herald recently. “People come to your house and kill you or beat you and take whatever you have,” he said. “You have no power.” 

After arriving in Maine, they got back to farming at Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon, Maine. The program empowers New Americans to launch independent farm businesses, to adopt new leadership roles in the community, and to attain increased economic independence for themselves and their families.

Now, with a decade of experience at Packard-Littlefield backing them up, the group is ready to put their education to the test. When Gendron Farm, a dairy farm in Lewiston was divided into several parcels in 2015, New Roots worked with Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, Cultivating Community, and many others to preserve 30 acres as a working farm.

In August, 2016, the farmers celebrated with a groundbreaking ceremony for their farm with food, music, speakers, and prayers for the land. More than 100 people turned out to support the farm and the New American community in Lewiston, a heartwarming affirmation that New Roots is leading the way for immigrant farmers in the Northeast.

Farmer Mohamed Abukar said, “We are a new generation of farmers, as New Americans, and we want to bring our farming to a new level. We want to develop support from other organizations and people to open the farm in 2017 and provide fresh chemical free vegetables to schools, hospitals, restaurants, and people around the state.”

New Roots is hosting an online barnraiser to help them set solid roots on their new land and create greater economic opportunity for New Americans. Learn more about their plans here.

The Cooperative Development Institute was founded in 1994 with the explicit mission to foster an inter-dependent dense network of enterprises and institutions that allow us to meet our needs through principled democratic ownership, and that care for community, combat injustice and inequity, and promote conscious self-governance. Read all of CDI's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Foraging ‘Salt Spray Rose’ Hips to Use in Tomato Recipes

Rosa Rugosa Salt Spray Rose

A homestead located at 55th latitude is probably not considered to be a good place for to grow tomatoes. We do own a few tomato plants, carefully snuggled up against the south wall of our brick-built cottage, and we are cherishing every single tomato, having managed to change color from green to somewhat reddish.

‘Salt Spray’ Rose Hips as Tomato Replacement

Well, the poor tomato-growing conditions actually don’t matter, because, instead of tomatoes, we successfully cultivate Rosa rugosa, also known as the “Salt Spray Rose,” one of the most frost- and sea salt-tolerant wild roses.

Rosa rugosa is not only present on our property, but also growing wild all over the district. It starts to blossom early, at the beginning of June, and from August, it bears tons of plum-sized, bright red hips, with a thick layer of soft sweetish-sour flesh covering a large cavity filled with seeds. Not only their large size and unusual tenderness remind me of tomatoes, but also the taste of the flesh does, especially when cooked.

So why not use them instead of tomatoes? In fact, we do!

Cooking Tomato Dishes using Salt Spray Rose Hips

Our preserved spaghetti sauce is partly made from Rosa rugosa hips, and we also prepare a kind of bruschetta-style spread from the raw flesh now and again. Of course, some of the hips end up as sweet rose hip spread or jelly as well.

Spaghetti sauce. Before one can start preparing sauce or spread, flesh must be separated from seeds. For spaghetti sauce, whole hips can be boiled in water for about 5 minutes to soften. Once cooled, they are easily processed through a food mill, leaving a soft pulp for further use. You will get about 1 pound of pulp from processing 3 pounds of whole hips.

The easiest way of preparing spaghetti sauce from the pulp is to just season it with salt, pepper, garlic, and all kinds of Mediterranean herbs (thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, sage, laurel, and basil) add a drop of olive oil and heat up. Tasting it, you might find it too sour. To manage its acidity, small amounts of baking soda can be added, until it has your preferred taste.

What’s also missing is the slightly bitter “nightshady” taste of real tomatoes. So, on our homestead, we are adding about 1/3 of real tomato pulp (from the supermarket) to it. The sauce is easily made in bulk and can be canned in jars or stored in the freezer. It can be used as basic sauce for to prepare spaghetti Bolognese as well as for making pizza.

Bruschetta spread. It’s a bit less comfortable to prepare hips for the raw spread. Every rose hip has to be cut into half and its seeds removed using a teaspoon. Because the seed cavity also contains some hairy matter, which causes a bad itch, rubber gloves should be worn doing this.

The raw spread doesn’t keep fresh all that long and should be prepared the day it’s intended to be used.  To make it, the rugosa hip flesh should be getting diced finely. Per cup of flesh, about ¼ cup of finely chopped onions (feel free to add more!) should be added, along with a mashed clove of garlic.

Stir olive oil into the blend until its “spreadbility” is the way you like it most (you may also use a blender if you prefer it being a soft paste). Then season with salt, pepper, and fresh Genovese basil or lemon thyme. Add some chopped fresh chilly if you like.

Spread on slightly toasted white bread. You might want to set a slice of mozzarella on top of each bruschetta.

'Rosa rugosa' Cultivation

Salt Spray Rose is easily cultivated in cold temperate and mild subarctic climates, in fact it tends to spreading fast, using both, runners and seeds. Thus, in low hardiness zones, it sometimes is considered as being invasive.

To be able to germinate, its seeds do need temperatures well below freezing to stratify. It would put up with nearly any type of soil and condition except for lasting heat or extreme drought. In Europe, it is hardly ever found growing south of the 50th latitude.

Marion Gabriela Wick lives on a secluded, 3.5-acre homestead in North Frisia, Germany where she guides tours to the European Wadden Sea National Park and the salt marshes located almost at her doorstep. She has been instrumental in protecting Wiedingharde Beach’s unique “fruity heritage” made up from thousands of wild and heritage fruit trees and shrubs growing along roads and trenches, around fields and farm houses, planted by generations of farmers trying to protect their cottages and grain fields from the regions very harsh weather conditions. Read more from Marion at The Fairies Garden and about her local beach at Südwesthörner.

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

Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware: The Best and Worst Oils to Use

Griswold cast iron dutch oven

I consider myself a pretty practical woman — I generally don’t buy things that don’t serve a purpose and serve it well. However, I will be the first to admit, I am a fool for some cute kitchen gear.

It’s ridiculous I know, but there’s something about a robin’s egg blue mixer or a polka dotted casserole dish that makes my inner Suzie Homemaker squeal with delight. So when my husband said he never wanted us to buy enameled cookware again, I was irrationally disappointed.  

Years ago, before I joined the die-hard world of cast iron addicts, I was baking pies in Paula Dean stoneware, whipping up sauces in vivid Rachel Ray pots — sure I love to cook, but I love it even more when the tools are cute.

Why I Opted Out of Cute Cookware

However, my husband had been listening to Paul Wheaton’s permaculture podcasts, and was coming to the realization that a lot of those pretty pans and dishes were coated in not-so-pretty ingredients. Not only was there the notorious Teflon, but those patterned and coordinated pans were releasing trace amounts of nasty glazing and paint chemicals into our food and air every time we used them.

Though in the U.S., many yucky ingredients have been banned from use in cookware, the simple fact is that you don’t wind up with a purple polka-dotted casserole dish that can withstand 500 degrees Fahrenheit without some serious chemical engineering, and after giving it some thought, I decided I didn’t want that touching my food.

After doing some research on cast iron, we started collecting antique pieces, cleaning and seasoning them, and working them into our cooking rotation. New cast iron just doesn’t compare to the old stuff — it’s rough (from lack of use), and not well seasoned. Start scouring eBay for some beautiful antique cast iron instead.

Special Considerations for Cast Iron

It’s a bit of an adjustment at first, going from regular cookware to cast iron. This is cookware in its purest, most simple form, and therefore you have to pay a bit more attention to how you handle it.

For starters, you don’t really wash cast iron cookware. If you buy an old piece that has some buildup or rust on it, this is really the only time you do anything abrasive to it, but even then, you have to be pretty careful with the process. Because this is untreated iron, any water left on the cookware can cause it to rust.

Secondly, since cast iron doesn’t have Teflon or anything else on it to make it non stick, using this pan requires it to be seasoned to keep everything from baking onto it. What this means is that using oils, you just have to cook with it, over and over again, and only scrape and wipe it when you’re done. Those oils eventually create a smooth surface that is naturally non-stick, and allows you to simply scrape and wipe the pan when you’re done, rather than rubbing it with salt or some other manner of cleaning.

If you do decide to start using cast iron cookware, you’ll want to invest in a few solid, straight-edged metal spatulas for this reason. Not only are they sturdy, but that nice, straight edge makes for a handy tool for the occasional scraping you might have to do initially as you build up seasoning on your pans.

Seasoning a Cast Iron Pan: The Best and Worst Oils to Use

As far as oils go, there are a number of different schools of thought on which ones are the best to use with cast iron cooking, all with their pros and cons.  Me personally? I say it depends on what your needs and values are. Here’s my quick rundown on the various oils you can use, and their pros and cons:

Bacon grease. Personally, this one is my go-to. Every morning my husband and I make a couple of strips of bacon, drain off the excess fat into a grease catcher, and then throw our eggs in the pan. This keeps the pan seasoned and makes us breakfast all at once, and we don’t have to use any oil to keep the pan happy. Bacon grease has a relatively high smoke point: 375 degrees.

Olive oil. Olive oil is readily available and has a pleasant flavor to it, but it’s an oil I’ve come to use less and less, for one simple reason: the smoke point. At anything above 320 degrees, olive oil releases volatile compounds and starts to break down. Since medium heat is about 300 degrees on a stovetop, the smoke point of this oil is just too low for my taste.

Safflower oil. I wish I could love safflower oil, but this one has a hopelessly low smoke point: just 225 degrees. It’s flavor is mild and well suited for various types of cooking, but it’s not good for much beyond a salad dressing or homemade mayo.

Grapeseed oil. This is another nice, mild-tasting oil, and one that I frequently buy in bulk — it’s my go-to choice for deep frying. With a smoke point of 420 degrees, grapeseed is much more stable than most other oils, and is usually pretty cheap, too. Here's the stuff I buy, Massimo Gusto.

Shortening. A lot of people really like using shortening, but I am just not crazy about the ingredients in it. Hydrogenated oils from corn and soy just don’t fall under ideal around here.

Coconut oil. I know coconut oil is lovely for a lot of reasons, but I hate that I have to scoop it out of the jar every time. I know, I’m lazy. Coconut oil’s smoke point is 350 degrees, so it’s not a terrible option, but I definitely prefer bacon grease when it comes to solid fats. This is a matter of preference as many people have success with coconut oil.

Palm oil. Palm oil has a nice high smoke point, sitting pretty at 450 degrees. It’s flavor is mild, and it’s reasonably priced, too. The only reason I don’t really use it is because of the issues with unsustainable harvesting going on right now. If you do decide to use palm oil, make sure you do a little research on who you’re buying it from, and whether it was grown and harvested responsibly — WWF has a guide on certified sustainable palm oil. Otherwise, the environmental consequences of the palm crop are too high to justify its use without being certain of the farmer’s practices.

Like most things in life, there are a dozen different ways to season, clean, and use cast iron cookware, but one thing’s for sure: With the proper conscientious care, this is cookware that will be around when your children’s children are cooking.

Cast Iron Adds Iron to Your Food

Not only is cast iron devoid of what we’ve lovingly come to refer to as “toxic gick,” it also leaches a notable amount of iron into your food as you cook with it. Unlike aluminum and copper, iron leaching is potentially a good thing. However, it is questionable whether these pans act as a tool and a dietary supplement, all at once, because the iron they impart on your food may be in a form that your body cannot use. The best advice is to use only well seasoned pots and pans.

It may seem like a stark change, but after a while, this became second nature to me. A little while later, we gave up our microwave, and our 10-inch Griswold skillet became our new way to heat up leftovers. And let’s face it: Is there anything that bacon grease doesn’t improve?

So yeah, I did it. I gave up my cute pots and pans in favor of these clunky behemoths. But you know what? Now, I walk past the colorful pots and pans at the store, and I give a wry smile. Oh Fiesta cookware, your vibrant seasonal colors have no power over me now.

Destiny Hagest is personal assistant to Paul Wheaton, founder of and, as well as a content curator and freelance writer. You can catch Destiny hanging out in the forums at quite regularly, and visit her LinkedIn profile, and follow her on Twitter. Read all of Destiny's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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