Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jerusalum Artichoke

The BF has this book called "Back to Basics."
This is not where it all started, I think it all started with growing up on stories of when my parents moved to Canada-- before I was born. Where they rented a small house that I imagine as being off the beaten path at the end of a long, unpaved road-- sort of prime real estate for a horror movie. They had to go to town to buy propane for the generator, which was housed in the generator shed, down a small path away from the house. And Mom had to heat the house and cook with a wood-burning stove.

Since propane was expensive and far away, Mom only started the generator for a few hours each night, so Dad could watch tv when he got home from working on a ranch. So she spent most of her day living Pioneer-style with out electricity, cooking with the wood stove, and washing clothes in the bath tub with water that she heated on the stove.

I've never seen photos of this house and, as I mentioned, this was before I was born, so I only have the images in my head from years of listening to Mom's stories about the brief time they lived there... but for some reason, these stories really appeal to me.

And then PBS came along with their twist on reality tv and I was absolutely HOOKED on Frontierhouse (and if anyone knows where I can get it on DVD please tell me!)

It's true: Someday, if I ever retired from doing nails, I hope to go live in a one-room cabin with out electricity, on a piece of land at least 5 miles from the nearest neighbor. My cell phone is going in the ocean-- or the bottom of a very deep lake-- I'm even trying to imagine a life without the internet! That'll be the real challenge. And, with luck, I'll get snowed-in every year by October with no human interaction (except probably the BF) until the following April. Awwwwwwww. Now that is what I'm talkin' about!

So the BF comes along with this "Back to Basics" book which is essentially all about living "off the grid" and being self-sufficient. Which I am all about.

So, when last spring, while we were planting our annual vegetable garden, I came across a little Hmong lady at the farmer's market who was selling "Jerusalem Artichoke," I bought a bag of the things.

What, exactly, is "Jerusalem Artichoke," you ask? Well-- it's mentioned in the Back to Basics book as being an excellent option for growing in one's garden. But it's not something I've ever seen in a grocery store. So I bought it from the little Hmong lady and decided to take it home and try it out.

Except, I had no clue what to do with it.

It's a rhizome, kinda looks like ginger root. Supposedly you can just crunch on it raw, or cook it up like pretty much any veggie. It kinda tastes like a very mild carrot, but is very crunchy with a texture like water chestnuts or jicama.

The BF eyed it suspiciously and wasn't very eager to have me experiment with using it in any of our usual dishes. So I wrapped it in a paper towel, put it in a plastic bag and set it on a shelf in the garage-- as per the "storage" directions that I'd come across online.

And forgot about it.

And then one day, we came across it again, only now it had two 6 inch green sprouts jutting out of it.

Being that it was early spring when we're all excited about the garden and growing whatever we can, the BF insisted on planting it. So I opted to bury it in a 10 gallon pot as everything I'd read about it said that it is very prolific and will take over any area where it is planted.

I will say-- if you are the type of person who has a "black thumb" and kills every plant you've ever had, try growing this stuff! You will feel awesome with your new-found gardening skills because it is impossible to not get this stuff to grow! And grow it did!

Jerusalem Artichoke is neither from Jerusalem nor is it related in any way to artichokes. It's a sunflower plant native to North America's eastern seaboard, growing from Georgia to Nova Scotia. It was originally cultivated by Native Americans and introduced to the settlers along with all those traditional Thanksgiving foods that kept us from starving.

From what I've gathered, the stuff was cultivated in European nations and here in the States and was fairly common in our diet until around World War 2. It was one of the few vegetables that didn't get rationed during the war (probably because it's so freakin easy to grow) so it appears that an entire generation pretty much got its fill during those years and, after the war rationing ended, refused to every eat it again. Which is how a few more generations managed to grow up without ever hearing of the stuff.

It seems to be undergoing a resurgence in popularity now.

Of course, I learned all this after the fact.

And so it grew in my garden. And grew...and grew.

The damn thing grew about 12 feet tall! And it looked exactly like all the wild sunflower plants that grow along the side of the road or the river around here. It was huge. Much too big for a plant that was growing out of 10 gallon pot!

The BF kept asking me what we were going to do with it and what it was supposed to do. I kept telling him "*!&@ if I know!" But the information I was able to find about it said that it would eventually flower and then die and then we could dig up the rhizomes and eat them. Which didn't seem like a very good idea seeing as how we hadn't been interested in eating the 5 or 6 pieces that I'd initially purchased at the Farmer's Market-- why were we interested in digging up a whole pot of them?

The plant flowered in September. It was kinda pretty in a very tall weed sorta way. But sure enough, as summer waned to fall, the foliage started to die back, the flowers wilted and dropped and last weekend we decided to cut the whole thing down and pull it up...

O... M...G! What are we going to do with this stuff?!

The pot was beyond root-bound. There wasn't even room left for dirt, the rhizomes had grown up against the sides of the pot so densely that they were just squished into little flat disks! We had to hand pick it out of the pot because it was so packed that it wouldn't come out.

We keep joking that we pulled 25 gallons of rhizome out of that 10 gallon pot!

If you decide to grow this stuff yourself, DEFINITELY put it in a pot! I can see how this stuff would entirely take over your garden..or yard. In fact, I'm now terrified of what will sprout next spring from the flowers dropping seeds into our yard.

I really wish we were that poor and hungry to be grateful for a bounty like this. But honestly, I'm looking at it wondering what I'll do with it.

It's not bad raw. I've managed to find several recipes for it. Rumor has it that it boils down and mashes very well-- great substitute for potatoes, and good in soups. Or stir fry.

What I wish I'd known before we dug it all up though, is that it doesn't store well once dug up. We should have left it in the ground and dug it up as we needed it. So I fear that 10 gallons of Jerusalem Artichoke is going to go to waste.

The BF is absolutely adamant that we will grow it again next spring.

But I don't know what we're going to do with it next year either.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Uphill-both-ways Bread

My mother bought a bread maker. One of those fancy new-fangled contraptions that saves her the trouble  of actually having to knead her dough, shape her loaves, or preheat her oven.

In all fairness, my mother is not in the best of health these days, walks with a cane now, and can't stand for long periods of time to work in the kitchen-- so when she purchased her bread maker, I didn't give her too much flack for cheating.

A few weeks after her purchase, we were sitting here in the salon (the art of nailz) chit chatting with one of my clients about her new toy. My client hadn't heard of these amazing devices that will provide you with the joy of a freshly baked loaf of bread without all the hassle of actually baking bread, and so I was explaining how they work and that many models will actually mix the dough as well...

Which, of course, Mom's does.

So I had to look at her sideways and say, "Really? You can't even mix everything up yourself?"

Folks, let me tell ya: I make bread.

And when I say, "I make bread" I mean really make bread, the old fashioned way. I make sourdough bread, from a starter that lives (literally, "lives") in my refrigerator that I started myself from water and flour (it makes more than paste!)

I have to feed my starter periodically-- because it's a living colony of symbiotic organisms and they need to eat to stay alive.

When I make bread I get the starter out. I measure the ingredients and mix them into dough with my hands.

Then I knead the dough with my hands. Then I let it rise, then I punch it down, then I shape my loaves and let them rise again...

Then I bake them... in a Dutch oven...with coals from a fire that I made with wood that I personally went to the mountains and gathered, cut, and split with my hands.

This is about the time I started to realize I was sounding a lot like my grandfather telling me about growing up... and I never thought I'd have an opportunity to say it myself but,

 I WALKED UPHILL BOTH WAYS to make that bread!

It took awhile for Mom and my client to stop laughing... but I have a whole new appreciation for baking bread.