Monday, June 16, 2014

The Campfire Kitchen

Are you taking to the trails this summer? Complete your camping experience with the perfect campfire kitchen setup. Follow Carla Emery's helpful tips for making a tasty meal outdoors, and if you need a dish to pair with your newfound kitchen knowledge, check out this recipe for mouth-watering Herb-Stuffed, Pan-Fried Golden Trout.

You need a good place to build your fire and plenty of fuel for all its stages. You will be glad for a work table - maybe a plank between two stumps, so you don't have to set everything on the ground. Anything that can be cooked in frying pans, kettles, or reflector ovens can be managed with a campfire. Don't use pans with handles that will burn. Handles that aren't metal will promptly burn or melt. If they're all you have, let them do it, and then you can get on with it. Stick to simple ingredients and simple procedures when you're cooking, because you didn't bring your kitchen. If you are able to plan ahead to do all your cooking over an open fire, you especially need one or two cast-iron frying pans, a Dutch oven, a campfire coffeepot, and a big pan to heat dish and washing water in. A folding grill to hold pans secure and level is very helpful.

Starting a Fire
Campfire cooking means starting a fire and controlling it until you don't need it any more. There's a real skill to it, which you'll acquire with practice. The easiest way to do camp cooking is to pack a proper wood cookstove, set it up in your camp, and use it. Gather wood on dry days and store it under shelter to use on wet ones. You can do this in a semi-permanent camp. If you're living on the trail, start a fire like this: Lay a little mound of really flammable dry stuff in an open place, on dirt or sand if you can, and away from dry brush or grass. (Please don't start a forest fire!) Place very loosely wadded toilet paper, dry grass, the wrappers from tin cans, or one of my book brochures crumpled up on top of that. You crumple it because paper doesn't burn well flat. You've got to get air in there. Now make a tipi of very slender dry sticks over that, then bigger and bigger ones over that. Set aside some yet bigger ones to add later. Use 3 matches bunched together to start the fire.

Try to allow enough time to let a good roaring blaze burn down to coals. When desperate, though, you can fry on a flame. Have a circle of big flat-topped rocks around the outside of your fire circle. They will help hold the heat.

Just make a place for your kettle down in there among the rocks. Some tribes of native Americans cooked their meat by digging a hole, lining it with a hide, filling it with water, and then adding hot rocks and pieces of meat. This had to be the first crock pot!

Building a Mud Oven
If you have clay soil, this is a natural. Start by building a strong, dome-shaped frame of willow branches and sticks about 2 feet wide by 3 feet long. Cover your branch canopy with a layer of mud 6-12 inches thick. Cut a square opening at one end to be your oven door. At the top opposite end, insert a large tin can that is open at both ends; that will be your chimney. After the mud is completely dry, build a fire inside and burn out all your wooden framework. Cool and scrape the insides clean. To bake in your mud oven, first build a fire inside it and heat the mud to red-hot. Then rake out the fire and put in your sourdough bread, bannocks, stew, or roast. Close the door with a slab of flat rock, and it should bake wonderfully.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Care and Keeping of Worms: Creating a Worm Bin & Feeding Worms

Thinking of adding a worm bin to your home? Worms are great for fishing, recycling kitchen wastes, and for your garden soil. The Encyclopedia of Country Living has a wonderfully comprehensive section on building a worm bin and general care and keeping of your new friends. 

(Start from the very beginning! Learn about buying worms here)

Your worm bin can be made of wood, metal, or plastic. All are equally good, but if you use wood it should be exterior-grade and not aromatic, because aromatic woods (redwood, cedar, etc.) are hard on the worms. Wooden worm boxes wear out. If you let the box dry out once in a while, it will keep longer; building 2 boxes and alternating them allows for that. Painting the wood with something like polyurethane varnish or epoxy also helps protect the wood. Otherwise a wood box will last only 2 or 3 years. If using a ready-made container, be sure it was not used to hold pesticides. Thoroughly scrub any plastic container you use. You can build or place your bin outdoors if you live in a mild climate.

The container should be no deeper than 12 inches; 8-12 inches is a good size. The worms tend to stay on the surface, so a deep container is unnecessary and will only encourage the growth of smelly microorganisms, which live where there is little or no oxygen. The width of your bin depends on how much organic garbage your household produces, if you're using the worms to recycle garbage. Your bin should have 1 square foot of surface for each pound of garbage you'll be adding per week. (An average person produces about 2 lb. of garbage per week.) So for a family of 2, a 2 x 2 x 8-foot bin is generally good.

 Basic Worm Care
The less you mess with the worms, the better. Feeding them once or twice a week is sufficient. While feeding, note whether their bedding is staying moist and any other changes. As the worms eat the food and bedding, you'll see more castings. This higher proportion of castings to bedding is not the best thing for worms. If your worms are for bait, get them out of there before they start shrinking instead of growing. On the other hand, if your goal is to grow rich humus for your garden and house plants rather than fishing worms, you can let the worms stay in the bin longer.

Worm Beddings
Worm beddings not only provide moisture to the bin but also give you a place to bury the garbage. If left a long time, the bedding would be entirely converted into castings by the worms. (You won't leave the worms in the bin that long, though.) The lighter the bedding, the easier it is for the worms to make their way around the box.

Worms in nature enjoy living in organic material such as decaying leaves and rotten logs. Soil is not a necessary bedding ingredient, although you might want to add a handful to the bedding to help the worms' gizzards break down the food. But soil is heavy, and too much makes your bin difficult to move around. Powdered limestone is also a good addition: It adds grit, reduces acidity, and provides calcium for worm reproduction. Or you can use pulverized eggshells for calcium.

NOTE: Do not use slake or hydrated lime. It will kill your worms.

Worm Food
Too much food will "sour" your worm bed; the worms won't be able to keep up, and it'll smell bad. If you give them too little food, your worms will start getting smaller, and some will die. This happens if your worms have reproduced more worms than your garbage or other feeding schedule can handle. Their population will stabilize at the amount your food for them will support. Over time you'll get a feel for how much to feed.

Growing bait worms and harvesting them regularly calls for regular feedings. Worms for vermicomposting can get fed as much kitchen garbage as you have. You can let it build for a few days and give it to them once or twice a week.

How to Feed
 As you dump the food out on top of the bin, don't always put it in the same place. In fact, try to put it in a different place each time on about a nine-day feeding cycle. Dig a shallow hole, put the garbage in it, and cover with 1 inch of bedding. Covering the bin with a plastic sheet holds in moisture.

Worm Food Mix
 1 part screened topsoil and 1 part vegetable matter (grass clippings, kitchen waste, etc.). Peat moss is more water-absorbent than food scraps. If the manure is fresh, add more topsoil to prevent heating. Heating forces the worms to the bottom of the bin, where they won't eat or breed. The topsoil also absorbs odors and adds body to the mixture. Add chicken mash or cornmeal to provide the carbohydrates, protein, and fats the worms need for nutrition and to help in the formation of egg capsules. Mix very well.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Using a Cloche for Early Spring Gardening

Cloche: A cloche (pronounced "klosh") is a lightweight covering for a plant or plants that can easily be moved. A cloche is the simplest cover to build and use. It can easily be moved to different parts of the garden to cover different plants. When the cloche is put on over tender young plants in early spring, it's called a "hot cap." Unlike cold frames, cloches allow light to reach a plant from every direction. 

You can reuse cloches to cover as many as 3, 4, or more crops in the same year. Cloches are especially well suited for use in the maritime Northwest, where plants need protection from excessive rain and cold winds more than from very low temperatures. The weaknesses of cloches are their vulnerability to heavy wind and their inability to keep plants as warm as cold frames or greenhouses.

Cloche Materials. A cloche can be made of anything that transmits light, so the possibilities for design are nearly limitless. They can be made of cheap materials - cheaper than those needed to make a cold frame or greenhouse. 

To cover a row of plants or a section of garden, you can build one large cloche or a series of modular cloches that link together. The word "cloche" is French for bell. In Europe, gardeners have covered plots for centuries, and in the 1600s, French market gardeners used a glass jar in the shape of a bell to cover a plant. Now cloches for individual plants may be made of waxed paper, plastic, fiberglass, or glass. Or your cloche may be a big, plastic-covered tunnel or tent that covers entire rows of plants. A wide variety of cloches are available commercially, with an equally wide range in prices. When open-air gardening begins in the summer, wash your cover material, dry, and store in a shady place until needed in the fall.

Homemade Cloche Design. You can scrape together a cloche by making half-circle hoop rows out of old coat hangers and then covering them with plastic. Or cut out the top, bottom, or side of any 1-gal. plastic or glass jug. To cover a wide raised bed, use sections of hog-wire fencing curved to fit the beds and covered with plastic.
  • Tunnel: In general, the tunnel style is made by stretching 4-mil polyethylene plastic sheeting over a line of half-circle hoops. The hoops are bent and fastened to strips at the top and bottom sides so they will stay put. For example, you could put the plastic over 6 x 6-inch mesh concrete-reinforcing wire. The reinforcing-wire cloche looks like the tunnel style except the wire is arched from where it is nailed to a 10-foot lumber plank over to the other side, where it is nailed to a parallel plank. Then the plastic is put over that. The 2 end openings are covered with more plastic.To ventilate a tunnel cloche, on cloudy days you open the end away from the wind. On sunny days you can open both ends. A breeze is created by the warm air leaving the cloche. As the weather gets warmer, you'll be able to leave one end open continuously. When the weather gets hot, of course, you take off the plastic and put it away until fall, when the weather gets cold again.
  • Tent: This cloche is lighter, portable, and easier to build than the tunnel. It has 4- or 6-mil polyethylene plastic sheeting stretched over an umbrella-tent-style support.
Using a Cloche. Cloches can be placed over any area of your garden, large or small, that you want to protect. To water, weed, and harvest, you lift the cloche off the bed, tilt up one end, or take off the plastic. If your cloche has no natural opening, you must remember to ventilate by propping up one side.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Homemade Treats for Valentine's Day

This Valentine's Day, don't worry about buying flowers or making dinner reservations — show your love with these thoughtful homemade (and delicious) gift ideas from Carla Emery.

Kisses: Beat 2 egg whites stiff. Add a pinch of salt, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, and 1/2 t. vanilla. Drop from a teaspoon onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake in a 300 degree F oven about 30 minutes until firm and dry. Variation: Add 1/4 cup coconut, or 1 square chocolate, melted and mixed in.

Brandied Cherries: Boil 5 cups sugar with 2 cups water for 12 minutes, or until you have a clear syrup. Pour that syrup over 5 lb. cherries (the small sour kind) and let stand over night. Drain off the syrup and boil it again. Add cherries and boil about 5 more minutes. Take out cherries with a skimmer (the kind with holes to let the juice drain away) and put the cherries into canning jars. Boil the syrup down 15 more minutes. It should be getting pretty thick. Add 2 cups brandy. Remove from heat. Pour over cherries and seal.

Rose Geranium Cake: Sift together 2 cups flour, 1/2 t. salt, and 1 t. baking powder. Cream 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Add alternately the flour and 2/3 cup water. Finally, add the unbeaten whites of 4 eggs. Whip hard for 5 minutes. Line a loaf pan with buttered paper and rose geranium leaves. Pour in batter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes. Pull the leaves off with the paper when the cake is done. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Feeding the Team: Cornbread and Chili for Super Bowl Sunday

Are you feeding the 12th man (plus some) on Super Bowl Sunday? Try Carla Emery's recipes for a simple and delicious cornbread and chili that will keep everyone full and happy until the final field goal.

Combine 1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup home-ground (or whole) wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 tablespoon baking powder in a bowl.

In another bowl, stir together 1 egg, 1/2 cup honey, and 1-cup milk. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and stir together. Add 2 tablespoons of melted butter (or lard). Stir a moment more, but don't over stir, because you don't want to stir your bubble out.

Pour into a greased 8-inch square-baking pan. Bake at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Soak 2 cups dried kidney beans overnight (or use canned kidney beans).

The next day, pour off water. Simmer beans with 2 onions and 2 peppers (both chopped), 6 crushed garlic cloves, 1 pound skinned, chopped tomatoes, 2 cups tomato sauce, and 2-4 cups water, depending on how soupy you like it.

Seasonings could be 1 tablespoon each of chili powder and soy sauce (tamari). Optional ingredients are 1/2 pound slices mushrooms or 1-cup corn kernels (add those just a few minutes before serving). Simmer all for about 2 hours before serving.