Mail Call September/October 2014: Food Preservation Methods and More

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Dried tomato flakes are wonderful seasonings on a multitude of dishes.
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Dried tomatoes go into the food processor.
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Dried tomatoes processed to an ultra-fine consistency serve well as instant mixes.
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Dried tomato flakes work well for instant tomato soup.
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Farmer mowing hay is a classic scene in the rural Midwest. There really isn't anything like the smell of fresh-mown hay.
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Chicken coop belonging to Vicki Kapke and Connie Lohman before it got a makeover.
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Enhanced with a pergola, new window and door framing, and various retro farm items, Vicki Kapke's and Connie Lohman's chicken coop now adds beauty as well as functionality.

Favorite Preservation Methods

Dehydrating produce has become my preferred method of preserving garden bounty. We have an Excalibur electric dehydrator as well as The Solar Food Dryer from the book of the same name by Eben Fodor.

We are especially fond of dehydrated tomatoes, so I want to share what I do with some of them when we are inundated with tomatoes that get ahead of us; both dehydrators work for this.

I wash the ripe tomatoes, cut them in halves or quarters depending on size — removing spots or undesirable stem and core areas as they are cut up — and throw them in my food processor. They are whirled until they become a thick, finely minced “batter,” not quite as smooth as baby food, but definitely fine chunks somewhere between the size of grains of rice and small peas. This is poured onto nonstick sheets and spread to an even thickness as much as possible, similar to making fruit leather. They are then dried — and this is the secret to the final product — to a crispy state; drier than the chewy, leathery stage for many fruits and vegetables. The “pancakes” should crumble apart almost in brittle shards when being removed from the sheets. Some of these are broken into small pieces and flakes and vacuum-sealed to use in stews, soups and chili. They can be rolled between sheets of wax paper into finer crumbs to shake onto food.

The remainder is further processed into “instant” tomato powder. For the latter, I have a Krups spice and nut grinder dedicated solely to tomatoes. The pieces are ground nearly as fine as cornstarch, with the seeds, skins, and the entire tomato becoming a consistent powder; this is why it is so important that they be extremely dry. This is vacuum-sealed in 8-ounce jelly jars — a great gift with instructions. Because there is no extra ingredient to prevent caking, this stuff does pack down, so it may have to be scraped and dug out of the jar if vacuum sealing is used. This is a wonderful product to have on hand as a seasoning, but be aware that it is potent in the flavor department. Mixed with varying amounts of water, desired seasonings and/or sweetener, and allowed to sit a short while to thicken, it becomes instant tomato juice, tomato soup, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and more. It’s wonderful added to meat loaf, too.

The grinding can take awhile, I admit, but it is a very compact way to store tomatoes, and it is both handy and delicious — and it’s 100 percent tomatoes.

Donna Shelby
Comanche, Oklahoma

Making Hay

Your article on making hay (“Hay Days,” May/June) revived many memories. Having grown up in northwest Ohio, bales of hay in summer were a vision to behold, and oh, the aroma as it was fresh-cut!

Living in southeast Ohio now, we recently purchased land, hoping to become more self-sufficient — not quite so many acres, and a little hilly, but I have a question for you. I would love to be able to bale hay, but would need smaller equipment due to the smaller acreage and the need to maneuver the hills on our 27 acres, 14 of which is timber. It won’t make much hay, but would be better than just running the mower all the time.

Any recommendations for small, even walk-behind equipment? I know I saw a walk-behind baler somewhere, years ago, but cannot now place it. Also, any starting information for us newbie farmers? What are the best grasses for hay, and do I need to reseed what we have to make a better hay? Right now, the only livestock we have are a few egg-laying chickens, but baby steps toward fencing and cattle and goats.

Thanks so much. We look forward to more articles. Always learning!

Dave and Kelly Herbert
Athens, Ohio

We agree with you on the smell of fresh mown hay, Dave and Kelly. We actually published an article in our January/February issue on haying equipment for the small-scale farm. In short, Small Farm Innovations has found a niche with small-scale haying equipment, but there are others as well. And for the money, it’s hard to beat alfalfa, though orchard grass and others are good too — it depends on if you want to sell the hay, and for what animals. Check A Guide to Livestock Feed and Forage for a good starter guide. — Editors

Something’s Fishy

I was about to pass by your article on cooking with fish. Then I saw the recipes for shrimp and scallops. This made me read the article. To start with, I must tell you that I have an allergy to fish. Fish only. Many people do not understand that there is a difference in the terminology between fish, shell fish, and crustaceans. Some people have an allergy to fish, and some to crustaceans. I have met both. What I would like to point out is that many people do not understand the danger of cross contamination.

In Wisconsin, a Friday night fish fry is a highlight to many. However, if the french fries, or the shrimp or scallops, are fried in the same oil in which the fish is fried, it will cause an allergic reaction to someone with that allergy.

To take the whole thing one step further, when a chef uses a combination that includes both ingredients, another allergic reaction can occur. For example, shrimp stuffed with crab meat. Sounds fine doesn’t it?! But not if mock crab or white fish has been substituted for real crab. 

So, even in your own house, when you are entertaining, please be aware of allergies that could cause your friends to become violently sick.

John Schwobe
Via email

Close Call

My family farm is 100 acres on the outskirts of Kansas City. We owned our own business in those days, so farm chores many times got done late in the evening or, in the case of picking up hay out of the field, way after dark. We’d get a bunch of guys from the shop or friends together and have a hay moving party. We had a Ford 2000 tractor — that I still have — hooked up to our flatbed trailer, and we used the headlights of our van to follow the hay wagon so the guys could see to stack the bales.

One almost fateful night we realized we’d missed a couple of bales along the edge. My brother’s stepson was driving the van — I think he was about 13, maybe 14, at the time — so off they went to get the missing bales with the van.

I was driving the hay wagon at the bottom of the hill … next thing I know the van is screaming down the hill headed straight toward the hay wagon, and I hear my brother and husband hollering over the drone of the tractor motor. Found out later that the stepson had bailed out of the driver’s seat because there was a wasp or bee in the van, and he was in the back of the van with the other two guys.

Well, my husband, who had been in the back of the van, reached the driver’s seat just as my brother reached it and opened the door to the van so both got a pretty hard jolt as the van screeched to a stop just feet from the fence and a pond on the other side of the fence. That would’ve be an interesting insurance claim — “Yep, no one was driving the vehicle; they were all in the back.”

We all had a pretty good laugh that night and have never let the young driver forget about his adventure. Oh, the memories that come with farm life.

Kathy Garver
Via email

Recoup the Coop

We thought our chicken coop was boring, so we decided to make it “cute.”

Believe it or not, we didn’t paint it. We built a pergola, trimmed out the window and added a flower box, hung a new door — then trimmed that out as well. Then we found items from around the farm like an old washboard, milk jugs, saws, old ropes and so forth. We also crafted a solar light fixture made from mason jars.

I have to tell you, that was a fun project, and we have another one in the works.

Vicki Kapke and Connie Lohman
Eagle, Wisconsin

Wow, Vicki and Connie, it’s amazing what a little tender loving care can do to the landscape. Keep us posted on your future projects as well! — Editors

Vinegar Works

I wanted to thank you for the tip on using vinegar to help clean rust on cast-iron cookware. I would never use lye or oven cleaner to clean them, as I simply place them in my self-cleaning oven, and they come out like new. A griddle I found some time ago had a significant amount of rust, and though I tried everything I could think of, I could not get it off. However, using straight vinegar and some fine steel wool followed by cleaning with a rag soaked in vinegar has made the griddle look like new. Now for the pot I found with it!

Penny Atherton
Moscow, Idaho

Liking Leeks Entirely

I read with interest “The Ancient Leek” in the January/February issue. I am going to try growing them this year, which I have not done before, but I have always enjoyed eating them.

I did have a comment, however. In the article, the author mentions three times the “usable” part of the leek being only the white part. I find this completely wrong. Every time I have eaten leeks, I have used the entire leek — and have enjoyed it! I
find the green part to have more flavor, and have never found it too tough or fibrous to be enjoyable.

I’m all for promoting the leek, but let’s promote the whole vegetable, and not waste those delicious greens!

Elizabeth Koby

Horse Buyers Beware

I just read the article “Giddyup!” from the November/December 2013 issue (“Tips on How to Buy a Horse”), and felt behooved to comment. Diane gets it right for the most part, but she has some holes that are critical to the success of happy horse ownership. If I was advising a beginner on how to buy a horse, I would suggest they don’t even buy one right off the bat. Instead, they should find a local horse person who would let them “lease” a horse and take professional lessons with it.

Advisers and writers always talk about the horse, but they never talk about the personality of the owner. People who are high strung and easy to anger should only own a quiet, forgiving horse. People who are not easy to ruffle may be able to handle a more high-strung animal. The only way to know what you are with a horse is to be with one. If the horse comes unglued and you come unglued, horses are not for you.

I’ve seen this happen time after time. People buy a “beginner” horse, and when they get it home it reacts to the lack of knowledge on the part of the new owner and quickly becomes not a beginner horse. Horses are hard to sell these days, so people should know if it doesn’t work out, you’ve probably got a horse you’ve messed up — and that will make it harder to sell. Horses are not like other stock animals that are much easier to sell.

I’ve been a horse owner for years. I’ve made my mistakes, and it’s hard on the horse to get traded around.

Horses are wonderful animals, but they’re a nightmare if you don’t get the right one. In this economy, there are many horses being given away because people can’t afford to feed a nonproductive animal.

Renée-Lucie Benoit
Orland, California

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