Monday, November 24, 2014

Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

Just a few weeks ago we looked out our windows and saw the first leaf falling to the ground. Now it’s already time for Thanksgiving! We will be raking the leaves, inviting the family over, setting the table, and – of course – preparing the turkey.

But why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving? What is its significance in the holiday? Besides making a delicious part of the feast, there are a few theories on why we break the wishbone on Thanksgiving. The most widely accepted theory is that turkey sits on our Thanksgiving table because it was served at the first Thanksgiving. This feast was a meal shared by the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims. According to About Food, the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to grow food and hunt because they were unable to sustain themselves and many were starving. One of the main staples in the Native American’s diet was the wild turkey, so the Pilgrims served it at the first Thanksgiving that took place in 1621.

More evidence to support this theory comes from Historians have a letter written by a pilgrim that tells of a turkey hunting trip before the first Thanksgiving meal. Other records from early American settlers have confirmed that food such as beef and fowl were served at their meal. Since we know this much, it makes sense that Americans have adopted the tradition of dining on turkey on the last Thursday of November.

Other sources place into question whether turkey was actually served at the meal between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims. According to Mental Floss, the first Thanksgiving in 1621 was said to have “wild fowl” on the menu, but turkey itself was not specifically mentioned. Therefore, other fowl such as ducks and geese could just as likely have been eaten. Whether or not turkey was a part of the first Thanksgiving meal, it has become a tradition in American history. As quoted on Mental Floss, Alexander Hamilton said it best: “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving day.”

In addition to the historical meaning behind eating turkey, there are practical reasons that we feast on fowl at Thanksgiving. refers to the big birds as “ideal for a fall feast.” Since turkeys are born in spring and reach a decent size by November, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to serve them as the main dish. The cost effectiveness of turkey is important as well. In the past, people had to consider ways to make their family’s meals last through the winter season. Turkeys were cheaper per pound than geese and chicken, so it was practical to buy a turkey to use as the main staple of the holiday season.

Whatever the reason may be for eating turkey for our main Thanksgiving dish, it is an important tradition in American history shared across the country by families and friends giving thanks for their blessings.

Enjoy your turkey this Thanksgiving and remember that there is history behind the main dish. We hope you have a wonderful day of eating and giving thanks for all that you have.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why home-canned food is safer than store-bought

A great way to preserve the harvest from your garden or your local farmers’ market is by canning food. Dismissed as old-fashioned not more than a couple decades past, today it is enjoying resurgence as consumers want more control of their food. BPA is found in hard plastic containers and the lining of cans used for commercially canned foods. Increasingly there are more plastic containers that claim to be free of BPA, but the metal can manufacturers continue to coat the inside of most cans with the substance.

A study published in 2011 that measured the amount of BPA in participants’ urine after they ate canned soup for five days found the level increased more than a thousand percent. The amount of soup they ate each day was only a single serving as defined on the can, and most participants complained that they were still hungry after eating it. Although the amount of BPA was back to pre-experiment levels five days after participants stopped eating the canned soup, what does this mean for people who eat canned foods daily? There is no definitive answer to this question, but if you don’t eat commercially canned food, you don’t have to worry about it. Keep in mind, however, that many restaurants use canned foods.

Cans are lined with BPA to resist corrosion, and even home canning has the potential to expose you to BPA because one-time-use canning lids are lined with BPA. The risk of contaminating food with BPA is not as great as with food in metal cans, however, because home-canned food rarely comes in contact with the lid. If you are concerned, though, reusable BPA-free canning lids are available. I began using them about a year ago, and they work quite well, although the canning process is different from one-time-use lids. Be sure to read the instructions on the box before using them.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann

Monday, November 17, 2014

6 reasons to add American Guinea Hogs to your homestead

If you've decided to add pigs to your homestead, the next question is, "which breed?" I am partial to the heritage breeds because they do well on pasture. Initially we raised Tamworths, which we purchased from a breeder in the spring. We'd raise them through the summer and butcher them in the fall. For a variety of reasons, I decided I wanted to start breeding my own pigs, although I was very intimidated by the size of full-grown Tamworths and other breeds of pigs that I'd met.

Introducing ... the American Guinea Hog! Its history is as mysterious as they come, but one thing is clear -- it was the homestead hog of choice in the southeast U.S. during the 1800s. Less than a decade ago, it was almost completely extinct with less than 150 breeding animals known to exist! Today it is enjoying renewed popularity, and its numbers have been rapidly growing over the past few years. Why?

  • It's less than half the size of most hogs! While many breeds of hogs can get up to 800 or even more than 1,000 pounds, the AGH adult weight is usually in the 250 to 300 pound range. This small size was one of the reasons it almost became extinct. It definitely did not fit into the factory farm environment. However, that small size is exactly what makes it attractive to homesteaders and small farmers.
  • Chickens with our AGH boar
  • It has a sweet personality! Pigs have a reputation for being vicious omnivores, killing and eating chickens that are unlucky enough to wander into the pig pen, and some have even been known to kill people. Guinea Hogs, however, have a very calm, docile nature. While this may not be important to huge confinement farmers, it is very important for small farmers who will be working closely with their pigs and who have other animals and don't want to worry about the pigs killing them. Of course, there have been a few Guinea Hogs that were not so docile, but most breeders are quick to send them to meat locker and not use them for breeding stock, ensuring that the breed as a whole continues to have a great personality.
  • It grazes! While some heritage breeds of pigs will eat grass when on pasture, the AGH love grass and gobble it up as voraciously as if it were eating chocolate truffles.
  • It has lots of lard! Although the average American consumer began to reject lard after the invention of Crisco, many people are beginning to realize that they were duped by marketing and that lard can play a role in a healthy diet. If you are interested in self-sufficiency, having pigs is the easiest way to produce your own cooking fat. Although you could grow sunflowers, corn, or soybeans, extracting the fat is a big project. Rendering lard can be done in a slow cooker or in your oven without purchasing any fancy equipment.
  • It has outstanding flavor! Chefs have begun to sing the praises of the Guinea Hog from South Carolina to Chicago. One chef called it the Kobe beef of pork. It is especially popular with chefs who want to use the whole pig from snout to tail, and it makes excellent charcuterie.
Confused piglets trying to nurse from our boar while he's napping!

Because of all the unique strengths and benefits of the American Guinea Hog, they are easier to sell than other breeds of hogs, which is a sixth benefit for those of us who can't eat all of the pork that our pigs produce. Their small size makes them more attractive for urban dwellers to purchase as a whole hog, which is the easiest way for a homesteader to sell a pig. You simply have to find one customer who purchases the pig from you, and then you take it to the processor as a courtesy to the buyer. You get paid for the pig, and the buyer tells the processor how they want the pig cut up and processed and pay them directly. Because you are not selling meat -- you sold a live animal -- you don't have to deal with getting a license to sell meat, nor do you have to have an expensive freezer for storing meat, waiting for individual customers to come buy it, one pound of bacon and one ham at a time.

When we raised Tamworths, a lot of people would only want half a hog because they couldn't wrap their brain around the idea of having 175 or 200 pounds of pork! With the AGH dressing out at half that amount, the number of customers is greater.

Of course, the four reasons I gave for having pigs on the homestead a couple of weeks ago is also true for the AGH. That means there is a total of ten reasons to have American Guinea Hogs on your homestead!

With the number of registered AGH in the US now well over a thousand it is much easier than it was a few years ago to find breeding stock, although if you are just planning to raise them for meat, you don't have to buy registered pigs. And if there are not any in your area, piglets can be shipped by air just like dogs and cats, so you can find a breeder in another state and have the pigs shipped to you. Since you are charged by weight or kennel size (depending upon airline), it's a good idea to buy pigs that have just been weaned, so you can save on shipping costs.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The London Dispatches: Apple Day at Borough Market

I’ve profiled Borough Market before, but my visit on this occasion had a strict purpose: a harvest festival!

Well, more specifically, an apple festival with some traditional harvest festivities mixed in. There is an Apple Day there every year, but since it is celebrating 1000 years this year, Borough Market is rather pulling out the stops for all of its festivities. This year’s event featured a number of traditional British elements that were wonderful to explore, and cleverly combined agriculture and tradition with our modern world.

Tasting stations were available at the market entrance so that visitors could sample slices from dozens of apple varieties. There was an “orchard” area set up with pillows and blankets for children to participate in events and storytelling, while demonstration and learning kitchens (market regulars) put on exhibitions ranging from peeling apples to preparing the fanciest of puff pastries with them.

The tasting stations.
Varieties of apples grown in London over the years.
 In the middle of the market was a theatre production featuring traditional British and English human and animal characters from folklore, as well as more storytelling (a British pastime) and games. One of the players handed out conkers, horse chestnut seeds strung onto strings, and everybody from children to Morris Dancer groups took part in playing the traditional game of trying to knock your opponent’s off its string by whacking it with your own as hard as possible.

Putting on the most British of plays, the "Tales of Robin Hood."
One of the players hands out conkers.
Playing conkers.
 The most traditional elements of all were the “Corn Queen,” an effigy made up of fruits and vegetables to signify bounty, and the “Berry Man,” a figure of British folklore that probably dates back to pagan times. He is arrayed in the fruits, flowers, and vines of the season and is thought to symbolize rebirth and fertility (evergreen leaves are often associated with him to imply that even though fall has arrived and the grimness of winter is around the corner, Spring and planting season follow). Long after Christianity arrived in Britain, this natural and agricultural character could be found in texts, religious carvings, and local festivals like the one Borough was recreating. Clearly, tradition is here to stay!

 The more modern part of the market display featured a very clever installation that the designers called “The Real Apple Store,” to mimic and tease the tech company. But you won’t find iPads here! Though laid out to look like an Apple or Mac store, this display featured 1000 different species of apples (one for every year of the market’s existence), with several varieties highlighted and their history explained. Apparently, the first apple to be recorded as brought to the UK was the variety known as Court Pendu Plat—and it is delicious!

The apple appears in almost every culture in the Old World, and rapidly colonized the New once the Columbian Exchange kicked off in the 16th century. It is riddled with symbolic meaning, litters our idioms (“An apple a day…” or “As American as apple pie…”), and is one of the most widely cultivated fruits today. In other words, it’s well worth celebrating.

Harvest and fall festivals aren’t just to be found in Britain. Are there any local events or festivals in your area that you use to celebrate the season? What personal traditions signify fall to you? And what food item are you harvesting now in your gardens or orchards? Let us know in the comments!

Cadence Woodland is a freelance writer, editorial assistant, and marketing coordinator. Her journalism has contributed to the New York Times, the National Wildlife Federation, and other venues, but she can be found most often at her blog where she writes about her adventures across the Pond in London.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: The American Way of Eating

Although I am not usually a fan of books in which the author decides to live a different life for a year, I was intrigued by The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table because I really wanted to know what happens in large commercial farm fields in California, which supplies most of the country's fruit and vegetables. Based on what I've read in the past, it didn't sound good.

The book chronicles the experience of author Tracie McMillan, who spends a year in various jobs in the food industry. She starts in three different jobs in farm fields, first picking grapes, then peaches, and finally "cutting garlic," which means harvesting it and cutting off the roots and stems. The whole experience was sad to hear, but it confirmed what I'd heard from Illinois fruit producers who have a very hard time finding people to work for them. Because McMillan is white, people usually did not even believe her when she first showed up and said she wanted a job. She had to concoct a story of being down on her luck and wanting a job where she didn't have to deal with customers or think. Even then, people were always suspicious of her. When she left one job, she told some of the people her true identity, and they said they knew that she had been lying about her background, but they had been thinking (perhaps hoping) that she was a spy from the government investigating working conditions.

Because McMillan "has papers," meaning she is a legal citizen, other workers kept telling her that she would get minimum wage, but she was normally paid about $2 per hour, which was the same or less than the illegal immigrants with whom she worked side by side. Laborers are generally paid by the piece, so more experienced, stronger, and faster workers get paid more. However, as McMillan quickly discovers, no one could work fast enough to earn the equivalent of the minimum hourly wage. When she goes to work for one company that has already paid big fines for labor issues, she sees that her paycheck misrepresents the number of hours she worked. The company paid her based upon how much she picked, but they divided the total they owed her by the number of hours it would have taken to earn it at minimum wage. So, on her paycheck it said she was working about two hours per day, when in reality, she was working eight or ten hours per day.

McMillan chose to work at Wal-Mart because it's the largest grocery store chain in the country, and she chose Applebee's because it's the largest casual restaurant chain in the U.S., which means they sell food to a huge percentage of Americans. Her experiences at those places were not nearly as interesting to me, although other readers might think differently. I was saddened to hear that she never received proper food handling training at Applebee's but was coached by other workers to claim that she had, when questioned by the corporate person who came in to evaluate the restaurant. The few training meetings she attended, she didn't get paid for, even though she was told she would be paid. Although she did receive great video training on food safety when working in produce at Wal-Mart, the store where she worked did not always follow company policy. For example, when a bird got into the store, managers refused to call a professional to catch the bird because it would cost $10,000, which they said corporate wouldn't like.

I wish that more people knew where their food came from. When people like Michael Pollan say that you vote with your fork three times a day, they aren't kidding. As long as people want cheap food and keep buying food based upon price, the food industry will continue trying to deliver the cheapest food possible, which means they'll continue to employ illegal aliens and neglect to do anything that will increase expenses, such as provide paid training for employees or get birds out of stores.

If you eat, you should read this book (or listen to it). As I so often do, I purchased this book on audio so that I could listen to it on my iPhone while milking goats or driving my car.

Monday, November 10, 2014

7+ healthier, ecothrifty sandwich ideas

Luncheon meat was one of the first things I cut out of my diet when I started to learn about nutrition. Cured meats contain sodium nitrates and nitrites, which have been associated with stomach cancer. They also tend to be high in fat and salt and low in protein and nutrition. And when you do the math, processed meat is expensive per pound, especially when you realize how little nutrition it contains.

American cheese is not cheese, and it is not as nutritious as real cheese, such as cheddar or gouda. It contains a lot of ingredients, including emulsifiers and preservatives, that you don’t find in real cheese. The label usually says it is a processed “cheese food” or a processed “cheese product.” You may even see some labeled as Swiss or mozzarella, along with the word “processed,” which means it is not a true cheese. Processed cheese tends to be softer than real cheese, and it is often sold in a can, a plastic container, or individually sliced and wrapped. Like most processed foods, it is cheap but not especially nutritious.

Natural peanut butter, which is high in protein and inexpensive, can be part of an ecothrifty sandwich, but read the label to make sure the peanut butter does not contain partially hydrogenated oils. When made from real peanuts, the oil will separate as the peanut butter sits on the shelf, which is why many companies remove the natural peanut oil and mix partially hydrogenated oil back into the spread. Partially hydrogenated oil contains trans fat, which leads to circulatory problems and heart disease.

The least expensive and most nutritious sandwiches are those that simply contain real food, such as sliced meat (turkey, chicken, beef, pork), real cheese, natural peanut butter, vegetables, and beans. Choice of bread is also important. I usually prefer sandwiches on a roll made from my French bread recipe, but for a change, I enjoy sandwiches on flat bread, wrapped up in a tortilla, or stuffed in a pita. Homemade bread baked in a traditional loaf pan is especially good for sandwiches when it is a day old. When making sandwiches to take to work or school, be mindful of the fact that you won’t be eating it for a few hours and don’t include ingredients that will turn the bread soggy, such as tomato slices.

Sandwich Suggestions:

  • Avocado slices, alfalfa sprouts, crushed garlic, sliced cheddar
  • Grilled button mushrooms, sweet bell peppers of various colors, caramelized onions and goat cheese or brie
  • Grilled Portobello mushrooms and goat cheese
  • Mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and pesto or fresh basil
  • Red bean spread with shredded cheddar cheese (Ecothrifty, page 88)
  • Sliced meat, lettuce, and tomato with garlic mayonnaise
  • White bean spread with alfalfa sprouts (Ecothrifty, page 88)

Savings: A sandwich at a national chain restaurant in my area costs $5-$7, compared with a homemade sandwich, which costs less than $1 per person.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann

Friday, November 7, 2014

Antiquity Oaks hashbrown casserole

This casserole is great for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, and unlike so many recipes out there, this ecothrifty recipe is made without canned soup!

2 pounds of frozen hash browns or shredded potatoes
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup whole milk (goat or cow)
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Keep in mind that frozen hash browns have actually been pre-cooked, so this will cook much faster with them than with the fresh shredded potatoes. However, if you can't find hash browns without unpronounceable ingredients in your store, it's better to shred your own fresh potatoes!

Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish that has been liberally buttered to avoid sticking. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes or until bubbling and browned. If you use freshly shredded potatoes, it takes a lot longer to cook, so use 350 degrees F for an hour, and keep the casserole covered for the first 40 minutes. Sprinkle with bacon bits (or veggie bacon bits) before serving, if desired.

Based on a total of six servings.
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