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Fun Stuff | New World Seeds & Tubers

Botanical explorer Captain F. Kingdon-Ward wrote a book titled “Berried Treasure” published in 1954. He was interested in looking at the berries, not so much eating them. It’s a book about shrubs suitable for England that produce attractive fruit.

I like looking at attractive berries too, but these days I’m also interested in eating them. In fact, now that I’m psychologically primed to notice overlooked sources of food, I’m finding them all over the place, often in unexpected places. This particular post will focus on a few garden plants I’m familiar with that have berries prone to being overlooked as food. These are mostly not things you would plant primarily for fruit, but rather, things you might make good use of if you already had them in your yard.

My list isn’t necessarily going to be the same as yours, because the mix of shrubs and trees that I am familiar with or happen to have in my garden is likely to be different from yours. This is mostly just an exercise in thinking about food resources that might not have occurred to you before, though a few in my list are quite common.


Typical Vireya

Ornament is probably what the proprietors of Bovee’s Nursery in Portland have in mind for their Vaccineums and Agapetes. They call them “companion plants” for Rhododendrons. Their specialties are the beautiful Vireya Rhododendrons. Vireyas are distinct Rhododendrons of the tropical highlands (mostly). They’re not edible by the way; I just happen to have a picture, and want to put the story into context.

I was happy to have finally gotten the chance to visit, and meet Lucy Sorenson in person. We have corresponded a bit for decades but had never actually met. She was absolutely charming, and delighted to meet someone who appreciates Vaccineums and Agapetes not to mention Vireyas.

If the genus is Vaccineum, it’s worth evaluating the berries for potential food use. Vaccineums include Blueberries, Huckleberries, and Cranberries. The names are not used consistently, but here is one theory: Blueberries have more, smaller, unobtrusive seeds, and berries in clusters. Huckleberries have fewer, bigger seeds, and berries that show up singly or in pairs. Cranberries have red berries. That said, these distinctions don’t seem to be particularly meaningful with respect to actual usage.

At Bovees I bought Vaccineum ovatum x V. floribundum. One parent of the cross, V. ovatum, is the Evergreen Huckleberry of the Pacific Coast states. It’s a fairly common, big, bushy, shade-loving but tolerant plant with abundant but unfortunately small and usually fairly sour fruit. V. floribundum is the Andean Blueberry, also known as the Mortiña, from around Ecuador through Columbia, and apparently also in Costa Rica. Both plants are evergreen and have beautifully colored new foliage. Mortiña berries are harvested where native but have never become popular outside of habitat. I’ve planted some seeds in pots outside; we’ll see if they were viable. The hybrid might be useful for combining a very tough, hardy plant with a species that probably has bigger and better fruit.

Lucy gave me what might be a Vaccineum erythrinum, the Javanese Cranberry. It’s a rare plant, though I have seen it in old botanical prints; it’s one of the showier of the genus. No idea how cold-hardy it is and I find varying estimates on the few webpages I can find for it. Probably not very.


Agapetes blossoms

Almost but not quite as rare, and perhaps even showier, are some of the Agapetes of tropical and subtropical Asia. Notice the Greek root-word agape, which ever since the New Testament has come to mean something like “divine love”. Agapetes are closely-related to Blueberries and you can see the relationship if you use your imagination. They live a different lifestyle though, which accounts for some of their differences; they’re quasi-epiphytic (they often grow perched on trees) and clambering. At their base is a woody caudex, from which sprout long slender shoots that weave their way around. They are beautifully suited to hanging baskets.

They produce edible, blueberry-like fruits.

As is common among highland tropicals/subtropicals, they require fairly mild, equable climates. They do well along the Pacific Coast and much of maritime Europe, with the understanding that they need protection from deep or prolonged freezes where those occur. The hardiest one I am aware of in cultivation is a hybrid called ‘Ludvgan Cross’; it can make it down to around -10C/14F once the caudex is well-established. Sometimes Agapetes freeze to the caudex but re-sprout.

Viburnum trilobum has sour bright red berries that are said to make good substitutes for Cranberries, hence the common name “Highbush Cranberry”. It is not, however, a cranberry, being in the wrong family. It is very rarely exploited, due to having been mixed up with its lookalike European cousin, V. opulus. I’ve been told “one bite and you’ll know the difference”: V. opulus has fruit that is bitter in addition to being sour. V. trilobum fruit is sour but not bitter.

To render the fruit of Viburnum trilobum palatable, first you freeze them and thaw them to soften them, then you strain out the seeds, which are bitter. Then you make mock cranberry jelly or mock cranberry juice out of them.

Last time I tried the berries of the native Gaultheria shallon (“Salal” in its native range; known to flower arrangers elsewhere as “Lemon Leaf”), I remember being skeptical of their palatability. The berries of its eastern cousin G. procumbens are reputedly better and used to be a common flavoring especially where they are native.

Gaultheria’s counterparts of the southern hemisphere, the Pernettyas, which some taxonomists are lumping into Gaultheria, have a reputation for intoxicating or even delirium-producing berries. Some of my friends claim that their reputation is exaggerated. I am reluctant to find out by personal experience–names like “Pernettya insana” strike me as being ominous.

Pernettya mucronata undoubtedly has poor-eating fruit anyway–even birds rarely touch them–but those berries are certainly very attractive. The plants vary in how many male or female flowers they have, so make sure you’ve got both to get fruit.

“Strawberry trees”–Arbutus unedo–extremely common around here, but the mildly sweet fruit is bland and mealy. Maybe it’s only a matter of coming up with a use for them.

Mahonia berries are beautiful and look like they should be delicious, but when I tried them I found them resinous in taste. The same is true for a number of other berries native here. I have however heard of other people eating them, probably cooking them and adding sugar and maybe lemon. Lemon seems to be a common ingredient to improve the flavor of unimproved fruits. Sometimes certain spices help too.

Berberis is related to Mahonia, and reputedly some of the Chilean Berberis have good fruit. The plants tend to be rather attractive too.

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I often find myself surrounded by beauty

“If the only prayer you ever said was ‘thank you’, that would be enough.”
–Meister Eckhard

Here in the States it’s almost Thanksgiving holiday. I asked Tom what he was thankful for, but haven’t heard back from him. He told me that his family keeps him busy during the holidays and that they go “all out”.

I think he’s got watching some football with his sons in his near future. He really enjoys that time with his sons.

I know him well enough that I can probably answer for him. Above all, I know Tom loves and is thankful for his family. He often talks about his children, fusses over them a lot, and often expresses his feelings on the importance of family.

I’m thankful for my family too. I have a wife and four beautiful children. The youngest arrived relatively late in our lives but having her has worked out better than we anticipated. She’s been the light of our lives since she was born.

I’m also thankful for…

  • My extended family.
  • Having good friends who help each other.
  • Our home and our farmland.
  • Having enough good food to eat.
  • The gift of life.

I’m thankful that my parents raised me until I was old enough to be on my own.

I’m grateful for the Internet, for the opportunities it created to make business connections, and for the ability to meet people I never otherwise would have met, some of whom are truly amazing, and all of whom are special and have touched my life.

I’m thankful for my friendship and partnership with Tom.

I’m grateful for relationships that didn’t work out, but that I’ve learned and grown from.

I am thankful for hard lessons I’ve learned from enemies. Even the worst enemy I’ve ever had taught me one of life’s most valuable lessons: the universe does not revolve around my needs.

I’m thankful that every day, I make my own plans, go where I think I need to be, talk to whom I think I need to communicate, and run my own business doing what I think needs to be done. I fear that this cherished freedom might not last all that much longer but appreciate it all the more so long as it does.

I’m thankful to have a life-purpose, and for as much time as I’ve already been granted to pursue it. I am thankful for the doctor who saved my life some years ago and gave me a second chance to pursue goals that otherwise would have been out-of-reach.

My life has been surrounded and infused with beauty and wonder. I have been blessed. May my life and my actions be a blessing to others.

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My friends and I have fun coming up with all sorts of hair-brained schemes for crops, both utilizing resources we’re aware of that are currently unutilized, or recombining traits to package them in a way to make them useful. I think we’re all dreamers.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing:

“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”
George Bernard Shaw

In a sense you can’t help but to change the world. It’s known as “the Butterfly Effect” (ie, the flapping of the butterfly’s wings influences the weather): small differences in initial conditions result in huge changes in outcome over time. The question is how to make those changes that make the world a better place.

I would like to start a project to grow out crops that are currently not utilized at all, or are under-utilized compared with what we think is their potential, and then identify obstacles to utilization and ways to work around those.

I have at least one specific objective in mind:

Identifying crops that can make local production possible where otherwise it is not

For example, hardy substitutes for tropical commodities, or easy-to-grow backyard substitutes for strictly commercial crops.

That’s sort of what we’re already about anyway; we make local production possible including of a number of staple crops rarely grown anymore other than in large-scale globalized plantation operations.

For that very reason, though, we need to make sure that our core business is getting enough attention before we experiment with crops that will take time and effort, that we’re not even sure there’s a market for. The photo by the way is of …

“…a demonstration site, embodying the principles of permaculture and perennial polyculture systems from around the world. It is a community-based garden that displays the dynamic relationship that humans have with nature”.

(That’s what the sign says)

I don’t mean to rain on someone else’s parade and I have a feeling I will be stepping on toes, but it needs to be pointed out that this project lacks credibility: the most common of plants in this “permaculture and perennial polyculture system” are mildly to extremely toxic to all mammals, while others are merely indigestible.

One of the less toxic inhabitants is Russian comfrey. I looked up online if there’s any actual use for it. Wikipedia states that it has essentially replaced comfrey and says of it:

Contemporary herbalists view comfrey as an ambivalent and controversial herb that may offer therapeutic benefits but can cause liver toxicity.

One of the country names for comfrey was ‘knitbone’, a reminder of its traditional use in healing bone fractures. Modern science confirms that comfrey can influence the course of bone ailments.

The herb contains allantoin, a cell proliferant that speeds up the natural replacement of body cells. Comfrey was used in an attempt to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from bronchial problems, broken bones, sprains, arthritis, gastric and varicose ulcers, severe burns, acne and other skin conditions. It was reputed to have bone and teeth building properties in children, and have value in treating “many female disorders”. Constituents of comfrey also include mucilage, steroidal saponins, tannins, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, inulin, and proteins.

Internal usage of comfrey should be avoided because it contains hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). Use of comfrey can, because of these PAs, lead to veno-occlusive disease (VOD). VOD can in turn lead to liver failure, and comfrey, taken in extreme amounts, has been implicated in at least one death.[6] In 2001, the United States Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against internal usage of herbal products containing comfrey.[7] There are ways to remove the pyrrolizidine alkaloids from comfrey, and some herbal product manufacturers have begun doing so (although the products will still be labelled “for external use only”).

Excessive doses of symphytine, one of the PAs in comfrey, may cause cancer in rats.[8] This was shown by injection of the pure alkaloid. The whole plant has also been shown to induce precancerous changes in rats.

So it might be medicinal in some context that is not clear at the moment, but it’s not food and probably doesn’t make sense for it to be one of the main crops. Medicinal herbs I’ll cover in another blog post another day. I’m not sure how it’s supposed to get to your bones to knit them if you can only apply it externally. There may be some bugs to work out on this one.

The Hedge Morning Glory (Calystegia sepium) is edible but I’m not convinced anyone is really eating it. Young dandelion is probably more palatable.

So, we tread cautiously and rationally into unknown territory, where be dragons. Here are some ideas:

  • Fruits adapted to colder or more maritime climates than is typical of most tree crops. Also, preferably, that do not require expensive and labor-intensive grafting.
  • Wild and semi-domesticated crops that are tough enough to grow more-or-less feral, but good enough to be practical for human tastes, as emergency backup food; this becomes more critical the more reliant you are on local food versus being able to buy imports
  • Herbs and spices that are not tropical
  • Long, strong plant-fibers that are not tropical
  • Long-season, non-bolting greens that are not tropical

Some projects not quite fitting any of those categories, but still relevant to localizing production, would include Tom’s high-protein potato project and my frost-resistant potato project.

“High protein” for a potato just means that it has something like 40% more protein than a typical potato; these aren’t soy. The thing is tho that they’re a lot easier to grow in usable quantities in a backyard than soy is. Potato protein also happens to be quite good quality; it’s the quantity that’s lacking, but only relative to the calories; on an acreage basis potatoes are quite generous as protein-makers. Eat them skin and all–the protein is all concentrated in the then waxy layer right under the skin.

The idea for a frost-resistant potato is to take advantage of the fact that potatoes are easy-to-grow and surprisingly adaptable to high latitudes despite their highland tropical origins, EXCEPT that unfortunately most of them have practically no frost tolerance in the foliage.

If a frost hits, the “seed potato” (as a dealer in true potato seeds, that expression is exasperating to me) might survive in the shelter of the earth, but the foliage gets nipped back–possible too much to recover from, or at least the potatoes will be set back (but potatoes are remarkably forgiving). For growing them in places like Alaska, Montana, Finland, and even Minnesota, it would be worthwhile to have potatoes whose foliage can survive at least a mild frost. Combining that with early tuberization needed for the shorter growing season would get you a potato that is more resistant to crop failure at high latitudes–which someday soon I think will be a matter of much higher stakes than it is at the moment with the possibility of bought imported crops as a backup. Just a small difference in frost tolerance and precocious tuberization makes a huge difference in crop reliability.

In order to implement the project, I would need to organize local people willing to make a commitment to contribute labor and resources to it in consideration of their share of the food produced. I would front the land and some inputs including some transportation to and from the farm.

I’m not sure that conditions exist to make it work. When economic times are good, this type of project is a hobby people dabble in, hence the anonymous project mentioned earlier. That’s what I don’t want to replicate; there is room for failed experiments but not for a total waste of precious time, money, and resources. When times are hard as they are just starting to become (sorry, the worst is yet to come), it’s every man for himself. I point out that if you can’t find full-time employment at “living wages” then you cut down your expenses by using your free time to produce some of your own goods, to cut down on what you need money to buy in the first place. I actually know a few brave but sensible people doing this.

For me, local food production is not an abstract or ideological concept; it’s a matter of practical necessity as global finance breaks down and production is going into decline in many key crops. Already a number of countries have had food riots because they became dependent on imports of cheap wheat. Now that wheat prices have more than doubled, and because food purchases were already a high ratio of typical family budgets, people are going hungry and going broke in these countries.

I know of at least 2 of the countries that have been hit by food riots that have plenty of capacity to not only grow more than enough food for their populations, there would be enough to export, but they don’t. Instead, they’re bogged down with lack of farmers, chronic capital depletion (they “eat their seed corn”) so they can’t just mechanize it, and corruption (loans for farm equipment, seed, and fertilizer end up paying for an unearned luxury lifestyle for the ruling class).

We have the same problems on some scale. We’re next. Is there enough time left to ramp up local production? What could we come up with successful local substitutes for?

What do you think?

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Last week Tom and I visited Corvallis Oregon.

While there we stopped in Albany, to visit the headquarters and retail shop of Nichols Garden Nursery.

One of the owners, Rose Marie, called while we were there, and when advised that Tom was at the shop, had a long chat with him. While they talked, I went out to the back to have a look at the gardens.

There are both herbs and vegetables back there.

The herbs are arranged into landscaping, while the vegetables are in beds. However I have seen elsewhere some very attractive landscapes done using artistically-arranged vegetables.

The strappy-leaved plant in the foreground is Zingiber myoga. I recognize it because I have some too. A hardy, vigorous relation of culinary Ginger, from Japan. The skeletal figure behind it belongs to a spent Angelica herb.

Speaking of which, while there I bought some seeds for Angelica archangelica, which I haven’t grown for years. My interest in it was rekindled by someone reminding me that in the old days, its cut petioles were often mixed with rhubarb pie at a ratio of 4 parts rhubarb to 1 part Angelica, to cut the amount of sugar needed. Angelica is naturally sweet, with a mild anise-like scent with musky overtones.

I also recall that the Scandinavian side of my ancestry used (candied?) Angelica in sweet breads. Apparently the leaves and roots are useful too. The leaves can be dried and brewed as a tisane (“herbal tea”), or used young and fresh in salads.

The seeds can be used as a spice, but Fennel which is a little stronger might work better for that purpose. I use Fennel seed and a little pearl sugar to make slightly sweet rolls. Fennel seed tastes quite sweet without containing any actual sugar; it’s a good way to cut down on the use of sugar.

I also bought some seeds for growing Agastache foeniculum, and Chenopodium nuttalliae, known by its Aztec name Huazontl.

Agastache foeniculum is probably the most modest of the Agastaches, but it’s still fairly attractive. It is probably one of the finest tisane herbs you could grow, with an enticing fragrance somewhere between mint and anise.

Huazontl is a member of Chenopodaceae, which has given us so many other fine vegetables such as beets and spinach. Huazontl is used for making vegetarian dishes during Lent.

I also bought a couple of plants: Yacon, also known as “Bolivian Sunroot”, and an herb I have wanted for a long time now, Vietnamese Mint, not to be confused with unrelated Persicaria odorata, which is not a mint and smells more like Coriander leaf. Yacon is a big leafy Dahlia-like plant, a member of the same family, Compositae, whose Dahila-like tuberous roots are naturally sweet. Vietnamese Mint’s claim to fame is its tender leaves which unlike the leaves of most mints are tender enough to eat as a salad-like fresh herb.

Next stop was Stalford Seed farm, where we met the owners, the Stalfords, and the manager, Gian Mercurio. Stalford Seed farm grows wheat, oats, beans, flax-seed, and a few other crops.

Before the tour, the Stalfords treated us to a supper whose key ingredients were grown on the farm. I liked the shortbread, which was made from whole soft white wheat. We also had a dish I’ve had on a number of farms, wheat-berry salad.

Cooked soft wheat-berries also work well wherever you want to give something a little character and chewiness. I’ve had them in yoghurt. I think they would also work in soup much as pearl barley is used.

Wheat is not as hard to grow and harvest as most people seem to imagine. It used to be grown on a more widespread basis than it is now, and families would take some of their grain to the miller to grind it, bring back the flour to home, then take their unbaked loaves to the baker. Now none of that local shared infrastructure exists anymore, though I suspect that if average homesteaders and farmers knew what to do with it, they could still make effective use of home-grown grains.

While we were eating, I met David, born in Buenos Aires and currently living in Eugene. He’s a vegan. There were plenty of hearty vegan dishes thanks to the wheat and the beans.

Before the tour, we listened to a little talk about the farm and some food security issues. Gian got my attention telling us that Portland has a 3-day food supply. Although some food is still grown in the Willamette Valley, as a case of globalization, most of it gets shipped out of the country, while Portland’s food gets shipped in.

Much of the Willamette Valley doesn’t grow food anymore; it grows lawn-grass. The farmers couldn’t make a decent living growing food, so they just gave up. There are a few food crops still grown, and Tom treated us to a pint of large, fairly good local blueberries we bought at a roadside stand.

I suspect Seattle has even more tenuous connections to its food supply: more people and fewer surrounding farms. Ours some distance southwest is one of the relatively few. Most of the farms in Western Washington are dairy-farms, which don’t produce as much food for a given amount of land as say grain and bean farms. Ours is a rare exception for growing crops not cows.

For some reason I forgot to shoot pictures of the wheat fields. They looked pretty good. The wheat was getting very dry and the heads were starting to curl as they are apt to when they’ve been dry for a while.

Yesterday, closer to home, we harvested our own wheat on a smaller scale. I’m going to be threshing my share for a while so I might not be posting as often as usual. Considering that our planting was experimental as we didn’t know what would work here, it was fairly successful. Most of our cereals survived and a few actually thrived, despite challenging growing conditions. Wheat is rare in Western Washington but it does occur. It’s mostly soft white winter wheat, but it’s possible to grow red and white hard wheats too, and it’s possible to get the protein levels to respectable levels if you fertilize them in the boot stage.

More about our wheat project soon.

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Tom Kleffman of Darwin’s Lair, 3 Daughter’s Farm fame really enjoys his food. Whenever he calls me to tell me what he made for supper, my reaction is always the same:

We should have met 25 years ago and opened up a bed and breakfast. Back when there was still money to be made.

Come to think of it, Tom Kleffman’s parents DO happen to run a B&B. But for Tom and I maybe a hunting lodge would be a better match–circa late 19th century, aristocratic patrons–because Tom’s specialty is using wild game, not to mention produce fresh out of his multiple gardens.

Whereas Rob still uses store-bought ingredients, but wishes he didn’t. Some day some of the fancier ingredients I use won’t be available in the future.

This recipe isn’t too bad, aside from sugar and vanilla. Vanilla has the interesting effect of complementing a wide variety of other flavors. I only use real vanilla, because I figure the orchids need the work.

I use fresh or frozen (uh oh, another unsustainable practice) black currants from my back yard. Black currants are tolerably easy to grow, especially in my climate where a lot of other fruits are hard to grow, but if you don’t happen to have any of your own, you can use store-bought dried black currants. I would dry my own currants for use when fresh is not available–most of the time–if I had a food drier (climate here does not lend itself to natural sun drying) and if I were not so spoiled by modern luxuries.

In some parts of the world, many people refer to Zante raisins as “black currants”. They’re not the same thing; Zante raisins are dried Black Corinth grapes; black currants are the fruit of Ribes nigrum. Black currants have a strong, unusual, distinctive flavor (except for the ones bred not to, which seems to defeat the purpose). They’re rare in the USA except as a home-grown fruit. More common in Canada, Scotland, Central Europe, and Scandinavia. People usually love them or hate them.

I should probably work out if there are any differences if using whole wheat pastry flour. I’ll have a supply of home-grown wholegrain pastry flour from our own cereal-producing ventures by next year. If you’re growing your own wheat, leave it whole and mill it on demand as needed; that will help prevent rancidity. If you THINK you don’t like whole wheat, you might be surprised to discover that fresh soft white whole wheat has a rather pleasant flavor; what most people don’t like about “whole wheat” is the slightly bitter (but to some tastes, not unpleasantly so) tannin in the bran of whole red wheat, and, much worse, the rancidity of whole wheat flour that has been sitting too long unprotected from oxygen.

Shopping list follows the recipe. I write recipes so that ingredients are organized in groups according to what you do with them.


Black Current Muffins

Makes 6. Double for a dozen.

1. Preheat oven to 400F / 200C

2. Stir together with a fork or small whisk:

  • 3/4 cup unbleached pastry flour
  • 1 TBSP soy powder (defatted soy flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 TBSP raw sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

3. Mix together with a whisk:

  • Contents of one 4-oz serving of unflavored, unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup cold-pressed canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4. Pour wet ingredients from step 3 into dry ingredients from step 2, and barely mix with a spoon.

5. Add 1/4 cup black currents, and stir until just mixed.

6. Evenly fill the cells of a 6 muffin stainless steel muffin-tin, that has been sprayed with non-stick spray, with the batter.

7. Sprinkle a bit of granulated WHITE sugar on top of the muffins, approximately 2 tsp total (NOT each).

8. Shake the muffin tin just a bit to even out the batter.

9. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven.

Serve with dried-blackberry-leaf tisane flavored with a drop of vanilla. This morning I fried some nitrate-free bacon for my kids. Sometimes I serve with some yoghurt:

Shopping list:

I did my best to find sources for everything you’ll need, if you don’t already have it. I’m not familiar with the brand of pastry flour, but one reviewer liked it. Seems I should have been able to find more choices; to me pastry flour is an everyday ingredient.

Click here to be taken to the complete shopping list (minus eggs) on Amazon.com. Look for the category “Black current muffin recipe shopping list”

Here are the separate items:

Unbleached white pastry flour

Soy powder (not the same brand or type that I use; this one is toasted and contains the soy oil–use it promptly to prevent rancidity)

Aluminum-free baking powder

Baking soda

Organic evaporated cane sugar

Fine grind natural sea salt

Natural applesauce in 3.9 oz individual containers Applesauce contains pectin, which is a useful ingredient for baking. I use it all the time and buy it in 4 oz packs which are typically about the amount you would use in a recipe.

Large eggs. You’d better buy those fresh and local.

Expeller Pressed Canola Oil (GMO Free)

Vanilla extract

I don’t like non-stick muffin “tins”; the non-stick coating is not durable. Not only does it come off (presumably in our food!), but the muffins stick all the worse once it is so much as scratched!

Lacking rigidity, silicone bake-ware is a hazard for spills. Also, it is hard to clean 100%, and a grimy buildup causes its non-stick properties to backfire badly.

The smart way to make muffin tins would be to mould a non-stick texture on the surface. Certain textures have the odd property of resisting sticking–like the bumpy-textured rice paddles do in Japan. Since such a thing seemingly does not exist for muffin tins, I suggest using stainless steel baking tins, with non-stick cooking spray.

These are the only stainless steel muffin tins I’ve ever been able to find:

Fox Run 6 cell Stainless Steel Muffin Pan

Fox Run 12-cell Stainless Steel Muffin Pan

You might think they’re a little more expensive than other tins–actually, they’re a screaming bargain, because their longevity is so much greater than either aluminum or non-stick. Before I bought these I was wasting time and money constantly replacing poor-quality pans. They’re a tad thin, and they’re the cheaper grade of stainless steel (a magnet will stick to them), but even so they seem surprisingly resistant to warping (steel is just a lot stronger than aluminum), and if treated respectfully they don’t scratch particularly easily.

Non-stick spray

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Our seeds and tubers are grown in multiple locations, mostly around Puget Sound in northwestern Washington State, but we have a farm down in the Chehalis River Valley on rich silty alluvial soil next to the Chehalis River.

Some of the acreage is on gravelly higher ground. We do grow some crops up there but not everything is adaptable to the drier, thinner soil. However, we do get lots of wildflowers, both native and naturalized. Since the property is not intensively used, there are plenty of scraps of land where they can grow undisturbed, especially now that it’s in relatively gentle hands.

This one is Leucanthemum vulgare, aka Oxeye Daisy. It’s not native but looks like it must be, being absolutely ubiquitous all over the Pacific Northwest, typically along roads.

Here’s another one common around the gravel pit dug by a previous owner:

Digitalis purpurea, aka “Foxgloves”. These are growing in a gravel put that a previous owner dug. Digitalis is the source of the drug of the same name, used to slow down the heart during surgery to keep patients from bleeding to death. So, while deadly poisonous, it’s also a life-saver.

Ever wonder why foxes wear gloves? They don’t; “fox” is corrupted from “folks”, as in the wee people of Ireland–fairies I think. I imagine that each flower is supposed to look like a wee mitten.

We’ve got other flowers too, including some natives. It seems as though the Wild Balsam (Impatiens capensis) must be native but reputedly it came from the eastern USA. Never heard of anyone actually cultivating it so; not sure how it got here.

“Wild Balsam” is the name of the farm.

One of these days I’ll look for some photos of it. It won’t be blooming again for a while yet. I’ve tried saving seeds and growing some but it seems resistant to domestication.

I get a few wild, presumably native Lupines on the farm but haven’t seen any lately.

One of the most beautiful local wildflowers is the Camassia. Not sure which species. Unfortunately, the uses to which previous owners put the farm doomed whatever specimens probably used to grow on the property itself, though they are a abundant around the drainage ditches along the roads just past the gates. Eventually I’ll get some re-established on the farm. I’ve got a few of another species I rescued from elsewhere, that I’ll set loose on the farm when I get the chance.

More pictures later.

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