Happy 2014 Fall Equinox!

I woke up this morning with a cool breeze coming through the window and a lingering smell of baked apples from last night’s dinner permeating the house.  Today is the Fall Equinox or Mabon on the pagan calendar, and it’s the start of my favorite time of year; I love the clear light, overflowing farmer’s markets and glorious sunrises.

It’s a good time to write down what worked well in your garden, enjoy bountiful fresh meals and prepare for the cold months ahead.

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Rose hips can still be collected to dry for tea.

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It’s time to repot and bring in houseplants.

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The chickens are still laying but production will start to decrease as the days get shorter.

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Hidden garden art is slowly emerging.

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Still ruling the roost.

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The tomatoes keep coming.

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Happy Fall from Leo the garden dog.

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Money plants can be harvested for winter decor.

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Nasturtiums blooming.

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Persephone preparing for her time in Hades.



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Jessica with one of the many squash grown on site.

Jessica Breznau is one of the most creative and quietly successful community organizers I’ve seen.  From launching the All Nations Soccer Cup, to running a women’s outdoor fitness program – Southside Booty Camp, to building a farming community – Southside Smallholding, she has an incredible track record for coming up with great ideas, drawing people to them then getting things done.

I had the opportunity to visit her today at her farmlet in south Seattle where she and five other people are raising 16 chickens, growing lots of delectable food and slowly but surely building a sustainable communal living environment.

Here’s our interview:

UFH – Where did you get your love of gardening and community?

“I grew up in Edmonds, graduated from Evergreen then moved to the south Beacon Hill Neighborhood.  I coordinated a P-Patch there and lived in a great little house for about five years. After renting there for a while I really wanted to own a place where I could build up the soil and create a sustainable space.  When this 1950’s house came up for sale 9 years ago in the Dunlap neighborhood I bought it, then added the house next door about three years ago.  I’ve never had to commute and I like living really local.”

UFH – What do you like best about being here?

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Working on the Victory Market project.

“I was raised by my parents to be community oriented and I like sharing daily life with other people.  It’s wonderful to see things slowly coming together here; initially people in the neighborhood weren’t all that interested in interacting with each other but now there are little moments of connection and the block feels safer and friendly. This year we had a great block party that was organized by the neighbors.  We had good food, music, craft and things for kids to do.  People were dancing together in the street.

In addition to the community part, for me gardening is a meditation and I love the daily practice of watching things grow.

UFH – I saw you’ve been working with the Victory Market corner store.  How is that going?

“It’s a good project.  A group of us got together and we landscaped the area right around the market and added a community bulletin board.  I got a small grant from the city but what worked out great was actually going to the big places on marginal way that have sand and gravel and just asking if they’d be willing to donate some.  It’s been great; one guy gave us sand, gravel and came out and helped some with the work. It’s good to have a focal place in the neighborhood and I look forward to seeing where it all goes.”

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Farm dog Bondo

UFH – What’s your biggest challenge?

I think communication has been the toughest thing.  This area has people from all over the world and just reaching out via social media doesn’t work.  You need to be very persistent and go door to door.”

UFH – What’s next?

“In terms of the property we are looking to add more committed folks soon.  The ideal would be to have individuals that are focused on different skill areas like cooking, building, growing and so on that would like to put roots down for awhile.  We are also really having a great time working on the tree house.”

UFH – How can people contact you if they’re interested in Southside Smallholding?

“If people are interested in living in an intentional way they can email me at breznauj@gmail.com.  It’s good to have people come over and so that we can work together to see if this is really what they want to be doing.”

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Back porch added on this summer just in time to watch the World Cup matches.

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Fresh eggs

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Bees from the Urban Bee Company.

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A future stage area.

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Always things to be done.

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A tree house is being built here with donated labor and materials.

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Outdoor reading area

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Yes, it’s a watermelon in Seattle.

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Strawberries are still being picked.

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From a recent event.

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One of several inviting outdoor living areas.

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Front yard of the Green House.

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Posters from some of the All Nations Cup.

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Sweet figs are still ripening.


2014 Washington State Fair

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Camel ride anyone?

“Those pumpkins are going to invade Puyallup” said a small boy looking in awe at a pair of Atlantic Giant Pumpkins on display in the Agriculture building at this year’s Washington State Fair.  I had to agree that he had a point; they were huge and had the misshapen look of something about to morph and get hungry.

In addition to large vegetables, this year’s fair has its share of scones, Krusty Pups, cute piglets, rides that make one howl, super clean cows, goats and of course, bunnies to make the toughest person melt.

What’s at the fair for the urban ag enthusiast?

If you’re thinking about getting rabbits, chickens or goats this is a good chance to ask experts what breeds they think are best for a city lot.  Whether it’s a long time farmer or a 4H member people serious enough to show their animals at the fair really know their stuff.

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Scones and rides.

One of my favorite things to look at is the Home Arts pavilion.  In this area they have gorgeous quilts, winning baked goods, jams and jellies, knit items and lots of craft and cooking demos.  Here too there are often experts on hand to talk about their favorite recipes and tips.  (This pavilion can be a bit hard to find; it’s located on the second floor of the Arts Pavilion near the Blue Gate entrance.)

The last area I like to visit for urban ag related things are the shopping pavilions.  These used to have more ag items but this year there seemed to be an over abundance of jewelry, hand creams and the amazing machines that slice, dice and yes, do julienne fries.

This year’s fair runs through September 21st.


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A very clean dairy cow.

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Home Arts area

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This was my favorite quilt this year.

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Award winning preserved foods

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I like this idea of just having knitting out for passers by

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Adorable goats

Let’s Get Hoppy

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Almost ripe!

What to do with those hop cones ripening on your vine?  Making beer is the first thing that comes to people’s minds as this plant is what gives brews their distinctive bitter flavor but there’s a lot more you can do!

What exactly is hops?

  • Hops are hardy perennials that can grow up to 26 feet in a season.
  • The name hop comes from the Anglo-Saxon hoppan, to climb.
  • Female hops (Humulus lupulus) bear cone shaped flowers, also called strobiles.  When ready to harvest these are yellowish green, papery to the touch and have a strong smell.  Pick the cones and dry them until they snap when bent in half and shatter.  For storage put them into freezer bags and freeze until used.
  • The bittering agent in the cones is called lupulin.
  • Hops grows best at 38 to 51 degrees latitude which is why 75% of the crop is grown in eastern Washington.

Be careful where you situate this plant.  I happily planted my variegated variety to tastefully cover an archway only to discover that contact with the trailing branches makes me itch like crazy. In addition to climbing high, the roots go very deep so make sure that wherever you plant it you want it to stay because eradicating it can be very difficult – from a now wary hops planter.

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Drying for pillow making.

How to Use Hops

  • The most common use today is in brewing beer where the cones impart a bitter flavor and potentially inhibit the growth of undesired yeast during brewing.
  • The young shoots can be eaten like asparagus in the spring.  (This can also be a good way to keep this rambunctious plant under control in a small garden.)
  • The leaves and flowers can be used to make a delicate light brown dye.
  • A pillow made of the dried cones is said to promote sleep.
  • A tincture of the cones is used in herbal medicine to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.  (As dosage can vary depending on growing conditions only take hops internally when prescribed and prepared by someone who is well versed in their use.)

How do you use this versatile plant?  I would love to hear!


Over the years people have asked me where I get the images used in Urban Farm Hub posts.  Unless it’s a guest writer I take pretty much all the pictures used.

My favorite camera to use is my iPhone.  “The best camera is the one you have with yScreen Shot 2014 09 11 at 8.31.47 PM 150x150 Great Apps for Better iPhone Photosou” goes the saying and given the difference in bulk and weight between my DSLR and my phone there’s little question what I’ve got with me.

You can take great pictures with the camera that comes with the phone or I like to use the Camera+ app.  With this app you can freeze the exposure or the focus and adjust the exposure and white balance.  I like some of the post editing tools that come with it; especially the “clarity pro” for water reflection shots.  I also find the straightening tool easy to use.

Screen Shot 2014 09 11 at 8.38.28 PM 150x150 Great Apps for Better iPhone PhotosIf you want to take long exposure shots of running water, lights etc..  The app I like to use is Long Expo Pro.  You do need a tripod and enough light to get good shots but when the conditions are right you can get some nice pictures.  I also like to use my iPod headphones with the built in volume control as an external shutter release to get as little camera movement as possible.

Here is a picture taken with this app on a moderately sunny day around 3 pm.

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James Creek, Mt. Rainier

Screen Shot 2014 09 11 at 8.50.12 PM 150x150 Great Apps for Better iPhone PhotosFor post editing there are lots of great apps to choose from depending on what you want to do.  My favorite general app is SnapSeed.  With this you can crop, adjust exposure, increase ambient light, change contrast, change to black and white and even zoom in on sections to selectively lighten or darken them, (this is good for faces).  There’s also a fun selection called “dramatic” that really makes your photo jump out at you.

Almost all pictures benefit from a little cropping and adjusting.  Sometimes you hit it just right but often, as in the case with the birds in this shot, you are grabbing a picture quickly before it changes.

Here’s a progression of edits:

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This is the initial shot. I liked the birds but not all the clutter in front of the building.  It is also overexposed and needs some sharpening.

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Here is the final image I wound up using. I increased the exposure, cropped the image and decreased the brightness.

My kids tell me that pulling out selective colors in pictures is sort of cheesy but I like the effect in some shots.  The app I use for this is ColorSplash.  I liked this picture taken in Amish country but it looked a bit boring to me.  Using this app made it quite a bit more eye catching.

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Original image

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Edited with ColorSplash

Screen Shot 2014 09 11 at 9.14.27 PM 150x150 Great Apps for Better iPhone PhotosBigLens can be a bit labor intensive but if you want to give the effect of having a short depth of field, (in focus object with blurred background) it’s a good one to use.  It’s especially nice with people shots.

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Here’s the initial shot with both subjects in focus.

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Here is the shot with the background blurred just enough to draw attention to the subject in the foreground.

Screen Shot 2014 09 11 at 9.21.33 PM 150x150 Great Apps for Better iPhone PhotosThe last app I frequently use is called TouchRetouch.  This one lets you take things out of a photo that you don’t want in.  It does have its limitations though; if you try and take out too much it can replace your unwanted object with a weird collage from who knows where.

There are many more apps out there and more being developed every day.  I’d love to hear about any that you like to use and will feature them in future updates to this post.  Happy picture taking!




21 Acres

This week I visited the 21 Acres Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living in Woodinville, Washington.  This farm is a nonprofit learning center and living laboratory that focuses on organic agriculture, sustainable living and green building technologies.

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This way!

I started my tour with a visit to the farmer’s market. “Working here I’m beginning to understand what it actually takes to grow food.  It’s a really humbling experience. I know all the farmers that sell here.  I know their stories and their families; having talked with someone who grew the food I am eating and selling makes me look at it in a different, more respectful way” said Liesl McWhorter, a 21 Acres employee working at the on-site market.

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Liesle McWhorter and Meghan Tenhoff at the 21 Acre market.

Even if the last thing you need in this season of bounty is more produce, a visit to the market is well worth it.  There is information on where the products come from, who has grown them, recipes and how to cook things like dried beans.  “I like working here because I enjoy inspiring people to try new foods and cooking familiar things in different ways” said employee Meghan Tenhoff as she bit into a sweet lemony cucumber freshly dipped in a new brand of hummus.

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Greens as art.

Stretching back from the main green building are the growing fields, an area for veterans to farm, a gorgeous P-patch, animal pens and teaching areas.  Everything is well marked and there are educational signs that explain things like worm bins and composting.

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Self-guided farm tours are available. While I was there a school was visiting.

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The Veteran Half-Acre provides a place for veterans to grow food, get together and learn.

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Here’s one of the growing fields ready for fall planting.

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Goats and chickens are on site.

On the edge of the farm is a P-patch filled with flowers, vegetables and good ideas you can use in your garden for trellising and maximizing space.  I asked a gardener what she liked about having a plot. “I like getting my hands in the dirt, growing great food, learning from others and best of all on a clear day there’s a glorious view of Mt. Rainier” she said pointing towards the horizon.

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The flowers are amazing right now. One gardener offered me a bouquet of dazzling dahlias.

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Happy bees.

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Succulent grapes.

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Garden whimsy and fresh beans.

If the fresh food, beautiful gardens and friendly staff leave you wanting to learn more there are many classes that are available on cooking, composting, food preserving, green living and of course, gardening.

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Looking forward to future visits.










Making Fruit Wines

We are just finishing the last bottles of our plum wine from two years ago and buoyed by our delectably intoxicating success are trying it again with this year’s large plum and grape harvest.

I think we got pretty lucky the first time so this year I am doing more testing and measuring.  Here is a list of basic supplies for making wine.  You can get these from local shops or on-line.  The nice thing about shopping locally is you can ask questions and make sure you are really getting the right sized tubing and so on.

  • Fruit – it’s ok to use fruit that isn’t appetizing to eat out of hand but it shouldn’t be rotten or too infested with insects.
  • Large container for initial fermentation – I am using a huge canning pot and a dairy pail.  The mixture expands as it ferments so make sure you have room or you’ll have a mess to clean up when it overflows.
  • Carbuoy – this is a large glass or plastic container for fermentation.
  • Airlock and stopper – this goes on top of the carbuoy and lets fermenting gas escape but doesn’t let air in to contaminate your mixture.
  • Sugar – most recipes call for added sugar.  This turns into alcohol as it ferments.
  • Cleaning solution – it’s important to clean all your bottles and equipment.  You can buy a powder that is mixed in water and doesn’t need to be completely rinsed off.
  • Campden tablets - these are crushed and put in the initial mixture to kill off bacteria and wild yeast.
  • Wine yeast – this is the good yeast that you add in to ferment your fruit.
  • Acid blend – you will need to adjust the acid level of your mixture and often add in a bit more acid.
  • Hydrometer – this is to measure the specific gravity of your mixture and while I found it a bit intimidating at first, it’s actually very easy to use once you do it a couple of times.
  • pH test strips or acid titration kit – I started off trying to use pH strips and found them quite hard to interpret.  They come in different ranges and the range you want for wine is a pH level of 3.4 to 3.8.  I would get strips that focus on this range.  These strips are pretty cheap so if you are on a budget they might be the way to go.  An acid titration kit is the next step up; mine cost about 10 dollars.  If you are really going to do a ton of wine or beer making then investing in a pH meter may be a good way to go.
  • Tubing and siphon – you will need to transfer your mixture or “must” from one container to the next several times.  Using a plunger siphon and tubing makes the job much easier than trying to pour from one container to the other.  You can also leave sediment behind with this method.

Gather your supplies before you get your fruit.  Things move along quickly and not having what you need when you need it is frustrating.  All set?  Here we go!

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First wash, then pit and mash up your fruit.

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Add crushed campden tablets to the mixture. Wait 24 hours before adding yeast.

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Test your mixture for specific gravity. You want a reading between 1.080 and 1.095. If it’s below 1.080 you will need to add sugar, if it’s above 1.095 add water unless you want a very sweet and alcoholic wine.

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Test for acidity. If you use pH strips they should be between 3.4 and 3.8.

Here is how to test for acidity using a titration kit:

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First draw up 15ml of wine and put it in a clear cup. Put the cup on a white piece of paper.

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Add four drops of Phenolophthalein indicator. (This stuff is poisonous so make sure not to get it near any food or drink and dump out your test sample when done.)

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Draw up 10ml sodium hydroxide. Drop 1ml into wine solution and swirl. Do this until the solution stays pink. The number of ml equals the acidity level. The level wanted for wine is about 0.70 percent.

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This has just turned pink with the last addition.  My mixture was too acidic so I added a sugar water solution until I got the right balance.

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With some fruit wines you strain out the fruit right away and with others you leave it in during the initial fermentation. This is white grape and it is one that does get strained. When the specific gravity and acid balance is correct add your yeast.

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Cover your yeasty “must”. After 48 hours stir twice a day with a sterilized spoon.

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On the third day start checking the specific gravity. When it has dropped to 1.030 strain out the fruit and transfer to a carbuoy.

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Today is day six and the specific gravity has dropped. Tomorrow I will check again and it’s racking time!

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Keeping out unwanted yeast and bacteria at this stage is helpful. To do this be sure to clean all your equipment well. I like using this One Step cleaner.

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Ok! The specific gravity of 1.030 has been reached and it’s time to drain or “rack” the wine into a carbuoy for primary fermenting. Using a siphon pump to get things going is really helpful.

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Once the wine has been racked, top the carbuoy with an airlock and stopper. Fill the airlock with some of your sanitizing solution so gas can escape from your wine but air can’t get in.

In one week rack the wine into a freshly disinfected carbuoy.  Now it’s time to be patient and wait 6 weeks before racking again.  At this stage you can add one Campden tablet per gallon.  Rack again at 3 months then again at six months.  Bottling will take place between 7 to 12 months.  Wine then needs to age for 1 to 5 years.  Some wine tastes good early and some is much, much better after being aged.  I will update this post as racking is repeated and will let you know how it goes!




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Shelled acorns. Most are good but some have bad spots that need to be cut out.

Even the acorns are ripening early this year.  It takes some work to harvest and process these seeds but they are worth it.

So how do you get the good ones?  You are looking for nuts that aren’t super bitter, don’t have a lot of worm holes in them and are a light color without cracks.  You can also float them in water and the good ones should sink.  Do be absolutely sure that the tree has not been sprayed with any pesticides.  Oaks can be sprayed with long acting chemicals to reduce aphids; when in doubt ask!

What makes acorns bitter is tannic acid and some varieties have more than others.  If you want to use the acorns as a mordant for wool or for dying then the really bitter ones are perfect.  If you are looking to eat them then taste test until you find a milder variety.  In the white oak family, the Live Oak’s, (Quercus virginiana), acorns are among the mildest one can collect.

white oak Acorns!

Pick the acorns when they are brown.

Some linguistic fun:   The English word “oak” is some 1,260 years old. In German it was “eih” ending up “eiche” The Dutch extended it to “eychen” or ” eychenboom.”

Acorns are quite nutritious. The nutritional breakdown of acorns is 50.4% carbohydrates, 34.7% water, 4.7% fat, 4.4.% protein, 4.2% fiber, 1.6% ash. A pound of shelled acorns provide 1,265 calories, a 100 grams (3.5 ounces) has 500 calories and 30 grams of oil.

To rid the acorns of tannic acid Native Americans would put them in baskets in streams.  My version is to put them in a pillow case in the top part of the toilet tank.  It sounds gross but the water in the tank is clean. It can stain the bowl a bit but hey, it’s the only running water I have.  After a week in the tank you can put them in a 350 degree oven and roast them for an hour.  Once they are dried out I grind them to flour in a food processor then ziplock them and put them in the freezer to be added to foods later.

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Roasted, leached acorns

Here are some recipes:

Apache acorn cakes:

  • 1 cup acorn meal, ground fine
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ¼ cup honey
  • pinch of salt

Mix together and fry on a greased griddle until done.

Acorn Stew

  • 1 lb stewing beef
  • 1/2 C finely ground acorn meal (tannin removed)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place beef in heavy pan and add water to cover. Cover with lid and simmer until very tender. Return meat to the liquid. Stir in the acorn meal. Heat until thickened and serve.

Revisiting Elaine Corets

Elaine’s yard is glorious!  Every inch is bursting with unusual herbs, vegetables, flowers, fruit and juicy, succulent tomatoes.  Back in March when I first visited it was all carefully placed beds and dreams; look below to see how those dreams have come true.

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Elaine in her element.

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Leeks nestle in with variegated nasturtiums.

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She has made great use of corners, deck railing, walls and fences to trellis up squash and other climbing plants.

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This is truly a great tomato year.

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To protect apples from pest like coddling moth Elaine puts footies around each fruit.

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Brilliant dahlias are sprinkled around the garden.

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The backyard.

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These banana peppers have been bred by a neighbor to thrive in the area.

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Flowers add color and attract bees for pollination.

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Some of the flowers, like this borage and camomile, are edible.

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Sun tea made with lemon verbena is brewing on the back porch.

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Elaine makes great things like infused vodka with quince and here is a new addition to her yard.

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To preserve the bounty she cans and dries much of what she grows. Quince paste and dried figs are some of her favorites.


Herbal Caramels

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Fennel seeds for a new taste.

I am working on a thesis for my public health degree and when my mind wanders it goes towards luscious sweet things.  I have been experimenting with herbal caramels for a while and they are delicious.  You can use almost any herb such as rosemary, thyme or lavender.  Today I tried using green fennel seeds and the buttery sweet licorice result is delectable.

You can add herbal flavor either by infusing or by sprinkling the setting pan with dried seeds or dried leaves.  To infuse, melt the butter in the cream, put in the herb, remove from heat and let sit for 50 minutes.  Take out the herb and the resulting mixture will have a lovely herbal flavor.  (The easiest way to do this is to drop a whole sprig in.  If you just have dried herbs then place in a small square of cheesecloth before steeping for easy removal.)
To sprinkle, wait until the caramel begins to set then add the seeds on top so they just sink in to the top layer.  This is really gilding the lily but I like to sprinkle a small amount of sea salt on top as well.  (If you like chunky bits in your candies try the sprinkle route if you really like the smooth creaminess of caramels then I’d go the infusion route.)
Here is the recipe I like to use:
Herbal Caramels

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, (one stick)
1/2 cup evaporated or regular milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Your favorite herbs


Grease a 9 inch square pan.
Put all the ingredients but the vanilla in a heavy bottomed pan and heat until mixture comes to a boil and the butter melts. 
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Put all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan. The mixture will boil up as it heats so make sure the pan is big enough.

Keep cooking, 25-30 minutes or until a thermometer reaches 244°.  If you don’t have a thermometer you can drop a small amount into ice water and when it forms a soft ball it’s ready.

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Butter is just beginning to melt.

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Almost there! It takes 20 to 25 minutes to reach 244 and the last few degrees can rise quickly.

Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and pour into your buttered pan.  Once cooled slightly add herbs on top.

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Fennel seeds and salt.

When cool, cut into squares and wrap in waxed paper.  These keep best in the fridge.

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These are wrapped in parchment paper but waxed paper works better.