Food Adventures with Connie

Peach Leaf Curl

We are seeing quite a bit of peach leaf curl in Southeast Nebraska.  Peach leaf curl is caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans.  This fungal disease is one of the most common diseases in the home orchard and can affect the blossoms, fruit, leaves, and shoots of peaches and nectarines.  (Cherries have a similar leaf curl diseases caused by T. cerasi.)  Peach leaf curl is more severe following cool, wet springs; temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees F are ideal for infection.

peach-leaf-curl

The primary symptom is a thickened, puckered area on leaves which will turn yellow to red or purple with the loss of chlorophyll.  These leaves may prematurely drop, weakening the tree and making it more susceptible to other diseases, pests, and cold injury. The disease can also result in reduced fruit set, size, and quality.

A single fungicide spray applied while trees are still dormant (just prior to bud swell), thoroughly covering all branches, shoots, and buds will control peach leaf curl.  Effective controls include Bravo, Ziram, and copper compounds.  See the Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide for details.

At this time of year, most infection has already occurred, and fungicide sprays are relatively ineffective.  Fruit on defoliated trees should be thinned to reduce stress and improve tree survival.

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Best 5 Apps Discovered at NETA

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Nebraska Educational Technology Association (NETA) Spring Conference in Omaha.  Although I’m not a K-12 teacher, librarian, or administrator I’m glad I followed a coworker’s recommendation to join the association and attend.  As a Nebraska Extension Educator, one of the immediate benefits I found was learning about cheap or free, easy-to-use apps that I can immediately put to use in my programming to grab the attention of youth and adults on the web, increase audience engagement at face-to-face events, and ultimately better serve my clientele. Here are the best five apps I discovered at NETA last week and how I plan to use them in my online programming.

best-5-apps-discovered-at-NETA-header

1 – Flipgrid

flipgrid-in-app-store

I learned about Flipgrid from Holly Clark in her presentation Checks for Understanding.  You can pose a question or discussion prompt and have students respond with a short video.  Talk about engagement!  And students can use other apps and filters on their devices to really show their personalities.

Now how can I use this platform?

One of Holly’s examples was a school that uses Flipgrid for teachers to introduce themselves at the beginning of the school year (Spring Lake Park, Back to School 2016). This would be great for parents that can’t make it to the school’s open house in the fall. In Extension we could use it to have the educators and assistants in each office or district introduce themselves and talk about their programs, where they’re located, and what topics to call them about.  We could provide a link on our websites so clientele could get to know us and perhaps help them decide who they want to have come talk to their community or garden group.

I already interview fruit and vegetable producers for my blog. In the future, as part of those interviews, perhaps I could get them to record a short intro about who they are, where they are located, what they grow, how to find them online, etc. Then we could create a grid of local food producers that customers and students can use to get to know them, identify internship and mentorship opportunities, etc.

For future conferences, we could have key speakers record a brief description of who they are and what topic they’ll be covering that can be used to help promote the conference and their individual sessions.

The possibilities are endless.  As Holly cautioned though, you only get one grid for free and after that you have to pay.  So if I decide to run with all these ideas I would need to pay.

2 – Animoto

animoto-in-app-storeHave you ever tried to make a slideshow to share highlights of an event?  If so, were you happy with the results?  Last fall I wasted most of a perfectly good day trying to make a slideshow about county fair, trying several apps that I still can’t get to stop popping up on my screen and sending me spam, only to settle on creating it in YouTube (4-H Grows in Cass County slideshow) which just didn’t allow me the freedom to make it as “pretty” as I wanted.  I don’t know how else to say it other than I knew there had to be a better way.

Enter Animoto.  Andrew Easton introduced me to this app in his presentation App-Smashingly Great Instructional Videos.  Not only did he introduce it but he gave us time to try it for ourselves (check out my three-photo slideshow of my daughter playing softball).  This app was very intuitive and easy to use, so now you will be seeing more slideshows from me (and I will actually feel good about them).

3 – Adobe Spark Post

adobe-spark-post-in-app-storeWe see infographics everywhere.  A quick Internet search of “why infographics” will give you list after list of why they are so effective.  I have listened to my Nebraska Extension colleagues expound on why infographics are so great and which apps they use to make theirs.  I’ve tried.  I have.  But I just didn’t like the feel of any of the apps other people swear by.

Well no more.  Shaelynn Farnsworth gave a whole NETA presentation titled May the Infographic Be With You about having elementary school kids create infographics to demonstrate their learning.  That’s right, I need an app so simple that kids can figure it out.  Shaelynn provided some simple infographic rules to follow and then turned us loose to practice using Adobe Spark Post to create a one-fact infographic. Here’s what I came up with in less than five minutes.  I can do this!

one-fact-apple-infographic

4 – iMovie

iMovie-in-app-storeMy iPhone came with iMovie on it and I had honestly just never taken the time to play with it until Michelle Cordy showed us all the ways she uses it with the kids in her classroom during her presentation Create & Capture Learning-iMovie on the iPad.  I wish I’d had teachers with out-of-the-box thinking like her when I was in elementary school!  Anyway, iMovie is an easy to use app that as I said, comes standard on new iOS devices.  With it you can record and edit short video clips.  I don’t feel like I need to go into much detail because unlike me, you probably already know all about iMovie, but if you don’t, check it out.  Michelle also showed us how easy it is to use GarageBand to create a custom soundtrack for your videos, which is really cool, but I’m not quite there yet.

How-to videos are an obvious use of this app for Extension: how to collect a soil sample, how to identify and control pests and diseases…the list goes on and on.  What I like about this app is the control it gives me over my final product and again, easy enough that kids can use it, so there’s really no excuse not to make more videos to help share fruit and vegetable production recommendations with the masses.

5 – ChatterPix

ChatterPix-in-app-storeThis is another gem from Andrew Easton.  With ChatterPix you take a photo of any object, draw a line on it for a mouth, and then record yourself speaking.  As you talk, the mouth will move.  I’ve played with this app and think it would be a lot of fun, especially for projects aimed at kids, but I don’t have a finished project to share with you yet.

Some ways I’ve thought about using this app are to have different fruits and vegetables introduce themselves and where they like to grow, to have agricultural tools describe what they’re used for and any safety precautions you should take around them, or have the different farm animals share interesting facts about themselves.

Bonus app: Tiny Scanner

tiny-scanner-in-app-storeI don’t know about you, but I regularly have to sign paperwork, scan and email it back to the sender.  I also sometimes have something in hard copy that I need to be able to save or share electronically.  Yes, my office has a copier that can scan (to email, thumb drive, or X drive it’s so fancy) and my printer at home has a scanner, but it’s all the way in the basement and I have to step around boxes and “stuff” to get to it (I know, poor me).  Well, now I have a scanner on the phone in my pocket.  Just take a picture (it automatically crops out the area outside the paper’s edge), adjust it to be lighter or darker, black and white or in color, and then email it or save to your camera roll.

tiny-scanner-demo

How cool is that?

What would you add to this list?  Leave a comment explaining what your favorite app does and how it could be used to serve Extension clientele.

Note: the above screenshots are from an iPhone; FlipGrid, Animoto, and Tiny Scanner are also available for Android devices.

The Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of Soil Sampling for Home Fruit and Vegetable Production

Whether establishing a new garden or orchard or managing an existing planting, submitting a soil sample for analysis is an important step in sustainable food production.  The results you obtain from this test will let you know if your soil has an appropriate pH for the crop you want to grow and offer recommendations of amendments necessary for optimal plant growth; they will also let you know if you can cut back on your fertilizer applications which will save you money and may result in greater yield.

handful-of-garden-soil

Who?

Anyone growing fruits or vegetables should collect and submit a soil sample for testing every three to five years, more often if changing production systems or trying to identify the cause of poor plant growth and production.

What?

A soil sample is a composite mixture of multiple sub-samples (10 to 15 should be sufficient for most home plantings).  If your planting contains more than one soil type (different texture, color, drainage, etc.), then you should collect a separate sample of each.

Where?

Sub-samples should be collected randomly across the production area, to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.  In perennial tree and vine crops you may want to collect a second sample as deep as 24 inches if you suspect severe subsoil problems; the root systems of these plants may extend 36 inches or more into the soil.  Keep in mind however that amendments primarily affect just the upper soil layer; nutrients like phosphorus and potassium and amendments for adjusting pH like lime are not very mobile in the soil.  Incorporating these amendments deeper in the soil is not an option for perennial plants because you want to avoid damaging their root systems.

When?

A soil sample can be taken any time the soil is not frozen.  It is best to submit samples in the fall or early spring so you have time to apply any necessary amendments before or early in the next growing season.  Soil test values will vary by season; you will want to collect samples in subsequent years during the same season so results and recommendations can be compared.

For best results, collect samples when the soil is relatively dry rather than after a rain event or irrigation.

Why?

Soil pH and nutrient content have a direct effect on the health and productivity of fruit and vegetable plants.  Submitting soil samples for testing will provide you with recommendations for amendments that can improve your soil quality.

Your results may indicate that you have been applying too much of certain nutrients.  For example, excessive nitrogen in the soil will cause your plants to become excessively vegetative (lush green growth) with a negative effect on fruit yield and quality.  Knowing this will allow you to reduce your fertilizer inputs, and therefore your annual input costs.

How?

soil-probes

Three different soil probes capable of sampling to a depth of 8 inches.

Use a soil probe, auger, spade, or shovel to collect sub-samples from 10 to 15 points across your production area.  Make sure you sample from where the plant root systems are or will be (rather than from walkways, for example).  Mix the sub-samples together in a clean plastic bucket, removing any large stones, vegetation, or other foreign material.  You’ll need about two cups of soil to fill the lab-provided sample container.

soil-auger-peach

Soil sampling in a peach planting using an auger. Samples should be collected where the plant’s roots are located, here at the peach tree’s dripline.

Several labs in Nebraska offer soil testing.  Midwest Laboratories in Omaha and AgSource in Lincoln are two options.  Their websites contain information about requesting a soil sample test kit, which parameters they test for, and when you can expect to receive your results.  The test will cost approximately $25 per sample.

Next Steps

Your soil test results will contain recommendations for soil amendments based on the garden or orchard crops you indicate on the sample submission form.  If you have questions about interpreting your test results or which soil amendments will best meet the needs of your site and production system, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.

Most fruit and vegetable plants prefer an acidic soil pH.  If your test results indicate that the soil’s pH is too high, elemental sulfur can be used to lower it.  Just keep in mind that Nebraska’s clay soils have a high buffering capacity which means that their pH will immediately begin to rise after you add sulfur.  To maintain the desired pH you may need to add sulfur every year or two.

For more information about managing soil and nutrients for vegetable production check out UNL’s Fertilizers for Vegetables in Home Gardens. The Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide is an excellent source of information about fruit production, including recommended fertilizer rates.

Handful of garden soil photo via Jing, https://pixabay.com/en/soil-hand-farm-garden-fertilizer-766281/, CC0 Public Domain.

Kohlrabi

Growing up in a rural Central Oregon community, I never saw kohlrabi until I moved to the valley for college.  And then it looked so foreign to me that I wasn’t brave enough to try it.  Fast forward to me as an adult, regularly receiving kohlrabi in my CSA shares and now that I know what it is and how versatile it is, I enjoy experimenting with kohlrabi in different hot and cold dishes.

kohlrabi-in-the-produce-aisle

Kohlrabi is one of the Brassica oleracea in the family Brassicaceae, or cruciferous vegetables.  Usually a plant gets its own species name but B. oleracea includes such diverse vegetables as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale as well as kohlrabi.  So in order to specify that we’re talking about kohlrabi we add var. gongylodes to make it Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes.

As shown in the image at https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/3395076/brassica-oleracea.0.jpg, the kohlrabi variation of Brassica oleracea was selected for its stem.

As with other cruciferous vegetables, kohlrabi is low in calories, high in vitamin C, and a good source of dietary fiber.  Eating cruciferous vegetables several times per week has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers such as colon and rectal cancer (Source: Have You Tried Kohlrabi?).  For more information about the relationship between consumption of cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk, check out Cruciferous Vegetables from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Knowing how cruciferous vegetables are complemented by cheddar cheese I wanted to make a sort of kohlrabi and cheddar casserole, like scalloped potatoes but with kohlrabi instead of potatoes and chicken broth instead of cream.  Here’s what I came up with.

Kohlrabi Gratin

Ingredients:

  • 3 kohlrabi (after peeling and slicing I had 1.629 pounds, about 4 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ½ cups chicken broth
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (for sauce)
  • ½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (for topping)
  • Paprika

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a saucepan, sauté onions and garlic in butter until soft.  Stir in flour and cook for one minute.  Add broth, salt, and cayenne pepper and cook on medium heat until smooth, stirring often.  Stir in one cup shredded cheddar cheese and cook until melted.  Remove from heat.

In an eight by eleven inch baking dish, layer half of the kohlrabi slices, half the cheese sauce, the other half of the kohlrabi slices, and the last of the cheese sauce.  Top with the half cup of shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkle with paprika.

kohlrabi-gratin-before-baking

Bake uncovered for one hour or until easy to pierce with a fork.  Serve warm.

kohlrabi-gratin-after-baking

plated-kohlrabi-gratin

Look at all that cheesy goodness!

In the Garden

As with many of the other cruciferous vegetables, kohlrabi is a cool season crop that grows best at temperatures below 75°F.  It can be grown from seeds or transplants and planting in succession is recommended so it isn’t all ready to harvest at the same time (it’s delicious, but there’s only so much you can eat at a time and it only stores for a few weeks under refrigeration).

For more information about growing kohlrabi, check out these Extension resources.  For best results, go by recommendations from a state with similar soils and climate to your own.

Sources:

Henneman, A. Have You Tried Kohlrabi – University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Higdon, J.  Cruciferous Vegetables.  Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute.  2005.  Accessed 20 Feb 2017.

Stromberg, J. Kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage are all varieties of a single magical plant species.  Vox.  10 Feb 2015.  Accessed 20 Feb 2017.

9 Reasons to Bake Rather Than Buy

I was asked to speak to a 4-H club today on reasons you might want to bake from-scratch items at home rather than buy baked goods from a store.  It was fun to think about all the reasons I bake, so I decided I’d also share my list with you.

  1. Special Dietary Needs

Do you have a loved one who has diabetes, high blood pressure, or other health conditions that come with dietary restrictions?  If so, you can find delicious recipes that limit the amount of salt or sugar or make use of artificial sweeteners so they can still enjoy baked goods.  You can also often reduce fat content in baked goods by swapping out the butter or oil for applesauce or by using reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products in place of regular versions.

Americans commonly have low dietary fiber intakes.  You can increase the dietary fiber content of your baked goods by looking for recipes that call for whole wheat flour, rolled oats, wheat bran, or wheat germ.  In general you can substitute whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour called for in a recipe.

Picky eaters in your house?  Thankfully my kids like fruits and vegetables, but for those that don’t you can sneak fruit and vegetable purees and dried fruits into a variety of baked goods.

  1. Food Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities

Last week I attended a meeting where we were encouraged to bring a snack to share and were given a list of foods that people in the group were allergic to and therefore needed to be avoided.  One of the best ways to ensure that you’re avoiding food allergens is to bake items from scratch – then you know exactly what they contain.  Even if the donuts or cookies you want to buy don’t obviously contain nuts, for example, they may be made in a production facility that also handles nuts.

roll-allergen-statement

Example of an allergen statement from a package of slider buns at the grocery store.

True food allergies can cause anaphylaxis and even death, so you can’t be too careful.  (The most common food allergens must be declared on food labels: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy.  For more information check out Allergenic Foods and Their Allergens from UNL.)

Likewise, if you’re feeding someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you can avoid the gluten in wheat, rye, or barley by using recipes that call for alternative flours.

  1. Preservatives

Have you ever wondered why bread you bake at home molds within a few days while a loaf from the store can last one to two weeks?  There are additional ingredients added to that store-bought bread that are responsible for extending its shelf-life and maintaining its quality.  Those ingredients are called preservatives.

Don’t get me wrong, I love food science and the amazing things we can do with food ingredients.  But I recognize that many folks are concerned about food ingredients that they don’t understand, like preservatives.  If you bake your own bread, cakes, cookies, etc. you get to control which preservatives get added.  Yes, even salt and sugar are food preservatives.

  1. Freshness

Along those same lines, that bread you buy in the store is likely a day or two old when you purchase it.  Granted, it’s not as old as those eggs you’re buying at the store, but it’s not as fresh as homemade.

  1. Variety

By baking at home you have the flexibility to try out different flavors, textures, shapes, and sizes in your cakes and breads.

You can also use your creativity.  What’s your favorite dried fruit?  Have you ever tried it in oatmeal cookies?  One of my favorite combinations is roasted pecans and dried, sweetened cranberries (here’s my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe).

What are your favorite vegetables?  If you make your own pizza crust, and assemble and bake your pizza at home, you could come up with some exciting new combinations not available at your local pizza parlor.  Chicken, red pepper, and asparagus pizza?  Why not?

  1. Family Fun

Some of the best family time is that spent in the kitchen.  Even toddlers can help stir and cut and decorate cookies.

Plus, you can turn it into a science lesson.  Unlike cooking where you can throw in a little of this and a little of that, baking is about chemistry and chemical reactions; each recipe tweaked is a science experiment.

You can also use the experience to give your family greater appreciation for where your food comes from and what it takes to get it to your table.  Consider a field trip to a wheat growing area of the state, buy some wheat berries, and grind them into flour that you then use to make bread.  Or visit a you-pick apple orchard, harvest apples, and use them to make a pie.

  1. Aroma

Did you know that realtors used to encourage home sellers to bake cookies before an open house?  Why?  Well I think you would agree that the aroma of baking bread or cookies in your kitchen is unbeatable!  I can also attest to the fact that the aroma can lure teenagers away from their rooms and devices.

  1. Less Waste.

At a minimum, bread purchased at the store is going to come in a plastic bag.  Cakes and cookies are probably in a plastic clamshell container.  Do you re-use these when the product is gone or do you immediately dispose of them?  Here’s an opportunity to reduce the amount of packaging waste going to landfill and/or recycling center.  At home you can store your based goods in re-sealable dishes and avoid the waste.

Food at the grocery store has some sort of date label on it (“best by,” “sell by,” etc.).  What happens to that product if it isn’t sold or donated by that date?  Most likely it’s off to the landfill.  Some grocery stores will turn this over to a farmer to feed to livestock, but most won’t make the effort.  At home you can bake just the quantity that your family will eat right away.  Extra bread or cookie dough can be frozen and thawed as needed.

  1. Price

Home-baked items are definitely cheaper than their store-bought counterparts.  Take rolls for example.  Here is a bag of 12 wheat slider buns for $2.99.  That’s $0.249 each.

wheat-rolls-at-the-store

Compare that to rolls made at home (recipe below).  I estimate that my recipe’s ingredients come to $2.39 (estimated using http://www.pricingbakedgoods.com).  That’s $0.10 each.  (And my rolls are so much better than anything the store has to offer – see 4, 5, and 7 above.)

hot-buttered-rolls

Something Else to Consider

Okay, those are all reasons for baking at home.  But I’m a realist and a busy mom. I DO NOT bake all my family’s baked goods.  Flavor-wise there are some things that I make time to bake, like cookies and birthday cakes and rolls for holiday dinners.

Do you know the four main factors that Americans consistently identify as important in food choice?  They are taste, texture, cost, and convenience (Source: Insel et al., 2010).  Baking at home is the way to go for best taste, texture, and price.  But that brings me to the number one reason for buying baked goods at the store: convenience.  Don’t feel guilty about buying sandwich bread from the store.  If you take into consideration your time, which is valuable and finite, that $3 loaf of bread doesn’t look so bad.  And it just makes your home-baked goods all that more special.

Share in the comments a link to the one recipe you insist on baking rather than buying.  I’ll go first.  Here’s my favorite recipe for dinner rolls.

Best Ever Dinner Rolls

Ingredients

  • ½ cup milk
  • 5 tablespoon butter, divided
  • warm water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast (that’s 4 ½ teaspoons if you buy yeast in bulk)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 to 4½ cups bread flour

Place milk and 4 tablespoons butter in a 2-cup glass measuring cup.  Microwave on HIGH for 1½ minutes.  Add enough warm water to measure 2 cups.

Combine sugar, egg, and salt in a large bowl; mix well.  Add milk mixture; mix well.  Stir in yeast; let stand 2 minutes.

Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups bread flour.  Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until smooth and elastic.  Add 2 cups of bread flour.  Mix dough with hook or stir in by hand until smooth.  Stir in enough of the remaining flour by hand to make dough easy to handle.  Turn out on lightly floured counter-top and kneed for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

Place dough into bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).  (Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.)

doubled-dough-with-indentation

This dough has doubled in size and you can see the indentation in the top left.

Punch down dough; divide in half, then half again, then half again, so you have eight dough portions of equal size.  Now divide each of those portions by three so you have 24 rolls.  Using lightly floured hand, shape each roll and place onto a buttered half-sheet pan (or two cookie sheets).  Let rise until double in size (about 1 hour).

Heat oven to 375°F.  Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and rub tops with butter.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

fresh-buttered-rolls

I wish you could smell the fresh roll aroma!

Makes 24 rolls.

References

Allergenic Foods and Their Sources – University of Nebraska Lincoln

Insel, P., D Ross, K McMahon, and M Bernstein.  2010.  Chapter 1.  Discovering Nutrition, 4th edition.  Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Promise in a Bud

If you take time to look, you will find beauty in every season.  Take a dormant apple spur for example.  Oh, I know this short, wrinkled shoot is not much to look at, but with a little imagination you can picture the leaves and fruit it will soon bear.  Spring will be here before we know it.

Carl-Sagan-quote-over-apple-spur

Did you know that apple trees bear mixed buds meaning that they contain both flowers and leaves?  Most mixed buds are found at the terminal end of spurs on two-year or older wood, so that is where the fruit will develop.  These spurs may continue to bear fruit for ten years or more so we need to be careful not to damage them during annual pruning.  Smaller buds elsewhere in the canopy are usually vegetative but still important as their photosynthesis sustains the tree and the developing fruit.

Fruit Tree Pruning Resources:

Ode to Fried Cornmeal Mush

cornmeal-mush-header

Oh fried cornmeal mush!
Your sunny color makes me smile.
I wait impatiently as you sizzle in the skillet,
Until you emerge, crispy on the outside,
Your center warm and welcoming me home.

Oh fried cornmeal mush!
Such powerful memories evoked through three simple ingredients.
You are just a tiny piece of my grandfather’s legacy.
I never got to say goodbye, but through you
I share his love and lessons with my children.


I woke up this morning thinking about my grandfather on my dad’s side.  He left this world in 2007 when I was 29 years old.  He’s not the first loved one I’ve lost but we had a special connection and I feel him watching over me.

grandpa-playing-guitar

You see, I was his oldest grandchild.  He taught me how to ride a horse and how to drive a pickup with a clutch.  Believe me, when you’re towing a broken down vehicle carrying your stern/serious/impatient/unforgiving grandfather you master the art of “easing” off the clutch very quickly.  I’m not sure how old I was at the time but I know I was still a pre-teen.  I know this because by the time I was 13 I was driving a tractor (with a clutch and a whole bunch of other gears and knobs to master – someday I’ll tell you about my hydraulic fluid shower) helping him raise alfalfa hay for himself and neighbors.  That was the summer my grandfather was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer and, as the oldest grandchild (and probably because my parents hoped it would curb my wild side), I got too stay with him and Grandma and accompany him to his treatments over an hour away.  To this day I can’t eat an old fashioned doughnut without thinking of him because we would stop and buy those donuts and something to drink at a gas station along the way.

I’ve made more than my share of mistakes but Grandpa never tried to tear me down or made me feel like he thought any less of me.  I miss him dearly and remain grateful for the time I got to spend with him.

Anyway, thinking of Grandpa puts me in the mood for cornmeal mush.  I can picture him standing in the kitchen, frying up slices.  They’re good plain or between two slices of buttered toast.

Cornmeal Mush

Recipe from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, (c) 1990.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions:

Butter a bread pan and line with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Mix the cornmeal with 1 cup cold water.  In a saucepan, bring 3 cups water and the salt to a boil.  Add the cornmeal mixture to the boiling water and cook, stirring often, over medium heat for 7 minutes or until thick.

Spread in buttered bread pan and refrigerate.

corn-meal-mush-in-pan

Using parchment paper makes it easier to remove the chilled mush from the pan for slicing.

When thoroughly chilled, cut into 3/8-inch slices.

slicing-cornmeal-mush

You can use a knife or chopper like this to slice the mush. If the upper surface is too dry to achieve a clean cut, flip the “loaf” over and cut from the bottom.

Fry in bacon fat, butter, or oil until golden on both sides.

frying-mush

This is not a low-fat food. 🙂

Drain on paper towels and blot with paper towels to remove excess fat.

removing-excess-grease

Serve warm.

fried-mush

Sweet Potatoes

Growing up my mom made sweet potatoes maybe once a year and if she did, they were for Thanksgiving and they came out of a can.  Fast forward 25+ years to a more health-conscious Connie with a BS in Nutrition and Food Management and you’ll see sweet potatoes on the family table on a regular basis.  They are a superfood, dontcha know?

sweet-potatoes-cover

Sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, are not yams (Dioscorea species) and they are not related to the common Irish, white, russet, red-skinned, or gold potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) that take up half a produce aisle at the grocery store.  (They are actually in the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae.)  They tend to garner just a sliver of retail shelf space but they are there and you should buy some.

One medium sweet potato provides more than a day’s worth of vitamin A.  Vitamin A supports immune function and vision and may help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer (Source: Wardlaw’s Contemporary Nutrition).  It will also give you 35% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C.  It is a very good source of manganese, copper, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and phosphorus.  In addition, sweet potatoes are a low glycemic index food (medium glycemic index if you don’t consume them with the skin), which means they don’t lead to fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels like other potatoes do.

Sweet potatoes are very versatile.  You can prepare them in sweet or savory dishes, consume them raw, boiled, sautéed, or roasted, or even puree them to sneak them into dishes so your kids don’t know they’re there (not that I’m admitting to that tactic).  Roasting them is my favorite, and you can switch up the spices to match your mood.

Braised Pork Roast and Moroccan Spiced Roasted Sweet Potatoes

plate-of-braised-pork-and-roasted-sweet-potatoes

This meal was borne from a need to use what we already had in the house.  I’m not saying you have to make these two dishes together, but they do complement each other nicely.  The pork recipe is adapted from a New York Times recipe.

Pork Roast Ingredients:

pork-shoulder-roast

  • 3-4 pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon cumin

Pork Roast Directions:

Place the pork in a cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid.  Add the rest of the ingredients listed above.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 75-90 minutes, turning roast every 15 minutes.  While it’s cooking prepare the sweet potatoes (see below).

braised-pork-roast

Check temperature – you want it to be between 145 and 160°F.  Remove roast to platter to rest.

Reduce cooking liquid and drizzle over sliced roast when serving.

Sweet Potato Ingredients:

  • 4 sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 6 wedges, then cut in half
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh thyme
  • 1 ½ teaspoon Dry Harissa Moroccan Spice Blend (contains crushed red pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic, paprika, sumac and other spices)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil (olive oil would be good, but I’m all out)
thyme-in-snow

This thyme plant is a champ – everything else in this patio pot has succumbed to the winter ice and snow.

Sweet Potato Directions:

Preheat oven to 450°F.

roasted-sweet-potato-ingredients

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Spread on a half sheet pan (AKA a large cookie sheet).

sweet-potatoes-and-onions-before-roasting

Roast for 15 minutes, stir so browned sides of sweet potatoes are up, and roast for 15 more minutes or until they’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve warm.

sweet-potatoes-and-onions-after-roasting

Sweet Potato Resources from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

For information on growing sweet potatoes check out this Acreage Insights article Sweet Potatoes in Nebraska.

For information about how to select, store, and cook sweet potatoes check out this webletter November: Sweet Potato Awareness Month.

Sources:

  1. Wardlaw, G., A. Smith, and A. Collene.   Nutrients Involved in Body Defenses, Chapter 10 in Wardlaw’s Contemporary Nutrition: A Functional Approach. p. 341-343.
  2. Pepin, J. Braised Pork with Sweet Potatoes.  Accessed at http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/3651-braised-pork-roast-with-sweet-potatoes 1/28/2017.
  3. Hammond, V. Sweet Potatoes in Nebraska.  Acreage Insights.  Accessed at http://acreage.unl.edu/june-2011#SweetPotato 1/28/2017.
  4. Franzen-Castle, L. November: Sweet Potato Awareness Month.  Accessed at http://food.unl.edu/documents/November_Webletter_SweetPotato_10_29_14.pdf 1/28/2017.

You’ll find tons of information about sweet potatoes online.  Here are a couple articles I enjoyed reading as I wrote this post:

  1. Husted, K. Why America Is Growing the Most Sweet Potatoes Since WWII. NPR’s The Salt.  Accessed at http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/19/510436364/why-america-is-growing-the-most-sweet-potatoes-since-wwii 1/28/2017.
  2. Szalay, J. Sweet Potatoes: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts.   Accessed at http://www.livescience.com/46016-sweet-potato-nutrition.html 1/28/2017.

Jicama

At the prompting of my youngest, this week’s topic is jicama, Pachyrhizus erosus, also known as Mexican yam bean and Mexican turnip.

half-jicamaNative to Mexico, jicama was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish in the 17th century.  It has since spread throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands (Source: Origin, Evolution, and Early Dispersal of Root and Tuber Crops).

Jicama is about 90% water, with trace amounts of protein and lipids, and only 38 calories per 100 grams.  It is high in dietary fiber and a very good source of vitamin C (Source: USDA ARS National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28).  Its characteristic flavor, sometimes described as a savory apple, comes from the oligofructose inulin which is a prebiotic.

Jicama is most often served raw, though it does hold its shape when gently cooked and would work as a substitute for water chestnuts (similar texture and mild flavor).  It does not brown when exposed to air the way apples and potatoes do, so it’s a great addition to a veggie tray.

I decided to try jicama a couple of different ways.  That’s one of the great things about this vegetable, its versatility.  The first was an Apple Jicama Coleslaw (recipe here and video of its preparation here).

Apple Jicama Coleslaw

Ingredients:

  • ½ small head green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • ½ jicama, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 Fuji apple, sliced into matchsticks
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • Sriracha sauce (add to taste – I used about ¾ teaspoon)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
preparing-produce-for-the-slaw

Slice the apple and jicama into matchsticks using a mandoline, as shown here.

Directions:

Whisk the mayonnaise, pineapple juice, sugar, sriracha sauce, salt and pepper until smooth.  Toss with cabbage, jicama, and apple.  Chill for an hour.  Stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

apple-jicama-coleslaw

Jicama Chips

Then I made jicama chips by slicing the other half of the peeled jicama with the mandoline.  (My mandoline didn’t slice the jicama as thin as I would have liked it to, which contributed to the chips being underdone in the center.  Next time I make them I will slice the chips using the slicing side of my box grater.)

Place the sliced jicama on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spray with cooking spray, sprinkle with house seasoning (1 cup sea salt, ¼ cup black pepper, and ¼ cup granulated garlic – keep in a sealed container in the spice cupboard), and bake at 400°F for 20 minutes.  You’ll want to start checking them at 15 minutes to make sure they’re not over-done as ovens vary.

jicama-chips-before-and-after-baking

Jicama chips before and after baking for 20 minutes.

In the Garden

Pachyrhizus-angulatus-plate

By Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.) – Flora de Filipinas […] Gran edicion […] [Atlas II]., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=977739

You won’t find locally grown jicama at your farmers’ market and even though nurseries will sell you plants, you probably won’t find much success producing the tubers in your garden (unless you live in Florida, maybe – Source: NRCS Plant Profile: Pachyrhizus erosus), and there’s a reason.  It is a tropical legume that does best in the climate of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.  Trials in California have concluded that a long, warm growing season under relatively short day length is required to initiate good quality fleshy root development.  Otherwise, you’ll get luxurious vine growth with prolific flowering and pod production but with low quality fibrous taproots (Source: UC Small Farm Program).  It could be an interesting addition to your landscape though as the vine grows up to 15 feet in a season and therefore could be used to cover an arbor.  The leaves, flowers, vines, mature pods and seeds are poisonous (one of the sources of rotenone) so keep them away from pets and small children.

Hop Acreage is Growing in Nebraska

hop-trellis

Each hop plant can weigh 30-40 pounds.

If you’ve driven north of Plattsmouth on Highway 75 recently you’ve probably wondered about the 18-foot trellises off on the east side of the road.  Those are hop trellises.  The hop plant (Humulus lupulus) is an herbaceous perennial, usually grown for its strobiles or cones. Hop cones contain different oils, such as lupulin, a yellowish, waxy substance, that provides flavor and aroma to food products like beer.

During the growing season, an individual hop plant can weigh 30 to 40 pounds.  So at one thousand plants per acre that trellis has to be strong enough to support 30 to 40 thousand pounds of bines, leaves, and cones.

In 2016 Nebraska had around 24 acres of hops harvested.  There were additional acres not yet in production and there are plans for more acres to be planted in 2017 and 2018.

hop-bines

Hops produce bines, not vines, that are trained to grow clockwise around twine attached to the top trellis wire. The entire bine is harvested at the end of the season.

So why hops in Nebraska and why now?  That has a lot to do with changing purchase habits of Americans – interest is shifting to craft beers over mass-produced beers and more and more folks are making an effort to buy local.  Nebraska has the appropriate climate and day length to produce quality hops and our growing conditions give the product a certain terroir (yes, just like with wine, the soils that produce hops have a huge impact on their character) that intrigues and excites brewers.

So there is demand for Nebraska-grown hops, especially from Nebraska craft breweries.  This was evident at the inaugural Nebraska Grower and Brewer Conference held January 5-6, 2017 on the Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.  More than 180 attendees came to hear from university specialists and experienced growers and brewers from Nebraska and other states in the Midwest.  There is already buzz about next year’s conference – stay tuned for details.

Are hops for you?  Maybe you own or manage property and are thinking about growing hops.  The first thing to consider is distance from a processor.  Most hops are sold to brewers after they’ve been dried and pelletized, so you need to do your homework in that regard BEFORE you invest.  If you work with a company like Midwest Hop Producers out of Plattsmouth they can share what they know about hop production and pest management, the varieties local brewers prefer, and quality parameters.

Not ready to plant, but you’d like to support the cause?  The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a hop breeding program.  Dr. Keenan Amundsen is eager to produce a Nebraska hop and he needs our help.  If you have wild hops growing on your property, please let him know so he can come out and collect plant material to potentially use in breeding projects.  During the summer, when you can easily see the cones, is a great time to mark the locations of female hop plants.

hop-cones

Presence of cones means that this is a female plant. Commercial hop yards are made entirely of female plants.

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