Archive for December 12th, 2008

Warning: Giant (Fun) Timesuck Ahead

Sharon December 12th, 2008

 Must. Finish. Book.  Must. Not. Look.

On the other hand, maybe some of you have time to kill.  Enjoy!


Friday Food Storage Quickie: Bread and Seeds

Sharon December 12th, 2008

Ok, this week we’re going to concentrate on storing two things fairly basic to sustainable food systems, bread and seeds.  Or rather, we’re not going to store bread, we’re going to store the components thereof - flour, yeast and salt.  With water, that’s really all you need to make good bread.  And flour is often on sale this time of year - I recently saw 5lbs of bread flour as a loss leader for $1.99.

I generally recommend that people who make their own bread a lot store whole wheat and grind it themselves with either an electric or a manual grinder.  I’m not going there today, in a quickie, but if you eat a lot of bread, and want to store a large quantity of whole grains (because as we all know, white flour isn’t very nutritious), it is wisest to store wheat and acquire a grinder.  The following posts might be helpful - the first describes storing whole grains of many sorts:

The second covers grain grinders:

and this one discusses whether you really need one:

But today we’ll assume you are simply going to buy flour.  If that’s the case, you shouldn’t buy more than a six month supply of whole grain flours - the reason being that they go rancid.  The oils in the grains are no longer very good for you.  Some people find that they taste awful, but some people actually can’t tell when grains are rancid, or aren’t super sensitive to rancidity, so you might not know, leading you to eat things not so great for your body.  So generally speaking, you don’t want to buy more whole grain flour than you can use in six months.  After that, use white flour (but not bleached - that’s bad for you too). 

Yeast stores for six months to a year in a cool dark place, but longer if you freeze it.  I buy 1lb packages at BJs and freeze several.  Salt stores forever - if you preserve food you might want to get some that isn’t iodized - kosher or pickling salt.  But you also might want to buy a few packages of iodized salt, since that can help with thyroid issues.  Or leave it out, and eat kelp.

If you don’t have yeast, or can’t replace it, you can make sourdough starter, and use that to leaven bread.  Crunchy chicken has a link here to a basic sourdough starter:

If you’ve never made your own bread, it can be a little intimidating - the easiest recipe I’ve seen is this one, also at La Crunch’s site:  But don’t be overly intimidated by the idea of kneading - it is actually a lot of fun. 

For those with gluten or wheat issues, you’ll want to find a good gluten-free bread recipe that works for you, and be able to store the ingredients.  Anyone out there want to post one in comments?

Ok, now let’s talk seeds - which are really part of food storage.  Plus, seed catalogs are the best remedy to winter ever - it is no punishment to have to look at them. 

Generally speaking, you want to order seeds from a catalog specializing in open-pollinated (so that you can save seed) varieties suited to your area.  That doesn’t mean you should never use any hybrids - but you might not want to depend on them for your primary crops. 

The part about your area is important - a seller that does variety trials will be able to give you useful advice here.  And if they buy their seed locally (almost no sellers buy all their seed locally, so be aware of that) it will be particularly adapted to regional conditions and climate.

If you live in the Northeast, here are my favorite seed companies:

Johnny’s Selected Seed is the company I grew up with - I used to steal the catalog from my stepmother’s mail pile and look at the pictures as a teenager.  They are terrific - not cheap, but the quality is extremely high, and they breed some neat things.  Not to mention that when Rob Johnson retired, he sold the company to his own employees.  This is a good company, and they deserve your bucks:

For small scale gardeners, Pinetree seeds is terrific - they say their packages are for smaller gardeners, but quite honestly, often the packages are just as big as any others, and much cheaper.  Plus, the catalog is a fun read - even though I’m not a small garden I look forward to it every year, and order quite a lot of things that I don’t need a ton of from them.

Fedco I’ve already mentioned - they are a coop, have the most fun seed catalog ever, and really do a lot of work to make their recommendations useful.  They also one of only a few companies I know of in the seed trade to completely drop all varieties held by Seminis, which was purchased by Monsanto - which, after purchase promptly began dumping open pollinated varieties and stripping our seed heritage.  They too deserve your money for taking a principled stand 

Unfortunately, most of the other companies do buy some seeds wholesale from Seminis - which means it is very hard sometimes to know if you are inadvertantly putting dollars in Monsanto’s pocket.  You can call the company and ask where their seed comes from, but some places won’t tell you - honestly, this is one of those cases where we all do the best we can.

High Mowing Seeds is another one I recommend. They grow all their seed locally (to their Vermont area) and while they are expanding their hybrid offerings (unfortunately more and more emphasis is on conventional hybrids, rather than the exciting and unusual varieties they used to emphasize), offer an alternative to Seminis by growing out many of the classic OP varieties, including Waltham Broccoli and Long Pie Pumpkins. They have good prices, good service and they sent me 25lbs of buckwheat within a week of my order. What more can you ask for (full disclosure - the family that runs it are somehow connected to the church my mother and step-mother attend, which is how I got my first copy of their catalog, but I assure you my alliegence is purely to their seed) from a seed company?

In the Southeast:

I feel very kindly and fond towards Baker Creek Heirlooms - their catalog and range of varieties is huge, and even though they aren’t specifically oriented towards my climate, the huge range of OP seeds means that I’ve found some favorites there.  I made my first order from them when the founder was a teenager, operating out of his bedroom - he’s now grown and married and still running it.  I wouldn’t go a season without ordering from them - among other things, they have the best selection of sweet peas ever. 

Southern Exposure seeds is something I haven’t used much, but I hear wonderful things about their seed if you live in the South - they are based in Virginia

I’ve ordered some varieties also from Monticello, which maintains the varieties of seed actually grown by Thomas Jefferson, or as close as they can get.  Many are flowers, but they have some interesting vegetables as well, and how else could you get this close to history?—seeds-seeds.html

For Southwesterners:  I can’t say enough good things about Native Seeds/SEARCH which operates out of Arizona which emphasizes regional native seed varieties.  I wish more of it would do well in my area

Seeds of Change is sort of the Industrial good guy. They have a very polished catalog, and lots of wonderful varieties. They are not local to me (NM), but I like them anyhow. I’m not sure I totally trust anyone who has a line of processed foods, but they also do a lot of neat plant breeding, and have a great book section. Italian White eggplants produce very well for me here in upstate NY, and Golden Giant Amaranth is both beautiful and a delicious and nutritious grain crop. Their prices are high, and their bulk selection isn’t great, but they are worth a look.

For the Pacific Northwest, the obvious leader is Territorial Seeds  I like them, and I’ve had good results using varieties adapted to their region in the Northeast.  I will say that I’ve had difficulty getting good information from their customer service over the years - they have declined to reveal the source of seeds, are sometimes slow to send things out,  and when they listed two varieties I had seen elsewhere as hybrids as open-pollinated, I was pleased to think that someone had stabilized them, and then  called and was reassured that yes, they definitely were open-pollinated varieties.  Well, oops, no they weren’t.  Their prices are also high - too high to give mediocre customer service.  But they do provide an important service in their region, and offer some varieties you won’t find anywhere else.

 Other Northwestern options are a tiny company I’ve ordered from and liked and the wonderful Northern CA Bountiful Gardens Catalog. Bountiful Gardens is a terrific small seed company that is run in part by John Jeavons, the person who has most devoted himself to figuring out how to feed the world in small spaces. Not only do they have great seed, but they are a great cause. They also have a remarkable variety of compost, fiber and other uncommon crops. For those of you in northern CA and the Pacific NW, this is probably the place to buy, but all of us can get some wonderful things from them.

For the Midwest, there are two wonderful options. 

Sand Hill Preservation Center, run by the amazing Glenn Downs, is devoted to preserving heirloom breeds of poultry and seed. They are a single family operation, and you have to wait your turn for things. But if you can get things from them, you should. They are well worth your dollar, and virtually everything they offer is produced on farm. While you are picking out seed, don’t forget to check out the chickens and ducks - I definitely want some Marans. They do not take internet orders, and they are picky about how things work. But that’s ok - they are such a good cause that we just have to get over ourselves and wait politely for this tremendous gift they are giving us. Don’t forget to say “thank you” for keeping our heritage alive and our food more secure.

And, of course, in a class entirely by itself, is Seed Savers Exchange, at You can buy seed from them directly, and they have a wonderful selection. Even if you don’t save seed, you should become a member - the Seed Savers Exchange has been losing members, and more and more people are the only repositories of a particular kind of tomato, or green, or millet or pea. The Irish potato famine and the corn blight of the 1970s should be evidence to us that relying on one particular crop is unbelievably dangerous - we need all the genetic diversity we possibly can get. The people at Seed Savers are keeping our heritage, our history and possibly our food security alive, and they need you at the very least to join up and give them money. But why only do that? Because the very best place to get seed is not from a catalog at all, but from your own garden, or your neighbors. So join seed savers and consider maintaining one or two or 20 varieties of seed yourself. Grow them out year after year, and save a little to trade to others. This is good practice for yourself, and enhances your own security - after all, if you ever couldn’t get seed, having some at home is a big thing. But most of all, it is a way of your participating in the provisioning of the earth.

Are you planning to save seed from a number of crops?  Here’s a piece I wrote on designing a simple, beginner’s seed savers garden that saves seed from the easiest crops:

If you have more seed than you’ll need, you’ll want to store it properly - here’s how:

Happy breadmaking and seed selecting!