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March 2009 Archives

The End of Wheat-centricity

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Handcrafted bread from Farm & Sparrow Bakery in Marshall, NC.

I just got back from the Asheville Artisan Bread Festival.  I was there primarily to get the full scoop on the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project and to begin thinking about the state of grain growth in North Carolina and the rest of the country.  Glenn Roberts, the savior of Southern grains, of Anson Mills was there to give us some incite into the grain husbandry of yesteryear as well as a glimpse of our futures as bakers. Much was learned.
Did you know that 100 years ago there were an average of 30 grist mills per county?  Now we have 2 that I know of in the whole state of NC.  Grist mills were once the centers of communities and folks had their corn and wheat and other grains ground on a weekly basis.  The nutritional quality of fresh ground whole grains is far and above today's standard supermarket shelf stable,  inert, fortified grains. 
 
The good news is Roberts predicts we will move back to this model for lots of reasons. First, lab developed wheats are failing us.  We are currently seeing the yields of midwest grown wheat plummet as salt builds up in the soil from excessive irrigation and new diseases pop up faster than the lab can generate resistant strands.  Diesel dependent, water wasting industrial agriculture is on its last leg.  The green revolution is failing us.  The solution lies in landrace grains and good old fashioned seedmanship. 

In order to grow wheat or rice while maintaining the health of the land, one also has to grow buckwheat, sorghum and cowpeas, which suppressed nematodes, as well as weeds, and provides nutrients for the grain crops.  We are moving back to a whole system approach to agriculture, and Roberts predicts it will happen sooner than we think.  In a room full of bakers, Roberts estimated that in as few as three years bakers could be using landrace grains - like the Red May Wheat that Anson Mills now sells to primarily fine-dining chefs for $6 per pound- but at a price comparable to what we now pay for mono-crop Midwestern wheat. 
For the health of communities and health of us all, I say "Amen!"

Sassy Sassafras Tassies

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I don't remember when my interest in wild foods began, but I know when it became an obsession.  When I took Will Endres' Wildcrafting class at Central Carolina Community College.  The class blew me away.  It opened me up to a whole new way of relating to the world, but it was the wild foods potluck at the end of the semester that changed the way I and everyone else in the class thought of wild foods forever.  We had talked about "Cherokee-aide" or pink lemonade being a drink that the American Indians made from sumac berries, which led me to the crazy idea that I would make a sumac meringue pie.  It was amazing.  Very similar to lemon meringue pie but with sumac's characteristic, pleasing astringency and a lovely mauve color.   Since then I have been on a mission to introduce people wild foods in very surprising ways.  I got the idea to make a dessert with sassafras a long time ago, but only recently finally got around to it.  My inspiration to make sassafras tassies was primarily one of consonance.  "Sassy tassies" just sounded good.   But then I thought about how good a whisper of root beer would be in a pecan pie and I knew I was on to something.   I absolutely loved the results.  I hope to have these soon at market, but first have to make sure Will's got the sassafras.     

Ode to Housewives

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I am constantly asked why I chose to pursue this business.  The reasons are many and complex, but I know that I grew up in an environment that deeply respected the many skills of country farmhouse women.  The skills of my grandmother, mother, and my Aunt Pat inspired me at a young age.  I was eager to learn everything I could, and I took advantage of their wisdom.   Later when I moved away to graduate school and into the modern suburban world, what amazed me most was that people couldn't actually do anything.  I wasn't schooled in rejecting the so-called drudgery of cooking and preserving the harvest until I had already fallen in love with it.  I found my academic work boring and disconnected in contrast.  Luckily for me, I had an encouraging boyfriend (who of course I then married) who saw my skill and encouraged me to follow my instinct.  The following is an excerpt from an essay by Wendell Berry that captures quite eloquently much of my feelings on the subject.  Thanks to all the amazing women who have taught me their craft.


     

"What are we to say of the diversely skilled country housewife who now bores the same six holes day after day on an assembly line? What higher form of womanhood or humanity is she evolving toward?

How, I am asking, can women improve themselves by submitting to the same specialization, degradation, trivialization, and tyrannization of work that men have submitted to? And that question is made legitimate by another: How have men improved themselves by submitting to it? The answer is that men have not, and women cannot, improve themselves by submitting to it.

Women have complained, justly about the behaviour of "macho" men. But despite their he-man pretensions and their captivation by masculine heroes of sports, war, and the Old West, most men are now entirely accustomed to obeying and currying the favour of their bosses. They are more compliant than most housewives have been. Their characters combine feudal submissiveness with modern helplessness. They have submitted to the destruction of the household economy and thus of the household, to the loss of home employment and self-employment, to the disintegration of their families and communities, to the desecration and pillage of their country, and they have continued abjectly to believe, obey, and vote for the people who have most eagerly abetted this ruin and who have most profited from it. These men, moreover, are helpless to do anything for themselves or anyone else without money, and so for money they do whatever they are told. They  know that their ability to be useful is precisely defined by their willingness to be somebody else's tool. Is it any wonder that they talk tough and worship athletes and cowboys? Is it any wonder that some of them are violent?

It is clear that women cannot justly be excluded from the daily fracas by which the industrial economy divides the spoils of society and nature, but their inclusion is a poor justice and no reason for applause. The enterprise is as devastating with women in it as it was before. There is no sign that women are exerting a "civilizing influence" upon it. To have an equal part in our juggernaut of national vandalism is to be a vandal. To call this vandalism "liberation" is to prolong, and even ratify, a dangerous confusion that was once principally masculine.

A broader, deeper criticism is necessary. The problem is not just the exploitation of women by men. A greater problem is that women and men alike are consenting to an economy that exploits women and men and everything else."

- excerpt from Wendell Berry's essay, "Feminism, the Body, and the Machine.

Spring and Sunshine, Buns that is!

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Well, it is officially spring!  To celebrate the arrival of the warm sun, Farmer's Daughter is introducing a new breakfast pastry called Sunshine Buns.  I have been exploring the tactile wonderland of yeasted and pre-fermented doughs of late, and this is one of the results.  I wanted to make a super delicious soft and doughy breakfast pastry, similar to cinnamon rolls or sticky buns, that said something about the place from which it comes.  To the rescue comes the sweet potato.  I have long made sweet potato yeasted rolls and sweet potato-cardamom monkey bread, and this is essentially the same dough in a different form.  If one is needed, I volunteer for patron saint of the sweet potato.  So versatile, so easily adapted to all manner of recipes and techniques and almost always to their benefit.  You can get your sunshine bun at Carrboro Farmer's Market Saturday mornings or on Thursday mornings at 3 Cups in Chapel Hill by 8:15.    

A Little Bit Country

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Fried Pies, sometimes called "mule ears," are a near-forgotten, old Southern favorite.  They were almost gone by the time I was making the family reunion circuit.  By then it was only my dad's oldest and most rural great-aunts who would make them.  Children of my generation usually passed them by for the new fangled, Betty-Crocker-type chocolate desserts, but my dad gets misty-eyed talking about them.  They were THE dessert of his childhood and the sustenance farming tradition that he was born into and were filled with homemade apple or peach butter or mashed sweet potatoes and fried in home rendered lard.  The industrialization of agriculture was part of my father's personal experience, as was the industrialization of Southern desserts. 
The fried pie tradition that remains is largely a debased adaptation of its original glory.  The pie crust and the apple butter is often store-bought and more often than not the home-rendered lard from healthy, pastured pigs has been replaced by either hydrogenated vegetable shortening or worse - rancid and hydrogenated lard from the supermarket. 
At Farmer's Daughter, I am very happy to restore the fried pie to its respectful position.  I make  my own apple and peach butter from North Carolina fruit.  The crust is homemade and the pies are fried in a cast iron skillet in fresh lard from pastured pigs just like my great-grandmother would have done.  Now available on Saturday mornings at the Carrboro Farmer's Market.

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Farmer's Daughter Brand ♦ 96 Pine Hill Dr. ♦ Carrboro, NC 27510 ♦ (919) 259-3946
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