Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nixtamalization or Making Hominy

    I've watched a number of You Tube videos over the past week on the process of nixtamalization or in other words, the making of hominy.  This is a process of treating corn with lime water or wood ashes, used by the Aztecs and North American Indians to make their corn more nutritious.  Corn has a significant amount of niacin, but not in a form that humans can digest.  The process of nixtamalization converts the niacin to a more digestible form, thus making it a more nutritious staple.  When Columbus came to the New World, he took corn back to Europe with him. However, he didn't take nixtamalization with him. Because corn is more productive than many other grains, the poorer classes of people made corn a significant part of their diet. After a while they began to suffer from malnutrition in the form of Pelagra, a disease caused by a niacin deficient diet.  I'm not sure how the indians stumbled on the process of nixtamalization or came to understand its value. Maybe they just thought it made the corn taste better. Corn eaten with beans is also more nutritious as the beans have lots of niacin and make up for the corn's lack.
One Quart of Dry Dent Corn
    I started with a quart jar of dry dent corn. I added this to a half gallon of water, then stirred in a table spoon of calcium oxide dissolved in a cup of water.  It is very important to use a non reactive pot like stainless, enameled.  If this were to be done using an aluminum pot it would end very badly. I brought the water to boil and then let the corn boil for 20 minutes.  When I turned the heat off, the corn had swollen significantly and already smelled like corn nuts.  After soaking in the lime water for 24 hours, I rinsed the corn until the water was clean and rubbed the skins or pericarp off the corn kernels. Lime water, being caustic, isn't particularly good for your skin.  It is very important to rinse the hominy well before handling it and it wouldn't hurt to wear rubber gloves.  Once the skins have been removed, the hominy is finished.
Cooked and Limed, Ready for a 24 Hour Soak

     In Mexican cuisine hominy is used whole in soups like Pozole or ground using a meat grinder to make the masa harina used in tamales or tortillas.  Ground hominy can also be cooked to make grits.  In one You Tube video I watched the hominy was deep fat fried to make corn nuts.  One cup of hominy  went into Linda's taco soup. I liked the flavor very much, but they needed to be cooked a bit longer than the other ingredients. They were tasty but a little chewy. We made the rest into corn nuts.  I deep fat fried one batch. The major difficulty with that was the lack of the proper tool to retrieve the corn nuts from the hot oil when they were done. As a consequence, the removal process took longer than it should have and some of the corn nuts were a bit over done.  Linda tried baking some instead. They turned out very tasty, but a tad harder than the ones I fried.  We're going to try doing some in the popcorn popper next time. Now all we need to do is experiment a bit with seasonings.

The finished hominy, rinsed, rubbed and drained
Home made corn nuts

   I don't know about our Missouri and Iowa ancestors, but I know the ones from Arkansas made and ate hominy.  My mother remembers burning her mouth trying to eat an unfinished piece of hominy when she was a little kid living in Arkansas.  She didn't recall any details as to the process her mother used. Her parents and grandparents didn't grind the hominy to make grits. They fried the hominy in butter instead and served it as a vegetable.  Indians in North America used wood ashes to make hominy. Wood ashes mixed with water will produce Potassium Hydroxide rather than Calcium Hydroxide.  I watched several videos where wood ashes were used to make the hominy. Mom doesn't remember what her mother used to make hominy. She just remembers getting a blister on her lip trying to eat a piece of hominy before it was rinsed. As mom remembers it, our Arkansas ancestors mainly ground their corn for corn bread, corn meal mush, and to feed their animals. Her grandpa occasionally loaded corn into a wagon and took it somewhere to be ground. The person who ground the corn kept a portion of the corn meal as payment.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ukalele Lady

      When Linda and I drove down to Salt Lake City to attend General Conference we used my truck. It wasn't very good for gas milage but it was a much more comfortable ride than our little car.  A week or so after we got back from our little road trip, Linda decided my truck needed a little decoration.  She came down to see me at the bee store with several grand daughters in tow.  When I got into my truck several hours later to go home I found she had made a little decorative addition.

Ukalele Lady

Monday, October 20, 2014

Arbor Press

    So just what is an arbor press and what is it good for?  A year ago I had never even heard of this device, but I am glad that I now own one.   I picked this up in a trade with a friend who is a sheet metal worker. I wouldn't have realized its value, but for the advice of my friend and former employee, Quentin. We have used it at the Beez Neez Apiary Supply primarily for modifying and repairing honey extractors. We use it to press gears on to or off of the crank shaft.
Arbor Press
     The arbor press has a steering wheel handle no the left side. This provides smaller increases in pressure. It has a second handle on the right side which provides a great deal of leverage. There is a bar which inserts into the lever handle. Both handles cause the heavy metal bar to move, putting an incredible amount of pressure on whatever item you chose to put the squeeze on. I used this device the other day to remove a serious dimple from my favorite aluminum baking sheet.  I use this baking sheet for so many different tasks. I use it for everything from roasting hazel nuts to baking biscuits. It had been in the back of our car and someone had accidentally closed the back hatch onto the baking sheet. It left a very large unsightly dimple. It was still useable, but the dimple really bugged me.

Before photo of my favorite aluminum baking sheet

    I could have simply taken a hammer to the dimple, but I'm not sure it would have been much of an improvement. I've not had good luck making things truly flat by beating on them with a hammer. They usually end up a bit lumpy and uneven. Then it occurred to me that I had the perfect tool to repair my baking sheet. I took it down the the bee store and put it into the arbor press.  An incredible amount of pressure, evenly applied, resulted in a nice flat surface where the dimple used to be. The spot is still visible as a discolored area. However, its now very flat and even such that I don't have to work around it any more. There is nothing quite like having the perfect tool for a particular job.

After photo of the same baking sheet

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Garden Summary for 2014

      I would consider this year's vegetable garden a big success. Due to time pressure in the spring (a very busy time at the bee store) I didn't get everything planted that I would have liked to have done.  However, most of what I planted did well. Let's all give a big cheer for global warming and the warmest summer we have experienced since moving to Snohomish County in 1993.   The tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, Jerusalem Artichokes, corn, and winter squash all did very well. We also had a great year for fruit.  I canned over 72 pints of green beans, several dozen pints of salsa, 19 quarts of apple sauce, 15 gallons of grape juice, and made a half gallon of raisins. I had more I needed to can than I had time to can, a sign of a very productive garden. I was very grateful that the corn and winter squash didn't require any immediate processing.
This represents about half of the 2014 winter squash harvest
     My squash crop consisted of the following, 17 red Kuri (the reddish squash in the photo), 5 Oregon Sweet Meat (the greenish blue squash on the left). I've got about twenty of the smooth pumpkin like squash on the left. That is over forty squash so I suspect we are pretty good on that portion of our years supply. I don't know what the pale  pumpkins will be like to cook as they all came from the same volunteer plant that grew amid the Reid's Yellow Dent corn in the garden area next to my bee yard.  I suspect they came from the composted horse manure I added to that area of the garden. I was amazed that one plant could produce that many pumpkins. I'm going to cook one today to see if the pumpkins are worth storing to eat, or if they should all be turned into jack o' lanterns.  If they don't make the culinary grade I will donate them all to the Trunk or Treat activity coming up at church right before Halloween.  So far, Red  Kuri has worked best for our climate of all the various types of winter squash I've grown.  I'm planning to just grow that one variety of winter squash next year and start saving seeds.

     On the list of things I didn't plant this year are garlic, carrots, cabbage, dry beans, peas, and potatoes. So many vegetables and so little time.  The problem with the garlic is that it needs to be planted in the fall, so if I don't get it done soon I won't have garlic next year, either  I've had a few learning experiences this year as well. I put clear plastic over the newly corn in order to warm the soil and help the corn to germinate better. The problem was that I left it on for two weeks and the young plants were overheated.  The portion of my corn patch which had been uncovered actually did better than the covered and I had to replant a portion of the patch. Next year if I use a clear plastic cover to help germinate the corn, I will only do it for about a week.  I also learned that onion sets do much better if they are planted very early (like late January or early February.  I planted some red onions at that time and they grew much better than they had in the past. Along with that I learned the necessity of pruning off the flowers just as they start to form causing the plants to grow larger bulbs.

     Reid's Yellow Dent corn is spectacular in that the stalks will grow 12 feet tall even in our "corn un-friendly" climate. It definitely isn't an appropriate choice for our climate as it still hasn't started to dry down and thus isn't ready to pick. If any of the seeds manage to dry down, I will be happy to give some to anyone who lives in a warmer climate than ours who would like to grow some monster corn.  The Painted Mountain flour corn has finished drying and is ready for me to shell with my new Fulton corn sheller. The sheller is new to be but is probably at least 100 years old. I've even pulled the corn stalks up in the front garden area.  Next year I plan to grow either Floriani Red Flint corn (perfect for polenta) or Mandan Red Clay corn for parching.

    So no sauerkraut making this year. That is ok as we still have some canned sauerkraut left over from two years ago.   I'm not sure when I would have had the time to make it anyway.  I was pleased with our efforts two years ago to store fresh sauerkraut in the fridge.  We purchased a few of those old fashioned canning jars with a glass lid, rubber gasket, and metal bail. They had a nice selection at IKEA.  That worked very well.  The sauerkraut lasted close to a year before Linda cooked it up with some sausages. The only downside is the limited storage space in our refrigerator. A friend told me about a way to make sauerkraut with little or no salt by fermenting it anaerobically using a gas escape like they do when making wine or mead. I look forward to trying that as my major objection to consuming lots of sauerkraut is the fact that its so darn salty.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hunting Trip to Misery Junction

    I had an enjoyable weekend deer hunting with my younger brother, Mike, two of his sons, Gavin and Aaron, and Gavin's son Michael.  We went to a new location with the most colorful place names. We camped near Misery Junction, not far to the north from Mount Horrible.  To get there we had to pass "Hard to Get To" and the turnoff to the Devil's Tail Bone.  In spite of all of the negativity with the names, it was actually a fairly lovely location with wonderful vistas.  I suspect the names originated with people who had to traverse that area with wagons or had to make their own roads.  Misery Junction is the site of an old depression era Civilian Conservation Corps work camp. They shipped about 200 young men from New York off to the wilds of southeastern Washington State in order for them to build roads for the U.S. Forest Service. Maybe the negative place names stemmed from homesick city boys doing hard labor in the wilderness.

Gavin driving in our fruitless search for a legal target

   We found a nice campsite, sheltered from the wind about a quarter mile south of Misery Junction, the site of the depression era CCC Camp. My brother has a nice 12x14 wall tent which makes for comfortable camping. Its nice to have a tent with lots of head room.  The weather was fairly nice, other than a bit of rain on Saturday.  We've used a sheepherder stove to warm the tent when elk hunting, but it wasn't necessary for this trip.  We ate well and enjoyed each other's company.  I fixed my favorite sour dough pancakes one morning and made biscuits one evening.  We ate the traditional stroganoff and chili (not at the same time) and Gavin brought some steaks.  Everything went pretty well with the exception of the fact that we never saw much of anything legal to shoot.  The terrain in this vicinity is pretty steep which severely limited appropriate places to hunt.  If a deer isn't located in a place from which it is practical to retrieve the carcass there is no point to shooting it.  This was the first time we had hunted in this location, about 25 miles south of Pomeroy, in far southeastern Washington State.  While I had a very enjoyable trip, I will definitely chose a different location next year.  Most of the terrain was simply too steep. The photo below was taken as we were driving north towards Pomeroy and the terrain was becoming less vertical.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Road Trip with Linda

     We just got home from a trip to Salt Lake to attend General Conference.  Linda has been before but  it was my first time. I always watch all of the sessions, some live and some after the fact on the internet.  I've just never made the trip to Salt Lake to see it in person.  It was much easier for me to do this in October than it would have been in April (a very busy month at the bee store). We had lovely weather on the drive down. We left Friday morning as I left the store in Ben Goodwin's hands.  He is a very trustworthy young man and has worked at the bee store long enough that he can handle most of the questions.   There is still something a little unsettling about leaving your business in the hands of a teenager, even a very trustworthy one.

    We both enjoyed driving through the mountains and the farmland. While driving through the Yakima Valley and Southern Idaho I couldn't help but notice just how much land was planted in corn.  I don't know if there is more corn now than there used to be or if I just notice it more.  I suspect there actually is more corn now, possibly a consequence of the push for biodiesel.   Neither Linda or I were inclined to drive straight through to Salt Lake.   We stopped in Boise on Friday evening, then drove the rest of the way on Saturday.  We arrived at our motel in Salt Lake at about three in the afternoon, just in time for Linda to get to Deseret Book to buy her traditional bag of assorted bulk candy before the afternoon session of conference let out. We then had dinner with Melanie Ward and watched the Priesthood Session at her house.

     We stayed at the Econo Lodge, located just seven blocks west of Temple Square. We used Salt Lake's light rail system a few times and found it fairly convenient. The only significant downside we experienced with the public transportation was the very strange guy sitting across from us on our final trip.  He looked like he was trying to sleep but was waking from a very bad dream several times a minute.  His eyes were closed the whole time but he kept yelling out the occasional obscenity and waving his arms. I was very glad he stayed on the train when we got off.  I'm not really sure how he would have known when to get off. I guess I would like public transportation better if it were a little less public.
The view of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from the Balcony

     We had tickets to the Sunday morning session. Since the Tabernacle Choir broadcast takes place just before the morning session we were supposed to be in our seats by 9:00 am.  I was nervous about being late so we ended up in our seats at 8:30 am.  As we were getting ready to walk to the light rail stop Sunday morning, we found out that the motel provided a courtesy van to drive people to conference. I had planned on a half hour to get to the conference center (waiting for a train, etc) and instead it only took five minutes.  The down side to getting there that early was sitting for three and a half hours. The up side was getting to watch the Tabernacle Choir rehearse for an entire hour before their performance began.  They are so amazing. Such a large choir and yet you can understand every word.  They truly do sing with one voice. It was lovely to be there.  I enjoyed the actual conference as well, but found myself watching the big screens rather than the actual speaker. Its such a big building and the speakers are so far away.  They all looked so very small from our view point in the balcony section. It was easier to watch the big screen where you could see the expression on their faces as they spoke.  My favorite part of watching conference in person was getting to sit next to Linda and sharing the experience with her.
VooDoo Donuts in Portland has a growing fan base

    We walked around Temple Square after the morning session ended. It had changed quite a bit since the last time I was there.  I saw two things that reminded me of my daughter Rachel.  I saw one of the sister missionaries on Temple Square wearing a pair of Doc Martin boots (definitely Rachel's sense of style).  Then Linda and I came upon some visitors from the Portland area who had brought down a box of VooDoo Donuts for their between session snack. The girl in the middle in the photo is enjoying a bacon maple bar.

    There is a nice park area and a reflecting pool where the street used to be between Temple Square and the Hotel Utah.  We went to the Joseph Smith Building (formerly the Hotel Utah) to watch the Sunday afternoon session.  That is a pretty comfortable place to watch the conference. There was no need to be there so early and there was obviously less of a crowd to negotiate at the end of the session.  By the time the afternoon session ended, Linda was running on fumes.  We took the train back to the motel and hit the trail for home.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tuesday Night Ukulele Class

   I managed to make it to my Tuesday evening ukulele class this week.  Its always one of the highlights of my week. Now that the Live Aloha festival is over they are back into their regular routine, although with a few less participants. At least one of the regulars has gone to Hawaii for the winter.  That sounds a lot more fun than the usual snowbird migration to Arizona. Part of the time we spend working on a few new songs and part of the time we go around the circle and play whatever songs anyone wants to play.  So far my choices have been the old cousin camp standards like Pearly Shells or Pupu Hinu Hinu. It is a lot of fun to play Pearly Shells with people who can really belt out the Hawaiian lyrics. However, it will always be more fun to play and sing it with my grandkids.  I will just have to teach some of them how to sing it in Hawaiian. I've learned a few other songs I'd like to teach them as well, such as E Huli and Aloha Hawaii.

   The canning is winding down a bit.  I've done more than 50 pints of green beans and I'm up to 7 and  a half gallons of grape juice so far. The pole beans were very productive this year.  The squirrels started raiding my little patch of Painted Mountain flour corn in the front yard and I was forced to pull up all of the stalks and harvest the corn a little early.  I husked all of the corn and took it down to the bee store to let it finish drying there. I made a little "corn crib" which I have strategically placed in front of the heat vent.  It should be fully dried within a few weeks and ready for shelling.  The squirrels apparently haven't discovered the other corn patch yet so I will let that dry down in place until they do.

   The removal of the corn stalks allowed me to do a more accurate count of my winter squash. I have five Oregon Sweet Meat, sixteen Red Kuri, and about twenty of some kind of volunteer pumpkins that came up in my Reid's Yellow Dent  corn.  The twenty pumpkins are all from one plant. They are about the same color as a butternut squash with a smooth pumpkin shape. I'm hoping they have a nice  fine textured flesh. If they turn out to be stringy I will donate them to be carved into jack o lanterns at the Trunk or Treat activity. Usually smaller pumpkins aren't stringy so I'm hoping these will be useful for pies and such. I think I grew enough winter squash this year that we could have easily lived off them throughout the winter. The plan is to give a lot of them away, but we do intend to eat more winter squash this year.  I've found at least one squash soup recipe which Linda really likes and she loves pumpkin pie.  I just need to expand my repertoire of squash recipes a bit. Linda is not into plain old baked squash so I will need to exercise some creativity in the kitchen if we are going to make much of a dent in our supply of winter squash.
Red Kuri above and volunteer pumpkins below

Oregon Sweet Meat

     Ian, one of my bee store friends, saw my little corn crib at the store. As it turns out, he is also seriously into indian corn and suggested a few more varieties to try.   Ian was raving about a variety called Floriani Red Flint. As it turns out, it is now carried by Uprising Seeds (located in Bellingham, Washington), the same place where I bought the seed for the Painted Mountain flour corn I grew this year. I'm anxious to try Floriani as it is grown specifically for polenta. This is an heirloom variety from the Sugana Valley of the Italian Alps so it will probably work well in our maritime climate.