Hi, folks! I’m going to be doing a few workshops in 2015. Come see me at:

  • Chelsea District Library, June 2, 6:30pm: Gourmet Berry Jams (Free registration required)
  • Farm Education and Sustainable Food Fest, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, June 14, 10-12: Canning Demo
  • Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd. branch), June 25, 7-8pm: Homemade Salad Dressing and Condiments
  • Chelsea District Library, August 19, 6:30pm: Intro to Canning (Free registration required)


So what have I been up to in the last two years?

  • Moved to a passive solar house
  • Started gardening at a community garden
  • Dug deep into my hyper-local neighborhood
  • Began the School of Dentistry “Help Yourself” Garden (website | news story)
  • Organized several group purchases of edible perennials and dry goods

I’m thinking about starting to teach again! If I did, what topics would you most like to see?

Hey, everybody-

After three years and something over 50 workshops, I am stepping down from heading Preserving Traditions. The last two last workshops currently planned are July 23 (Intro to pickling) and  Aug 27 (Intro to Canning), both at the Chelsea Library from 7-8pm.

What’s next for PT? I’m glad you asked, because the answer is largely up to you! The Pittsfield Grange is very interested in seeing Preserving Traditions continue, and has expressed strong support for the project. But what form should it take? Should PT retain its focus on food, or expand to other traditions, such as handicrafts like spinning, weaving, sewing, carving, soapmaking, etc.? How should PT relate to groups such as the Grange’s Junior Makers program (where kids learn basics of woodworking, electronics, and carpentry) and the ReSkilling Festival (which teaches all sorts of “people-powered” crafts from canning to beekeeping to permaculture)? How often should events be held? Should we do more demos, or more work days? What kinds of online resources would be helpful?

And perhaps most importantly – who will keep the group going? I tended to take a “do all the organizing and most of the teaching” approach, but it need not continue on that way.  There will probably be room for a number of volunteers and time commitments ranging from a few hours on one day to jobs spread out over seasons.

If you would like to be part of the discussion, please contact Joan Hellmann c/o the Pittsfield Grange Facebook page, or via e-mail (preservetrad@gmail.com). There will be a one-time strategy and planning meeting to brainstorm ideas for moving forward. Coming to the meeting doesn’t commit you to any further participation, though of course we’d love to have people volunteer to teach, organize, or otherwise support Preserving Traditions with time.

In the tradition of good food and good friends,


Today (March 11, 2012), we held a maple syrup tasting at the Pittsfield Grange, and it was a lot of fun! Maple syrup is one of the great examples of terroir – the way the conditions of a specific location affect the flavor of particular foods. Over 30 people came to try a slew of syrups, dipping pieces of pancakes as saucers of sweet goodness were passed around the table.

Trio of syrups...and a few pancake crumbs

Trio of Michigan syrups...and a few pancake crumbs

We tasted 11 different syrups: nine from Michigan, two from Canada, and one from Indiana.  Since this year’s batches of syrups are still being made, most of these were actually made in 2011 – only one was from this year’s batch. There were light syrups and dark. Some were created by boiling over wood fires and others that began by removing some of the water by reverse osmosis.  Some came from huge commercial sugarbushes, some from small mom-and-pop operations, and one came from an individual’s back yard and cooked on the stove.  We also tried hickory syrup, made near Adrian.  (This is made from the bark, water, and sugar – not sap.)

Folks found they all had different likes and dislikes.  Some preferred lighter flavors; others preferred a more robust flavor.  The people who like really strong, complex flavors also tended to like the hickory syrup more than folks who like the lighter syrups.  Most folks agreed that the syrups that were predominantly sweet, with little complexity, were just plain boring.  And the only people who liked the super-cheap syrup bought at Sam’s Club (which was super-sweet and thick, and so stridently maple-y that many folks thought it had artificial flavor) were under the age of 12.

There were several syrups that elicited uniformly positive responses.  We didn’t come up with an all-over crowd favorite, but here were some of the top contenders:

  • Appleschram.  This orchard in mid-Michigan is more generally known for its cider and pastured pork, but their maple syrup was a crowd favorite.  A fairly dark syrup, the group described it as tasting “a bit like caramel, almost smoky, with a strong finish.” We found it at the Ann Arbor Food Co-op.
  • Shady Maple Organic.  This medium-dark syrup is from Quebec – home of 75% of the world’s maple syrup production.  Not quite as popular as the Appleschram and Kelly’s (below), it still had its devotees, especially among the light-syrup aficionados.  Despite being lighter in flavor, it was fairly rich and complex, with smoky undertones.  This is a fairly easy syrup to find; we got ours an the Ann Arbor Food Co-op.
  • The most resounding and uniform praise came for a pair of syrups from The Kelly’s in Dexter. Literally a mom-and-pop syrup operation, the Kelly’s tap their trees with tubing and boil it over a wood fire.  We tried both light and dark syrups from 2011, and most people loved one or both.  The flavors were noticeably more complex than most of the other syrups.  The dark syrup (from the end of the season – early-season sap yields lighter syrup) had an almost molasses-like flavor.  Neither came across as being overly sweet, which was preferred by most tasters.  Do yourself a favor and seek them out at the Dexter and Saline farmers’ markets – it’s really a treat!

Overall, it was hard to discern hard-and-fast trends to finding a really good syrup.  More people preferred darker syrups (often marked grade B) than light ones (grade A).  More of the small sugarbushes had lots of fans, compared to the big commercial sugarbushes – but two of the small varieties were considered “boring” and one of the big ones was liked quite a bit.  Even production type wasn’t necessarily a deciding factor – some of the wood-fired ones were great, and some were so-so, and reverse osmosis wasn’t a “big bad,” either.

Hi, folks –

Lest you think Preserving Traditions hasn’t done anything recently, let me assure you that my lack of blogging has simply been because a) I’ve been busy teaching all summer and b) in last year’s survey, event write-ups were lower on everyone’s list of priority…so I let myself slack off some. 🙂

However! I’ve had several requests for materials from today’s workshop, so here goes:

The basic idea of root cellaring is to work with nature to keep food fresh through the winter so you can eat it in March (or June) without canning or freezing it. This can be as simple as setting a squash on a shelf – you just have to store the food in the correct temperature and humidity (usually “as close to freezing as possible and very humid”) with plenty of good air circulation.

Here’s a simplified chart of common foods, and the conditions in which to store them.

Foods Conditions Containers Location
Garlic, onions, winter squash, sweet potatoes Dark, cool (45-55), and dry. Don’t let these get below 40. Mesh bags, baskets, or open shelving Unfinished basement, unheated breezeway, under-heated bedroom
White* potatoes, apples, lactofermented foods Dark, cold (35-45), and humid. Baskets, with layers of newspaper between single layers of produce Root cellar, garage, shed, enclosed porch
White potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, beets, carrots Dark, cold (35-45), and damp Buckets or tubs, layered with damp peat moss, sand, or wood shavings Root cellar, garage, shed, enclosed porch
Cabbage Dark, cold (35-45), and damp Set stem end into damp sand; cover loosely with paper or plastic Root cellar, garage, shed, enclosed porch

*White, as opposed to sweet, potatoes can be white, red, purple, or yellow – they all store the same as each other. Sweet potatoes are a different plant family and have totally different storage conditions

Different varieties of vegetables have different storage properties. This is especially important for cabbage and apples.  Choose small, dense cabbages with lots of dark green “wrapper” leaves still attached.  Large, looser head of “kraut” or “slaw” cabbage will keep for a few weeks, but not all winter like “storage” varieties.  For apples, store varieties that are picked late in the fall, not summer apples.  Cameo and Honeycrisp are good keepers.

Don’t store damaged produce. Cure potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes for a few days in a warm, dry spot out of direct sunlight before storing.  Check your stores frequently, and if anything looks like it’s starting to go bad, remove it immediately. You can often cut out the bad part and eat the rest, but don’t leave it in the cellar – what they say about “one bad apple” is very true!

Can’t find ideal conditions?

  • What’s most important are conditions immediately around the food. A bucket of potatoes in damp peat moss can keep will in a 25 degree, very dry garage, because in the bucket, it’s 35 degrees and humid.
  • Anything will keep for a while if you keep it cool and dark.  So, if your basement is 55 degrees, you’ll be able to keep potatoes for a few months, but they’ll deteriorate faster than if you kept them at 35.  Any food storage is better than none!
  • Try just a few potatoes, onions, and squash and see how long they last in the conditions you’ve got.
  • Two conditions you can’t mess with: don’t let the produce freeze, or it’ll start to rot immediately, and don’t keep it sealed in an air-tight container or room without ventilation.

More resources

Cellaring Books
Root Cellaring Mike Bubel, Nancy Bubel, Pam Art
Build Your Own Underground Root Cellar Phyllis Hobson/Storey Country Wisdom Series
The Complete Root Cellar Book Steve Maxwell/Jennifer MacKenzie      Includes plans for apartments, etc.
Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning Gardeners and Farmer’s Center of Terre Vivant
Complete Guide to Your New Root Cellar Atlantic Publishing Company
The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar Jennfer Megyesi
Cellaring Websites
Organic Gardening/Root Cellar http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/building-root-cellar
Food Storage as Grandma Knew It/New York Time http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/garden/06root.html
Return Of The Root Celler http://www.tribwatch.com/rootcell.htm
Root Cellar Basics (great info!) http://www.floydcountyinview.com/rcbasics.html
Seed Savers Founder talks about Saving Seeds In Your Cellar http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-klein/every-seed-has-a-story_b_867122.html
Gardening In Your Rood Cellar http://gomestic.com/gardening/gardening-in-your-root-cellar/
Emily’s blog posts about her own root cellar See “Eat Close to Home” and click the tag “root cellar”

Beans are cheap, healthy, and many varieties are grown in Michigan!  They’re great food, but a lot of people don’t know how to cook with them, or have had bad luck in the past getting them to cook up well. Here are  a few pointers and recipes.

Bean Basics

  • The fresher the bean, the faster it will cook.  Very, very old beans may never get soft.  If you think you can’t cook beans, try starting with fresh beans bought from the co-op; keep them in glass jars at home.
  • For better nutrition, shorter cooking times, and fewer crunchy beans, soak beans in cold water overnight.  Cover the beans with about 3” of water in a glass, plastic, or stainless steel bowl or pot and let stand at least 8 hours.
  • Any “split” bean (split peas, mung daal, split red lentils) and most tiny beans (lentils, black gram daal, adzuki beans) will cook in under an hour without soaking.
  • Beans will foam up when you cook them.  Use a very big pot so they won’t boil over.  You can skim the foam or just ignore it.
  • Add salt, tomatoes, and salty/acidic flavorings toward the end of cooking to avoid toughening the beans’ skins.  Beans seem to benefit from a fairly heavy dose of salt, so if your bean dish doesn’t taste like anything, try adding more salt.
  • Make big batches and store pre-cooked beans in the freezer in recipe-sized portions.  Beans may be pressure canned (only – do not water-bath can!).


Lentil Soup

  • Pour enough oil into a medium saucepan to cover the bottom one lentil deep.
  • Add a chopped onion and 1c. lentils (brown, red, or green).
  • Add 3-4 c. water and a bay leaf; bring to a boil then simmer for 30 mins.  Use more water for soup; use less if serving over rice.
  • The lentils should be mostly done but it’s ok if a couple still have a little crunch.
  • Add 1 tsp. veggie bouillon, or about ½ tsp. salt and herbs to taste.
  • Add 2-3 chopped carrots, greens, and/or a diced potato, if you like.
  • Simmer 15 more minutes until all is cooked.
  • Serve as soup, or over rice, with a vegetable side if you didn’t put the veg into the stew.

Sag Daal (Indian beans and spinach)

  • Cook 1 c. daal (split mung beans, split red lentils, or yellow split peas) in 3c. water and 1 bay leaf until tender. Since you’re using split beans with no hulls, the beans will “puree” themselves as they cook.
  • Saute in oil or ghee 1 small diced onion, 1 tsp. turmeric, ½ tsp. coriander, ½ tsp. cumin, ½ tsp. salt, and a teaspoon each fresh ginger and chopped garlic. Also add ground cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils to the toasted spice mixture.
  • Add a bag of fresh or frozen spinach, or a washed and shredded bunch of kale.
  • Cook until greens wilt; serve over rice.


Refried Beans

  • Soak 1 c. of dried pinto or cranberry beans overnight in cold water.
  • Boil the beans with 4-5 cups water and a bay leaf for about an hour or so.  Beans should be very tender. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.
  • Saute a diced onion, two cloves of minced garlic, and a diced fresh chili pepper in oil or lard. (You can substitute dried cayenne pepper in the next step instead of a fresh chili, or leave the chili out for mild beans.)
  • When the onion is soft, add the drained beans and mash with a spatula as you stir.  Add the reserved cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
  • Add salt and dried spices to taste (cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper).


Grange Lecturer Dave Wilson reports on the program at the November meeting

Cottage Food Bill meeting at the Grange

Frank Gublo, of MSU’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources gave a talk explaining Michigan’s new Cottage Foods Act, under which it is now legal for private parties to prepare and market certain foods. The topic obviously was of great interest, as we had 45 people in attendance and Frank fielded an enormous number of questions during the course of his presentation.

Frank’s job with the Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources is to help people start up food-related businesses—to get good food ideas out of the kitchen and into the marketplace. Michigan’s Cottage Foods Act is right up his alley, as its purpose is to encourage local food systems and entrepreneurship. He spent most of his talk explaining the practical details of the act such as what home-prepared foods can be sold, where can they be prepared, who can prepare them, how can they be sold, hygiene and sanitation requirements, and what labeling must be used.

Basically, only shelf-stable foods are permitted—foods with low risk for food-borne illness. These include dried herbs, dried pasta, popcorn, chocolate-covered items, cakes, dry bulk items, jams and jellies, breads, cookies, fruit pies, vinegars, coated and uncoated nuts. Foods that are out of bounds include all meats (which are regulated by the USDA), dairy foods (including all cheeses), canned fruits and vegetables, sauerkraut, pickles, and perishables generally.

Foods acceptable under the act must be prepared in single-family kitchens (in homes, apartments, condos); foods made in our Grange hall kitchen would NOT be acceptable, nor would foods prepared in any sort of group community kitchen or in a kitchen in an outbuilding. The act stresses the importance of cleanliness and good hygiene at all stages of food preparation, handling, and marketing, although there is no requirement for periodic official inspections. The cooking area must be free of insects, rodents, and other pests; pets
must be excluded from the area during food processing and handling, proven food processes must be used, and vehicles used for transporting the foods must be clean.

Foods must be prepared by an individual or by members of a family living in the dwelling in which the food is prepared. You cannot invite a few friends over for a session baking cookies or making jellies and sell these items under this act.

Each individual package of food must be labeled with the following information: Name of product; all ingredients; net weight or volume; name and address of business; allergen labeling; and the following statement: “Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.”

Foods must be sold by the maker directly to the buyer; there can be no middleman. It is not legal for a group of several food makers to assign the job of sales to one of their members. Only in-person sales are permitted. An annual gross sales limit of $15,000 is imposed by the act. And one must comply with all local zoning ordinances and regulations. Frank also advised that people planning to do business under the Cottage Foods Act would be well advised to discuss the liability ramifications with their insurance agent to make sure that they are adequately covered.

For further information, see http://www.michigan.gov/cottagefood, or the Michigan Department of  Agriculture at http://michigan.gov/mda, or MSU’s Extension Service Washtenaw office at http://www.ewashtenaw.org.

Thanks so much, Frank, for a most interesting and relevant program.

And thanks, Dave, for writing up the program!