National Grange LogoThe National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (“the Grange”) recognizes seven degrees of membership. The first four degrees are conferred at the local level by one’s home Grange. The fifth degree is administered by the regional, or Pomona, Grange; the sixth, by the State Grange; and the seventh, by the National Grange.

At induction to each level, the Grange imparts various teachings and exhortations about the Grange and the Granger’s duties, as well as explanations of the Grange’s symbolic objects, hand signs, and yes, even the secret handshake. But I can’t tell you about them, or I’d lose the respect of my fellow Grangers and be expelled from the Grange. So you’ll forgive me if I speak only in broad terms!

I was initiated into the fifth and sixth degrees at the state Grange meeting in mid-October. What were the ceremonies like? In a word, awesome. And I mean that in both the “wow, cool!” sense and in the sense of being humbling and awe-inspiring.

Now, I’m fairly susceptible to good ritual. I like the sense of tradition, of rites handed down generation after generation. I appreciate good symbolism, especially tangible, physical, kinesthetic symbolism: walking on a ritual journey, bestowing meaningful objects, and that coveted secret hand gesture.  And I confess to enjoying a bit of theatre – costumes and pageantry, set dressing and lighting effects, shared songs and speeches a bit on the highfalutin’ side of the everyday. It all works together to impress upon one that this is not ordinary time; something special is going on here, and whether or not we  believe all the bits, we’re happy to play along for the joy it brings, and the messages it conveys.

If you grew up celebrating the typical American Santa-centered Christmas, you know all about these aspects of ritual: the fur-trimmed red suit, the twinkling lights, snow and reindeer (real or cartoony), singing “Up on the Housetop,” and the ever-important ritual question, “Have you been good this year?”  Only the youngest believe Santa is a real person with the power to grant wishes, but for those few moments, we indulgently play along. We enjoy the pageantry, remember our own memories of whispered wishes on Santa’s knee, and renew our pledges to try to be very very good this year in the hopes of good returns.

With no young kids in my life these days, I no longer really celebrate “Santamas,” and with it goes one of the last time-honored group traditions from my household.  And you know what? I miss it. I miss feeling like part of something bigger than myself.  I miss the comfort of knowing all the words (even if I don’t totally believe them) and the tune and the “right” clothes to wear.  I march to my own drummer most of the time…but I also miss the Little Drummer Boy.

So the degree conferral satisfied my hankering for spectacular ceremony. But beyond this aesthetic appreciation for the ceremonies, I found – somewhat to my surprise – that these rites really mattered to me. I feel different now, about the Grange, about my place within the Grange, and even a bit different about how I see myself. I admit that before the degree work, I was concerned about the way some of my opinions differ from the prevailing opinions of the National Grange. But after the ceremonies, and after meeting Grangers from across the state, I know for certain that the Grange is a great place for me. Yes, I differ on some points of politics and religion, but I find that I really do agree with the more fundamental issues of growing and preparing of food.  And I see myself as really belonging to this tradition of growers and makers, of sowers and sewers: of Patrons of Husbandry.  It feels really, really good to belong to a group of people who deeply appreciate what I do, in the garden and the kitchen and the Grange hall. And I really like the Grangers I met. They’re just good folks.

Would you find as good a fit within the Grange? If you enjoy bringing food forth from the soil, be it in a garden, on a farm, in an orchard, or on that mythical “back forty” you hope to have someday, you very well may.  If you take pride in the work of your hands, such as needlework, spinning, weaving, or even nature photography, you just might.  If you enjoy shopping at the farmers’ market and turning that bounty into nourishing meals, and appreciate the work that went into coaxing that food from the soil, I bet you would.

Maybe I’ll see you next year, and hand you an apple.  And you’ll understand, and smile just as hugely as I did.

With the talk at the Ypsi Co-op on Oct. 7th, the second year of Preserving Traditions winds down. This seems like a good time to think about where to go with the group in 2011, and I’d love your input.

Recap: What we did this year

It’s been a busy year – a total of 22 workshop, demos, and work days in Ann Arbor. All but five of those were taught by yours truly, and eight were in the peak season of July-September. I also turned down half a dozen offers to teach at other locations; I just couldn’t meet all the need for all the interested folks out there! I really love teaching, and I leave events more energized than I arrive. I do need to remember to pace myself, though; more than two sessions per month (even if I’m just organizing and not teaching) is pretty brutal.

I taught at some new venues outside the Grange this year, including the Re-Skilling Fair, the A2 Farmer’s market, Downtown Home and Garden, and St. Joseph’s Hospital Women’s Center. Sylvia Nolasco-Rivers also led a workshop at her business (Pilar’s Tamales) that sold out in 3 hours.

What’s inspired me this year

  • The Detroit Zymology Guild is a group that gets together to pickle and can all sorts of amazing foods – some of which were “wild”-harvested in Detroit.
  • The concepts of permaculture and edible landscaping.
  • Low-energy cooking, such as solar ovens and rocket stoves.
  • Local foodshed-building projects such as the Farmer Fund, which helps local farmers build hoophouses to extend the local growing season.
  • Rob Frost’s One Straw Revolution and his efforts to put a potato patch and willow coppice in every suburban lot to radically increase home food production – and his observation that we need to dramatically step up home food production, more than one potted tomato at a time.

Room for refinement

I have learned that I am not cut out for market demos. For one, I’m not great with heat…I nearly passed out while demoing raspberry jam this year. :/ For another, you can’t really learn how to can just by walking by a demo, and that’s all most people have time for. And as I get more requests to teach, I want to focus on maximizing the number of people who can then go home and use the skills I’ve just taught. So I think in 2011, I will reduce the number of “walk-by” events I lead.

I am also wondering about the balance of teaching people how to can, and actually getting jars into pantries. The revelation to me from the salsa work day was that yes, we canned about 80 pints of salsa, but it took 60 worker-hours to do so. We could easily have made as much salsa in that amount of time with half the people. But is the point food in jars, or know-how in heads? (This is one point I’d especially like y’all to help me think through.)

One thing I do know…I can’t teach 8 workshops in 3 months while working full time, maintaining my own garden, canning my own produce, and not taking any extra vacation time. I think I’ll be scaling back the garden next year, as that is the most easily replaceable item, given our excellent markets in this area. I don’t want to cut back on teaching – in fact, I’d like there to be *more* teaching – but stressing out the way I’ve done the last 2 years isn’t something I’d like to make a regular feature of my summers from now on.

Preserving Traditions Boot Camp?

One option, of course, is that I don’t need to be doing all the teaching. I have been toying with the idea of leading a “train-the-trainers bootcamp” for people locally and from afar who want to teach similar classes. I would love to have a network of people in town who could field some of these requests for teachers. I know many folks who are capable cooks, but I don’t know if you want to teach. (If you do, please let me know!) I’m wondering – are there folks out there who are good cooks and canners, but not sure if you’re ready for the teaching aspect? Would you attend a workshop (potentially multi-day) that would teach some kitchen skills and some “how to lead a workshop” skills? With a chance to try teaching in a supportive environment with lots of feedback? (My day job is teaching teachers how to teach, so you’d be in good hands.) I would have to charge for such a workshop; what would you think is a fair price for two and a half days of instruction, plus breakfast and lunch? Take the survey about camp here.

Oh wise friends…help guide me! Leave your comments here or mail them to Together, Yes! We Can!

When I was growing up, Saturday morning and PBS went together like bacon and eggs. Sometimes literally, as many of the shows we watched were cooking shows or cooking segments of other shows. Jeff Smith’s The Frugal Gourmet (“The Froog”) and Marian Morash on the Victory Garden were two I remember in particular. I was aware of Julia Child but I don’t remember seeing her regularly on TV.

We also watched Martin Yan in Yan Can Cook and Justin Wilson’s Louisiana Chef show (I forget if that was the exact title). I remember being aware that these shows were different.  Julia taught you French cooking technique. Marian mostly gave recipes for whatever was in season at the moment. Jeff encouraged you to broaden horizons and tastes. Martin and Justin, however, were primarily entertainers. They were filmed with live studio audiences, who laughed at the jokes and gasped at the astounding knife technique. The delivery was, if anything, more important than the food. And while Martin’s slogan may have been, “If Yan can cook, so can you!” but even at the age of 8, I remember watching him chop flawless matchstick carrots faster than a Cuisinart and thought, “Really? Because none of us watching can do that.

I think cooking shows have followed this celebrity trend more and more. It’s not about food, it’s not about teaching, and it’s not about empowering people to do for themselves.

More often than not, it’s about selling stuff. Chefs become brands almost instantly. Put “Rachel Ray” into Amazon, and you 278 results. About 25 of those are her cookbooks; about 120 are cookware. (There are also videos and books about her.) Chefs even have their own lines of frozen food – a clear sign that we are encouraged to eat food prepared by professionals and we’re not really expected to try this at home.

Yes. We Can.I think this professionalization of cooking does us all a disservice. At some level, we take in that if our food doesn’t look like theirs, it’s not good enough and we therefore shouldn’t even try.

Preserving Traditions isn’t like that. In fact, it’s quite intentionally the opposite. With only a few exceptions, the people teaching our classes are your neighbors, not celebrities. (Sylvia Nolasco-Rivers was our big exception this year – everyone in town knows her business Pilar’s Tamales) The point of the workshops is to give you actual hands-on experience so you can, in fact, do that kind of food preparation in your own kitchen. That’s why our slogan is “Yes. We Can.”

Now, you may decide that you don’t want to make all your own pickles, can tomatoes, or make pie crust from scratch with lard…but at least you’re able to make an informed decision instead of just assuming it’s an impossible task.


Is this thing on?

Is anyone still reading this blog? I hope so! Now that the harvest season is winding down, I’ll be writing a bit more here: wrap-ups from our multitudinous summer events and also some thoughts on Preserving Traditions, lessons learned, and thoughts for directions as the group moves forward. Your thoughts are very much appreciated!

Look for posts in the coming days…


Hi, folks!

I realize I’ve not been writing much here this year – event wrap-ups and such. I really overdid it last year, and not blogging has been a way for me to keep the activities coming while staying somewhat sane.

I did want to share this, though: come instructions for making very large batches of salsa in a group. And here’s a pic of the group that made 79 pints in August!
2010 Salsa Day

The salsa recipe

We’ve used this recipe two years in a row at our salsa canning work days, and it’s worked out very well. It’s from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and has been tested to be safe for water-bath canning. You can use any combination of sweet and hot peppers to yield the quantities listed, and you can add more spices (garlic, cumin, salt, etc.) but don’t alter the basic proportions of tomatoes-peppers-onions-lemon juice.

Use paste-type tomatoes (romas, Amish paste, etc.) so you don’t have to cook it forever to get it to thicken up. I’ve also found it helps to bring half a cup of cayenne pepper to the workshop so you can adjust the heat without throwing off the rest of the recipe. Our peppers have not had much heat the last two years, and the cayenne really helped keep the spice lovers happy!

Paste tomato salsa
Yield Unit 13 pints x2 batches x3 batches x4 batches x5 batches x6 batches
Tomatoes, chopped Quart 7 14 21 28 35 42
Onions, chopped Cups 5 10 15 20 25 30
Jalapenos Cups 1 2 3 4 5 6
Sweet long chilis Cups 3.2 6.4 9.6 12.8 16 19.2
Garlic Cups 0.4 0.8 1.2 1.6 2 2.4
Lemon or lime juice Cups 2 4 6 8 10 12
Salt Tbl 2 4 6 8 10 12
Cumin, ground Tbl 2 4 6 8 10 12
Oregano Tbl 2.4 4.8 7.2 9.6 12 14.4
Black pepper Tbl 1 2 3 4 5 6
Cilantro Cups 0.6 1.2 1.8 2.4 3 3.6
Finished pints 13 26 39 52 65 78

This chart should be extremely helpful to figure out how much of each dry, uncut ingredient to bring to yield the quantities of chopped materials listed above. There’s always some uncertainty when changing between weight and volume, so take the measurements below with a grain of salt and be sure you measure your chopped ingredients as you stir things together. Don’t add those extra two onions just because you have them; you have to increase the recipe in correct proportion. The numbers below should err on the side of having too much of something. Chop some stuff, measure, and then chop more as needed so you don’t end up with 3 spare quarts of tomatoes but no extra onions.

Updated 8-28-13

What to bring (one 13pt batch) By weight By volume By the piece
Tomatoes, whole Pounds 14-15 Dry quarts 9 (1 peck) Small romas 60?
Onions, whole Pounds 2.5 Dry quarts 1 heaping Medium 6-7
Jalapenos, whole Pounds 0.5 Dry pints 1 Peppers 10
Sweet chilis, whole Pounds 2 Dry quarts 2 Large Bell peppers 5-6
Garlic, bulbs Pounds 0.25 Dry pints 0.25 Bulbs 2

When putting together your list of what to bring, you may end up dividing up shares like this:

  • 5 pounds of onions
  • Another 5 pounds of onions
  • 4 pounds of jalapenos
  • 3 pounds of sweet peppers
  • Another 3 pounds of sweet peppers
  • 4 large bulbs of garlic and a quart of lemon juice
  • 4 large bunches of cilantro
  • 2 more quarts of lemon juice
  • All spices (usually easiest for the organizer to bring)

Tomato conversion chart (pounds, quarts, bushels, etc.)

Tomato conversions Bushel Gallon Peck Quart (dry) Pounds Quart (diced) Pint (diced)
One bushel 1 8 4 32 53 17-20 35-40
One peck 0.25 2 1 8-9 12 4-5 9-10
One canner load, or the recipe above (7qt) 0.25 1 8-9 13-14 14 9
One quart 1.5-2 2-2.5 1 2

Organizing who’s bringing what

Here’s what I do:

  • Ask for people to RSVP. My kitchen at the Grange can hold 10 people, max, so I set the limit at 12 because someone always has to miss at the last minute.
    • Be sure to think about how much stove space you have. At the Grange, we have 2 electric stoves. Each stove holds one canner and one pot of salsa. We also have 2 portable butane burners that each hold a 10-qt pot for cooking down salsa. Cooking the salsa down is what takes the most time – 30-45 mins for each big 8qt batch.
  • Once I know how many people are coming, I decide how much salsa we’re going to make. I usually aim for about 8 pints per person.
  • Then I divide up the ingredients. Each person brings a share of tomatoes, plus one other share of other ingredients. I use Doodle to have people sign up for their shares online, but use whatever’s convenient for you.
  • Be sure you have canners, big measuring cups, bowls, and large cooking pots, spoons, etc. You can use quart or half-gallon canning jars to measure ingredients in a pinch. I like having restaurant-style ingredient tubs with cup/quart markings on the side. You may want to use Doodle to have people sign up to bring equipment as well as ingredients.

Running the workshop

  1. Sanitize all counters and sinks (1 gal water + 4 drops bleach; use new sponges)
  2. Rinse out all bowls, tubs, colanders, etc. if they are new or have been in storage.
  3. Finalize quantities; determine if any additional ingredients are needed.
  4. Tape a copy of the recipe next to each cooking station. For example, a 10qt pot can hold one batch of the salsa listed above (makes 13 pints), so write out the recipe for one batch.
  5. Wash tomatoes.
  6. Start chopping ingredients. As ingredients are chopped, whoever dumps that ingredient into the pot marks off what they’ve just added on the recipe sheet. So, if I add 4 quarts of tomatoes, I put 4 hash marks next to the “7qt chopped tomatoes” line on the recipe. That way, everyone knows when a particular pot contains all its required ingredients.
  7. Start heating water in canners.
  8. Start cooking the salsa as soon as there are a couple quarts of tomatoes in the pot. Add the fresh herbs in the last 15 mins of cooking. Aim to get one batch of salsa cooking before all ingredients are chopped.
  9. Wash jars and place in canners or oven to warm.
  10. Warm lids in saucepan.
  11. Continue to cook salsas until they are thick.
  12. Start cleanup as soon as all ingredients are chopped. You’ll be done chopping long before the salsa is done cooking.
  13. Can salsa – water bath 15 mins per pint/20 mins per quart.
  14. Finish cleanup.
  15. Listen for the “ping”!
<a href=”; title=”2010 Salsa Day by espring4224, on Flickr”><img src=”; width=”500″ height=”375″ alt=”2010 Salsa Day” /></a>

Presenter Holly White, looking suave, and Emily creating a small buttermilk explosion. Photo by Penny Corbett.

I think our May 2nd workshop was the best workshop ever that didn’t do what was intended. Thirty people attended – our second-best-attended workshop ever – to see how to make three dairy products from scratch: creme fraiche, butter, and mozzarella cheese.

Get the workshop handouts here!

Creme fraiche (sorry, I’m not sure how to do the accents in WordPress…) is often called “French sour cream.” It can be used the way you would sour cream, though it has the advantage of not separating when heated, the way American sour cream does. Making it is simple; mix some cultured buttermilk into cream and let it stand at room temp for 24-48 hours until thickened. (Full details are in the downloadable recipe handout.)

Our presenter, Holly White of the Detroit Zymology Guild, also explained a bit about the two types of buttermilk. The liquid left after you make butter is “true” buttermilk. The kind you buy in the store is “cultured” buttermilk. Both are great in pancakes, but only cultured buttermilk can be used to inoculate other milk to make cultured dairy products like creme fraiche and cheese.


Butter made at home by workshop attendee Penny Corbett. Photo by Penny.

Butter is also quite easy to make at home: just pour cream in a jar and shake. We’ve probably all done this at some point…but Holly explained to us about the importance of “washing” the butter to get all the watery liquid out. Any liquid left in the butter will cause it to spoil more quickly, so you need to press the butter against the sides of a bowl to encourage all the liquid to come out. Rinsing the lump of butter with cold water helps this process, especially early on. It’s easiest to do this if you stop shaking the butter at the “grainy” stage, and before it forms a solid brick.

Finally, we moved on to the cheesemaking…and this is where things went a bit awry. We were aiming for mozzarella, but we ended up with ricotta. The ricotta was delicious, though it was disappointing not to get to stretch the mozzarella. We thought the problem might be with the portable butane burners we used – you need to heat the milk very slowly when making mozzarella, and it was hard to keep the burners at a very low flame.

Well, our intrepid workshop leader Holly spent the better part of the next week experimenting to figure out what happened, and determined that it was the milk that was the problem. The short version is that apparently Calder milk is pasteurized at too high a temperature to make mozzarella. Here’s her assessment of the situation:

I’ve tried 4 more batches with Calder’s “natural” milk, and I get the same result we got on Sunday.  I replaced my citric acid, I tested the rennet and I switched to a double boiler.  Still got ricotta.

I called Calder, and they told me they do low-heat pasteurization.  But the problem is certainly their milk.  This is exactly what happens when it is overheated- it won’t set and you get those little grains for curds.  It’s just that in this case, the overheating happened at the plant.

So I switched brands [of pasteurized milk] and it still didn’t work.  So going forward, I’m not teaching mozzarella unless I can do it with raw milk.  Illegal food workshops, hooray!

I called some chef friends for troubleshooting, and found out from one of them that Zingermann’s uses raw milk in their mozzarella workshops.  Interesting, huh?  And that they also use commercial curds to make their “in-house” cheeses.

Holy cow. The fancy-schmancy local creamery uses pre-made curds to make their mozzarella? Interesting, indeed!

I intend to have another cheese workshop in a few months featuring cheeses that are less fussy about their milk – paneer, farmer’s cheese, etc. I will test the recipes with readily-available milk products.

A question for the peanut gallery: If we can’t get commercial pasteurized milk to make a decent cheese, would you rather I used raw milk (which is hard to find and quite expensive) or just not have another cheese workshop at all?

Way back in March, we had a workshop on condiments. Several folks have reported back to me with the results of their experiments, and I have been neglectful in posting them. With no further ado, here are some of our favorites:

Suzie’s Fat-Free Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tbl. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbl. spicy prepared mustard (a dijon mustard works well)
  • 1-2 Tbl. white vinegar
  • 1-2 Tbl. water

This is especially good if there’s bleu cheese in your salad, but then it’s not fat-free any more. 😉

Julie’s Balsamic Mustard

Julie took the basic grainy mustard recipe and jazzed it up a bit:

  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbl brown mustard seeds

Combine and let sit overnight; the next day, blend in the blender to crack the mustard seeds. Here’s what Julie says about it:

The mustard I made with the balsamic vinegar, EVOO and brown mustard seeds TOTALLY ROCKS!  The entire family loves it.  Since it was already on the spicy side I just took the other odds and ends of spicy and dijon mustards from the refrig, stirred them in, and they are now all consolidated into a fabulous all purpose mustard.  I can’t imagine ever buying prepared mustard again, this was so easy and the results were so unexpectedly stupendous!

Julie’s Balsamic-Orange Peel Dressing

Vinaigrettes can be made by combining equal parts oil, vinegar, and water, buy you can play with the particulars with stunning results. Here’s Julie’s variation:

  • 2 Tbl. Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbl. Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbl. Honey
  • Fresh lemon thyme (leaves from one sprig)
  • 1 tsp. Dried orange peel

Julie’s comment:

All I can say is that I have made it three times since then and it has become another staple on our table!

Diana’s Grove Garlic-Bleu Cheese Dressing

This is a fave from a retreat site I’ve visited in the past.

  • 1 c. mayo
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 squeezed lemon
  • 1/4 to 1/2 c. bleu cheese crumbles
  • handful of chopped parsley (dried)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • A whole lot of crushed garlic

Emulsifiers for salad dressings

We all know water and oil don’t mix – at least, not without the help of an emulsifier. We discussed using cream, yogurt,  mayonnaise, and even mustard as emulsifiers. Member Carol kept her eyes peeled, and when her issue of Cook’s Illustrated arrived, sent me this note:

Just got a newsletter from Cook’s Illustrated that had a video about vinaigrette emulsifiers.  They tested mustard, mayo and egg yolk.  Winner was egg yolk, which caused vinaigrette to stay together for 3 hours (as opposed to mustard – 30 minutes – and mayo – 1.5 hours).  They decided, however, that the egg yolk made the vinaigrette too eggy tasting, so they decided a mixture of mayo and mustard was the best solution.