Farmers who have made a difference: Paul Willis

Paul WillisPaul Willis. Returning the family farm to an earlier model.


What Humanely-Raised Pork Looks and Tastes Like

October 19, 2011 by Amelia




There’s a long-running joke that Iowa is the “fly-over” state in the U.S. – nothing but a wash of cornfields and pork-producing confinement buildings that looks like a rectangular checkerboard from planes overhead. I’ve even heard the joke come from the mouths of Iowans themselves.  But I saw and experienced something completely different on a recent trip to Des Moines, the heart of the pork-producing state.

I came up-close to a curious mother sow and her black-and-white speckled piglets; snacked on chorizo-green chile-stuffed tacos made with homemade corn tortillas; bought a hand-carved, hand-smoothed chunk of rusty-colored wood that now holds fruit on my dining table; tasted raw, juicy slices of 20 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes; trail-blazed through the tall, clover-spiked purple, yellow and green grasses of natural Midwestern prairie; savored every bite of 18-hour, slow-roasted whole pork immediately after “pulling” alongside pork belly, glistening with its hearty layer of fat cut-through by a meaty underside and crispy-caramel skin; and, most importantly, met some of thekindest farmers and ranchers who care deeply about their families, their animals, and the earth.

This was my trip to the pork “division” of Niman Ranch, and more specifically, to the birthplace and working farm of Paul Willis, founder of the Niman Ranch Pork Company who has been crowned by Alice Waters and other chefs, food-lovers and other as the “godfather of pork.”

Paul has weathered, tan skin and some wrinkling around the eyes – evidence of a life as a happy, constantly smiling and outdoor living farmer. Donned in his staple blue overalls, which he once refused to sell for a hefty price to an affluent visitor, Paul speaks softly but knowledgeable, being a living legend among chefs and culinarians. And, apparently Chipotle as well.

Niman Ranch is known as the answer for sustainable, humanely-raised meat that’s produced around the country, but distributed like local food. Niman’s business strategy differs from the big distribution companies that focus on grand-scale, cross-country trucking and commercial animal production, otherwise known as factory farms, as a way to meet those big demands. Instead, Niman’s program is the opposite: it’s a network of small farms that pool their resources and products as way to keep things small-scale and sustainable while meeting the needs of customers around the country. It’s a business philosophy that’s started the “slow food” concept of transforming this country’s food system completely – for the better.

When Bill Niman decided to get into the pork business, he first searched around his state of California for producers, but failed to find the right match. Through Alice Waters, he learned about Paul, who was one of the only pork producers in the country raising their pigs completely outdoors. Immediately, Niman loved Paul’s pork. “He told me to send him 30 more chops,” Paul said. “I had to figure out how was I going to get those to him? Do I put them on a plane? Or do I send the animals on a train and have them processed in California?” Paul ended up doing the latter and the rest was history.

During the eighties, Paul explained during the trip to his ranch, pork began being bred for a leaner product that could compete with the popularity of chicken breast. The pork board added further pressure in this regard, and many farmers found they didn’t have as much use for the fattier parts or lard byproduct as more consumers switched from lard to oil. The new breed of pork was a leaner one, and that meant the pigs couldn’t withstand the cold temperatures and harsh winters that of the Iowan, Midwestern climate without that important layer of fatback they once had. On top of that, pigs use that layer of fat like sweat glands since they don’t have any. This meant the hot, Midwestern summers were just as unbearable.

The solution for this was to move the pigs indoors. But Paul refused to do so. As a result, he became part of the less than 5 percent of pork producers that, to this day, still raise their animals completely in confinement operations. More often than not in these operations, pigs have little, if any, room to move around and very little care or attention, as many of the production companies have “outsourced” management of these facilities to poorly paid workers, including illegal workers, who literally come in to check temperatures and remove dead animals. This is also precisely why antibiotics became infused in feed and water as a way to prevent stress-induced illness before it happened.

Paul’s pigs are Berkshire, Duroc and Chester White, three of the types of pork that are known for their generous fat layer so they can remain outdoors, and juicy, tender meat. In fact, Paul’s breed standards are extraordinarily intense. Interested farmers must apply and ensure their raising and production processes are in line with the at least eight pages of standards outlined in the Niman Ranch application. They also have to go through a few rounds of farm visits, tasting and pH testing. During a demonstration of the difference between commodity and Niman pork chops, Niman’s field operations manager Lori Lyon explained that the company’s standards for pH is 5.7 or above. Most commodity pork, on the other hand, has a pH as low as 2 or 3, meaning these chops are highly acidic. And you can tell from looking at it, too. Ever seen a package of pork chops from the grocery store “swimming” in what looks like a pool of water? That’s actually the juices of the pork running out as it breaks down from its own acidity.

Lactic acid is the culprit, and that acid builds up if the animal is stressed just before slaughter. The most lactic-acid preventing and also humane slaughter method, used by Niman and increasing numbers of even commodity producers these days, is to group the animals together according to their age and “pack,” then gas the animals so they fall asleep. At that point they are killed and processed. This method has increasingly replaced the stunning method, during which workers can “miss” an animal and have to repeat the stunning, twice, even three times. Pigs are intelligent so when they see others of their kind in distress, it causes them to be distressed. The horror stories of the sounds and smells coming from those slaughter houses became too much for a lot of those workers, including one who spoke about his experiences during the Niman ranch trip.

On the farm, Paul’s pigs are happy. They run around, play, snort, root, sleep, eat and cuddle together. Contrary to the cartoons and sayings, pigs actually don’t enjoy sitting in their own you know what, though they do enjoy a cool mud patch from time to time. They also enjoy hanging with other pigs in general, but mostly those their age. Sows are kept separate with their black and white speckled piglets who curiously peer out from inside the small shed shelters scattered about the field. The “adolescents” look like a pack of deer running back and forth from a nearby predator, though they’re really just “exercising,” Paul said. Other curious potbellied creatures were braver to approach us and say hello. We smiled and said hello back.

Later that evening for dinner, our group gathered around an indoor-outdoor shed of sorts where the Willis family and friends had set up an enormous buffet of foods, from caprese salads with heirloom tomatoes, corn salsas, homemade bread and fresh churned butter, hot, crispy jalapeno poppers, and home-cured salamis paired with fresh cheeses and picked vegetables. But the star of the show was the whole hog, head, apple-stuffed mouth and all, that had been smoked for 18 hours in a massive smoker at the Niman specialty meats processing center nearby. The meat was a mixture of tender, pulled pork layered with fattier bits that barely needed the bread, let alone a sauce. And then the finale: huge pork belly chunks with all their layers perfectly intact: tender-braised meat on bottom, succulent fat in the middle, and a crisp, seared top. Just like the French make it. Just like a sustainable Iowa farmer makes it.

After dinner, a few of us got off an over-packed hay ride to walk with Paul through his prairie and wildlife preserve, a experimental project with the state of Iowa. As we walked through the tall, yellow and purple flower-spiked grasses, Paul ran his hands along the trunks of the stems, pointing out the different species and birds that flew in and out. Crickets purred softly. At one point, a hummingbird hummed by. Downhill, just beyond the little pond at the center of the field, the sun began to set and cast a purple hue across the sky. Though he doesn’t raise any pigs on this particular property, this is where Paul’s family lives, cooks, eats and gathers. He calls it “Dream Farm.” One can see why.


ALR Farmland. Part 1.

Our Scattered Farms and the ALR

With some data from: Vancouver Sun November 16, 2013.
Except for a small board and staff who are charged with overseeing the regulations, BC does nothing positive to preserve and expand farmland. Expenditures on Agriculture have been savagely reduced over the past decade by both senior levels of government. As a result, the ALC is an increasing anomaly. A small Prescriptive group with noble aims but no means of reaching them. Could the province’s4.6 million people ever feed themselves? Especially the 2.5 million who live in greater Vancouver?

Historically, only five per cent of lands in British Columbia are locked in the Agricultural Land Reserve. Much of BC is  mountainous. The largest blocks of arable land are concentrated around the Fraser, Kootenay, Columbia, Skeena and Peace River basins. Even though this is only 5% of all land, it is still a lot of arable land.  4,621,699 hectares.

So the simple answer is Yes. On a hectare one can not only grow enough vegetables and grains to feed a family of four, one can keep a cow or two or some sheep, goats, pigs. Some feel you can make a good living from a single acre in a market garden.

Unfortunately, for every one to get to “their” acre would not be easy. The land is in the north and the people are in the south. So let’s look first at the regions.

So let’s look first at the regions. SIX REGIONS BY A CHART (from the ALC):

Region         ALR Area (hectares)*   ALR Area (percent)  PER ACRE

North              2,210,783                         49%    …. $44.85

Interior           1,528,968                          33%     … $28.20

Island             116,207                               2%       …$1,083.00

Okanagan      224,977                               5%        …$811.42 plus $320 (wine tourism)

Kootenay        392,557                               8%       …$24.60

South Coast   148,207                                3%       …$5,140  (Van) $5,866 (FV)

Total               4,621,699                             100%


1. The North includes large blocks of agricultural land clustered around Fort St. John and Prince George. Half of B.C.’s ALR land is in the North, producing alfalfa, beef cattle and most of B.C.’s wheat, barley and canola Peace River Regional District Total ALR land 1,288,967 ha Prime agricultural land 482,000 ha Forage/pasture 339,848 ha Gross farm receipts $144.4 million.


2. The Interior extends from the arid rangelands of Nicola Valley to the rainforests of Bella Bella on the Central Coast. Crops under cultivation are mainly cereal grains such as wheat, oats and barley and feed crops such as alfalfa. Cariboo Regional District Total area in ALR 935,629 ha Total area farmed 486,079 ha Area in crops 54,123 ha Area in pasture 352,000 ha Farm gate receipts $66 million.


3. Vancouver Island. The Island has several significant fertile valleys and was, a century ago, nearly food self-sufficient. Today, much of the arable land is not farmed. While large-scale farms are increasingly profitable, agricultural activity in Cowichan Valley particularly is limited by a lack of irrigation.

3.a  Cowichan Valley Regional District Total arable land 32,830 ha. Total land in ALR 17,719 ha. Land being farmed 11,559 ha. Land under irrigation 2,465 ha Gross farm receipts $48 million.


4. Okanagan Valley Blessed with water, sunshine and warm summer temperatures, it is ideal for crops from tree fruits to vegetables and vineyards. The vast majority of ALR land in the region is rangeland for cattle. The valley also has a growing food processing industry.

North Okanagan, Central Okanagan and Okanagan Similkameen regional districts. Total area in the ALR 175,002 ha. Alfalfa, hay, field crops 27,000 ha Fruits, grapes, nuts and berries 9,402 ha Gross farm receipts $355 million.


Okanagan Wine tourism receipts $140 million. GROSS WINE TOURISM RECEIPTS PER ACRE: $320.

5. Kootenay. Once home to a significant cattle industry, the region has had that business decline over the past decade. About 45 per cent of the land in the ALR is Class 5 and 6, unsuitable for crops. A short growing season and frequent drought limit the range of potential crops.

East Kootenay Regional District Total land in ALR 265,910 ha Field crops and hay 10,757 ha Not cultivated 57,940 ha Crown/grazing leases 157,008 ha Gross farm receipts $16 million.


6. South Coast This includes the high-value agricultural lands in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and the Pemberton Valley. More than 200 different crops are grown in the region, which is by far the most productive in B.C.

6.1 Metro Vancouver It produces 27 per cent of B.C. total gross farm receipts in 1.5 per cent of the land base. Main crops are field vegetables and berries. Total land in ALR 61,228 ha Cultivated 24,749 ha Pasture 7,325 ha Woods/wetlands 3,266 ha Farms smaller than four hectares: 49% Gross farm receipts $789 million.


6.2 Fraser Valley It produces dozens of commodities, but especially dairy, corn, greenhouse vegetables, poultry, berries and flowers.

Total land in ALR 75,000 ha. Cultivated 63,838 ha Gross farm receipts $1.1 billion


Kernza: seeds are now a third the siize of wheat seeds, byt have perenniality.

Scientists at the Land Institute have been working for decades to develop new perennial grains that approach the yields of traditional annuals.

Wes Jackson is one of the leaders. headshot_WJackson_110w WES JACKSON-LANDORG






A few weeks ago at the annual Prairie Festival in Salina, Kan. — a celebration, essentially, of true sustainability — I sat down with Wes Jackson to drink rich beer and eat delicious, chewy bread made from the perennial grain Kernza. The Kernza we ate was cultivated at the Land Institute, the festival’s sponsor and the organization Jackson founded here 37 years ago.       


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At 77, Jackson is a big man with big ideas. Clearly he was back then as well, when he became determined to change the face of agriculture from being dependent upon annual monoculture (that is, planting a new crop of a single plant each year) to one that includes perennial polyculture, with fields containing varieties of mutually complementary species, planted once, harvested seasonally but remaining in place for years.       

Jackson has a biblical way of speaking: “The plow has destroyed more options for future generations than the sword,” he says. “But soil is more important than oil, and just as nonrenewable.” Soil loss is one of the biggest hidden costs of industrial agriculture — and it’s created at literally a glacial pace, maybe a quarter-inch per century. The increasingly popular no-till style of agriculture reduces soil loss but increases the need for herbicides. It’s a short-term solution, requiring that we poison the soil to save it.       

Annual monoculture like that practiced in the Midwestern Corn Belt is one culprit. It produces the vast majority of our food, and much of that food — perhaps 70 percent of our calories — is from grasses, which produce edible seeds, or cereals. For 10,000 years we’ve plowed the soil, planted in spring and harvested in fall, one crop at a time.       

In an essay he published 26 years ago, called “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” Jared Diamond theorized that this was essentially our downfall: by losing our hunter-gatherer roots and becoming dependent on agriculture, we made it possible for the human population to expand but paid the price in the often malnourishing, environmentally damaging system we have today.       

That’s fascinating, and irreversible; barring a catastrophe that drastically reduces the human population, we’ll rely on agriculture for the foreseeable future. But if we look to the kind of systems Jackson talks about, we can markedly reduce the damage. “We don’t have to slay Goliath with a pebble,” he says of industrial agriculture. “We just have to quit using so much fertilizer and so many pesticides to shrink him to manageable proportions.”       

Perennial polysystems are one way forward, because they allow us to produce grains, legumes, oils and other foods with a host of benefits. Gesturing across the road from where we sat, Jackson said to me: “That prairie — a prime example of a self-sustaining system — doesn’t have soil erosion, it’s not fossil-fuel dependent, you have species and chemical diversity. If you look around you’ll see that essentially all of nature’s ecosystems are perennial polycultures; that’s nature’s instruction book.” In perennial polycultures, the plants may fertilize one another, physically support one another, ward off pests and diseases together, resist drought and flood, and survive even when one member suffers.       

When Jackson founded the Land Institute, he predicted that a prairie-like system capable of providing food for humans would be viable in 50 to 100 years. About 15 years short of the near end of that spectrum, there is definite progress, most notably in the form of Kernza, which is not yet sold commercially but has been domesticated in Salina and elsewhere.       

Kernza is just the beginning. In addition to domesticating wild food-producing species, the Land Institute staff has taken on a far more challenging task: converting annuals into perennials. Perenniality is a complex trait, controlled by multiple genes. Perennials put more energy into their roots and less into flowers and seeds and greens, they send reserve energy into storage to wake up in the spring and they seldom die.       

To perennialize an annual may take decades or even longer. The work might go faster if Jackson had adequate funding; he’d consider himself fully funded for the next 30 years with about one-third of one year’s federal subsidy for producing ethanol.       

If Jackson’s followers are successful, we could see prairies producing different kinds of foods in commercial quantities with little or no chemical applications, irrigation, annual reseeding, tillage or tending; the work would be maintenance and harvesting. Creating the right plants for these habitats will take time, so much that we may not see the benefits in our lifetimes but, as Jackson says, “If you think you’re going to complete your life’s vision in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”



Although they expect the research to take decades more, one somewhat symbolic milestone was reached this year.

Perennial pancakes, anyone?

At the Land Institute’s annual Prairie Festival this past weekend, folks who stopped in at the bookstore had an opportunity to buy a 1-pound sack of Kernza, the trademarked name of a type of perennial intermediate wheatgrass developed at the Land Institute.

This marked the first time grains developed at the Land Institute have been available to the public, managing director Ken Warren said.

Over the past couple of years, small amounts of Kernza flour have been available to people working at the Land Institute, who have experimented with it in cookies, cakes and tortillas, said Lee DeHaan, a plant breeder working on perennial wheat development.

The grain has a relatively low gluten content, DeHaan said, so it doesn’t work well in bread unless it’s used with wheat flour.

A different breed

So what is Kernza?

“It’s called ‘wheatgrass,’ it has ‘wheat’ in the name, but it’s no more like wheat than rye is,” DeHaan said. “It’s like Grape Nuts, which don’t have grapes or nuts in them. It’s a different species, but it looks vaguely like wheat.”

And like wheat, it can trace its roots (ha-ha) back to the region that includes Turkey and Afghanistan, DeHaan said.

Decades ago, the USDA collected hundreds of varieties of grasses from that part of the world, bringing them back to the United States intending to test their use as forage for livestock.

The Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania — better known to many for book publishing, including “An Inconvenient Truth” — began sifting through those hundreds of varieties in the 1990s, pursuing its own research into perennial wheat.

Rodale eventually phased out that research, and the Land Institute acquired some of its seed samples.

Rather than trying to turn modern annual wheat back into a perennial, DeHaan explained, he’s working to take an existing perennial grass and turn it into a productive food source.

Genetic diversity

The wheatgrass DeHaan is working with has immense genetic diversity, he said, and that’s quickly obvious walking through a test plot; some plants are taller than others, some have thicker stalks and some have larger seed heads.

It’s quite different from the uniformity of a modern row crop, which DeHaan explains has been through a “genetic bottleneck,” and had most of that genetic diversity stripped away in pursuit of the best yield.

The Land Institute has two experimental plots, with 2,400 Kernza plants in each plot.

Because it’s a perennial and perennials tend to grow more slowly than annuals, DeHaan waits until the second year before evaluating each individual plant for traits such as yield, seed size, resistance to “shattering” and even total mass.

“There’s lots of genetic variation, so it’s easier to make progress,” he said.

In seven years, he’s been through just three generations, and though it might seem working with perennials would be slower than working with annuals, DeHaan said there are advantages, as well.

For example, when he finds a specific plant out of those 4,800 with a trait he wants to carry forward and cross with another plant, he can just go out to the field, dig up part of the clump and bring it into the greenhouse. With an annual, however, he’d have to take the seed from that particular plant, plant it and wait for it to grow up.

By picking plants with the best yields and cross-pollinating them with other high-yielders, the Land Institute has more than doubled the wheatgrass’ seed size in just three generations.

“When I started working with it, the typical seed weighed 3.5 milligrams,” DeHaan said. “Now, our best seeds are 10 milligrams.”

There’s still plenty of room for progress, as a typical wheat seed weighs 35 milligrams.

Of course, plants evolved over millions of years to be the way they are, and doubling the weight at the tip of a long stalk can cause problems.

“The wild plants are very spindly,” DeHaan said. “Besides yield, we’re also breeding them for thicker stalks and reduced height.”

After seven years, DeHaan said, “We’re to the point where I’m getting more plants with good seed size and other traits. Now it’s a matter of putting them together.”

It’s a labor-intensive process.

When the two experimental plots were ready to be cut several weeks ago, DeHaan said, it took eight people more than a week to cut sample stalks from each of the 4,800 plants, record several traits, thresh and weigh the seeds, and so on.

Those plants are already putting up new growth for next year, with green leaves approaching knee-high.

“Until it freezes, they’ll keep growing,” DeHaan said. “They’re also putting out more roots.”

That’s part of the point of the Land Institute’s work; perennial crops would grow year after year, establishing extensive root systems that could tap water much deeper than annuals. At the same time, perennial crops would control soil erosion, reduce water runoff and help keep fertilizer where it was put.

DeHaan hopes to expand the experimental plots to hold 20,000 plants next year.

“Imagine if you were only growing 100 plants — and it’s the 101st that has what you’re looking for,” he said. “If you have 5,000, what if it’s the 5,001st? The more plants you have, the quicker it all happens.”

Proof of concept

The Kernza flour sold at Prairie Festival came from a 27-acre plot on the farm of Charlie Melander, who planted it last year as a test for the Land Institute.

“It came up kind of slow, and he was concerned about weeds taking it over the first year,” DeHaan said. “In the second year, it did fine.”

With a sale price of $10 a pound, it’s really more of a donation to the cause than a real commercial transaction, but DeHaan said he can see it becoming commercially viable someday.

“There’s no reason we can’t have the same yields (as wheat) eventually,” DeHaan said, explaining the crop could be commercially viable even before it can match wheat bushel-for-bushel.

The fact that it can be used as a forage crop would help offset a lower yield; last winter, he said, deer grazed the experimental plots back to ground level, with no apparent effect on the plants come spring.

And, the Kernza wheatgrass produces around 40 percent more above-ground biomass than typical annual wheat, which could be used to produce energy.

Add in the fact that farmers wouldn’t have to buy seed and plant every year, and the economics start looking even better, he said.

He believes, too, that at least some people will pay a premium for the product, because it’s farmed in a sustainable way.

“Lots of people are willing to pay more for organic products,” because they’re better for the planet, he said. “This goes beyond organic.”

The nutrition profile also differs from wheat; it has about double the level of omega-3 fatty acid, more than five times the calcium, and roughly 10 times the folate.

The Kernza also has a protein content of about 20 percent; DeHaan said that’s because the germ is larger proportionally to the rest of the seed. It also has a higher bran content.

Over the next few years, Warren said, the Land Institute plans to grow increasing amounts of the Kernza.

Within 10 years, the hope is to be able to grow enough to begin supplying it to farmers.

“This is a proof of concept,” DeHaan said. “Some people say it can’t be done, but if we can do it with this plant, we can do it with others.”

n Reporter Mike Strand can be reached at 822-1418 or by e-mail at

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Lear and Oats

As a long time fan of oats, here`s a useful summary from Jane Lear. Steel-cut oats are my own breakfast staple: cook over low heat for 35 to 40 minutes. 1/4 cup of oats to one cup of water. Add salt and that`s it. A little oil if you like and currants or dried cranberries. see note at bottom. To be precise about what follows:  Quick cook rolled oats are the same food as regular rolled oats. Both are pre-steamed before they are rolled. Quick cook oats are sliced thinner and rolled more to cook more quickly. Both types of rolled oats are similar, nutritionally, but the texture varies.

Instant oats are partially pre-cooked and flavoured packaged oats are loaded with sweeteners. Avoid both where possible.

  Kinds of Oats October 16, 2013

healthy breakfast oats health benefits whole grains

Perhaps it’s because oats are so familiar  (cue the aroma of Mom’s cookies here) that they don’t have the fear-factor associated with other whole grains. But oats are a whole grain—one that is cheap, simple to cook or enjoy raw, and easy to work into breakfast and other meals. I’ll give you the rundown in a sec, but first a little background.

Oats, which belong to the grasses family (Gramineae), likely originated in Asia Minor, which comprises most of modern-day Turkey. Compared to millet, for instance, another grass that has been a dietary staple of humans for 10,000 years, oats are a relatively recent addition. My go-to grain expert Maria Speck writes in Ancient Grains for Modern Meals that oats only started being cultivated in Europe from about 1000 B.C. “The plant thrives in moist and cooler weather,” she wrote, “which explains its popularity in northern Europe, especially in Scotland, but also in parts of Germany, Scandinavia, and Russia.”

Oats are a great source of protein and healthy fats. They have an abundance of soluble and insoluble fiber; the soluble fiber, specifically beta-glucan, helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood, and insoluble keeps the body’s plumbing in good order. And they are a good source of iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.

As far as gluten goes, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, “a large body of scientific evidence accumulated over more than 15 years has proven that oats are completely safe for the vast majority of celiac patients.”

Oats are not related to gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley and rye. They don’t contain gluten, but rather proteins called avenins that are non-toxic and tolerated by most celiacs (perhaps less than 1% of celiac patients show a reaction to a large amount of oats in their diets). Oats can be in a celiac’s diet provided they are selected from sources that guarantee a lack of contamination by wheat, rye or barley. Some who add oats to their diet may experience GI symptoms. This may actually be a result of the increased fiber that oats provide instead of a reaction to the oats themselves.

Today pure oats (i.e., gluten free) are becoming more widely available. The producer I see most often is Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, which grows their oats from non-GMO seed and processes them in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

In the types of oats listed below, the germ and bran are rarely removed during processing, so even though rolled oats, say, go through some extra steps in comparison with steel-cut oats, ounce per ounce the nutritional differences are quite minor. No matter how you choose to incorporate sweet, nutty, wholesome oats into your diet, when buying them, know that the container should list one ingredient: oats. And take a sniff before using: They should smell sweet, nutty, and wholesome. If they smell rancid instead, take them back.

Oats at a Glance (Plus a Few Cooking Tips)

Groats: Groats are the whole oat grain, or “berry,” with the hard outer hull removed but the fiber-rich bran layer left intact. Available primarily at health food stores, they are worth seeking out, as their pleasant chew and toasty sweetness make them a versatile whole grain for savory preparations. Maria Speck is a big champion, and to prepare pilaf à la Maria, bring 1 ¼ cups water, 1 cup groats, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until tender yet still slightly chewy, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let steam, covered, about 10 minutes before serving. Drain any remaining liquid.

Steel-Cut Oats (aka Pinhead or Irish Oats): This is what you get when groats are passed through steel cutters, which chop each groat into a few pieces. Steel-cut oats make a nutty, chewy, tremendously satisfying hot cereal; in fact, they are the oats used in the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship. And if your chief complaint is that you don’t have time in the morning to cook hot cereal for 30 minutes (or longer), then simply soak the steel-cut oats in water (four parts water to one part oats) in a covered container overnight. The next morning, the softened oats will cook in about five minutes or so. You can also make a big batch, store it in the refrigerator, and reheat smaller portions in a saucepan with a little water until softened and warmed through.

Rolled Oats (aka Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats): These are made by steaming groats, then flattening them into flakes with a roller. Grain millers will adjust the rollers for various oat producers. Quick-cooking rolled oats are made the same way, for instance, but are cut into smaller pieces so they cook faster. And thick-rolled oats, which will result in a hot cereal with more texture, are also used in breads, granolas, and breakfast/energy bars. For a terrific muesli (the recipe is from Gourmet), simply stir together 3 cups rolled oats, 1 ½ steel-cut oats, the zest and juice of 3 oranges and 1 lemon in a bowl. Stir in some chopped dried fruit and raisins. Then cover and refrigerate a good 8 hours. When ready to eat, stir in some chopped fresh fruit (this time of year, apples and pears are nice) and toasted hazelnuts or walnuts. Serve with yogurt (or cream) and honey.

Scottish Oatmeal: These are groats that aren’t cut or rolled, but stone-ground. The texture of Scottish oatmeal is fine, but not as fine as that of oat flour, and when cooked in simmering water for 10 minutes or so, turn creamy. This, by the way, is the oatmeal of ancient Scotland. When the great English writer Samuel Johnson disparagingly described oats as “A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people,” his biographer, James Boswell, noted that Scottish economist Patrick Murray, fifth lord Elibank, was quoted by Sir Walter Scott to have replied, “Yes, and where else will you see such horses and such men?”


Nutritional data per 100g Sweetened Dried Cranberries:

  • Ash – 0.20 g
  • Calcium, Ca – 10 mg
  • Carbohydrate, by difference – 82.36 g
  • Copper, Cu – 0.080 mg
  • Energy – 1289 kj
  • Energy – 308 kcal
  • Fatty acids, total monounsaturated – 0.198 g
  • Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated – 0.658 g
  • Fatty acids, total saturated – 0.103 g
  • Fiber, total dietary – 5.7 g
  • Iron, Fe – 0.53 mg
  • Lutein + zeaxanthin – 33 mcg
  • Magnesium, Mg – 5 mg
  • Manganese, Mn – 0.265 mg
  • Niacin – 0.990 mg
  • Pantothenic acid – 0.217 mg
  • Phosphorus, P – 8 mg
  • Potassium, K – 40 mg
  • Protein – 0.07 g
  • Riboflavin – 0.016 mg
  • Selenium, Se – 0.5 mcg
  • Sodium, Na – 3 mg
  • Sugars, total – 65.00 g
  • Thiamin – 0.007 mg
  • Total lipid (fat) – 1.37 g
  • Vitamin B-6 – 0.038 mg
  • Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid – 0.2 mg
  • Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) – 1.07 mg
  • Vitamin K (phylloquinone) – 3.8 mcg
  • Water – 16.00 g
  • Zinc, Zn – 0.11 mg
Sweetened Dried Cranberries

Sweet Potato: Cultivars for Canada

The danger with this crop is that the plants are sensitive to frost.

For getting slips, the trick seems to be to use spuds that have not been in cold storage. So get some started from this summer’s crop.


Cultivars available in Canada

B-18 90 to 100 days; orange skin, yellow flesh; excellent flavour  (especially immediately after harvesting); good yield, large number of  small-to medium-sized tubers; may have better resistance to chilling  injury
‘Carver’ 100 days; copper-coloured skin, orange flesh; excellent taste; very good yield; stores well
‘Frazier White’ 105 days; skin and flesh are white; excellent yield, small to medium size; stores well
‘Georgia Jet’  90 to 100 days; pink skin, deep orange flesh; very good taste;  excellent yield, small to medium size; stores well; good for regions  with cool, short seasons
Japanese (a.k.a. Japanese yam)   120 days; burgundy skin, white flesh; dryish texture with a sweet taste;  medium yield and size; stores well
Korean Purple 100  days; purple skin, white flesh; milder and less sweet than other  varieties, subtle clove-like undertone; excellent yield; stores well ‘Regal’   110 days; red skin, orange flesh; rich, sweet taste, excellent for  baking; very good yield, large tubers; average storage length
‘Superior’ 100  to 110 days; copper-coloured skin, orange flesh, striking ivy-like  foliage; good, sweet taste, slightly mild; very good yield; stores well
Tainung 65 90 to 100 days; red skin, yellow, flesh, drier, firmer and milder  than others; very good yield, large tubers; excellent storage; good for  regions with cool, short seasons
‘Toka Toka Gold’ (a.k.a.  ‘Golden Kumara’) 90 to 100 days; yellow skin, deep yellow flesh with  orange streaks; sweet but slightly dry; medium yield, large size, good  for baking


Learn to grow a sweet potato

By Bonnie Schiedel        Photos Yvonne Duivenvoorden                      
Learn to grow a sweet potato

Everything you need to know to grow your own tasty, nutritionally packed super tubers.

You don’t usually equate the sweet potato with terms of endearment, but singer-songwriter James Taylor does just that when he refers to his girlfriend—who’s responsible for the divine happiness he feels one particular day—as Sweet Potato Pie in his appropriately titled song “Sweet Potato Pie.” I fully understand: sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are sublime, not only with respect to taste and cooking versatility, but in nutritional value as well.
These healthful superstars are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene, which also offers antioxidant properties) and a good source of vitamin C, not to mention the dietary fibre and vitamin B6 they provide. And great news: if your region has at least a 100-day frost-free season, you can likely grow them, as an increasing number of Canadian gardeners have discovered. Short-season cultivars (90 to 100 days) such as ‘Georgia Jet’ and Tainung 65 thrive in home gardens across the country, especially during dry, hot summers. (One gardener in Northampton, New Brunswick, raised a 3.4-kilogram Tainung 65 monster a couple of years ago.) But while they like it hot, sweet potatoes are no prima donnas. They require little watering, weeding or feeding, and they store well.
Planting your slips Although members of the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae), sweet potatoes are not sown from seed, but rather from slips, small shoots that grow from the tuber that are then transplanted. While slips are not readily available at garden centres, there are a few Canadian suppliers you can order from—or you can grow your own (see below).
Sweets can’t tolerate frost, so you should plant your slips about the same time you normally transplant warm-temperature veggies such as peppers and eggplants. Harden off as you would other tender plants. How to grow your own slips Stick  toothpicks around the middle of a sweet potato and suspend it in a jar  (or sturdy glass) of water, submerging the bottom half of the tuber (the  end with remnants of previous stems—often the wider end, depending on  the veggie’s shape—should point up). After about a month, you should  have several slips about 20 centimetres long. Remove them with a knife  or simply by giving them a twist.
Another way to grow slips is  to place several sweet potatoes in a bed of sand covered with a moist  layer of more sand five centi­metres thick. Once the shoots start to  grow, add an additional 2.5 centimetres of sand, keeping it moist but  not waterlogged and between 15 and 27°C. Slips should reach 20  centimetres in about six weeks.
(Keep in mind, however, that  supermarket-bought sweet potatoes may not produce slips if they have  been kept in cold storage—below 10°C.)

Wrosart                                                                             Marcia

grow your own slips. get a store bought sweet potato, put 4 toothpicks in the centre so when you suspend in a glass of water the bottom half is suspended in water. It will root in a few weeks, then begin to sprout from the top. When you have several sprouts (slips), gently break them off the potato and put the slips in water. When these root, you are ready to plant. I usually don’t plant them until June 1 in Toronto area as they are very sensitive to the cold. I usually plant 1 slip per person or 1 or 2 more if you really like them or plan to freeze, I hope this helps. Good luck.


I buy two different potato from grocery store in February, and keep it in warm moist soil or peat moss . After one month start to produce good shoots . Until middle of May  I have more than 50 plants,  enough for all family. Only storing is a problem in Winter.


l ordered mine from Veseys back in new brunswick  they will ship them in june to you

And veseys:

Easy to do:

You should be able to put away fresh sweet potatoes into the dark and just leave them to January. This video shows shoots from a prior year potato. Hers did not do well in the end.

This one looks better:

or this:

in straw bales:

general straw bale:

breaking them down over the winer—add a lot of nitrogen  cold work at UCC

Marinating Chanterelles

Italian Marinated Mushrooms

By Hank Shaw on March 17, 2012 |from/via:

{{Rosetta’s new site is:  }}

Here’s something I’m going to try with 5 lbs of wild chanterelles.


how to preserve porcini Funghi sott’olio. So much more than just an Italian version of pickled mushrooms. I’ve eaten these as part of an antipasti plate since I was a kid. Standard pickled mushrooms, let’s face it, can be slippery and even rubbery. Not a great texture. But these are meaty, chewy and just a shade funky — mushroomy in all the best ways.

I never really knew just how the Italians did it until I read Rosetta Costantino’s My Calabria. In it, Costantino reveals her family’s method for preserving mushrooms in oil, and when I read her recipe, I was immediately struck by how similar it is to a Sicilian technique I use every year when I have too much zucchini. Makes sense, as Calabria is only a few miles from Sicily.

mushrooms preserved in oil recipe
Basically you need to remove water from the mushrooms, then boil them in vinegar, then dry them out a bit before submerging in oil. It is a method I’ve seen done with a lot of foods, even meat on occasion. What this particular do-si-do of preservation does is first use salt to pull the existing water from the food. Once the food is reasonably dry, acidify it with vinegar — bad bugs find it tough to survive in low Ph environments. Finally, keep air (and molds) off the food by submerging it in olive oil.

You should know there is no official USDA protocol for this method of preservation. Costantino tried to get the government to give its vaguely papal gesture for her recipe, but they declined. Suffice to say it works: The Italians have been doing it for centuries, if not millennia.

I tested this method with four kinds of mushrooms: button mushrooms, hedgehog mushrooms, chanterelles and porcini. You need a meaty mushroom to begin with or this method will not work. Other mushrooms I might try preserving sott’olio would be blewits, pig’s ears (Gomphus clavatus), shiitake, matsutake, king trumpet mushrooms, and maybe chicken of the woods. Bottom line: The ‘shroom’s gotta have heft.

That’s why porcini and their boletus cousins are the ideal. Try this with a leccinum or a birch bolete and you’ll transform a mediocre mushroom into something special.

spring porcini
A few pointers to start:
•Wash your mushrooms and trim any bad spots. Be sure the mushrooms are not wormy.
•Use high quality ingredients: Good olive oil, sea salt, quality vinegar, good lemons. You can definitely taste the difference.
•Store your mushrooms in glass containers, in the fridge. It is entirely possible that they are shelf stable, but I am not a fan of botulism, so I keep mine in the refrigerator.

The recipe that follows is approximate. You may need more or less of the ingredients to fit your containers. One tip: Start with more mushrooms than you think you need. They shrink a lot in this process, and are so good you will run out long before you’re tired of eating them.

chanterelles preserved in oil
Italian marinated mushrooms

These may just be the best marinated mushrooms you will ever eat. This method of preserving them highlights how meaty certain mushrooms can be, and the marinade is a perfect blend of Italian flavors: lemon, chile, olive oil, oregano. I have found that boletes are the best for this: porcini, birch boletes, leccinum species and the like. But as you can see from the picture above, chanterelles work well, as does any other meaty mushroom. For store-bought shrooms, use crimini, shiitake or king trumpets.

You don’t need any special equipment to make these mushrooms, but you need time. It takes a day to make them. But it is more than worth it. First of all, they will keep in the fridge for 6 months — if you can keep yourself from eating them all. I guarantee that if you set a bowl of these out on an appetizer tray, they will be gone in minutes.

1 pint.

Prep Time: 24 hours, most of it passive

Cook Time: 5 minutes
•3-4 pounds small, meaty mushrooms
•2 pints white vinegar or cider vinegar
•Kosher salt or pure sea salt
•Zest of a lemon, sliced into wide strips
•4 dried hot chiles, split lengthwise
•1 tablespoon dried oregano
•1 cup extra virgin olive oil


Cut the mushrooms into reasonable pieces. With small mushrooms, like a button mushroom, you need only cut them in half, and you can leave the smaller ones whole. With large chanterelles and porcini, cut them into 1/2 inch thick slices. They will shrink a lot in this process, and they will be pliable, so they can be a little larger than you’d think they ought to be.

Photo by Hank Shaw

Salt them well. Lay down a layer of salt on a sheet tray and place the mushrooms on it. If the mushroom has a flat side, i.e., a button mushroom sliced in half, lay the flat side down against the salt. Sprinkle a heavy layer of salt over the tops of all the mushrooms. Let this stand at room temperature for 1-2 hours. You will notice a lot of water coming out of the mushrooms. This is good.

Put the mushrooms between paper towels and gently squeeze them a bit to remove a little more water.

Hank Shaw

Hank Shaw

Boil them in the vinegar for five minutes. The mushrooms will want to float. Use tongs or something to submerge them as much as you can. Fish out the mushrooms and put them between paper towels again and gently squeeze them to remove some of the vinegar.

Lay the mushrooms on a clean cloth to dry. Let them air dry until they are no longer damp, but still pliable. Don’t let them dry out into leather. Turn the mushrooms once or twice during this time. This will take between 12-24 hours, depending on how dry it is in your house and how much air circulation you have going.

Put the oil, lemon zest, oregano and chile in a bowl and toss the mushrooms in them. Pack this into glass jars. Use a chopstick or some other kind of clean stick to poke around the jar — you want to find and remove as many air bubbles as possible. Make sure the mushrooms are submerged in the oil.

porcini preserved in oil
Photo by Hank Shaw

Refrigerate and wait at least a week before eating. These mushrooms will keep in the fridge for 6 months.


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Funghi ripieni con ricotta (Wild mushrooms stuffed with ricotta)

One dozen mushroom caps,  more if small

1 cup well-drained ricotta

¼ cup dried breadcrumbs

¼ cup grated pecorino cheese

2 teaspoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves, chopped

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven at 400F.

Remove stems from mushrooms and quickly rinse under water.   Drain well.  Set aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients until all blended.

Coat a baking dish with some olive oil.  Sprinkle the mushroom caps  with salt. Stuff each cap with one to two tablespoons of ricotta  filling, depending on size.

Place the stuffed mushroom caps inside the baking dish right next to each other.

Drizzle with olive oil.   Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes for large caps, 15 minutes for small caps.


Give it a try and enjoy it as an appetizer or as a light vegetarian meal! Crostone con i Funghi Grilled Bread with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese Four 3/4-inch-thick slices crusty Italian bread 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 4 cloves garlic: 1 cut in half, 3 grated on Microplane or finely minced 4 ounces Taleggio, cut into four 1/8-inch-thick slices 1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini, shiitake, oyster) cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley Preheat a charcoal, gas, or stovetop grill to high heat or preheat broiler with an oven rack positioned about 6 inches below the heat source. Generously brush both sides of bread with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Grill until toasted with a little color on both sides. Transfer to a baking sheet and rub both sides of toast with the cut garlic. Discard garlic. Top each toast with Taleggio and set aside. Heat the remaining olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. When oil is hot enough to sizzle a mushroom, add mushrooms and salt. Don’t stir until steam starts rising from sides of pan. Sprinkle with grated/minced garlic and sauté quickly, stirring frequently, just until mushrooms soften, about 3 minutes. Add parsley, stir, and taste for seasoning–add more salt, if necessary. Set aside. (Recipe can be made ahead up to this point.) Just before serving, place toast under broiler just until cheese melts. Transfer to individual dinner plates, top with mushrooms, and serve immediately with a knife and fork. Serves 4 Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved. – See more at:


needs work


A Great Summary of Plum Jam: Kate’s Kitchen

This tree could be my tree.

And I have a flood of Italian plums coming on one of my Foch-trees.

kate's plum tree


What to Do with your Scapes

Sautéed Garlic Scapes


2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
8 oz garlic scapes, trimmed
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/4 cup grilled haloumi cheese, diced

Heat the oil in a sauté pan and add sugar.  Stir to caramelize the sugar for about 2-3 minutes and add the scapes.  Cover and sauté over medium-high heat for no more than 3 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to prevent scorching.  After 3 minutes, add the tomatoes and wine. Stir, then cover and reduce heat to low; continue cooking 5-6 minutes or until scapes are tender but not soft. Season, then add the parsley and haloumi.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Haloumi Cheese Note: Haloumi cheese is a goat and/or sheep cheese made in Cyprus.  It can be sliced and grilled or fried in a skillet, and it doesn’t melt. Other salty cheeses such as cheddar or aged chevre can be substituted.

Texas Beans

A sample from Texas Kitchen, a great cooking blog:

Jeff’s Beans. (you can start all the beans from scratch)

Jeff was my best friend’s brother-in-law when I was in college. He made some killer beans.  I don’t know if there was ever actually a written recipe, but this is my rendition of them.  A little bit sweet and a lot of savory, they are good with anything that you would serve with pinto beans or baked beans.

  • 1 pound bacon, chopped
  • 2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch parsely, chopped
  • 2 cans (15oz each) of black eyed peas
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) pork and beans
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) field peas with snaps
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) crowder peas (if not available, use 1 more each of black eyes and pork and beans)
  • 1 T cajun seasoning (I use Tony Chachere’s)

Cook bacon in dutch-oven or soup pot over medium heat until bacon is almost crispy. Add chopped peppers, onions and garlic, and cook until softened. Stir in parsley and heat for 2 minutes. Add all beans (do not drain) and seasoning, and reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

You can also cook the bacon and vegetables ahead of time, and then throw everything in a crock pot for slow cooking.


Mediterranean Diet

Med diet is southern mediterranean. Not Milan.

The Mediterranean diet is a modern nutritional recommendation inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of southern Italy, Greece, and Spain[1][2] The principal aspects of this diet include proportionally high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits and vegetables, moderate to high consumption of fish, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate wine consumption, and low consumption of meat and meat products.[3]

But moderate does not mean non-existent.

Duck Breast

Ingredients: serves 4
  • – 1 lb (450g) duck breast
  • – 1 tbsp (15ml) balsamic vinegar
  • – 1 onion
  • – 2 carrots
  • – 2 zucchine
  • – 1 tbsp (15ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • – salt and pepper

On November 17, 2010, UNESCO recognized this diet pattern as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Italy, Greece, Spain and Morocco.[4]

Despite its name, this diet is not typical of all Mediterranean cuisine. In Northern Italy, for instance, lard and butter are commonly used in cooking, and olive oil is reserved for dressing salads and cooked vegetables.[5] In North Africa, wine is traditionally avoided by Muslims. In both North Africa and the Middle East, sheep’s tail fat and rendered butter (samna) are the traditional staple fats, with some exceptions.[6]


A Sicilian Mediterranean Diet example:

  • A brioche or croissant for breakfast OR 1 slice of bread, toast, or cereals for breakfast with honey or jam
  • A portion of fruit 2 times per day (as snacks)
  • A portion of vegetables 2 times per day
  • A portion of fish 3 times a week
  • No more than 2 eggs per week
  • No Fast food
  • Eat legumes more than once a week
  • Eat pasta or rice at least 5 times a week – only for lunch (not allowed for dinner)
  • Use olive oil as dressing (to replace saturated fats)
  • Do not consume too much alcohol
  • Eat less than 150g of meat two times in a week

The most commonly understood version of the Mediterranean diet was presented, amongst others, by Dr Walter Willett of Harvard University‘s School of Public Health from the mid-1990s on.[7][8][9][10][11][12] Based on “food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s”, this diet, in addition to “regular physical activity,” emphasizes “abundant plant foods, fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert, olive oil as the principal source of fat, dairy products (principally cheese and yogurt), and fish and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts, zero to four eggs consumed weekly, red meat consumed in low amounts, and wine consumed in low to moderate amounts”. Total fat in this diet is 25% to 35% of calories, with saturated fat at 8% or less of calories.[13]

Olive oil is particularly characteristic of the Mediterranean diet. It contains a very high level of monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, which epidemiological studies suggest may be linked to a reduction in coronary heart disease risk.[14] There is also evidence that the antioxidants in olive oil improve cholesterol regulation and LDL cholesterol reduction, and that it has other anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects.[15]

Cook books. Sicily.

The Heart of Sicily: Recipes and Reminiscences of Regaleali, a Country Estate by Anna Tasca Lanza. Photography by Franco Zecchin. Many cookbooks tempt, inform, and inspire. A few capture the essence of a place, but rarely does a cookbook communicate the very soul of a place. In more than 200 pages and over 100 photographs, the late Anna Tasca Lanza’s telling of life at Regaleali, the vast country estate that has belonged to her family since 1830, is so vivid that you feel her sitting next to you, talking and turning the pages as if it were a photo album. Read more.

Gangivecchio’s Sicilian Kitchen (La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio) by Wanda Tornabene, Giovanna Tornabene and Michele Evans. So much has been written, produced, and marketed in recent years about the glories of northern Italian cooking that people have ignored the accomplishments of the cooks of southern Italy, especially those of the island of Sicily. Giovanna Tornabene opened a restaurant in her home in the scenic Madonie Mountains of Sicily in 1978 because it seemed the only way to hold on to her family’s centuries-old estate. Read more.