Friday, May 15, 2009

Burden Is On You?

I just read an online article about the safety of industrial frozen food: With frozen food, the burden of safety is on you.

The problem gained public awareness with contamination of frozen pot pies in 2007. Investigators never figured out which of the more than 25 ingredients was contaminated with salmonella. The company (ConAgra) more or less threw up their hands. They said if they cooked the vegetables enough for safety, they turned to mush. So they put directions on the label to cook until internal temperatures were 165 degrees, nearly impossible to do in a microwave. Oh well....

And the article went on to say that these problems would become more serious, due to aggressive cost control. This involves sourcing of ingredients such as dough from a multitude of smaller suppliers, and importing vegetables and other ingredients from other countries with no testing procedure for pathogens. Manufacturers say the costs of testing and tracebacks are too high. Too high for what? Profit? How much is too high for thousands of people who get sick, and dozens who could die?

Oh What to do? What to do? (this is a trick question)

Locals know: start cooking fresh food for yourself. Avoid anonymous-ingredient packaged processed food. Not even the manufacturers of these foods know where the ingredients are coming from, or how they have been treated along the way.

This means learning how to cook, for those who are weak on that skill. But just think of what you'll gain! Really fresh, tasty food, from ingredients that you are sure of, saving money, and enjoying the creativity of turning high-quality ingredients into tasty dishes. And think of what you'll lose: high-fructose corn sweetener (almost ubiquitous in processed foods), cheap fats, too much sodium, artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. And a little time.

The most surprising thing for DH and me when we started cooking and eating local food is how great the flavors are. Food that really tastes like something. Beans that cook quickly with lots of flavor. Really fresh vegetables. Fruits with a perfumed sweetness rather than a pithy cardboard consistency. Pizza that sits lightly on the stomach and the waistline, but is fully satisfying.

Don't consider that cooking is necessarily the job of the "wife" or "mother" of the family. The art of cookery is something for everyone in the family to know, including responsible children and teens. Teaching your kids to cook will have lifelong benefits to them in terms of improved health and decreased food budgets.

But the worriers will say: what if my ingredients are contaminated? To start with, if you source local foods as much as possible, it's much less likely. Wash your veggies well, and peel such foods as carrots. Spices won't be local, but you use such a small amount. Buy staples from a high-quality supplier. The food (such as a meat pie) doesn't sit around for months in warehouse freezers, possibly thawing and refreezing several times and allowing bacterial growth before you eat it. You prepare it, pop in the oven, and eat it. So pathogens from minute quantities of ingredients don't get a chance to grow.

I really see nothing on the horizon that will make industrial processed foods safer for us. The manufacturing chains are too long, and too inadequately policed. If they were adequately policed, the costs would be too high to make these low-end foods economical.

It is up to us to figure out how to source and fix good healthy food for our families. The burden IS on us, but we can also get the benefits of changing our food buying and preparation habits in terms of flavor, nutrition, and enjoyment.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spring! Ahhhhh!

Spring again today, after yet another spell of cold, rainy weather. Everything is green, except for the daffodils (yellow) and apple trees (pink). And the wild plum is a mass of white blossoms.

I went to the first Farmer's Market of the season. As last year: bedding plants, gourmet dog biscuits, baked goods, pasta, kettle corn, more bedding plants. No greens yet. But the lovely Honeyacre hydroponic tomatoes and English cucumbers were there again. I bought some of each. We've been eating the tomatoes I put up last year, steadily through the winter, and enjoying them greatly. But fresh will be really wonderful.

Compared to last year, I don't have the "empty" feeling I did. We're still eating nectarines and peaches in light honey syrup I put up last fall. We're still eating green beans and snap peas from the freezer (though they are somewhat mushy). The last few Winesap apples have gotten totally mealy and are about to be compost, but they held out a good 6 months, which is a great track record for unwaxed home-stored fruit. We still have dried home peaches and prunes, apples, and fruit rollups, in case we run out of fruit before late summer.

The apple trees are covered with blooms. I'm glad we have a warm day today, since it's been too cold for the bees to fly. Sprinkling of blossoms on the cherry trees. No sign from the peach trees--it may have been too dry over the winter. Two front-yard euonymus shrubs look *really* bad--poor things. I should have winter-watered them. I'm just hoping they'll pull through. Everything else looks OK.

I've been buying the occasional head of celery or broccoli--not local, but U.S. grown. We're mostly through the lactofermented veggies: still some carrots, some sauerkraut, half a 1/2 gallon jar of salsa. Note to self: make more pickled green beans and more salsa next year.

We still have some onions from our CSA, but everything else is gone. I managed to cook up all the pumpkins before they got soft.

I tried to grow Lady Godiva pumpkins last year (they're grown for the seeds, which are "naked" without a hard shell). The ones I planted did very poorly; too shady. But I had a volunteer "something" which made a large orange and green striped fruit. I thought it was a hybrid of something, picked it before frost, and left it alone. Looking through a seed catalog, there was a picture of exactly my squash, and it was, ta-da, Lady Godiva. It has a hard shell compared to most pumpkins, which is why it kept so well. You don't eat the flesh, which is thin and stringy. It was filled with beautiful green seeds in a very light transparent coating. I saved and dried some for next season and roasted the rest. They were Delicious! I'll definitely try that one again. We do love home-roasted pumpkin seeds.

I've been getting sprouts in the store (hatched in Denver), and they taste SOOoo good in the spring. If I was better organized, I could sprout my own. I've still got a load of black oil sunflower seeds in the shell, which are what is used for sunflower sprouts.

If I can get a garden going, and a season extender (cold frame, hoop, or such like), we can have fresh greens probably from March on, and in the fall up through mid-December. Eliot Coleman's book "Four Seasons Gardening" is a good resource.

I went to a nice class at the Larimer County extension for pressure canning. In some ways it was encouraging. I got my pressure gauge tested and it is nearly correct. In other ways, not. The vegetables need to be cooked for a really long time, and then you're supposed to cook them some more before eating them. By that time, there wouldn't be much left. I may look into canning meat or poultry, to have quick meals that don't require electricity to store, carefully following the USDA rules. But for vegetables, I think I'd rather lactoferment them: beans, carrots, etc. They will keep 9 months to a year in the frig, and don't require cooking. You can put up a jar of them in 10-15 minutes, instead of the all-day siege of pressure canning.

I haven't been posting recipes lately. Our food choices are fairly simple these days, using stored food and a little fresh, so I haven't discovered anything particularly new and exciting. Once the CSA starts up in June, I'll be sharing some more ideas.