Give gardening a chance: Oregon Food Bank

March 31st, 2009
Not bad for a mid-March harvest

Not bad for a mid-March harvest

A couple week’s ago I started my volunteer practicum for the OGCP that I took this fall. I’m planning to volunteer with several different food/gardening organizations in town this year so I can learn as much as possible for the book while helping out. A couple weeks ago I volunteered at Oregon Food Bank’s Eastside Learning Garden.

Dig In! is an ongoing early spring through late fall program at Oregon Food Bank’s two Portland learning gardens for which volunteers of all ages help weed, prune, sow and harvest food for various local relief agencies. If you’ve ever been to the Northeast Portland DEQ you were just a stone’s throw from Oregon Food Bank headquarters and its next door 17,000-square-foot Eastside Learning Garden.

For my morning shift — on a Thursday 9am to noon — we met up in the barn, introduced ourselves (nine or ten of us), discussed what needed to be done and then did just that. I started off by pruning a young but sprawling grape vine with a seasoned OFB volunteer and then for the remainder of my shift harvested several rows of big and healthy collard greens planted late last summer in between the chicken coop and the berry brambles. We composted the critter munched and slug slimed lower leaves and left plenty on the stalks for a staggered harvest.

There were mothers and daughters planting peas, others pruning raspberries, and folks removing over-wintered cold frames from raised beds until everyone came together a bit before noon to rinse and box the morning collard and beet harvest. When all was said and done several buckets full of fresh collards and beets were hand-carted just a few steps away to Oregon Food Bank headquarters where they’d soon be repacked and distributed to various local relief agencies.

Although I won’t be back for awhile now due to a significantly sliced and bandaged right ring finger (apparently my kitchen mandoline doesn’t differentiate between radishes, apples, carrots and fingers) once I’m shovel-in-the-soil ready again I’ll be back to lend a hand. There’s a lot to be done in the OFB gardens this spring and it’s not a huge time commitment.

Another way that local green thumbs can help out with OFB is the Plant a Row for the hungry program. I’m thinking about doing that too…

Eastside Learning Garden
7900 NE 33rd Drive

Westside Learning Garden

21485 NW Mauzey Road

Harvesting collards

Harvesting collards

Homemade Hard Cider Pt. 1

March 25th, 2009
Heritage reds from Woodland, Washington

Heritage reds from Woodland, Washington

Last fall my boyfriend and I decided to finally make good use of the apples from the ancient apple tree in our backyard. I’d heard that F.H. Steinbart Co. rented out one of their cider mill/presses every weekend in the fall for $20. I called as soon as I found out last summer when our apple tree was set with loads of good looking fruit. I thought it would probably ripen around late October just as it had the previous fall so I reserved the press for the first weekend of November. That happened to be a very busy weekend — Wordstock, my first face-to-face with my publisher, an all-day rain garden/stormwater management class for the Organic Gardening Certification Program, and cider making 101.

Two things happened that had a huge effect on the latter. First, we lost a major limb of the apple tree mid-summer, which completely obstructed the street behind our house and sent tennis-ball-looking, unripe apples all the way up and down the street. Because of that we had to do some major emergency pruning to save the tree. The next impediment to our home cidery: the slim-pickings apples that remained ripened early. Very early. Most were good to go by early September. Although apples keep well — two months was pushing it and to be honest there just weren’t that many still on the tree. Our cider press reservation was firm, however, and no other weekends were available. I started hunting for apples.

I surfed Craigslist and found a man with a small home orchard in Woodland, Washington with ripe heritage red apples (not a variety just a description — he’s not sure what kind they are) ready to sell for a good price that sounded like they’d make a decent, but probably not great, hard cider. I was ok with a small batch of decent cider for a small chunk of change. It’d be good practice for our future bumper crop cider. I drove out with my puppy picked up the loot and headed home. The apples had been sweated (stored for a couple weeks so that they’d ripened into peak flavor and sweetness) and were ready for cider. We rinsed them, halved them and threw them into the apple mill/grinder — stems, seeds and all…

Into the mill

Into the mill

After milling we put the apple pomace (the resulting bits and chunks) into the press and then started hand cranking the juice. That took the most time.

Pressing the cider

Pressing the cider

Cider Falls

Cider Falls

As you can see a lot of bits made it into the cider. That didn’t matter because before pouring the cider into the carboy, with a packet of champagne yeast, we filtered it through cheesecloth. Apple Bits was a nickname my friend Mary Ellen gave me in grade school. If only she could see me now.

80-plus pounds of apples became a mere 3 gallons of cider. Our how-to book Cider Hard & Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own by Ben Watson for The Countryman Press doesn’t suggest an apple to juice ratio but surfing around online it seems like the consensus is that roughly 15 pounds of apples usually translates to about a gallon of cider. Either we need to do some push-ups in prep. for this fall or our apples weren’t exactly up-to-snuff juice wise.

Cider's home for a few months

Cider's home for a few months

After all that, which took the better part of a day, we had three gallons of cider in a carboy with a purge tube stoppered to the top leading to a half-full bottle of water. This way nothing noxious or foreign could travel into the cider but if the fermentation got particularly feisty and bubbly the cider would overflow into the bottle of water. We kept it in the utility room and checked on it every few hours at first and then every few days. Once the initial fermentation was over, about a week or two I think, we removed the tubing and topped the carboy with a regular fermentation lock. Then we left the cider largely unattended until January.

Hard Cider Part Two…

Zenner’s Sausage Co. since 1927

March 23rd, 2009
Zenner's German sausage breakfast at home

Zenner's German sausage breakfast at home

I’ve been a big fan of Zenner’s since I moved to Portland in 2002. I first had one of their sausages at a short-lived little sausage/dog cafe on Southeast Belmont called Java Dogs. I was just starting to make my own sauerkraut at the time and after listening to Java Dogs owner Steve Yazzolino wax poetic about Zenner’s sausage, and then trying a couple myself, I returned with a jar of red kraut with juniper berries for him. I was hoping he’d like it so much that he’d incorporate it into his dog topping line-up. The sad reality: several weeks later he closed shop due to a difficult family situation.

The next memorable Zenner’s sausages I ate, when I knew they were in fact Zenner’s, were at Helser’s on Northeast Alberta. Their sausage breakfast is one of my favorite PDX breakfasts. I usually order one Louisiana red hot and one chicken apple sausage (they also have bratwurst) with their potato cakes, a ramekin of creme fraiche, two eggs any style and a small side of fruit.

Last Friday I stopped by Zenner’s and talked with the good folks there all about their 80-plus years of crafting small batch (130-240 pounds at a time) sausage, and smoked/cured meats in Portland. It was an amazing slice of local restaurants past since the company has been a small, family-run friend of local restaurants and markets since the 1920s. George Zenner Sr. started the business and George Zenner Jr. runs it today. Restaurants that we spoke of that regularly serve Zenner’s sausages and meats included Besaw’s, Serratto, the Rheinlander, Sanborn’s, Helser’s, The Original Pancake House, Highland Still House and many more.

The Zenner’s door is always open for walk-ins even though they don’t operate a store-front. They’ll sell you any of their wholesale products by the case and sometimes if you’re nice they’ll even break a case for you.

Zenner’s Sausage Company
2131 NW Kearney St.
503.241.4113
www.zennerssausage.com

A slew of Zenner's sausages -- photo courtesy of Zenner's

A slew of Zenner's sausages -- photo courtesy of Zenner's

Much Kneaded: Portland bread and pastries

March 18th, 2009

I want to write something I really, really do but between the private tastings (private dancer but no exchange of money and no need for a change of clothes), tours and interviews there’s some time for my freelance, some time for my taxes (taxes!) and a little more time to actually write this book that’s supposedly due by early September.

So instead of writing any more I give you this post of images. I’m including some bread and pastry folks and places that I’ve been to and met with in the past couple weeks…

NatureBake loaves (Dave's Killer Bread folks) right out of the oven...

NatureBake loaves (Dave's Killer Bread folks) right out of the oven...

And into the slicer

And into the slicer

Ken Forkish about to hit me over the head with a boule

Ken Forkish about to hit me over the head with a boule

My dog about to hit me over the head with a hammer so he can get the Nuvrei pastries

My dog about to hit me over the head with a hammer so he can get the Nuvrei pastries

Morgan Grundstein-Helvey of Dovetail Bakery loving all blueberries equally

Morgan Grundstein-Helvey of Dovetail Bakery loving all blueberries equally

Jocelyn Barda of Bakery Bar didn't cross off a few things on her to-do list because I asked her what her son's birthday cakes are like

Jocelyn Barda of Bakery Bar didn't cross off a few things on her to-do list because I asked her what her son's birthday cakes are like

NatureBake www.naturebake.com
Dave’s Killer Bread www.daveskillerbread.com
Ken’s Artisan Bakery www.kensartisan.com
Nuvrei Pastries www.nuvrei.com
Dovetail Bakery www.dovetailbakery.blogspot.com
Bakery Bar www.bakerybar.com

Start your veggies and OGCP

March 16th, 2009
Where we spent our first few OGCP Saturdays in October

Where we spent our first few OGCP Saturdays in October

OGCP mates milling about after lunch

OGCP mates milling about after lunch

I wrote a story for the hot-off-the-presses spring Edible Portland all about this fall’s first-of-its-kind Organic Gardening Certification Program — or OGCP — in Portland. I learned heaps, have already applied a lot of what I learned to my home edible garden, and want to share some more local gardening class options for Portlanders that I just learned about.

Kathy Dang of Oregon Tilth, whom I wrote about in the piece, sent word of OT’s monthly veggie growing classes as well as their upcoming comprehensive organic gardener program. If these classes offer even a snippet of what the Oregon Tilth folks served up for OGCP then they’ll be well worth the 20-plus dollars they cost.

Also, I thought I’d use this opportunity to offer up a few memories from OGCP that didn’t make it into the Edible Portland story. I chopped them or my editor chopped them, a little of both:

Weston Miller, OSU Extension Agent and OGCP co-organizer sums up the two programs like this: “The Master Gardener Program, typically offered during the winter, is a classroom-based program. For the organic program we had a sliver of growing season left that provided more opportunities for demonstrations and hands-on type learning opportunities.” He adds, “We based OGCP out of active gardening sites, because our goal was to make it as hands-on as possible.”

*****

Our days progress with garden activities such as planting garlic and cover crops and preparing sheet mulch, as well as classroom sessions on everything from plant taxonomy and physiology to soil testing and interpretation. Every Saturday we break at noon for lunch. Lunch is a lesson all its own.

I make my way to a garden picnic table at noon on the first Saturday where several other participants are unwrapping sandwiches, opening thermoses of steaming soups, noodles and teas. On the table: African peanut stew, sauteed vegetables and tempeh, buckwheat noodles, and a veggie-loaded red curry. The edible aspect of gardening is obviously not just an aside for these folks.

Lessons Learned

Roasters: Burlap sacks from local coffee roasters make an excellent re-usable mulch for overwintered garden beds and year-round sheet mulching. Spent coffee grounds from coffeeshops are a good — and not too acidic — top dressing and compost amendment.

Barely used: Portland Nursery gets rid of used pots and planting trays on a regular basis and customers are welcome to pick them up at both locations for free.

Beware of horsetails: Although beautiful and eye-catching — horsetails (those thin bamboo looking plants that populate much of the Oregon Coast) are tenacious, spread quickly and are a home garden nightmare.

The problem with walnut trees: Most of them produce a growth-inhibitive chemical that is detrimental to many plants. So avoid walnut leaves for leaf mulch and compost, and steer clear of walnut bark and wood chips in areas you want affected plants to grow.

Bad for butterflies: Butterfly bushes are invasive and actually detrimental to butterflies since they compete with native plants that feed butterfly caterpillars. If yours is a keeper be sure to cut it back every summer after flowering so it doesn’t spread seeds.

And last but not least — an interesting blog from a fellow OGCP participant:

Elizabeth Bryant’s Dirt Cheap Gardening

Why my vegetable garden will be less diverse this year

Why my vegetable garden will be less diverse this year