Monday, May 27, 2019

Floral Book Review: "The Food Explorer" by Daniel Stone

Floral Book Review for "The Food Explorer"

Fascinating I think is the best way to describe Daniel Stone's book, "The Food Explorer, The True Adventures of a Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats."

We never (or at least I never/rarely beyond my farm) give much thought to where things we eat daily originally came from. We are in the age of everywhere. We can get anything from almost anywhere and quickly. Break it down one more step and most people never consider (especially with processed food...yes a farmer literally grew/raised your bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel) the farmer that planted the seed, planted the tree, cared for the plants, harvested the food, packed it in a box and sent it either to the grocery store or processing facility. Unless you shop a farmers market then you know and chat and see the person that does all of the above mentioned things.

And what we really don't think about is how these things got to America in the first place.  However Stone looks into the life of the man who dedicated himself completely to bringing out-of-towners to America and man, did he deliver!

Stone opens the book by saying, "A few years ago, it occurred to me that the same way immigrants came to our soil, so did our food." Shortly after that quote he introduces us to David Fairchild who with the help of a wealthy acquaintance, Barbour Lathrop, traveled literally around the world and back to bring us things like lemons, avocados, nectarines, mangos, watermelons, and more!

For the the time period it amazes me how far and wide these two men traveled. I've been to a fraction of the places they went to and even more impressive it was a time when travel was much less comfortable and far more difficult since you know...they couldn't just pull open their laptop and search for the cheapest flights in a matter of seconds.

In stark contrast from today where 1-2% of the population farms, "In America's infancy, food wasn't a sector - it was almost the whole economy. Farmers accounted for 90 percent of the United States labor force in 1790. Fifty years later, they were only 60 percent and a generation after that, they were just over half (today they're less than 2 percent). Accounting for America's swelling population during that time, from four million to thirty-one million, there were more individual farmers in the late nineteenth century than ever before (or again) in American history."

The book takes you through Fairchild's ambition to get approval of the Department of Agriculture for his journey to bring new food to America. He said, "As a botanist you can help farmer solve problems with their current crops, or you can bring them new crops, the seeds to start rival industries."

By far my favorite part of the book was when he'd make a discovery. I loved when Stone wrote of Fairchild's time in Peru, "Red corn and yellow squash filled the seed sacks that Fairchild prepared for Washington. Both were uncommon varieties with few redeeming traits - but the colors were novelties, good for, if nothing else, attracting bemused onlookers in pavilions of agricultural fairs."

Alligator Pear. I sincerely wish that name would have stuck. But sadly no we're stuck with avocado, which on a funny note is a, "derivative of their (Aztecs) word for testicle. It grew in pairs, and had an oblong, bulbous shape." Alligator pear is what Fairchild called it when he observed our beloved avocados for the first time.

"Fairchild's avocado shipment from Chile helped launch an industry." And if you ever wondered why or where we got "Haas" avocado it's because a guy who's last name was Haas patented, "the variety that would become the world's most popular avocado, accounting for more than 80 percent of the global market."

Stone writes about Fairchild hearing about and finding a seedless grape variety which even more than the grape it's self he was interested in the idea of seedless fruit and ease of eating.

Fairchild not only discovered food but also brought to the United States a new type of cotton.
"This new cotton, he learned, was known as Joannovitch cotton. It was easy to grow and its seeds were easy to reporduce, the perfect combination to satisfy recovering Southern growers short on money and labor. The long fibers were so much softer, and so easy to distinguish from the coarse cotton traditionally grown in the American South..."  This cotton became known as Egyptian cotton a name we still use today and associate with luxury and comfort.

It's crazy that after reading this book how things click. Alfonso mangoes. Seedless fruit. Egyptian cotton. And so many other grocery staples now don't just mean what they are. They represent an observation, a discovery, a hunch of viability, actual viability and longevity. It's really incredible when you think about it. We owe so much of our culinary experience to one guy who's dedication sprung forth endless amounts of enterprise both large (guacamole, avocado toast, avocado everything for that matter!) and small (the kid next door's lemonade stand).

The story of Fairchild and the lemon was so charming and totally one I can relate to: one for them and one (or two) for me. He loved the lemons so much that he was just eating them out of hand the entire journey after their discovery. I think it also represents him enjoying his passion. Savoring his discovery.

"...near the southern tip of Greece, and there, holding his suitcase he his teeth in the tart, seedless fruit. Unlike his haste and angst he felt stealing the citron from Corsica, he now felt the indifference of confidence. He tasted one lemon after another, inspecting each for seeds, the juice running down this chin until his mouth stung with acid.
Fairchild operated with the processional demeanor of a man now granted government funds to do crucial work. But for a rare occasion in his work as an agriculture explorer, he considered picking fruit for himself, simply to enjoy whether it helped anyone or not."

So the above quote is why I included the lemon in my Floral Book Review of "The Food Explorer."  It's an important reminder to enjoy your work. And as a reminder to be a little adventurous in your work, I chose those delicious dyed carnations for the arrangement. Variety may be the spice of the life but I think the secret might be enjoyment and adventure.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Strawberry Meringue Pie

So strawberry season is upon us.

I was craving the cloud-like glory which is meringue.

And thought why do lemons get to have all of the fun?

They shouldn't!

So I bring you Strawberry Meringue Pie. It's a curd-like base in that it's fruit, sugar, and egg yolks but minus the butter in this instance with my favorite topping (even more favorite than crumb!) meringue.

Strawberry Meringue Pie

2 pound Fresh Strawberries
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks separated and the 4 whites for the meringue
1 pie shell
Squeeze of lemon optional

For the Meringue
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar added slowly

How To:

Slice strawberries into quarters and throw them in a pot. Cook until they start to break down and get juicy.

Add in sugar and stir until dissolved. Add cornstarch and stir until there are no lumps or trace of the cornstarch.

When you add the eggs you can do 1 of 2 things. Either let the strawberry mixture cool a little before adding them and stir continuously (seriously non-stop or you'll have scrambled eggs in your strawberry filling which is vomit worthy) or remove a cup of the mixture into a separate bowl. Add the eggs and stir until it's completely integrated and then add back to the pot with the rest of the strawberries.

Once that's together you can start on your meringue.

Add eggs, cream of tartar and vanilla extract to the bowl. With an electric mixer beat until the eggs are white and least a minute.

Then slowly add the sugar. Beat until it's completely smooth and there is no grit from the sugar.

Add the strawberry mixture to a pie shell and top with the meringue. Cook at 350 until the meringue is golden brown.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Flower Field Days - 3 Hands On Classes

Check Out The Classes: HERE

In the past few years we have had quite a few people either come to work for us, express interest in eventually working for us, or reaching out with a number of questions after having taken an online class or reading a book.

They definitely have a solid start as the online classes out there are incredibly well done. However there are two problems with online: 1. it's very easy to learn from the comfort of your couch in a climate controlled room and 2. it doesn't help with local sources of where to get the best stuff at the best price.

So I created a 3 class series where you can come to 1, or 2, or all 3 if you'd like and get your hands dirty (or if it's raining maybe a little muddy) and dive in to where to source things plugs, potting soil, design supplies, etc.

So the first two classes: Seeding and Transplanting and Harvesting, Mixed Bouquets and Sales Outlets are outdoor, rain or shine days. The third class option will be held inside in the comfort of air conditioning and in a bug free environment.

And now for a few details about each class:

Seeding and Transplanting: My mom will be joining us in the morning to talk all things greenhouse. She has over 30 years of commercial greenhouse production and has managed beyond 30,000 square feet of greenhouse space once upon a time. It's her domain and if you have a greenhouse question I feel pretty confident saying she has the answer. We rent greenhouse space off the farm so we will not be inside an actual greenhouse. We'll bring trays, soil, and other supplies to the farm to work with. In the afternoon we'll into field transplanting where we'll look at Black landscape fabric vs. black plastic, burn some holes, and put down black landscape fabric.

Harvesting, Mixed Bouquets, and Sales Outlets: In the morning we'll pick all of the flowers we need for our afternoon mixed bouquets. We'll go over what to pick, what not to pick, how to properly bunch and tie bunches. In the afternoon we'll break up into groups and make some mixed bouquets followed by a Q and A about sales outlets.

Hand Tied Bouquet and Centerpiece (This class is for anyone who loves flowers! No professional aspirations needed): In the morning we'll go over a few different types of bouquets and tools used to make them. Each guest will then make a hand tied bouquet to take home. In the afternoon we'll repeat just with centerpieces. You'll get to take home your centerpiece and vase as well.

These classes are meant to be fun and for people who are interested in flowers in general, gardening, or working toward professional cut flower production. This is NOT for experienced flower folks unless you're strictly a grower and want to dabble in design...then sure! join us for the design class. On the other side of that if you're a florist and are interested in growing flowers then come on down to 1 or both of the first two classes.

Come to class ready to take notes and make new friends. Super excited to meet you!