A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Amazing Quince! - Sugar-free Recipe

Update - Oct. 2023: We've been continuing with our experiments with quince recipes and learned a few things. Rather than re-write the post, we've added an addendum at the end. Also, please read the comments for info offered by fellow readers. Enjoy!

Hi folks - We've just made an amazing discovery. We love quince! When prepared as the recipe outlines below, quince tastes like a pear/lemon fruit with a hint of peach and rose-oil! Ambrosia!

This has been one of our most beautiful autumn seasons on memory! Pictured is the back of our 1875 Farmhouse, the yellow, shag-bark hickory tree (on the right) and a rainbow in-between. (October 2019)
Every year, about this time, one of the Monroe "locals" drops off two or three HUGE boxes of quince at our local Food Pantry. The quince usually sit on the shelves, for a month or more, with a sign that says "Take as many as you as you can use," but very few people take any, including us. Eventually the Pantry folks get tired of looking at them and they end up in the Sharing Gardens compost pile.

Quince after harvest. Photo credit: LINK
We've been reluctant to try them because they're so darn hard to cut open which makes them seem like a real pain to prepare. Also, they are very tart when they're raw and every recipe we'd heard of called for lots of sugar. We're always trying to find ways to limit our sugar intake, not add to it! So, until we discovered the joys of quince, we just figured our compost piles were going to have a nice big influx of worm-food in a month or two.

That is, until I (Llyn) looked up their nutritional content and Chris and I were pretty impressed - particularly as a good source of zinc and copper. Minerals are often the most difficult nutrients to get enough of in our modern diets. Most farm soils are increasingly depleted and, unless you're getting your food from an organic farmer who replenishes those minerals in natural ways that the plants can absorb, (like wood ash - LINK) it may be difficult to get enough minerals from your diet without taking any vitamin supplements (which we don't). Quince are also low-calorie, high in anti-oxidants and great for digestion (their natural pectin is soothing to the gut!). Who knew? LINK

While I was browsing for more general info about the quince, I found a recipe that suggested boiling them for 8-10 min before baking them and then my cooking creativity kicked in and I came up with the recipe below. I've made it twice so I'm still fine-tuning it (so check back for updates!) But the best thing is, this recipe calls for no refined cane sugar (just maple-syrup, and not much of that) and is easy to prepare.

Pears (on left). Whole, boiled quince (in bowl). Quartered quince (below) - this picture was taken before I figured out how to cut fruit away from core (see below).
The Recipe:

4-6 medium-sized quince (about 5 cups)
4-5 medium yellow pears (about 3 cups) (or sweet apples)
1/3 cup maple syrup (about 1 TBSP maple syrup per cup of quince)
1 TBSP lemon juice (don't over-do the lemon, as quince is plenty tart already!)
1 tsp cinnamon

Choose uniformly yellow, fully ripe fruit without bruises or other damage. It helps if they are a uniform size (for boiling phase).

Bring a pan of water to boil - deep enough to mostly cover the quince.
Using your bare hands, run the quince under water and rub as much of the fuzz off as you can (don't worry if you miss some).

Place in boiling water for 8-10 minutes, depending on size. I think I over-did it the second time I made this. I was trying to soften the fruit all the way through but the core remained quite hard, even with longer boiling and the second time the outer fruit got rather mushy.

Lift the quince out of the boiling water and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking dish with coconut oil or butter.
Combine ingredients for sauce in a measuring cup with a lip for pouring.

Once cool, using a cutting board, cut off any brown spots or other blemishes on the fruit.
Slice the remaining fruit away from the core in as big pieces as possible (see picture). Your knife won't want to go through the core at all. It's super-hard! Just keep shaving off pieces all the way around the core till you've gotten as much as is easy.

Cut fruit away from the hard core.
Cut the fruit into bite-sized pieces.
Wash and core the pears. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
Mix the fruit together by layering it into the baking pan.
Drizzle the sauce over top of the fruit. Gently stir the fruit and sauce together to spread sauce evenly.

Quince, pears and sauce - before baking.
Use a pan with a lid, or cover with aluminum-foil.
Bake for forty-minutes covered (or until juices are boiling).
Take out, gently fold the fruit and sauce together so the fruit at the top gets re-sauced.
Leave cover off and bake for 10 more minutes to lightly caramelize the top.

After baking. Yum!
We like ours chilled with a scoop of organic low-fat, plain yogurt and some organic, lightly sweetened shredded-wheat cereal crushed on top.
We'll keep experimenting...seems like raisins or date-pieces would be good raw or cooked in with the fruit. Also, some crushed walnuts or granola might be good too.

A Quince Essential Fruit - here's a fun post that gives more details about this unique fruit including growing tips.

Let us know of your discoveries/variations in the comments below.

Addendum: We've discovered that, at least with our quince, we can skip the boiling stage of the recipe. The core of quince is so hard that even boiling doesn't soften it but by shaving pieces off and then cutting these pieces into bite-sized pieces, we've found we can skip the boiling phase of the recipe outlined above. Don't know if all varieties of quince are soft enough to do this...

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Autumn Pleasures: Pumpkin Pie and Saving Tomato Seeds

Rob, Chris and Sam - harvesting potatoes
We have lots of good news and updates to share about the Gardens, just not a lot of time to write the post! here are some timely re-posts of two articles pertaining to the Autumn season. Enjoy!

Saving Tomato Seeds - LINK

Provence squash - ready for baking
Making Pumpkin Pie from Scratch - LINK

Friday, October 6, 2023

"Squashes and grains and beans, oh my!"...

...a shifting focus on what foods we grow...

(This is a re-post from January 2023 which explains the changes we made this year in the varieties of foods we grew, and why). Over the last few years, we've noticed that our donations of fresh vegetables have been less needed by the food charities we serve (see: News from the Gardens Jan. 2023).

While we celebrate the abundance of produce being provided to our food-insecure neighbors through other channels, it has caused us at the Sharing Gardens to make some shifts in which crops we wish to emphasize and how best to use our garden space and the volunteer help provided by our share-givers.

In addition to the staple annual crops (tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage etc) that were shared amongst the share-givers (volunteers), in 2021 and 2022, we began dedicating a higher percentage of our garden space to corn, sorghum, beans and winter storage squash.

Sandra harvests sweet, yellow Bantam corn which we dry and use for cereal and baking.

Rook harvests Ba Ye Ki sorghum, a fast growing variety. Not as sweet as Kassaby but is better for shorter growing seasons (we had a cool, wet spring). (Cindy harvests broccoli on the right. The yellow flowers are broccoli purposely going to seed which we saved to replant and share with other gardeners.)

Rook and Chris with sorghum harvest.

Giant Greek white runner beans (on left tipi) in front of our largest greenhouse, the Sunship. (Scarlet Runner beans and this white variety easily cross).

We always grow a long wall of runner beans inside the Sunship too. Here they are at the end of the season, turning brown (best to harvest them as dry as possible for better ripeness and storage. (Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans)

Jewells and Jenny harvesting runner beans.

The grain and bean crops are all hand-processed with the help of our share-givers. Shelling the beans, husking and shucking the corn and removing the sorghum seeds from their stalks are all coveted tasks in the autumn as share-givers sit around in the shade of our garden-shed-awning or, on cooler days, circle the cozy wood-stove in our Sunship greenhouse. These hand-tasks can be very relaxing and satisfying and even fun to do as a group and yet would be daunting and time-consuming for a solo farmer or farm-family.

Chris and Donn, shelling runner beans

We grow kidney beans as a bush-variety. Once ripe, these are cut off at ground level, leaving the roots in the ground (less mess and the worms like the dead roots) and laid on a tarp to dry.

Chris and Jim threshing kidney beans on a tarp. After the beans are good and dry, we thresh them with wooden broom sticks or other tool-handles.  This shatters most of the pods and the beans fall out onto the tarp. Some beans must still be shelled by hand and then they're winnowed in the wind.

We grind the dried grains in our Diamant grain mill which Chris hooked up to a re-purposed electric motor. We then mix the grains together to make a delicious and nutritious hot cereal, or use them in a baking mix for corn cake (LINK - Crumb-Free, Whole-Grain Cornbread Recipe ). The Hooker's blue corn we grow has been found to have 30% more protein than regular corn (LINK - Grow Your Own 'Blue Corn' ) and is sweet and hearty!

Blue Hooker's corn, dried, husked and shucked. Ready for grinding.

Our motorized grain mill.

Bantam, blue corn, sorghum and polenta in our pantry. All grown at the Sharing Gardens!

35 pounds of scarlet runner beans in 2022!

We continue to expand the amount of land we dedicate to winter squash too. Our winter squash harvest was excellent this year. We grew Delicatas and Sweet Meats (both delicious, moist varieties). We had enough to share with our share-givers to get them through the winter, with plenty of surplus for the S. Benton Food Pantry and the Stone Soup Kitchen.

Just a fraction of this year's Delicata and Sweetmeat squash harvest. Yum!

So, the gardens are morphing from their original emphasis on providing food for food charities to a model which provides a significant amount of food to those who are helping to actually grow it. While at first we were concerned by this shift, we now see it as a natural progression and are happy that the food charities are so well stocked during the summer months of peak garden production and that the share-givers are SO appreciative of receiving the Garden's highest quality produce. This new trend frees the Sharing Gardens to continue to demonstrate a model that builds community using local resources for fertility while encouraging mutual generosity. (For info on other community-supporting projects we've already implemented, or intend to cultivate in the future, see: A Wintery Summary).

We'll always have room for the brassicas: Donn and Chris prep beds for cabbage , collards and broccoli.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Three Sisters - Winter Storage Crops and How to Grow Them

Many people are familiar with the Native American combination of growing beans, corn and squash; commonly called 'The Three Sisters". 

Here are LINKS to growing them and tips on storage and usage...

Scarlet Runner beans are our favorite beans to grow for dried-bean/winter storage. They're delicious and have a smooth, thin outer skin which makes them ideal for chili, or soups, or just to eat as a hearty winter dish. They do require a tall strong trellis or tipi, space to finish drying the pods in the fall (after harvest) and many willing hands to remove them from their pods (this is a coveted task for our volunteers in the Fall!). But they're highly productive, and beautiful too! Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans 

Here are instructions for building a simple tipi, perfect for growing pole-beans. Tipis are a great way to support these vigorous climbers and a fun and shady hideout for your smaller garden helpers!  How to build a Bean Tipi/Teepee  

Part of becoming more self-sufficient has been to grow our own corn-meal. We chose an heirloom-variety of blue corn called Hooker's Blue because it's easy to grow, has high yields and makes delicious corn-meal that can be used as hot cereal, and in baked goods such as corn bread and pancake mix. Grow Your Own 'Blue Corn' 

We haven't yet written a post specifically about growing squash, or saving squash seed but here are some LINKS to posts about ways to use the squash after harvest: Making Pumpkin Pie from Scratch - Recipe; Baking Delicata Squash;

Giftivism: Another Name for 'Sharing'

Pavi Mehta: Reclaiming the Priceless

"Giftivism: the practice of radically generous acts that transform the world. History has seen giftivists in all corners - Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and so forth. People who believed that when we change ourselves, we can fundamentally change the world. But this ability isn't restricted to social change giants. The seeds of giftivism lie in each of us. But to tap into it we have to do something all these people did. We have to upturn one of the core assumptions of economics - the assumption that people always act to maximize self-interest. The assumption that we are inherently selfish beings. Giftivism flips that idea on its head. What practices, systems and designs emerge when we believe people WANT to behave selflessly?" 
In this heart-stirring talk filled with real-life stories, writer Pavi Mehta describes the path of Giftivism and the vast potential it holds for returning us to the priceless.

This video was sent to us because we subscribe to an email service: Daily Good - which sends us examples of positive, hopeful actions taking place worldwide. 
Here is the link to the original post with a video of Mehta's speech and a written transcript. Enjoy! LINK