Thursday, February 24, 2011

7 Days 100% Local -- April 18 to April 24

Update:  7 Days 100% Local now has its own blog! Check it out!

We are going to do it again.

Our last adventure in 100% local eating was a really good experience.  Three months later I still find myself talking about it, digesting the lessons learned, and thinking about how to do it again.  Even though it was not the easiest week of eating--eating 100% local requires giving up quite a few things--it was really good week of eating.  Dinner table conversation was more interesting.  The meals required more creativity with less options.  We recognized just how dependent on imported products we actually are.  It was more expensive.  It required everyone in the family to be on board with the effort.  It required us to do it together.  There are not many things that are truly whole family projects, but this one is a good one.

How to get ready for 7 days 100% local
1.  Prepare.  Knowing how to prep food.  Learn how to cut larger pieces of meat into smaller ones.  Learn how to make bread with wild yeast.  Learn to make pasta.  Learn how to take rough produce and turn it into ingredients to cook with.

2.  Prepare.  Know where to shop and get your food from.  Most stores don't carry local food and many don't label their food well--even New Seasons and the food co-ops were not easy to navigate.  Shopping at the farmer's market is a good way to go, but it is very expensive and not always open.  If possible, find restaurants that make 100% local items on the menu.  I couldn't find any in Portland.   It would have been really nice to be able to eat out at least once during the week.

3. Prepare.  Get mentally ready for some limited food choices.  My friends who are gluten and dairy intolerant skip meals all the time because they aren't sure about the ingredients.  100% local can be the same, unfortunately.  Until local food becomes more standardized and the prices come down to earth, eating 100% local will feel like you have a serious dietary restriction.  Just say you are industrial-intolerant.

I'll update this post with resources as I come across them.  If you want to join us in going 100% local for 7 days, let me know!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oregon Durum Wheat, Update 2

Durum wheat in Oregon has been an interest for me ever since I tried to make homemade ravioli last year.  I thought local durum would be easy to find considering that Oregon is one of the top wheat producers in the country. But when I tried to find local Pacific Northwest (PNW) durum, I couldn't.   When I started doing some research, I found that durum wheat growing has a long and sorted history in Oregon involving university scientists, corporate underwriters, and even a foreign geneticist.  But in the end, no durum had been successfully grown with real commercial potential. 

And then I heard of the WSU durum project.  I contacted Dr. Mike Pumphrey and asked him if I could find out more about their program.  Dr. Pumphrey directed me to Dr. Aaron Carter who is the winter wheat breeder for WSU and had recently started working on the PNW durum project.  Neither had heard about the OSU durum trials from the 1990's, but had gone ahead with their own trials based on what grows well in California, Arizona and Italy.

Recently I wrote to Dr. Carter to see if the results were in.  At the time, the trials had been completed, but the data was not ready.  He promised to get back to me with results when they were ready. 

Good to his word, Dr. Carter sent me the trial results from the WSU PNW Durum trials.  You can download the results, but here is the summary from Dr. Carter (emphasis mine):
I will provide my disclaimer again that this is only one year’s worth of data and at that we had a very unique spring in Washington so before making any recommendations I would like to see another year of data.  Overall though, it appears that durum can be competitive with hard spring wheat and quality standards appear to be met.  Let me know if you have any questions.  As far as I know, there is no commercial production of durum in the PNW so your problem with locally sourcing this is still present.  The addition of another year of data may be enough to convince producers to grow it if there are markets identified...
I will make the upfront comment right now that this data is only from two locations in 2010 and should be regarded as such. The 2010 year was very unique in Washington as we had a very cold, wet spring with a lot of disease pressure. More disease was seen in Pullman than in the Othello location. Pullman is a rain fed location receiving around 22 inches of annual precipitation. Othello was irrigated using a center-pivot system and is located in central Washington. Weed pressure was controlled at both locations. Stripe rust was the major disease at both locations, with Pullman receiving the higher, more uniform pressure. Data is included for stripe rust reaction in Pullman. Also included are five hard spring wheat cultivars used as comparison. The Othello location had unusually low test weight and yield potential for an irrigated site. Yield appeared competitive and protein levels were acceptable.
WSU seems to have had success where others have not.  As Dr. Carter says, Durum production can be competitive.  This was news to me.  I was  under the assumption that durum was a long shot in the Northwest and growing it was difficult.  But the early indicators from the WSU trials show reality may be very different. 

Why isn't PNW Durum Happening? Three Reasons
To help answer this question, I reached out to Scot Lany of Eat Oregon First and the Basque Ranch.

When I showed Scot the test results from WSU, he was not surprised.  It just makes sense the durum should be able to grow well in central and eastern Oregon (and Washington).  The test result yields looked good and the protein variation was narrow enough to be acceptable. 

The issue to Scot was not if it would grow; the issues are everything except growing a durum crop.  In particular, Scot identified three trouble spots:

1.  Cross Pollination.  If you are going to grow durum, in a state that has 975,000 acres of wheat (source), you are going to cross pollination problems.  To avoid this, you need a half mile barrier between your durum and any other types of wheat.  That's a half mile of unused land that could be used to grow a profitable crop of soft white wheat.

2.  Storage and Transportation.  Infrastructure in general is a problem. Wheat is a commodity.  When wheat is grown, it is normally grown in huge quantities.  Quantities so big that wheat can really only be thought of as a "regional" product, as opposed to a "local" product.   Harvesting the crop takes large equipment.  Storing the crop takes gigantic facilities.  Moving the crop takes trucks and trains.  If everyone is growing one kind of wheat, then that makes it possible to share costs because the equipment and facilities needed to do the job can be shared.  Durum processing would need to be kept completely separate from the other kinds of wheat.

3.  The Politics of Co-Ops. Because commodity farming requires such huge investments in equipment and infrastructure, most wheat farmers join co-ops.  Co-ops provide all sorts of benefits to being in the club.  They can help when someone has equipment problems.  They lower costs on necessary supplies, like fuel.  They help with marketing and education programs.  It's more than a giant club that buys in bulk for its members, it also handles the marketing and selling of the wheat.  In this environment, deciding to go your own way by growing a crop that is not what the co-op grows is not supported.   The co-op only buys and sells what it buys and sells. And the big co-ops only buy what they can sell in the biggest markets for the most profit with the lowest risk.  In Oregon, that means 8 types of wheat, but mostly soft white winter wheat.  If you aren't into that, you should find a different co-op (if you can).  There is no "I" in co-op. 

Oregon Wheat Variety Study 

A Different Point of View from the Oregon Wheat Commission
To get more insight into the issues, I spoke with Tana Simpson, administrator for the Oregon Wheat Commission.  Tana was very nice and explained to me more about wheat in Oregon. 

There are two main co-ops in Oregon--the Mid-Columbia Producers and Pendleton Flour Mill.  All of these are set up to handle huge amounts of grain (primarily Soft White wheat) from the farmers of Oregon.  One thing you will notice is that only one of these co-ops has the word "mill" in its name.  That is important because Oregon exports about 92% of all the wheat grown here, mostly to Asia.   And that wheat is exported raw.  The only large scale commercial mill in all of Oregon is the Pendleton mill.

This idea that we export almost all the wheat we grow is very important because it dictates what is grown by creating an environment of very strict standards for the product.  Soft White wheat grows really well in Oregon.  Because of that, the quality and quantity can be consistent enough for the international export market.

The OSU durum wheat trials showed that durum production is not consistent enough to meet these types of strict standards.  Because of that, what is grown here can't play in the "big leagues" of the international export markets.  Thus, no one really wants to grow durum.  Why grow second-rate durum when you can grow first-rate soft white?

Consequently, if anyone is going to grow an alternative crop, they need to start out with smaller local organizations such as Bob's Red Mill or one of the others.

One More Reason Why We Don't Have PNW Durum
I spoke with Josh Dorf, CEO of Stone-Buhr, about the PNW durum situation and he brought up a great point.  PNW durum is an experiment and experiments are expensive.  Those extra costs for infrastructure and processing would have to be passed on through higher prices.  These higher prices would not be able to compete with the existing durum producers in Montana and North Dakota.  If they can't compete, they won't sell, and then the experiment would fail.   The work that WSU is doing may help to reduce the doubts that a viable crop can be grown, but it does not change the fact that there will be lots of extra costs to create the infrastructure needed to get the grain to market.

Going Home Grown
So, is it possible to roll your own?  Sure it is.  The new WSU trial results are very promising.  It won't be easy, but here are a couple examples of people who have bucked the system.

Basque Ranch. At Basque Ranch they grow Triticale wheat, a variety developed in the UK as a cross between wheat and rye that was meant to be exported to Africa to fight world hunger. Scot heard about this, thought it was pretty cool and decided to plant a couple acres.  He took it to a private mill and gave out some samples to Pasta Works and other places in town and they liked it.  The next year he planted 4 acres, and it all sold.  This kept going until this past year he planted 40 acres of Triticale.  Scot created his own market.  Now he is one of only 2 or 3 growers in the state that has a commercial crop of Triticale wheat.   Available through Eat Oregon First and Fork Revolution.

Stone-Buhr (distributors of Sheppard's Grain).  Easily the largest scale producer of the bunch, but still centered in the Northwest.  Sheppard's Grain is notable not because they are growing alternative wheat, but because they are doing it on their own terms.  Eschewing the co-op system, the farmers work together as a pool.  Costs are based on the true cost of growing the wheat and everything is Food Alliance certified.  Because of the record keeping required for Food Alliance, Stone Buhr is able to tell you exactly who grew the wheat you are buying on their Find the Farmer website.  The Sheppard's Grain / Stone Buhr system builds the regional grain industry based on sound ecological practices and pays the farmers based on true costs (not commodity board price fixing).  They provide a great example of how to keep local values even on a large scale.  Available at most major super markets.

Where does that leave PNW Durum?  
Basically no where...until someone steps up to the plate and plants a few acres of durum.  I'm sure there are plenty of local restaurants and grocery stores that would carry the product.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who would buy it.  And if the WSU results hold true through the next round of trials, then there may be no reason not to grow durum here.  But someone has to take the risk, and right now there are no takers.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Making Ketchup, Mustard, and Mayonnaise Local

Sometimes food just needs a little help.  Brats need mustard.  Crab cakes go great with Aioli.  You can't have mashed potatoes without ketchup (or so says my daughter).  Condiments are so useful and so ubiquitous that not being able to make them locally is a big oversight in any local food plan. 

All of the preparations I did below were not done using locally sourced ingredients.  In fact, I didn't even try to local source them.  There are a couple reasons for this.  The most important reason is that I have never made ketchup or mustard before.  Having never made them before, I thought it more cost effective to do a practice run using less expensive ingredients, learn how to make the stuff, work out the kinks in the recipes, then spend the money for local ingredients later when I know I'm not going to screw it up.

Making Ketchup Local
If you look at the ingredients, ketchup is really an Autumn and Winter food--after we've eaten our fill of late summer sliced tomatoes but want to keep that sunny goodness going through the dark months.  By spring you've probably used up whatever ketchup you'd made.  Besides, spring foods don't really lend themselves to ketchup (fiddle heads and ketchup anyone?). 

I went for the simplest recipe that I could find, thinking that I could make fancy ketchup later, but I at least needed to know the basics first.  I used my Epicurious app to find a simple homemade ketchup recipe that got good reviews.  It wasn't hard to find. There were several. 

My thoughts were also leaning toward how I could adapt the recipe to 100% local ingredients, knowing that not all ingredients can be sourced locally.  Here are the original ingredients:
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Onion
  • Olive Oil
  • Tomato Paste
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cider Vinegar
  • Salt
Then, for fun, I added a little bit of Worchestershire Sauce and some Bourbon-Chipotle sauce from Fire on the Mountain.

Most of these seem pretty easy to replace. 

Canned tomatoes = Fresh Tomatoes, blanched and peeled

Onion = Onion

Olive Oil = Olive Oil

Tomato paste = This can probably be skipped.  may not have as strong a tomato flavor, but i think it will be okay.

Brown Sugar = a little bit harder.  the closest we can get is local honey.  This would add an interesting herby sweetness. 

Cider vinegar = it is possible to find from a local orchard, but it is also pretty easy to make at home.

Salt = you'd have to make your own salt

Worchestershire Sauce = just skip it.

Bourbon-Chipotle Sauce = use some local crushed red pepper.

A note about preparing ketchup.  This was my first time and one thing that I learned is that the texture of ketchup is really key to it tasting like ketchup.  Or maybe I should say the lack of texture.  Store bought ketchup is completely smooth, it has no texture at all.  I used the fine plate on a food mill for mine, but it still had little tiny chunks in it.  These chunks make it seem a little bit like tomatoes sauce, rather than ketchup.  Next time, I'll make sure to run mine through a fine chinois to get all the chunks out and achieve that super smooth ketchup texture. 

Making Mustard Local
I like course grain mustard more than any other condiment, so I was really looking forward to this experiment.  I was hoping to replicate McMenamins Terminator Stout whole grain mustard, which I think is pretty good.  But it turned out to be harder than I thought.

To make whole grain mustard, I looked to James Peterson's great book, Sauces.  He has a very simple whole grain mustard recipe in there, that I adapted to use beer instead of wine and malt vinegar in stead of wine vinegar.
Really pretty simple, but to localize this is a little bit harder. 

Mustard Seed = not sure.  I haven't found a local Oregon producer of mustard seed.

Shallot = shallot

McMenamins' Terminator Stout. = Unfortunately, although this is produced locally it is not sourced locally.  You'd have to substitute for something like Rogue Brewery's Chateau Rogue Black Lager.  The Chateau Rogue line of beers are all sourced 100% locally by Oregon farms.  These are the only line of beers that I have found that do not use any imported ingredients. Go Rogue!

Malt vinegar = Cider vinegar?  Local vinegar options are very limited.  There are some fruit vinegars and Cooper Mountain vineyard makes a local Oregon Balsamic.  However, all of these are cost prohibitive.  When I started looking around, I did not find a single Oregon vineyard that was making wine vinegar.  None of them wanted to divert part of their crop from wine production.  This is a real bummer for local food.  I understand there are cost pressures and growers want to get the highest margin they can, but by neglecting the basic ingredients, we are left having to import what could easily be created here.

Salt and pepper = you can make your own salt, but pepper is just not available.

A note about making mustard.  When mustard is first made, it is hot.  I thought I'd messed something up when my mustard tasted like wasabi-horseradish-vinegar-fire sauce.  Mustard needs time to mellow, and there is no telling just how long that will take.  Right now, my mustard has been mellowing for 3 days and it is still a little too hot for my taste.  Luckily, mustard does not go bad, so you can leave it out and take a taste every day to see where it is at.  When letting your mustard mellow, make sure not to put it in the refrigerator.  Refrigeration basically stops the mellowing process and your mustard will be fixed at that heat.  I didn't know this at first and put one jar in the refrigerator.  Three days later the other jars are developing a nice flavor while that one jar still makes my eyes water.

Making Mayonnaise Local
Local mayo is not really possible simply because every recipe I found called for canola oil or peanut oil, neither of which we have here.  What we do have is olive oil.  And we have garlic.  This mean that while we can't make traditional mayonnaise, we can make something better--Aioli.  Aioli is like garlic mayonnaise, but a little bit different.  It has less ingredients, is full of garlic and tastes outstanding on crab cakes.  It is better than mayonnaise in my book. 

I turned again to James Peterson's Sauces for a simple Aioli recipe, and really it couldn't get simpler.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Egg Yolk
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Lemon Juice
If we want to do this local, here's what we'd have to do:

Garlic = garlic

Egg yolks = no problem

Salt and Pepper = make your own salt, but pepper is out.  That's okay though, because the pepper doesn't
really contribute that much in this recipe.

Lemon Juice = it is possible to find local Meyer lemons.  But you gotta look.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil = Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  There are several producers of local olive oil for this, but cost will be an issue.  The recipe in Peterson's book calls for 2 cups of oil.  That is 16 ounces of oil.  Considering that a 12.7 ounce bottle of oil from Red Ridge Farms costs around $17, you can see that this will not be a cheap aioli.  In fact, it would say that it is cost prohibitive to make aioli with local oil.

A note about making aioli.  If your aioli breaks while you are making it, James Peterson says to beat an extra egg yolk, then add the broken aioli to is slowly to re-bind it.  This worked for me.  Peterson also says that extra virgin olive oil is fragile and will become bitter if over worked.  However, when I looked on YouTube, I found plenty of chefs using their Kitchen Aids to do the mixing.  I tried doing the hand method then resorted to a Kitchen Aid to get the job finished.  It seemed to work for me.

Local Sourcing Local Condiments
Overall, most condiments can be simplified and adapted to local ingredients just fine. There are a couple sticking points though, mainly with vinegars and oils.  This really brings to the front a problem that I have been running into more and more with local sourcing in general. Eating local is more than a nice chicken from the farmer's market or a pint of u-pick strawberries or a bag of sweet corn in late summer from Sauvie's Island. While all these things can be wonderful, the food we eat every day is made up of many more ingredients.  Almost all of these can be sourced locally, but are not.  Cost pressures and thin margins lead growers to pass them over because they do not generate the profit that "premium" products do. But if we are really, truly going to cook and eat locally, we need to find ways to source all our ingredients locally.  Eating local cannot be a "gourmet" event every day.  There is a place for premium products, but we need the staples too.