The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: cooking

Seminole Pumpkin Follow-up

SeminolePumpkin_IMG_4133_rs

This is a followup to a post from July 4, 2012. I’ll start with the relevant text from the original post:

Experimentation is the key to successful gardening. What grows in your area? What part of your area is best for a specific variety? Because variety-X will grow in your USDA Plant Hardiness zone, does that mean that it will grow in your county? in your own garden? in different places in your yard?

On June 28, I planted some Seminole Pumpkin seeds in soil blocks. One week later, they were well-sprouted and had roots extending from the blocks. They were ready to plant. That is about the fastest seed-to-transplant time I have seen.

My objective is to be able to grow Seminole Pumpkin in marginal areas where my primary crops won’t grow. Seminole Pumpkin is a spreading vine that takes up a lot of room. On the other hand, it has some characteristics that make it an ideal plant for gardening when it counts – when you depend on what you can grow to feed your family 1:

  • The fruit can be picked and stored without refrigeration for almost a full year.
  • It was a mainstay of the Florida Indians and early settlers.
  • It will spread over the ground, cover fences, and climb trees.
  • Needs to be fertilized only at planting and requires no protection from insects.
  • Is excellent baked, steamed, or made into a pie.
  • The young fruit is delicious boiled and mashed.
  • The male flowers can be dipped in batter and fried as fritters.
  • It produces continually and roots at the nodes.

For this test [2012], I planted groups of three plants in three different areas. They will be given a single dose of fertilizer and then water as needed. My goal is to find a place that I could plant Seminole Pumpkin and let it take over a large part of otherwise-unproductive land. Since this is an excellent subsistence crop that requires a large area, the ideal would be for it to grow over what is now bare areas and lawn grass.

This is quite late in the year to start Seminole Pumpkin, but it will suffice for this experiment. If this is successful, I will be planting them in the Spring.

Follow up:

The 2012 planting did not do well at all. While the Seminole Pumpkin can do without fertilizer once it is well established, it needs a rich place to get off to a good start. Simply planting them in sand with a little fertilizer added will result in plants that probably aren’t going to die right away, but they won’t grow either. In my next post, I’ll show how I planted the 2013 crop of Seminole Pumpkin. The difference was incredible.

For this post, we’ll look at the long term storage properties of the Seminole Pumpkin.

The pumpkins were picked when fully ripe. They were washed off, then placed on shelves in our garage. Basically, they were stored at the same temperature and humidity as the outside air. Out of all the pumpkins that I harvested in 2012 and 2013, probably less than a half-dozen went bad. I would have a shelf full of pumpkins that looked like they were picked yesterday, and one that shriveled into an unidentifiable rotting mass. What starts the process, I have no idea.

We have cooked several of them, and they were good – not something that gourmet chefs will be anxious to use, but they have a good taste (very similar to a regular pumpkin or winter squash), are nutritious and satisfying, and they are easy to prepare. Since this year’s experiment has to do with how well they store, we didn’t want to eat up the test subjects. We’ll experiment with preparing the harvest from the 2014 crop.

Harvested in July and August 2013. Photo taken December 27, 2013.

Harvested in July and August 2013. Photo taken December 27, 2013.

Harvested in July or August 2013. Photo taken December 27, 2013. What caused this one to rot while those next to it are just fine? I have no idea.

Harvested in July or August 2013. Photo taken December 27, 2013. What caused this one to rot while those next to it are just fine? I have no idea.


Conclusions:

  1. Seminole Pumpkins require good rich organic soil to start off with. Once established, they can do OK with not much else.
  2. Long term storage in typical Florida temperatures and humidity is excellent. Some will rot, so it it important that they be stored with adequate air space between them and on something absorbent, like newspaper, in case they start to rot and leak.
  3. They are an excellent crop to grow as an emergency food source should refrigeration and other means of preserving food become unavailable.

PDF Doc – “The Sturdy Seminole Pumpkin Provides Much Food with Little Effort”, by Julia F. Morton; Pages 137-142; Florida State Horticultural Society, 1975.

Notes:

  1. Florida State Horticultural Society, 1975, page137.

Eat What You Grow

This Black Beauty eggplant is a reliable producer here in The South.

This Black Beauty eggplant is a reliable producer here in The South.


Most of us tend to plan our gardens, at some point, by leafing through a seed catalog and picking what we like to eat. While “Grow what you like” is certainly a good way to start, a more realistic plan is to “Like what you grow”.

I have heard it said that there are places where one can grow just about anything. Unfortunately, I have never lived in such a place, so the best plan for me is to find what grows well here and focus on that. Once I find what grows well here, the focus then shifts to finding ways to prepare it so that we enjoy eating it.

I was never really fond of eggplant, but in the hottest part of the summer, eggplant is one of the very few things that thrives in the heat. I have never had any problems growing eggplant. It seems to repel bugs and I’ve never seen any disease. Aside from very mild heat wilt in the hottest part of the day, the heat doesn’t bother it. In addition, it produces a lot of fruit with just a few plants. Another plant with similar characteristics is okra. Since that is what grows well here, our focus then shifted to finding ways to make the best use of those crops.

Laura always seems to find a way to prepare a meal that I am sure to love. With eggplant, she slices it into thin slices, coats it with flour, then dips it in egg, then in seasoned bread crumbs. She then fries it in a cast iron skillet (cast iron is a requirement for any Southern kitchen worthy of the name) until the outside is nice and crispy. Add a bit of coarse-ground sea salt and serve. It is delicious.

Okra is even simpler – she cuts it into sections, fries it in oil, then salt and serve. Fried and breaded okra is, of course, one of the classics, but this is such a simple and delicious way to prepare it that it has become our standard. For a bit of variety, try okra gumbo – the acid in the tomato cuts the “slime” that makes many folks turn away from okra.

The key here is to shift the focus from trying to grow “favorites” that don’t do well where you are, to finding ways to really enjoy what does grow well at your location. Our next experiment will be Seminole Pumpkin – a staple of the early Seminole Indians here in Florida.

Cooking With The Sun

In the previous post, I ordered a Global Sun Oven with Dehydrating and Preparedness Package. Today, we cooked our first full meal with it. We had previously cooked some beans that we had just picked from the garden, and they turned out very well. Once Laura was confident that it would work, she prepared a full dinner using the Sun Oven. Tonight’s supper was meat loaf and a rice dish – cooked by the sun.

The rice dish was cooked in the pot that was part of the package, and the meat loaf was cooked in a loaf pan that we already had but was identical to those provided as part of the package. Both worked just fine. We started cooking at 3:30 and took them out of the oven at 5:00. With this being our first real meal with the Sun Oven, I can’t say that the results were better or worse than using a conventional oven. What I can say is that it works. Plain and simple – it works.

One thing we noticed is that the food is not as hot as food just removed from a conventional oven. That’s pretty obvious, but the thought hadn’t crossed my mind until we sat down to eat. The lesson in that is that you need to be ready to eat as soon as you remove the food from the oven. If you normally wait for the food to cool down a bit, you’ll want to plan things a bit differently.

Meat loaf and rice dishes cooking in the Sun Oven. The lid is turned upside down so that the loaf pan will set level on top of it.

Removing the fully cooked food from the Sun Oven

Supper cooked by the Sun

One more little detail to mention. The instructions tell you to cook a pot of vinegar and then use it to wipe down the inside of the Sun Oven before using it. What I didn’t know is that vinegar is quite an effective herbicide. The patch of dead grass at the top of the first photo is what happens when you clean it over grass and then just dump it out. When you dump your used vinegar from cleaning, dump it on some weeds – not on your grass.

Cooking With The Sun – On Order

I have been interested in solar ovens for quite a while. After wanting to build one and realizing that I’m never going to find the time to build a really sturdy solar oven, I decided to go ahead and buy one. I had been reading about the Sun Oven brand for a while and decided that, for what I wanted, that was what I would order. The reviews gave it high ratings for what was important to me – high quality, long lasting, rugged construction, and efficient operation. What prompted me to “pull the trigger” was the group buy program that the company recently started; that results in a discount of $117.30. The discount applies to their “Sun Oven with Dehydrating and Preparedness Package”. Here is the link to that package.

I applied to the program using the Southern Agrarian as the organization name, and received their discount code. In the “Coupon Code” field, enter SOUTFL and click the “update” button. The discount will appear as shown. This code is good through June 15, 2012. Here is how the order looks when the discount code is applied:

Please feel free to use the Discount Code for Southern Agrarian if you’d like to get one for yourself. There are plenty of reviews on line, so look them over before deciding. As soon as I receive mine (it was shipped today) and use it some, I’ll post a review here.

The Sun Oven web site has some good videos and other information about the product and how it is used. You’ll find more good information by doing a search of “Sun Oven” or “solar ovens” or “solar cooking”.

Making Vanilla Extract

Self-reliance. Making things for yourself rather than buying them – or at least knowing how – is central to agrarianism. That doesn’t mean that do-it-yourself is always better than buying something from someone who can do it better and more efficiently than you can, but at least knowing how to do something gives a great feeling of satisfaction and self-confidence.

We decided that we wanted to make our own vanilla extract. We were looking for something fairly unique that we could give away as gifts, and all-natural vanilla extract was a good fit for us. Here is how we did it:

We used quart jars, so the vanilla beans are weighed for the amount to be added to 4 cups of 40% alcohol. A recommended amount is one ounce per cup, but we added just a bit more than that.

The beans are sliced lengthwise using a sharp knife.

After slicing, the inside of beans are scraped with a dull knife. The black material that is scraped from the inside is called "vanilla caviar".

Use kitchen scissors to cut the bean husks into short sections.

Vanilla beans with the caviar scraped out and the husks cut into short sections.

Add the husks and the caviar to a clean jar.

Jar with vanilla, ready to have 40% alcohol added.

Fill the jar with 40% alcohol. Vodka is the most commonly used form. My understanding is that the more times it has been distilled, the better.

After pouring, screw the lid on tight and shake it well. Put it away in a cool dark place - it needs to be kept away from light.

The jar should be shaken well once each day for at least the first week (more is better, but too much is just a waste of time). After the first couple of weeks, you can cut the shaking down to once or twice a week. After a couple of months, you can start using the vanilla extract, but letting it age for at least six months will give you better results.

When your vanilla extract has aged and you’re ready to give it away and use it in your own kitchen, pour it through a coffee filter in a funnel, then into brown bottles (the bottles and caps should be sterilized before use).  We will be using 4 ounce “Boston Round” bottles that we bought on Amazon.com in a case of 12. Remember, this is a hand-made gift. That calls for a nice label to go on the bottle.

  • Vanilla beans can be ordered through Amazon.com
  • For more information on vanilla beans, go to VanillaReview.com.

Fried Okra

One of the very few things that will grow even during the hottest part of the summer is okra. It not only grows, it thrives. Once it starts producing, picking okra is literally a daily task. Okra must be picked before it gets too big. Large okra pods quickly toughen up into a woody texture. The trick is to pick them when they’re about the length of your longest finger – at least that’s how I do it.

Okra can be prepared in a number of ways, but unless you’re part of a very small percentage of people who enjoy a slimy texture, the key is to get rid of the “slime” that okra is well known for. My two favorite ways are fried and in a gumbo with tomatoes. The acid in the tomato cuts the “slime”, and frying also eliminates it. We’ll talk about okra gumbo another time. This post is about fried okra.

Fried okra is almost like eating popcorn or potato chips – you can just keep on eating them until you’re full. One tip that I learned is that, after cutting it up, you want to let it soak for a couple of hours in milk with an egg mixed in. That lets it work its way down through the slices.

 

Okra pods, sliced and soaking in milk and egg.

In the batter

With the milk and egg serving as a glue, build up a good heavy layer of batter.

Deep fry in oil until the batter turns a golden brown.

At the bottom, fried okra. At the top, eggplant cooked the same way.