Category Archives: Sustainable Food

Yes, I Can… Vegetables

By Tamra Wilson

Canning season has come early this year. Pee Paw’s garden is overproducing, Syl says. She picks and stems the beans; I own the canner. We share the lids, rings and the jars.

This all began last year when we decided to eat more local and healthy. I invested $99 in a  pressure canner and attended a canning clinic at Home Extension.

“Follow the rules,” the agent advised. “Treat this like a science project,” which meant scalding the jars, sterilizing the lids, discarding rusty rings.

“Botulism can kill you. You must process properly to kill the varmints inside the jar.”

Varmints? That sounded scary, but not so much as the canner looked with its vents, locks and gauge – taunting me to come closer.

My mother did not can. Like most women of her day, she kicked all semblances of home canning to the curb with the warning that it’s old-fashioned and dangerous. The canner can explode. Improper seals could breed botulism, a slow death by poisoning. Her grandmother died after eating home-canned corn. Enough said.

But for me and many like me, risk-taking pressure canners are a new frontier.

I read the pressure canner instructions with trepidation.

Boil the sealed jars in the canner with lid closed until steam, like white smoke announcing a new pope at the Vatican, swirls out for 10 minutes. Place the petcock over the vent. Wait until the pressure reaches 11 pounds. Process for 25 minutes. Don’t take calls, knit, text or watch TV. Watch the canner. Monitor the gauge.

When the process is done, place the hot jars on a clean towel and cover them with another towel to prevent jars from breaking in a cool draft – as if anything vaguely cool could exist in this hot kitchen.

Photo by Flickr/Sommer Poquette

Pressure canning green beans takes three hours, 26 minutes per jar, not to mention the cost of energy and supplies.  This is a pricey undertaking, even with freebie.

It was then that I noticed the green bean smell inside the canner. Don’t ask me the physics, but the pressure bath smells of green beans, a musky old-time odor I hadn’t encountered since dining years ago at the Green Parrot Cafe in Rochester, MN, where Mother scheduled an annual physical at the Mayo Clinic. “Take No Chances” should have been her middle name.  Though she had no known ailments, every June, we kids tagged along to “Mayo’s” for three days of utter boredom in the waiting room.

The Green Parrot, our kitchen away from home, served home-cooked green beans with plated entrees, also boring. The service wasn’t particularly fast either. After lunch, we’d return to Mayo to draw pictures, read or watch people while waiting for Mother’s appointments to check not for a miracle cure, but a blessing that nothing was wrong in the first place.

Why did my mother insist on Mayo? They’re the best, she’d say, the same reason I sit by my pressure canner.

Patience = quality. I am my mother’s daughter.

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Sustainable Seafood on Charlotte Talks

Michael LaVecchia brought some Outer Banks scallops with brown butter and parsley on Carolina-grown blue grits. At Charlotte Talks' Spirit Square studio.

Michael LaVecchia in his Iron Chef shirt and 'fish slinging' boots. He's the 'Chief Fish Guy & Butcher' at the Meat & Fish Co. at 7th Street Market.

America’s love for seafood is threatening some species due to over-fishing. Some fish are even ‘harvested’ from fish farms. Do you make an effort to seek out and buy sustainable fish? Wednesday, Charlotte Talks took on the subject to find out how to shop more consciously with Chef Peter Reinhart from Johnson & Wales University and Carrie Brownstein, Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator for Whole Foods. Michael LaVecchia also joined us, he’s the so-called ‘Chief Fish Guy & Butcher’ at Meat & Fish Co. at 7th Street Market. He even brought us some samples. Find out how our habits are affecting the health of the oceans and fishing populations and what questions consumers can ask to become more educated about what we’re eating.

Listen to the show.

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Mutant Strawberries! They’re Big, But How Do They Taste?

Note to readers: that is a real human-sized spoon, not a Barbie spoon.

Portions and foods in general are getting bigger and bigger, but this is ridiculous. My fiance brought home some freak, mutant strawberries last week. I had to share the photo because I didn’t know you could actually buy strawberries this big. I thought they were the subjects of “whoa, look at that thing” ribbons at the state fair or perhaps B- horror movies (Attack of the Killer Strawberries?) Is this the result of some kind of nuclear radiation or genetically modified seeds grown with steroid fertilizer? I decided to investigate.

Giant is right.

According to their website and a representative I contacted, they do use some pesticides:

…we use practices and methods to minimize the need for pesticides whenever possible. Our team works closely with scientists at the University of California to determine the best time for applications of pesticides and insecticides and they are used ONLY when necessary to protect the survival of plants.

They add that they also offer organic berries, as well. As for genetic engineering:

California Giant does not use GMO’s. We rely on traditional breeding methods to develop and enhance our berries’ flavor, quality, size and color.

If GMOs are not involved, the size must be attributed to some selective breeding. I’m no farmer or geneticist of course, but it seems like it would be difficult to breed for BOTH size and flavor. Based on the strawberries I had, it seems like size won, they weren’t particularly flavorful or juicy…

The giant berries growing in their giant habitat. Photo from California Giant Berry Farms Facebook page.

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Eat Honey, Bee Local

Bees scare me.   I feel foolish that something so small and generally uninterested in my presence would cause me to act in ways that call my sanity into question.  I’ve leapt from my automobile, removed clothing in public, and screamed like a girlie girl (which I am not) in response to an unwelcomed visitor.

But bees are not my enemy.  I would go to great lengths to defend their existence, because honey bees are an integral part of our food system.   Beyond making honey, bees pollinate around a third of the fruits and vegetables that we rely on for nutrition.  If you watch the movie Vanishing of the Bees, you’ll learn about a phenomenon called “colony collapse” that is threatening bee populations all over the world.  Our honey sources are in trouble.

So what’s the big deal about honey, and particularly about local honey?  Honey in general has impressive qualities, as well as a broad array of flavor profiles, but there is something very special about local honey that goes beyond satisfying your sweet tooth.

If you dread the onset of spring because of your reactions to pollen, local honey is here to help.  I found Cloister Honey at Dilworth Drug displayed prominently on a shelf with the allergy medications.  Regular consumption of the most local honey you can find has been proven to act like a series of immunological injections, as it helps you adapt to your environment.  Honey can also soothe a sore throat or suppress a cough (a little bourbon doesn’t hurt either).

There are many reasons to buy local honey vs. honey generated from a foreign nectar source.  Commercial honey has often been heated and pasteurized, which reduces the benefits and the antibacterial properties.  And if you buy local, you can know your beekeeper and you can know for sure that you are getting a pure product vs. one that has been blended with something else.If you find it at a farmers market you can be pretty sure that it is local, but it never hurts to ask.

Depending on where the bees roam, honey from different sources can taste vastly different.  Find a beekeeper who will offer you samples and help you find one that you like! A little honey goes a long way – it is sweeter than sugar, and better for your body.  Beyond a topping for yogurt and biscuits or a sweetener for tea, it has preservative qualities that make it useful in baked goods and other recipes.

What can you do to make sure we continue to have an abundance of local honey?  Be a friend to the bees, and support your local beekeeper. Beekeeping has also become a popular hobby, but please go to Bee School first!  Plant a garden for the bees to pollinate, and consider using organic pest control and garden inputs.  It is good for you, good for the bees, and better for the environment.  And how sweet it is once the golden goodness starts flowing.

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Heritage and Heirloom… Chickens?

When you hear the words “heritage” and “heirloom” what comes to mind? For Chef Steve Pope, it’s chickens.

Chef Steve Pope

Pope will be visiting Charlotte’s 7th Street Public Market this Sunday, March 11 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm, for a special tasting, lecture and demonstration event.

“People are re-discovering the flavors, textures and appearance of heritage foods, such as tomatoes and apples,” explains Jacqueline Venner Senske, the market’s operations manager. When it comes to poultry, there are certain cooking methods that will highlight what she describes as the “fuller” flavor of the meat.

Chef Pope’s expertise goes all the way back to his youth when he worked on his grandparents’ poultry ranch. Like many food experts, Pope has traveled extensively – but he’s one of only a small number who can claim a regular guest spot on the “Chicken Whisperer” radio program.

Some urban poultry lovers are trying their hands at backyard chicken farming. Before you build a pen or bring home chicks, check out the rules that govern where you live. You don’t want to run “a-fowl” of the regulations.

Even if heritage birds aren’t on your menu just yet, this week’s event will appeal to folks eager to try different poultry preparation methods. Says Venner Senske: “This is a wonderful opportunity to learn from a chef like Steve. It’s great exposure for any home cook.”

And she agrees with his assertion: “Heritage cooking is the act of remembering through food.”

For tickets or further information, visit 7thStreetPublicMarket.com. Click for flyer.

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Eating Well And Green In A Mild Winter

Charlotte's mild winter allowed these greens to go from soil to salad bowl on Jan. 30.

Roger Sarow

By: WFAE’s Roger Sarow

It’s been an extremely mild winter (so far), but we have to wait till late March for a reliable spring. What’s a cook to do right now to offset the winter “blahs”? We asked the folks at the new 7th Street Market in Uptown Charlotte. It turns out several crops do not rely on a freezer or a can.

WFAEats: What fresh and local foods are available in February?
Produce this time of year falls into three basic categories: storage crops, outdoor crops, and greenhouse crops. Storage crops are grown in summer to late fall. They include sweet potatoes, white potatoes, turnips, beets, winter squash (like butternut and spaghetti), apples, and carrots. Most of these get stored in a climate-controlled building, but carrots store well in the ground. In fact, they actually get sweeter.

Outdoor crops include collards, red and green kale, bok choi, and cabbages. They are weather dependent and are much more resilient in a mild winter like this year’s. A milder winter benefits consumers because it provides more choices during this time of year and benefits farmers by offering more income during this time.

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Five Common Mistakes in Vegetable Gardening (and How to Avoid Them)

Charlotte Talks recently discussed spring vegetable gardening – choosing the right beds, the right soil, the right things to plant and more with Don Rosenberg and others. Listen here.

Don Rosenberg, Owner of Instant Organic Garden

Republished with permission from Don Rosenberg.
Don Rosenberg is owner of
Instant Organic Garden and author of “No Green Thumb Required! Organic Family Gardening Made Easy.” He builds back yard vegetable gardens for families throughout the greater Charlotte, NC area and talks to local groups on how to make gardening easy.

1. Using native soil. To start a garden you scrape off the sod, loosen the existing soil, add compost and fertilizer, and grind it all up with a tiller, right? That’s the way 95% of all back yard gardens are started. The problem is that most native soil is full of dormant weed seeds that can wait 20-50 YEARS before they germinate. You end up with a very productive weed patch instead of a vegetable garden. Even if your soil doesn’t have a lot of weeds, you don’t know it’s composition and soil tests for one spot won’t be valid for a different part of your yard. You’re never sure if anything toxic was spilled in any particular part of your garden.

Raised beds are better. Build a raised bed as an open box on top of your soil, and fill it with inexpensive potting mix, and add organic fertilizers to the top 4” of soil. Raised beds allow for perfect drainage, and heat up faster in the spring and stay warmer in the fall, extending your harvest.

Read more common vegetable gardening mistakes and how to correct them ‘below the fold.’ You’ll also find a veggie planting guide.

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