Monday, October 29, 2012

Sweet Potatoes Past and Present

As promised* here is a comparison between stored 2011 sweet potatoes and the new harvest 2012

Left: 2011 and right: 2012. I'm curious if the sprouts on the 2011 tubers would still grow? 

All the big 2011 sweets were eaten - yum - so left behind were those that I didn't use for sprouting slips that were still a reasonable size. The very small ones dried out but those that were at least as thick as a good sized sausage - 3cms or so in diameter - seem to keep even a year later. The 2011s were drier looking on the outside.

Left: 2011 and right: 2012 cut open. Notice the streak of white in the 2012 sweet. Intriguing.

Inside, you can see what looks like some fibrous dots in the old sweet potato and I'm wondering if this would not have as nice a texture now. The 2012 sweet looks uniformly orange and juicy. Flavour is said to generally improve with storage for properly cured sweet potatoes. I'll have to give you a cooking update soon.

* Yes, I'm actually following up on my post as promised. As for my blogging absenteeism, the garden has not gone anywhere. It is, in fact, in the process of expanding but my expanded family responsibilities - newborn - is keeping me from taking care of the garden AND documenting it. However my gardening love/obsession has not lessened so many posts are in the mental queue including the oca harvest.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A tale of two nuts

A bag of 'green' black walnuts

At the edge of our clearing are planted 100 black walnuts, Juglans nigra, in lumber spacing or at least planted quite close so they develop tall straight trunks. They are fruiting now or nutting if you prefer. These walnuts are native to eastern North America and are found in the city* despite inhibiting the growth of a wide variety of plants in their vicinity and dropping staining hulls that squish underfoot revealing a rock hard nut within.

Chufa plants with frosted foliage.

Behind our house, some chufa plants that breezed through the drought are now dying back with frost. They produce edible nutlets often called tiger nuts or ground almonds. Though the same genus and species, Cyperus esculentus, yellow nutsedge - considered an invasive plant in some parts - it does not overwinter for me. According to Dan Brisebois from the ferme-cooperative Tourne-Sol, chufa is a frost intolerant variety of this species - var. sativus - and therefore not invasive here.

What do they have in common? They are both a pain to process.

The fibrous root system of chufa filled with treasure.

Chufa is fiddly to harvest as you rummage through the roots to pull off all the nutlets. I guess if I were feeling zen, this would be fun but in my hurry hurry live, it is less joyful.

Mostly clean chufa nutlets.

Next they have to be thoroughly cleaned. I scrub them with bare hands together in a colander. Make sure that you remove any rocks or other debris at the same time. Next, they can be dried to increase their flavour and for storage. Now, if you are me, this will be good news because it means that all further processing is shelved until theoretically you have more time. For a memorable crunch, you can eat them right away too. They can be ground into flour for baking, or made into a slushy but delicious drink horchata or in other ways that you might use almonds, I imagine. I'll have to get back to you after I try them in cookies...

Mostly cleaned black walnuts quite far off fully processed.

Black walnuts, now there's a bit of work. If you are wondering what it might have been like to be a pioneer, go forth and collect ye some of nature's nutty goodness. There seem to be lots of ways of getting to the nut but here's what I did. I tore off the outer hull with gloved hands (for a more authentic experience, turn your hands rainbow brown by doing it bear handed) then I put them in a non staining sink and rubbed them together to remove most of the rest of the debris though I recently saw that someone used a wire scrubber which would work better.  Nature Skills write up on how to remove the hulls.

Finally, put them somewhere airy to dry like an onion bag or mesh screen for several weeks to months before attempting to get into their Fort Knox like shell. More on that later.


* Curious where to find nut trees around the Ottawa area? Here is a map. I don't know about how available these nut trees are.

The famous drink horchata is made with chufa.

Chufa is used as game food though they may be referring to yellow nutsedge.