P'TOWN BEAN SEEDS // elspeth

Do you remember Uncle Phil's P'Town Beans? Peter Burgess has seed available again. He wrote me an email this morning:

"Hello Elspeth,

I have several gallons of the P'Town beans available for seed. They have a 94% germination rate, and have been grown properly to avoid hybridization. I'd be happy to give them away again. I ran out last time because they flew away all around the country. If you'd like to promote them again, it's $2 and SASE to: Peter Burgess PO Box 212 North Truro MA 02652.

' . . . it's been a long cold lonely winter . . .
it seems like years since it's been here . . .
Here comes the Sun - dah dah dah dah . . .
And I say, 'It's all right'.'"

I couldn't have said it better. Happy Monday, friends.


HEN STOCK // elspeth

We pruned the fruit trees today. Big lops off all the upper branches, then thinning out in the middle, then a rather aggressive full body haircut all around. I'm not sure how it will pan out—whether this year there will be more fruit or none—but I'm at peace with whatever happens. "PRUNE FRUIT TREES" has been on my list of things to do for almost a year, and it's finally done.

That's how I've been feeling about things in general recently—let's get them done! And never have to do them again! Specifically, it's how I've been feeling about going to the dump.

I mentioned here a few weeks ago that I've been reading Bea Johnson's blog, Zero Waste Home. (Synopsis: she and her family produce a mere quart of trash a year. She talks about the nitty gritty details, like wrapping-free holidays and wooden toothbrushes.) Soon after I delved into the archives I read the book, and it's reminded me of why I got interested in local food in the first place. I don't want to be part of the problem I spent my entire education learning about. I want to be part of the solution.

Today, inspired by Bea, I did my first intentional zero waste grocery shop—brought bags and jars I already owned, marked the tares and prices of bulk items on them with a washable marker, and emptied all the food into the crisper or more jars when we got home. I was happily surprised with the unpackaged selection: I even found bulk organic jelly beans at our little local natural foods store. 

The feeling I got from bringing home no plastic bags or containers or things that needed to be dealt with once we finish the food was the same as the feeling I get from washing and rewashing the diapers we used for Sally and now Nora. It was a feeling of immense satisfaction, of closing a loop. I realize that to some people that may sound incredibly odd, but there it is. I am the rare breed of person who finds happiness in baby poop.

Also, and a little more normally, I find it in chicken soup. When Victoria sent out an email about buying some of her old laying hens the other day, I ordered four. She dropped them straight from the slaughterhouse to my fridge, and yesterday morning I pulled out the big stock pot and loaded in the birds along with four of Marie's onions, thyme from the recently unearthed plant out front, and carrots that overwintered under the snow in the big garden behind the shed. 

I was counting on the meat being too tough to eat, but even after the birds had simmered for hours, it was good enough for enchiladas or stew. And so in the freezer we have eighteen quart jars of rich, yellow chicken stock and five pints of meat pulled and cut, ready for soup.

Nora just started eating, and so far it's nothing like Sally's rushing, joyful fist after fist. Our second sensitive little soul has now tried and cried over red peppers, avocado, sweet potatoes, roasted chicken, crab cakes, eggs, chicken liver mousse, thawed peaches, whole milk yogurt, a lone French fry, apple slices, and a tiny drop of homemade hot cocoa. I can't tell if it's the process or the flavors that overwhelm her, but she starts out happily grabbing for it, then tasting, bewildered, and finally frustrated, in tears. I keep thinking maybe she's not ready, and that we should stop, but when we don't give her anything off our plates to taste she's equally dismayed.

Perhaps the answer lies in chicken soup.


I am by no means an expert on this topic, but here's what information I've gathered about using old hens to make chicken stock. First, they're fatty. We were going to skim our stock but ultimately couldn't get it to congeal quite enough, so we left the fat in. Victoria says it's good for cooking, just like lard, so if you do manage to get it off the top in solid form, set it aside for your morning eggs and toast. Second, don't discount the meat—based on some recipes I'd read, I figured the meat would be inedible after making stock out of it—flavorless and tough—and while the former was somewhat true, the latter was not. The meat wasn't bursting with flavor, but it certainly didn't taste bad, and chopped up and used for chicken salad or pulled chicken for enchiladas or chicken soup or really anything with some seasoning, it'll do just fine. For our stock we put:

three whole chickens
12 carrots
four halved onions
a handful of thyme sprigs
5 celery stalks
and a handful of peppercorns

into our big lobster pot (16 quart, I believe?) and filled it with cold water almost to the brim. I brought the stock just to a boil, then turned the heat all the way down and let it simmer for the better part of the day—after breakfast-ish until we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack. Then I strained it, let it cool, attempted to let it congeal, gave up, and filled 18 quart mason jars about 2/3 full with beautiful liquid gold. Tomorrow we're going to use the fourth hen to make jerk.


TRIPLOID OYSTERS // the local food report

Like humans, most oysters have two sets of chromosomes (diploid). But what happens when instead, they have three?

You might expect disaster. After all, triploidy happens occasionally in all species, and as we know all too well, for people, it's almost always fatal. But for oysters (and amazingly, all kinds of other foods—think bananas and seedless watermelons), something different happens. The animal doesn't die. In fact, it does the opposite. It grows really, really fast. 

The thing is, regular diploid oysters put a lot of energy into reproduction. Starting in their second year, anytime the water temperature climbs above about 60 degrees F (mid-May through mid-September on the Cape), they're working to spawn. They can spawn multiple times over the course of the season, and each spawn requires a tremendous amount of energy. It can also affect their meat, making it watery and somewhat tough. On this traditional schedule, it takes 3 to 4 years for an oyster to grow to market size.

But triploids aren't worried about spawning. Which means that all the energy a diploid uses to spawn, a triploid can put into growing. Andrew Cummings, whose triploid seed you see up there, says his triploids reach market size in 18 months. In addition to being an economic boon, especially during our busy season, this also helps with disease management. Most diseases around here are cumulative, which means they take time to kill an oyster. The less time oysters are on the grant, the less time they have to get sick.

Andrew is one of the first local oystermen to embrace triploids. In other parts of the country—Virginia, for example—as much as 90 percent of hatchery seed sold is triploid. It's popular. But here, our our wild industry is still so robust that very few people are growing triploids. Because they grow so fast, they require extra handling, which means extra work. 

Also, the science of the process is fairly complicated. It took me an hour long conversation with Andrew, nine emails, a phone call to our local hatchery owner, and a phone call to the inventor of the process to understand exactly what goes on. 

To start with the basics, oysters are broadcast spawners. This means they send sperm and eggs out into the water column, these meet, and make a new organism. Sperm and eggs are both haploid (one set of chromosomes), so when they meet, they make a diploid organism.

To get a triploid, you need to spawn a tetraploid (four sets of chromosomes) with a diploid. There are only a few labs in the world producing tetraploid oysters, and they're made by interrupting regular meiosis using a variety of different techniques ranging from heat to cold to chemicals. Labs interrupt meiosis first in a diploid to get a triploid, and then in a triploid to get a tetraploid. 

This sounds confusing, because the whole premise of triploid oysters is supposed to be that they're sterile. It turns out that rarely, a triploid oyster can produce eggs. But they produce maybe 50,000 to a diploid oyster's 20 or so million—not enough to make the oyster "ripe" and trigger spawning. In other words, these animals have eggs, but they're not fertile. They have to be spawned surgically, in a lab, in order to get a tetraploid.

The hatchery on the Cape, ARC (the Aquaculture Research Center in Dennis), keeps about 20 male tetraploid oysters on hand and spawns these with female diploids that growers bring in for brood stock. I talked with the owner, Dick Kraus, and he said only about 10 to 15 percent of seed sold on the Cape right now is triploid. 

If you love oysters, it's likely you've eaten a triploid at some point. Besides the fact that they tend to appear big and exceptionally healthy, they don't look any different from a diploid oyster. I'm curious to hear—what do you think? And if you have questions, fire away. I asked quite a few, so hopefully I have an answer.

Photo credits for this post go to Ralph Alswang. Thank you to Andrew Cummings for sharing.


FARM CITY // elspeth

Back soon. Very soon. In the meantime, excited about and wanting to share this:

I can't be at the reading—the restaurant opens April 17th, so I'll be there instead—but I will be at the workshop Sunday. See you there?


ON MY TOES // elspeth

Hi there. I've been wanting to stop by, but the girls have kept me on my toes lately. Besides, I don't have much new to share: all we've been making in the kitchen is wilted kale, fried eggs, this bread, this granola, and pot after pot of minestrone soup. Now that I've gotten on board, I can't seem to stop.

We did make a killer batch of peanut butter cookies, which I wrote about for this week's column in the Banner, and in the mornings we're stuck on this buttermilk smoothie with berries from the freezer. Wednesday we leave for Tahoe with my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend (WAHOOO!), so in the meantime we're eating the last strange items from the fridge. (One olive, anyone? Half a soft, mushy apple?) 

While we pack—for temperatures that seem to range from 19 to 65 degrees, which is a challenge all in itself—I've been thinking a lot about this amazing woman. What would it be like if your whole wardrobe fit in a carry-on? Nice, I think, once you got it right. The more people I'm responsible for, the more things we have to take care of, and the less I enjoy the process. I like the idea of downsizing. 

What do you think? Could you live with cocoa as bronzer? Bringing jars every time you go to the market? One quart of annual waste? I'm guessing there is no one size fits all, but I'm curious to hear other people's experiences.

P.S. The arugula is up! We'll see if it ever makes it to salad-cutting size.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.