What are GMOs?

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What are GMOs? Are you avoiding them because someone said they’re bad, or do you actually know what they entail?

The Issue of Misinformation

Did you know you can now buy GMO-free hummus?

When I saw the ad, I gave my husband a funny look. “Does hummus even contain GMO products?” I’ve written articles on GMOs in regards to seed saving. Were there now GMO chickpeas to make this labeling necessary? Grabbing my phone, I Googled and confirmed what I already knew. “Unless they’re using corn oil instead of olive, it wouldn’t have GMOs anyway.”

My husband shrugged. “Well, they’re also selling it as gluten free.”

Traditional hummus has chickpeas, sesame paste called tahini, olive oil, salt, and maybe spices like garlic, roasted red peppers, or olive tapenade. It’s naturally going to be both non-GMO and gluten-free unless their proprietary recipe also contains stuff like sugar, corn syrup, corn oil, cornstarch, or wheat starch. This is another reason to know what you’re eating and read the label. You could be paying more for wording.

So what are GMOs?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. It is a plant or animal that has been scientifically modified, within a lab, to contain genes from another plant or animal. It can also be called genetic engineering.

Haven’t people been genetically modifying foods for years?

Cross-breeding and genetic engineering are different. Cross-breeding involves introducing plants or animals that can naturally interbreed, through traditional methods. Such as letting an Angus bull into a herd of Jersey heifers. Or cross-pollinating a small yellow tomato with a robust red one, in hopes of creating a larger, more robust variety. You cannot cross-breed a plant or animal outside its own genus. A wolf can breed with a domesticated dog but a wolf cannot breed with a mountain lion.

Genetic engineering goes further than this. Corn can contain genes from carrots; tomatoes can contain genes from fish.

 

what-are-gmos
Heirloom potato varieties

Why are scientists doing this?

The intentions behind GMOs are good. Golden Rice, for instance, would have beta-carotene, giving it the golden color. Cultivating Golden Rice in third-world countries could prevent 670,000 childhood deaths per year from vitamin A deficiency.

But the crops created for humanitarian purposes haven’t gone very far because of public opposition. Including Golden Rice. What have gone far, though, are crops created for commerce. Soybeans and corn which don’t die when Roundup herbicide is sprayed on them, for instance. The intentions are to reduce work for the farmer. No weeds, more commodity food. Other GMO crops have been developed to resist viruses which could devastate an entire industry. Or to reduce carcinogens created during high-temperature cooking.

Are GMOs safe?

So far, GMOs have not been found to be any more dangerous or unhealthy than the non-GMO version of the same food…unless the food contains genes from something to which you are allergic. Such as cabbage containing genes from Brazil nuts, since Brazil nuts don’t naturally have insect predators. And some labs have tried this: fish genes in a tomato is one of them. The fish genes would have made the tomato resistant to long and cold storage during shipment.

Luckily, smart people realized this is a problem and stopped those projects before they ever hit the market.

What about the herbicides you mentioned?

That’s a different story. Organic and non-GMO are two completely different things, though they are often confused. Non-GMO does not mean pesticide free. It means it has not been genetically engineered.

But the United States and Canada do not allow products labeled “100% Certified Organic” to contain any GMO ingredients. So eating foods with this label guarantees you won’t consume GMOs.

So why should I avoid GMOs?

Whether you avoid them or not is up to you. It’s up to your budget and your ethics.

Some people avoid GMOs simply because somebody else told them to. Someone said they are bad so people cry out about them, go on marches to protest them, and spread the word. But they do this without even knowing what they’re protesting.

The main reasons to avoid GMOs are because cultivation of these crops often involves unethical agricultural practices: Broad-spectrum herbicides sprayed on something intended for human consumption. Monoculture on commodity farms that leave no room for biodiversity. Disappearance of old heirloom crop varieties. Lengthy, air-tight contracts that can strip a farmer of his livelihood if he violates them in any way. Even if he simply violates them by growing crops that acquired the GMOs because of wind drift from another farm.

Where can I buy non-GMO seeds?

Anywhere. They are not available to the public. You cannot purchase them from seed supply companies because acquiring this seed means entering into these lengthy contracts. It’s something companies like Monsanto do with commodity farmers, not hobby farmers or gardeners. And if the seeds you purchase are from crops that do not yet have GMO versions, you’re completely safe.

The only way you can acquire GMO seed is if you receive it from someone who saved seed from a GMO crop or saved seed that was grown in very close proximity to a farm with GMO crops. And that is possible, especially with corn. That’s why companies like Baker Creek grow their heirloom corn in very isolated areas, because pollen can drift over a mile in the wind.

what-are-gmos
Heirloom corn varieties

What foods are GMO?

  • 90% of all corn and soybeans grown commercially within the United States. If your food contains corn or soybeans in any form, it probably contains GMOs. Corn is also used extensively as food for almost all livestock.
  • Canola, which is used in cooking oil, margarine, and processed food. If the ingredients say “emulsifier,” it might be canola.
  • Sugarbeets. Unless your sugar specifically says it’s 100% cane sugar, it could contain beet sugar.
  • GMO alfalfa is available to feed animals. Livestock which may consume alfalfa include cattle, sheep, poultry, and rabbits.
  • Cotton, which is available in food form as cottonseed oil or within food for livestock.
  • Papaya, with GMOs specifically for insect resistance. Grown mostly in Hawaii, approved in the United States.
  • Several varieties of commercially grown potatoes. This is most likely to appear in processed foods like French fries.
  • Several varieties of commercially grown summer squash, like zucchini.
  • The first GMO apple has been approved for the market. It’s called Arctic and isn’t yet widely available.
  • AquAdvantage salmon was approved for food use in 2015.
  • GMO eggplant is approved only for Bangladesh. GMO sugarcane is only approved for Indonesia.
  • Though it’s not a food, tobacco was the first GMO crop.
  • GMO tomatoes have been created but are not approved by the USDA and therefore aren’t available. The same with beets (other than sugarbeets), rice, and flax.

How do I avoid GMOs?

Know which crops could be GMO. Why spend more on the “Non-GMO” hummus when the cheaper variety also doesn’t contain ingredients that could be GMO? Learn which foods could be culprit and purchase heirloom varieties of them, such as ancient creole corns or wild-caught salmon. Read labels. And if you can’t completely avoid them, learn why the crops have been modified. To avoid papaya mosaic virus? Or to resist Roundup? This allows you to make choices based on agricultural practices, which helps you avoid herbicide consumption.

Grow your own. If you have a little garden space, use it to cultivate the crops you’re trying to avoid. Great choices are heirloom potatoes or sweet corn.

Know your local farmer. Is she growing heirloom corn? Does she raise her beef using alfalfa and feed corn which are non-GMO? Purchase from her and spread the word. You’ll support her livelihood, create awareness, and feel more secure about your own diet.

What else can I do?

The two strongest things you can do are to stay educated and to vote with your wallet.

Currently, there is a huge battle for GMO labeling. The armies are food advocates vs. corporations, and the warriors are sitting within Senate and Congress.

If you don’t know which crops are GMO, it’s difficult to avoid them. And thinking that all foods are GMO just builds unnecessary panic. Eat a sweet potato instead of a potato. Eat quinoa instead of corn. And don’t go spreading misinformation. If you want your community to also avoid GMOs, tell them what GMOs are and why it’s a problem. Don’t just insist they avoid GMOs because “they are bad.”

Voting with your wallet means simply not purchasing products you don’t agree with. That March against Monsanto loses a lot of meaning if you go home and eat cornbread, or French fries cooked in canola oil, afterward. If you keep buying it, farmers keep growing it and corporations keep providing it. Consuming heirloom corn still supports farmers. And the more you buy the heirloom varieties, the more farmers will be convinced to invest in them.

 Again, whether you decide to avoid GMOs is a personal decision. But ensuring it’s an educated decision goes a long way.

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One thought on “What are GMOs?

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  1. This is really informative, thank you! I usually like to research stuff myself but realised
    that I too avoid GMO foods because the media told me to! I feel more informed now! Thank you! Finding Us in Print – Ames Family Farm

    Finding Us in Print

    Update 5/22/17: Our latest story is out in Backyard Poultry Magazine! Why do ducks, of the same breed, sometimes lay different-colored eggs? It’s all about genetics!

    marissa-ames

    Here’s our latest story, in the June/July issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine!

    This page (under construction) will keep you updated on our work with other publications such as Backyard Poultry Magazine, Countryside, and/or any book publishers.

    Stay tuned!

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      Eat It Like You Grew It. – Ames Family Farm

      Eat It Like You Grew It.

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        Making Peace With Your Food – Ames Family Farm

        Making Peace With Your Food

        It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on here, but it’s surely been a busy month! The nightshade and brassica seedlings are up. Today I plant the peas and spinach: quite late, but at least they’re going in the ground. I’ve also been writing elsewhere. My next fantasy novel, Vassal, is due to hit the editorial stage within a week. And I blog weekly for Backyard Poultry Magazine. This article got a lot of attention and Facebook shares: (Originally published with Backyard Poultry Magazine’s online blog.)

        roasted-turkey-2

        I have a rule. You may only accuse me of murder if you’re vegetarian or Vegan. Not that I want you to accuse me of murder. It’s never fun. But if you’re going to, please don’t go home and eat chicken nuggets afterward.

        Our first batch of chicks came with the standard disclaimer: Sexing is 90% accurate. The feed store would not take back roosters. So my husband and I decided that, if one of the chicks was a rooster, we would humanely butcher him. We’re not vegetarian. We both grew up harvesting our meat. But if we intended to keep eating meat, we had to face the issue of raising our own, versus expecting others to raise it for us.

        One of the five chicks matured into a rooster. On butcher day, my children stood ready to learn. We’ve never lied to them about their food, but on this day the source stared them right in their faces. Literally. At the end, my husband and my daughter eagerly consumed “the best chicken they had ever tasted.” I cried and ate carrots. My son went vegetarian for a month.

        We told the kids they could be vegetarian when they were old enough to take responsibility for their diets. So, when my 12-year-old son eschewed meat, I assigned him to research eight alternative protein sources. He hit the Internet and returned with a list. For that month, he followed his list and consumed a diet balanced with meat-free proteins and garden vegetables.

        Then he attended a Boy Scout camp that served barbequed tri-tip. My son then made the decision about his food. He acknowledged where it came from, but made his personal convictions about what he would eat and the work he would do to attain it.

        Of all the social phenomena, one that fascinates me the most is how humans feel they can discriminate against each other for how they keep their bodies alive.

        I grew up raising and butchering my own meat, but I can also cook a Vegan meal that will knock your socks off! But we have one rule in our house: Just like other well-thought-out lifestyle choices, nobody is allowed to discriminate against someone based on what they eat.

        I mean, really. There are so many other things we could hate each other over! (That was sarcasm.)

        While on the journey of raising chickens, I learned a new term: vegetarian eggs. These are not necessarily from vegetarian-fed hens. These are eggs from hens that do not come in contact with roosters. Hence, these eggs will never have the potential of creating life. Does that matter? It sure matters to some people! They cherish the choice of consuming protein yet knowing they’re not taking the life of another chicken.

        But can you keep your body alive without ever taking another life?

        Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, says, “Most of us, if we know even a little about where our food comes from, understand that every bite put into our mouths since infancy (barring the odd rock or marble) was formerly alive.” A few paragraphs further, she says, “If we draw the okay-to-kill line between ‘animal’ and ‘plant,’ and thus exclude meat, fowl, and fish from our diet on moral grounds, we still must live with the fact that every sack of flour and every soybean-based block of tofu came from a field where countless winged and furry lives were extinguished in the plowing, cultivating, and harvest.”

        Something has died for every bite you eat. A stark reality, isn’t it?

        About a year ago, a friend approached me, saying with excitement, “Did you know scientists have found a way to cultivate meat in a lab?”

        I recoiled in shock and replied, “How long until that gives us cancer?”

        He blinked at me, speechless, then said, “But you’re not excited that you can eat meat without something dying?”

        To which I referred to Barbara Kingsolver, where she states that something always dies for the food you eat.

        bourbon-red-turkey

        Ms. Kingsolver expounds by saying, “To believe we can live without taking life is delusional. Humans may only cultivate nonviolence in our diets by degree. I’ve heard a Buddhist monk suggest the number of food-caused deaths is minimized in steak dinners, which share one death over many meals, whereas the equation is reversed for a bowl of clams. Others of us have lost heart for eating any steak dinner that’s been shoved through the assembly line of feedlot life—however broadly we might share that responsibility.”

        My older sister became vegetarian five and a half years ago, for spiritual reasons. With no basis in animal rights or physical health, she strongly felt she needed to be vegetarian, “for now.” She did not expect “for now” to last more than five years. When she discovered she had a strong intolerance to corn and gluten, reintroduced meat to her diet to undo the damage from decades of intolerance/allergy-induced malabsorption. Reversing the decision was difficult both spiritually and ethically. In the end, she had to make peace with herself and her food. Just as we all eventually do.

        You can put many nouns on your food choices:

        • Vegan.
        • Vegetarian. (Lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian.)
        • Raw foodie, fruitarian.
        • Omnivore, carnivore. (Though really, if you want to know the true definition of a carnivore, talk to your cat.)
        • And what about the religions terms? Kosher, Halaal, Word of Wisdom.
        • Some religions give up meat during religious holidays.
        • Gujarati cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, due to the influence of Jainism and Hinduism in the Gujarat state of India.
        • Some people don’t eat pork; some don’t eat beef.

        Just as my son decided to forego meat then allow it back into his diet when faced with barbequed tri-tip, we all have to make peace with our food. Just as my sister abandoned meat for more than five years then admitted her health suffered. And just as Vegans choose to forego all animal-based products but others in our society claim you won’t pry their bacon cheeseburger from their cold, dead fingers…we all make peace with our food.

        Do you raise your own meat? Do you let others to raise it for you, accepting it only once it’s wrapped within innocuous plastic? Or have you foregone all meat, or even all animal-based products? Let us know!

        If you want to learn more about backyard chickens, subscribe to Backyard Poultry Magazine, or subscribe to our email newsletter, or join us on Facebook to stay in touch with the latest information you need.

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        2 thoughts on “Making Peace With Your Food

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        1. This is Kinley, from Facebook. You intrigued me when you said you were Homesteaders, so I came over to check out your blog. I know this post was written a while ago, but it’s really timely for me! I decided, probably three months ago now, to eat a whole food, plant-based diet. This decision had a lot to do with watching food documentaries and learning the horrors of our food production system in the US. But it has been very fascinating to see people’s reactions to my decision. I should probably do a blog post on it, but the short answer is I have been judged and questioned and accused of judging others. I tell people it’s not that I will never, ever have meat, it’s just that I want to know where that meat came from and that the animal was treated and killed humanely. So for the most part, I skip the meat. And really, that’s the least important of my decision to change my diet…it’s mostly about eating whole foods, but people get so stuck on the meat issue, unfortunately.

          So, anyway, after all that…I’m glad I found this blog. I will have to read some of your older posts!

          1. Hi, Kinley. I firmly hold my stance that a person’s well-researched dietary decisions are as personal as other morals, including religious preferences. I stand behind anyone who has decided how he/she feels about their chosen diet and then follows it, even if it’s not my path. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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          Conspiring Against Cancer – Ames Family Farm

          Conspiring Against Cancer

          Some give their lives in the fight against cancer. Sahara, twelve years old, doesn’t suffer from cancer, but she has friends and family who have survived it. Or who still fight the battle. Sahara doesn’t have to give her life, but she’s giving her hair.

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          Last year, Sahara W. shaved her head for St. Baldrick’s, a charity that encourages donors to raise funds and shave their heads, to support research fighting childhood cancer. Last year, Sahara raised $500. This year, she strives for $1,000 in donations.

          To help her reach this goal, we’d like to offer something in return.

          ***

          If you donate to Sahara W’s page, you will receive in trade:

          • Your name (pen name, business name)
          • One link (your website, Facebook page, or buy link)
          • One image (shown as a thumbnail, but also linked up to your page)

          Donor names will be categorized by amount donated, and the list will be posted on Marissa Ames’ author site, and on Ames Family Farm. This list will be shared on all affiliated Facebook pages, and will be regularly Tweeted. Also, other bloggers/donors are encouraged to share this page to further your outreach.

          To take advantage of this networking offer, make a non-anonymous donation to Sahara W’s St. Baldrick’s page. Then message me on my Facebook page and share what name, link, and image you would like displayed. I will build the page, and inform you when it’s available to share.

          This opportunity is not available for:

          • Pornography
          • Drugs, even if they’re legal in your state
          • Any illegal activity
          • Spam
          • Hate groups, or even hateful comments

          All money paid goes straight to St. Baldrick’s!

          Thank you! -Marissa Ames

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            When Culling is Forever | Ames Family Farm

            When Culling is Forever

            Cross-posted from my blog at Backyard Poultry Magazine!

            My husband and I have an agreement: When culling or butchering, he does the initial step. I do the rest. If I had to, I would do it all. If my husband was out of town on business and one of my chickens was suffering, I would take that step. But for other times, our agreement works best.

            general-tso-8-1

            General Tso: RIP after a German shepard attack

             The uncomfortable subject of culling eventually comes up to all chicken owners. “Culling” really means that you’re getting that animal out of your flock, whether by selling, giving away or by ending its life. Because the reason for culling is one that probably won’t change, such as egg eating, illness or deformity, “culling” often refers to the humane ending of the animal’s life.

             The first time we had to cull a chicken, we knew it was the most humane choice. My adorable wheaten ameraucana was so ill that she couldn’t breathe. With a swollen face, watery feces, and the inability to raise her head, she was miserable. I debated. When it’s your first time, you debate for a long time. But I grew up on a farm, so I knew that the most humane solution is often to just let them go. My husband had a hard time doing it, but he also knew it had to be done. Within a few seconds, my bird was out of her misery.

            We’ve had to cull a few more sick chickens. When my husband’s dog proved that he could not be trusted with the hens, we took a couple severely injured chickens and ended their suffering.

             “I don’t like doing it,” my husband said.

             “If you did,” I replied, “I’d really worry about you.”

            Through my social network of chicken owners, friends learned that we were willing to cull. A few came to me, asking for help. They were owners who loved their animals, and could no longer stand to see them suffer. And though they knew what they had to do, they just couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

            nectarine-thank-you

            One friend brought two chicks, purchased from an ill-reputed hatchery. One was blind and could not walk straight, and had to be hand-fed. The other, with a tumor wrapping around its neck, was 6 weeks old and still the size of a 1-week-old chick. The owner knew they would eventually suffer and die, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do the task. She told her children that the chicks had gone to live at our farm, and my husband quietly helped the poor animals on their way.

            To thank us, the friend also brought a crate of beautiful nectarines for my canning project.

             I rarely talk about culling, except to other chicken owners. People who have never owned livestock tend to condemn others for culling. They haven’t seen the suffering, haven’t cared for the animal, haven’t tried all possible solutions. I’ve glued chickens together, administered antibiotics. I even took one chicken to the vet. Culling is a last resort. We never enjoy doing it, but we’re relieved when it’s done.

            And I’m relieved that I have a partner who is willing to take the burden from me if he can.

            If you want to learn more about backyard chickens, subscribe to Backyard Poultry Magazine, or subscribe to our email newsletter, or join us on Facebook to stay in touch with the latest information you need.

            About Marissa Ames

            I’m a working mom, a devoted wife, an author and a homesteader. I spend my free time eating lunch. My homesteading story began 180 years ago, with pioneering ancestors who made drastic changes to preserve faith and values. With each generation the plot repeats: A diligent father works long hours to provide for his family. An innovative mother fills in the gaps while striving to uphold her faith and values. Children follow in their parents’ footsteps, returning to proven methods when modern times fall short on promises of a better life. Now my husband and I live the lessons taught by our parents, working to support our family through conventional careers in addition to urban farming. We raise chickens and other poultry, rely on large-scale urban gardening, and get through the winter with canning and food preservation. In the spring and summer we grow food; in the fall we preserve it; in the winter we make cheese and soap and chronicle the year’s experiences. I began the Ames Family Farm blog on a whim, mostly to secure the name in case I took my talents further and started a greenhouse or an educational system. What came to fruition exceeded my own ambitions. Now I share my experiences through Ames Family Farm, Countryside and Backyard Poultry Magazines, other publications, and social media. I speak at conventions and work with school gardening projects, advocating sustainability and backyard chickens in urban settings. Mostly, I offer what I can as friends and acquaintances seek help with gardening or homesteading endeavors. My current books in progress include Huntsman, the third book in the Tir Athair medieval fantasy series, and a homesteading series to help budget-minded urbanites enhance their living spaces to save money and advocate a healthier, happier way of life. I continue to contribute to Countryside and Backyard Poultry through it all. I believe homesteading is meant to save money rather than cost more. That gardening enhances health and joy as well as cutting costs, that canning and food preservation are keys to self-reliance when bad times hit. That everyone has the ability to homestead. Even if you live in a high-rise apartment and cannot keep chickens, you can make cheese or sew clothing. Even in a food desert you can budget and preserve food to protect your health and way of life.
            This entry was posted in Farm Updates, Homesteading Articles and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

            2 Responses to When Culling is Forever

            1. ajjrichmond says:

              As a trained Animal Health Technologist I’ve seen all kinds of things. As part of my training I had to work a three week practicum in a large animal veterinary hospital. On one occasion I was tasked with walking through a large free-run chicken barn to cull the chicks that were too sick to move out of the way. It was a difficult task because I realized that each chick I picked up would be given a death sentence. BUT watching an animal suffer is a thousand times worse.

              • marissaames says:

                After posting this on Backyard Poultry, I got a myriad of responses. Only a few condemned culling, and I really feel those few haven’t dealt with an animal that was so sick and in pain. Most were in agreement that it’s a responsible part of farming, when your animal is too far gone to recover.

                Thanks for stopping by and reading!

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              Deep Purple Shepherd’s Stew | Ames Family Farm

              Deep Purple Shepherd’s Stew

              purple stew

              No photos were edited for this blog post. If anything, that color is a bit muted.

              There’s really nothing special about it. Some lamb, some carrots, some potatoes and onions, parsley and thyme and garlic.

              But it’s purple!

              One of the joys of growing your own food is the delightful variety. My family loves to focus on color when we plant vegetables. Really, we’re also focusing on nutrition, because specific nutrients coincide with specific colors in produce. For instance, orange and yellow indicate beta carotene. Purple indicates high levels of anthocyanins, a strong antioxidant. The more purple, the higher the levels. That’s why blueberries are so healthy.

              It doesn't have to be a ladylike carrot. Just a purple one.

              It doesn’t have to be a ladylike carrot. Just a purple one.

              First, take a crockpot. Chop up 1-2 pounds of lamb. Pour in a can of beef or vegetable stock. Turn onto low and cook for at least an hour.

              Then, chop up 4 or 5 purple carrots and add those in. The deeper purple, the more purple color your food will be. The color in purple carrots does NOT cook out. I’ve had some very lavender curry because I used a couple of purple carrots.

              Add a red onion… which is, actually, purple. The color of the onions isn’t going to help the color of the stew much, but you might as well coordinate, right?

              Cook that for awhile, until the carrots are just starting to turn tender. Add a few cloves of garlic. What the heck? Make it Italian Purple garlic. Salt your stew. Add fresh herbs. Add more beef or vegetable stock, if necessary, to keep everything submerged.

              Rainbow Potatoes, September 2012

              Rainbow Potatoes, September 2012

              Now it’s time for a pound or so of purple potatoes! I like to grow Purple Majesty because of the intense color. You can see a freshly cut Purple Majesty there. If you cut these then boil them, you’ll get lavender mashed potatoes. If you bake them whole, you’ll get royal purple baked potatoes. Beautiful, aren’t they? Wash and chop your potatoes, and add them to your stew. Cook it all until the potatoes are tender.

              Do you like a thick, gravy-like stew? When it’s almost done, add some flour. Either standard flour or gluten-free works fine. Whisk it in, then let the stew boil to thicken up.

              Now… invite friends over for dinner, and hope they’re open-minded. Deep purple shepherd’s stew tastes just like the regular kind, but it’s rather shocking to see.

              My kids have gotten used to odd food colors. We have green, yellow, and “black tomatoes.” Purple, pink, yellow, and white potatoes. Carrots and Swiss chard in five colors each. Because, when you grow your own food, there’s a reason to do it. If I’m growing to compete with grocery store prices, at least I can produce a rainbow of vegetables that the store can’t even begin to offer!

              About Marissa Ames

              I’m a working mom, a devoted wife, an author and a homesteader. I spend my free time eating lunch. My homesteading story began 180 years ago, with pioneering ancestors who made drastic changes to preserve faith and values. With each generation the plot repeats: A diligent father works long hours to provide for his family. An innovative mother fills in the gaps while striving to uphold her faith and values. Children follow in their parents’ footsteps, returning to proven methods when modern times fall short on promises of a better life. Now my husband and I live the lessons taught by our parents, working to support our family through conventional careers in addition to urban farming. We raise chickens and other poultry, rely on large-scale urban gardening, and get through the winter with canning and food preservation. In the spring and summer we grow food; in the fall we preserve it; in the winter we make cheese and soap and chronicle the year’s experiences. I began the Ames Family Farm blog on a whim, mostly to secure the name in case I took my talents further and started a greenhouse or an educational system. What came to fruition exceeded my own ambitions. Now I share my experiences through Ames Family Farm, Countryside and Backyard Poultry Magazines, other publications, and social media. I speak at conventions and work with school gardening projects, advocating sustainability and backyard chickens in urban settings. Mostly, I offer what I can as friends and acquaintances seek help with gardening or homesteading endeavors. My current books in progress include Huntsman, the third book in the Tir Athair medieval fantasy series, and a homesteading series to help budget-minded urbanites enhance their living spaces to save money and advocate a healthier, happier way of life. I continue to contribute to Countryside and Backyard Poultry through it all. I believe homesteading is meant to save money rather than cost more. That gardening enhances health and joy as well as cutting costs, that canning and food preservation are keys to self-reliance when bad times hit. That everyone has the ability to homestead. Even if you live in a high-rise apartment and cannot keep chickens, you can make cheese or sew clothing. Even in a food desert you can budget and preserve food to protect your health and way of life.
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                Duck Egg Flan | Ames Family Farm

                Duck Egg Flan

                Not a traditional recipe, this easy flan recipe tastes more like crème brulee and satisfies some of the pickiest flan adversaries. This recipe is cross-posted from Backyard Poultry Magazine, where I blog about all things chicken-related.

                flan-closeupThis is my go-to dessert recipe whenever I entertain friends who are unfamiliar with urban farming or backyard poultry. I often serve it after a salad of fresh greens, and perhaps an eggplant lasagne with fresh homemade mozzarella. Really, I mostly like the expressions of pleasant surprise when they taste it. I never tell them how easy it really is.

                If you’ve heard that duck eggs are better for pastries …  believe the rumors. They’re true. The yolks are creamier. This adds extra calories to the egg, but when you’re making a flan with sugar and whipping cream, a few more calories per egg is a fairly negligible addition. I find that duck eggs make custards and flans creamier, breads richer and quiches fluffier than chicken eggs.

                Since my family loves this recipe and I often have 10 or more duck eggs to spare, I double the recipe and use my springform pan.

                Though I prefer the creaminess of duck eggs, chicken eggs may be substituted. Standard evaporated milk may replace goat’s milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract may replace the vanilla bean. Additional sugar may be used in exchange for honey.

                Step 1 - Ingredients

                Mmmmm… ingredients…

                Ingredients:

                • 1 and ¾ cups whipping cream
                • 1 cup evaporated milk (goat’s milk)
                • pinch of salt
                • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I double the vanilla)
                • ¾ cup white sugar
                • ¼ cup honey
                • 1/3 cup water
                • 3 large duck eggs
                • 2 large duck egg yolks
                • 7 tablespoons sugar

                Preparation:

                Combine  cream, evaporated milk and salt in a heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream mixture, and drop in the bean. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then remove from heat and let steep 30 minutes. After steeping, remove  bean pod. (If you are using vanilla extract, this step may be skipped. Simply combine cream, milk, salt and vanilla.)

                Step 3 - Line Springform Pans to Avoid Leakage

                If using a springform pan, wrap aluminum foil around the bottom so the pan doesn’t leak

                Preheat the oven to 350F, and position  rack in the center of the oven. If you are using a springform pan instead of ramekins, wrap aluminum foil over the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Have all pans ready to go.

                Just starting to boil! It's already amber-tinted from the honey.

                Just starting to boil! It’s already amber-tinted from the honey.

                In another heavy saucepan, combine the honey, sugar and water. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves completely. (Note: the mixture will already be a light amber because of the honey. If you replace the honey with additional sugar, this mixture will start out white/clear.) Increase heat to high and cook without stirring until the syrup turns deep amber, swirling the pan occasionally. Do not stir at this stage, or the sugar may crystallize. This amber stage may take about 10 minutes after the sugar has dissolved. Keep an eye on the mixture. The change from light amber to deep amber is fast. For candymakers, this will be a soft crack stage.

                Not quite dark enough, but DON'T LEAVE THE KITCHEN!

                Not quite dark enough, but DON’T LEAVE THE KITCHEN!

                There! Don't cook it any longer!

                There! Don’t cook it any longer!

                Quickly pour caramel into six ¾-cup ramekins, or a small baking dish. If doubling the recipe, as I do, use a full-sized springform pan or equivalent size. Using oven mits, immediately tilt each ramekin to coat the sides with syrup. It hardens fast, so work fast! Set the ramekins in a baking dish that is deep enough that you can pour in water to come up at least halfway.

                Swirl quickly to coat the pan

                Swirl quickly to coat the pan

                The coating hardens fast!

                The coating hardens fast!

                Separate two of the eggs into yolks and whites. Save the whites for an egg white omelet to eat the next day, to pay for the calories you’ll be eating with this dessert!

                The brown bits are from real vanilla pulp. Yum!

                The brown bits are from real vanilla pulp. Yum!

                Whisk eggs, yolks and 7 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl just until blended. Gradually whisk in the cream mixture, being careful not to create much foam. Pour the custard evenly into the ramekins, on top of the now-hardened syrup.

                Fill the pans, then pour in boiling water while it's sitting in the oven. Less sloshing!

                Fill the pans, then pour in boiling water while it’s sitting in the oven. Less sloshing!

                Set the baking pan in the oven before adding enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Setting the pan on the rack helps prevent sloshing as you carry the pan. You may also choose to set the pan in the oven before filling the ramekins with custard.

                It's set! The fork comes out clean, but the middle is still very jiggly.

                It’s set! The fork comes out clean, but the middle is still very jiggly.

                Bake until the centers of the flans are gently set, about 40 minutes. The flan will still look squishy. If you’re unsure if the centers are set, press gently with your finger. If the top bounces back, it’s set. You can also insert a clean fork. If the fork comes back out mostly clean, the flan is done.

                Remove the flan from the water and transfer to a rack to cool. Chill until cold, about two hours, then cover and chill overnight. This flan can be made a couple of days ahead of time. To serve, run a small sharp knife around the flan to loosen, and turn the ramekin over onto a plate. Carefully lift the ramekin, allowing the syrup to run over the flan.

                The Morning After

                The Morning After

                After serving, you may notice glass-like cracks in the bottom of your ramekin or pan. This is simply crystallized sugar from the syrup. Soaking the pan in hot water will dissolve the sugar.

                If you try this recipe and enjoy it, please let us know. And if you know how to make it even better, then by all means, please share your secrets!

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                About marissaames

                I’m a wife, mother, and business owner in Reno, Nevada. As a family we tackle autism, special diets, and life just above the poverty line and just below the cost of living.
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                  Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar | Ames Family Farm

                  Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

                  vinegar jars 10-5

                  Just born and ready to ferment: plum and grape vinegars, made the same way as ACV

                  Unfiltered apple cider vinegar, with the “mother” still in it, is expensive. But you can make it yourself!

                  What you need:

                  • Apples
                  • Wide-mouth mason jars and rings
                  • Cheesecloth
                  • A warm location
                  • Sugar and/or storebought ACV to speed up the process, though these are not necessary

                  First, cut up your apples.

                  apples peeled sliced

                  Those apples went right into the dehydrator. We didn’t waste a thing!

                   But here’s a hint… you only need the peels or cores. That’s right… Make your apple pie or dried apples, and save the peels and cores for your vinegar. We used our peeler-corer-slicer, and dehydrated the centers.

                   Place the apple trimmings in a bowl, with enough room on top to completely cover with water. Fill the bowl with water. You can add sugar to the water to speed up fermentation, if you wish. Place a plate on the bowl, to completely push all of the apples down into the water, preferably a plate that will fit well over the top and seal out fruit flies.

                  Place that bowl in a location that can stay around 75 degrees or higher for a week. I used one of my laundry room cupboards, with the door closed.

                  When the water bubbles out around the plate, you’re ready for your next step. This will be alcoholic at this point.

                  ACV step 2 11-10-12

                  Strain out the apples, keep the water.

                   This step led up to an in-depth discussion with my 11-year-old daughter. She didn’t want to make alcohol, but I explained that the alcohol was an important step in the vinegar-making process that can’t be skipped. We would just not drink the alcohol.

                  Strain the apples out of the fermented water, and throw them away. Do not give them to your chickens, unless you want drunk chickens. (Really, I don’t know if they’ll even eat them. I didn’t try it.)

                  ACV into jars 11-10-12

                  The pink tinge at the bottom is “mother” from my plum vinegar, for added innoculation

                  Fill wide-mouth jars with the fermented water. You want wide-mouth if possible, to increase airflow to the vinegar. At this point, you can add a drizzle of existing apple cider vinegar, or part of the “mother” from another batch, to inoculate this water. However, though this does speed up the process, it is not necessary. Alcohol plus too much air makes vinegar.

                  Cover the jars with cheesecloth or other loose-weave cloth. Secure it in place with the canning ring, or a rubber band. Place the jars in a warm, dark location, like the inside of a cupboard, for 2-4 months. Again, we used our laundry room cupboard.

                   Fruit flies will try to get in this, so be sure that cloth is on tight, and the cupboard door is shut, to avoid an infestation. While the alcohol turns to vinegar, you will notice that a slimy layer rises to the top. This is the “mother,” and it’s completely normal. It’s actually a cellulose layer that separates during the process. Don’t throw that away. It helps seal off the rest of the vinegar from contamination.

                  Don’t worry much about bacteria during this point. Alcohol and vinegar have been used for millennia to protect against bacteria.

                  Plum vinegar, ACV 6 weeks into the process, and ACV on the first day

                  Plum vinegar, ACV 6 weeks into the process, and ACV on the first day

                   The longer you wait, the stronger your vinegar will be. When you are ready, remove the mother and either throw it away (or in the compost!) or use part of it to inoculate a new batch. Strain the vinegar from the solids that have sunk to the bottom.

                  At this point, you can use the vinegar, seal it up, or even add herbs for flavored vinegar. Do not use this for canning other foods!!!! Safe canning requires a specific acidity, and homemade vinegars often do not reach that acidity.

                  apple crepe

                  Apple Cider Vinegar Syrup

                   Take some of your homemade apple cider vinegar and pour it in a saucepan. Turn it on to medium or lower. When it starts to simmer, let it keep simmering until it has cooked down into thick syrup. If desired, add some apple juice to this mixture for sweeter syrup, or some spices.

                   This syrup is excellent on top of apple-cheese blintzes! A family favorite!

                  About marissaames

                  I am a novelist and freelance writer with multiple works in progress. When I'm not writing, I come home from a daytime job to care for a husband, two teenage children, and an entire urban farm just a mile south of downtown Reno, Nevada.
                  This entry was posted in Homesteading Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

                  6 Responses to Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

                  1. ann says:

                    I live very close to an apple orchard and I really want to try this!! I’ve heard acv is very good for blood sugar and this might help me. thank you!

                  2. Jennifer says:

                    I did this about 3 weeks ago and when I strained the apples out it had a rotten smell to it. Kind of sickly sweet and musty. I didn’t know if that was okay or not, but continued with the next step. It has a film on top, but it continues to smell really bad. not like vinegar. I don’t know if I should wait some more or throw it out?

                    • marissaames says:

                      I would wait at least 3 more weeks. The first 3 weeks won’t be enough to start the vinegar phase, but you’ll be well into the fermentation phase. This is probably why it smells rotten. If there is no mold on it, just a white film, go ahead and keep it. If you do have mold, toss it out.

                  3. Dave says:

                    I’m working on a batch right now and have a double layer of cheese cloth. Fruit flies have still found their way in. Three or four layers might be needed.

                    • marissaames says:

                      That’s good to know. I actually used a corner of frost blanket that I buy annually for my garden. The holes were much smaller in that, and they didn’t find their way in unless I created little tears in the fabric from screwing the bands on too tightly.

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