Local Lentils

rashleigh combine lentils

courtesy of the Peninsula News Review

Until recently, I had never cooked with lentils.  I’d eaten them a few times – travelling in Europe, at a local restaurant that specializes in Moroccan style food, in a casserole at a pot luck dinner once.  I associated them with Middle Eastern cooking, vegetarian food, and “healthy” diets.  I most certainly did not think of them as an option for a locavore in southern BC, nor for an enthusiastically omnivorous family.

So when a local farmer who I’ve known since high school put a sign on his road frontage advertising “Lentils – $2/lb”, I was taken aback, to say the least.  And not just for all the aforementioned reasons, but because Bryce, who I’ve known since high school, grew up on a conventional beef/dairy farm, large by local standards, and when he eventually took it over, phased out the dairy operation, bought a bunch of John Deeres and associated gadgets and got busy building a busy tractor service – hay, cultivating, brush cutting, whatever.  He was to my mind a classic meat eating big ag kind of guy.

There were clues that I might be type casting him too narrowly; the family farm, which he’d co-inherited with his siblings, had to be sold to pay out the non-farming ones, and he bought a 5 acre parcel with a nice house and a stunning view – but which was, after his 170 acre place, pretty small for a meat eating big ag kind of guy.  It didn’t take long for him to build a tractor servicing shed (green), and the big field that comprised most of his property seemed to function mainly as a tractor display case in the beginning.  But pretty soon a few A frame structures appeared, with electric netting around him, and it became obvious that he’d branched into pastured turkeys.  And then his son, away at ag college in Alberta, came home with a friend, excited about a combine harvester he thought the farm should buy.

Now, you have to understand that here on the Island, we have a tiny resurgence of grain growing going on, but I mean tiny.  Not the kind of producton level that I would have thought needs a Prairies sized piece of equipment.  But tractor equipment being for Bryce what motor cars were for Toad (Wind in the Willows), it didn’t take much to convince him to head back to Alberta with his son and friend to visit the friend’s family operation.  He was hooked.  He and Pete helped with the harvest there to learn how to operate the combine, and then they brought it home – an odyssey in itself as it barely conforms to the maximum width that can go on the road – the tunnels and passes through the Rockies were something else, I’m told.  They also packed some lentil seed inside the machine, safe from the snow and weather – a crop the Alberta family had convinced Bryce to try.

Bryce worked up his pasture and sowed some seed, which grew easily, and harvested it with his new combine. As part of the learning curve he had to invest in a cleaning and grading machine, but by then he was convinced this was a crop that could do well here, if he could develop a market for it.  He’s pretty business savvy, so it didn’t surprise me to know that he’d already lined up a few restaurants for regular orders, and that this roadside sign of his was just a way of making some gravy off the surplus.

It was hubby’s birthday a few weeks ago, and his main gift was a cookbook “Mediterranean Slow Cooker”.  As I was driving past Bryce’s small farm one day it occurred to me that the perfect add-on gift would be a pound of lentils, so I stopped in.  Bryce and his crew were on coffee break, so I joined the crowd in the tiny office and they all told me about how great lentils were and how easy they were to cook with, and how much they enjoyed them – apparently Bryce’s wife even put them in lasagne – though Bryce did allow that lentils once or twice a week was about his limit.  Bryce is passionate about local food.  He’s Island born and bred and he believes the Island should be far more self sustaining in terms of food than it currently is.  He is knowledgeable about virtually all aspects of food production here – and having been one himself, he’s not about to cast stones at how the conventional farmers do things, but rather focusses on the need for innovation, diversity, thinking outside the box.  From this guy who I had cast as big ag, I heard the words “I haven’t begun to tap the possibilities on my tiny five acres”.  He’s doing pastured eggs, pastured turkey, lentils,  and u-pick raspberries right now.  Through his custom combine work for a couple of people growing wheat and barley, he’s also selling straw, which believe it or not has been a rare commodity here – two years ago, it was selling at the feed store for $20/bale.  Bryce is making a nice profit this year on $5/bale, because unlike the feed store, he hasn’t shipped it in from Alberta.  I mentioned Joel Salatin and his stacking principles, and learned that Bryce is a huge fan and would have been at the same workshop as me last June but was ill.

Lentils were one of the first crops cultivated by humans.  They come in a variety of colours (Bryce grows red lentils), but are all similar.  According to Wikipedia, they are high in protein, and are used world wide for that reason.  If sprouted, they also provide all the essential amino acids. They are high in fibre, folate and vitamin B1.  All of which explains why I associated them with vegetarianism and healthy diets.  This made them sound like they would taste like Popeye’s spinach, but I was committed to buying them – if only because Bryce had mentioned that he’d sprouted some and fed them to his turkeys, who loved them.  I figured if we hated them, we could do the same and give them to our chickens.

There are lots of red lentil recipes on the web, you can google for one that meets your tastes.  We tried the Red Lentil Soup recipe from the new cookbook , which included tomatoes and a sweet potato and it was delicious, though we overcooked it slightly and it was more like porridge in consistency, which I have since learned is something red lentils in particular are prone to doing.  I do urge you to give them a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  And if you need any further recommendation, our teen girls, one of them pretty picky, both gave the porridgey soup we made a firm thumbs up. As Bryce himself is fond of saying – “it doesn’t get better than that”.

Was this post about lentils or my lentil growing farmer?  Well, that’s the thing about buying local.  You’re getting both a product and a relationship.  There are stories and faces behind all the food we eat, no matter where it comes from.  Buying that small bag of lentils from Bryce was a 20 minute stop.  I could have whipped in and out, but that’s not getting to know your food.  I’m not saying it takes that long to buy local food every time, but if this is a first visit or a new product, make sure you’re not rushing the process.  (of course, that can work two ways – if the farmer is hopping from foot to foot waiting for you to pay and go, so she can get back to weeding or something, take the hint).  In the case of my lentil purchase, I really felt I got my money’s worth, out of the conversation alone.  If you’d like to see the face behind my lentils, check out the videos on the Saanichton Farm website.

The dog days of January

Senior Musical Jan 2013 006

It was the last day of first semester today, and the teens of the household rejoice and clap their hands, figuratively at least – such a visual display of joy in front of parents would be far too uncool.  Above are the teens themselves – call them Sound and Lights, because that’s what they were called during the Senior musical theatre production last week – and here’s the picture of them in the booth to prove it.

Senior Musical Jan 2013 010

At the beginning of the month was Dad’s birthday – the cake was made from scratch by our eldest daughter – as in eggs, flour, blood sweat and tears (not really), and a lot of chocolate.  I could have only the smallest sliver thanks to the gallstone diet, but that just meant more for everyone else.  Please note that the candles do not represent his actual age (though that might be what he wished).   Dog walk, dog days 006

A favourite dog walking place called Island View Beach, on a beautiful day last weekend, with our younger daughter in tow – or is the dog the one in tow?   Dog walk, dog days 011

This is why it’s called Island View Beach – the nearest island is Canadian, the others you can see in the picture are American – the small islands in this strait are called the Gulf Islands if they’re Canadian, and the San Juan Islands if they’re American.  Way in the background, more or less centre picture is Mount Baker, a volcano that is pretty much asleep but which steams occasionally – it’s in Washington State in the US.  I don’t know why, but Mt Baker is always referred to as “he” around here – as in “he’s looking really clear today”. Dog walk, dog days 016

This is one of the smaller flocks we’ve chased off this week.  I was asked why I cared about the Canada geese being on the field when I go to great trouble to put chickens on my field for their fertilizing value.  The geese certainly provide that, but they also mow the grass very short in a season when it’s not growing, but the main reason I don’t want them is that this field is quite soggy and the geese paddle around with their feet making craters and mudholes.  If it was a couple of pairs, or even a dozen birds, I’d probably ignore them, likewise if they were just passing through on their way North or South, but they live here year round, and as you can see, this small flock of 80 (I counted) is more than just a few.  Earlier in the week, I counted 120 at one time.  We’ve been chasing them off every day, so far, and the numbers are dwindling, so hopefully I can be more persistent than them.  Hunting is not an option – no gun, no license, and there’s about 10 square metres in the  middle of the field where I could actually shoot them, as I have to be 100 metres from a perimeter border.    Moreover, I’m told these are often called “flying carp” by hunters – as in more bones than good flesh. Dog walk, dog days 021

Blackie the headless dog – she dug that hole with great enthusiasm, chasing after some prey, real or imagined.  Feeling her age at 12, she flopped in happy exhaustion a moment later, muddy but content. Dog walk, dog days 024

Snowdrops!  I look forward to them every January – the very first signs of new life.  My Dad planted them all over the place – along the fencelines in random places in the field, in the orchard, beside the house, in what I now use as a herb garden.  They are a delightful surprise everywhere I look. Dog walk, dog days 028 I’ve had three or four laundry worthy sunny days this month.  No, even here in the PNW, it’s not quite warm enough for shorts – that’s someone’s gym strip.

And that’s the kind of January it’s been here on the soggy, foggy, but unfrozen Small Farm of the Sailor.

Tradition and a Sickly Season

freedom of the city parade 1983

1983 – that’s me 3rd from the right, the two “hooks” indicate I was a Leading Seaman at the time.

In the Royal Navy and it’s descendants (RCN, RAN, RNZN), officers have a “toast” for each day of the week which they give at the evening meal – the practice continues even now for ceremonial dinners, if not the regular end of the work day dinners. As a signalman, and therefore keeper of all things ceremonial on board ship, I was required to know these off by heart.  So, from the locker in the dark recesses of my memory, where I keep useful stuff like morse code and the difference between KHz and MHz, I am able to dredge up the following:

Thursday’s toast is to “A bloody war and a sickly season”.  The inference of course is that the enemy should be the bloody and sickly ones, not “us”.

Sadly, not so around here.  It seems everyone around us had either colds or flu run through their family over the Christmas break, which we didn’t know because we kept pretty much to ourselves for the two weeks.  Once back at school and work however,  we soon found out  – and eventually succumbed, to a good old fashioned head cold.  We went at it in order of seniority, youngest first.  As the third to go down, I am just about over mine, which included losing my voice, much to the pleasure of the kids, and now hubby rolled out of bed very late and very slowly this morning, stuffy and watery eyes….I guess in keeping with tradition, the Captain should go last.  Hot lemon with honey for three of us was a crutch that got us through the sore throat phase, but the Captain says hot whiskey is what’s going to cure him…

Good thing we make a lot of chicken stock around here – I made a big batch of chicken soup each of the last two weeks, and I think it will do more good than the whiskey toddy.  We all know who really runs this ship anyway 🙂

Wanna know the rest of the toasts?  They start on Sunday, which used to be (and still is for some) the first day of the week:

  • Sunday:  to absent friends (there is usually a silent pause to consider those friends before raising the glass).  Absent can be taken to mean either friends that are elsewhere, or who have died.
  • Monday: Our ships
  • Tuesday: Our men (remember this is from the days of Lord Nelson and his ilk – no female sailors)
  • Wednesday:  Ourselves (and the response from those assembled is “as no one else is likely to care”)
  • Thursday:  A bloody war and a sickly season (this is to reduce the ranks of the enemy)
  • Friday:  A willing foe and sea room (because the feeling is one has a good chance of winning after the enemy ranks have been reduced by the effects of Thursday’s toast!)
  • Saturday:  Wives and sweethearts (and the response from those assembled is always:  “may they never meet”).