Tag Archives: Food Security

Howling Duck Ranch’s own peas, pea soup

Dried Alaska peas for seed and soup.

Dried Alaska peas for seed and soup.

This year, in the attempt to achieve ‘Personal Food Sovereignty’, I decided to experiment with some legumes. I grew (or rather, attempted to grow) the main legumes we like to eat in general, and generally eat often.

Thus, I attempted to grow the following with varying degrees of success: lentils, cannelli beans, black turtle beans, garbanzo beans, broad beans, pinto beans, soya beans, and adzuki beans.

Attempting to become sovereign in legumes turned out to be an extremely educational experience: an utter failure on the one hand and a completely enlightening experience on the other. Not only were most crops a definite failure, (several varieties  barely made their presence known in the garden thanks to their penchant for warmer climes), but also of those that tried to participate in the project–through sheer will and determination–didn’t go the distance. They simply didn’t make it to the dry shell out stage of maturation before the rotting rains of our fall pounded them into a pulpy mess.

Despite the miserable failures, there were several key learning points along the way: I learned the growth pattern of lentils and, thus, why I won’t attempt to grow them again–too small, too difficult to hand thresh,  too little food value return for the work involved. I also learned which ones I will try  again next year, for example, black beans, but not for its dried shell out possibilities but rather to eat at the green stage–they are extraordinarily yummy as a green bean.

Peas laid out on my kitchen table drying.

Peas laid out on my kitchen table drying.

I did  have great success with was my Alaska pea crop. Upon realizing that most of the legumes I was experimenting with were simply not going to amount to much, I summoned the peas and insisted they rise to the occasion. I was planning to let some go to seed anyway, and already had enlisted a few exceptional plants–marking them for seed saving purposes for next year’s crop.

I had not been able to find any information on the subject of letting the regular garden peas going to the dried stage for soup and dahl making purposes, but throwing caution to the wind I decided, ‘why not?’

Another reason I decided to let some of the regular fresh pea crop go to the dry shell out stage was that the food value relationship versus time must be better at the dry shell out stage. It occurred to me one day while harvesting the fresh Alaska peas for dinner, I was conscious of just how long it was taking to get enough for two for dinner–a long time! So, I rationalized, considering it takes just as much time to shell out fresh as it does the dried, but as a dry bean, the protein and carbohydrate value has increased significantly, why not  let these peas turn into legumes? They may not be the right pea for habitant pea soup, but in terms of local eating, food security, self-provisioning, etc., they would have to do!

Here is the recipe I developed for my own pea soup peas!

Howling Duck Ranch’s Own Peas, Pea Soup

3 tbsp Olive oil (but any oil will do, and if I had access to beef or pork tallow/lard, I would use that).

1 large onion

1/2 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup diced zucchini

3 garlic cloves, sliced thin

salt, to taste

fresh ground pepper, to taste

Herbs to taste: thyme, savory, sage, parsley, oregano

Spices to taste: allspice (if using, cut back on pepper)

3 cups dried peas (soaked in 6-8 cups of water for several hours)

More water as needed for cooking soup

Soup stock: ideally use boiled salt pork or a ham hock.

If you don’t have access to salt pork then substitute with one of the following: ham flavoured stock, or bouillon cube, or home made stock from pork bones (in a pinch, I have even cooked bacon and used the drippings as the stock base), you can also make it vegetarian if you wish.

Directions:

Caramelize the the veggies, cooking the onion first in oil, then carrot, garlic and zucchini. Add salt and pepper, and cook until veggies are soft. Add the soaked but drained peas, pour in enough water and stock to cover by an inch. bring to a boil. After bringing the peas to a steady boil, turn the heat off and cover for 10 minutes.

At this point, you can transfer the whole pot to a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Alternatively, keep boiling the soup until the peas turn to mush. Add desired herbs and spices, adjust salt and pepper to taste.

This soup demands to be dipped and dredged, so serve it with good, hearty, home made bread.

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Filed under Food Security, How to..., Preserving the harvest, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Yeast wrangling 101

Several years ago, while still living in New Zealand, I wanted to learn more about bread. I went to the library and took out virtually every book they had on bread making and bread baking. There of course were several beautifully done books, and one that stands out in my mind to this day was called The Bread Builders. As I recall, it was exquisitely illustrated providing tantalizing glimpses of far away places, evoking succulent smells of baking breads and heady aromas of wood fired ovens.

The book that taught me the basics of yeast wrangling!

The book that taught me the basics of yeast wrangling!

While that book got my mouth watering, my eyes dancing and my imagination traveling, the book that intrigued me the most was called Classic Sourdoughs: A home bakers handbook, by Ed Wood. In this book, he skillfully describes the art of developing a true sourdough culture, how to feed it, ways of preserving it, and how to use it artfully. There are also a host of wonderful recipes to work your way through on your journey of becoming a bread builder.

Once you have caught your true sourdough, Wood explains, you need never go to the store to buy yeast again. Now that kind of knowledge is a cornerstone in the foundation of true independence–I had to try it.

Of course, while reading the chapter on how to acquire the yeast spores, my imagination got away from me. Instead of the benign creatures Wood described, I pictured something different. After all, the yeast spores I was to catch were not at all like the garden variety you picked up at any grocery store. No, these spores were wild, untamed, unruly.

The microscopic, but voracious, yeast spores my mind conjured up were riding tiny Mustang horses, sporting yellow sombreros a la Speedy Gonzalez, decked out in full gaucho gear, replete with chaps, hand-guns, and cross-their-hearts-ammo belts, galloped through the air, and indiscriminately shot  their guns off. Obviously, this sort of yeast wrangling was going to be a challenge. What I had to do  was figure out how to catch and tame them: lasso, tie down, corral, file steadily into a small bowl, and finally, break and train them to a level of finesse required to enter the culinary equivalent of Grand Prix Dressage.

The process is, sadly, much more sedate. No horse needed. In fact, it is shockingly simple: mix water and flour together in bowl, cover with gauze to protect from flies, set near open window, keep warm, feed often. Voila, a couple of weeks into this mild mannered process, you will have yourself a viable sourdough culture.

I tried it. Within days, I had a bubbling concoction that smelled exactly as you would expect a yeasty brew to smell: like yeast, with light undertones curiously reminiscent of a beer burp. The next step, of course, was to see if it actually raised bread. Wood warns the reader that it may take a few weeks, sometimes several months, of keeping the culture alive before it will make a good bread. In the meantime, he advises, use the part of the product that you pour off, when feeding the culture, to make pancakes and muffins. So I did. If you like sourdough pancakes, but have never caught a true sourdough culture, then you have never truly had sourdough pancakes–and thus you are missing out. The pancakes made from this culture were fantastic, possibly the tastiest I’d ever made.

It wasn’t long before I was brave enough to try making my first loaf of bread with my own sourdough culture. I started with a focaccia so that, I reasoned, in case it didn’t really rise well no one might notice! I needn’t have worried; it worked beautifully. The focaccia was gorgeous, the air pockets well formed and uneven, just like the  better bread from bakeries. I was immediately hooked and never looked back. Today, I scoff at the ‘regular’, store-bought yeast for bread making. Instead, I make everything with my own: a wide variety of breads both sweet and savoury, muffins, pancakes, even chocolate cakes!

This process is the only way to obtain a true sourdough culture, pure and simple. Unlike the more popular version of so called sourdough of present day, the kind that begins with store-bought yeast and adding sugar and vinegar or some such other phony brew, the true sourdough culture dates back through antiquity to ancient Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians were the first peoples to discover this technology, of how to leaven bread. Having studied this, and being a passionate collector of sourdoughs from around the world, Ed Wood founded Sourdoughs International, a company that collect, maintains and sells sourdough cultures from around the world.

He also wrote the above mentioned book, in which he chronicles many of his worldly travels, all in the name of true sourdough collecting. In 1993, Wood collaborated with Egyptologist, Dr. Mark Lehner, to determine how man made his first leavened bread in Egypt, a project supported by the National Geographic Society (National Geographic Magazine, January 1995).

After about a year of continual use of my own culture, I decided to contact Ed Wood from my home in Rotorua, New Zealand, and let him know how much I appreciated his book and how wonderful my culture was. He was intrigued enough to ask me to send him a sample, which he subsequently put through his testing kitchen. He was very happy with the results and said he was surprised at how well it performed; so he offered to buy it from me in exchange for the ability to sell it. ‘You’re not going to get rich off this,’ he laughed, and offered me a some-time-in-the-future commission ‘once some sales have been made’.

Several years later, I returned to Canada and was really glad to have made that ‘deposit’ with Ed at Sourdough International, because not only could I not bring my yeast back home to Canada, but also the yeast that I caught in Bella Coola was lazy. My New Zealand yeast was caught in the volcanic centre of the North Island, which was possibly a factor in its vigour–like Old Faithful, you could count on it to rise! However, with this Northern hemisphere variety I could not raise a decent loaf of bread to save my life. After about a year of unsuccessful Bella Coola yeast wrangling and frustrated bread making, I gave in and contacted Ed Wood again. He kindly sent me a package of my own yeast starter. It was amazing to have this resource–like having my own ‘ark’ or vault from which I could access my own heritage food!

To obtain the Rotorua Sourdough culture, see the following link

Rotorua Sourdough

To learn more about sourdough culture raising

Sourdough International

Classic Sourdough: A home bakers handbook

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Filed under Fermented foods, Food preservation, Food Security, Funny stories, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Preserving the harvest

Grow your own bread

Anita Loiselle's freshly baked bread from her home grown Red Fife wheat. Photo courtesy Marc Loiselle.

Anita Loiselle's freshly baked bread made from her own home grown Red Fife wheat. Photo courtesy Marc Loiselle

Because of my poor wheat harvest this year I realized I was going to have to buy in flour if we were going to enjoy bread, muffins, and pancakes this winter. I just couldn’t see ourselves going without bread products as they have become such a staple in our diet. Not only don’t I want to go without, there is a whole bunch of new experiences and learning to do in order to convert raw wheat kernels into bread products. Therefore, this year we will ‘cheat’, buy in the whole wheat kernels and spend our energies instead learning how to mill our own flour and how to make bread and other products with it.

Another part of food security and personal food sovereignty for me is having access to seed. In other words, above and beyond our bread making needs, obtaining the wheat kernels was also important in terms of securing seed, sufficient for next year’s planting. I am determined to grow my own wheat but until I am successful, I will just have to give in to those who know how to!

Because I had knowledge of the Marquis 10B from the Seager Wheeler farm, I began my search by contacting the farm via the email ‘contact us’ information on their website, asking if they might sell me some more of the heritage wheat. Several months later, with no response from anyone from Seager Wheeler Farm, I began looking further afield for a source of Canadian heritage wheat. If I could not get more Seager Wheeler wheat, then I would like to find another Canadian heirloom wheat: Red Fife, organically raised if possible.

I began my search for the above on the Web. Surprisingly, it did not take long for me to find what I was looking for. The Loiselle Organic Family Farm, in Vonda, Saskatchewan grows the Red Fife wheat. Not only that, they grow it organically on their biodynamic farm. Through a link on their website, I found a source of what I was looking for in British Columbia, the True Grain Bread of Cowichan Bay Village.

Upon discovering that they sell whole wheat kernels in 25kg bags, I phoned True Grain Bread to see if they would do a mail order for me. ‘Of course!’ said the voice on the other end of the phone, ‘Just come on down to the store’. This of course, is easier said than done: I’m a 13 hour drive from the port where you catch the ferry to get to Vancouver Island, never mind the drive to Cowichan from the ferry dock! ‘Oh’.

Upon hearing this minor obstacle, the gal on the other end of the line suggested that I send an email to Bruce, and ask him if he would do a mail order. So I did. Bruce was fantastic. He not only shipped me the wheat, but also he did all the legwork for me: contacted the post office, advised me of the cost of shipping, and put the wheat in the mail–he didn’t cash my cheque until I confirmed that I had received the wheat! When you live as remotely as I do, this sort of ‘over and above’ service is warmly appreciated. Moreover, it is a huge relief!

To cover my options, I also had emailed Marc Loiselle of Loiselle Organic Family Farm, about  my wheat shipping options (in case True Grain couldn’t fulfill the mail order request). By the time he got back to me, thanks to the efforts of Bruce at True Grain Bread, I already had the wheat in my possession.

I was pleased by Marc’s email response however because, despite getting the wheat from an entirely different source, he revealed its contemporary pedigree, adding another welcome layer of knowledge and an additional thread of personal heritage to the wheat I now own:

That wheat [you have just bought] is part of the Red Fife we grew. It is actually a blend of 5 different lots of Red Fife from Saskatchewan…from members of our Prairie Red Fife Organic Growers Cooperative. 50% is 2006 and 2007 harvests from our farm, 24% is from the Wyatt farm at Canwood, 14% from the Schriml farm at Bruno, and 12% from St. Peter’s Abbey (Benedictine monastery) at Muenster.

Wow. I was thrilled to learn more about ‘my’ Red Fife wheat. These sorts of layers and links to other farmers, friends and families, and the ‘ghosts of farmers past’, add a cultural, if not a spiritual dimension to farming for me. Now, I am part of those farm’s living heritage: their work, their wheat, their families’ heritage passed on through generations of seed growing and saving, will live on here in Bella Coola so long as I too am able to sow their seeds, grow their wheat, save the seed, add water and repeat.

Despite the fact that I no longer needed to buy wheat from the Loiselle Organic Family Farm, I did  have a bunch of other questions which Marc was kind enough to answer. The bigger questions for me with respect to my ‘Year in Provisions’ project for which I needed answers to were: how much wheat to grow, how much land to sow, and how much wheat might I need for my family for a year; I had no idea. All I knew was that a loaf of bread takes about 4-5 cups of flour, but that was the limit of my knowledge. How many wheat kernels it takes to make 4-5 cups of flour I also had no idea–let alone how many kilos of wheat one needs to sow over how much area of land, or how much yeild to expect, or how much we’d need to supply us for a year in bread.

To answer theses key ‘Year in Provisions’ questions for me, Marc Loiselle, rose to the occasion:

Sounds like a great project you have going! I’ve never had such a question about growing a certain amount for a year’s supply. But, presuming that you want to grow enough for your food needs and have enough left over for a subsequent year’s sowing, and are able to sow and harvest adequately, I suggest you could purchase a single 25 kg bag for example. If you sow 1/2 of it in good fertile soil with adequate spacing (30 lbs would sow about 1/4 acre….and save the other 30 lbs in case of need to resow due to natural disaster such as hail…) and it grows well, you could anticipate harvesting up to ~ 6 bushels (360 lbs) and that is based on a good yield of 25 bushels/acre.

A single bushel of harvested and clean wheat kernels would make ~70-80 regular sized loaves of bread. So you could do the math and sort of figure out what that would mean for you; especially if you have a family to feed too. 6 bushels x 75 loaves = ~450 loaves potential, which would be more than 1 loaf per day.

As it happens, I had bought exactly 25 kilos from True Grain Bread, which according to Marc’s calculations, is about double what I need for sowing purposes next year (allowing for poor harvest/return). That means I can use half of it now for bread making purposes. Of course, this will likely not be enough to get us through to next year’s harvest (thinking optimistically!), so I will have to order another 25 kg, maybe two, for our winter’s supply for bread making.

Not only did Marc answer many of my questions, he also was kind enough to send the above photo of Anita’s (his wife) freshly baked bread. In addition to this, he sent along  a couple of other recipes that use the Red Fife wheat in interesting ways, such as in salads. I will post these recipes eventually and link them to my recipe page, as and when. Thank-you Marc and Anita Loiselle!

Now, I’m on the hunt for a grinder so I can turn this gorgeous Red Fife heritage wheat into bread! Suggestions on grinders most welcome.

For more information on Red Fife wheat

See the Loiselle Organic Family Farm. They have a wonderful website with ‘everything you wanted to know’ about Red Fife wheat,  including interesting photos, as well as the history of the Prairie Red Fife Organic Growers Cooperative they helped found.

LOISELLE ORGANIC FAMILY FARM

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Filed under Bread making, Food Security, How to..., Learning to Farm, Sustainable Farming

A time to kill

I shot my first live animal yesterday, and I was not on a hunt. I caught a young red fox trying to dig his way in to my turkey pen. This was the same little fellow that had been prowling around my place every night for several weeks now, keeping me awake thanks to the vigilance of my dog. I’d seen him on several of his mid-night ramblings but not bothered to try to shoot him; I just let Tui (our dog) out to take care of him, and she was enough to chase him off.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. He showed up around 3:00 in the afternoon, give or take. I’d just sat down for coffee with my husband, when we noticed the turkeys’ sudden agitation at something. They were ringing their alarm bells, pressing themselves up against the near fence-line and generally making it well known they were not happy about being captive.

My husband ran towards the turkey pen and shouted that he’d spotted the fox. Upon hearing the word ‘fox’, I leaped into action and ran to the house to get my gun (a Ruger .22 semi-automatic). When I returned and closed in on the turkey pen, the little fox was still trying to dig his way in and wasn’t at all alarmed by my presence: not something you want in a wild animal. I took aim through the fence. Once he felt my presence, he stopped digging, sat down, and looked at me, unblinking.

Admittedly, he was a cute little thing, so I paused to consider what I was about to do.  Should I shoot him? Should I let him go on his way? He’s so cute, can I really do this? But I knew I had to shoot him now. He would be back, and if bad luck would have it, it would be when I’m not home to deal with him. It was a case of killing a fox to save my turkeys: my animals, my livelihood, my food security. Typically, you know when a fox has been in the chicken house because they kill everyone in there. It is not enough for a fox to kill just one chicken or turkey and leave, like an eagle or a hawk. It is the signature of a fox to kill everyone, and I could not risk losing my turkeys to him.

After considering all this, again I took aim. I was about to shoot when I realized the shot I had was not a good option. There were two layers of cross-wire fencing to shoot through, so it could end up in disaster. The bullet could hit a wire, ricochet and miss him all together, or worse–hit one of my turkeys. I decided I would risk letting him escape this time, and tried to get a better shot.

While I was repositioning myself, he went around the barn and behind the paddock fence-line. I ran around the other side of the paddock and into it, so I could take aim through the fence and not have it in my way. Meanwhile, he took off to the other side of the slough.

Once across to what he thought was safety, he sat at the base of a tree and, again, turned and looked back at me. Yes, he was cute. Yes he was a young one–probably only a year old. He had such a sweet face, I almost lost my nerve. Again I took pause for a brief moment, but ultimately mustered up the courage to shoot: he would just be back if I let him go. I hit him in the chest and he barreled over backwards, recovered his footing, and took off at a lope.

Now came the really difficult part: I had to try to find my way across the slough (not an easy task) and then track him through extremely dense bush. I got my dog and my husband rounded up to help with the job. We found the blood trail and followed it, but it was rough going. The undergrowth here is full of brambles and –worse–Devil’s Club, which can take out an eye if you are not careful.

I now know that following a blood trail sounds easier than it actually is. I had never done it until yesterday. It was not easy–even with the dog trying to lead the way. We got caught up for far too long trying to get across the slough and even longer trying to get through the dense brush. Finally, we got through the bush and came out on my neighbour’s driveway. We followed the blood trail along the driveway, through the back of my neighbour’s garden, and finally out in to the field that he’d crossed and into the deep forest at the edge of the field.

He’d obviously come to the farm along a similar path, and so, once in the field, the dog got confused and we lost more time–tracking him back and forth along the two paths, coming and going. Eventually, we passed a patch where he’d urinated on his way to my farm. I knew it had to be on his way to the farm and not his return route because the urine was still wet. Not only that: when we finally picked up the blood trail again, it was along a slightly different path. We backtracked along the blood trail and followed it to where he crossed another slough and continued deeper into the forest.

It was not long after this point that I decided to give up. The dog was beginning to look uneasy, the light was going, the rain was coming, and, having passed two fresh piles of fresh bear poop, I figured that being in this dense forest with nothing more than a .22 was not wise. If the dog was nervous walking in the footprints of a bear, so should I be.

I felt bad for not being able to make sure I’d finished him off. There is no doubt in my mind that he will bleed to death, but I would have liked to have finished the job myself. The downside of this is that he’s out there suffering; yet there was and is nothing more I could do. To have continued to track him that late in the day, and with such fresh bear sign around, would have been dangerous. Furthermore, it has rained hard overnight so the trail of blood and scent will be gone today.

The upside of this event, however, is twofold: he won’t be back, and last night I got my first whole undisturbed night’s sleep in weeks.

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Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Politicking with predators, Turkeys

Gone are the days…

...when I will take a jar of spaghetti sauce for granted.

Yesterday I spent more than 16 hours in the kitchen dealing with tomatoes (and there were about 4 hours the previous day donated to tomato prep). Because I didn’t have a harvest of tomatoes to speak of, but knowing I didn’t want to live without spaghetti sauce for the winter, a friend and I decided to buy 150 lbs of tomatoes from our sole supermarket, and make salsa and spaghetti sauce together. The friend got waylaid an extra couple of days and some of the tomatoes began to go off. Over the weekend, I threw the worst of them out and put up the-ones-that-couldn’t-wait by myself: drying, roasting and making lasagna with on-the-spot-sauce. I got through about 20 lbs.

Over the course of the weekend, I managed to prepare for saucing another thirty pounds of the tomatoes: blanching, peeling, coring, chopping and otherwise getting ready for saucing. Yesterday, at 8:00 am in the morning, I began cooking the prepared tomatoes. While they were boiling, as it was my ‘maiden voyage’ into the land of Back-to-Basics food strainer and sauce maker, I read the instructions, put it together, and began saucing the cooked tomatoes.

My friend joined me at about 10:30 am, to take over the saucing job while I set to making the rest of the first pot of spaghetti sauce: washing, chopping, slicing, dicing and then sauteing the veggies. Once we got the first pot on the stove, we set to dealing with the other three, 25 pound cases of tomatoes: wash, blanch, peel, core, slice, boil, strain through saucing contraption.

Several hours later, with two pots of spaghetti sauce on the boil and reducing on the stove, we had come full circle and were once again facing the last box and a half of tomatoes: blanch, chop, core, slice, blanch, chop, core, slice, breathe in, breathe out, blanch, chop, core, slice, etc. These last boxes were to be made into salsa, so the saucing step was gratefully omitted.

By 8:30 pm, I was exhausted and we still had not started the canning process. My friend made two double batches of the salsa mixture, still uncooked, put it in to pots and went home to finish the processing job herself. Meanwhile, I put a double batch of salsa on to boil and turned back to the spaghetti sauce, which was finally reduced enough to be transferred to jars and processed in the pressure canner.

Fast forward to midnight: I had one lot of spaghetti sauce processed and one double batch of salsa water-bath canned, all now cooling on the counter. The second lot of spaghetti sauce, sufficiently reduce finally, was still waiting to be processed; so I put it in the pressure canner and put the timer on the stove. At 3:00 am (when the canner had cooled sufficiently to be opened), I took the second batch out and set it on the counter beside the other batch. I did manage to sleep between midnight and 3am, on the couch, hands still on fire from the mountains of jalapeno pepper chopping. Mental note to self: use gloves next time!

This morning, I still have a single batch of salsa in the fridge waiting to be cooked and canned, and the dehydrator is still working away noisily on the kitchen table. However, the uncooked salsa has been put on the proverbial ‘back burner’ because I’ve had to deal with the fresh milk from Sunday (pasteurize and turn into cheese because I still have enough yogurt from last week), and get ready for a group of high school children coming to tour the farm at 11am. They are eager to see the animals and want to pet a goat or maybe catch a chicken.

Tally-oh

All up, I have seven 750 ml jars of spaghetti sauce (and seven for my friend) and eight 650 ml jars of salsa sitting on my counter (she will have the equivalent), and I still have to process 3 more jars of salsa.  In addition, I have 3 quart jars of dehydrated ‘sun-dried’ tomatoes, and two quart jars of slow roasted tomatoes in olive oil in the fridge. I have made one batch of fresh spaghetti sauce that I used to make lasagna and… that’s it: the grand total of what 150 pounds of tomatoes is reduced to!

Economics

So. The 30 lbs of tomatoes turned into seven 750 ml jars of spaghetti sauce. The tomatoes cost me nearly $1.00/lb, so when you look at paying $3-4.00 per jar of fancy spaghetti sauce at the store, those 7 jars on my counter are only ‘worth’ $21-28.00 yet I spent $30 on the ingredients; so I haven’t broken even in the economic sense, and I have not yet considered the cost of the other ingredients, or the propane used in the cooking process–let alone the hours of labour put in to the job!

Conclusions

As I look at my seven beautiful jars of spaghetti sauce and contemplate what it would take to grow sufficient tomatoes to keep us in sauce alone, I’m overwhelmed. Not only do I probably not have enough land to do the job, nor the growing conditions where I live to produce decent tomatoes; I certainly don’t have the energy to keep that kind of canning marathon up in order to look after our  tomato sauce needs for a year, year in year out.

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Filed under Food Security, Preserving the harvest, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Yellow Legs

Yellow Legs.

Just one example of yellow legs.

While in New Zealand, I acquired a flock of chickens that were made up from an assortment of ‘hand me down’ and otherwise general cast-offs that were all very good at living on our farm. In other words, they were good at free ranging for their own food and generally looking after themselves. All I provided them with was safe housing and water.

We were building a house on three acres and one of the contractors, Ian (who built our driveway), not only kept chickens but also ‘showed’ them. I had never heard of such a thing but was curious enough to ask about the ins and outs of showing chickens. Not only did he give us the grand tour of his chicken facility, but also he gave us a ‘chicken starter kit’, vis-à-vis some of his less than show-perfect stock. He was getting out of a certain breed, and was happy to let them go to a good home.

He had been showing chickens for years by then, but related to us a charming, self-deprecating story of his first attempts at showing. A newcomer to the exciting world of chicken showing, he began his career with Leghorns. It was the only breed he knew. He bought a breeding pair, built them suitable housing and a run, and proceeded to take great care in feeding them, talking to them and paying an inordinate amount of loving attention to them (I think his wife on occasion had been jealous of the chickens).

He began to breed some of his own. When it came time to go to his first show, Ian hand-selected two of what he thought were his most beautiful chickens; a cock and a hen, lovingly incubated and hand-raised. Both were plump, well plumed and had gorgeous, yellow legs. He took them to the show and stood there proudly displaying his stock. When the judges came by to appraise them, he was shocked when some of them snickered and generally looked down their noses at his birds; he was completely dismayed when his chickens came in dead last. He was the laughing stock of the chicken show. What he’d failed to do was check to see what the ‘show’ quality guidelines were for the Leghorn chicken: legs were to be white; what Ian thought a charming attribute was in fact a show-stopping conformational fault. When relaying this story to us he said sadly, ‘You know, some of them go so far as to bleach the legs to make them whiter before a show!’

Fast forward 7 years and we are now in Bella Coola, BC. I have acquired another bunch of hand-me-down, cast-off chickens. I don’t care. I’m not going to show them so I’m not worried about their pedigree or their adherence to breed specific guidelines. In fact, I am quite happy to see them interbreeding and am always fascinated to see how the chicks turn out.

Consequently, we end up with all sorts of shapes and sizes. I cull the roosters that don’t get along with our stud rooster Pavarotti, and also the smaller birds, because I am trying to develop hardy chickens that can handle the cold winters here, and that are good dual-purpose birds.

Because I’m not paying attention to breed conformation, it was inevitable that someone with yellow legs would appear eventually; and he did. ‘Yellow legs’ was a very striking bird. My husband–who had forgotten all about how Ian been the laughing stock of the New Zealand chicken breeders’ show–loved him (maybe this is a man thing); night after night, he would return to the house after putting them to bed and wax lyrical about his beauty: “He’s got these really beautiful yellow legs.” I reminded him of Ian’s story, but he was undeterred. Eventually, ‘Yellow Legs’ became a star of the farm. I would watch him walk, and with each step, I would say: “Yellow…legs…yellow…legs…yellow…legs”. As it got closer to slaughter time, my voice changed intonation and I pretended to be the rooster himself: ‘Yellow… legs… yellow… legs… David likes my… yellow… legs.’ Sometimes I would chant it to my husband as if this might save ‘me-now-Yellow-Legs’ from the fate of the dinner plate.

RCMP uniform.

RCMP's yellow legs.

We went on like this for months as the roosters grew. Eventually, friends were exposed to the drama and also Ian’s background story, and Yellow Legs became a bit of a community legend. Once, a friend and I were on a road trip to Williams Lake when an RCMP officer walked out in front of us. Without missing a beat, she suddenly blurted out, ‘Yellow Legs, yellow legs, yellow legs’ in time with his foot-falls (the RCMP uniform has yellow stripes down the black pant legs). I burst out laughing and hoped he didn’t hear. How on earth would I explain the ridiculous effect of his RCMP uniform on me?

Some time later that year, this same friend and a host of others were over for dinner. There was good food, fine wine, great dessert and lots of laughter. There was a plate full of chicken and the people were helping themselves to it al gusto.

This rooster, having heard what happened to 'The' Yellow Legs, is reluctant to show off his legs.

This rooster, having heard what happened to The Yellow Legs, shows some reluctance to show off his pair of yellow legs.

The friend who had been in Williams Lake with me picked up a drumstick and began to devour it, then suddenly burst out, ‘Oh my god!’ The conversation came to an abrupt stop; her hand, still holding the drumstick, had shot out of her mouth and was now poised at eye level over the centre of the table demanding all eyes’ fullest attention– ‘Is this Yellow Legs?!’

Taken aback, but not willing to lie, I admitted that, somewhere on the plate among the pile of drumsticks, were Yellow Legs’ legs. Of course I couldn’t confirm that the one she was holding was indeed the show stopping star. After a short pause of what could only be described as contemplative consideration, someone uttered a brief toast in honor of Yellow Legs. We all had a good laugh and continued eating: ‘Yellow legs, yellow legs, we all liked his yellow legs.’

Sadly, this conscious celebration of an animal’s life so that we could eat was not the reaction that a farming colleague faced when she presented to friends of hers a sumptuous dinner of roast pork, which she had raised and cooked herself. Upon hearing that the pork was not bought at the supermarket but instead was one of the pigs they had ‘met’ on a previous visit to the farm, these so-called ‘friends’ refused to eat and chose instead to take their meal at a local pub.

What did they order when they got there? Why, roast pork of course. The snubbed hostess, being much more polite than me, bit her tongue and didn’t reveal that she often supplied that pub with her own pork.

See: A pig in a poke for more on the issues related to this topic.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ethical farming, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food

Sauerkraut (recipe below)

Sauerkraut in crocks will ferment for 4-6 weeks.

Sauerkraut in crocks will ferment for 4-6 weeks.

Six weeks ago the ‘other two-thirds’ (OTT) and I harvested our cabbages and spent a couple hours shredding, salting, pounding and layering it all into crocks. We then sat it in the corner of the kitchen and forgot about it. Now, it has been transformed into sauerkraut, and I have spent the better half of the day–without the aid of the OTT–canning it. Three big crocks makes a whole lot of sauerkraut. It is now nearly 4:00 pm and I’m still canning, and I’ve been at it now for a few hours. The good news is, I have friends that like it so I’ll give a bunch of it away as gifts. The bad news is, there is still another crock to deal with sometime later this week!

Actually, it is all good. It is a lot of work, but useful work, real work. Not only that; it is tasty work. I never liked sauerkraut until I made it the first time. It is amazing the difference it makes when you not only make it yourself, but also grow the cabbage that you make it from. Home grown cabbage is nothing like the hard, bitter, wax-laden ball that you buy in the store. When you grow your own cabbage, you are introduced to a completely different vegetable: they are sweet, crisp, crunchy, and they squeak.

Not until I grew my own could I eat cabbage that wasn’t drenched in mayonnaise and vinegar, and disguised by a whole host of spices. The ones you grow are crisp, sweet, and smell nice when you chomp into them.  Consequently, the final product that you are left with after 6 weeks of fermentation is equally different from the slog in the jars you may be used to purchasing in the stores. It is still not something I go wild about, but for those who really like sauerkraut, home made stuff is to die for–apparently.

Finished, canned sauerkraut. I used red cabbage this year, hence the pinkish kraut.

Finished, canned sauerkraut. I used red and green cabbage this year, hence the pinkish kraut.

While I’m not a huge fan of the kraut in general, I am a big fan of the cabbage rolls made with fermented cabbage leaves in particular. In fact, I crave it. Because I only make sauerkraut once a year, I only get to enjoy the fermented cabbage leaf rolls once or twice per year as well. If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to do so. It transforms an otherwise so-so meal into the culinary equivalent of high art. I should probably look into figuring out how to preserve those fermented leaves so I can have that more often. In the meantime, I’ll make do with the occasional ‘lazy’ cabbage rolls, layering the ingredients with my sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut Recipe:

You will need a very large crock, glass or enamel container
Minimum of 2 heads of cabbage
Kosher salt (I use pickling salt)
Heavy duty food-grade plastic bags or 2 gal freezer bags (unless you have a Harsch Crock)
Wooden spoon (or something to pound the kraut with)

Some tips here to prevent problems with your sauerkraut:

Never use aluminum utensils!
Absolute cleanliness is necessary for a healthy brew!
I have a very old 5 gallon crock that I use to make my sauerkraut and cover with plastic bags and a plate to keep air out. I also have two Harsch crocks that were specially designed for kraut making and have an airtight seal incorporated into the design. But you can use a glass or enamel coated container. Clean and scald the container well by pouring boiling water into the container and swishing around for no less than 30 seconds.

If you use a Harsch crock, follow the directions that come with the crock; it uses less salt that this recipe does.

To prepare the cabbage, remove and discard the outer leaves. Wash and drain, then cut the cabbages into halves or quarters while removing the core in the process.

Step 1) Shred Cabbage – I use my food processor for speed and ease. If you shred by hand, make sure the shreds are no thicker than a nickel or dime!

Step 2) Mix, with wooden spoon or very clean hands, 5 pounds of shredded cabbage with 4 tablespoons of Kosher salt (pickling salt will do but changes the flavor a bit – do not use table salt) and toss and mix thoroughly until kosher salt dissolves. (You can make as much as you wish as long as you use the ratio of 5 lbs. cabbage to 4 Tbs. salt.)

NOTE: If you plan on refrigerating and not canning, use 3 tbs of salt, not 4.

Step 3) When juice starts to form on cabbage from tossing, pack the cabbage firmly and evenly into a clean crock, glass or enamel container. Press firmly to encourage juice formation. Fill the utensil no closer than 5 inches from the top.

Step 4) Make sure juice covers the cabbage completely (this does not always happen unless the cabbage is fresh from the garden). Prepare additional brine by putting 1 1/2 Tablespoons of kosher salt into 1 quart of boiling water. Dissolve salt and cool brine to room temperature, before adding to the pot of cabbage.

Step 5) Once cabbage is immersed in brine water, place a large food-grade, plastic bag filled with brine water and lay it on top of the cabbage. (I use 2 large bags, one inside the other–sometimes a 2 gal freezer bag–with a couple of quarts of cooled brine water inside. If the bag breaks, it will not water down the cabbage into a tasteless mess.)

The cabbage must be well sealed all around with the bag, so no air can get in and contaminate the sauerkraut with unwanted yeasts or molds.

Step 6) Now cover the container with plastic wrap, then a heavy towel or cloth, and tie securely into place. Do not remove this until fermenting is complete.

Step 7) Put in an area where the temperature will not be above 75 degrees. Fermentation will begin within a day, depending upon the room temperature. If room temperature is 75 degrees, allow 3 weeks for fermentation. If temperature is 70 degrees, allow 4 weeks. If temperature is 65 degrees, allow 5 weeks. If temperature is 60 degrees, allow 6 weeks.

NOTE: If temperature is above 75 or 76 degrees, the sauerkraut may not ferment and could spoil!

Step 9) Once fermented, taste to see if your required tartness exists. Tartness will weaken as you process in canning, so make sure it is a wee bit more tart than you like!

Can be eaten immediately, or can it if you desire.

CANNING METHOD:

Hot Pack:    Pint jars………..10 minutes Quart jars……..15 minutes

Raw Pack:   Pint jars………20 minutes Quart jars…….25 minutes

I have tried both, and prefer to use the cold pack–it makes a crisper sauerkraut.

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Filed under Fermented foods, Food Security, Preserving the harvest, Vegetable gardening

Conscious conscientious decision-making

A state of dependency:

Someone recently asked me if I plan to feed my dog with my farm produce, as well as ourselves. Another, whether or not I was going to make herbal teas and sachets. Still another, whether or not I would grow wheat, oats, and barley, and would I have a cow. Believe me, when I first committed to the ‘Year in Provisions’ project, those thoughts drifted through my head, as well as a host of others. Things like, whether I could feed the other animals on the farm–goats, ducks, chickens, horse. Could I use my horse for roto-tilling the garden. Quite apart from the question of whether or not I’ll continue to have the luxury items of modern day that I can’t grow myself, I had to work through these and a host of other ideas as well.

More importantly for me emotionally, I had to work through the attachment I had to a salary. I quit my job and came back to British Columbia to attempt the project. In order to do this, I need to be financially supported by my husband; something I have not been comfortable with until now. I have never not been self-supporting financially before. Not only that, I had a good paying job at a University, which afforded me certain luxuries I’ve had to give up, and which came with all the benefits of a government job: social security, medical, dental, a pension plan, and paid holidays. It was a big emotional trajectory that I had to work through in order to get here. Moreover it is a risk. I am no longer building up my pension, I don’t have social security, I don’t have a wage to save with for my future, and I am completely dependent upon not only, the generosity of my husband, but also his ability to continue bringing in a wage. Suddenly, these too become luxuries I cannot take for granted.

A matter of time:

Since taking on the challenge of the project, and beginning to let people know what I’m up to, there has been no end of suggestions about what I could do or should do. It is a daunting undertaking.  In particular, figuring out where to stop and what my limits are has been difficult. In fact, it is an almost daily negotiation: should I buy sugar so I can make jam with all my fruit, should I buy vinegar  to can relishes and pickles, should I make vinegar myself from my own apples, etc, etc.? I had to decide whether I would be a  ‘purist’ or simply accept that some foods are necessary to make other foods last. Ultimately, I acknowledged that even the pioneers and cowboys had sugar, flour and coffee!

In the beginning, we talked about cutting out foods we couldn’t produce ourselves, such as olive oil, coffee, wine, beer, etc., as Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon of the 100 Mile Diet fame did, but ultimately we decided not to–because of the time constraints. Smith and MacKinnon spent their time sourcing local foods whereas I’m spending time growing it. What’s more, they’ve already done it–and for that I am grateful. What they have achieved–getting local eating on the media agenda, locally, regionally and internationally–is a major accomplishment. My hat is off to them.

We also decided not to cut out all ‘off-farm’ luxuries for socio-cultural reasons. Food creates community. Food is culture. Food is a social binder. Once you decide to cut out this or that, you can find yourself suddenly sitting alone on the bench (If you’ve ever gone on a strict diet you will know this!). In addition, this year, we knew we would be hiring a bunch of people to help us get barns built and green-houses built. The compromise we have made instead is buy regionally roasted organic coffee and to brew our own beer and wine at the local U-brew. I just couldn’t see myself explaining to ‘the guys’ why I couldn’t make them a coffee to keep them going at mid-day, or offer them a beer after a hard day’s work!

Life is a compromise!

In the end, I let the idea of rigorous ‘Personal Food Sovereignty’ go. I had to. For one thing, it was just too unrealistic a goal: I don’t own enough land, the growing conditions here are not conducive to grain, and I am only one person (albeit with a helpful partner). Moreover, I don’t have the funds to buy not only  the necessary larger piece of land, but also the requisite equipment needed to accomplish the above.

It was a good mental exercise to work through these ideas (and others such as, “How many cauliflower plants should I grow? How often do we want to eat chicken or fish?”). It has been, to say the least, a thought provoking exercise and something I encourage anyone reading this to ponder in terms of their own life. When you sit and think about how you would feed yourself, your family, your animals should you ever have to, it certainly sharpens the mind and focuses your energies! Once you suddenly realize just how dependent you are on ‘the system’, you will be humbled, if not shocked and somewhat un-nerved as I was.

What’s important:

This deep dependency on a system is not a feeling I’m comfortable with. Consequently, that has become my focus: extracting myself as much as I can from ‘the system’. I have made a shift from the original goal–to grow all my own food for  a year, to creating interdependency within my community and social circle. This goal, like my garden, is growing, changing, and continuously evolving based on its relationship to the outside world and my innate limitations.

What is important and what I can manage ultimately comes down to time, my community, and my priorities and abilities for living a rich life. Through the blogging world I have found a community of like-minded others who, by their own writings, have mirrored with scintillating accuracy my own feelings about the day to day of a small-holding. As this fellow blogger, Stonehead, states so humorously:

As always, there are just two of us working the [farm], one full-time and one helping out as and when. It means we cannot possibly do all the things that everyone thinks we should be doing, whether it’s tanning rabbit skins, keeping a house cow, making our own paint brushes from pig bristle, keeping the place totally weed free, making our own soap, or dancing the fandango on the rooftoop every hour on the hour while playing the bagpipes. We have to decide and adjust our priorities constantly to ensure we get the important things done first…

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Feeding Goldilocks

To date we have produced and processed from our own garden the following:

canned, dried and fermented.

Some of this years preserved food: canned, dried and fermented.

PICKLES: Sauerkraut, Dilly beans, Beets, Dill pickles
RELISHES: Zucchini, Coney Island, Spicy gooseberry chutney, Chili piccalilli
JAMS: Raspberry, Lavender, Strawberry, Tayberry, Blackberry, Apricot butter
JELLIES: Red currant, Blackcurrant, Lavender, Grape
CANNING: Pears, Apricots, Peaches, Rhubarb, Apple pie filling, Apple sauce, Salmon, Chicken, Beef, Basil pesto
FROZEN: Cherries, Strawberries, Blueberries, Red currants, Blackberries, Cherry pie filling, Basil, Dill, Cilantro, Peas, Snow peas
SCHNAPPS: Red currant, Blackcurrant, Rhubarb /lemon juice concentrate
WILD Crafted: Red/blue huckleberries, Salmonberries, Stinging nettle, Fiddle head ferns.
DRYING: Dill, Zucchini, Carrots, Apples, Pears, Cherries, Mint, Oregano
DAIRY: Yoghurt, Ice cream, Sour cream, Cheese (Leicester, cheddar, cumin-gouda, gouda, parmesan,  ricotta, haloumi, mozzarella, feta), Whey bread (bread made from the whey left-over from cheese-making).

Cheese:

I have been making cheeses, but a day’s kitchen labour produces maybe 2 lb of cheese. It then has to be brined, salted, cured, flipped, for months—it’s like raising Goldilocks.

Protein:

Looking at our chicken shed, I wonder: “How many chickens/eggs do we two need for a year?” This, like all the other predictions about food consumption, was difficult to answer, and still is. At present, we are relying on the remnants of last year’s harvest. I managed to can a bunch of our chickens, and we’ve traded for quite a bit of fish this year. We need to make it till about Thanksgiving before we can butcher our own chickens.

I estimated I’d need at least 52 roosters for culling, and more hens to step up the egg sales. I also want new blood. My hens set regularly, and it’s certainly the easiest way to increase a flock, but the results are also fluctuating. So I incubated 36 but hatched only 5. From the second batch I had two live hatchings but only one survived. Clearly, my one darling rooster was not doing his job democratically. Third time round, I ordered 50 chickens from Rochester Hatchery in Alberta. At present, we have more people wanting our eggs than we can supply, so I often don’t have any for my needs. We tend to rely on the infrequency of the duck eggs to meet our needs.

I was contemplating milking the goats, which would require investment in milking equipment, not to mention a potent buck (all my males are wethers), not to mention the will to kill and eat the kids. Being new to this life-style, I’m not sure I could do in the baby goats. I’m not able to stay home when the turkeys get done in as it is. Over and above this problem, what has rapidly dawned on me is my lack of time: between expanding and maintaining the garden and animals, there is simply no time for regular milking. So I get cow’s milk from a local person; on my first visit he observed that he had no time to raise chickens, so the solution is obvious to us: he is happy to trade his milk for my eggs and value added products such as jams and jellies. It’s a huge time relief.

This list may seem exhaustive as well as exhausting. It is. This is partly because we in the pampered West have grown accustomed to a global diet. I enjoy cooking Mexican, Greek, and both east and west Indian foods, and I want things to taste just right.

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Will there be bread?

Seed fit for a King:

Bella Coola grown Seager Wheeler wheat. Dried cherries in foreground.

Before I came back from Saskatchewan, I went to visit the Seager Wheeler National Historic site. Why? Because I have always wanted to sow, grow, harvest, thresh and grind wheat–and then turn it into my own bread, using my own sourdough culture (which I caught in New Zealand, but more about that later). If I am to go to this effort, then why not do it with wheat that was developed by the most influential wheat grower of his day in North America?

Having done my research before leaving Saskatchewan, I discovered that Seager Wheeler is known as the ‘King of Wheat’ in Canada–though not many people have heard of him: (see http://www.seagerwheelerfarm.org/ for more information). But for those in the know, he’s tops. For many years running, he grew the best wheat in Canada and won international awards for his efforts: he was crowned World Wheat King an unsurpassed five times, from 1911 to 1918. He came to Canada in 1885 at age 17, walked from Moose Jaw, Sask., north across 180 miles of virtual desert country to live in a hole in the bank of the South Saskatchewan River–and taught himself to farm.

The wheat that he developed, Marquis 10B (a cross between Hard Red Calcutta and Red Fife), extended the growing area 100 miles farther north, and opened up Alberta’s Peace River Valley to farming. Farmers in northern U.S. states clamored for his wheat seed, which accounted for 80 per cent of the wheat grown on the continent. By the 1920’s, Marquis wheat accounted for nearly 90% of the wheat grown in North America. There is a growing interest in the Red Fife among the heritage seed savers and enthusiastic bakers, though I’m not sure why they’re overlooking the Marquis, a Canadian heirloom.

So I toured Wheeler’s farm north of Saskatoon, and bought some of his wheat seed: 750 precious grams!

The bucket list:

Growing wheat has been on my top-ten list of things I must do–aka my ‘Bucket List’–for years now. In fact, in 2003 while still living in New Zealand, I got so far as to source it, sow it, and get it growing. I had it timed so that I would be back from my ‘visit’ to Canada in time to harvest it.  Well, that was the idea. Needless to say, I never returned to NZ and someone else must have enjoyed the fruits of my labor.

Strikes against me:

So, this spring, once I’d gotten the new garden bed prepped, I sowed 500 grams of my precious Seager Wheeler wheat. Unfortunately, I got the garden developed far too late in the season and consequently the seed was sown much too late. In addition to this, the west coast of British Columbia is not exactly known for its wheat growing season! However, the eternal optimist in me forced me to sow those precious seeds when I did, and at least set the ball in motion.

Wheat growth twelve days after sowing!

Wheat growth twelve days after sowing!

Bringing in the harvest:

Yesterday, I decided to harvest some of the wheat. It is not at all ready, but the weather has turned sour  (well, it is September 23rd and snow is beginning to creep relentlessly down the nearby mountainside towards the river bottom and me) and rain was on the forecast: not something wheat likes in its later stages of development. Rather than risk it all to the rain, I thought I’d run a bit of an experiment: cut some of it down, and see if it would  ripen up and dry. I’m hoping that l if I hang the wheat stalks somewhere to dry, the seed heads will mature a bit more and form viable seeds, just as unripened tomatoes will if you uproot them and leave them on the vine.

Since the wheat patch was an experimental patch to begin with, there was not a vast field of wheat to harvest. Instead of a combine harvester the size of a small restaurant, I took my scissors and bucket out to the patch and began to cut. I decided to cut half the patch and let the rest go. Who knows? It might clear up next week. It is now lying (among a whole bunch of other items needing attention) across my kitchen seat bench, drying. Although this year’s experiment may not yield so much as one loaf of bread, I’ve learned a lot, am better prepared for next spring, and feel happily connected to another part of Canadian agricultural history, two provinces away. Mr Wheeler’s success was once used to lure immigrants to Canada; I feel I’ve inherited a precious family jewel and it’s satisfying to replicate it and carry on the tradition.

Part of yesterday's harvest.

A sample of yesterday's harvest.

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