Making Lye Cured Olives



We harvested our olives this week, and followed the usual tradition of picking the best olives for preserving and the rest for pressing into olive oil. The majority of the olives we grow are Sevillano olives, which are perfect for preserving using a traditional lye cure, or for making Spanish style fermented olives. They can also be cured using a water extraction process, which I explained in another post several years ago.

Curing olives leaches out the bitter compounds that make the raw olives inedible. These bitter phenolic compounds are more concentrated in green olives and decrease as the olives mature. The phenols in olives give the “peppery bite” found in many high quality extra virgin olive oils and are the primary source of the many health benefits attributed to olive oil including reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, inflammatory disease and Alzheimer’s.

We definitely like some bitterness in our olive oil, and thus prefer to harvest and press our olives green. A touch of bitterness in brined fermented olives is fine too, but all olives require leaching of the majority of bitter compounds prior to consumption, and in green olives treatment with lye is the most rapid and effective way to do this. The traditional black olives most Americans grew up eating are green lye cured olives that are then treated with iron and an oxidation process to create a black olive. Green lye cured olives have the familiar mild olive flavor that most of us grew up with. They are also like a blank slate that can then be jazzed up with a variety of flavorings depending upon your preferences.

The University of California guide to preserving olives is a dependable resource for making a variety of olives. Over the years we have tried many of their recipes, but the lye cured olives are always the most popular. The recipe in their guide along with these visuals will guide you on the steps in the process.

The first step is the olive harvest. For preserved olives, harvest carefully to prevent bruising of the fruit.


olive-harvest w

The 2015 Olive Harvest

Olives for oil are stripped from the trees onto cloths placed on the orchard floor. For preserved olives picking by hand and gently placing into a collection vessel will lessen the risk of bruising. On occasion I have picked through the “oil olives” after harvest looking for the nicest fruit and preserved those but I examine them carefully to avoid bruised olives.

You also should inspect the olive carefully for any spots which might indicate the presence of the olive fly. Do not preserve the fruit with spots.olives-with-flyw


Olives with olive fly damage. Each of these has a spot from the fly and are unacceptable for making preserved olives but can be used for olive oil.

If you have any doubts about whether the spots you see on your olives are from olive fly, cut them open and examine them. Often the damage on the inside is much worse than what might appear on the exterior.

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Olive fly damage inside the olive

If you are harvesting olives from trees that have been neglected it may be difficult to find any olives that are acceptable. We prune yearly and spray our olives several times with an organic kaolin clay compound (brand name Surround) to discourage the moths. Even with all this care, most of our olives have damage on them.

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Basket of carefully selected Sevillano Olives ready to cure

Once you harvest the olives you should treat them soon, preferably within 24 hours. Don’t chill the olives, just store them at cool room temperature until you begin processing.

The lye that is used to cure olives might be sold as a product for making soap, or as a drain cleaner. It sounds scary, as in strong concentrations it is a caustic base which can burn you if splashed on your skin or swallowed. But lye is used in a variety of processed food products that you might routinely eat, including hominy, soft baked pretzels and peeled mandarin oranges. It is even on the list of substances allowed in organic food production. Lye (sodium hydroxide) is a compound that is only harmful when in a very high concentration. Just as the acid you might add to your pool can burn you when taken straight, but can be completely safe to swim in when diluted, so the caustic base of lye can burn you when concentrated but when diluted is not harmful. When your olives are made properly, the residual amount of lye in the final product should be negligible.

Find a source of lye that is 100 percent lye. I found this lye at a local hardware store.


100 percent lye sold as drain cleaner

Read the directions on using lye in the UC guide for making olives carefully prior to beginning the lye curing process. It is very important that you read these precautions as exposure to concentrated lye can cause burns to the skin or blindness if splashed in the eyes. Remember to always protect your hands with gloves and your eyes with goggles before beginning to work with the lye solution. Be gentle during the process so you don’t splash the liquid, and don’t worry. I am uncoordinated but have been doing this for years and have never splashed it on myself.

Fill a food safe plastic bucket or other lye resistant container with enough water to cover your olives completely. I had about 3 gallons of olives, and I used 3 gallons of water. Add 3 Tablespoons of the powdered lye to each gallon of water. For this 3 gallons I used 9 Tablespoons of lye. Do not add water to lye, you should only add lye to water. Stir gently to dissolve the lye.

adding-lye-to-water w

Adding lye gently to the water.  Notice the eye and hand protection. Long sleeved shirts, long pants and shoes are recommended, and goggles are preferred over glasses too so I was somewhat negligent here! mixing-lye-and-waterw

Stir to dissolve lye in the water

Once all the lye has been added the temperature of the liquid might warm up. Check the temperature with a thermometer, and don’t add the olives until it has cooled down to cool room temperature (below 70 degrees).

Now carefull add the olives to the lye bath, again gently to avoid splashing. I put them in a glass measuring cup, then gradually tipped the cup to pour them into the solution.adding-olives-to-the-lye-bucketw

 Gently add olives to the lye bath

The olives must be protected from contact with air as this will cause discoloration. Cover the top of the olives in the bucket with a wet dish cloth. Then place a plate, a bowl or something else (I used a strainer) on top of the cloth to hold them under the liquid.

cover-lye-with-a-moist-towel-to-limit-air-exposure (1w)

A wet towel is used to hold the olives under the lye solution while curing. Put a plate or bowl or strainer on the cloth to hold the olives under.

The UC guide says to stir the olives every few hours while curing, but I only stirred them once and they seemed to cure well.

The olives are finished curing when one of the larger olives is removed from the water, rinsed and cut and the cure has softened the olive and turned the flesh green all the way to the pit. testing-lye-penetrationwThis olive is not fully cured. Note the white ring close to the pit. Cure the batch longer if your test olive looks like this.

Usually after about 12 hours my Sevillano olives are ready. Sometimes theoretically the olives may require a separate new lye cure but that has never been my experience. You can read more about that in the UC Guide.

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When the olives have been cured, you will note the lye bath has become very dark from all the compounds leached from the olives.

Once the test olive has been adequately penetrated by the lye, your lye cure is finished. You must now remove the lye from the olives. First drain the liquid from the olives by pouring them into a large strainer or colander. It is safe to pour the lye solution down the drain at this time. Return the olives to the bucket, cover the olives well with cool water, then drain them and rinse them in the strainer several times to rinse off the surface lye. During this whole process you should still be careful about avoiding any contact of the lye with your skin or eyes. Once they are rinsed the residual lye is no longer concentrated enough to be caustic.

You now will begin the process of soaking and rinsing several times per day to gradually remove the lye from the olives. Put the olives back in the bucket, cover them with water, put a clean wet cloth over the top, and let them soak for a few hours. Rinse off the water in the strainer or colander and repeat this process several times per day for at least 3 days. This process leaches the lye from the olives. The water should be completely free of any color when the olives have been adequately cleaned of the lye. The olives will no longer feel soapy or slippery. At this point you can taste an olive and should not note any soapiness or lye residue. 

Congratulations, you have successfully lye cured your olives!  Your olives are now a blank slate for flavoring. There are so many ways to flavor these plain olives. To eat some in the next few days, flavor them with a simple marinade. A good starting marinade can be made with 1 quart of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 Tablespoons of vinegar, several sliced cloves of garlic, and some hot pepper slices or flakes to taste. For some variety, rosemary, thyme or bay leaves can be added to the brine or 1/4 cup of lemon juice can replace the vinegar, and sliced lemon rind can be added. The olives are usually ready to eat after 24 hours of soaking in the marinade.


 Marinated olives with lemon, garlic and hot peppers

Olives you are not planning to eat in the next few days must be preserved for long-term storage. Preservation requires either salt or vinegar brine and refrigeration. I prefer salt as it is easier to remove with soaking and leaves me with a bland olive to flavor later.

Salt brining for storage is a multiple step process. First make a lighter brine using 3/4 cup salt per gallon of water. Soak the drained olives in this brine for about 1 week. Then drain the olives and soak them in a stronger brine of 1 1/2 cups of salt per gallon of water for 10-12 days, Now drain them again and store them in the final freshly made brine of 1 1/2 cups salt per gallon of water. Store the olives in the refrigerator int he brine and use them within 2 months. I consider the olives a seasonal treat to enjoy over the holiday season and usually finish them by New Years Day.

Home cured olives in strong salt brine ready for the holidays! 

Don’t forget to plan ahead when you want to eat these olives because they are salty! A day or two before you want to eat some olives, soak them in water in the refrigerator to remove the salt.  You can then eat them plain or flavor them by soaking in the marinade discussed previously.


© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any content in the article without the written persmission of the author is prohibited.

How to order Owari Satsuma Mandarins fresh from our California Farm

Here is Adrian beginning the mandarin harvest. A fully loaded tree can have over 300 pounds of fruit!

Our Satsuma mandarin harvest usually begins around the first of December (if the weather cooperates!). We sell bags of mandarins and gift boxes at our farm. When we are well into the season the satsumas can stack up around here.

flats of mandarins waiting to be boxed croppedFor more information about our satsuma mandarin business go to our website:

Garlic culture: successes and failures of a novice

Flowers form on the stalks of hard-necked garlic.

Well, my last post clarified my opinion on the reasons why you should know where your garlic is grown. I did not know last year that much of our garlic was coming from China, I just knew that recently I had been very unhappy with the quality of garlic I had purchased in the stores. It was often very dry, sprouting, and green in the center. It seemed “old”.  It also seemed to have gotten quite expensive. I had grown garlic years ago, and remembered how juicy and fresh the cloves seemed when they were first harvested, and I wanted some more of THAT kind of garlic so I decided to plant some again.

The good news is that garlic can be grown almost anywhere. My friends in Wyoming grew garlic successfully, even with their crazy weather. It is all about choosing the right variety. Garlic also is very space efficient, so you do not need much room to grow garlic. In fact, you could probably grow the average American yearly supply of fresh garlic (about 3 pounds) in a few  good-sized pots on your deck. Hopefully, I have motivated you to think about growing your own garlic if you have not done that yet.

We planted our garlic last fall, and began our harvest in mid June.  It has been a long time since we grew garlic successfully, and as a result, there are a few things I had forgotten that I had to “learn the hard way” this year.  I thought I would share with you a few lessons I re-learned this year.

1) Garlic should be planted in the fall. Last year we tried to plant in the spring, and ended up with tiny little heads.

This is a garlic plant in our garden which I photographed this winter

Garlic is one of the crops you just plant and sort of forget about. In cold winter areas you might put a bit of a mulch over it, but for us, we just stick it in the ground, control the weeds and wait until Spring. It is easy to grow and if you pick the right variety, you can grow it almost anywhere.

2) Make sure to plant the garlic cloves with the root (flat end) down and the top (pointed end of the clove) pointing up. It seems obvious, but I gave a beginning gardener friend of mine some cloves to plant last year and she admits now she planted a few of them upside down!

3)  Don’t wait too long to harvest. This is especially important for the garlic that has a thin outer skin with large cloves such as the hard-neck type of garlic.  For example, Spanish Rojo has amazingly large, easy-to- peel cloves, but should be harvested when only a few of the lower leaves are dead.  If you wait until the majority of the top of the plant has died, the skin on the outside will become too thin and the cloves will bust out of their skin, like this:

This garlic was harvested too late and the cloves are separating from the head

A garlic like that cannot be sold, and is not going to last very long either. In general, harvest garlic when only some of the bottom leaves have turned yellow and died.

The two other types of of hard necked garlic we grew, Kilarney and Metechi, took longer to mature and we got decent heads with not as much separation of the cloves as the Spanish Rojo. However the Spanish Rojo cloves were giant and easy to peel, so they definitely are worth growing again.

4) Dig out the garlic heads carefully with a shovel.

Do not try to pull them out by their tops, even if the soil has been loosened. If there is any resistance, especially with an over-ripe head of garlic, the top will come off from the top at the base, like this:

          Top of the garlic separated from the head

This is another garlic that cannot be sold or stored.

5)  When digging the garlic, give a wide berth. Some of the heads of the Spanish Rojo garlic were monsters, much bigger than others, and I ended up nicking some cloves with the shovel.

These cloves of garlic were cut by the shovel while digging the heads out.

This is one more head of garlic that cannot be sold or stored.  I am starting to think homemade garlic powder would be a good use for all of this booboo garlic! I also will try freezing some. Even the longest lasting garlic only stores for 8-9 months max, and I think frozen home-grown garlic would be an improvement over the shriveled-up and green sprouting (Chinese?) garlic left in the the grocery stores at the end of the winter!

6)  After storing your garlic for several weeks in a shaded dry place, clean it up. Rub off the outer dirty skin leaving as much intact skin as possible to protect the cloves. Remove all the dirt from the roots and trim them up if you like. You can also clip off the top of the plant leaving just the bulb. However, I have read that the garlic stores best if you leave as much of the roots and top of the plant as possible.

7) If you grow several varieties of garlic, grow some that are good ” keepers”. When you harvest your crop, know which garlic lasts better in storage and which doesn’t. Use the most perishable garlic first. I grew 5 varieties of garlic this year.

The garlic varieties we grew (from left to right)

Back row:  Metechi, Kilarney, Spanish Rojo (all hard-neck) and not great keepers

Front Row: Silver Rose and Ichilium (both soft-neck) and good keepers

As a side note: supposedly the hard-neck varieties of garlic we grew are said to grow better in places with cold winters. We do not have cold winters here at all, with seldom even a frost, but other than the few over-ripe Spanish Rojo garlic heads, we grew beautiful large heads of garlic successfully.  Since over 80 percent of the commercial garlic grown in the US is grown in California, my guess is most varieties will grow here successfully.

One way to store soft neck garlic is to make a garlic braid. I am very proud of the braid I made with the Ichilium garlic I grew this year. It is the first time I have made a garlic braid. The directions on this website were very helpful.

Ichilium garlic braid

8) Pick out some of the best heads to save for planting in the fall for next year’s crop.  Each clove of garlic will be planted to make a new head of garlic so keep that in mind when you are deciding how much to save. If you notice ANY white fungus on the heads of garlic at harvest, do not save those cloves, and do not reuse that area for growing garlic again.

Overall, we got a good sized harvest, some of which as you can see here.  This cart contains only the Spanish Rojo, but we had 4 other varieties to harvest as well!

All of the garlic was cured in a shaded, dry spot with plenty of air circulation (ie our garage with the garage door open during the day) for several  weeks. Then we cleaned up the heads by rubbing off the dirt, tied them in bunches by variety and stored them on these racks in a cool, dry place.

Garlic bunches on racks for storage

A few nutrition notes:

The health benefits of garlic are still being clarified, but the strongest research so far suggests that garlic has natural compounds that thin the blood. Small blood clots are often the initial insult that leads to a heart attack. Garlic also seems to have anti-bacterial properties although how this works once the garlic is eaten is still unclear. In addition garlic contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects. Studies on the health benefits of garlic have focused on it’s role in the prevention of cancer, heart disease and infectious disease.

How about you? Have you grown garlic successfully? What challenges have you faced? What varieties have grown well, or not, in your area? Feel free to share your comments:

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

My Garlic culture conundrum (or why garlic is like a canary)

It has recently come to my attention that this article was snoped. Please see this link for my response to the snope article including references. While I made a few minor changes, I stand behind the content in this article as it is currently published including the information on how to look for imported (mostly Chinese) garlic when shopping. Although I support what snope is doing, and use them as a reference for truth in the internet myself, in this case I think they took a nuanced complicated subject and tried to make it simple and came up with the wrong conclusion.

photo 1, garlic wm.It started as a simple enough blog post.  This winter I grew garlic successfully for the first time in many years, but in the process of harvesting it I made some mistakes and thought I would share them with my readers.  I had a few pictures, thought it would be fun, something light and simple. I started the blog post, then figured I would look up a bit on the web about garlic culture in California, that type of thing. I walked away from my computer 3 hours later shaking my head and steaming about the degradation and outsourcing of our food supply. Thus my conundrum. Should I let it go, stay with the simple fun blog post, or should I go down the rabbit hole in this post, covering at least a bit of what I gleaned? That is my garlic culture conundrum. Should I tell you why garlic is like a canary  in a coal mine when it comes to the safety and security of our food supply? Well, if you know me by now, you know what decision I made….

Garlic is one of the most common ingredients in a traditional Mediterranean diet. It is an essential component of sauces such as pesto (Italy)  skordalia (Greece), aioli (Southern France), and alioli (Spain), and of course garlic is used liberally in a variety of recipes as a flavoring for meat, fish, poultry, vegetables. legumes, rice, pasta and casserole dishes. Besides olive oil, there is no more ubiquitous ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. Throughout history, garlic has played an important culinary and medicinal role in Mediterranean culture.

California has it’s own special garlic culture. The world-famous Gilroy Garlic Festival is held this month on the coast of California, however in truth, most of California’s Garlic is now grown in the Central Valley where land is less expensive and there have been less problems with fungal disease. White rot, a fungal disease that renders soil unusable for garlic production, has been a challenge faced by California growers but much of California’s garlic culture is now threatened by economic forces as well.

Less than 15 years ago, California produced almost all of the garlic sold in the United States.   Now, China produces more than half of the garlic sold in the United States. In the late 90s China began flooding the market with inexpensive garlic, putting California growers out of business. Questions have been raised about the contamination of Chinese garlic with lead, sulfites and other unsafe compounds, as the food safety regulations in China are known to be lax.  Land in California is expensive, and California has some of the most stringent pesticide and food safety regulations in the world, so growing garlic in California is more expensive than growing garlic in China. California farmers just could not compete and in the last decade the amount of California land devoted to growing garlic has been cut in half.

The American consumer has more than doubled their intake of garlic over the same period of time. California garlic has been shown to have a higher sugar content (Brix) than Chinese garlic which is a factor associated with improved taste. I wonder if many consumers even know what good quality garlic is supposed to taste like.

Garlic powder and dehydrated garlic are another significant area of concern as over 75% of the garlic Americans eat is in this processed form. The majority of our garlic powder comes from China. The rapid expansion in our dependence on foreign foodstuffs seems to have left the FDA in the lurch and they are rushing to catch up by expanding their programs for inspection of imported foods. One of the primary reasons for their increased focus on imported foods is their recognition of pesticide and bacterial contamination of foods grown in China in general and heavy metal contamination of Chinese garlic powder in particular. Look on the shelves of your pantry. How much of your packaged food contains garlic, garlic powder or dehydrated garlic? Again, most of this garlic is from China. Even “organic” garlic is often from China, but it appears their organic certification methods are also questionable. Unfortunately, as we are all well aware, the FDA is one of those “big federal programs” slated for budget cuts whenever deficit reduction talks get going. So if you think the FDA is protecting your health in this area, even they admit they are not adequately staffed to do so at this time.

Have you noticed that over the past few years while the quality of garlic in the stores has been especially poor the prices have been very high? I did, which is why I went back to growing my own garlic again. In 2009 a drop in the world supply of garlic, increased demand for garlic in China as an herbal remedy to protect against flu and speculation in garlic by Chinese investors lead to a tripling of the wholesale price for garlic. But there were only half as many California growers to make up the gap. So now we were left with high prices AND poor quality.

What crop will it be the next time?  As more and more of our food production is outsourced to China, Mexico, Chile (and the next new frontier is Africa) due to our demand for cheaper food, regardless of the quality and safety, California farms are closing down and going out of business. California at one time was the primary source of the fruit consumed in America. Now more than half of our fruit is imported. If more and more farms close down, and we can no longer feed our country, what security will we have? We have already seen garlic fall prey to the whims of one country and the shrewd speculations of a few investors.  What will be next? And what will happen as the price of fuel continues to rise and we are dependent upon shipping our food all over the world because we have lost our local productive farms? And let’s not even get into the discussion about the carbon footprint of all of this.

Where is the garlic you eat grown? If you live in the US, hopefully it is grown locally or in California, not shipped all the way from China. One way to tell if your garlic is imported or is US grown is by the roots. American garlic usually has some of the roots left on the bottom, though they may be clipped very close to the base. Due to the agricultural import regulations of many countries exporters of garlic remove all soil (which requires removing every bit of root mass) prior to export. (here are Canada’s regulations for all imported garlic except that from the US) Here is an example of imported garlic. Notice that the root area is actually indented as the roots are carved away completely. Every head will be like this and this is not the same as a few head with roots cut away and some clipped close.


chinese-garlic watermarkedImported garlic: bleached white, with all root mass and dirt carved away from the bottom

Here is an example of California grown garlic with the bits of root still attached to most of the heads:California garlic watermarked

California grown garlic, with a more natural color, and root mass still visible on the bottom of most of the heads.

Unfortunately it appears you cannot trust all of the stores to be honest about where the garlic comes from. The garlic shown below was being sold at Sunflower “Farmer’s Market”  in Roseville, CA.  I have been advised by the consumer affairs department at Christopher Ranch garlic, the largest garlic company in the United States, that there are NO commerical American growers that pay the extra expense to have the roots completely removed from all of their garlic as it is not legally required for American grown products. Don’t you just love the little USA sign next to this garlic that has been processed in the way that only imported garlic is processed?

Garlic processed in a manner associated with imported garlic only (all root material removed from every head), but marked as “Product of the USA” . Photo taken at Sunflower Market in Roseville, California.

I wonder if there are other fruits and vegetables imported from China, Mexico or whatever, that are also mislabeled. With garlic one can see the difference, but what about green beans, zucchini, peppers? I did email the USDA regarding my finding at Sunflower, but I got no response, so I am curious as to whether anyone actually enforces the Country of Origin labeling laws. If you are paying extra for American or California Grown produce, it seems it is not clear that you are always getting what you are paying for. This is yet another reason to buy from a local farm, CSA or a real “farmer’s market”.

Well. now that I have gotten THAT off of my chest, I would like to get back to the subject at hand, which was originally my garlic culture successes and blunders. However, I have exceeded by far the recommended length for one blog post. Rather than overwhelm you with so much to think about at one time, today I will let you ponder all the reasons why you really should find a source of local garlic, or better yet grow your own. In a few days check here again for my next blog post about my tips on growing garlic.

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

The Rocky Mountain Locavore: Gardening, Cooking, Eating and Drinking in Wyoming

Cody, Wyoming

Every gardener has their complaints about the weather and how it thwarts their best efforts to grow as much variety as possible. My sister has challenges with the weather occasionally being too cool to ripen tomatoes in her mild Sonoma County wine country climate. 100 miles away, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, we complain that the summers are often so hot in August that all of our summer vegetables stop producing for a time. However, very few gardeners face the climactic challenges that my friends Laurie and Tom faced when they moved from Sacramento, California to Cody, Wyoming. Our recent visit there was a lesson in resiliency in growing and eating locally.

Cody is in USDA zone 4, with an average annual winter extreme low temperature of minus 20 degrees. Their last frost date in the Spring is sometime in mid-May, and the first frost is sometime in mid-September, giving them a growing season of a maximum of about 4 months for any frost sensitive fruits and vegetables. Historically, freak freezing temperatures have been recorded at least once for every month of the year except July. Dry winds blow much of the time, and the humidity is extremely low. These are challenging conditions for a gardener.

This is the spot where our friends grew their outdoor garden last year. The garden was tilled and ready to plant when we arrived on May 6.

The Wyoming garden plot ready to be planted

While we were there my husband Adrian helped Tom plant some onions. The potatoes and garlic were already in the ground in another spot. The garlic had been planted in the fall where it had been growing under a thick layer of mulch.

When you are fond of Mediterranean climate foods, sometimes you get creative in an attempt to grow your favorite treats. Here is Tom in the greenhouse and yes, in addition to the tomatoes, strawberries, and artichokes, those are fig trees in the greenhouse.

Watering the plants in the greenhouse

The strawberries from the greenhouse were the sweetest strawberries I have ever eaten. So far, the indoor fig harvest has been small.  They planted just about every variety they could find, and this year the trees with the largest fruit set are: Peter’s Honey, Tarantella, Chicago Hardy, Desert King and Neverella. They will transplant the artichokes to the garden soon.

They are still debating whether to keep the tomatoes in the greenhouse all summer or try to move them out to the garden at some point. Last year, the tomatoes were in the garden when they had an early freeze in the beginning of September so they had to pull up all of the plants with the tomatoes attached, hang them in the barn, and gradually pick the tomatoes from the plants as they ripened. They also enjoyed plenty of fried green tomatoes.

You may remember my last post about my measly bean harvest shown below:

My sad little bean harvest from last year

Faced with my own bean-growing disabilities despite living in the “fruit and vegetable capitol of the United States”,  their dried bean harvest was awe-inspiring to me. This is what they had left this spring after eating their home-grown beans for much of the winter:

Wyoming heirloom bean harvest

Take a look at all the varieties of heirloom beans they were able to grow in Wyoming:

Vermont Cranberry

Tiger Eye

Scarlet Runner



Limelight Lima

King of the Early


Jacob’s Cattle



Agate Pinto

All of the beans above are bush beans. They also grew one type of pole bean successfully:

Gold of Bacau Pole Bean

Most of the bean seeds were purchased from Fedco seeds .

They also grew an unusual type of garbanzo bean that you can pop:

Hannan pop garbanzo bean

One evening we enjoyed the Pizza Tom cooked in the wood-fired brick oven.

Tom loading pizza into the brick oven.

Pizza in the wood fired brick oven

After the pizza was cooked beans were put in the still hot oven.

Laurie uses a bean pot for the beans. She covers the beans with about 2 inches of water and bakes them in the covered pot in the brick oven until the beans are tender.

Bean pot in the brick oven.

The Marfax beans were cooked simply this way, with minimal seasonings. They were delicious reheated and served the next day with tortillas and salsa.

Wood oven roasted Marfax beans

They also used the brick oven for baking bread several times while we were there.

Chickens are also being raised for both meat and eggs.

Laurie feeding the chickens

In California, I have been on mushroom hunts in the North Coast, and everyone is lusting after the elusive King Boletes, otherwise known as Porcini mushrooms. Collecting even one of these mushrooms in considered a prize. Laurie and Tom have found fields of boletes while riding or hiking in the hills of Wyoming. These were harvested and dried and stored for later use.

Dried Wyoming King Boletes mushrooms

The boletes made a great sauce for some delicious local lamb one evening for dinner. Locally grown lettuce for salad and home-grown potatoes which had been stored over the winter completed the meal. After dinner the lambs are also a source of entertainment.

“Little Richard” the baby lamb

Mama lamb thinks baby is a pillow

Prior to moving to Wyoming, Tom made some killer red wines from California Zinfandel and Barbera grapes.  Unfortunately, grapes do not grow well in Zone 4, so his grape fermentation projects were put to a halt. Adhering to the code of eating locally, he continued to ferment grains, which grow well in Wyoming. Fermented grains are beer, and Tom has made some great batches of beer over the years. However, recently he decided to take it to the next level, by opening a licensed distillery and using locally grown wheat to make spirits.

The distillery

The silos to the left of the distillery hold the locally grown wheat which is fermented in open top fermentation tanks.

Fermenting wheat

The wheat mash is then pumped into the still.

The mash inside of the still

Here is a photo of Tom with the American made still, purchased from Vendome. in Kentucky. As the mash heats, the volatilized alcohol rises up the tall distillation column in the back of the still.

Tom and the still

The condensed distillate is then separated by Tom into 3 categories, heads, hearts and tails, in the tank shown below. The decision of what constitutes the “hearts”, which is the final product, is the art and science of the master distiller.

The separation tank with the three sections for heads, hearts and tails

The final spirit is then siphoned into oak barrels for aging. Here you can see Tom topping off the barrels with a funnel. Note that the spirit is completely clear when added to the barrel. The golden color of aged distilled spirits such as whisky is imparted into the product during the barrel aging process.

Siphoning whisky into the barrel

Finally, the barrels are stored in a barrel house for aging.

The Barrel House

While we were there, some of the first batches of Single Track Spirits all wheat whisky were fermented, distilled, siphoned into oak barrels and tucked away in the barrel house.

The first 7 barrels of Single Track Spirits Wheat Whisky safely tucked into the barrel house

I returned home from Wyoming to my own gardening challenges. The branches of the apricot trees that had a promising fruit set on them looked like this when I returned.

Dead apricot branch

It looks like I will go without apricots again this year. However, our citrus trees seem to have experienced a substantial fruit set, and the lemon branch looked like this when I looked at it today.

Lemon branch: Each one of those green nubbins will eventually be a lemon

I thought of my friends in Wyoming, who have managed to eat locally despite their numerous climactic challenges. Eating locally means using what you have and using it well. In my case it reminds me of the old adage:  “When you have lemons, make lemonade.”  In the case of  the resilient Wyoming Locavore, you might substitute: “When you have wheat, make whisky” !

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Heirloom Beans

An exciting development in California has been the growth of the “heirloom bean” industry. Look beyond the standard grocery store, and you will find you are no longer limited to pinto beans, kidney beans, white navy beans, lentils and split peas. Farmers markets, specialty food stores and online retailers now offer dozens of varieties of beans, with unique tastes and flavor characteristics that bring real excitement to cooking with this humble food. Even Thomas Keller of the world-famous French Laundry restaurant has a special variety of bean he purchases from Rancho Gordo.

While the price of many “heirloom” foods is dear (5 dollar tomatoes, 100 dollar Thanksgiving Turkeys etc.) heirloom beans are an affordable luxury. At 5 dollars or so per pound, they are more expensive than your standard kidney beans, but in terms of overall value for the food dollar they are a bargain. A 5 dollar bag of beans can make a hearty main dish for at least 4 people, with as much protein as 3 ounces of meat for each person. And the protein from beans has a much lower carbon footprint than animal protein as well.

In terms of the labor involved in growing these beans, I can assure you, they are an amazing bargain at this price.  I tried growing some heirloom beans this summer, and after 5 months of tending the trailing vines I ended up with a small handful of beans. They were hard to shell too. Here is what I ended up with:

I am thankful to the passionate farmers who are keeping these rare varieties of beans alive so that we can enjoy them. I am afraid that my bean growing skills might lead these rare varieties to become extinct!

Once you see the beautiful array of colors, and taste the unique flavors, you realize these new heirloom beans are “not your grandmother’s beans”.  The first time I had my current favorite, The Good Mother Stallard Beans, which are available to order online from Ranch Gordo or The Chili Smith,  I was taken aback by the rich meaty flavor and I just had to have more. I wanted to learn more about heirloom beans so I decided to make a trip to the Rancho Gordo store in Napa to see for myself what they had to offer. I had a great little visit, poking around the store, asking the friendly employees lots of questions, looking at the cool bean cooking pots they had, trying to set a limit on how much I should take home. The beans were all so pretty and all so different it was hard to say no to any of them.

I left the store with the following bounty in my bag:

I plan to cook all these beans in a simple manner so that I can truly appreciate the complexities of flavor associated with these different varieties.  Most heirloom beans are so fresh, you do not need to soak them before cooking.  I have also found that because they are so fresh, they tend to have less of the gassy producing indigestible carbohydrates in them. I really have had no problems with bloating and gas with the heirloom bean varieties I have tried. I usually limit the amount of garlic and onions I prepare with the beans and I think that helps as well.

As you can imagine, I was biting at the bit to dig into those Good Mother Stallard beans.

This is what those beauties looked like when I took them out of the bag:

This is my general bean cooking recipe that I plan to use for all of these heirloom bean varieties. Always wash the beans and remove all stones or other grit before using them.

For a small batch for 2 put 1/2 pound of the beans in a pot and cover them well with water. The water should be about 2 inches above the beans. Add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 bay leaf, a pinch of sage, 1 clove of garlic thinly sliced and 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Bring the beans to a boil, then cover them and simmer on the lowest possible heat. Check them every 15 minutes or so, and add more water if necessary. The beans should always be well covered with water. After about an hour or so, begin checking the beans by tasting one to see if the texture is soft. Once they are cooked all the way through, turn off the heat and they are ready to serve.

You can do a quick soak method as an alternative, and this may remove even more of the gas-producing compounds in the beans. Bring them to a boil, then turn off the heat and let them sit for an hour. Pour off that water, add fresh water and the other seasonings and cook them as noted above.

Behold, the unadorned Good Mother Stallard bean in all her glory. A simple food, and simply delicious.

Nutrition tips: Legumes, which include dried beans and peas, are an important component of the traditional healthy Mediterranean diet. A variety of legumes are served simply as a side dish or used  to make spreads such as hummus or white bean puree, added to soups and stews, or served cold in salads. The California Mediterranean diet includes the traditional Mediterranean varieties and uses of legumes, but also includes the varieties of beans and flavors of the New World, including Latin and South America. In these agrarian cultures beans and legumes have served as an inexpensive source of protein, iron, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Legumes are also an excellent source of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels, and it is likely this has contributed to the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.