Stacking Functions Garden


And now, squash vine borers

Well, that’s it. I’m pretty much ready to throw in the towel on 2011’s garden. It’s been one thing after another around here — thank goodness I don’t have to actually sustain my family on this garden because we’d be facing one lean winter. Earlier this week I noticed my squash and pumpkin vines were looking a little wilty. Then today they seemed a LOT wilty:

I could see this little guy from several feet away:

squash vine borer

It’s a squash vine borer. This is my first experience with them. We ended up pulling out ALL of the squash and pumpkin plants. So depressing. They were full of these little worms. I didn’t dare compost them, so we bagged everything up and threw it in the garbage.

The good news: these borers do not attack cucumber plants, so hopefully my pickle crop is still safe.

U of M Extension has some really great info on preventing squash vine borers.  Among the ideas:

You can physically exclude adult borers by placing floating row covers over your vine crops when they start to vine (or for non-vining varieties, starting late June or early July) or when you first detect squash vine borer adults. Keep the barriers in place for about two weeks after the first adult borer has been seen. Be sure the row covers are securely anchored to prevent adults from moving underneath it.

Caution: Generally do not use floating row covers anytime crops are flowering. This prevents bees from pollinating your vegetables…

My favorite garden pest book suggested pulling out all the diseased parts, squashing every worm you find, then pushing the healthy part of the vine into the soil and piling some compost on top in hopes that it will send out roots and maybe (maybe) I’ll have a chance of still getting a pumpkin.  I tried it with one really healthy-looking vine, but I’ll be surprised if it works.

Well, there’s always next year I guess.  Here’s a picture of the adult, for future reference:

adult squash vine borer

I never saw these guys in late June, but they look a bit like boxelder bugs — which we had A LOT of, so they probably just blended right in.

First time I’ve tried to grow pumpkins and squash, and it was a fail. Really, maybe I’ll just plant my entire garden with garlic, chamomile, and mint next year. Fail-proof, right?


Cooking with lard

Yes, you read that right.  We’ve been experimenting with lard, on and off, for a few months now.  We’ve cut really, really far back on most processed foods in our lives, but there was one thing we still needed ye olde tub of shortening for: pie crust.  Adam is semi-famous for his pie crusts, and was reluctant to trade in something that he knew worked well for the unknown.

Now the results are in: he finally made a pumpkin pie crust with lard instead of vegetable shortening, and I am telling you: it was the most delicious crust I’ve ever eaten.  Light, flakey, and the kids went crazy for it.

We also made some ginger cookies with a half lard/half butter combination last week:

They too were delicious.

I was really nervous about using lard in baked goods because when you open up the container it smells like, well, it smells like what your kitchen smells like about 4 hours after frying bacon.  Not so appetizing.  Furthermore, we tried frying with it a few times —  once for popcorn and once for fish — and it really  made the kitchen smell icky.  I have to say, though, that both the popcorn and the fish tasted really good, with no hint of bacon flavor.  Strange, yes?

Adam was reading his Ratio cookbook and Ruhlman recommends using lard only in highly-spiced baked goods — apparently that bacony flavor can come through if you make, say, simple short-bread cookies with lard.  That makes sense to me.

But what about the health implications of all this?  Well, it never would have occurred to me to seek out lard until I read about it in Nourishing Traditions last year.  You will not be surprised to learn that Fallon and the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend using lard in cooking, as well as duck fat, chicken fat, and beef tallow.  But what about the saturated fat?  Well, let’s talk about that for a minute.

First, let’s look at this simple breakdown of Crisco shortening, Spectrum Organic Shortening (which we have been using in pie crusts), and lard.  Behold, the first-ever New Home Economics TABLE:

Name Total Fat Saturated Mono-
Crisco 12g 3g 3g 6g 0g
Spectrum Organic 13g 6g 5g 2g 0g
lard 12g 4.8g 5.76g 1.4g 0g

Now, keep in mind: the amounts for the lard can vary depending on the pig’s diet. I got these amounts from Nourishing Traditions, which most likely assumes that you’re getting lard from pastured/grass-fed/free-range (whatever) pigs. I bought mine from the co-op, and it comes from Grass Run Farm in Iowa.

Why the difference in saturated fat between the Crisco and the Spectrum?  Spectrum bases their shortening on palm oil, which is a highly-saturated tropical oil.  Crisco is more of the “we’re afraid to raise our saturated fat profile” line of thinking, so they rely instead on polyunsaturates.

Which leads me to my next question: what are they replacing trans-fats with, anyway? It’s not like food processors can just remove trans fat and have all their food still taste just as good.  It’s got to be replaced with something.  Searching around trying to find the answer to this led me to, among other places: a super creepy article from the “Homepage of the Food and Beverage Industry” that describes “The Four Paths to Sans Trans” — among them are replacing trans fats with interesterified fats and genetically modifying soy beans to get a soy-based oil that is friendlier to food processing.  NICE.  If the name alone doesn’t scare you, check out more info on interesterified fats.

Even if you are not a pie-making, cookie-baking fool, all of this should still concern you if you eat ANY PROCESSED FOOD AT ALL.

So yeah, you might say that I am now a lard convert.  Never thought I’d hear myself say that.  And it’s not like I’m going to start slathering it on everything I eat.  But in certain situations, it works really well, and it is MUCH less scary than the alternatives (although the Spectrum shortening is a bit less scary than the Crisco — that high polyunsaturate number in Crisco is a red flag to me).

To the people living in fear of saturated fat, think about this: our bodies need a little bit of saturated fat.  Many vitamins, such as E and D, are much easier for our bodies to assimilate if they accompany a bit of the good stuff.  On the other hand, our bodies most definitely do NOT need ANY amount of interesterified, trans, and whatever other highly-processed thing food processors want to tempt us with.  Did I mention that lard is high in vitamin D?  (So is butter, FYI.)

Finally, there are several sustainability aspects to this.  Palm oil, like that found in my Spectrum shortening, is a major contributor to deforestation in tropical areas.  Not to mention it has to be shipped all the way to the U.S., processed, and then shipped to me.  Lard is a byproduct, yo.  The lard I bought came from Iowa.  I could conceivably make lard myself, if I had the inclination.

So what do you think?  Are you willing to take the plunge and try it?  It took me a long time of staring at that container before I took a deep breath and used it, but now a little research both online and in the kitchen have turned me into a believer.

Update, November 6, 2010: I just found this article explaining more of the science behind interesterification, and also some other interesting information about saturated/trans/interesterified fats.  Check it out!

Update, February 24, 2011: Here’s a takedown of the new USDA nutritional guidelines, and some of the best questioning of the lipid hypothesis that I’ve seen in a long time.  A must-read!

Update, March 4, 2011: Wow, the mainstream media is really catching on. This was all over my Twitter feed todayCivil Eats says “If you work out the numbers, you come to the surreal conclusion that you can eat lard straight from the can and conceivably reduce your risk of heart disease.”  Awesome.

Update, February 23, 2012: Save the orangutans. Eat lard.


Recipe: pumpkin pie with gingersnap crust

We made a pumpkin pie yesterday.  We got the recipe from the box of Mi-Del gingersnap cookies that we bought recently in a moment of weakness at the co-op.  It has almost no sugar, and all natural ingredients.  The kids helped us make it, and it turned out great.

Download a printable PDF of this recipe

Gingersnap crust
1 1/2 c. crushed gingersnap cookies (the Mi-Dels are tiny and you need about 30)
5 T. butter, melted

First things first.  Crush your cookies:


Stir in the melted butter and press into a pie pan (preferably glass or ceramic):


Now bake for about 7 minutes at 350 degrees.  While it’s baking, mix up the pie filling:

Pumpkin Pie Filling
1/2 c. cream
1/2 c. maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree (or 2 c. frozen pumpkin, pureed)
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ginger, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt

First, mix together the eggs, cream, and maple syrup:


In a separate bowl combine the pumpkin, flour, and spices:


Then mix the two together and pour into your prepared crust:


Bake at 350 degrees F, 45-55 minutes or until center is firm.


Beautiful, especially with real whipped cream.

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Easy way to use pumpkin or squash

When the kids were babies, we used to make frozen baby food for them.  We ended up making a lot of squash, because it was so easy.   I realized pretty quickly how convenient it is to have frozen squash on hand — you can mix a cube or two into pretty much anything.  Here’s how:


Cut your squash or pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds.  Don’t be too meticulous about the strings — they’re actually really good for you so go ahead and leave them in.  Place the pieces cut-side down in a baking pan, and add about 1/2 in. of water to the bottom.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 for about an hour or until soft.


Let it cool a while if you like; it will be easier to handle.  Then scrape out the cooked flesh and press it into ice cube trays:



This very small pie pumpkin filled almost 2 trays.  Freeze until set, then put cubes in a freezer-safe gallon-size plastic bag.  5 cubes = about 1 c. pumpkin.

You can use this for so many things.  I love cooking with squash and pumpkin, but I absolutely hate when I see the words “peel, cube, and dice” associated with any type of winter squash.  That is a huge undertaking.  I’d much rather grab some cubes and throw them in.  Here are some things you can do with pumpkin or squash that has been frozen like this:

1. Baby food – start with 2 cubes, thawed.  (Note: watch out for the strings.  Might not hurt to give this a whirl in a food processor before freezing for very small babies, so they don’t choke.)
2. Add 2-3 cubes to oatmeal as it’s cooking, then add cinnamon, cloves, dried ginger and a bit of sugar for pumpkin pie oatmeal.
3. Use it in pumpkin or squash soup recipes like this one.
4. Use it in any baking recipe (pumpkin bread, cookies) that calls for canned pumpkin.  Note that it’s a little bit runnier than canned pumpkin; you will want to reduce the liquid in your recipe by a little bit.
5.  Sneak a couple of cubes into boxed macaroni and cheese to add a little bit of nutrition.