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I receive a food stamp benefit, and I've been able to use it to buy food plants to grow in my garden, but I would like to be able to grow food from seed. Do you know if the benefit covers seeds for food crops?
Thanks for pointing out that food stamp benefits can be used for food plants! I consulted with legal experts at Seattle's Solid Ground and found out that the benefit does include seeds. Here is the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program web-site where this is stated:
"Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy: Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat."
According to the historical information on the website of SNAP Gardens, this benefit has existed since 1973, when the Food Stamp Act was amended to include "seeds and plants for use in gardens to produce food for the personal consumption of the eligible household." You would still need to obtain the seeds from an existing vendor who accepts the food stamp benefit.
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Are the fruits of Mahonia x media 'Charity' edible, similar to Mahonia x media?
First, an aside: Mahonia has been 'moved' to Berberis, so that now Mahonia x media is named Berberis x hortensis, and Mahonia aquifolium is now Berberis aquifolium. Since the resouces I will be quoting use the former names, I will leave them as they are.
Here's what British author Alys Fowler says in her book, The Thrifty Forager (Kyle Books, 2011):
"All Mahonia species are edible, long-used for jams and juices in their native homes [...] Sometimes you'll find Mahonia nervosa, the Oregon grape, with the roundest grape-like berries. It looks very like Mahonia aquifolium but usually fruits later, around early autumn. [...] Even when fully ripe, the acidic berries [of all Mahonia species] are too bitter to eat raw--they should be cooked into pies, jellies and jams. The flowers are edible, but bitter. The fruit needs to be picked and processed into jam or jelly very quickly, and it stains everything. It's very low in pectin, so either add crab apples or add liquid pectin, following the usual jam making rules. You can also make an Oregon grape cordial which tastes a bit like blackcurrant cordial. Because of the low sugar content, it will need to be frozen if you want to store it--it's a very sharp cordial, I use 350-400g (just under 1 lb) if granulated sugar to 600 ml (1 pint) of fruit. If that's still too sharp, try mixing it with concentrated apple juice to sweeten it."
Plants for a Future Database has pages for several Mahonia and Berberis species, including Mahonia x media, and its fruit is listed as edible.
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There's a type of willow used traditionally in Iran to make a fragrant beverage. In Farsi, it's called bid, and I think it's also known as musk willow. I need to know what the species is, and I wonder if it will grow in the Seattle area.
Most sources I consulted confirm that musk willow or bid is Salix aegyptiaca. Encyclopaedia Iranica says "bid" is a general term for the genus Salix, but does identify "musk willow" as Salix aegyptiaca. The online version of W.J. Bean's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: Temperate Woody Plants in Cultivation says the following:
"Native of S.E. Anatolia, S.E. Transcaucasia and N. Persia; introduced to the Botanic Garden at Innsbruck in 1874 by Dr Polak, doctor to the Shah of Persia, and in cultivation at Kew five years later. At one time a perfumed drink was made in Moslem lands from its male catkins, which were also sugared and eaten as a sweetmeat, and used for perfuming linen. For these it was cultivated from Egypt to Kashmir and central Asia, so the epithet aegyptiaca is not so inappropriate as it would otherwise seem to be."
Salix aegyptiaca is featured in the February 2016 issue of the Royal Horticultural Society's publication, The Garden in an article entitled "Willow the wish" by David Jewell. Since the article recommends it for gardens in England, where the climate is similar to ours here in the Pacific Northwest, it will probably thrive here in Seattle as well.
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Lemon: A Global History by Toby Sonneman (Reaktion Books, 2012
I've always wondered about the warty etrog (citron, or Citrus medica) used as part of the Jewish observance of Sukkot (etrog represents one of The Four Species mentioned in the Biblical description of this festival; the others are palm, myrtle, and willow): what purpose did the fruit serve beyond the ritual, and how was this odd-looking fruit related to lemon? The answers to these and many other citrus-related questions may be found in Toby Sonneman's Lemon: A Global History, a volume in the Edible series from Reaktion Books (2012). It was a surprise to discover the important role of the citron (probably a wild species from northeast India) in the development of a 'citrus culture' that eventually gave rise to the lemon we use for its flavor. Citron, thick-skinned and inedible, was valued for its fragrance (mentioned in a Hindu text from before 800 B.C.E.). Its centuries-old use in Jewish ritual would eventually lead to cultivation in different parts of the world after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E., when so many Jews dispersed across North Africa, into the Aegean, Spain, and Italy.
The lemon was probably an ancient natural hybrid, and its route to the Mediterranean is difficult to trace because of the confusion in written and visual depictions: lemons and citrons are hard to distinguish, and common names can be unreliable. Lemons hold an important place in Arab culture, and were also prized in Persia. Because of the lemon's need for water, farmers developed ingenious irrigation canals with stone tiles to regulate and direct water flow, these methods were widely adopted.
The first recipes using lemon appeared in a 12th century Egyptian treatise called On Lemon: Its Drinking and Use by Ibn Jumay, a Jewish physician in the court of Saladin. He devised a way of preserving lemons with salt, and mentions the fruit's medicinal uses for a wide range of conditions. Ibn Jumay's writing was translated, and lemon's culinary and medicinal fame spread.
Other points of interest:
- Lemons were scarce and costly, and therefore a status symbol, in Northern Europe. You will find them in many 17th century Dutch still life paintings.
- Cosimo III de'Medici grew 116 varieties of citrus in his gardens. The name Medici is possibly related to the name for citron, Median apple (Media being the Greek name for ancient Persia).
- It took a long time for sea voyagers to figure it out, but lemons were an essential preventive against scurvy. (If you think about the term 'ascorbic' acid--something which is found in lemons and other citrus--you can see that it is anti-scurvy!) British English does not use 'lemon' in the pejorative sense of American English, perhaps a bow to the fruit's life-saving properties.
- Harvesting lemons is a thorny business but the Meyer lemon has fewer thorns.
This pocket history reaches from antiquity to the present time, and is packed with colorful details and illustrations. You may also want to try making Ibn Jumay's preserved lemons, included along with several other more recent recipes.
Dates: A Global History by Nawal Nasrallah is another title in the Edible series from Reaktion Books. An unusual aspect of the fruit (technically a berry) of the date palm tree is that it may be harvested at three different stages of ripeness--the ultrasweet dates one usually finds for sale in groceries are at the final stage, when they have sun-dried on the tree and the skin has begun to wrinkle and darken. Dates have been used as a food staple for centuries. Once called 'bread of the desert' and 'cake for the poor,' dates are still considered of vital importance in combatting world hunger.
Other aspects of the date palm:
- Once a full crown of leaves has developed, the trunk does not widen with age; there are no annual growth rings if one cuts a cross-section. Leaves which die off protect the trunk with their bases that remain attached. The tree's roots are fibrous, and secondary roots grow out of the bottom of the trunk. Both a male and female tree are needed to produce fruit. Trees must be hand-pollinated in spring (this has been common knowledge since the days of Mesopotamian agriculture!).
- Even in the days of Pliny the Elder, there were numerous varieties of dates. The ones American consumers will probably recognize are medjool and deglet noor, but there are nightingale's eggs (beidh il-bilbil), khalasa (quintessence), and even an Obama date named for our president.
- Although we mainly think of date palms for their edible uses, the hollowed trunks were made into aqueduct pipes for irrigation, and were used in building (the first mosque in Medina, built in about 630 C.E., was reportedly made of palm trunks, thatched with palm leaves, with prayer mats of woven leaves).
- Indio in Southern California is the date capital of the U.S., and holds an annual date festival.
The book ends with several tempting recipes (sweet ones such as a 13th-century recipe for date syrup, and a personal favorite: a filled cookie called ma'moul, as well as savory uses).
Like the other books in this series, this title includes footnotes, bibliography, and index.
Review by Plant Answer Line librarian Rebecca Alexander
Season: All Season
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January 13 2017 10:35:53