Home Economics, Deer Processing and the Value of a Buck, Part II

Home Economics Part II: Dear Processing and the Value of a Buck

Home Economics

Deer Processing and the Value of a Buck, Part II

Up here in cold country, venison in the freezer is good insurance.  That not only applies for beautiful NW Montana, but for anyone who spends the short afternoons of Autumn boiling hog bodies, dragging a deer carcass or plucking feathers only to tirelessly cut, chop and/or grind up meat.  If that is you, you know the value of food put up for the winter.  The subject of home economics is indeed one often learned by watching others or it might be taught by the unavoidable mathematics of stores on the shelf divided by mouths to feed. 

Continue reading Home Economics, Deer Processing and the Value of a Buck, Part II

Home Economics, Deer Processing and the Value of a Buck, Part I

Value of a Buck part 1

Christmas came and went this year with splendid simplicity and great memories with family and friends.  Chaya and I took some time to pick up some books that are perpetually on the night stand throughout some of the busier parts of the year.  One topic that has always been of interest to us here at Pantry Paratus is the subject of Home Economics, and so I was especially curious when I came across a tweet by Michael Pollan citing this Huffington Post article

Continue reading Home Economics, Deer Processing and the Value of a Buck, Part I

Off-Grid Micro-Hydro Homestead

Off-Grid Micro-Hydro homestead

Microhydro Electricity Unplugged



Microhydro, its simplicity is so attractive.  So, you have always wanted to do it . . . go off grid and be self-sufficient.   What does it actually take?  From everyone I have spoken to who actually has done it, the answer seems to be, “Take your estimated cost for time, energy and money and triple it.” 

 Still reading this? 

Continue reading Off-Grid Micro-Hydro Homestead

Two Is One and One Is None: What is your Single Point of Failure?

Two is One and One is None: What is Your Single Point of Failure?

Some technical difficulties range from “Wow, that was annoying,” to the type of events that can make you want to lose your religion.  The constant prompts to “listen carefully as our voice menu options have changed” annoy me, because I am constantly caught up in the spin cycle of man’s evolution for automated phone answering systems.  Compare that to having your hard drive fail on your laptop; this can bring you to the point of finding out whether you are as emotionally well adjusted as you think you are.

Continue reading Two Is One and One Is None: What is your Single Point of Failure?

Preserving Summer’s End (Part 2)

Preserving Summer’s End (Part 2)

Making the best of the sunshine last through the winter

I like fruits and vegetables all year round.   Since I am not living in the Southland but am in Montana,  I need to find a way to preserve the best of summer for the rest of the year.  I showed you how I dehydrated the bulk of what I bought at the farmer’s market in the first blog in this series; now I want to wrap up the dehydration and cover some fermentation.

Produce from Farmers' Market

Truth be told, I like dehydrating the best.  In fact, Chaya was just teaching about it at the Zone 4 Live! event in Pray, MT!  Dehydrating is my favorite because it is so hard to mess it up.  I love a nifty kitchen gadget, but the simplest one that I own is the Excalibur Dehydrator.  It is the work horse for DIY food preservation.
Chaya adds: “Wilson is right, it is hard to mess up, and once you own the dehydrator there is no recurring costs to it.  It preserves more of the nutritional value than any other preservation method and the food has a shockingly long shelf life.  You can’t beat it!”


Parsley & Basil

Dehydrated Parsley

I am going to combine these two herbs into one section because to process them is identical and I made an error in taking the photos.  Here it goes . . .

Cutting Parsley

First thing I do is to cut the parsley.  This is not all that scientific, and you need not worry yourself with how even the cuts are.  Once the parsley comes out of the dehydrator you can crush it up to be as small as you like.  For now, I am just going to chop and drop it right onto the mesh dehydrator tray.

Weighting Down Herbs

Weigh down herbs by adding a mesh lining on top and placing

something like chopsticks on top.

Now, I have never seen this written in a book anywhere, but I believe that I can save you some frustration here.  I take one extra mesh dehydrator tray and put it on top of the cut herbs.  When either parsley or basil are hydrated, they will not blow away in the moving air from the dehydrator fan.  However, after the moisture is removed, they will migrate to the front of your dehydrator and if you are lucky you can sweep up the best parts in the bottom of the dehydrator. Chaya recommends using paraflexx sheets underneath; although not necessary, sometimes the small dehydrated bits fall through the mesh; it’ll keep your dehydrator cleaner and make it simpler to jar the dehydrated herbs. If you try this method (I added the chop sticks for extra ballast) you can keep almost all of your herbs and not experience an attrition like I described.

Finished Dehydrated Basil

When you are getting the finished product into the jar, you will inevitably get some on the table or counter which is not a big deal, just sweep them up and add those to the jar.  Other than that, you can see that this is $1.50 in parsley—try getting that on the spice aisle in the grocery store!  This is really the way to get fresh herbs into your diet through the winter at a fraction of the cost.

Sweeping up Parsley


Montana Kimchi

Adding Onions to Kimchi

So, I would love to tell you that this is a secret family recipe that was passed down to me, but that would not be true.  Actually, this came from some adverse times when Chaya and I were very poor.  We would ask the produce people at the local grocery store to put aside the “trim” from that day in a box and we would pay some nominal fee for it.  What is trim?  That is what they pick from the produce displayed in the grocery store and throw away because it is not visually appealing; what was not edible for us was a treat for the chickens, ducks, and goose.  So, if you do not mind bruises or a few brownish spots, then you had a real bargain.  From these boxes of produce we started making “Trim-chi” which was upcycled to “Montana Kimchi” later on and has remained with us as a favorite.

Use Exterior Leafy Green

While we are not starting with oozing onions anymore, we are still working off the premise of not wasting anything (actually, my Italian Nonnie would be very proud if she were still alive to read this).  Here I am starting off with the exterior green tough layers from the cabbage.  Since I bought this at the farmer’s market, and I know (because I could ask her) that they did not spray it with pesticides, therefore the outside leaves are edible*, so I cut them up and toss them in the mixing tub.

Cut Cabbage into small wedges

When it comes to cutting cabbage for fermentation, the best tool hands down is a food slicer.  However, I wanted to show the manual method here and one particularly useful trick is to cut the dense cabbage in small wedges.  While my OCD tendencies would make me want to slice it uniformly into thin bands (thus, my affinity for the food slicer) all the way across the head of the cabbage, this works out to be cheaper than therapy and more efficient for food preservation.

Cabbage for Kimchi

Do you recall from Part 1 where I had you set aside the stringy root bits and carrot tops?  Here is where we use them.

Carrot Tops in Kimchi

As the saying goes, “It’s all good for Gumbo.”  Well, I do not actually venture into putting squid into my Montana Kimchi, but just about anything is good to add and carrot roots and tops are no exception here.

Chard in Kimchi


I did the same with the chard leaves and stalks, the green chive tops of the onions.

Adding Chard to Kimchi

Just about anything is good to add try apples, garlic or hot peppers; I have even heard of people using potato peels.  Fermentation is equal opportunity goodness. 

Where dehydration is pretty generous and hard to mess up and baking bread is more of an exact science, fermentation falls somewhere in the middle for level of difficulty.  There are a few things that you want to know upfront: you will mess it up at least once, always provide for oxygen (avoid anaerobic conditions!), let the bacteria do the work and have patience.

Non-iodized salt is important

In this particular batch, I am counting on the lactobacillus on the cabbage and chard to start the process, but to help it out and to keep the other bacteria at bay I need to lower the pH.  To do that I am adding non-iodized salt (canning salt, sea salt from Pantry Paratus, or kosher salt will work) and kneading/mixing thoroughly by hand.  The salt has two functions: lowers the pH to create an acidic environment that the lactobacillus can work in, and it draws moisture out of the vegetable matter to create a liquid solution.

Splash of Wine-Vinegar

You will be surprised at how compact the vegetable matter becomes after the salt starts to work.  As the water follows the solute (salt), you will also notice a lot of liquid at the bottom of the bowl or tub in which you are kneading this—this is a good sign.  For this batch, I am adding just a splash of a home-fermented wine vinegar with mother mixture to lower the pH and get the fermentation party happening quicker.

Pack Kimchi into jars

Lastly, I packed the Montana Kimchi into half gallon jars using a wooden spoon handle to compact it. You may be wondering, “How much salt do I add?”  The answer is, “to taste,” but to be more precise, you will see the water draw out and it should cover what is being fermented.

Cover with Fluid

If you feel that you need to add a splash of water to cover it, then you may need to re mix and add more salt.  The better solution is to just add the salty water that you have just extracted by kneading the mixture.

Dehydrator Yield

Here is the whole project completed.  It took about two hours for the Montana Kimchi and the rest of the food was processed as I had room in the dehydrator over the next few days–and this is the sum total of the $18 in produce I purchased at the Farmers’ Market on a rainy day.  All in all, I love to see this on my shelves as a reminder of peace of mind that comes from forethought.

You may be wondering, what the dish is for under the half gallon jars?  As the salt continues to work, you will see the liquid start to seep out of the top of the jar, this is normal.  For this reason, and to let the carbon dioxide out, we just loosely put the lids on and the bands are only on there half a turn.



Pro Deo et Patria,



P.S. As a public service announcement and reminder, nothing goes to waste.  If you cannot use it, your soil can so compost it.

*The lady at the farmer’s market stand actually said to me regarding the cabbage, “If you see any green friends crawl out, just pick them off.”  I replied, “If the bugs do not want to eat it, why would I?”  Moral of the story: shop locally!



Nothing in this blog constitutes medical or legal advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.

Preserving Summer’s End (Part 1)

salting zucchini for the dehydrator

Preserving Summer’s End (Part 1)

How to Dehydrate: Apples, Zucchini, Onions, Carrots

If you are like me, you loathe paying $4 for mealy tomatoes in January.  There are two things that really put me over the edge about that: one is that tomatoes are cheaper in the summer, much cheaper! And secondly,  a January tomato from the store does not even taste like a tomato.  So, I have done all that I can over the years to leverage food preservation to our advantage because I really like tomatoes, but not at $4 lb!

$18 at the Farmers Market

In the last blog, I gave a shout out to all the people faithfully manning the booths at the farmer’s market, we really do appreciate it.  In the above picture, here is my haul for $18—not bad.  Now to preserve it all.  As a reminder, nothing goes to waste.  If you cannot use it, your soil can so compost it.



Dehydrated Apples

The first thing that I processed was the apples by running them through the dehydrator.  In retrospect, I wish that I would have done the herbs first because they go so quick, but are so aromatic that they can impart flavor to other things in the dehydrator like the apples and should be dehydrated alone.  But back to the apples: here is how to do it:


Apple Peeler

We use this apple peeler from Pantry Paratus, but you can check out our other great apple tools in our Fruits & Nuts section.


You will find that nutritious apples with dense juicy flesh dehydrate best when they are sliced to uniform thin slices.  The best way to do this is the apple peeler.  We leave the skin on as fiber is always good to have, but if you like them peeled by all means the apple peeler and slicer will make you wonder why you ever did this with a paring knife.  It’s also great fun with kids.


How to dehydrate apples

Next, I take the “apple spring” and run a knife down one side to cut the coils and make the rings from the coil-sliced apple.  To control the amylase sugar browning on the apples, I dip them in lemon juice (about a ¼ cup to 2 cups of water).  Chaya juiced & froze an entire box of lemons earlier in the season; I used that but I also used the stuff from the grocery store too.

Dip in lemon juice

I happen to have this handy thrift store glass cup (picture above)  which is exactly the size of the apples so that I can economize my lemon juice and make it go further.


Apple Rings


Dehydrated Apple Rings



I like to do my apples low and slow.  That is put them in the dehydrator on low heat for a longer period of time.  To me, the apple rings are dehydrated and ready to put away when they have a noticeable click and bounce when you drop them on the table.  I like mine to snap when you break them, but other people like theirs chewy so pull them out of the dehydrator when you like their texture.



Dehydrated Zucchini


I know, I know.  I am probably the only person who cannot grow zucchini well, but these beauties are actually going to make one of my favorite snacks—zucchini chips!  Careful though, you do not want to eat too many of them, they are higher in fiber than you think!


First thing is first, slice them up into discs.  Since zucchini dehydrates so well, you do not need to worry (as much as with other foods) about uniformity, but just get them onto the tray.

lighltly salt the zucchini

Next for zucchini chips, I like to lightly salt them.  You will be surprise how little salt you need here.  If you are putting zucchini away for long term storage, skip the salt as it will not be optimal for storage.  If you feel adventurous, sprinkle some garlic powder on them as well for a real treat.  Still not enough?  Find your favorite fresh herbs and make a pesto, dip the zucchini discs in the pesto, then dehydrate them.  I will bet that you cannot eat just one!

Dehydrated Zucchini on tray

Zucchini (especially with the light salt) dehydrates very quickly, so you can usually turn these around in a day or less.



Dehydrated Onions

These onions from the farmer’s market were so tasty, we were eating them like an apple.  Usually, this indicates low sulfur in the soil, but I am not complaining here.  Actually, I found a new side salad dish: fresh lentil sprouts, some finely chopped fresh farmer’s market onions, light sea salt, parsley and some nutritional yeast to taste.  Wow!

Cut Onions

Slice the onions and lay them out on the tray.  I was not all that particular here, so the object is to just get them onto the tray.  Since they shrink so much, you can overlap them if need be.  This may mean that you have to break them apart at the end, but the increase in throughput makes up for it.


Dehydrated Onions


Chaya adds: It’s hard to explain, but the flavor seems to get even better.  If you are from the Midwest, you remember those chemical-laden onion-things that people put on green bean casserole, right? Well, these are better, way better.  Very nearly a candy.


Dehydrated Carrots

The last thing that I wanted to show you today is the carrots.  These were itty bitties that the kind lady at the farm stand gave to Bugaloo, my daughter,  a token for how brave she was to even come out with her rain coat and boots.

Shred Carrots

The first thing that I do is to pick off the stems (which are actually related to parsley and are edible) as well as the stringy root bits and I set them aside.  Stop by for part 2, and I will show you what to do with those.  Since these carrots were so small, they were hard to shred.  You can dehydrated carrots sliced, too, but Chaya prefers them shredded because they rehydrated much more thoroughly and quickly.


Shredded Carrots

Shredded carrots can be placed directly on the tray.  Actually, I just shred them right over the mesh dehydrator mat—done!  If you are going to cut the carrots into coins, I recommend blanching the cut slices first, then dehydrating them as this will prevent case hardening.

Dehydrated Carrots

Come back next time for Preserving Summer’s End Part 2.  I will show you how to dehydrate herbs (read: $avings!) as well as my Montana Kimchi.  See you then!

Pro Deo et Patria,





P.S. Do you know what the difference is between these two knives?  Why is this difference important for dehydrating?  Leave a comment with your answer.



Nothing in this blog constitutes medical or legal advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.

Shout Out to the Farmer’s Market

The Farmers’ Market

Making the most of the harvest for the winter’s pantry


Shout Out to the Farmers Market

It was late August, and the temperature went from summer in the 90’s to autumn– raining– in the high 40’s.  I do believe that our eggplant got a case of frostbite; at least the leaves seem to indicate so.  We had not yet fully gone “all in” on our summer food preservation so the untimely weather had me at the Farmer’s market, since our gardening was lackluster this year. 

 The downside is that it was very cold and wet, and only a few booths were open.  Trying to find the upside, I took some photos of all of the colors that struck me on the cold, rainy day.  If beautiful, brightly colored veggies cannot make you happy on a dreary day, then you may be too far gone for this blog. 

Vegetables at the Farmers Market

As it turns out, Pantry Paratus, Inc. started out in a farmer’s market years ago.  It was prior to our website launching, but we were passionate to get our products into the hands of people who wanted to preserve their food, too.  All through the cold wet spring in Northwest Montana, Chaya set up the booth, passing out free samples of Tattler lids.  All throughout the desert-dry summer, Chaya offered breadbaking troubleshooting to anyone who asked while Bugaloo (still in her two’s) fought against taking a nap in the sloping backseat of the truck.  In the dead heat of summer when there was no respite from the sun, we built our brand.  So shopping a farmer’s market now brings about a bit of nostalgia, perhaps even moreso on a day like that. 

Root Veggies

 We had been strategizing all summer long with whom we would make the big end-of-summer bulk food push.  Chaya has a very tender spot for businesses that support people with disabilities, so the booth selling tomatoes will likely be selling us at least four cases of tomatoes to dehydrate and to make into sauce for the winter (we like pasta)–it is work program for people with disabilities.  I  found a farmer who pasture-raises his pigs, so we reserved a whole hog with him.  We have enjoyed produce from some very industrious youth, and some cases of apples (of which some are in the dehydrator as I type this) from the couple who drives them all the way in from a no-spray farm in Washington State. 

Carrots in the Rain

But this day I was just there for the basics; I needed to pick up some produce for a dehydrating demo class that Chaya is holding at the Zone 4 Live! event in Pray, MT next week.  $18 was the arbitrary amount that I had in mind to get, and also happened to be the amount of money in my pocket.  So I shopped around and here is what I took home. 

Summer Produce

This picture does not do justice to the scale; that is over 1/2 of our dining room table.  Not bad all told, and all of it went to use.  This is actually the secret multiplier to making summer last—do not waste anything!  Any bruised spots, stems, cores, or dried ends go into the jar in order to later go out to the compost pile.  Some other tougher bits and peels go into a bag in the freezer for Chaya’s totally free homemade broth.  Sharon Peterson from Simply Canning has a blog on how to make stock, too.  

Compost JarCompost Keeper available at Pantry Paratus

Nothing goes to waste.  Why?  Because we are taking the best exports of from a farm into our home as our inputs, and what a shame it is to not use all of it.  And, in the next two blogs I can show you how to make use of those left over bits that may not seem all that tastey . . . come back and see us for Preserving Summer’s End Part 1 and 2. 

Zucchini at the Market

Pro Deo et Patria,




Nothing in this blog constitutes medical or legal advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.



Wilson’s Book Review: The Pantry, by Catherine Seiberling Pond (plus giveaway!)

  Book Review: The Pantry, by Catherine Seiberling Pond

Plus A Giveaway: Get a Signed Copy of The Pantry



It is no secret, Chaya and I are smitten with a great kitchen.  You can have a great and functional kitchen without the entire catalog of fancy plug in gadgetry with French sounding names, but you cannot get by without a functional pantry—call it the unsung hero of a homestead.  Yet, I had never put a lot of thought into where the term “pantry” came from or what the history might be behind it. 


Let me say this upfront, I loved this book.  It chronicles the history and history-shaping role of the modest pantry.  From complete rooms with thoughtfully engineered construction to regulate temperature, or economized movement to simple utilitarian converted closets, the pantry is indeed a noteworthy fixture on a homestead. 


The Pantry, a book review


At Pantry Paratus, we love all things having to do with the pantry.  Recently our last surviving grandparent passed away, and it is largely to her credit that I associate my sense of thrift and propriety when it comes to the value of the pantry.  Whereas today people who keep shelves of Cool Whip and Ricotta cheese containers cleaned, stacked and sorted by size might find themselves on some reality TV show, to my Italian Nonnie preserving everything was just part of how her large family made it through the Great Depression.  Two generations ago, putting food away was about as hip as shoveling snow or cutting the grass—you just did it.  And it is that no nonsense approach that Catherine Seiberling Pond captures so well in this book that helped ground me today with the wisdom of my blue collar immigrant roots.


The Amish farmwife, in her almost total self-sufficiency, is a fine modern example of how American women used to exist on farms.  Farmwives of the past began to embrace the conveniences afforded to them in grocery stores and with modern utilities and appliances.  Mormons, too, have long advocated having a storeroom with a year’s supply of saved foodstuffs and provisions.  People in communes and those in the back-to-the-land movement were also avid food preservers.  Where canning was once a necessity on the farm, especially before freezers were available, it now continues as a pleasant pastime for some (p. 34)


The author as a little girl in her "pantry"


I found myself turning page after page to find out how the humble pantry went through medieval times, to colonial era of America with its trademark Yankee ingenuity, through the Industrial revolution, wartime rationing and even the suffrage movement did not leave the pantry unchanged.  Yet with all of these changes we still feel the effects of the pantry on our families, politics and even literature.  Fun fact: Emily Dickenson used to write poetry in her pantry (p. 43).


The Victorian period ended with the struggle for the right to vote, while at the same time there was a crescendo in the home economics movement.  It presented a domestic struggle that continues today—can women have it all and have it at the same time?  As long as our kitchens are in order—and sinks scoured everyday (as the Beecher sisters preached)—and pantries well stocked, the answer is probably yes (p. 47).


We do not have war rations today or anything like it—heck, you can go right down to your big box store and load up on all of the CAFO meat you want.  So it begs the question, how did our ancestors make it?  Answer: they leveraged the ebb and flow of the seasons and saw the pantry as the store.  When Chaya posted her late grandmother’s chocolate syrup recipe, it helped me to put into perspective how recently it was in this country where people had to live with a prominent civil defense mindset under the threat of the atomic age.  In America not too long ago, it was then as it is now in dozens of other countries around the world, the pantry is the first line of defense; and that reality was not lost on me as I read this book page by page, cover to cover. 


Grandma's Pantry 

You have heard Chaya say it many times, “Your Grandma knew how and you can too.”  Think of this book as an anthology of many centuries worth of Grandma innovations beautifully rendered in beautiful pictures and well written text.  If you love the pantry as much as we do, then I would highly recommend picking up a copy of The Pantry directly from Catherine Seiberling Pond for $14.95 (shipping included).  These are beautiful books and would really make a nice gift for anyone who loves kitchen self-sufficiency.  Be sure to sign up below to win a signed copy of the book from the author!


I leave you with this poem from page 71:

A Bride’s Pantry

There’s a dear little pantry that pampers a bride,

Its walls are of yellow, its window is wide,

And airy blue curtains coquette in their pride

With crisp, crinkled things in the garden outside.


There are quaint little jars with blue labels displayed,

For red currant jelly and plum marmalade;

There are vegetable soldiers in tin coat parade,

Plump jugs of sweet cider and muscadine-ade.


Oh, the goodies galore that a bride can devise—

Fat gingerbread bunnies with black raisin eyes,

Spice cake and pear salad and cinnamon pies,

To foster the pride in a certain man’s eyes.


So when you are planning a little house, new,

Be sure there’s a pantry with curtains of blue,

And a wee kitchen garden spread out to your view,

To grow with your singing and smile back at you.

—Hazel Harper Harris, American Cookery, 1925





Pro Deo et Patria


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Works Cited:

Pond Seiberling, C. (2007). The pantry. (p. 45). Layton: Gibbs Smith.

Photo Credits:

Catherine as a little girl used with permission from Catherine Seiberling Pond

The Pantry, book cover used with permission from Catherine Seiberling Pond

Grandma’s Pantry taken from the public domain (found on p. 75 in book)


For Further Reading, check out Catherine’s other websites:







Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.


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Nature, the Original Conservationist

Nature: The Original Conservationist

Ecological Balance in a Closed Loop System

Ants composting Ice Cream


There I was walking down the sidewalk on a hot summer day and I saw these ants working feverishly on what was left of somebody’s ice cream lying on the sidewalk.  Regardless of the fact that the consumer did not care to properly discard of the container, there were still all of these ants.  Of the earth’s entire surface only about 29% of it is land , which totals about 149 million square kilometers (Coffey); and of that only about 2% is inhabited.  Now statistically taking all of the available inhabited land mass on earth, and divide that into about 100 square meter blocks (or probably a rough guess for the distance an ant colony would forage) and it leaves you with a 1 in 1,490,000 chance that the ice cream container would land in the foraging area of those ants—random chance or design?


At this point, we cannot call it merely a coin toss.  Rather, looking at the fact that this was a crowded East Coast suburban area means that the probability is much higher than in an outlying corner of an abandoned rural lot.  Moving past the probability leaves us with the fact that the natural order has “closed loop” systems, in other words it is very hard to find an example in nature where things are wasted.  Take this guerilla compost pile that I started a long time ago on a forested lot—the insects are making quick work of what was once “waste.” 


guerrilla composting


 Of course if you have been reading this blog, you know that we strongly encourage composting because it is harvesting otherwise discarded inputs.  The best of someone else’s farm exported to your house can be reclaimed by you in your compost heap/bin.  Whereas free radicals wreak havoc on living things, they are absolutely critical in the decaying process.  “Decay is a free radical mediated process returning matter back to its simplest inorganic form” (Reams, 1978).

 Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen


“Nature does not move carbon around very much” (Joel Salatin), and this is true, but in the natural order we find many clever rearrangements of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.  That list pretty much chemically sums up the major constituencies of any living thing or a compost pile (formerly living things).  The cycling of carbon on a homestead or farm is a sure sign that the land’s true value is being realized.  To that end, there is no better expression of self-sufficiency than the harmony between perennials and herbivores.  In all reality, any other method is (in the true sense of the word) unsustainable and not being totally honest with oneself. 


Cows in Closed Loop


Take for instance the precious gift of soil that we have in the Great Plains.  I have heard some credit that wonderful soil to centuries of being “pulsed” by bison (herbivores) eating the prairie grasses (perennials).  I always think of this beautiful relationship when I drive down through Wyoming and see the ruminants eating grass (not corn).  Yet the grass growing there is not a waste product and the cows are not scavengers.  It is hard to see the grazing cattle as anything else other than opportunistically eating what was growing there.  Yet the cows eating the grass and leaving cow patties is what makes the grass grow back healthier still all the while providing rich nutrients to the cow’s meat, namely Vitamin B12




Living grass will continue to thrive whether or not something eats it (it is resilient stuff, overall). What about something that is truly wasted?  I immediately thought of that when I saw this picture of a Ruddy Turnstone eating a dead crab.  This small shoreline wading bird is making the best of a bad situation.  Not that the crab has any say in the matter, but we see that in the natural order nothing is wasted.  We are reminded of this in Montana, where the deer outnumber people.  It is not uncommon to see extremely large populations of scavengers (of which only the eagles are beautiful) having a roadside feast.  Throw an apple core into the wood line and some chipmunk or deer will eat it for sure.  Hopefully, the seeds will be either buried and forgotten about (read: planted) or deposited in a scat pile somewhere thus bringing about a new apple tree (assuming that those were not hybrid apples). 


The next time you see pesky autumn leaves around the base of a hardwood tree, note that those leaves are not wasted—the tree self-mulches!  That is the tree protecting itself and in some sense recycling all that carbon, nitrogen and oxygen again for next year.  And in the natural order, carbon (e.g. the leaves) does not move around a whole lot—unless your neighbor did not rake up his/her leaves and they are now in your yard.    

Did you ever hear of Mao’s Four Pests Campaign in China?  Bizaare piece of history.  Basically, he sent the people on a mission to kill sparrows, mosquitos, flies, and rats.  The ecological balance was so disrupted that the campaign is credited by almost every scholar on the subject as the primary cause for the massive starvation resulting in the death of millions of people.  Along with the near-extinction of sparrows and the subsequently unchecked population of crop-eating insects,  compost-waste was piling up for lack of natural consumers!  You see, even the pests serve a purpose in the closed loop.

We do not like certain obnoxious creatures—scavenger birds, ants marching one-by-one, or even those annoying flies—but remember that they have a very important role to play in the cycle that ultimately provides us with fertile soil, lush fields, and food for the table. 




Pro Deo et Patria



Works Cited:

Coffey, J. (18 February 2009). Retrieved from http://www.universetoday.com/25756/surface-area-of-the-earth/

Hadley, D. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://insects.about.com/od/antsbeeswasps/a/10-cool-facts-about-ants.htm   

Reams, C. (1978). (p. 8). Spencer: Nutritional Counselors of America Holistic Wholesalers, LLC.



Photo Credits:

Ruddy Turnstone by Rob Graff

All other photos by Pantry Paratus


For Further Reading:

Nauta, P. (2012). Building soils naturally. Austin: Acres, USA.



Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.







Every Day is Memorial Day

This blog originally posted last year.  We find this weekend to be a wonderful time of  laughter, love, and new memories made with family and friends.  We also, however, pause to reflect of those who sacrifice.

Every Day Is Memorial Day

No Picnic.


I hope to not disappoint you if you were looking for a great grilling recipe for your get together today.  I am sure that you can do a search and find a skillion of those.  Today I wanted to reflect on Memorial Day and what it means to remember.  You may have noticed the bracelet in pictures or videos of me (Wilson).  I neither try to hide it nor show it off because I wear the bracelet to remind myself that every day is Memorial Day. 


Bracelet to Remember Nick


The text of the bracelet reads:

SGT Nicholas A. Robertson

SOT-A 3301 3/3 SFG(A)

KIA 03 APR 2008, Afghanistan



I can remember Nick the last time I saw him in Afghanistan.  I would love to tell you about how great of a person he was, but there just would not be the space to do that topic justice.  He was the kind of All-American kid who opted to serve his country because he loved her.  Ultimately that love would put him in harms way and he would sacrifice his life. 


Nick was an academic, a soldier, a linguist and a philosopher.  I came across a duty roster that he had made which showed an algebraic formula for figuring out which day your duty slot came up.  Needless to say, not everyone got it and some further interpretation was required, but this was how Nick saw the world.  A philosopher is always looking to leverage logic in the search for the “why.” 


So why do we take a day to honor the fallen?  I believe it is because they willingly gave.  Nick was a very smart guy and he could have done many other careers—yet he chose to apply his talents for his country.  It is this act of freewill that makes the sacrifice so meaningful. 

So as we take a day to honor the fallen, I wanted to pay a personal tribute to Nick and his family by saying that you may never have gotten the chance to meet him, but he indeed embodied the very best of our volunteer Armed Forces.  Seeing his picture there on my wrist reminds me every day the value of sacrifice and free will.


If you choose to, please leave a comment below for his family.



Pro Deo et Patria


Websites that honor Nick and some press releases about him:














Pre-ferments, diving a bit deeper into how they work

Pre-ferments: How They Work


Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast by any other name 


The eyes in swiss cheese and the pockets in French Bread are both caused by trapped gasses—however the first is caused by bacteria (Monera Kingdom) and the second is from yeast (Fungi Kingdom).  In bread, it is possible to leverage both through the use of pre-ferments. 

 How Preferments Work


If you read our other blogs on pre-ferments you are likely sold on them and you are already on your way to making great bread.  I just wanted to fill you in on a bit of the “how it works” behind the scenes with the smallest parts of nature doing all the heavy lifting.  Enzymes do so much for us and eventually to us.  Need to make cheese?  Enzymes can help you do that.  After I am put in the ground one day to make compost, it will be enzymes doing the hard part of converting me to soil.  Hand-in-hand with enzymes, are bacteria recycling everything in nature.


Enzymes typically end in “-ase” and are named for the sugar that they consume which typically ends in “-ose.”  For example, amylase is the enzyme that converts the sugar in a bruised or freshly cut apple to the brown color we observe.  The amylase enzyme is acting on the amylose sugars in the apple, of which fructose is one kind of amylose.  “Enzymes are complex proteins that act as catalysts in almost every biochemical process that takes place in the body.  Their activity depends on the presence of adequate vitamins and minerals, particularly magnesium” (Fallon & Enig, p. 46).  Great, but what does that have to do with bread? 


An enzyme is what nature uses to break stuff down, whether they are working in your saliva or in huge vats in a Cargill plant in Blair, Nebraska turning long chain corn sugar into short chain high fructose corn syrup—enzymes reduce things.  Typically we would not want to leverage this if it were fruit salad, so we counteract enzymes with acids.  However, in creating a great pre-ferment we are cheering the enzyme process as it is the first step in releasing the grain’s full potential. 

Domino Sugar


Here is an experiment that you can try at home: take a pinch of flour and put it on your tongue—it likely does not taste palatable at all, why is that?  “Flour tastes like sawdust because its sugar components are too complex to differentiate on the tongue” (Reinhart, p. 59).  The tongue is not set up to taste let along fully appreciate the wheat berry or its flour in its raw state because the sugar chains are way too long.  This is why sprouted bread has markedly higher nutrition, because the enzymes have already done so much of the work to make the nutrients available.


So the bread baker will either use the natural enzymes present in the dough plus time or he/she may wish to add a small percentage (usually .5-1% by weight) of an enzyme such as malted barley to the dough.  The enzyme process will break down the wheat sugars, this much you know, but the follow on processes are what makes bread truly extraordinary.  According to Reinhart, amylase and distase break down the wheat sugars to impart three subsequent effects: color (called “carmelization” by bakers) for the crust and crumb, flavor (the whole reason we are doing this!) and food for the yeast.


There are enough enzymes naturally occurring in flour that it is not always necessary to add them in the form of malted barley, as long as you are able to stretch time long enough to allow them to do their job.  This is, in a nutshell, why pre-ferments create superior bread: they are a way to manipulate time, to stretch it, so that the wondrous chemical activity going on at the cellular level can fulfill its mission (Reinhart, p. 64). 


Hmmmmm, food for the yeast?  I thought that is why we added enrichments to the bread?  You certainly can do that, but in Europe luxuries such as sweeteners were not always available, so pre-ferments were leveraged to embody flavor and develop structure in the bread.  Yeast is a simple organism, a fungus, an eukaryotic microorganism to be exact, and it eats simple sugars like glucose. 



But not all yeast is the same, nor does it have the same efficacy.  Reinhart, who prefers instant yeast, gives the following equivalency chart for substituting yeast (p. 60):


100% fresh yeast = 40-50% active dry yeast = 33% instant yeast


Typically all yeast that we buy will be the commercial yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae otherwise known as baker’s yeast or brewer’s yeast—it is the same thing.  Breaking the word down we get from Latin: Saccaro, meaning “sugar,” myces, meaning “fungus,” and cerevisiae, meaning “beer.”  We can otherwise say that as: “sweet fungus of beer” (Volk & Galbraith). This yeast is produced to be reliable and predictable for baking—two things that you definitely want.  Pre-ferments using this kind of yeast are easy to work with and have reproducible results. 

saccharomyces exiguus


The other kind of yeast you really do not need to buy, because it is everywhere.  It is the white powdery residue on the wheat berry, a grape or even a plum—yes, we are talking about wild yeast or Saccharomyces exiguus.  This is typically used in sourdough breads, and the wild yeast works in conjunction with bacteria, notably our old friend Lactobacillus


The complex sour flavor is not created by the wild yeast [alone].  Other bacterial organisms, specifically lactobacillus [sic] and acetobacillus [sic], create lactic and acetic acids as they feed off the enzyme-released sugars in the dough, and these are responsible for the sour flavor (Reinhart, 65).


Remember that we are leveraging time in this process as well, so here is where the road splits off the direct doughs from the indirect doughs (using pre-ferments).  I have friends that are beer brewers and they say that everything has to be spotlessly clean because any bacteria will ruin a batch of beer.  “If bacterial activity creates too much acid, this type of yeast will die and make the bread taste funny, with an ammonia like aftertaste and a weakened gluten structure caused by the glutathione released by the yeast.  Most regular Saccharomyces cerevisiae leavened breads have a pH level of 5.0 to 5.5” (Reinhart, 66).

Saccharomyces cerevisiae


On the decidedly more acidic end of the pH scale is Saccharomyces exiguus which works best in a pH level of 3.5 to 4.0 “and therefore thrives when the bacteria does its work creating lactic and acetic acids.  Since it takes twice as long for the bacteria to create flavor as it takes for the yeast to leaven the dough, it requires a hearty strain of yeast to endure” (Reinhart, 65).  This chart should sum up everything we talked about so far:



If you have a recipe, tip or trick for using a pre-ferment—please leave a comment and share it with us.  Also, if you are a US resident, and you are over 18 and you have entered a valid e-mail address—I have a small prize for the first person who posts what a “barm” is in the comment section below (without doing an internet search, please). 



Pro Deo et Patria


Works Cited:

Fallon, S., & Enig, M. (2005). Nourishing traditions. (Deluxe Edition ed., p. 4). Washington DC: NewTrends Publishing.

Reinhart, P. (2002). The bread baker’s apprentice, mastering the art of extraordinary bread. (p. 27). Ten Speed Pr.

Volk, T., & Galbraith, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/dec2002.html


Photo Credits:

Saccharomyces cerevisiae by photo credit: Rising Damp via photopin cc

Yeast and saccharomyces exiguus are taken from the Public Domain

All other photos and graphic by Pantry Paratus and may be used with permission with proper attribution–thanks.  



Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.



Pre-ferments: Choosing Your Method for World-Class Bread


Choosing which kind to use & other factors to consider

So what are the different kinds of pre-ferments? 

Generally, a bread baker will have four traditional pre-ferments divided in two broad categories to choose from: the first being a firm or dry pre-ferment and the second is a wet or sponge pre-ferment (Reinhart, p. 52-53). 



Pâte Fermentée (Firm/Dry style) is so named in the European tradition of calling things what they are, “old dough” or “pre-ferment.”   Rossada has this to say about it, “Pre-fermented dough (or old dough) is a fairly new method.  Originally, this preferment had been developed to compensate for the mediocre quality of bread produced by the straight dough process with a short first fermentation.” 


If you are thinking, “Wow, that sounds a lot like San Francisco sourdough starter to me,” you would be (partially) correct.  Before refrigeration, folks had to resort to indirect dough—the good news is that it caught on!  However, sour dough depends on wild yeast or more specifically Saccharomyces exiguus where as San Francisco sour dough starter is made using Lactobacillus sanfrancisco—no, seriously (Reinhart p. 65).   The magic here is in running two processes in series to maximize the effect on the bread with only your time spent in making the bread.

Lactobacillus sanfrancisco


Biga (Firm/Dry style) is a lot like the “old dough” method above, but the Italians gave us this one with the biggest difference being the absence of salt.  The formula for this stiff pre-ferment would be  50/55-1/.5 (flour, water, very little yeast).  Where pâte fermentée can be a leftover scrap added to the fresh dough, biga is made purposely as a pre-ferment or starter dough. 


Because of the very stiff consistency and the cooler fermentation, biga provides a lot of strength to the dough, which was its original purpose.  Today with stronger flour, bakers must be careful to use the biga properly, or the added strength could penalize extensibility in the dough.  The advantages of a properly fermented biga are similar to other methods: better flavor and extended shelf life. (Rossada).


Poolish (Wet/Sponge style) is a name that gives us a glimpse into the depths of the French language.  Most of bread baking tradition comes from Europe and principally the French, so they get to name things. 


Poolish is a term that was coined by the French to honor the Polish bakers who, centuries ago, taught them this technique for improving bread. . . . The wet sponge offers far less resistance to fermentation than does firm dough, so the yeast has an easy time converting the available sugars into carbon dioxide and ethanol (Reinhart, p. 53)


The Poolish formula is very wet using equal parts (that is weight) flour and water with only a pinch of fresh yeast (100-.25) giving a consistency somewhere between lemon meringue and melted ice cream.  Rossada offers a more precise scale for the fresh yeast (not instant) used for this pre-ferment based on the time that you are allowing it to work:

Fermentation time                  3 hours       7-8 hours     12-15 hours

Quantity of yeast                    1.5%             .7%                .1%


The final dough mixed with Poolish will require additional yeast to complete the rise, but the flavor imparted is remarkable because the flavor comes from the grain.  If you were making an enriched bread recipe, the yeast is feeding off of the sugar added to the dough (causing a rise) instead of the natural wheat.  With the use of a pre-ferment you taste the converted sugar in the grain



Levain Levure (Wet/Sponge style) is French for “leaven of the yeast.”  Yep, the Europeans called it like they saw it once more, and this name is also interchangeable with the “sponge” pre-ferment.  The sponge has its own unique qualities and has been largely replaced in commercial baking by the shelf stable “bread” you find in the plastic tube on the grocery store shelf.  These shelf stable “breads” require dough enhancers which all have really long names that are foreign to any home kitchen, so please stick with a time tested pre-ferment (such as a true levain) if you want to bake amazing bread at home and skip the tube.


Levain and Sourdough have many similarities and are sometimes mixed terminology.  They both have this in common—you can perpetuate them and feed them, and even name them if you want—whereas the other pre-ferments are one-time deals.  Although you can snag a piece of your favorite  Pâte Fermentée to ripen the next day’s bread, it is not really “alive” like Levain/Sourdough.


A regular sponge, on the other hand, is usually faster than a poolish because it front-loads all or most of the yeast in the sponge itself.  This kind of sponge, often used in whole grain and rich breads, improves flavor and digestibility of the grain, but in less time than poolish (Reinhart, p. 53).



A simple low-risk experiment that you may wish to try at home is a form of a “soaker” which technically is not a pre-ferment, but does affect the outcome of the final product.  The technique is known as the “autolyse” process and Chaya says that it helps tremendously. 

  • Take your flour and water and mix them in a bowl for four minutes. 
  • Allow the mixture to rest for approximately twenty minutes, and then mix the rest of the ingredients including the yeast in for the required time. 

The big differentiator here is that the yeast is not active to cause a bacteria response, this is simply the water breaking down the fiber somewhat.  In either case, gluten and yeast are activated by the water, you are simply staggering those reactions in this method.

Calculations of Yummy Bread

Another wrinkle in the pursuit of great bread is calculating the pre-ferment in the bread formula.  If you recall from our blog post on Baking Math, a real bread baker will use something called a formula instead of a recipe.  This will vary from recipe to recipe, so be sure to calculate your total flour weight based on whether the recipe calls for the pre-ferment as its own percentage or as a part of the total flour used. 


And if that was not enough to think about, the gluten content in the dough will soften as the moisture is absorbed—which may not be surprising to you.  However, the higher the dough’s gluten content the more liquid is needed to maintain the consistency due to the absorption.  This is in addition to longer mixing times also required to blend the ingredients properly; and mixing is where the gluten is developed into strands.  



Yet one more detail to plan around is the use of salt.  As you see, salt is highly controlled in pre-ferment products because salt is a counterweight to yeast.  If the yeast has more time to work, then you can get away with less of it—stretching your yeast supply out further.  This is good news for the thrifty bread baker, better flavor with less consumable yeast.


Baking great bread really comes down to one skill: how to manipulate time and temperature to control outcomes. . . . if the bread is not properly fermented, it can never be better than average.  It is in this, the primary fermentation stage that dough is transformed from a lifeless lump of clay into a living organism (Reinhart, p. 59)


 In our next blog, we explain the science to all of this, so check it out.  If you have any tips or tricks to share with your pre-ferments, leave a comment and share it with us! 


Pro Deo et Patria


Works Cited:

Reinhart, P. (2002). The bread baker’s apprentice, mastering the art of extraordinary bread. (p. 27). Ten Speed Pr.

Rossada, D. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bakerconnection.com/artisanbaker/article_04.htm


Photo Credits:

Ghirardelli (Factory) by Ghirardelli Chocolate Company taken from http://www.ghirardelli.com/about-ghirardelli

All other Photos by Pantry Paratus


Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.




Pre-ferments: Grain, Yeast, & Time (the secret to baking world-class bread)

Pre-ferments, the key to unlocking really great bread 

Leveraging time, enzymes and yeast


“Fermentation is the key to world-class bread, assuming that the flour and other ingredients are good” (Reinhart, p. 11).

Prefermentation in Bread Baking

I used to not believe that quote above, but then again I used to think that flour only came in a paper bag.  Which now that I think about it, should have tipped me off because the bag always leaked and why would an agricultural society (& one that cares about “if seal is broken”) put up with that?  Sure, yeast will eat sugar.   I have tasted beer and watched bread rise to know that is true.  However, before I was married to a bread baker I was unaware that there is so much more than the mechanical pressure of carbon dioxide going on in the bread baking cycle.  The difference between bread by the academic definition and extraordinary bread is fermentation; and if you want to go up a notch from there—pre-ferments make the difference. 


We will metaphorically follow the bread baker’s axiom that the best loaves are made by building dough in stages . . .  Eighty percent of the quality of the finished bread will be determined during the primary fermentation stage (Stage Three) and the other twenty percent primarily will be determined during the baking, or oven stage (Stage Ten) (Reinhart, p. 48-49).


Reinhart goes on to identify twelve stages of baking bread, but that is for a different day.  If you recall from our blogpost on the Classifications of Bread, the use of a pre-ferment (or not) is what makes the dough a straight or direct dough as opposed to an indirect or sponge dough.  I still consider myself to be still catching on to this, but a real bread baker utilizes millennia of wisdom.  Dough that is mixed directly can still use yeast as the fermenting agent, but will not have the benefit of unlocking all the sugars of the grain which make the bread truly delicious.   That happens only with grain and yeast and time

What does “pre-fermentation” mean?

A fermentation process allows time to capitalize on the bacteria naturally present in a food item to digest the difficult enzymes that our bodies might not like (things like phytic acid), releases gases, and gives all of the flavors present an atmosphere to mingle, smooze, and make connections. If you make bread using yeast instead of sourdough, you are taking a shortcut (and you know it—but hey—I’m not judging) to the end result of bread without allowing a true fermentation to take place. 

Prefermentation helps develop gluten strands

A “pre-ferment” is when you do give the flour a fighting chance for flavor by the gift of time.  You are hydrating the flour ahead of time.  You can use any measure of the flour you will use in the end recipe and an equal part water, stir, and let it sit out at room temperature for a few hours or even overnight (we will get into the details of this in our next blog).  It is called a “pre-ferment” instead of “ferment”, because you are not fermenting the entirety of your bread, you are not utilizing a sourdough starter (with the proper strains of bacteria to raise the bread) and you did it ahead of time from the actual act of “making bread”.  In other words, you aren’t adding the rest of the ingredients yet, you aren’t getting flour in your hair, and you have not even invested enough time into this process to require a “bread baking music” selection.   You are not adding the ingredients yet.  Just flour, just water (and sometimes a smidgen of yeast).  This can still be yeast bread and not a sourdough with a sourdough bread starter, but you will mimic many of the flavors and increase the health benefits of a pre-digested wheat kernel through that gift of time. 


Is this just academic? When will I ever use this, anyway?

French or Italian breads can only be properly made with a pre-ferment because the ingredient list is so simple: Flour, Water, Yeast and Salt (in a 60-2-2 baking math formula).  The difference between bland and awesome is “the quality of the wheat, coupled with the baker’s ability to draw out flavor through fermentation and baking technique” (Reinhart, p. 31). Since the wheat berry is such a compact form of energy, it is best to coax the maximum value out of it slowly over time; which as a corollary has everything to do with the gluten content. 

Preferementation should have some bubbles


Take this analogy of a gallon of gasoline.  If poured into a metal pan and ignited on fire, it will not do much work at all—rather it will likely put out a lot of black smoke and prompt your neighbors to call the fire department.  Take that same gallon of gasoline and meter it out slowly in a fuel efficient internal combustion engine and you can get twenty or thirty miles down the road on that same unit of energy.  Wheat works the same way, in that it responds better to slow release of flavor.


The use of pre-ferments is a simple and inexpensive way to improve bread quality.  Each preferment generates different aromas depending on its characteristics.  Aromas and final bread flavors are influenced by the pre-ferments’ liquid or stiff consistency, fermentation temperature, salt including or exclusion and the use of commercial yeast or wild yeast (Rossada).

So have I left you hanging?  In the next blog we pick this conversation right back up.  We will discuss the different types of pre-ferments and the considerations to make when choosing one.



Pro Deo et Patria


Works Cited:


Reinhart, P. (2002). The bread baker’s apprentice, mastering the art of extraordinary bread. (p. 27). Ten Speed Pr.


Rossada, D. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bakerconnection.com/artisanbaker/article_04.htm




Photos by Pantry Paratus.  Feel free to re-pin or share them, but maintain proper attribution and link.  Thank you.




Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.