Planting Wild Dandelions

A bucket of wild dancelions.

Wild dandelions in a bucket.

I have been growing dandelions in my garden for many years. Where I live in Northern California they are green all year. When they are watered and cared for the plants produce big luscious leaves. I rarely include them in salads. My most common use is as a cooked green. Yes, the wild dandelion can be a little bitter. However, when you take care of them in the garden, and particularly if you grown them in the shade the leaves will be broader and more tender than their full-sun wild cousins. You can also further blanch the leaves by covering the plant with a box for a week or two before harvesting. I don’t blanch as I like the full flavor of the wild plant.

I dug up the wild plants you see in the bucket here from a waste patch in the allotment garden where I grow vegetables. Each plant is actually a cluster of plants growing off the mother plant — the oldest plant with the big tap root.

This cluster of dandelions are attached near where you see the small roots. The next step is to separate out the dandelions and then trim off the leaves before transplanting. Dandelions have deep tap roots so their roots don’t compete with neighboring plants. However, they are low growing and so are best either planted in rows by themselves or interplanted with plants that grow tall.  In my vegetable garden I have them planted around artichokes as the artichokes provide shade. Both the artichokes and the dandelions are perennials. When interplanting I’d plant them either with perennials or at least an annual that is long lived, like tomatoes, so they can be in the ground from spring through the fall.

Separated wild dandelion crowns with leaves

Separated wild dandelion crowns with their leaves.

Trimmed wild dandelion crowns ready for transplant

Trimmed wild dandelion crowns ready for transplant

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Spit Roast Bread — The Kneaded Loaf of 1823

Today, as part of my work on the glossary section of the history of bread I’m writing for UC Press, I have been researching the British Northern dialect term knodden cake, and its Standard English parallel, kneaded cake. I’m still working on the words and can today only say that I think they were enriched breads made by kneading fat, usually butter or lard, into dough removed from the day’s batch. In the course of this research I came across this fabulous text that I’d like to share with you. It combines my move of the hearth fire with my love of bread. This is an excerpt from a story The Fairy Miller of Croga publshed in The London Magazine in 1823. It is in part written in a Scottish dialect. It is a rare reference to a spit roasted cake and the only one I am aware of being described in a poor person’s household. But what also makes this passage incredibly rich in historic detail is the fairy’s attraction to the “new-meal” bread, a rare literary reference to the period preference for fresh flour.

So as the sun was setting I baked a cake, and put it over the embers.

Except for roasting very large animals, like goats, pigs, and oxen, spit roasting takes place just in front of embers, not over them. I would thus not take the over ember description as literally true — at least if Barbara Macurdo is burning wood.
But what also makes this passage incredibly rich in historic detail is the fairy’s attraction to the “new-meal” bread, a rare literary reference to the period preference for fresh flour. Fresh flour, particularly if it still has some bran in it, is much sweeter tasting than flour that has been stored and has oxidized.

And kindly loved I our goodman; never thought of another,though I was in my prime when lost him;—and I made it a point to have a kind look, and something comfortable and warm for him when he came home at even. So as the sun was setting I baked a cake, and put it over the embers,—for weel he loved a kneaded cake, and aue brander’d brown ;—I never knead a cake now but I think of him. So the cake was on the embers, and’ a sweet smell it made;—for the meal was white and warm from, the millee, and I sat beside it to watch and turn it. As I sat I thought I heard a foot on the floor, and looking o’er my shoulder who saw I but a wee wee womanie! A wee wee womanie, and snodly was she clad, ami fair was her face; ami without halt or cure hoc close came, she to my side. I think I see her yet. and hear her words, ‘Barbara Macmurdo,’ said the wee wee womanie, using my maiden name, ‘I live nigh thy house, —I live on the same bread, and drink of the same water. But water waxes scant, and bread is far from sure; and those who gather earth’s sweetest fruits for me are now in Guiana and Araby, seeking spice, and cloves, and myrrh, and will not be with me; sooner than morning. The smell of thy new-meal cake is sweet, and we felt it underground, and my little babes love it. Therefore give me some, and when the next meller is ground in Croga mill I will repay thee. Give and prosper– refuse and pine.’

You can find the entire store here:

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Writing a History of Bread for UC Press!

I would like to announce that I am now under contract with UC Press for a comprehensive history of bread. This work work, due in October 2016, expands on the history I wrote for Reaktion Books, Bread: A Global History (Reaktion Books – Edible) The book is in three parts, the first section offers a history of bread from the period before agriculture up to the present. I talk about bread in the context of the major bread-based civilizations in as many was as I can — a general who, what, when, where, and why of bread through the ages. If you read my current book on bread you will see that I am interested in bread as both a material object, something very real that we can bite into and taste, and bread as invention of culture that we can us to ask questions about how people saw themselves at various points in history. I am very interested in the breads of today and how we got to where we are. The book will be very strong on the history of bread in the last couple hundred years, particularly in France, as French ideas about bread are so important today in the international self-described artisan bread movement. In addition to this more general and traditional historical narrative, the book includes a recipe section and an extensive glossary of historic bread terms. The recipe and the glossary sections will also, in their own way, tell the history of bread.

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Sustainable Seed Company

This is a Northern California seed company with a vision for a sustainable future which in the context of its Northern California location includes minimal irrigation. The Sustainable seed company sells seeds to both small farmers and the home gardener. All seeds are listed as being “hierloom”. It is a  basic collection of vegetable seeds. The most notable collection is the tobacco collection. If you are looking for tobacco, this is a good source. They also offer a selection of grains. While not an especially deep offering, the grain selection may inspire you to add grains to your garden or small farm and certainly offers enough choice to get you started. They display a shade of paranoia with their “Safety Seed Collections.” Unless one were already gardening on a substantial scale a collection of seeds will do you little good in a real economic emergency, one that sweeps you, your neighbors, and all local seed purveyors into an economic black hole. However, if your thoughts turn toward apocalypse then you may find their advice on which seeds store the longest of some help.

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Radio Interview

Here is my interview with Linda Pelaccio for her radio show “A Taste of the Past.” We talk about my Book, Bread, a global history, and more generally about bread in the past and bread today. Linda’s show is weekly and is broadcast by the online Heritage Radio Network.

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Bread Talk in New York March 19!

I am giving a talk on the history of bread at the Roger Smith Hotel, in New York, on Monday, March 19. It is a joint program with the Culinary Historians of New York and the Edible Conversations Series. The talk includes dinner, a book, and costs $50. Registration closes the day of the even. I hope to see you there!

“Bread: A Global History” with William Rubel

Bread was the most important food for thousands of years—and arguably the food that built the civilization that we enjoy today. Bread has been a food for humans, a food for gods, and a manufactured object carrying multiple layers of cultural meaning. While it is no longer a staple in Europe and North America, bread continues to be very important to us, as the care with which we select the loaf for dinner attests. William Rubel will talk about issues of crust and crumb, of white versus whole-wheat flour, of yeast versus levain, offering historical context for current debates. What is good bread? What bread is best for us? A history of bread is largely a history of attitudes regarding what constitutes the best loaf.

William Rubel is the author of “Bread: A Global History.” It offers a wide ranging revision of what—up to now—have been the accepted facts about the history of bread, as well as a fresh view of bread culture today. In this talk, William Rubel will discuss what he has uncovered about the history of bread from 10,000 years before the invention of agriculture through to the twenty-first century bread revolution currently underway. Using a combination of different research methods, including traditional archival searches, online databases, agricultural records, paintings, contemporary descriptions and other sources, as well as extensive milling and baking experiments in his own kitchen, Rubel has delved deep into the history and culture of this staple food. He will share some insights into his methods as well as some of the historical recipes he has discovered. Moderated by Andrew F. Smith.

Location: Roger Smith Hotel
501 Lexington at 47th Street
New York, NY 10017

Time: 6:30-9:00 pm
Fee: $50, which includes a copy of Bread: A Global History, a four course tasting dinner inspired by the book, and a beverage

Advance registration required. Please note different time and cost. To register:

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Sir Hugh Plat’s Manuscript: An English Bread circa 1560

Manusript recipe by TT in Sir Hugh Plat's manusript book

This is one of the earliest bread recipes known to be written in English and this is its first publication. Continue reading

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Candied Angelica

Like many recipes published prior to the stricter copyright laws of the twentieth century this recipe for candied angelica is found in many cookbooks. I include two version here, one from 1717 and one from 1788. They are identical but for one detail. The later recipe leaves off the option of drying the angelica before the fire. The only suggestion is drying in the oven. This offers us a hint both of a use of the fireplace to dry herbs and candied fruits but also offers a rough date for when cookbook authors no longer assumed that a fireplace was available for cooking. At least in England, by the late 1780s, the age of the range had arrived.

Angelica candied.

Gather your Angelica in April, cut in lengths, and boil it in water till it becomes tender. Having put it on a sieve to drain, peel it, and dry it in a clean cloth, and to every pound of stalks take a pound of double-refined sugar finely pounded Put your stalks into an earthen pan, and strew the sugar over them. Cover them close, and let them stand two days. Then put it into a preserving-pan, and boil it till it is clear. Then put it into a cullender to drain, strew it pretty thick over with fine powder sugar, lay it on plates, and dry it in a cool oven, or before the fire. The accomplished housekeeper, and universal cook by T Williams, printed for J. Scatcherd, London 1717

Angelica candied.

TAKE it in April, cut it in lengths, and boil it in water till it is tender, then put it on a sieve to drain, then peel it and dry it in a clean cloth, and to every pound of stalks take a pound of doublerefined sugar finely pounded, put your stalks into an earthen pan, and strew the sugar over them; cover them close, and let them stand for two days ; then put it into a preserving-pan, and boil it till it is clear ; then put it into a cullender to drain, strew it pretty thick over with fine powder sugar, lay it on plates, and dry it in a cool oven. The English art of cookery, according to the present practice: being a complete guide to all housekeepers, on a plan entirely new; consisting of thirty-eight chapters, by Richard Briggs. Printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1788

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A Georgian Tandoor Oven

A Tandoor oven from Tiblisi, Georgia

This photograph, taken by Reaktion Books publisher Michael Leaman in Tiblisi, Georgia, very clearly shows that the top of the oven is angled so that breads stuck to its side will receive direct radiant heat from the embers or fire at the bottom of the oven. If you build a tandoor oven I would use this photograph as a model.

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Peruvian Watia Oven made with Spaded Soil

The impromptu Peruvian oven that is is built in the Peruvian highlands to bake potatoes can easily be adapted to bake bread. While the Peruvian watia dome is heated and then collapsed onto the potatoes, one can use the form to bake bread the usual way.

The Peruvian potato oven is constructed in situ with sod or weedy soil. If your soil has a high clay content then using clumps of soil that are already bound with roots is more or less equivalent to building a cob or adobe oven. I don’t know how big a dome one can build out of sod but if one doesn’t have a weedy field to dig up I imagine the following experiment: seed a prepared bed of clayey soil large enough to construct the dome of an oven that is three feet (1 meter) in diameter with grass and when the grass is well established shovel clumps to build an oven as illustrated below. Continue reading

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