Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Preserving the Seasons: February, Week 3

Though it's not considered a part of food preservation, growing food is an essential element of the whole process. If you don't grow it, and someone else doesn't grow it, how will you have anything to preserve?

And at this time of year, when we're on the cusp of spring and longing for fresh green shoots to make their way out of the earth -- and have been living on a good deal of preserved food otherwise -- growing fresh food becomes all the more magical. So from here through the end of the Preserving the Seasons year (end of May), you'll notice a focus on growing and getting ready for the next season.

This is a challenge for me. Though I'm fairly handy in the garden and am successful more often than not in what I sow, my track record for starting things from seed indoors is a little more sketchy. So over the next month or so, you may bear witness to my attempts and potential failures!

For this week, I'd like to display my ignorance and struggle with the prospect of sprouting. I've long been curious about the act of soaking seeds, watching something start to grow from them, and then eating the sprouts. I tried it last year and failed miserably to grow anything but mold.

But since sprouts contain concentrated nutrients and are more easily digestible, they're certainly worth trying.

So I decided to try it again this year and pulled out year-old sunflower seeds for sprouting. Due to their age, they took a little longer to grow, and they didn't green up as nicely as I would have liked, but they looked much better than last year's attempt.

Sprouting should be easy, though why I don't find it so, I don't know. All you need is a clean jar, a screen of some sort (cheesecloth, a plastic screened lid, or a mesh strainer), seeds, and water. You soak the seeds in the jar for 12-24 hours to get them softened, drain the water, and start a cycle of rinsing and draining the seeds two to three times a day until you have sprouts emerging.

Okay, there's a little more to it than that, and you can learn more from books like Stocking Up or Fresh Food From Small Spaces. I consulted a couple of other sources as well, and I confess that I got just enough slightly contradictory or missing information that left me a little confused as to how to handle the sprouts once they had grown.

But never mind. I forged ahead, having seen the tails grow from the sunflower seeds, and started a jar of wheat berry sprouts, too. (Different kinds of sprouts take longer to grow: wheat grows in just a couple of days, and sunflower sprouts take at least a week.)

By the end of the weekend, both kind of sprouts had reached an edible length, so I planned a stir-fry dinner using both. I started by removing the hollow seed coats from the sunflower sprouts and rinsing them gently.

The sprouted wheat berries could be eaten whole, so I simply added them to a pile of steamed brown rice (courtesy of the Renaissance Man).

I topped the rice and wheat with stir-fried vegetables, and I added a handful of sunflower sprouts on top. I could tell the sunflower sprouts weren't as good as they could have been, but overall both kinds of sprouts added a fresh taste to the meal as well as a bit of crunch on top. Partial success!

I also found a recipe for a sprouted wheat bread (in Stocking Up) and gave that a try, too, adding local maple syrup, sorghum, oats, butter, whey, heartnuts, currants, and wheat flour to the mix. The bread had a delicious dark but sweet and wholesome taste, but I discovered that the wheat berries had become a little too crunchy in the baking, so I think I would need to cook them before baking next time. (The recipe did not indicate that.)

I've got a long way to go if I'm ever to become an expert in sprouting. I may yet stop by the natural foods store in town and try one or two other kinds of sprouting seeds to see if I have better luck. And as always, if any Dear Readers have expertise to share, please feel free to leave comments! I know I've got a lot to learn.

Still, it's worth a try as a way to supplement the pantry at a meager time of year.

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At 2/18/2009 12:41 PM, Blogger Tara said...

I grow alfalfa sprouts successfully, although I'm the only one who eats them here. I'd like to learn more about sprouting other kinds of seeds and whether or not you have to buy the "for sprouting" seeds, which are always pricier.
I actually found that when I didn't hover over the sprouts as much, or rinse them so much, they did better.

At 2/18/2009 1:00 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I'd like to try alfalfa sprouts next, so you give me hope, Tara. :-) I did buy the sunflower seeds specially, but the wheat berries came from the big bucket I bought to grind into flour. As long as the seeds aren't treated, you should be OK. (Would like to try sprouting spelt, too, since I have those "berries" around as well.)

That must be the trick, not rinsing so much. I think last year's batch had too much standing water in them. Ah well, live and learn!

At 2/19/2009 12:21 PM, Blogger Sara said...

I'm looking forward to your new spin on PTS and hearing how your seed starting goes. I have begun picking up the supplies I'll need. Still need to get some lights... and convince my husband to hang them for me. But I think I'll be about set once I get those. Good luck!

At 2/19/2009 12:32 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

You are WAY ahead of me, then, Sara -- I got nothing (except seeds)! Need to do some looking this weekend, I guess...


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