Thursday, August 30, 2012

sun-oven baked jujube butter

Jujube, or red date, also has a fabulous latin name: Ziziphus zizyphus. It is an Asian species, but is very hearty and tolerates the high desert climate wonderfully. Unlike apples, pears, and peaches which are far more commonly-grown here, insects do not seem to bother with jujubes...though we do have a family of foxes who like to come around late at night to snack (rather loudly, I might add...) on the ripe ones that fall to the ground. Occasionally a bird will peck through the fairly thick skin, but otherwise we get to keep as many fruits as we can harvest. From a small grove of trees, we've been picking between 5 and 10 lbs per day for a week or so during august - by now the crop has dwindled down to a pound or two per day. The trees are a bit thorny, so perhaps that is a deterrent to many creatures.

Jujube fruits are small, about the size of a date and with a date-like pit, but with flesh and flavor more like an apple. You can eat them right off the tree, but we like to cook them down into a butter. It's a bit of a process, but the result is sublime!

The wikipedia page contains a wealth of excellent info about this wonderful tree and its fruits - including its purported medicinal uses. In Asia jujubes are revered for their stress-relieving properties.

We make our jujube butter in the sun oven, but you can easily adapt the recipe for stove top:


Place 2 lbs jujubes in a black enamel pot covered in water along with a cinnamon stick, a few cloves, and a chunk of ginger. No sugar is necessary!!

Cook 2 - 3 hours at 350F.

Once the fruits are soft and cool enough to handle, the pits will pop out quite easily by hand (we find this method of pitting easier than using a cherry pitter in the raw phase).

Smash the pitted fruits using a food mill to remove skins. 

Place the sweet sludge back in the sun oven, and cook for another hour or two. 

Prepare canning jars (recipe will fill 2 jars). Fill with hot jujube butter. Follow your usual canning procedure (for us this means putting the jars in a water bath in the sun oven for several more hours). 

Much like a butterscotchy-flavored apple butter,  jujube butter can be paired with sweets or savory things. Excellent with cheese and bread, or a few tablespoons added to recipes for baked goods, such as scones. Also great in a smoothy, or on top of yogurt or ice-cream!

(please see also my SUN OVEN BLOG for more recipes!)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A home burial

 I don’t remember exactly how my parents and I first became interested in the idea of a “home” burial.  It was probably the combination of becoming aware of how environmentally destructive and expensive a “conventional” burial is, as well as my dad being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We began researching this unfamiliar and intriguing topic both online and through local officials. We found that every state, county, and town has its own laws regarding home burial and in some places it is prohibited.

According to Texas law:  “A family can bury its dead without using a licensed funeral director. A statement of death and a death certificate are legally required. Generally, local ordinances or deed restrictions prohibit private burial within city limits. Check with the State Health Department and local zoning authorities for applicable laws.”

It was quite tricky finding out the information we needed, but we were not in a hurry and at first it was just an exercise in possibilities. Roughly speaking we needed a piece of land outside of town, the top of the container buried had to be two feet from the surface of the ground, and we had to do the burying within twenty four hours of death. To obtain a death certificate in advance we had to go to the local funeral home which was very reluctant to give us one. The determination of death must be made by a coroner, Justice of the Peace, or attending physician. Having the blank death certificate in advance would allow us to be prepared.

Years later my dad contracted pneumonia, the Parkinson’s having severely weakened him, and he passed away in a hospital. At that moment we decided to go through with a home burial.

After the doctor signed the death certificate we were free to take the body which we placed in our van. The head nurse told us that throughout her 30 years working at the hospital, we were only the second to remove a body independently, the other was returned to Mexico. It was late in the day when we drove to our property. We spent the night then woke up early and started digging. My brother and brother in law joined in and it took us most of the day using a digging bar and shovels, praying for the ground to be free of large rocks, and grateful it was quite cold. Not long before the twenty four hour mark we placed the blanket wrapped body in the deep hole with several special items picked out by family members - a  harmonica, stones, and notes. We then replaced the dirt and topped the grave with rocks. Later that day we had a short service before it started to snow, the first and only time that winter.

In hindsight we were very lucky everything worked out the way it did. We didn't have to hunt down the Justice of the Peace on a weekend, we were not pulled over on our way (we had the necessary papers), and no big rocks were in our way.  What ultimately made it all possible was making the arrangements in advance, and having a supportive and unconventional family.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

drying zucchini on the clothes line

for our first drying-zucchini-on-the-clothesline experiment, we strung zucchini rounds on cotton string, then clipped the string to the clothesline with clothespins. because the rounds are quite heavy,  in order to keep the slices from touching each other, we needed to hold up the string with one pin every three rounds or so until much of the moisture had gone out of them. we wrapped the whole thing in cheesecloth and left it on the line for three days (and nights) in very sunny, low-humidity weather until they became lovely dried rounds that we are storing in jars, and will use in soup later in the year.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

the multifold resistance: an invitation

"the 7 generations" by alyce santoro

The next article in my series about ways to think about and act on climate change, "The Multifold Resistance: an Invitation", was published today at Truthout under the title "How to Break Up with the Oil Industry: a Complex Relationship". I hope you'll give it a read and let me know your thoughts.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

we have met the environment, and it is us

"newton" by blake

my most recent article we have me the environment, and it is us  is a constructive critique of bill mckibben's piece in rolling stone titled "climate change's terrifying new math", has been published at truthout. the basic premise is that, as long as we continue to perceive the environment as "terrifying math", rather than as a part of ourselves, the problem and its solutions will remain abstractions to us. the environment is not math - it is us.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

an intense year

photo taken april 29, 2012 by jeff smith

a year between posts? it seems absurd, but what a year it's been. during the frigid winter of 2011 we became focused on the uprisings in egypt and north africa, and the outrage stirred here in the US by the wikileaks revelations. terrible wildfires raged through our drought-ridden region of far west texas, placing untold stress on local plants, wildlife, and the people who live here. 

months of breathing smoke inspired julian's mom to suddenly relocate to the oregon coast, leaving behind the family homestead located in a small town about 45 miles from our place in the mountains. suddenly we found ourselves with two places miles apart to care for. we made the difficult decision to move our main base of operations to the house in town, since during the severe drought we have not been able to harvest enough rainwater to supply both ourselves and our plants - hauling water from a community well is possible, but very labor, time, and resource-intensive.

while here in the house in town, we have been making swales and berms in the relatively flat landscape of the yard to encourage the native plants and fruit trees here to flourish. we've routed every drop of graywater out onto the gardens.

then last week the fires started up again, and our canyon was once again threatened. as of today, the fires are 70% contained and the wind is light - we are hopeful that our beloved tiny home-in-progress may be spared once again. meanwhile, we are safely ensconced at the house in town, feeling very grateful to have a place to dwell, but worried about the ongoing stress to this remote, unique, and beautiful part of the world - and to planet earth in general.