Edible Omaha

PRESERVE

PRESERVE
Preserving Place
Two Friends Use Canning to Create Community
By Summer Miller • Photography By Ariel Fried

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”

Matthew 13:31–32 AV

A large unassuming glass jar rested on the kitchen counter behind Beth Richards as she poured a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Easily 12 inches high and the width of a woman’s hand, the jar held captive umber mustard seeds beneath its indigo screwtop lid.

Beth opened the refrigerator and smelled the milk before announcing, “It’s OK,” with a chuckle and poured it into the mug. By way of her job as the mail carrier in the Minne Lusa neighborhood just south of Florence for 15 of the last 30 years, she became friends with lifelong resident Sharon Olson. It was a love of place and a desire to connect that brought them together to create the Minne Lusa House, where people put up summer’s bounty and connect with one another in the process.

“We thought, ‘What can we do to bring people together?’ People like to eat. They like to learn. Maybe we can bring people from outside the community to see we aren’t all shooting each other, and maybe we can bring people from within the community to get to know one another and strengthen our neighborhood,” said Sharon.  “Plus, Beth really likes to can. That’s her thing.”

The two retirees bought the now silt-colored stucco house at 2737 Mary Street in 2009 with the intention of preserving their neighborhood through food preservation. They wanted a place where people could come together, be comfortable and get to know one another.

“The house was only $20,000. It had been repossessed. We thought, we could each put in $20,000 and that would be enough,” Sharon said looking to the side and shaking her head in a way that seemed to say that they were crazy to think such a thing. “It wasn’t enough.”

After their initial and several additional investments, the house was converted from a shabby, neglected relic to a proud, glistening gathering place.

Those who want to learn how to can from Beth and Sharon should expect to be treated like long-lost friends and close neighbors—welcomed, put to work and sent off with food in hand. There isn’t a schedule of classes, rather they are announced from time to time on the Minne Lusa House Facebook page. Would-be canners don’t need to wait for a class but are encouraged to call the house and set up a time. If you have produce to can, then bring it with you.  If not, Beth and Sharon will probably have something from their own garden to share. Groups are limited to four and require a $10 donation per person to cover costs. Sharon and Beth provide the jars and knowledge; you get to leave with freshly canned food and fond memories.

Jars of chopped carrots, potatoes and plum sauce sitting comfortably in long rows atop the shelves of a metal baker’s rack in the back bedroom and hidden behind the glass doors of built-in bookcases serve as examples of what was done in years past. There is also a canning record book where Beth documents everything from doomsday predictions to the very first canning effort at Minne Lusa House. “I have it all written down,” said Beth getting up from the table to find the book and jog her memory. “Yes, you do. It’s a bible,” said Sharon, who in a lower voice tucked her hand alongside her mouth and mentioned, “She’s the organized one.”

Beth laughed as she returned with the book. She sat at the dining room table and opened it to the exact entry on May 16, 2011, when the Minne Lusa House put up its first jars—six, eight-ounce jars of Guinness mustard. The recipe was given to her by a neighbor and in many ways, represents the overall impression of the house—little is better than a good beer and spicy friendships.

The entry below it reads, May 21—THE END OF THE WORLD, mocking the media-hyped prophesy by Harold Camping that came and went. “I just thought it was worth mentioning,” Beth said smiling.

Although jokes and laughter are bound to welcome any canner, both women take their efforts at the Minne Lusa House seriously.  They each have reasons for spending their retirement years hosting Saturday-morning coffees for neighbors and canning classes for anyone who’s interested.

Beth hopes to regain the beauty of smalltown life she remembers as a child, and Sharon wants to revitalize the neighborhood she loved while growing up. They aren’t hosting giant fund-raising campaigns, nor are they even interested in becoming a nonprofit. For them, it is simply about two women being neighborly and using their talents to benefit the greater good.

Like the mustard seed, grand things often come from small beginnings. As Sharon said, “It’s a start.”

Summer Miller is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Every Day with Rachel Ray, Eating Well, AAA Living, The Reader and more websites than room to note. She lives with her husband and two children in Elkhorn, Nebraska, where she spends most of her time thinking and writing about food. You can contact her at miller. summer@gmail.com.

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FROM THE FARM

turkey
Coming to a Thanksgiving
Feast Near You
Heritage Turkeys
By Theresa Farrage
Photography By Growing Cities

Ask any Californian who has yet to visit Nebraska or Iowa what they picture it to look like, and you may get the generic response: Fields of corn. Local Nebraskans and Iowans can’t blame Californians for this vision. After all, Nebraska is the Cornhusker State, and the infamous movie set in Iowa, Field of Dreams, does feature nostalgic baseball players meandering through cornstalks.

For one Californian though, Nebraska represented an opportunity to support sustainable agriculture by way of raising heritage turkeys.  From Sacramento to West Point, Nebraska, Randy Wattermann and his family decided to leave the Golden State and its near-perfect weather behind for an acreage of land near relatives and friends.  After reading books by American farmer and author Joel Salatin and attending a pastured poultry seminar sponsored by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Randy was inspired to implement his own sustainable farming practices in 1998.

Randy, who raises a few hundred heritage turkeys, said that the heritage breeds are making a rapid comeback, especially among local farmers for many reasons. These reasons include its rich flavor and plumage, more proportionate ratio of breasts to legs, better balance between dark and white meat and its superior biological diversity.

“When a particular crop or livestock species is cloned or bred within a narrow genetic pool, the risk is much greater that a particular bug or other stress comes along and wipes out a wide swath of that particular species or variety. Should the population of heritage turkeys fade out, leaving only the commercial whites, there would no longer be a naturally sustainable strain of domestic turkeys,” said Randy.

According to the Heritage Turkey Foundation, this particular breed of turkey is the ancestor of the common broad-breasted white industrial breed that you find at your local grocer. Each year the Wattermann Family Farm locally hatches and raises its own variation of heritage turkeys, which include Bourbon Red, Sweetgrass and Heritage White varieties.

“Heritage turkeys are old-fashioned turkeys raised on a farm. They can reproduce naturally, but don’t grow as fast or as big as the commercial types,” said Randy.

The domesticated commercial white breeds are unable to accomplish their own reproduction because of their enormous size and therefore have to be artificially inseminated.

On the Wattermann Family Farm, the heritage turkeys are truly free-range, roaming the pasture at will and eating grass, clover and grasshoppers. Randy also mixes his own fresh feed using organic and transitional non-GMO corn, soy meal and oats.

Randy has a legion of fans who appreciate a more authentic, sustainable Thanksgiving feast. Laurie Barger Sutter of Lincoln is one such fan. She discovered the farm years ago through the Nebraska Food Cooperative. “I discovered the co-op several years ago through a news article and joined as a consumer to increase my access to and ability to support locally grown and sustainably and humanely raised food products,” said Laurie.

Laurie and her husband made a commitment about five years ago to change their food-purchasing habits and purchase only freerange and grass-fed meat and eggs, as well as locally and organically grown produce and food products. For the first year, the Sutter family decided to order a free-range turkey from a national organic food store because they couldn’t find one locally. “It came from California, which didn’t exactly meet our local food criteria. It was not a heritage turkey, and it did not taste significantly different from the mass-produced turkeys we had purchased previously.”

When the Sutter’s learned of the Wattermann Family Farm offering turkeys for sale through the food co-op, they were elated. “We’ve been grateful and loyal customers ever since,” said Laurie. “The products Randy Wattermann and his family produce have become a staple in our family’s diet.”

Laurie orders several turkeys, as well as her Thanksgiving bird, in early autumn. Randy begins taking orders as early as the summer since he has a limited supply. Because heritage turkeys are in demand thanks to their lack of volume, they don’t come cheap.  Prices range from $3.50 per pound to $7.50 per pound; the average price through the Nebraska Food Co-op is $3.75 per pound.

According to Laurie, the flavor of a heritage turkey is really incomparable to a mass-produced bird because it possesses a deep, rich, complex taste. Laurie claims that the meat also tends to be leaner, somewhat darker and more densely textured, with the bird being more proportional in size. Laurie would never consider buying a commercialized turkey from the grocery store again. Her family agrees that there is something special about having a heritage turkey at Thanksgiving. “My daughter’s boyfriend, an executive sous chef at one of the best restaurants in the city, joined us for Thanksgiving dinner last year. I knew that the last thing he probably wanted to see or eat at our dinner was more turkey, but he gamely put a small piece on his plate to be polite. When he ate it, however, his eyes widened and he immediately reached for more exclaiming, ‘Wow! That’s phenomenal! The real deal!’ And it was,” said Laurie.

To Order a heritage turkey

Old Nelly Farms

Crescent, Iowa

LocalDirt.com/OldNellyFarms

Wattermann Family Farm

Westpoint, Nebraska

NebraskaHeritageTurkey.com; www.NebraskaFood.org

Theresa Farrage is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Midwest Living and the Omaha World-Herald. Her passions, outside fashion and philanthropy, include supporting local restaurants and food producers. She also loves expanding her palate by attempting to cook and eat various ethnic cuisines.

Read moreFROM THE FARM

Watermelon Cooler

Serving 4

1 quart plus 1 cup cubed, seedless watermelon

2 cups ice cubes

4 limes, juiced

¼ cup granulated sugar

Kosher salt, to taste

4 lime wedges

Combine first four ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and sprinkle with kosher salt. Serve with lime wedges.

For cocktail: Add 1 ounce vodka to each glass.

From Ann Nelson

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Raspberry-Lemon Iced Tea

Serving 18–20

1 ¼ cups fresh whole raspberries, washed and divided

½ cup plus

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 gallon water

3 large, three-ounce ice tea bags Juice of two lemons

Roll ¼ cup of raspberries in 2 tablespoons sugar and freeze in single layer on cookie sheet for at least one hour. Meanwhile, add water to large saucepan and turn burner to high. Once water boils, add tea bags, remaining raspberries and sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to low and steep for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and discard tea bags. Cool for 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and stir. Strain to remove cooked raspberries, if desired. Chill in refrigerator. When ready to serve, pour over ice and add a few frozen, sugar-coated raspberries.

From Ann Nelson

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Cilantro and Celery Spritzer

Serving 1

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1 tablespoon water

1 celery stalk, trimmed

Ice

6 ounces club soda or lemon-lime soda 1 lime wedge Combine lime juice, cilantro, agave and water in a glass. Use celery stalk to muddle together. Pour through strainer into another glass full of ice and discard cilantro leaves. Add soda and use celery stalk to stir. Garnish with lime wedge.  For a cocktail: Replace 1 ounce of soda with Absolut Citron.

From Ann Nelson

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Strawberry-Basil Lemonade

Serving 8–10

Strawberry-Basil Syrup:

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 pound strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced . inch thick

¾  cup tightly packed basil leaves

Lemonade:

8 cups cold water

2 cups lemon juice, chilled

Ice

Garnish:

½ pound strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced . inch thick

¼ cup tightly packed, blemish-free basil leaves

For the syrup:

Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over high heat.

Stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Add the strawberries; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the strawberries have softened, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the basil leaves and stir to incorporate. Cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl; discard the solids. Cover the syrup and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the lemonade:

Pour the water, lemon juice and 1. cups of the strawberry-basil syrup into a 3-quart pitcher or punch bowl and stir to combine. Taste and add additional strawberry-basil syrup as needed. Add ice and garnish with the sliced strawberries and basil leaves.

For a cocktail: Add 1 ounce of Absolut Citron or other vodka to glass before adding the lemonade.

—From Christine Gallary

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Nojito

Serving 1

1 dozen small, fresh mint leaves (spearmint if available)

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 lime, ½ juiced and ½ sliced

1 cup club soda or lemon-lime soda 1 cup crushed ice Add mint leaves, sugar and lime juice to the bottom of a glass. Press together using a muddler or small wooden spoon. Add soda and ice. Stir. Garnish with lime wedges and extra mint leaves.  For a Mojito: Add 1 ounce rum and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.

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Cucumber Lemonade

Serving 18–20

8 ounces freshly squeezed Meyer lemons

6 ounces natural milled organic sugar or sweetener of your choice

1 ½ gallons water

1 organic cucumber

Mix lemon juice, sugar and water. Wash, peel, seed and dice cucumber. Pour 2 cups of liquid mixture into blender and add cucumber. Blend until smooth. Pour into remaining lemonade and stir to incorporate. Pour over ice and serve.  For a cocktail: Pour 6 ounces cucumber lemonade into a drink shaker with ice and . ounces of vodka.  Mix slowly, gently swirling mixture. Strain into a chilled martini glass.

From Pepe’s Bistro: Located above Against the Wall Gallery at 6220 Havelock in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Pepe’s Bistro serves vegan and vegetarian food prepared using fresh, local and organic ingredients. www.PepesBistro.wordpress.com

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