Crowds of people, young and old, were waiting eagerly at the entry gate well before the start time of 10 a.m. Teamed with our fellow UCCE/Los Angeles County Master Gardeners—and located between the booths of Engineers Without Borders, OrangUtan Republik Foundation, and across from Friends of the Los Angeles River, we shared a table and white canopied booth and stayed busy, non-stop till 2pm, talking to people about their gardens and the art of food preservation. In all nearly 2200 people came through the Earth Day Festival and at least 500 of them stopped at our booth.
We also showed off jars of waterbath processed jams and marmalades, and pressure canned chicken and squash, which gave us a chance to explain how many methods of food preservation are available to the home preserver, along with tips for food safety practices.
More than one person said "My mom or my grandma used to can everything but I never learned how to do it." We explained that our role as MFPs was to offer our services as volunteer instructors to teach them how to do it themselves. We asked them to bring word back to their organizations and let them know to call us if they wanted free lessons.
Attached to the veggie packets we stapled MFP cards so that people would connect the idea of growing, harvesting then preserving their veggies and herbs knowing they could contact us for the know-how.
Families were out in force and many of the little ones were carrying around small plant pots that they had decorated at a special booth. Each pot contained a seed...some were given watermelon seeds, some had sunflowers, and of course we reminded them that these plants would need a lot more room than the cute pots they carried and should be transplanted as soon as they’re big enough.
Different kinds of saplings were distributed by various agencies, and people were carrying them around the festival grounds, looking just a little bit like Johnny Appleseed carting his apple trees across the country.
By the time the day ended, our seed supply had nearly been cleaned out, we'd talked to many hundreds of people about food preservation, and we felt we’d had a very successful day.
The day dawned grey and drizzly but the intrepid UCCE/LA County Master Food Preservers were raring to go. The “concluding events” of City of LA Mayor's Day of Service – this year scheduled all across the city on Cesar Chavez Day (March 31) and dedicated to the theme of Good Food for All – took place in a lively corner of the urban jungle at the edge of Chinatown, at Metabolic Studios, an arts/eco experimental collective, which organized the “Cornfield” we’ve all heard so much about.
Next to the train tracks and under a concrete bridge, chairs, tables and canopies were set up for non-profit organizations involved in food issues to distribute materials and talk to interested members of the public about their missions.
And just below the neon sign on the wall that reads “Another City is Possible,” the Master Food Preservers (MFP) and Master Gardeners (MG) set up tables with volunteers, books, informational handouts and – in the case of the MFPs – demonstrations on how to make kimchi, preserved lemons and refrigerator pickles.
A handful of MFPs were preliminary judges of the “Cabbage Contest,” which is in season now. Beginning at 9 am, entries in three categories – fresh, cooked and fermented – were delivered by members of the general public – AND three of our Master Food Preservers, too!!
MFP/MG Susan Nickels submitted a slaw – and made it into the finals. As did MFP/MG Rachael Narins, whose Thomas Starr King Middle School students not only made but grew the ingredients for their kimchi submission.
Of course, those choices of finalists (REALLY!) had nothing to do with the MFPs – dishes were numbered and anonymous on the table and judged on the merits of taste, appearance and creativity.
The final six choices (two in each category) were delivered to the panel of celebrity judges, who sat at a table on a “stage” and made the final call. They included Eric Oberholtzer of Tender Greens, Josiah Citron of Melisse, Pulitzer Prize winning food writer Jonathan Gold, farmers Phil McGrath and James Birch and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti.
Susan’s coleslaw (secret ingredient, Preserved Lemons), the one on top in the photo, sits at the final judging station alongside winner Jennifer Mandel’s cabbage, kale and carrot salad. In the case of Rachael’s students, it was literally a toss-up – there was equal praise for both final dishes, and a coin toss settled the winner. (Photo courtesy Susan).
The prize was likely not appropriate for the kids anyway: a dinner for two at Citron’s very posh Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica; but a consolation prize came with it. Once Eric Garcetti heard the story that the kids grew their own ingredients, he promised to come visit and congratulate the students in person at their Silverlake school, which is in his neighborhood.
But much attention was paid to the demos at the MFP table. Hae Jung Cho is a professional cook and an expert kimchi maker – she showed us her ingredients and techniques and proved how very easy it is to make kimchi, and how healthful its fermented properties are.
Then Amy Goldman and Roshni Divate demonstrated one of the key ingredients in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking – preserved lemons. There’s no surfeit of lemons in California, so get past the “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” mantra and learn this simple salting, squeezing and spicing technique. Preserved lemons are a secret ingredient that chefs use for many different dishes, from pesto to salad dressings and more.
And finally MFP/MG Laurie Dill and Karen Hobert showed us how simple it is to create original, delicious refrigerator pickles, with a spiced brine and fresh cucumbers, which are showing up now at Farmers Markets. Grow your own, and “when life hands you extra cukes,” make pickles!
It may not be the sexiest vegetable, but cabbage had its day in the sun (well, not exactly sun -- it was a grey day!).
On Saturday, March 31, the UCCE/LA County MFPs participated in "Good Food Day LA," as judges for the "Mayor's Day of Service" Cabbage Contest, "From Kim Chee to Coleslaw." Pictured above is Paula Daniels, who heads the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, which had a big hand in organizing the day's activities -- and for getting the Mayor's Day of Service to focus on Good Food for All.
Categories were FRESH, COOKED and FERMENTED cabbage, and the entries engendered comments from some of our team of MFP preliminary judges (they selected the finalists from which the celebrity panel would later choose the winners). There were entries from both the general public and three MFPs (one taking the class now, the other two grads of the Spring 2011 class).
Rachael Narins' (MFP spring 2011) students entered kimchi (left, finalist) made with ingredients they grew themselves in the school garden she also oversees as a Master Gardener at Thomas Starr King Middle School in LA's Silverlake area. They were finalists (but didn't win the coin toss--see end of post below for recipe!)
MFP Susan Nickels (right, finalist), who submitted cole slaw and therefore did not judge: "So much fun! I did a take on traditional coleslaw -- yogurt and rice vinegar, minced red jalapenos and secret ingredient -- preserved meyer lemons!" Hers is the dish on top of photo on the right.
MFP Hae Jung Cho, fall 2011 grad and a professional cook by day: "I judged the fresh category. There were nine entries which were almost all really tasty! I really liked one dish that was not showy; it just looked like a bowl of sauerkraut (although with a nicer color). It turned out to be a Haitian dish, spicy and crunchy and kind of sour like sauerkraut but only let to sit four hours. There were also a couple of interesting takes on coleslaw, especially one that incorporated preserved meyer lemon (editor's note: Susan's, and it was a finalist!) -- so aromatic and unexpected. But the salad that won this particular category was a colorful mixture of kale, orange, cabbage, almonds and other things with a dressing that used walnut oil. There were so many different flavor profiles - savory, sweet, spicy, crunchy and chewy."
MFP Laurie Dill (spring 2011): "The cooked cabbage category was not hard to judge. It seemed easy to distinguish whether the foods were attractive, tasty, and creative, and we three did our own tasting and evaluating, and then we compared notes and came up with a collective vote, which we all were pretty close on. There were 2-3 cooked cabbage dishes that were clearly atop of all the others and we were able to choose the top 2 in agreement. The cabbage contest was a great idea and I think, very well received!!"
Jenn Su (fall 2011): "Our category was fermented cabbage, and it was really interesting to think about the foods we tasted in terms of fermented flavors (and other flavors as a byproduct of food preservation). The wonderful kim-chi chips in our category were one of my favorites -- they were first fermented and then dehydrated. The flavor was great, but I think the fermented/pickle (acidic) flavor of the kimchi was really subtle (maybe too subtle?) after dehydration; and rather the spices in the recipe were really concentrated -- super spicy and salty. Either way, delicious and cool idea for a snack!"
The kids of the Thomas Starr King Middle School Garden Club (built and funded by EnrichLA and LACER), where I volunteer as a Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver, entered a fermented kimchi.
- Author: Rachael Narins
Students at Thomas Starr King Middle School in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, finish classes at 1:45pm on Tuesday afternoons. Since that is earlier than every other day of the week, there are lots of interesting clubs set up for kids whose parents can't pick them up until later. About 30 to 40, sixth and seventh graders elect to participate in the L.A.C.E.R. sponsored Garden Club.
Thanks to the efforts of Enrich LA, the beautiful garden at the center of this Title One campus has an outdoor kitchen, (Pots and Pans! Tools! Burners! Running Water! You should come check it out sime time.) allowing the happy group of diverse kids a way to cook up some of the amazing produce they grow. It’s a great way to introduce them to new, healthy foods (you should see these children devour kale. It’s heart warming and life-affirming) and an exciting way to teach them about food preservation. This school year we have made jam, pickles, more pickles, kale chips, yogurt and more (pickles).
This month, using cabbage, chiles, onion, green onion, turnips and radishes grown right there in their own organic garden, we mixed up a HUGE batch of kimchi; a fermented cabbage dish from Korea. The mixture was set aside for a week to meld and become tangy. When it was bubbling and ready - and we had another garden club meeting - the kids combined that with MORE ingredients from the garden, including lots of lettuce, peeled carrots, garlic cloves, bright green snap peas, grassy garlic chives, more chiles, red and white onions and flowering cilantro. That was added to some chilled broth, topped with glass noodles and the result was an INCREDIBLE, nutritious and super delicious cold soup. Two gallons of it were slurped up in about 15 minutes on a beautiful, sun dappled afternoon. Nothing could have been nicer.
They also saved a bit of the kimchi to enter in to the Good Food Day L.A. Cabbage Cooking Contest taking place next weekend. Here’s hoping the judges like what they made! ***UPDATE*** The kids kimchi came in second in the contest!!!!! (After an initial tie.) SO PROUD.
As a Master Food Preserver, I could not be more thrilled about this project. Over the course of this school year, I have been (lucky and) able to work with a smart, enthusiastic, cheerful community to grow, preserve and ultimately enjoy healthy dishes featuring preserved food made by many helpful hands. This is what I believe the Master Food Preserver program is about and I am proud to be a part of it.
This story originally appeared in LAist.com and is reprinted with permission.
By Sarah Spitz (LA County MFP)/ Special to LAist
The March winds roared in like the proverbial lion this weekend, propelling us through the 90-mile journey to the 4-H Antelope Valley Food and Fashion Revue in Rosamond, California.
We were three: I am a newly-minted University of California Cooperative Extension Los Angeles County Master Food Preserver, judging a competition for the very first time in my MFPLA capacity. I was joined by two adventurous friends and expert bakers, who found the opportunity to judge a youth competition—featuring baked goods, preserves and decorated cakes—irresistible.
I promised those who expressed concern on the MFPLA Facebook page about first-timers judging that we would hew strictly to the criteria set out for that judging, and not let other factors interfere.
This turned out to be a surprisingly difficult promise and involved an intense process. A disproportionate amount of evaluation time, argumentation and much checking back with the event organizers took place, resulting in a complex decision not to award a Best in Show in the Decorated Cakes “Themed Cake” division.
Don’t scream! We gave two first, two second and one third place award to the five young people who submitted entries in this category.
I’m still a bit tortured by this decision. I’ll come back to that shortly.
You should know that 4-H clubs are dedicated to teaching young people to “learn by doing,” practicing positive life skills and fostering poise and self-confidence in service to their community. Their salute reads: “I pledge my head to clear thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my heart to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”
The three age groups we were judging are: beginners, ages 9 to 11; intermediate, ages 12 and 13, and seniors from 14-19. And the “Danish System” of judging used in the competition means everyone is rewarded with recognition for their efforts, which becomes part of their service record. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, judges included—minus the sugar rush we experienced, which fortunately, dissipated in a few hours!
Here’s what you’re judging the entrants on: their presentation—their personal appearance as well as their product’s—how they plated their foods (using their own utensils and wearing gloves, which fit pretty loosely on some of the younger hands); their ability to talk about their project, including inspirations for the recipe they chose, ingredients and of course, various qualities of the taste, from crust to interior moisture, from frosting and blending to appropriateness of size.
It was pretty much hands-down for Best in Show for each of the three age groups in the baked goods and preserves division.
When I tasted these cranberry scones I was dumbfounded that they came from a 4-H beginner. These could’ve been baked by a pro. Her presentation was a little shaky, trying to slice the butter, then spread it while holding plate in one hand and knife in the other, but there was no doubt: these cranberry scones were of superior quality and were as good, and I might say tasted even better than some I’ve bought in a bakery.
The intermediate category winner was truly outstanding: Last year this 4-H'er won Best in Show in all categories here and later won at the Antelope Valley Fair with his recipe for applesauce cake for diabetics. This year, his dad can continue to enjoy his tremendous baking talents: He made a diabetic pumpkin chiffon cake that was perfectly shaped, perfectly spiced and light as air. Diabetic or not, this was a delicious dessert.
And it was clear from her quiet but confident manner, as she graciously presented and served her truly refined mini-cupcakes with meringue frosting topped with candied rosemary orange peels, that this senior 4-H'er knew she had a winner. The swirled application of the frosting, the silver mini-baking tins the cupcakes sat in, the cupcakes themselves not overwhelmingly sweet, the candied peel just the right visual and flavor accent on top - these were works of baked art. So much effort and a product worthy of it.
Now back to the decorated cakes. There were only five. Three were made by beginners, one by an intermediate and one by a senior.
Three were “themed” cakes—the only category we were asked to consider for a Best in Show award—and two of those were by beginners. In this category, there’s no interaction with the entrants. Decisions must be made based only on the decoration.
One round layer cake demonstrated so much creative ingenuity that we fell in love at first sight, and thought we were going to stop right there and give it a best ribbon. The theme “our desert home” was depicted not in words but in frosting: A turquoise blue sky, the black silhouette of the mountains, and in the foreground, blooming saguaro cactuses against a desert-brown ground. It was like a Van Gogh - and it was by a beginner! Ultimately, though, we had to acknowledge it was inspired but a bit rough around the edges.
Then there was the sheet cake featuring poppies, California’s state flower, to remind us of the wildflowers in bloom all around us; white frosting, delicately decorated red poppies on graceful green stems in proportionate sizes with a skilled shirred base surrounding the sheet cake, that read in a steady and proficient script, “Our desert home.”
And finally, a nice effort by one of the more outgoing entrants from the baked goods division- a very dynamic young woman, who’s learned well from her 4-H acting group how to present herself in a winning manner. In the baked goods judging room earlier she told us that she plans to become an engineer, because there are so few women in the field… We could tell her heart was in this cake, but she wasn’t quite up to the engineering skills needed for this category—not yet, anyway. I’m sure she’ll get there.
So, tell me: How were we to choose a best in show, especially as there were two other cakes with excellently executed floral designs?
My friend Marja tried to sum up why: “I would say the most intense debate was that we really wanted to award for creativity and style, but there were elements on the form that restricted us. And we didn't award a best because there were so few and we really thought it should be an award not just based on technique but also the intangibles of style.”
So on the judging sheets, we offered positive constructive comments and following the dictates of the percentage scoring system provided on the judge’s checklist, we totaled up the scores, allowing for a little disappointment but an honest decision.
In the end, that’s what I’d promised. I think we delivered. And we loved every minute of it.
Sarah Spitz is a UCCE LA County Certified Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver, and the Co-founder of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA). Her writing appears in the Santa Monica Daily Press and on LAOpeningNights.com.