Archive | January, 2014

Meals at Meduseld – Poppy Seed Cake

Europe, especially eastern Europe, has a rich tradition of baked goods with poppy seeds.   This is one of my favorites.

Poppy Seed Cake

Poppy Seed Cake

Delicious,  rich, and very easy to make.   This was inspired by Rick Rodgers’, Kaffeehaus cookbook, but I have made some changes to it.


2 cups King Arthur self rising flour, divided

1 cup butter

4 large eggs

1 cup sugar

Rum flavoring,  vanilla flavoring

1 cup ground poppy seeds

2/3 cup milk

Set your eggs and butter out so they are room temperature.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

With a blender, combine butter and sugar until creamy.  Add one egg at a time, blending each in completely before adding the next.  Add a teaspoon of each of the flavorings.  Add one cup flour, blend, add milk and blend, and add second cup of flour.  Stir in one cup of poppy seeds that have been run through a coffee grinder in order to get them to release their flavor (this also makes them more pleasant to chew in the cake).

Pour the cake batter into a buttered and floured cake pan – a bundt pan turns out nicely.  Bake for 45 – 55 minutes in a 350 degree oven.


I mentioned in a post last week that this was the time to start ordering seeds for Spring planting.  I tried a new company this year, looking to support local sustainable suppliers.  The company I tried was the Sustainable Seed Company, and I am rather disappointed.   Here are the things I noticed, and I will be comparing them with, whose quality I am always pleased with.


Take a look at this first photo for comparison.  Both are parsnip seeds, a vegetable we have recently fallen in love with.  The package on the left was from Gourmet Seed, and the one on the right from Sustainable Seed.  Observe the packaging.  One is in a protective sealed mylar that will preserve the seeds for years without exposing them to gains or loss of moisture.  The other is in printed paper, which has practically no protective qualities. 

Now, the obvious difference is size!  The packet from Gourmet Seed contains 25 grams of seeds and the other 2 grams.  While this packet from Gourmet Seeds cost $6.95, it contains over EIGHT TIMES more seeds than the other.  The other cost $2.75, (as of today’s blog it is on sale) and you can see that for the extra $3.00 the Gourmet Seed cost is the winner.   Even if I don’t use all the seeds one year, I can still reseal it with the built-in zip seal and these will keep.

Which brings me to the next issue.  I also ordered a pound of winter wheat seed from Sustainable Seeds, and look at the date!


These were packaged for 2013, which means they were grown the year before.  Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested the following spring in July in the North or as early as May in the South.  Since these are dated March, it means they were harvested the year before.  These are two-year old seeds!  Another of the seed packets I received from them is also stamped “packed for 2013.” 

When ordering seeds, it is important to watch for companies that offer quality and back up that committment consistently. 


Spring Checklist

So its 5 degrees Farenheit outside, and the inclination is to curl up next to a fire with a good book and a cup of coffee.  It may be hard to look through frost covered windows at half a foot of snow and envision Spring, but it will come faster than you think!

There is no time like the present to start working on the Spring checklist.

The first item is to check your planting dates.  Most seeds can be started indoors, and many should be started this way instead of direct sown.  Reach for a calendar and check out your last frost date, count back six weeks, mark the date, and count back eight weeks and mark that date as well.  Our last frost date is May 15, although I find that we are in a micro climate that gives us a little more lee-way.  We often don’t get the late frosts that people get down in the valley only a mile from us.  Calculating back from May 15, We get March 20 for eight weeks and April 3 for six weeks before. 

This gives us 7-8 weeks for ordering seeds, seed starter mixes, seed pots and trays.  Some vegetables we like can be direct sown as soon as the ground can be worked, which may be considerably before the last frost date.  Those include Fava beans and peas.

But there is another consideration – hoop houses.  Each layer of plastic gives us another “ag zone.”   This will give us several additional weeks to the growing season.  If you have access to one of these, adjust your seed starting dates forward.  Don’t let Spring anticipation make you too eager, though.  Handling leggy tomatoes in seed trays is no fun, and don’t necessarily produce earlier.

Start sweet potato cuttings.  I find that organic sweet potatoes from the grocery store are fantastic.  When I buy these for cooking I always watch for one or two with lots of “eyes”  and I look for any signs of sprouting.  For the last several years I have always found some that already show the will to grow.  This is one of the easiest plants to start, and the garden catalogs are charging an arm and a leg for these.  One seed catalog has them priced for $17.95 for a dozen.  WHAT?  Take your sweet potato and place it in a jar of water going almost halfway up the potato.  Within a week or two you should start seeing growth like this:



 When these little branches become about three to four inches long I pull them off and place them in water, where within days they will put out roots.  The potato will continue pushing out additional sprouts.  I suggest starting this soon since it is a lengthier process and the cuttings do well in water until planting time.  Do not plant these delicate plants in the ground until after the last frost date.

Check your filters.  This one is not really about gardening, but is necessary.  Many homeowners skip this step and it makes your indoor heating systems much less efficient.  A clean filter pays for itself. 

Start your wine kit.  Yes, this is about gardening!  It is so nice to settle into a lawnchair after a long day of gardening with a cool Riesling.  You can make your own very affordably with wine kits.  We get ours from and one of our favorites is the Riesling Kit.  It costs around $40.00 and you can even get it “subscribe and save” for less.  It makes 25-28 bottles for a very affordable $1.60 PER BOTTLE!  It tastes lovely – just follow the instructions closely.  We ferment ours a little longer for a drier finish.  While the kit says “four weeks”  you’ll want to let the bottled wine sit a few months in your basement or dirt cellar to age a bit.  Here, we have just started a batch and the fermentation process is starting to bubble nicely.


Check your state laws.  It is legal to make small amounts of wine for personal use in most states.   In West Virginia, the Law  is very close to the Federal Law, allowing up to 200 gallons for a household with two adults.  We make only 5-10 gallons per year – 200 seems like a lot! 






2014 Gardening Goals, High Intensity Gardening

I think practically every gardener spends January (in the northern hemisphere at least) pouring over seed catalogs and planning their spring and summer gardens, and I am no exception.  As soon as the New Year’s celebrations are over, seed catalogs start pouring in the mail enticing us with their bright pictures and promises of high yields.

Over the years, though, modern growing methods have left most of us feeling disappointed.  On our farm, we have been trying new methods of organic techniques, incorporating permaculture, and avoiding quick solutions such as pesticides and herbicides.  So, I was thrilled to come across a new method of gardening called High Intensity Gardening which can literally help the plants to express their full genetic potential, while improving the condition of the soil and the nutritional content of food.  For example, a tomato plant has the genetic potential to produce 400-500 POUNDS of tomatoes, but due to our growing methods, toxins, nutritional deficiencies,etc., we fall short of its potential.

John Kempf is one of the greatest advocates and educators of High Intensity Agriculture.  He has formed an organization called Advancing Eco Agriculture.  You can listen to him here in an interview with Dr. Mercola offering a brief explanation of the methods and outcomes.

Last year, I demonstrated in an article called “Compost” the amazing results of using compost in the garden.  Mr. Kempf discusses the benefits of compost “tea,” a liquid made by fermenting compost in water, generating an enzyme and beneficial bacteria-rich liquid for the soil.  Kempf draws the similarity with Dr. Mercola, that just as humans’ digestion benefits from beneficial organisms, the soil is the plants digestion and benefits from pro-biotics as well.  Here are two videos showing Kempf’s Plant Health Pyramid.



As I consider my seed choices, I will also be researching recipes for compost tea.  And with a few exceptions, I will not be ordering from most of the major seed catalogs, who provide overpriced packets with scarcely any seeds.  Ever since starting this blog, we have provided a link to where we buy our seeds.  The majority of the seeds come from Europe where cross-pollination with GMO crops is not as great an issue.  The packets are reasonably priced and usually contain hundreds of seeds in each.  I am awed by the quality and quantity. 

It is increasingly necessary for small farmers to embrace these natural growing methods and seeds.   Top soils across this country are microbiogically dead, and can only produce if given chemicals, yielding nutrient deficient food.1  Since Big Ag has not responded to the call for better farming,  small farms are leading the way.  Please support your local farmers!




We’re back!

Good Morning Friends and welcome back, I mean me! My sincerest apologies for the absence but we have literally been without internet for 31 days! What didn’t help was lots of snow and icy road conditions, making going out difficult, too. In this rural location, we rely on the cell tower for our businesses’  communications, internet, weather, news, etc.  (In one conversation with an AT&T representative, “Paul” remarked that he was looking at a computer map that shows cell strength.  He said that around us it was completely white.  I asked, “What does that mean?”  “It means nothing, it means you have nothing,” was his reply.)

As you know, we had already been having AT&T tower problems for the last few months. The entire tower crashed, however, exactly two weeks before Christmas. I had several Christmas blogs in mind that will have to wait for next year, such as how to make Christmas Stollen, a German holiday bread studded with candied fruits and filled with almond paste. 

So time to catch up on some other news, as well as four weeks of Emily Estrada’s Fibretown Podcast :)

Meduseld is thrilled to be an advertiser inWild Fibers Magazine’s Tenth Anniversary Issue. I have been reading this magazine since before we even started up making yarn, and it is like traveling overseas without leaving the comfort of your living room. It covers diverse natural fibers all over the globe. My only complaint is that they don’t cover the wonderful domestic farms very often, but hopefully there will be more attention given to our own country’s fantastic (albeit struggling) fiber industry in the future.   Look for our ad in this issue, which contains a link to our free Icicle Shawl Pattern

We were not idle while the net was down. I started some seed trays for a friend who is firing up her own “high tunnel” or hoop house. While most of the seedlings are coming up fine, I have had the most frustrating time keeping a mouse out of the cucumber and squash trays, having to replant each time some four legged creature makes a feast of my seeds. I even put the four legs of the table in buckets of water and the little varmint still gets to them. BTW, sprinkling hot red pepper over the dirt doesn’t stop the mice either. I have now planted those trays for the fourth time. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Coming up: Maple syrup making, new yarn I am expecting from the mill, gardening plans for 2014, and some recipes I have been testing while things were “quiet.”