UC Food Blog
At Snowden Elementary in Farmersville, Mrs. Joy Smith fully utilizes this amazing squash. She incorporates the pumpkin and its many seeds to teach students about math. These skills are reinforced using tactile and spatial relations. Two excellent educators partner to demonstrate how the seeds can be added, multiplied and placed in arrays. Nutrition educator Grilda Gomez partners with Mrs. Smith to provide nutritional data related to eating the “meat” of the pumpkin as well as its seeds. For Smith and Gomez, pumpkins are not just great for pie but also for pi. Upon completion of math activities, the students continue celebrating the wonders of pumpkins by carving jack-o-lanterns with their high school buddies. While many of the students have eaten pumpkin pie, few have ventured beyond sugary variations of the fruit. On this day the students also get to enjoy a tasty treat prepared by Gomez, pumpkin spread served on whole wheat toast slices.
“Tastes like my ‘buela’s empanadas,” remarks a student.
Yes, similar to the mixture in empanadas, this recipe allows the students to enjoy the full flavor of pumpkin with very little added sugar. Pumpkins provide a terrific supply of Vitamins A and C. They are not just for dessert either. Pumpkins are a wonderful addition to creamy vegetable soups. Winter is approaching, but it’s not too late to pick this versatile squash.
- 16 oz. can pumpkin
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
Mix in an pan and heat on the stove until it bubbles. Let cool slightly. Ready to eat warm or cold. Store in refrigerator up to 4 days. Use on toast or bread, tortillas, waffles and pancakes.
UC nutrition educator Grilda Gomez, back row far right, poses with the students and their jack-o-lanterns.
“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “They used no irrigation at all.”
More than 30 years later, Dahlberg, the director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, is still impressed with sorghum and believes it has potential to be a significant crop in California, where water is a serious concern.
Sorghum isn’t a new crop to the Golden State. It was introduced more than 150 years ago. In the 1960s, a half-million acres were planted to sorghum, mainly for animal feed.
“Now, if there were 20,000 acres in sorghum I would be surprised,” Dahlberg said. Alfalfa hay and corn silage are currently the two most common forages at California dairies, which maintain nearly 2 million cows.
Dahlberg initiated a five-year research project in 2012 with funding from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources aimed at reintroducing sorghum as a low-input crop for bioenergy, food and feed in California.
A unique characteristic of sorghum is its adaptability. In many parts of the world, from Africa to India to China, sorghum grain is used to make porridge, flat bread and alcoholic beverages for people to enjoy. In the United States, sorghum has traditionally been considered an animal feed. But growing interest in eating whole grains and gluten-free foods is generating interest in sorghum for human consumption.
Sorghum grain can be milled like wheat. Sorghum flour, which is naturally gluten-free, makes excellent flat breads, cookies, pancakes and waffles, Dahlberg said. By combining with other ingredients that help it maintain loft in the absence of gluten, sorghum can also be baked into traditional fluffy bread and cake.
Whole sorghum grain may be added to soups, makes a dish similar to couscous, and can be popped like popcorn for snacking. The stems of sweet sorghum can be pressed, like sugarcane, to produce sorghum molasses or syrup.
According to the Whole Grains Council, sorghum doesn’t have the inedible hull that surrounds other grains. Since it is typically eaten with all its layers intact, sorghum retains the majority of its nutrients. In addition, the wax surrounding the sorghum grain contains compounds called policosanols, which may have an impact on cardiac health.
“We’re trying to understand whether or not the hybrids developed for the U.S. Sorghum Belt – Texas, Oklahoma, western Nebraska and South Dakota – are adapted to California conditions,” Dahlberg said. “So far, they are doing very well.”
The forage research will determine how to manage sorghum to maximize yield and reduce water and nitrogen use. Early results show that farmers can save a significant amount of water growing sorghum for dairy silage when compared with corn.
“We use less than 20 inches of irrigation water on our sorghum plots and getting 22 to 25 wet tons of material off a single crop. A corn crop will need 36 inches of water or more,” Dahlberg said.
The crop’s fertilizer needs are also quite low. In fact, too much fertilizer can cause the sorghum stalks to fall down, or lodge, which hinders harvest.
"When California farmers think about growing sorghum for gluten-free food, biofuel or animal feed, they will be able to access information generated by local research to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.
The UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver (MFP) program is following the same trend. Established in the 1980s, a small contingent of volunteers offered occasional classes through the years. But a reawakening that spurred rapid program growth was enough to prompt UC Cooperative Extension to hold the first-ever statewide Master Food Preserver conference this month in Stockton.
Master Food Preservers are volunteers who teach people in their communities how to preserve food safely and nutritiously. Nine California counties now have MFP programs and more are planned. Last year, MFP volunteers clocked 15,000 hours teaching courses on safe food preservation. The statewide conference was designed to give the volunteers a networking opportunity, updates on the latest food preservation techniques and tools, and energy to return home and meet the increasing public demand.
“There is a huge resurgence of interest in food preservation among young people,” said Missy Gable, the co-director of the UCCE statewide Master Food Preserver program and director of its Master Gardener program. “People whose parents and grandparents didn’t preserve food now want to learn how.”
At the conference, chef Ernest Miller, a certified Master Food Preserver in Los Angeles County, outlined the storied history of food preservation, which he says predates agriculture.
“You decide to grow food. You’re successful. You have a big harvest and throw the first harvest party,” Miller said. “One week, two weeks later, all the food goes bad. You starve to death and the experiment is over. You need to know how to preserve food before you can switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture.”
“Where would the French be without cheese? What would the Japanese be without sunomono, the Koreans without kimchee, the Germans without sauerkraut and beer?” he asked.
A proponent of all types of food preservation, Miller can rattle off a litany of processes in a few seconds.
“We teach canning, pressure canning, freezing, drying, pickling, fermenting, curing, brewing, smoking, charcuterie, cheese making and emergency food storage,” he said to cheers from the audience.
Three Master Food Preservers shared proven teaching techniques with their colleagues at the conference.
Sue Mosbacher, UCCE program representative for the MFP program in Amador and Calaveras counties, said she always begins a class on pressure canning by asking who’s afraid of the process. Many hands go up and members of the audience tell of times their grandmothers’ pressure cookers exploded.
“What were they cooking? Split pea soup and the peas clogged the vent. With pressure canning, we’re just using water,” Mosbacher said. “The first thing I do is reassure them that a pressure canner is a very safe tool to use.”
Mosbacher gets her students excited about canning their own beef stew by trying to read the ingredients on a store-bought stew can, and then the ingredients in her home-preserved stew.
“Potatoes, carrots, onions, beef and a little broth, that’s it. And it’s delicious,” she said.
MFP Cheryl Knapp of El Dorado County showed that food preservation isn’t limited putting up plain fruit and vegetables for future consumption. In her classes, she teaches how to make homemade spice blends using dried peppers and other vegetables from the garden.
MFP Linda Bjorkland of Sacramento County demonstrated an automatic jam and jelly maker she received as a gift. At first she was skeptical, but tried it.
“You just sprinkle the pectin, add a half teaspoon of butter, and the strawberries,” Bjorkland said. “What’s the next step? Turn it on. Can you believe that?”
A hot plate heats the mixture evenly and a blade inside the pan stirs continuously. When the maker beeps, add sugar.
“It continues for 17 minutes, and your jam is done,” Bjorkland said. “It’s quick and easy. That’s the kind of thing your public will want to know about.”
The UCCE Master Food Preserver program is setting up a statewide steering committee, will soon launch a new, completely updated website, and a team of MFP volunteers and UC nutrition specialists are writing a comprehensive MFP handbook.
“This is a labor of love,” Gable said. “I’m thrilled about the developments in our program.”
But the truth is, dietary advice is nothing new. Some of our rules for eating date back to ancient times as part of religious teachings, and food traditions are central to our understanding of culture. What is new over the last century or so is the application of science to our diets, so that we can know more exactly what nutrition science tells us is best when it comes to filling our plates.
A new book by a UC Davis researcher argues that modern dietary advice is not merely scientific, but also continues to have cultural, ethical and moral messages attached to it.
“Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food & Health” analyzes how modern dietary reform movements in the United States do not just tell us how to eat right, but how to become a good person and a good citizen. Can eating a certain way make us into different, somehow better people? And who defines what sort of people we should strive to become, though improved eating? Author Charlotte Biltekoff calls for changing the way we think about what it means to “eat right.”
The book analyzes four dietary reform movements over the last century:
- the rise of domestic science and home economics,
- the national nutrition program during World War II,
- the alternative food movement, and
- the anti-obesity movement.
These reform movements cover nutritional advancements such as the science of cooking, the discovery of vitamins, the shift in emphasis from contagious to chronic diseases, and the increasing importance of diet and lifestyle as a part of health. The book examines how dietary ideals have shifted, how social ideals have shifted alongside them — and the relationship between the two. Notions of middle class identity, good citizenship and individual responsibility each have been mixed in with nutritional advice before it is served to the public, according to the author.
Rose Hayden-Smith, leader of UC ANR’s Sustainable Food Systems strategic initiative and a historian of gardening, said she can't wait to read this book.
“This whole idea of both empirical and ethical considerations of food choices really makes sense to me, rooted in the Progressive Era,” she said. “All of these scientific advances don’t matter if people don’t adopt them. So I think it’s really important for scientists to understand the cultural context into which their work is going.”
Beth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, was intrigued by a presentation given by Biltekoff at UC Davis recently.
“This expands my way of thinking about the struggles we have with food choices and the potential for complicating well-intentioned messages,” she said. “We can’t ignore the scientific evidence that food choices have a huge impact on our health, but we must also realize when the things we’re saying are charged with judgments."
In a recent interview on Capital Public Radio, Biltekoff pointed out how analyzing history can shed light on difficult truths.
“History is such a great tool for learning to see things differently,” Biltekoff said. “The history that I tell in the book suggests that we worry so much about what is good to eat because of the social stakes involved in 'eating right.' Because it’s not just about our physical health, but also about our sense of self and about our social standing. There's a lot at stake that we may not be conscious of, but really is part and parcel of the conversation about 'good' food.”/span>
That gap was bridged last week for a group of 25 small, beginning and ethnic farmers when the Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at UC Davis and the Sacramento County UC Cooperative Extension hosted a day-long bus tour that began in Sacramento early Tuesday morning. Farmers boarded a bus bound for the Bay Area, where they met wholesale food buyers.
“Many buyers are eager to meet small-scale farmers who can supply the rapidly expanding market for locally grown food,” said David Visher of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.
Emma Torbert of Cloverleaf Farm was pleased to find that to be true.
“It was nice for farmers to hear how much interest there is in San Francisco,” she said. “It can be nerve-racking to try to sell something to someone you don’t know. This was great, because the tour created an environment to talk about this sort of thing.”
Doors into the Bay Area market have already opened for Emma.
“I’ve had people calling me back already to buy my produce,” she said.
Interest in locally produced food is growing nationwide, according to Gail Feenstra of the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, a program within ASI. “Food is an important part of our concept of community. People want a relationship with local growers because their food nurtures us. They feed our sense of community and also steward the land in our region. I think people are searching for ways to connect around food because it benefits our personal, economic and environmental health.”
As the group headed west toward their first stop at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market to hear from various buyers, Visher and fellow tour organizer Chuck Ingels, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor and the interim county director for Sacramento County, shared a food safety self audit CD created by UC Cooperative Extension. The project staff also helps farmers create an action plan for marketing their produce and works with them one-on-one to write a profile about their farm.
“We can help growers tell their stories and make good-value propositions to buyers, but it’s really up to these business people to make their own deals,” Visher said.
The Agricultural Sustainability Institute, Laura Tourte, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Santa Cruz County, and Aziz Baameur, UCCE advisor in Santa Clara County will host a second tour Tuesday, Nov. 5. Farmers on Tuesday’s tour will leave for San Francisco from Watsonville at 5:15 a.m. and San Martin 6:15 a.m. The group will visit a wholesale distributor, food hub, distribution/processing facility, grocery store and Stanford dining services, where they will have lunch.
The Small Ethnic Farmer Tour Project is funded by CoBank, a national cooperative bank, and three farm credit associations: Farm Credit West, American AgCredit, and Farm Credit Services of Colusa-Glenn.
To register for the tour out of Watsonville and San Martin call (831) 763-8040 or email email@example.com. Space is limited. There is a $20 fee to hold a space on the tour. That fee is fully refunded upon boarding the tour bus. Spanish language translation is available.