I Get the Sweetest Feeling . . .

By Pamela Denholmsyrup tap

It’s that time of year, longer days, arriving seed catalogs, and occasional spiking temperatures tease of spring. Warmer temperatures bring about another change, and a sweet (and very short lived) season: maple sugaring season. The maple sugaring season is only about 4-6 weeks long – it begins when the weather starts to warm and the maple tree converts starches stored in their root, back into sugar.  Freezing night time temperatures and thawing day time temperatures (40-45degF) help build sap pressures up in the tree. A sugar maple with one tap will be around 10-12 inches wide and 40 years old, some sugar maples are 200 years old – you can see it is in the best interests of the sugar-makers to care for their trees and harvest sap sustainably.

Sap is only 2% sugar, the rest of it is ground water, and when it comes out of the tree, it is crystal clear. The sap then has to be boiled down, or reduced to produce maple syrup. Modern systems include reverse osmosis first to remove some of the water, and heating systems fired by oil, wood, or even gas – and this all takes place in buildings called sugar houses (sounds like a fairytale!) But one has to wonder, who first thought it was a good idea to drink sap, and how did we come to boil it down for syrup? (I often wonder the same thing about eggs). One story tells of a chief, returning from a hunt, throws his tomahawk into a tree, a maple tree. Sap oozes from the gash and drips into a hollowed out tree trunk. His wife used this liquid to boil venison, which came out beautifully, sweetly glazed.

Whatever the story around the initial discovery, it is known that early settlers learned about sugar maples from the Native Americans, and that it was mostly dairy farmers who wanted to supplement their income from milk – or who just needed a sweetener that was cheaper than molasses or cane sugar.

It takes 40-50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, each tap yields 10-20 gallons of sap over the course of the season, which is a yield of a third, or a half a gallon of maple syrup per tree per season. Each gallon of maple syrup weighs about 11 pounds. If you would like to learn more or visit a sugar house, see the sugaring process, and taste the ‘sugar on snow’ (hot, thick syrup dribbled on snow to make instant maple taffy) – now is the time of year to schedule a visit. A good resource for places to visit is DiscoverNewEngland.org/things-to-do/new-englands-maple-sugaring-season.

Maple trees are not the only trees to give up a sugary sap, they are probably just the best, most prolific trees. Other trees can be tapped for sap too: hickory, birch, box elder, and walnuts. Of the maples, sugar maples are the preferred tree to tap, you can also tap silver and red maple trees.

In South Korea, the sap from maple trees is not boiled down, instead, it is consumed as is and credited to a wide range of health benefits, and in this they are not alone. Some people in Japan and China drink maple sap too, and birch sap has its fans in Russia and other parts of Northern Europe. In South Korea however, it is enjoyed in large quantities in the Spring, the equivalent of 50 cans of beer in one sitting! Salty fish is served alongside it to help make participants thirsty, and the taste of the sap is similar to a weak green tea. One thing it is supposedly good for, is settling your stomach when you have a hangover, and it has been found to be rich in minerals, such as calcium.

Frankly, I think I prefer the idea of pouring the syrup over my pancakes. If you decide to try your own hand at tapping, remember, sap is like milk, it will go bad after a while so it is best to store it somewhere cold, and use it within a week. And don’t boil your sap down inside the house, because it produces a large volume of wet steam which has been known to peel wallpaper! And for those of you who prefer the convenience of store bought syrup, we would be amiss if we did not warn consumers of ‘maple flavored’ corn syrup sold in grocery stores – make sure you read labels!

Resources: NY Times, In South Korea, Drinks are on the Maple Tree, March 2009 Discover New England, New Englands Maple Sugaring Season

Time, A Brief History of Maple Syrup, April 2009 TapMyTrees.com



Soup – Glorious Soup

Hazel Bacigalupo for South Shore Organicssoup

With the advent of cooler weather our thoughts turn to warning meals that nourish and take very little time to prepare. Soup is the first thing that comes to mind so I thought it would be interesting to delve into its origins.

The etymological idea underlying the word soup is that of soaking. It goes back to an unrecorded post-classical Latin verb suppare soak’, which was borrowed from the same prehistoric German root (sup-) as produced in English sup and supper. From it was derived the noun suppa, which passed into Old French as soupe. This meant both piece of bread soaked in liquid’ and, by extension, broth poured onto bread.’ It was the latter strand of the meaning that entered English in the seventeenth century. Until the arrival of the term soup, such food had been termed broth or pottage. It was customarily served with the meat or vegetable dishes with which it had been made, and (as the derivation of soup suggest) was poured over sops of bread or toast (the ancestors of modern croutons). But coincident with the introduction of the word soup, it began to be fashionable to serve the liquid broth on its own, and in the early eighteenth century it was assuming its present-day role as a first course

Food historians tell us the history of soup is probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and travelling cultures, rich and poor, healthy people and invalids. Soup (and stews, pottages, porridges, gruels, etc.) evolved according to local ingredients and tastes. New England chowder, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone, French onion, Chinese won ton and Campbell’s tomato…are all variations on the same theme.

Soups were easily digested and were prescribed for invalids since ancient times. The modern restaurant industry is said to be based on soup. Restoratifs (whereon the word “restaurant” comes) were the first items served in public restaurants in 18th century Paris. Broth [Pot-au-feu], bouillon, and consommé entered here. Classic French cuisine generated many of the soups we know today.

Advancements in science enabled soups to take many forms…portable, canned, dehydrated, microwave-ready. “Pocket soup” was carried by colonial travelers, as it could easily be reconstituted with a little hot water. Canned and dehydrated soups were available in the 19th century. These supplied the military, covered wagon trains, cowboy chuck wagons, and the home pantry. Advances in science also permitted the adjustment of nutrients to fit specific dietary needs (low salt, high fiber, etc.).

Stock is the basis of a good soup and here is a quick vegetable stock recipe that can be frozen to use when required.

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 potato, chopped into large chunks

1/3 cup mushrooms, chopped in half

3 cloves whole garlic

3 bay leaves

1 tbsp soy sauce

8 cups water

dash salt and pepper

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour. Strain out the vegetables and remove the bay leaves. This broth can be used as a base for soups, gravies and more.



“Environmentalists buzzing with excitement!”

Dow herbicide BlogBy Pamela Denholm adapted from Berkshire Organics 12/15/15

This concerns the registration of Dow AgroScience’s Sulfoxaflor, a new herbicide recently approved by the EPA. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the EPA’s approval of the insecticide, citing that the organization violated federal law when it approved the chemical without reliable studies on the impact that it would have on pollinator colonies. The final ruling was that the product must be pulled from shelves, and could not be used in the U.S. unless the EPA obtained the necessary data regarding impacts to honeybees in order to re-approve the insecticide in accordance with law.

Unsurprisingly, this data could not be obtained, and two weeks ago the EPA canceled its registration of Sulfoxaflor As a result, many food activists and farmers have been speculating on whether the ruling and subsequent decision by the EPA might lead to further review of other pesticides and herbicides…and wouldn’t you know, it’s happening already. Last Tuesday, the EPA revoked its approval of another Dow AgroScience product: Enlist Duo. A signature blend of 2, 4-D and glyphosate—both endocrine-disrupting chemicals that the World Health Organization lists as possible and probable carcinogens, respectively—Enlist Duo has been marketed for use with GM corn and soybean varieties as a way to counter the weeds which have evolved to resist glyphosate alone. As you might imagine, the reasons behind the EPA’s revocation of the product are entirely worth exploring. Originally, Dow had assured the EPA that the herbicide cocktail wasn’t really anything new; after all, the two agrichemicals had already been government-approved for some time. Simultaneously, however, Dow was patenting Enlist Duo as a new product which delivers “synergistic” effects of the combined components. In other words, the message changed dramatically depending on the audience: potential investors heard that this new herbicide mix could potentially be a huge money-maker, while the EPA heard that there was nothing new or different about the product—and therefore no new studies needed to be conducted to approve its use.

Upon further investigation, however, the EPA has ruled that the combination of these two herbicides might do a great deal more than just kill weeds. Since agrichemicals are generally safety-tested in isolation, there’s not a lot of industry data on the potential effects of a mixed product. Independent studies, however, show that chemical combinations are often much more toxic than the individual components alone. In short, the EPA sees the synergistic effects of Enlist Duo as being potentially more dangerous than just the sum of its two parts. Dow AgroScience must now comply with the EPA regulations regarding research on these “synergistic effects” in an effort to clear the product’s release in time for the 2016 crop season.

Unfortunately, the EPA generally relies on company-supplied data to make its decisions, which might make this revocation a mere bump in the road for Dow AgroScience. Considering the very recent ruling on Sulfoxaflor, however, we can only hope that the EPA demands independent testing in an effort to keep this very toxic chemical mix off the shelves and out of our nation’s food and water supply
• “EPA Cancels Registration of Dow AgriScience’s Sulfoxaflor Insecticide.” AgriMarketing—16 Nov 2015
• Newman, Jesse. “EPA Seeks to Revoke Approval of Dow Chemical’s Enlist Duo Herbicide.” The Wall Street Journal—25 Nov 2015
• Philpott, Tom. “Another Common Herbicide Linked to Cancer.” Mother Jones—23 June 2015
• Philpott, Tom. “The Government Buried Some Really Important News Right Before Thanksgiving.” Mother Jones—30 Nov 2015

There’s Something Fishy Going On!

By Pamela Denholmfishy

Farm-raised salmon puts a tremendous strain on the environment. It takes about 2.4lbs of wild fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring etc) to produce one pound of farm-raised salmon, that’s because salmons are carnivores.  This adds to the strain placed on wild fisheries, instead of relieving it.  Plus, farm-raised salmon are treated regularly with antibiotics, receiving more antibiotics than any other livestock by weight—this, in today’s world where we are already concerned with the overuse of this crucial medicine. Toxic copper sulfate is regularly added to fish farm water to keep algae under control, the fish are fed pesticides to keep sea lice at bay, and synthetic pigments to give them the pink hue we are used to seeing in wild salmon. Finally, the resulting pollution has been likened to that of cattle feed lots and chicken factory farms. It’s messy business. And it just got messier.

Now, nearly twenty years after first submitting data to the FDA, Massachusetts-based biotech firm AquaBounty Technologies has received approval to sell genetically engineered salmon to U.S. consumers. It is the first time that a genetically-altered animal has been permitted to enter the American food supply—the question is, will it be the last? The fish carry a combination of genes from other fish which allows it to grow year-round, instead of only during the warmer months. They are engineered to grow twice as fast as conventional farm-raised salmon (and up to eleven times faster than wild salmon), and can be harvested sooner reducing the amount of food each fish would consume, and care each fish would need from birth to harvest—but that wouldn’t necessarily reduce environmental impact. The farms themselves would just turn fish around in less time, but their tanks would still be full, and they would still require just as much fish food, and produce just as much pollution.   AquaBounty asserts that this makes it a “sustainable” seafood source that is safe for consumption, but ‘renewable’ is not the same as ‘sustainable’. Purdue University released a statement noting that if these GE salmon were to escape into the wild, they could decimate native populations to the point of extinction; and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans suggests that despite AquaBounty’s claims that their salmon is “disease-free and antibiotic-free”, transgenic fish may in fact be more susceptible to disease than their conventional counterparts, thus making the GE species far more likely to be given high doses of antibiotics. The prevalence of antibiotics found in farm-raised fish has been an area of concern for many years.

AquaBounty has addressed the concern that fish could escape into the wild in two ways: first, the salmon are raised in land-based facilities which employ a combination of screens, filters, and additional netting to block drains and pipes that might otherwise allow any salmon to escape; and second, they focus on cultivating sterile females, which means that roughly 99% of the fish cannot reproduce. The Center for Food Safety has announced plans to sue the FDA in an attempt to block the approval for sale and consumption of AquAdvantage Salmon. In the meantime, a few stores (including Costo and Aldi) have bowed to customer pressure to not carry the product. We remain vehemently opposed to genetically engineered foods, animal or vegetable, and we continue to provide some of the cleanest and most sustainable foods in the country.

“AquAdvantage Salmon.” FDA.gov. Nov 2015.

“GE Fish Threaten Human Health.” Center for Food Safety. Nov 2015. Rack, Jessie.

“Genetically Modified Salmon: Coming to a River Near You?” NPR. June 2015.

“Sustainable.” AquaBounty Technology. 2015

“The Disadvantage of AquAdvantage.” Berkshire Organics. February 2015.

“Fish Farms Become Feedlots.” Los Angeles Times. February 2015.

“Genetically Engineered Salmon.” Salmon Nation. January 2015

It’s a ‘Wrap’ – My Vegan Eating Challenge

Vegan 3 PhotoThe first few days of eating vegan felt like the most drastic routine change. Now, after 26 days are literally ‘under my belt’, and closing in on the end of the challenge, it feels like the most natural way to live. Right up front, I feel obligated to emphasis the importance of adding Vitamin B12 to your diet if you choose vegetarian or vegan eating.   What I didn’t know about B12 could have hurt me.

When you decide to remove the dietary staples you’ve relied on for as long as you can remember from your life, you have to do a lot of justifying and reasoning to get through it. At first, not allowing myself meat or dairy felt like constantly banging into walls. Thankfully, it became easier to find alternatives each time I stopped to think about what animals have to endure for us to eat meat and consume dairy products. I never, ever expected my desire for animal foods to subside. But, after the first 10 days or so, to my surprise, my nagging, carnivorous voice was silenced. It was weird and welcomed. I felt calm, connected, in control and didn’t covet my neighbor’s cheeseburger on the plate to my left as I would have expected. Maybe it was physiological or maybe it was the lack of convenient meatless, dairy-free ‘grab & go’ foods at my fingertips. Don’t get me wrong, you can be vegan and eat crap too, but that was never an option for me. As you can image, I’ve cut out a butt-load of unnecessary calories these past few weeks. With only a handful of days left on my goal calendar, I don’t feel anxious or relieved, just content. And, yes, I’m afraid that I’ll overindulge the minute I let go and I’ll be right back to mindless eating. This is the closest I’ve ever felt to my food.   So, although the challenge ends, my dedication to animal free nourishment will continue.

What’s new in my fridge and pantry? Nothing really. I didn’t buy vegan cheese or tofu. Almond and coconut milk were already a part of our routine. Rice, quinoa, pasta, beans, lentils, whole grain oats are all familiar faces in our pantry too. But I do have a couple of new favorite recipes; Whole Wheat Pancakes and Black Bean Tacos.  Here’s what I’ve been enjoying this month: (correction – add dark chocolate to any box below)

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.49.47 PM

At the beginning of the challenge, I noted my 5 reasons for doing this. They were:

To built mental and physical strength
To improve health
To satisfy curiosity
To lose a few pounds
To gain knowledge

I never quite understood the merits of journaling, but having gone through this exercise has made me a believer. All of the above have been achieved and I have YOU to thank. I put my goals in writing and made myself accountable to you because I knew I’d get lazy, stop keeping notes and lose my drive (proven by my long list of unfinished projects). So, if you have a goal in mind, I highly recommend putting it in writing, talking about it and keeping it top of mind until you get there. When you get there (and I know you will!), the possibilities and potential that lie ahead for you are unlimited.

Lastly, this challenge and subsequent commentary aren’t about whether you should eat vegan or not, it’s more about mindfulness. We should stop more to savor, gaze upon, and slowly chew instead of ‘inhale’, devour and obliviously consume. What if we took a minute to think about where our food came from, what it’s made from and how it can nourish our body, would we choose differently? This is hard, I know, in the hurried world we’ve created but, so worth our time. This is our most important investment for the future of our children, our planet and ourselves. Let’s be engaged, patience and grateful for the choices we have.

by Michelle Berry