Random Thoughts About Being An Entrepreneurial Peasant & The Momentous Struggle

I am busy with the stuff of my life these days. The industrial stuff and the agrarian stuff. The industrial stuff (my factory job)is not physically hard but the drudgery makes it hard to take. The agrarian stuff is physically demanding but enjoyable and satisfying.

I, like so many men (and women) am trapped within the industrial paradigm while embracing as much of the agrarian paradigm as I possibly can. Is agrarianism a hobby to me? Am I a hobby-agrarian?

I looked up the word, “hobby.” This is one definition I got:

“An activity engaged in for pleasure and relaxation during spare time.”

Well, it appears that I may be, to some degree, a hobby-agrarian, at least in the sense that my agrarian activities are part time, and I do find pleasure in them. Relaxation I’m not so sure about.

But my agrarian pursuits are considerably more than just an enjoyable pastime. They are the outward expression of my Christian beliefs, and my understandings about how life is best lived. It is my conviction that, as a rule, individuals grow stronger in their Christian faith when they live a more simple, agrarian life. Families relationships are also generally stronger and deeper when those families live within the agrarian paradigm.

It is a momentous personal struggle to embrace agrarianism within a world that has, over the past 150 years, become so industrialized. But to struggle against the predominant cultural current of industrialism is, I am persuaded, the calling of every Christian who takes his Christianity seriously.

More Granola Thoughts
My previous blog essay was about how I invented granola bars 32 years ago. Bearing that in mind, I would like to say that I think the best granola bars on the market are the Kashi TLC Granola Bars and, specifically, the Honey Almond Flax bar.

Hmmm…. I wonder if I should contact the good folks at Kashi about maybe doing endorsements?

“Hi, I’m Herrick Kimball. I invented the granola bar back in 1975. I love Kashi TLC chewy granola bars. In fact, I think they’re the best tasting, most nutritious granola bar I’ve ever eaten. Try the TLC Honey Almond Flax bars. They’re my favorite.”

Oh, but wait... a deliberate agrarian, seeking to do endorsements for factory-made food? That’s an industrial-minded idea if there ever was one. I’m such a hypocrite. Okay then, I’ll not contact Kashi.

I’ll wait until they contact me. Then I’ll deal with the moral dilemma.

Whizbang Soap Display Stand Update
Last November I posted a blog story here titled Make Your Own Whizbang Soap Display Stands. I told about the wooden soap stands I made for my wife, Marlene, to display her handcrafted soaps when selling them.

I also offered to sell a plan sheet for the unique soap displays for only one dollar and a self-addressed-stamped-envelope. People who wanted an actual display could buy one for $20, postage paid.

I said that I would report back here after four months with the results of my sales. The whole thing was an experiment of sorts. How many plan sheets and soap displays could I sell from a simple mention here on my blog?

Well, 8 months have gone by. I’m a little late with this report. But I have finally tallied up my sales numbers and the results are in (drum roll please)...

Over the past eight months I have sold 3,645 plan sheets and 498 soap display holders. Thank you everyone who purchased either the plans and/or the display. This goes to show that the internet is truly a great opportunity for marketing quirky little things.

I’m in “Farm Show”
And speaking of quirky things, there is an article about me and the Whizbang Chicken Plucker in the latest issue of Farm Show Magazine

Strength of The Agrarian Movement?
The Farm Show magazine article was written by Christian-agrarian octogenarian, C.F. Marley. I wrote a blog story about Mr. Marley here: The Elder Agrarian.

C.F. called me earlier this week and asked if I had any idea of how big the agrarian movement might be.

I have no idea.

The current agrarian revival, particularly among Christians, is a slow, quiet tide moving people out of the cities and the industrial way of life. It is not a political movement. It isn’t violent. It isn’t centrally organized. So it’s not news.

But it is happening.

Why is it happening? That’s a question to consider. I believe it begins with an awareness, and an understanding, of two things. First people begin to see more clearly the spiritually shallow, unfulfilling, all-consuming, destructive nature of industrial-dominated culture. We could call this the present reality we find ourselves in. Then they consider the future reality that the industrially dominated world presents us with.

One need not be a rocket scientist or a prophet to see that the corporate industrial juggernaut is on a self-destructive course. Our government, our economy, our environment, and yes, even the Christian church, have been ravaged by the industrial malaise. It is not sustainable. What will be left when it falls by the wayside?

God only knows. But I suspect that the civilization that lies before us will look more agrarian than anything else. And I don’t see that as a bad thing.

New York State Population
And speaking of people moving, I heard recently that the population of New York State declined by almost a quarter million people last year. The population of this state has declined or remained static for the past 20 years. Among states to move to, New York ranks 47th in popularity. I know so many people who have left this state. I know so many more who talk about it. I’m one of them.

If you are familiar with Central New York State, you know the land is beautiful. The soil is good. The climate is varied and mostly pleasant. But people are leaving because the government has messed things up. Taxes, regulations, and bureaucracy have become too oppressive. It’s that simple.

By the way, I have an agrarian friend who tells me that the population of Central New York will be increasing in the future, and land prices will skyrocket, as global warming floods the coastal cites of America.

My Newest Agrarian Tool
I love to acquire basic agrarian hand tools and use them here on my homestead. My scythe is one example of an agrarian hand tool. My garden hoes are another. And I’ve been an interested collector of old muscle-powered woodworking tools since I was a teenager. Such tools are, essentially, the implements of peasants.

I am, by choice, and I dare say, by calling, something of a peasant, albeit a “hobby-peasant,” at least for now.

With the specter of post Peak Oil civilization staring us in the face, I have decided to acquire more tools of the peasant (if nothing else, Peak Oil is a good excuse to get some tools that I've wanted to get anyway).

My latest acquisition is a hay rake. After you mow hay with a scythe, you need to rake it up. The best rake for raking mown hay is a hay rake. I bought mine for $38 (plus shipping) from Carol Bryant at Scythe Supply in Perry Maine. If you are interested, check out this web page.

The “Standard Hay Rake” I bought is reasonably priced, light in weight, remarkably strong, and very pleasing to the eye. It also does a fine job of raking hay.

Firewood cutting tools are now in my sights.

I’m a Fibber
Oh, I couldn’t resist having some fun with those numbers above. I wish I had sold so many plans and soap holders. Truth be told, I sold ten soap display plan sheets for a dollar, and three soap displays for $20.

Such is the story of my entrepreneurial life. Were it not for the relative success of my Whizbang Chicken Plucker, I would be pretty much a total failure in my home business ventures. Someday I’ll tell you about my first foray, many years ago, into the world of mail order. But it is a painful tale to tell.

Poultry Update
As noted in a previous post here, we purchased 12 turkey chicks (poults). Two have died from unknown causes. I guess that is par for the course with turkeys.

We have since ordered 65 Cornish X chicks. 67 were sent to us in the mail. They are almost four weeks old now, and we still have all 67.

The Ice Cream Business
The Lovely Marlene, my bread-baking, soap-making, entrepreneurial peasant wife, is interested in the ice cream business. She is intrigued with the idea of making ice cream in an old-style ice cream maker and selling it at summertime events where lots of people congregate.

Has anyone reading this ever done such a thing? Do you know someone who does?

The biggest problem with such a business idea is health department regulations. The government again! The blasted government makes it hard for agrarian entrepreneurs to establish their home enterprises. The industrial paradigm has erected a multitude of laws and regulations to harass We the struggling peasantry, yearning to be free of its nefarious grasp.

And so, the struggle continues...

I Invented Granola Bars

Dateline: 15 July 2007

Don't they look good! 
(photo link)

You can go to any supermarket in the country and find dozens of different kinds of granola bars. Granola bars are big business. I’ll bet millions and millions of dollars are made by granola bar makers. And to think.... I invented granola bars.

It’s true. I’m the guy. It was me. I invented the granola bar 32 years ago this month. And I can prove it.

Now, before I tell you the story and provide my evidence, I want to make it clear that I’m not writing this blog story to boast. I’m just stating a historical fact.

I was 17 years old when I invented granola bars. I didn’t invent an actual granola bar recipe. I just came up with the idea of taking granola and assembling it into bars. Prior to my coming up with this idea, there were absolutely no granola bars in the grocery stores. No one had ever seen a granola bar.

I came up with the idea of taking granola and assembling it into a “candy bar” formation one day while mowing my parents lawn. My parents had a very large lawn and we did not have a riding mower. So, pushing the mower gave me time to think. I remember day dreaming about my granola bar idea. I figured I’d get my mother to help me develop the bars and I could try selling them to health food stores.

Before you know it, in my imaginings, I had a big granola bar factory. I remember thinking I’d build the business up to where it was really big, and then I’d sell out, and I’d buy some farmland and be a homesteader. No kidding. That was my dream back then. I didn’t want to make granola bars my whole life. They would just be a sure way to get the money needed to get the land to get the life I dreamed of.

Then I read a magazine article about The Idea Marketplace. If you had a good idea and you wanted to submit it to industry, you could send it to The Idea Marketplace. Interested companies would read about your idea in The Idea Marketplace and contact you. They might give you some kind of royalty or buy your idea outright. I figured that would be a whole lot easier than actually making granola bars and building up a granola bar empire. So I composed a letter to The Idea Marketplace. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Sir,

I am 17 years old and am a senior in high school. In the August issue of Success Unlimited I read an article about The Idea Marketplace. Sometime ago I was “struck” with an idea which has plagued my mind since. After reading the article in Success Unlimited it occurred to me that I should send my idea in to see if someone else thinks it’s as great as I do. It’s quite simple, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already been thought of. Nevertheless, it’s worth a try.

I am somewhat of a natural food enthusiast and am very pleased with the popularity of granola breakfast cereals. Granola is nothing new. It’s been around for years. It’s just that more and more people are becoming concerned with their health and are searching for more natural and nutritional foods. Thus, granola, which is natural, nutritional, and downright delicious, is taking the country by storm. My idea is simply that one of these corporations come out with a line of granola candybars. I can see no reason why such a product cannot be turned onto the market and made just as popular as the familiar chocolate candybar. (Which is not nearly as nutritious and naturally flavorful.) I have heard that granola is a multi-million dollar industry still in its infancy, so why not cash in now on a really good thing!

If you do find my idea worth printing in The Idea Marketplace, I would like my name and address to be printed and I am open to negotiation.

Sincerely yours,

Herrick Kimball

I typed the letter on my dad’s old typewriter. I made a copy with carbon paper. I’ve kept that copy all these years. Here (below) is a picture of the beginning of the letter. Notice the date: July 24, 1975. I thought of the idea before that but I consider that day when I put my idea in writing to be the official day that I invented the granola bar.

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I got a form letter back saying that my submission had been received and they would let me know if they decided to run my idea in The Idea Marketplace.

Months went by and I heard nothing. Then, lo and behold, I started seeing advertisements for granola bars. They started showing up in the grocery stores. All of which led me to believe that one of those greedy corporations saw my little ol’ idea in The Idea Marketplace, and snatched it up.

A year or so back I was at a church function, eating a meal, sitting across from my pastor, Dale Weed. We were talking about inventions. I said to him: “You know, I invented granola bars.” To which he laughed and said, “I know. I remember that.”

I was surprised when he said that. But then I remembered that when I was 17 years old, I worked up the road from my parent’s house at New Hope Mills for Dale Weed’s dad. Dale said he remembered me talking at the Mill about my granola candy bar idea. So in addition to written documentation, I have a witness who remembers that I invented the granola bar before they were ever in the stores.

All of this is on my mind today because I was on the internet this morning and I went to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. On a whim, I decided to search “granola bar.” To my surprise, there was an entry for granola. And there was also information about granola bars. No mention of the inventor was made, so I edited the entry. Check it out here

Then I called Marlene over to see what I had “just discovered” on Wikipedia. She was flabbergasted. My son Robert wondered what was going on. I had him read it too. Then my son James read it. Then my son Chaz read it. Finally, after 32 years, I was getting some recognition for inventing granola bars.

I dug out the letter mentioned above and gave it to my sons to read. They thought it was pretty funny at the end of the letter where I wrote, “I am open to negotiation.” Robert seemed amazed that I was a “natural food enthusiast” when I was 17 years old (a year older than he is now). And he made the comment that my writing style was the same back then as it is now.

So there you have it. Now you know who invented granola bars. It was me. I came up with the idea, them big corporations took it from me, and I never got a cent.

And I’m still trying to come up with the money to buy a farm…

UPDATED INFO: 11/23/07 

Today I went to the Wikipedia entry for "Granola Bar" and discovered that someone changed the entry. They have changed it to say that some guy named Stanley Mason invented the granola bar. Well! The nerve of them! This just goes to show that you can't trust everything you read on Wikipedia. Stanley Mason is probably the guy who made all the money with my idea. ;-)

How To Butcher A Hog

Everything I learned about hog butchering I learned from the Mesko family at Lighthouse Farm in Minnesota. I couldn’t be there in person to learn the process but the Meskos taught me how it’s done by way of their delightful DVD titled, Hog Butchering.

You may be wondering what is so delightful about killing a hog and cutting it into pieces. Well, I’ll admit, the process of killing and cutting (that which the movie is primarily about) isn’t particularly delightful. But seeing the Mesko farm and four generations of the family contribute to the movie is.

The DVD begins with John Mesko and his wife, Lisa, outside in their barnyard discussing food and hog butchering. As they are speaking, hogs are ranging freely around them, a rooster crows in the background, the family dog walks onto the set looking for some attention, a little kitten is exploring about, and in the far distance, you can see John and Lisa’s two young daughters happily playing. Obviously, this is no factory farm the Meskos have. It is a Family Farm.

During their introduction, John and Lisa talk about modern, industrially-farmed food and the way food used to be raised. It was once common for families to raise their own hogs and butcher the critters themselves. Lisa relates how her grandfather raised hogs and she has the photos to prove it. One old picture (the one on the cover of their DVD) shows a hog so big and fat it looks like a small blimp about to rise into the air.

Lisa never had an opportunity to help butcher hogs but John did. He helped his family process their homegrown pigs starting when he was around eleven years old.

Those of us who know something about John Mesko know he recently left a “good” career in Big Ag to return, after many years absence, to the farm where he grew up. He and his family are working to bring the farm back into sustainable production. Raising hogs, for themselves and others, is part of the plan.

John’s father is now up in age and out of farming. It is not likely he has butchered a hog in years. But it is clear that he is an old hand at it, and he is the mentor. We see the father and his son working together to prepare for butchering day. They hang a pulley from the rafter of the barn and sharpen the knives. I found it powerfully endearing to see the older Mesko and his son working together to reestablish this family tradition of hog butchering.

And endearing is surely the word to describe John’s grandmother. John and Lisa interview her at the kitchen table and we hear this dear, 95-year-old woman speak fondly of the old days, when the family butchered their hogs.

Great grandmother Mesko talks of eating such delicacies as kidney, stomach, liver, and feet. She recollects how all the family, children too, would sit around the table cleaning hog intestines so they could be used as sausage casing. The point being: “Nothing went to waste.”

In another scene we find John showing us the gun he will use to kill the hog. He shows how it works and explains where he will endeavor to place one (hopefully only one) deadly shot.

Then we see John in the family’s home telling his two girls what will happen when he shoots the pig in the head with the gun. This is all new to his children. Their father tells them that the first shot may not do the job and if that is the case, the hog will squeal and squeal until he can shoot it again.

Then comes the dramatic day when John and his dad go out to the livestock trailer where the unsuspecting hog is. John has the gun. They crack the door open a bit. The pig walks right up to them, probably hoping for something to eat, or maybe to get his back scratched. John holds the muzzle of the gun close to the animal’s head and tries his best to aim at the right spot but the pig’s head is in constant motion.

The shot is fired. The stunned pig backs up. John’s father exclaims, Too low! Too low, John! I’ll not reveal how the rest of the drama unfolds. But I can assure you, this is real life hog butchering.

Once the hog is dead and bled out, John’s father hooks the hind hocks of the animal into a gambrel. They muscle the heavy carcass into the barn and hang it from the rafters. Hog butchering is hard work.

With the hog hanging, the work of skinning begins, They choose to skin the beast rather than scald and scrape the hair off its hide. Skinning is just plain easier to do. The two Mesko girls now assist their father and grandfather in the work of skinning. They are learning at a very young age (just as their father did) the reality of where ham, pork chops, bacon, and sausage come from.

And the girls learn what lard is as they help to slice buckets of the hard fat off the hanging carcass. We can be certain that a portion of that lard will be used to make Grandma Mesko’s Hungarian Crackling Biscuits.

Next comes the task of cutting the pig’s head off and removing the entrails. There are lots of internal organs on display and, at one point, John extracts a steaming pig heart to show the girls. Once the hog is gutted, it is cut in half and we get a front row view of how all of this is done.Then John carries half a hog into the house and we get a lesson on cutting out the ham, shoulder roast, pork loin, ribs, and bacon.

At the end of the DVD we see the entire family gathered in the kitchen for a meal. They are eating food from an animal they raised and butchered themselves.

It is not “mystery pork” from a far away industrial hog production facility, containing chemicals and medicines and who-knows-what. They knew this hog. They lovingly raised it from a baby. The animal had a good life on their farm. It had plenty of room to run and play in the fresh air and sunshine, to eat corn and graze grass, and root it’s rubbery snout in the earth, looking for tasty morsels (tasty if you’re of the porcine persuasion). But the animal was not a pet; it was raised to be eaten. That was its highest purpose in life. That is what hogs are for. We see the cycle of the animal’s life and death and its contribution to the vitality of this family farm.

Yes, oh yes, this really is a delightful film because, in addition to learning how to butcher a hog (something I plan to do one day), I saw the example of a younger generation that has returned home to its agrarian roots, eager to learn from the older generation, while it still can. And, in so doing, the younger generation is honoring the older. This is wisdom in action.

John Mesko has coined a term for what he is doing. He calls it Authentic Agriculture. It is agriculture as it once was; agriculture that nourishes families on the land, physically, spiritually, and socially. It is agriculture as it should be. It is a beautiful thing.

Lisa Mesko produced this DVD and she did an excellent job of it. Get yourself a copy. You'll like it too. Here's the link: Hog Butchering

My Mother Was a Writer Too

Dateline: 8 July 2007

When I was in high school, my mother gave me a story to read. It was something she had written many years before when she was in high school. It was a story about her father. I read it and was surprised at how well written it was. Evidently, her English teacher, Mr. Woodcock, thought the same because he gave her an A+ on the paper.

My mother related to me that Mr. Woodcock told her she had writing talent and that she should pursue it. She never did. But I did.

My modest career as a writer began in the mid 1980s when I started writing letters to the editor of a local newspaper. When the letters were long, the newspaper ran them as guest editorials. I discovered that I had a natural ability to express my thoughts through the written word. People responded to those words; they told me they appreciated what I had to say and how I said it.

That experience gave me the confidence to write an article for “Fine Homebuilding” magazine. I sent it in, they accepted it, and I ended up writing many articles for that publication over the next few years.

I got paid for putting my ideas and thoughts down on paper. After twenty years of doing physically demanding work, like roofing and siding houses, pouring concrete, and running plumbing pipes in dirty, cramped crawl spaces, people were giving me money for just writing. How crazy is that?

I must say it was not a lot of money. But I was getting “published” and making a little money at it, and I was also getting some widespread exposure with a lot of positive feedback. It was a wonderful experience.

At one point I was hired as a consultant to the editors of “Family Handyman” magazine. When I wrote an article for “American How-To” magazine, they flew me to Minnesota for a photo shoot and I ended up getting my picture on the cover of the publication. I was even approached by two magazines to interview for an editor’s job. Of course, my mom kept a copy of every letter to the editor and every magazine article.

From there I “graduated” to writing books. I wrote three how-to books in two years for the Taunton Press. And I even illustrated two of them. I loved the whole process of writing a how-to book. And I was motivated by the promise of financial gain. I’ll never forget the book acquisitions editor at Taunton telling me that “Some of our authors have made six figures on their books.” That comment was the proverbial carrot on the stick that spurred me on.

Imagine my mother’s delight in seeing her son discover his writing talent and pursue it to success, albeit a very modest success. The six-figure book never happened (not even close). But I had come a long way from letters to the local newspaper.

During this time of new achievements and writing opportunities, I clearly recall a conversation with my mother in which I was bragging about something. Exactly what it was, I don’t remember. My mother was always approving and encouraging to me, but when she realized that I was bragging (which was not something I typically did) her demeanor changed and she admonished me: “Be careful Herrick. Pride comes before a fall.”

And so it did.

A few years later, God took me through my “time of humbling.” He made it perfectly clear to me that anything and everything I have in this life, be it material goods, personal talent, family, or spiritual understanding, I have only because of His grace. He gives and He takes. He showed this to me for a period of time by taking. And He showed me the foolishness of striving, striving, always striving, to get ahead financially while neglecting my responsibilities and relationships as a father to my children. I had bought into the big lie of our Godless modern culture, and the Lord chastised me.

As a result of that chastisement, I repented and deliberately reprioritized my life to focus more on Faith (my relationship with God), Family (being the father I should be), and Living The Good Life (pursuing a simpler, home-based, agrarian lifestyle).

Along with this new focus, new writing projects eventually developed. But they were not featured in glossy magazines or for big-time book publishers. The new writing projects were much different from before.

For example, I self-published a homely little book describing how to build a chicken plucking machine. Of all things! A homemade chicken plucker book!

I should have been embarrassed to write such a book. But I wasn’t. After all, the machine could strip all the feathers off a chicken in 15 seconds flat with a mere flip of a switch. That book was the beginning of a down-to-earth home publishing company: Whizbang Books. And that is where I am today

Unfortunately, my mother did not live long enough to read the stories I’ve written here in this blog. Nor did she see the publication of my book Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. The book is part memoir and part Christian-agrarian manifesto. My mother would have loved the book. She held a Christian-agrarian worldview. She would also have been thrilled to see the black & white cover photo of her father and me that she snapped back in 1960, when I was two years old.

That, my friends, that would be the end of this rambling story, but there is a new revelation. I have recently discovered that my mother was a writer after all...

Last weekend, my stepfather dropped off another cardboard box of my mother’s personal papers. When he last did this, a few months ago, I discovered my great, great grandmother Josephine Jordan’s diaries from the 1800s. This time I opened the box hoping to find that high school essay from Mr. Woodcock’s class. It was not there. But my mother’s diary was. I did not know my mother kept a diary. It sporadically spans the late 1980s into the 1990s.

The diary contains no deep secrets or heartfelt confessions. It reads as a record of daily happenings. There are also many handwritten Bible verses and quotations from various Bible commentators. It is clear from what she wrote (and my ability to read between the lines) that my mother struggled with the difficulties of her life and family. My stepfather’s poor health, the teenage rebellion of my younger sisters, and persistent financial hardships were heavy on her mind. But I never knew my mom to complain. She didn’t complain in real life and she didn’t complain in her diary. Instead, she lifted her burdens up to the Lord and asked for the strength to deal with them.

To the dispassionate reader, my mother’s diary would be, in every respect, an unremarkable record of an unremarkable woman’s life. And even to one who loved my mother, as I did, the daily record of events is not particularly engaging. But there, among the pages, I discovered something she wrote that riveted my attention and very quickly moved me to tears.

The passage had a different tone and style from the rest of the book. It was written partly as a prayer. It was written, I believe, partly as a message to me. I think my mother knew I would one day read it.

Last weekend, my mother spoke to me with these words that she wrote fourteen years ago in her diary:

January 31, 1993

Herrick’s Birthday today. His birth 35 years ago, and his life over that span of time has been the most wonderful gift from God. What a blessing. He has been such a meaningful part of my life. How little he must know of how much I love him; and of just how much his life has added to my life. Thank you, Lord. Bless Herrick. Give him joy and strength and wisdom. Minister truth to him. And, Father, shine your grace upon him, always.

Yes, my mother was a writer too. She never penned any great prose by the world’s standards, but on a cold January day, in her obscure little diary, she wrote of her deep and abiding love for me. I am blessed, humbled, and ever so thankful to the Lord for her words and her love.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing in all the world of human literature can compare to that entry in my mother’s diary.

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"Cake Like That...."

A pastor I know told me this story:

There was a woman in his congregation who baked a cake and gave it to him one Sunday to take home and enjoy. I think it might have been a birthday cake. So he brought the cake home and everyone in the family had a piece. But they found it tasted horrible. He told me the cake was so bad no one ate any of it and they threw the whole thing in the garbage.

Days later, he saw the woman again and she asked how he liked the cake she had made him. Such a question would present something of a moral dilemma for many Christians.

Is it okay to lie in such a situation, so as to not hurt the woman's feelings: "Oh, that cake was delicious! You really are quite the cook." Or should the truth be told: "That cake you made was terrible. We threw the whole thing in the garbage." Perhaps even adding, for emphasis, "It was so bad the dog wouldn't eat it."

How would you respond?

Well, this pastor, with wisdom that I think was akin to that of Solomon, responded, with a big smile, by saying:

"Cake like that don't last long in my house!"

The woman was pleased as could be to hear it.

My family still laughs over this story and, on occassion, we've been known to jokingly employ some variation of the clever rhetoric amongst ourselves.

Making Pickled Garlic Scapes

Dateline: 1 July 2007
Updated: 10 April 2013

I am not a farmer in any sort of conventional sense but I do plant a small cash crop of stiffneck garlic each year. I harvest the bulbs, save some for seed to plant the following season, and process the rest into Herrick’s Homegrown Stiffneck Garlic Powder (An Organic Delight!) . I sell the garlic powder to garlic-loving folks all across the nation. It’s a nice little home business. I’ve even written a book about growing garlic and making garlic powder.

But this blog isn’t about garlic powder. It’s about another unique organic delight: Pickled Garlic Scapes. Pickled scapes are a rare culinary treat. You won’t find them in the grocery store. I have heard of a few garlic growers who sell pickled scapes, but they are few and far between. What, you may be wondering, are garlic scapes? I'm glad you asked.

One of the distinctive attributes of stiffneck garlic is that each plant puts forth a single flower stalk out of the center (the more commonly grown softneck garlic does not have a flower stalk). The stalk is called a scape. When the scape first emerges, it is curled. As time passes, the curl straightens out as high as five foot in the air before the flower head opens. Here’s a picture of my garlic plants taken a week ago. You can see the young, curled scapes.

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The story of how to make pickled garlic scapes begins with how to plant garlic. Last year in October I blogged here about How I Plant My Garlic. I posted several photos, including this overview of the planted bed:

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Now here is a picture of the same plot of garlic, taken last weekend (eight months after planting). You will note that there is a Whizbang Garden Cart in the distance. Of course, such a cart is absolutely necessary for growing good garlic! ;-)

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This has been a very good year, so far, for growing garlic. The plants look better than they ever have. Weed control has not been any problem because I mulched heavily with oat straw after planting.

Stiffneck garlic growers want the bulbs they harvest to be as large as possible. With that in mind, we remove the scapes. Doing this is supposed to direct the plant’s energy from making a flower to making a larger bulb. When the scapes are young, as they are in the above picture, they are tender and can be pulled off the plant.

I Pull straight up on the scapes to remove them. Sometimes, the entire stalk will pull out of the center of the plant. More often, though, the scape will snap off cleanly, leaving six to eight inches of stem down inside the center part of the plant. Either outcome is okay. This next picture shows me pulling a scape, with a handful of already-pulled scapes in my other hand. Notice the flannel shirt? It was that cold here a week ago—a beautiful fall day in June.

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If the scapes are not pulled off when they are young and tender, they will get tough and have to be cut with a knife. So it’s best to pull the scapes when they are young. And if you are making pickled scapes, you want the young, tender growth. Old, toughened scapes do not pickle well. Here’s a picture of a mess of just-picked scapes, ready to take into the house for pickling:

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The bottom of each scape stem is the most tender part and it is also fairly straight—straight enough to cut a 4-1/2” section off. That’s how long you need to fit in a pint canning jar. If you are fortunate enough to pull the entire scape stem out of the center of the plant, you’ll end up with two or three straight sections for pickling. Otherwise, you will only get one. I cut the sections and pile them like cordwood in a bowl, as shown in this next picture. The upper part of the scapes go to the compost pile.
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The recipe we use for making pickled scapes is the Dilly Beans recipe found in the Ball Blue Book. Marlene’s copy of this book is missing the cover, the pages are food-stained, and she has written notes all through. That gives you an idea of how much she uses the book.

Here is the Dilly Beans recipe:

2 pounds green beans
1/4 cup canning salt
2-1/2 cups vinegar
2-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, divided
4 cloves garlic, divided
4 heads dill, divided

Trim ends off green beans. Combine salt, vinegar and water in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil. Pack beans lengthwise into hot jars, leaving 1/4” headspace. Add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove garlic, and 1 head dill to each pint. Ladle hot liquid over beans, leaving ¼” headspace Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints and quarts 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Yield: about four pints.

We modified the recipe a bit. For example, we left out the garlic cloves. And since our dill is not yet ready to use, we put a tsp of dill seed in each pint jar.

In all, we canned 14 pints of pickled scapes. As an experiment, we packed one quart jar with curly pieces from higher up the stem (the tougher end) to see how they would turn out. I also put in a couple of the flower pod ends. As I’m writing this, James opened the quart jar and we’ve been sampling the pieces. They’re good. So I guess we could have canned a lot more of the scapes than we did. The flower heads are, however, not tender and I would never try pickling them again. Here’s a picture of a ready-for-the-pantry pint jar of pickled garlic scapes :

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Oh, there is something else you can do with garlic scapes. You can be silly with them…

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I invite you to read my other garlic-related blog essays:

Home-Based Agrarian Enterprises & Garlic Powder Profits

Curing Garlic Bulbs

Selling My Garlic Powder At The Farmer’s Market