Monthly Archives: September 2010

Simmins? (or, “The Southern Urban Forager, Part the Fourth”)

Recently I took Caleb on one of our long rambling walks to a small pond where he likes to splash around. When we reached the pond, Caleb trotted up to say hi to a woman who was sitting on her cooler next to the water with a spinning rod and a plastic container full of night crawlers. Immediately he was distracted by a little pile of fried pork rinds she had spilled on the ground next to the night crawlers, and delighted (he is a Southern Urban Forager, too), he helped himself.

In the middle of my apology for my dog’s doggielike behavior, the fisherwoman interrupted me:


“Uh . . . I’m sorry?”

“Are those simmins?” She pointed to the plastic grocery sack I had in my hand, full of soft, bulging, oozing golden fruit.

Oh! Yes, they are!” I replied, suddenly understanding that she meant my persimmons.

I offered her some and she reached into my sack and took a handful. I warned her to brush them off before eating them because I had picked them up off the ground underneath a tree that was dropping them like crazy, but she just gave each one a quick blow and popped them into her mouth, spitting the seeds onto the ground. She smiled at me.  “We used to eat simmins when I was a little girl.”

I used to eat persimmons when I was a little girl, too. There was a tree across the road from our house, right next to where the school bus let us off. Before walking home in the fall, I’d go over and give the tree a good shake, then gather up what fell and cram them into my mouth. You had to be careful, though. An unripe persimmon will turn your mouth wrongside out.

Eating a ripe one, though, is like eating the flesh of the autumn sun — dense and spicy-sweet, almost warm. The persimmons that grow wild around here are nothing like the Japanese ones you see at markets. They are soft and easily mooshed — too soft for commercial transport. But that’s what makes them so delicious.

On this day I gathered up about a quart and a half from a tree we came across during our walk to the pond. I probably got as many stuck to my shoes as I got into my sack — the ground was layered with rotting ones, and my feet slid around as I gathered. It’s a good year for persimmons. The old wisdom is that a persimmon isn’t ripe until it has been frostbit. But that isn’t true — we haven’t had temperatures below 55 yet and I found plenty of ripe fruit.

I wished the fisherwoman good luck, and Caleb and I set out for home with our bounty. Then I made a run of persimmon-orange jam. I rinsed the earth off the fruit and ran it through a food mill. Even then, the milled flesh was the consistency of cake batter.

In a pot I combined it with sugar and orange juice and added a dash of nutmeg. I cooked the whole mess down until it was so sturdy it practically stood up in the pot. Then I filled five jars and processed them in a hot water bath for about 20 minutes.

Won’t this be a delicious layer in some kind of tart?

**Important note if you try this yourself: Alone, persimmons are not acidic enough to prevent botulism. The orange juice should give the butter enough acidity to make it safe to can without refrigeration, but just to be extra-safe I decided to make this a “freezer jam,” which means the sealed jars will stay in the freezer until opened, then they will live in the fridge until the stuff is gone — which probably won’t take long!

Leave a comment

Filed under Foraging, Putting Up

God in the Rot

Esther Graff-Radford with her daughter, Sophia

By Guest Contributor Esther Graff-Radford

Y’all meet my fellow Southern Urban Homesteader, Esther Graff-Radford. Esther and I connected through a mutual friend who thought we ought to know each other. Her instincts were right on. Esther lives in Atlanta’s Ashford Park neighborhood with, she says, her ever-patient husband, Daniel,  two children, Sophia and Ethan, one dog, one renegade tortoise, and eight chickens.  Her many passions include hatching chicken eggs, jellymaking, reading pop economics, and gardening. Esther educates families and children about sustainable urban farming and serves as pro bono legal counsel for the Chamblee Farmers Market.

Recently Esther and I met up at a little tea shop called Zen Tea in Chamblee, Georgia (I swear your heart rate will go down just walking into this place!), where my pal and neighbor Tom Godfrey was playing with his jazz trio one Saturday night. We were chatting about our respective urban homestead endeavors and stuff on our minds, and ever the editor, I invited to Esther put her thoughts to the page for a guest post for this blog. Read on, then help me persuade her to be a regular contributor.

A volunteer melon in Esther's compost

One recent morning, I grabbed a paper bag full of eggshells and coffee grinds off the kitchen counter and headed to the compost bin.  Cursing the folly that had prompted me to dump moist scraps into a paper bag, I tried not to strew trash all the way down the path to the bin.  My slimy burden was poised in midair, ready to become the latest addition to the rotting heap, when I suddenly encountered God.

I shouldn’t have been surprised; I often meet Her in my garden. But this time, like every time, I was filled with quiet wonder as I knelt before Her latest manifestation: a healthy squash seedling sprouting voluntarily out of the compost.  Suddenly, the whole pile with its rolypoly bugs and earthy smell shone beautiful.

This is my Easter Sunday, my moment of awareness that death giving way unto life is an ongoing quotidian miracle. In moments like this I celebrate not the absence of death, but the endless recycling of death unto life unto death unto life.  I celebrate the complex dance of soil and microbes and pitchfork and fallen leaves and bugs that takes my kitchen scraps and turns them into food again and, eventually, into my children’s brown skin and crazydazy laughs. After years of gardening and composting, I look at that paper bag on my kitchen counter and I see beauty and purpose on a level of complexity that can only be called holy.

I’m not subtle about my embrace of rot.  I take home the grinds from the coffee shop and the pulp from the juice bar. I bring restaurant scraps home for the chickens. When my business installs gardens with children, we build compost bins before we plant anything.

Over time, I’ve developed a theory. A person’s attitude toward backyard composting is a good litmus test of attitudes toward lots of other things. Conservation and consumption, for example. Ecology and abuse. Long-term stability versus short-term gain. Like any theory this one has its holes, and like any quick test subsequent observation may reveal contradictions.  But as an initial diagnostic tool, the compost test is beyond compare. If a person is disgusted by the idea of composting, chances are that person is suffering from blind consumption in other areas of life, too.

Esther's chickens feast on insects in the compost

Esther's chickens feast on insects in the compost

As a culture, we have become accustomed to vacuuming Stuff into our lives and heedlessly spewing waste in our wake. We worship youth and despise aging. We deny death and fear birth. We hide our garbage out of sight and out of mind. And we are suffering the consequences of ignoring ecology and failing to walk humbly on the dirt.

Recently, a client was put off by the idea of letting her child pile up apple cores in the back yard.  “Can’t we just buy organic dirt and have it shipped in?” she asked.  “Sure,” I answered.  “But you’ll waste $500 and miss out on countless benefits.”  Not the least of those benefits is training ourselves to use what we have instead of rushing out to buy instant gratification.  When we compost, we call ourselves to account for how much waste we produce and how we treat it.  We learn to look closely at aging and imperfection and see deep beauty and renewal. We learn to commit to stewardship of a place, replenishing what we take and more. And we learn to kneel humbly before the bugs and microbes and know that there is something greater and more complex than our understanding, and that no amount of money can create it or replace it.

In my family and in my business, I believe that a good compost bin, and time spent digging through it, is priceless medicine for what ails us.

1 Comment

Filed under Community and Citizenship, Gardening

These Are a Few of My Favorite Trades

Last fall I wrote here about my fondness for a good trade — for creating a microeconomy of goods and services that bypass the almighty greenback. I mentioned the exchange of eggs for honey, eggs for dog food, rosemary for eucalyptus, compost for compost. And since then, I have been making an effort to cultivate more good trades. Here are a few.

Eggs for wild game

Eggs for Wild Game. A neighbor of mine is a deer hunter, and we have worked out an excellent exchange of venison bologna for eggs. I even have a pheasant in my freezer as a result of this barter.

Apples for sweet potatoes

Apples for Sweet Potatoes. Another neighbor recently was given a bucketful of sweet potatoes from a farmer over near Athens. Yesterday, my parents brought me two bushels of apples from their trees. We traded apples for roughly equal the weight of sweet potatoes. Yum!

Eggs for homemade tempeh

Eggs for Tempeh. A regular egg-buying customer of mine responded to my call for interesting barters with the offer of some of her homemade tempeh, now in my freezer awaiting a stir fry.

Music for art

Music for Art. A few months ago some friends and I played an arts festival organized by a network of local artists. Instead of paying us cash to play the event, the artist friend who hired us paid us in art. Here is the sketch that now graces my home as a result of this barter.

Guitar Lessons for Make-Up. I’ve been working on my second CD of original songs, and soon I will be organizing a photo shoot for the CD cover and publicity materials. A friend of  mine was a make-up artist in a previous life, and we have agreed to a barter of guitar lessons in exchange for her doing my make-up for the photo shoot. I plan to look fabulous!

Concert Tickets for Doggie Daycare. Recently I won some concert tickets in a raffle I didn’t even know I had entered. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the concert, but I mentioned my prize to the owner of the doggie daycare where Caleb goes a couple of days a week to get his ya-ya’s out. Turns out she’s a huge fan of this artist, so she took the tickets in exchange for a bunch of doggie daycare dates. I’m happy, she’s happy, and most importantly, Caleb’s happy!

I’m always on the lookout for more good barters I’d like to know. And I have new stuff for the marketplace: since the fall, I have become one crazy knitting fool. Scarves, hats, socks, washcloths, fingerless gloves, shoulder bags, I’m even on my second sweater. What do you have? Let’s make a deal . . .


Filed under Community and Citizenship, Making things