Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Frugal Foodie on a British Pound: A Seed Saved is a Seed Grown?

We live in a pretty funny world. One in which companies, big ones in fact, can obtain the intellectual property rights for a piece of the natural world. But sure, their scientists may have happened across a certain plant gene first or had the resources on hand to submit the patent application (this is even more true for genetically modified organisms...). We also live in a world where most of the seeds farmers plant (particularly in developed countries) does not actually produce a second generation of viable seeds. You might as well just toss them in the compost heap. 

Why sell these 'hybrid' seed varieties, then? Through controlled 'field trials', laboratory-like settings of cross-breeding, crop breeders can produce seed that yields uniformity and consistency, perhaps crops enhanced in certain favourable characteristics (super-sweet corn, anyone?). It also puts the control squarely into the hands of seed companies. In contrast to thousands of years of history, in which farmers saved the seeds of their best producing plants, this process is removed from the farmer or backyard grower. It also passes over a critical function that seed-saving performed: preserving the vast genetic diversity found over hundreds, thousands, millions of farmers' fields! This year, while planning out our backyard allotment, the importance of sovereignty over our seeds came out in catalogue perusal. We ended up ordering only non-hybrid seeds with the grand aspirations to contribute to, rather than detract from, crop diversity. 

Now, I bring this up in my frugal foodie segment because saving seeds, and actually being able to cultivate a next generation of crops from them, is critical to the livelihoods of many of the poorest farmers in the world. While there is much talk around generating "improved varieties" or genetically engineering traits favourable to projected climatic shifts, there seems to be little talk over what adopting these seeds means for planting the next year or the year after. Does taking on bigger and better seeds wrest control of a farmer's future out of her hands and place them into the seed supplier's? Good question. And if anyone has an answer (or a thought), I'd be keen to hear. But for now, our little seed packet purchase was a mini-rebellion and a very practical step for a set of thrifty grad students!

Sitting on my window sill, furthermore, is a plate filled with drying winter squash seeds. The beauty of saving is that favorite varieties (in this case buttercup squash) are at our disposal. And, hopefully come next fall, so will be some fabulous winter squash pie! Here is my standard vegan pumpkin pie, with pretty consistently tasty results, and at times the ability to win over even ardent butternut squash haters.

Classic Winter Squash Pie (1 9-inch round)
1 medium butternut (or firm and dense fleshed squash - like buttercup or crown prince!!), quartered, roasted, skinned, and pureed (so about 2 1/2 cups) 1 cup full fat coconut milk (or almond milk)
2/3 - 3/4 cup golden granulated or turbinado sugar 1/3 cup cornstarch 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 tsp. ground cinnamon 1 tsp. ground ginger ¼ tsp. ground allspice (optional)
1 tsp light molasses (optional)

1 deep-dish pie crust (you can try a gluten-free one)

0. Take your winter squash and chopped it into quarters or slightly smaller. Place in a greased or lined baking dish and pop it into a preheated oven (~200C). Bake for 35-45 minutes, turning over once halfway through, until the flesh is melty and the skin wrinkly. Yum. Do not consume yet!!

1. Blend squash flesh after it has cool for ~15 minutes. Add in all remaining ingredients barring the crust. Yes, it is really that easy. Keep going until you have reached a smooth consistence. Test the flavor; if you don't have a huge sweet tooth, make sure to start off with the lower measures of sugar.

2. Stick the unbaked pie crust into the oven while it preheats to 180C (~375F) and you prepare the filling. When ready, pour filling into the quasi-warmed pie crust. You may have extras that can be baked in ramekins for tasty pumpkin puddings! Replace pie in oven and bake for another 30 minutes until crust starts to brown. Top of pie will look firmly set and maybe even a little browned, as well.

3. Remove from oven. Allow to cool completely. Refrigerate overnight. This is important. It is much better and much firmer if allowed to rest. Serve with some coconut whipped cream or some vegan ice cream!

Check out: a much better explanation on why NOT hybrid seeds!

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