Thanks to the BBC for this:
For millennia, the gum of the acacia tree has been prized for its unusual culinary and medical uses. Now, the trees are part of a continent-wide effort to hold back the Sahara Desert.
In the Malian bush, a scattering of acacia trees grow through the wild grass and shrubs that spread for miles across the semi-arid scrub. Herders graze cattle nearby and local people fetch firewood. The acacias are among the taller and faster-growing trees of this habitat, with old individuals reaching high above the surrounding scrub.
Gum arabic spills out naturally from wounds in the acacia tree, but it can also be extracted by making deliberate incisions into the bark (Credit: Reuters)
This is the Sahel, a savannah that stretches across six countries in mainland West Africa. This dry strip of land between the tropical rainforests to the south, and the Sahara to the north, sees just three months of rain a year. It’s a region that is changing quickly. Climate change has seen the Sahara Desert grow around 100km (62 miles) southward since 1950, and is expected to continue the same trend in the coming decades. Continue reading
In early May I posted a “this I believe” kind of note, linking to an essay about the importance of the US Postal Service. Several months later Organikos launched its roasting and delivery service in the USA, putting that belief to the test, with dozens of coffee parcels going to all corners of the country’s continental borders as well as remote interior places. Flying colors. Thank you, postal carriers. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin and all those after you who have kept the institution moving forward. Other great institutions, having thrived for more than a century, demonstrate that even great ideas sometimes need help. So, in our own little ways, we support the mission. Costa Rica is one of the many places in the world inspired by both the National Park Service of the USA as well as its Postal Service. In recent months Correos de Costa Rica took the precaution of halting mail service to and from the USA. When it is back providing that service, our first little supportive action will be sending postcards to all those in the USA who ordered coffee.
A British Columbia clam garden. Photograph: Ian Reid
Indigenous peoples’ innovations are always a welcome topic here especially when it comes to conservation of foodways. Thank you, Adrienne Matei, for one more case study:
These dates sprouted from 2,000-year-old seeds retrieved from archaeological sites in the Judean wilderness. Dan Balilty for The New York Times
While we are on the topic of gardens, let’s continue on a roll:
The harvest of the much-extolled but long-lost Judean dates was something of a scientific miracle. The fruit sprouted from seeds 2,000 years old.
The proud father Methuselah, grown from ancient seeds, at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava desert, Israel. Dan Balilty for The New York Times
KETURA, Israel — The plump, golden-brown dates hanging in a bunch just above the sandy soil were finally ready to pick.
They had been slowly ripening in the desert heat for months. But the young tree on which they grew had a much more ancient history — sprouting from a 2,000-year-old seed retrieved from an archaeological site in the Judean wilderness. Continue reading
Mr. Espinal, 52, is widely regarded as the greatest living Panama hat weaver. All photographs by Roff Smith
Having lived and worked in Central America and South India, weaving with palms for shelter and adornment has been part of cultural norms. But in most cases, the craftsmanship has been simplified versions that lacked permanence – for the sake of festivals, traditional artesania , or with the knowledge that the woven shelter would last several seasons of rain before requiring replacement.
The artisan ethos described here mirrors both the fine work and collaborative efforts of Kerala sari weaving communities like Chendamangalam. In all cases, the “stuff of royalty.”
Creamy as silk and costlier than gold, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion.
Creamy as silk, costlier by weight than gold, the color of fine old ivory, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion. The finest specimens have more than 4,000 weaves per square inch, a weave so fine it takes a jeweler’s loupe to count the rows. And every single one of those weaves is done by hand. No loom is used — only dexterous fingers, sharp eyes and Zen-like concentration.
“You cannot allow your mind to wander even for a second,” says Simón Espinal, a modest, soft-spoken man who is regarded by his peers as the greatest living weaver of Panama hats, possibly the greatest ever. “When you are weaving it is just you and the straw.”
Mr. Espinal’s hats average around 3,000 weaves per square inch — a fineness few weavers have ever even approached. His best has just over 4,200 weaves per square inch and took him five months to weave.
The 52-year-old Ecuadorean is one of a dwindling number of elite Panama hat weavers, nearly all of whom live in Pile, an obscure village tucked away in the foothills behind Montecristi, a low-slung town about 100 miles up the coast from Guayaquil.
Here is some food for thought, thanks to HighCountry News:
Is their success sustainable?
The land on the Padres Mesa Demonstration Ranch, in northeastern Arizona, stretched so vast and wild that it could be perspective-skewing, easy to get lost in. But Bill Inman effortlessly navigated his truck through a sea of blue grama grass, broom weed and sage. When he spotted a herd of cows, he hit the brakes.
“She’s a box of chocolates,” Kimberly Yazzie said as she pointed at a stately heifer.
About a dozen cows with week-old calves were bedded down in late winter forage, all muted greens and gold. Continue reading
The threads of handloom speak to me every time I enter my closet, despite the fact that it’s a rare occurrence for me to wear a sari now that we no longer live in India. Even without that particular garment, half of my wardrobe is comprised of beautiful pieces of extraordinary workmanship, in handloom, shibori dying, and embroidery; designed in Kerala by Sreejith Jeevan for Rouka, and crafted in collaboration with numerous weaving and dying clusters.
Anoodha Kunnath and the Curiouser team once again bring this craft to life in inspiring ways. The excerpt above is from a longer film shot for Sahapedia, an online interactive encyclopedia on the arts, cultures and histories of India (and broadly South Asia). It aims to highlight the interdisciplinary and interconnected nature of cultural expression that cut across various domains.
The threads have to be strung across an open field before 8 am at least, so that they are dried by the morning breeze and warmed just enough by the tender sunlight found only at those hours. Street warping, just like everything that is done with great love and care, is painstaking; so much so that the author Sethu compares it to caring for a child. Continue reading
Michael Davoren with his cattle in the Burren, Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward/Burrenbeo Trust
Thanks to Ella McSweeney for this story about a young academic’s hands on, entrepreneurial approach to solving problems caused by Ireland’s farmers, who had followed incentives to their economically logical but environmentally disastrous conclusions:
Rewarding positive environmental impact has revitalised an area of west Ireland. Is this a solution to the country’s ‘acute’ nature crisis?
In late spring, the Burren is transformed into an explosion of colour. Photograph: Burrenbeo Trust
Michael Davoren shudders when he thinks of the 1990s. He’d been in charge of his 80-hectare farm in the Burren, Co Clare, since the 1970s, and the place was in his blood. The Davorens had worked these hills for 400 years.
But growing intensification fuelled by European subsidies meant that most farmers in this part of Ireland were having to decide between getting big or getting out. Hundreds were choosing the latter.
Hundreds of farmers have signed up to a scheme that pays them to create healthier fields and clean waterways. Photograph: Burrenbeo Trust
Davoren followed the advice to specialise and chase the beef markets. “The more animals I kept, the more money I got,” he says. “I put more cattle out, bought fertiliser, made silage. Slurry run-off was killing fish. But if I kept fewer animals I’d be penalised 10% of my subsidy.”
The austere appearance of the Burren landscape belies its rich diversity. The thick rocks were laid down 300 million years ago when warm tropical seas covered the area, and the bodies of billions of marine creatures cascaded to the sea floor to form the Burren limestone. Continue reading
For the past forty years, Republicans have been seeking to starve, strangle, and sabotage the U.S. Postal Service, hoping to privatize one of the oldest and most important public goods in American history.Photograph by Dan Brouillette / Bloomberg / Getty
The first time Casey Cep came to my attention, from the vantage point of our life in India, it was like reading a message from a future we had left behind. A couple months after that, a historical note of interest. Both times, I was captivated. Nearly seven years later, I am captivated and motivated by We Can’t Afford to Lose the Postal Service. I have been watching this story unfold during my adult lifetime, and while it is not the only ideology-driven frustration I have, it is one so wrapped in big picture history that the personal history here motivates me to respond by sharing:
I am probably one of the least consequential things my mother has ever delivered. She has two other daughters, for starters—one’s a public servant and the other is a special-education teacher. But she’s also spent her working life delivering love letters, college acceptances, medications, mortgage papers, divorce filings, gold bars, headstones, ashes, and care packages. In her thirty-eight years as a rural letter carrier with the United States Postal Service, she’s delivered just about everything you can legally send through the mail. Continue reading
Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about bread, which reminded me of Cherchez le pain. This guide to the best bakeries in Paris was published when we lived there, and its author had been my professor at Cornell. As soon as I saw the publicity for the book I sent him an email congratulating him. To my surprise, he was on sabbatical leave, living just a few blocks from where we were living, so I invited him to join us for dinner.
I had sat through enough of his lectures on the history of food to anticipate an interesting dinner, but I was not prepared for what might sound now like a parlor trick. As soon as we sat for the meal, he picked up the bread in front of him, our favorite from a bakery we had chosen from dozens during our first few months living in that city. He held it to his nose, then brought it to his ear and tapped it with a spoon. He broke it in two and pressed his face into it. Maybe there was more to the show that I have forgotten now. What I do remember is that he named the bakery it was from.
I was impressed. And I was gratified after that when he said we had chosen well. But then he mentioned that if we were willing to walk just two blocks further we would find a bakery that ranked in the top five out of six hundred bakeries he had sampled in Paris. Next morning, of course, we went to that bakery and bought what might be the best bread of our lives. As we walked home with our bread, our entire family halted as we approached the bakery that had been our regular bakery for the past several months. We decided to walk an entire city block out of our way so that the baker would not see us having bought our bread elsewhere.
Karl De Smedt in the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor, the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, in St. Vith, Belgium. Puratos Center for Bread Flavor
Bread is a frequent flier of a topic on this platform, including sourdough specifically. Ditto for libraries and their librarians and the creative things they do. Franz Lidz is not a writer we have featured in our pages before, but with a story like this one we will be watching for more.
Some starters never die, they just get filed away here.
In these housebound times, Americans have gone stark baking mad. Shut-ins are channeling their anxieties into pandemic pastries and quarantine cookies, some with icing piped in the shape of surgical masks, others frosted with the face of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Baking essentials such as yeast and flour are in short supply, and Google searches for bread recipes are on the rise, so to speak.
Puratos Center for Bread Flavour
Curiously, during this apocalyptic spring, the best thing since sliced bread turns out not to be sliced bread. The most coveted isolation loaves seem to be sourdough, a knobbly, rugged variety that requires patience, handmade fermentations and something like affection. “Working with sourdough is part art, part science,” said Karl De Smedt. “You don’t tell the dough when it’s time to be shaped. The dough tells you.”
Mr. De Smedt is the curator of the world’s only sourdough library. Located in the flyspeck village of St. Vith, 87 miles southeast of Brussels, the library houses the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, those bubbling beige globs of bacteria and wild yeast — known as “mothers” — that bakers mix into dough to produce flavorful loaves with interestingly shaped holes. If a mother isn’t regularly divided and kneaded and fed with flour and water, she will eventually go dormant or die. “A starter has its own heart, almost its own will,” Mr. De Smedt said. “Treat a starter nice and it will reward you tremendously, like a good friend.” Continue reading
The bread from Bob’s boulangerie united a neighborhood of food fanatics. Illustration by Leo Espinosa
My first mention of Bill Buford was so brief, you might have missed it–just a link to an event he was moderating. The second was a link to his writing. And then another link to his writing. I am glad to see that he is still harvesting from his experience living in Lyon. It is a city that I have been to twice, with exceptional food memories which I will save for another time. For now I will just mention that one baker in Costa Rica has recently mastered the art of world-class bread-making, including baguette and chiabbata. During these challenging times for this country’s family farms it occurs to me, thanks to Bill Buford’s story, that ensuring the survival of this bakery is worthy of attention as well:
In Lyon, an ancient but benevolent law compels bakers to take one day off a week, and so most don’t work Sundays. An exception was the one in the quartier where I lived with my family for five years, until 2013. On Sundays, the baker, Bob, worked without sleep. Late-night carousers started appearing at three in the morning to ask for a hot baguette, swaying on tiptoe at a high ventilation window by the oven room, a hand outstretched with a euro coin. By nine, a line extended down the street, and the shop, when you finally got inside, was loud from people and from music being played at high volume. Everyone shouted to be heard—the cacophonous hustle, oven doors banging, people waving and trying to get noticed, too-hot-to-touch baguettes arriving in baskets, money changing hands. Everyone left with an armful and with the same look, suspended between appetite and the prospect of an appetite satisfied. It was a lesson in the appeal of good bread—handmade, aromatically yeasty, with a just-out-of-the-oven texture of crunchy air. This was their breakfast. It completed the week. This was Sunday in Lyon. Continue reading
Photo © Chiot’s Run / Flickr
A seasonal distraction, more than welcome, and we thank Cool Green Science for featuring Ken Keffer’s primer on North American tree-tapping:
March is tree tapping season across the upper Midwest, New England, and southern Canada. As the cardinals start to sing again in the northwoods, the long-dormant timbers are also responding to the first signs of early spring.
Sap is stored in the roots over winter, but as temperatures begin to rise, it starts flowing through the xylem layer of the tree.
For a number of species, the sap flow becomes a sweet treat and a renewable resource for those working the sugarbush.
Photo © Eamon Mac Mahon
Tapping Throughout History
The exact origins of making maple syrup are a bit of a mystery. It is clear that a number of indigenous tribes in northeastern North America were utilizing this natural resource, and the process predates European settlers. Continue reading
To make the best use of the citrus in your life, visit Authentica and find this item. You may already have a fancy electric gadget that can perform the same function as this juicer, and it may seem self-evidently superior.
I beg to differ. First, on the experience: the mix of metal, plastic and/or glass of the electric juicer, designed for speed, eliminates any inherent satisfaction that either the fruit or the tool might provide. Holding this wooden juicer is a form of time travel. It resembles one I first saw in 1969. And that one likely resembled juicers in use in that village for hundreds of years, typically made of olive wood.
Secondly, I beg to differ on utility. Electric juicers may get the job done quicker, but this juicer gets another, more important job done. Its carbon footprint is a tiny fraction of the electric one, starting with construction and finishing with the use of electricity. And this is made by a group of craftsmen in Costa Rica who work with wood that has been recycled from previous use–timbers or railings from old homes–or wood from trees felled by storms. Experience + utility + sustainability = an authentic Costa Rica takeaway.
A selection of the thousands of native potato varieties that grow in Peru. Photograph: The International Potato Centre
Thanks to Dan Collyns (last seen in our pages in 2013), writing in the Guardian, for this:
Thanks to the wonders of modern transportation I arrived to Costa Rica late last night after a week in Ithaca, where Amie and I reconnected with our two sons and our grand-daughter. Seth had brought gifts of honey and coffee from Rwanda, which we all enjoyed sampling. Milo gave us a better understanding of the work he has been doing with fungi and medicinal herbs in recent years. And we gave Slothicorn, on a t-shirt that fits Milo’s daughter both physically and metaphysically, as a reminder to all of us that she will be visiting us in Costa Rica before too long. Amie had found the artist of that and other fun shirts earlier this year, and we carry them in the Authentica shops. Thanks to her for finding the artist, and to the artist for the fun and creative approach to representing themes relevant to this rich coast country.
While on the theme of thanks, there is much more to say. Too much more for a quick post. Thanksgiving showed up as a topic more than a couple times in the first few months of our setting up this platform in 2011. Since then, every year a post touches on it. So this is it for 2019, about giving and thanks and the holiday we think is one of the best ones out there. The zinger came to me as I started writing this.
I left home early in the morning to run some errands, and while out one of our team members back at the house sent this photo of a sloth. It was crawling, with a mate, in our garden, making its way over to the neighbor’s property. They seem to have enjoyed the flowers dropping from the vines my mother planted nearly two decades ago. We have seen a toucan as well as an emerald toucanet on our property, but a sloth sighting is more than rare, more like bizarre. They tend to live closer to sea level and our home is 1,400 meters above sea level. So, of all the things to say thanks about, at this moment this is my choice. I thank them for stopping by and giving me a reminder of the importance of wildlife. I wish them safe passage to their destination.
Thanks to Jon Waterman, a former park ranger and the author of National Geographic’s Atlas of the National Parks, for this note of caution:
CARBONDALE, Colo. — Deep inside Alaska’s six-million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve, I could see miles of space beneath my feet as I stood on the summit of the tallest mountain in North America. The startling view from the 20,310-foot Denali of rugged wilderness spreading out in all directions, plus the challenge of climbing it, were just two of the many wonders and adventures that I’ve experienced in America’s national parks.
I recently finished writing a book for National Geographic, Atlas of the National Parks, based on extensive research, a lifetime of exploring the parks and several years in the 1980s working as a ranger in two of them, Denali and Rocky Mountain in Colorado.
I meant the book as a celebration of the 103-year-old national park system, and it is. But what I also discovered was an operation in deep trouble, with some parks degraded by ruinous overcrowding; invasions of nonnative plants and animals that are upending delicate ecological balances; and a warming climate that is melting glaciers and withering away the rare yuccas that give their name to Joshua Tree National Park. Continue reading
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
My connection to fly-fishing is practically nil, except for leisure reading. I tried it once or twice, found it enjoyable but beyond my coordination abilities, and promptly gave up.
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Thanks to Ali Watkins for this pointing out this inn, where the angling culture is alive and well, in her story Daughter and Dad, Chasing Salmon in Upstate New York:
A family of anglers travel to Oswego County — not the American West — to find the catch they’ve only dreamed of landing.
Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
My dad and I were on the rocky bank of Sandy Creek when I saw the first salmon close enough to catch. Like a phantom, it glided against the current, its rhythm just a beat slower than the water around it. Two decades of fishing experience vanished the moment its body — three feet long, at least — swam in front of me.
Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
I was as anxious and clumsy as a child. I was also not in Alaska, the assumed home of this prized fish; I was an hour north of Syracuse, N.Y.
Every fisherman or woman has a catch they dream of landing. King salmon, with its signature pink streak and hooked jaw, is almost certainly on any angler’s list. Its very mention brings fantasies of deep woods and roaring streams, dammed by hordes of slick green backs begging to be hooked.
That fishermen wish for salmon is no surprise. The twist in that fantasy is that such visions are not pipe dreams restricted to the West. Thousands of coho and king salmon swim inland every autumn just five hours northwest of New York City, pouring out of Lake Ontario and into dozens of tributaries across Oswego County to spawn and die upstream. Continue reading
Dakar’s horse-drawn buggies, long a staple means of getting around, are under an emerging threat from motorized rickshaws. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
Senegal shows up a dozen times in our pages over the years, but not one those times is about my own experience there. Strange, because that experience marked my return to teaching, and indirectly led to the work we are doing now with Authentica and Organikos. That is worthy of a post, which I will write another day, for now enjoying a simple story about life on the streets with horses, buggies, their drivers, and the community members who are transported by them:
Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
DAKAR, Senegal — After a visit to the market to buy a box of mangoes, some fish and a length of cloth, Binta Ba, a Senegalese woman, needed a way to get home.
So she looked around for her preferred means of transportation: a horse and buggy.
A ride was easy to find, with dozens of horse-drawn buggies lined up near the market, which was in Rufisque, a picturesque suburb of Dakar known for its colonial architecture.
She climbed aboard a buggy, whose driver then waited patiently for a third passenger to occupy his final seat. When his buggy was full, he took off at a trot, sometimes speeding up to a canter. The riders paid about 50 cents for a 10-minute ride, a fraction of what it would cost to take a taxi.
“Taking taxis is for rich people,” Ms. Ba said. “We prefer to support these people because they are from the community.” Continue reading
Ten years ago I was in Tirana and if I squinted I might have seen this article coming. I was working on a project for the United Nations Development Programme, focused on the Prespa Lakes Basin, and the visits in Tirana were like a time warp. In a good way, as it is now more easy to see:
In the Albanian capital of Tirana, the country’s strange history and bright future collide.
The paneled facade of the Plaza Tirana. Federico Ciamei
Over the past five years, Albania has been discovered by travelers as that rare thing: a largely unexplored corner of Europe (one with some 265 miles of coastline). The small Balkan country sits just across the Adriatic and Ionian seas from Italy’s heel and a mere 45-minute ferry ride away from the Greek island of Corfu. It’s recently gotten its first high-end waterside resorts, and as the beach town of Sarande and the seaside city of Vlore have become more comfortable, so too has Tirana — the country’s capital, about 22 miles inland with a population of over half a million — grown more cosmopolitan, with new restaurants, shops and galleries joining the almost surrealist pastiche of testaments to the city’s past. For a good example of the way eras collide in Tirana, just visit Skanderbeg Square, recently renovated with new fountains and rosy granite paving, and home to an 18th-century mosque and minaret, a domed Albanian Orthodox church opened in 2012, a set of government buildings that echo the fascist architecture of Mussolini’s Italy and a Brutalist monolith that houses the National Historical Museum.
Initially settled by Illyrian and Greek tribes during ancient times, Albania spent over four centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire. After 1912, it became a fascist-leaning monarchy, and then, in the wake of World War II, a Communist state ruled by the infamous dictator Enver Hoxha. In 1991, a full year behind many of its Eastern Bloc neighbors, the country saw its first democratic elections, as well as murmurings of a cultural awakening. Tirana may not have a robust avant-garde scene, but it does have a gritty, iconoclastic edge — the Pyramid, a large monument to Hoxha in the center of town, is now popular with skateboarders — and a joie de vivre that’s enticed many former expats. “There’s so much potential,” says Flori Uka, a local winemaker who trained in northeastern Italy and now specializes in vintages made from organic Kallmet grapes grown just outside the city. “We were isolated for so long, but today it’s possible for creative people to do what they love. The place has become very receptive to the new.” Continue reading