Review: Spanish Road Trip

I first fell in love with Spanish food while attending a programming trade show in Washington, DC. Some friends and I had dinner At Jaleo’s, a tapas bar. Prior to that I’d had Americanized paella, which my mother occasionally made when I was growing up, but that was the extent of my experience with Spanish food. Then in 1997 two weeks with my family in a villa on the Costa del Sol confirmed my passion for this simple cuisine.

Consequently when I was recently offered a review copy of Spain: A Culinary Road Trip, I jumped at it. This is a companion volume to a PBS series in which chef Mario Batali, food writer Mark Bittman, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols tour Spain exploring it’s art, culture, and food.

Because Batali is a chef and Bittman a food writer I assumed the book would essentially be a cookbook with some narrative related to the TV show woven through it. But it’s not. There are indeed about 70 recipes in it of which some are traditional Spanish fare, others more modern dishes, and some are recipes invented by the four participants. But as the dust jacket notes, it’s more like a scrapbook.

In the introduction Batali writes: “I must say that my truest roots in the world of food are still deep in the heart of Castile where my family traveled simply but comfortably with a constant eye on the best place for a tortilla Espanola or a pincho moruno.” It turns out he lived with his family in Spain while he was growing up. It also turns out he owns two Spanish restaurants in New York, something I didn’t know having thought he was purely an Italian chef.

The book is organized by the routes they took through Spain so, for instance, the first section is named “From Madrid to Toledo.” The section then consists of short descriptions of Madrid and Toledo, photographs of hanging hams and Batali and Paltrow in a restaurant, a description of the restaurant and it’s owner, assorted chunks of dialog and random thoughts, a few recipes, and a description of a birthday dinner. In short, each section is a diverse hodgepodge of elements related to each other primarily by geographic proximity.

The problem with the book is that if you don’t care that Batali is a celebrity chef and Paltrow is a famous actress then a lot of the material isn’t particularly interesting. A photograph of Paltrow and Bittman standing over a paella pan is less interesting than the same photo would be if the people were native Spanish herders. And a quote by a restaurant owner – “Everyone has eaten here but the Pope, he’s too busy.” – is more amusing than a silly exchange between Bittman and Bassols.

I did try a few recipes. The recipe for escabeche is good as is the one for pisto manchego but the empanada recipe doesn’t even look good and using puff pastry is just wrong.

All in all, I’m disappointed in the book. As I mentioned, my expectation was that it would be a collection of recipes for one of my favorite foods with some narrative to knit the food together. But despite the recipes it really isn’t a cookbook and the narrative is more like a collection of random elements probably better conveyed in the television series. It is handsome in its way and would look nice on a coffee table but I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.

Pisto Manchego

Adapted from Spain: A Culinary Road Trip

4 ripe plum tomatoes
2 sm Japanese eggplants
4 red bell peppers
2 sm red onions – not peeled
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 375F.

Coat tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers with 2 tablespoons of oil and arrange on a baking sheet with onions. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour until onions are tender. Cool until you can handle the vegetables.

Remove skins from tomatoes and seed and core peppers. Cut the eggplants in half and scoop out the flesh. Peel, trim, and cut up the onions then coarsely chop vegetables with remaining oil in a food processor. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Serve on toasted coarse bread.

Literary Tapas: A Chef’s Selection

When I started writing about food I immediately started reading what other people wrote about food – primarily as a way to learn how to write about food myself. One of the first books I picked up was Best Food Writing 2001 and I was amazed at how many different ways there are to write about food, how many different ways there are to think about food, and how food can be such an easily conveyed metaphor for thinking about the rest of our lives. I’ve been studying the masters ever since.

At the moment I’m half-way through Best Food-Writing 2008 edited by Holly Hughes and with the lazy days of summer on the way, it seems to me that now is as good a time as any to contemplate those who contemplate food, cooking and everything else that goes on in a proper kitchen.

I’ve long been a fan of John Thorne, author of Serious Pig, Pot on the Fire, and Simple Cooking. This is great food writing with much the same sensibility as the best food blogs – focused on food and cooking and yet much more than that. He writes with marvelous evocativeness and a certain dourness – for this Southerner, anyway – that’s reflective of his New England heritage. Best of all, I’ve learned a great deal about my cooking style and attitudes from reading about his and his focus on simplicity. A perfect clam chowder is about less rather than more.

I’ve been meaning to read America’s first great food writer, M.F.K. Fisher for years. Last winter I finally began. Since January I’ve read The Gastronomical Me and How to Cook a Wolf. She really does deserve her reputation. In How to Cook a Wolf, Fisher’s book on cooking – and living – well with very little, she writes: “There are many ways to love a vegetable. The most sensible way is to love it well-treated. Then you can eat it with the comfortable knowledge that you will be a better man for it, in your spirit and in your body too, and will ever have to worry about your own love being a vegetable”.

You read Fisher, not so much for recipes, as for philosophies. You read a chapter, or a page, or a sentence, and then put the book down to ponder a moment. Sometimes to ponder what she wrote, and other times to ponder what might be fun or interesting or surprising to do with that last bit of hard salami in the refrigerator.

But when my head became too full of darkly ambitious thoughts about food and cooking, I turned to Jeffrey Steingarten, food writer for Vogue.

Why a magazine like Vogue needs a food writer, and how it ended up choosing a lawyer to do the writing baffles me. But Steingarten is tremendous fun to read. He combines passion for food and cooking with what I can only describe as a lawyerly sense of humor. His rants about things like food allergies and raves about things like blood sausage leave your jaws aching with a grin. The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must’ve Been Something I Ate are a perfect antidote to Fisher’s more serious reflections.

Along the way I’ve read Jaques Pepin’s The Apprentice. A genuine likeability shines through this famous chef’s autobiography and leaves you very much wanting to have a meal and a glass of wine with him. And currently I’m reading Calvin Trillin’s Feeding a Yen with The Tummy Trilogy yet to go. I’ve long been a fan of Trillin’s wry and often acerbic political wit, but somehow I had never read his food musings which are more self-deprecating than passionate, mostly when it comes to his own tastes: “One morning, late in the week, I held out until almost eleven before I bought my first helping of macaroni pie, and found myself boasting to Alice about my willpower.”

I first turned to these books to learn how the writing should be done. But since then I’ve grown to love the collections of essays. They stimulate far more than your appetite, although many of them do that as well, and they’re perfect for reading in short bursts – say, at the beach.

Book Review: Bananas

“Yes we have no bananas,
Yes we have no bananas today.” – 1923 novelty song

Many years ago, as a teenager, I ate lunch in an Indonesian household on most Fridays. The meal always featured a huge platter of what I thought at the time were fried potatoes. They were highly spiced and slightly sweet and I adored them. But as a callow youth I didn’t think to ask anything more about them. Some 20 years later I was reading an article on plantains and realized that’s what I had been eating. I ran out to the grocery store, bought a plantain, sliced it into rounds, doused them with curry powder and a touch of sugar, and fried them. Yep, that was it.

I was reminded of my plantain experience when I first heard author Dan Koeppel interviewed on All Things Considered a couple of weeks ago. Koeppel has recently publish a book, Bananas: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.

A few days after receiving the book, I started reading it. At 1:00 the next morning I forced myself to put it down and go to sleep having read half its 260 pages at a sitting. Koeppel weaves together a story that reminds me of a basket: A strand of science appears, and then disappears behind a strand of politics. It reappears then ducks behind a strand of history. Somehow Koeppel intertwines the strands creating a consistent, comprehensive, and highly readable whole.

What initially caught my attention in the NPR interview was Koeppel’s focus on monoculture. It’s topic I addressed in “Send in the Clones” and in other columns. It comes up a lot when you talk about bananas.

Edible bananas are all seedless, so they procreate asexually. That means the banana you ate last week was probably genetically identical to the banana you ate today and, in fact, most of the bananas you’ve eaten. This is monoculture – everything is the same. And because bananas are clones of each other they’re particularly vulnerable. Worse, because domestic (as opposed to wild) bananas are uniformly seedless they’re almost impossible to crossbreed in a search for disease resistance – and there are several diseases (Panama disease and Brushy Top being the worst) currently sweeping through the banana plantations around the world. In a practical sense the fate of the world’s most popular fruit may be extinction within the next 20 or so years. Seriously.

Koeppel focuses on this possible extinction, but delves into banana republics (at one time the modern Chiquita company owned 70 percent of the arable land in Guatemala), the spread of domestic bananas from Southeast Asia throughout the world, and it’s importance as a staple food in Asia and Africa – there are people who will starve to death without bananas.

I spoke to Koeppel and he describes himself as having the broadest knowledge of bananas of anyone in the world, but is quick to assert his knowledge is “only two inches deep.” He speaks of some of the banana researchers with great respect. Since the book was released he has been inundated with emails from banana researchers picking nits with his attempt to simplify and make understandable some highly complex issues. Just as he might object to some of the simplifications I’ve made here.

Koeppel set out to write a science book and was surprised to find food people (he was recently interviewed by Lynne Rossetto Kasper on Splendid Table) drawn to his book. But in addition to foodies and science geeks, political and anthropological buffs will also appreciate this extraordinarily well-written book.

Review: the Art of Eating

Although I seldom buy cookbooks anymore, I do subscribe to food magazines. The magazines offer loads of ideas even if I don’t follow a specific recipe. That’s also why I publish recipes on my blog, Seriously Good. It isn’t that I expect a reader to follow the recipe explicitly – in fact I post a disclaimer warning against doing so – but I hope someone may find my use of cornmeal in pancakes or the addition of juniper berries to beef stew worthwhile.

My favorite cooking magazine is Cooks Illustrated and I’ve been a subscriber since issue three. CI is the ultimate techie cook’s rag. They test every recipe six ways from Sunday, carefully track down the science behind what works and what doesn’t, and the recipes themselves are excellent: basic, dependable, and easily modified.

But my favorite food magazine is the Art of Eating. It began as a newsletter in November of 1986, when a Vermont carpenter named Edward Behr was casting about for something else to do. A friend pointed out his fascination with food and AoE was born.

AoE has no advertising and so is funded entirely by it’s 6000 or so subscribers (although it also has a limited newsstand presence). In other words, it’s still essentially a newsletter – but what a newsletter. It’s printed on heavy stock, edited with great care and skill, and beautifully illustrated with black and white photos and line drawings. Behr is still the editor/publisher and the magazine is still very much a personal work, just as The New Yorker was back in the days of Harold Ross.

Behr is fascinated by questions such as why the basil in his kitchen window tastes better than the basil in his garden (which led to a lengthy exploration of Ligurian basil) or more recently a 25 page-long exploration of southern Italian wines. Like CI it’s a magazine for those interested in fundamentals – food techies – but unlike CI it’s intended as much for serious eaters (and drinkers) as cooks.

I also subscribe to Cuisine at Home – a magazine that is, at best, uneven – as well as Fine Cooking, an – er – fine magazine. Every year or so I go back and pick up a subscription to one of the big glossies: Bon Appetit, Saveur, Food & Wine, Gourmet, but it never lasts.

I consider the glossies more life style rags than cooking or food magazines. Perhaps I’d enjoy them more if I made regular trips to Costa del Sol, owned a “cottage” in the Hamptons, and skied at Lake Tahoe, but I don’t and for the most part I’m no longer interested in the sort of food featured in these publications (although I once was). I’m much more interested in Bacon and Egg Pastries (Cuisine at Home) than Radish, Parsley, and Lemon-butter Tea Sandwiches (Food & Wine).

I’m also interested in how wine is engineered (structured), the latest research on taste buds and umami, and how Olympia oysters are farmed. AoE has offered recent articles on each these topics.

I have a love/hate relationship with AoE, being a hard-core foodie. The long, detailed articles can require a lot of attention – something I have in short supply these days – and I’ve learned that once I begin reading an issue I’m committed until the end. And I’m always surprised to reach the end. Unlike Cooks Illustrated or Newsweek, this magazine demands focus and dedication. You read it not for pleasure, but because you care about food. You read it because you want to know more about food. You read it because the writers share your passion. You read it because, at least in my case, you feel it’s essential.

Review: The Elements of Cooking

During a recent episode of Next Iron Chef America Michael Ruhlman, serving as one of the judges, criticized one of the chefs for serving a consommé that wasn’t perfectly clear. “Technically, consommé is a clear soup or broth,” according to Ruhlman and in this case the liquid showed the red coloration of the watermelon it was made from. Picky? Yes. Technically correct? Yes. Important? Not in my view.

Nevertheless, objecting to the term “consommé” is the sort of criticism you might expect from the author of The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen — a book that sets out to be the ultimate handbook of cooking. On his blog, author Michael Ruhlman wrote: “I was thumbing through Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style,and a bell went off in my head: I can do this for the kitchen!” With a few caveats, he has.

Author of such diverse books as Walk on Water (about natal heart surgeons and the book he is most proud of) and Wooden Boats, Ruhlman has been writing about cooking for 11 years beginning with The Making of a Chef. A journalist by vocation, he started cooking when he was nine and a Julia Child TV show on making apple pie led him to make a pear pie — using canned pears. But food and cooking weren’t considered a viable career option when he went to college in the 80s. So he became a writer.

A series of articles written between 1992 and 1993 on local Cleveland chefs led to a stint at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to research The Making of a Chef — followed by half a dozen or so other books on people who cook and my personal favorite of his books, Charcuterie. Ruhlman offers a unique vantage as a professional journalist and professionally-trained amateur cook (and I use “amateur” in the literal sense of “lover of” cooking). He brings lucidity, understanding, and, yes, passion to his writing about food and cooking. He’s also generous with his time. Ruhlman is an online acquaintance and has been helpful as I’ve explored sausage-making.

A slim, 244-page volume, Elements begins with a 50-page collection of eight essays titled “Notes on Cooking: From Stock to Finesse.” On page seven I ran into my first stumble where a section is named: “Veal Stock — a personal reflection on the home cook’s most valuable ingredient.” He then proceeds to rave about the wonders of veal stock and veal demi glace. He’s right about how wonderful it is, I used some in my turkey gravy this past Thanksgiving, but the truth is the demi glace I used came from a jar because veal bones are almost impossible to come by around here. Even Judy Rodgers, chef of the renowned Zuni Café in San Francisco admits that they’re hard to come by — in San Francisco ferchrisakes. So what chance does the average home-cook have?

Following these essays are 230-odd pages of descriptions of the elements, the basic building blocks, of cooking. The author covers such diverse elements as water: “…one of the most important ingredients and tools in the kitchen; its influence is everywhere,” and brunoise, “a decorative vegetable cut.”

The list is thorough for what it is, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Ruhlman is by training and (apparently) inclination a classic French cook. This was obvious in his criticism of the watermelon consommé and is even more apparent in his other books on cooking and chefs. But even in France the food of Gascony, Alsace, Normandy, and other provinces often vary from the Parisian classic. Move to Greece, Mexico, or Morocco and most of the rules change.

For instance, the author covers beurre manié, a classic French mixture of butter and flour used to enrich and thicken sauces, but not avgolemono, a classic Greek mixture of egg and lemon that’s also used to enrich and thicken sauces and soups. Strunk and White addressed the vagaries of a single language, English, in their Elements and Ruhlman has done much the same for American French-based cooking. But American cooking isn’t French cooking, it’s Mexican, Ukranian, Polish, French, German, English, and on ad infinitum. In fact it is most American in Louisiana and the Carolina Low Country where French, African, Spanish, English, and even American Indian cuisines have been melded into a seamless and iconoclastic whole.

This is not a criticism of Ruhlman or French classic cooking. I love the cuisine and Ruhlman writes about it, even in this highly-focused volume, with clarity and understanding. When he says something, believe him. But remember, he’s an odd beast: a formally-trained home cook. And remember, too, that his training is based on French cuisine. Nevertheless, go buy a copy. Despite my nit-picking it belongs in every foodie’s library. Who knows, maybe he’ll address the elements of Greek cooking next.

Review: How To Pick a Peach

Russ Parson’s How to Read a French Fry is an outstanding introduction to the science of cooking and I enjoyed reading it immensely. So when his latest book, How to Pick a Peach:The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table, was released I was looking forward to reading it as well. Interviews with Parsons on All Things Considered and The Splendid Table further whetted my appetite for the book. Sadly, when I finally read it I was disappointed.

BookNot greatly disappointed, less so as I continued reading, and I’m glad I stuck with it, but whereas French Fry delved into six essential and limited cooking topics in depth, providing lots of fun trivia and asides, in Pick a Peach the author addresses a significant part of the vegetable and fruit world. If French Fry was a tutorial, Pick a Peach is an encyclopedia. Which is, in fact, its value. It’s just not what I was anticipating.

Parsons is a food and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and one of the most popular and admired writers in the business. A journalist by training, he has been writing about food and wine for 20 years. He brings the fact-oriented sensibility that is typical of his trade to his writing along with the less typical eye for a telling detail that genuinely creates an image in your mind. He writes: “Asparagus lovers will argue about the merits of fat or thin spears. They’ll debate the necessity of peeling. They’ll quibble over methods for removing the spear’s tough base. … Fans will even argue about their beloved vegetable’s effect on their urine.” Without even knowing an asparagus lover the reader can tell they (or perhaps I should say “we”) are passionate and somewhat daft.

Nevertheless, the book remains essentially a reference containing 31 chapters spread among sections for each season. Some chapters cover a single fruit or vegetable, cherries for instance, while others cover a collection of related items such as root vegetables. Each chapter begins with a two- to three-page general introduction to its subject covering its general characteristics and history, any unusual characteristics and those of particular significance to cooks, and anything else that seems appropriate. This introduction is followed by a concise one-page bullet list of: “where they’re grown,” “how to choose,” “how to store,” “how to prepare,” and “one simple dish.” The chapter ends with two or three more complicated recipes — a feature that echoes How to Read a French Fry.

How to Pick a Peach also includes additional sidebars of a more general nature. These include “what to refrigerate” (and if you thought “everything,” think again), “reliable soufflés,” and “when it’s OK to buy unripe fruit.”

I consider myself knowledgeable about fruits and vegetables. Certainly more so than most people, but I still learned in reading the book that although sniffing a cantaloupe will tell you whether it’s ripe or not, sniffing a honeydew won’t tell you squat: I can quit trying. I also learned (in a different sidebar) that honeydews don’t continue to ripen after picking — although they will soften.

All in all, I’m pleased with How to Pick a Peach and consider it an essential part of my library. If you cook, if you buy fresh fruit and vegetables, it’s a valuable asset. You needn’t read it cover to cover as I did (frankly, it lacks a cohesive story line and consistant character development) but instead read about the current season’s offerings. If you’re going to take the time to shop, you might as well make sure you’re getting the best value you can in terms of flavor both when you buy those sweet cherries and after you get them home. And a tip: refrigerate the cherries in the coldest part of your refrigerator, they’ll keep two to three weeks.


Fire Builder

Unlike most folks, I learned to grill meat over wood. I grew up on a small farm in Eastern Tennessee within sight of the Smoky Mountains. Only about half of the 40 acres we owned were cleared, the rest was forest. This meant we had a ready supply of wood for grilling — including that southern king-of-smoke, hickory.
Dad built the grill out of concrete block, which sounds ugly, but the block was “faced” for architectural use and looked more like hewn granite than concrete. The firebox was about 3 x 3 feet square and Dad had an iron grate made to fit that the actual cooking was done on. Even for a family of six, the pit was overkill, but at least once a summer my parents would have a big lawn party and invite 30 or so people, and that’s when the grill came into its own with three or four chickens and half a dozen sirloin steaks (from our own grass-fed cattle) going at once.
But party or family, the fires were built the same way, and one of us kids usually built them (under Dad’s supervision). We’d begin by collecting twigs ranging in size from something the size of a match to larger pieces 1/4 inch or more in diameter. Using these we’d build a teepee with the tiny stuff in the center and progressively larger pieces stacked on the outside. The initial result was a teepee about four inches in diameter and six inches tall.
This was fire-starting as art. The goal was to start the fire with a single kitchen match. If you failed to choose the smallest pieces correctly (if they were too green or moist from lying on the ground) you needed more matches or — sin of sins — newspaper. But one match or several, once the flames were going we’d add larger and larger pieces of wood. Timing and fine motor control became critical as you built the fire up; too much big wood too soon or carelessly added would crush the flaming teepee and you’d have to start over. But not enough wood added soon enough and the fire would burn out on its own before the larger wood ignited.
Within an hour and half, though, you’d have small logs burning away, a bed of coals perfect for grilling over, and a deeply satisfying sense of accomplishment. Not to mention the atavistic joy that comes to every boy’s heart when something is burning.
To go along with whatever was being grilled we’d often have potato salad, which I loved, or cole slaw, which I ate but never cared much for. As they became available we’d have homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers, corn on the cob, green beans, and okra. Homemade ice cream made in one of those old hand-cranked ice cream makers was a fixture, although sometimes Dad would fix his buttermilk/pineapple sherbet. The sherbet would be frozen rock-solid so you had to let it melt to eat it — which pretty much defeated the purpose.
These meals were a fixture of our summer weekends, eaten outside under the trees with two or three dogs keeping an attentive eye out for anything that fell to the ground.
As I grow older I become less inclined to cook fancy dishes composed of long lists of ingredients, difficult techniques, and subtle nuances. Instead, I turn more often than not to simple tastes laid against each other like kindling and fanned into bright crackling flavors.
You can leave comments, thoughts, and observations here.

Tools of the Trade

As a cooking instructor, the single most frequent question I’m asked is, “What kind of pans do you have?”
Click to view larger versionAmericans are probably the most brand-conscious consumers in the world. They care about their brand of car, they wear labels on the outside of their clothes (Polo, for instance), they buy Tide detergent when the store brand comes from the same factory, and foodies look for status in the cookware they choose. This isn’t to say that the cookware you use can’t make a difference in your cooking, but it is to say the importance is over-rated –— and choosing a single brand is often a bad idea.
So my answer to the question is, it depends.
I think it’s worthwhile owning a set of cookware because it’s important to understand how your pots and pans behave. This “set” could be Mauviel copper at a list price of $1,400 for a seven-piece set or Revere at $75 for a seven-piece set. The point is that in a set all of the pots and pans will tend to have the same strengths and weaknesses and once you know those strengths and weaknesses you’ll use the cookware more effectively.
Cutting to the chase, my current set is Cuisinart MCP. I got a deal on a set several years ago. It’s probably the least popular of the name brands (All Clad, Calphalon, and Le Cruset) and it’s also the least expensive, even without a deal. But like All Clad it has an aluminum core that extends up the sides of the cookware (as opposed to a single aluminum disk on the bottom or pure aluminum). This design conducts more heat into the contents of the pan. Frankly, I consider that a minor issue, but my set has proven to be durable and has long, comfortable handles that stay cool.
Handles matter. Comfort in your hand is important, not getting hot is important, and being able to put any pot or pan in a hot oven without the handle melting is important. You also want riveted and not welded handles, even though cleaning around rivets is a hassle.
I also like stainless steel interiors and exteriors. Although stainless will stain, it resists staining and with a bit of care will continue to look pristine for years. It’s also largely non-reactive (a claim aluminum and copper can’t make) and so won’t impart off flavors to your food. However, stainless steel is a poor heat conductor, while aluminum and copper are great heat conductors. So if you pair aluminum with stainless steel, you’ve got an excellent pot. But not a perfect pot for every purpose.

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Efficiencies of Scale

“Nationwide panic from a 50-acre field.”
This was a recent headline on a blog named The Ethicurean that I regularly read and, although hyperbolic (I’m not sure “panic,” is the most accurate term), the headline nevertheless makes its point. What isn’t hyperbole is that a single 50-acre field resulted in deaths and illnesses in 26 states.
Think about that for a moment while you look at this map of validated outbreaks of e-coli related illnesses spread by the spinach grown on the field in question.
Now imagine 50 acres — an area not quite a mile in circumference. An area most of us could walk all the way around in about an hour — I know that because I grew up on a 43-acre farm. It is a tiny piece of land (unless you’re digging post holes) and yet it affected people in over 50 percent of the American landscape. How does this happen?
I read the just-published, 50-page report produced by the California Food Emergency Response Team under the aegis of the California Department of Health Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Assuming the report is accurate, and I have no reason to think otherwise, it appears that the packer has good to excellent procedures in place for sanitation and for identifying and correcting most potential problems in the greens it processes.
Ah! Must be the grower’s fault.
Well, no. Cattle were fenced out, although wild animals (including pigs) had access, but this isn’t generally a problem. After all, most crops are exposed to wild animals unless they’re grown in a green house. And it turns out the cattle in the immediate area were actually feeding on pasture, not confined to the cesspools called feedlots (a problem I suspected was the root cause when I wrote The GAPs Gap). The grower was seeking “organic” certification and so chicken manure was used for fertilizer instead of petroleum-based products, but it was properly sterilized.
In short, everyone from the packager down through the grower, to the company producing the grower’s fertilizer, appears to have done as good a job as one could hope for when humans are involved. There are some elements that need to be addressed. For instance, the packager only samples for bacterial contamination once a month, and daily would have been better. But the reality is you can’t sample every leaf.

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