Down the valley about an hour and south another hour or so from the ranch is prime cantaloupe growing country. Consequently, we get wonderful melons.

In the hottest months of the summer, I serve chilled cantaloupe, cut into balls and tossed with just the slightest bit of Pernod. You don’t really taste the anise flavor, but something about it makes the melon taste even colder. Sometimes, I’ll sprinkle them with a little mint or basil chiffonade, maybe some lime. If I want to be carried back to France in my memory, I’ll serve them as I had them for an appetizer in a little town in Provence— Eygalieres, near Les Baux. This works best with small melons. All you do is cut the melon in half and fill the well with ruby port. Ah France.

Last year, I tried to grow the fabulous Charentais melon from France and failed. Since I love melon, the listeria outbreak struck terror in my heart. It seems, however, they’ve tracked the source down. Believe me though, after reading this article, I’m back to the drawing boards with how to raise melons. Trellises will help.

I’m offering you this report on the listeria outbreak from the Grey Lady herself. Read carefully because there will be a quiz at the end of this, people. It’s time for No Blog Reader Left Behind.


Listeria Outbreak Traced to Cantaloupe Packing Shed

Published: October 19, 2011

Federal investigators said on Wednesday that a listeria outbreak that has killed at least 25 people across the country can be traced to bad sanitation at a cantaloupe packing shed used by a Colorado farm. Pooled water and poorly designed equipment allowed the deadly bacteria to spread throughout the facility, the government said.

“You’re rolling around cantaloupe on uncleanable equipment, and you’re getting it wet and you’re not cooling it. It provides the perfect environment for listeria growth and spread,” said James Gorny, a senior food safety advisor at the Food and Drug Administration.

The outbreak, the deadliest incident of foodborne illness in the last 25 years, has been traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., which grew and sold what are known as Rocky Ford cantaloupes, named for an area along the Arkansas River.

Officials said that tests found listeria in numerous areas of the farm’s open-air packing house, including a floor drain, a produce dryer and a conveyor belt.

They said that water had pooled on the ground and workers in the shed tracked it around and splashed it on equipment where melons were handled.

The farm had passed a food safety audit by an outside contractor just days before the outbreak began, but the auditor apparently failed to notice the flaws later identified by the F.D.A.

Eric Jensen, a member of the family that runs the farm, said in an e-mail message that the auditor gave the packing plant a score of 96 points out of 100.

F.D.A. officials did not criticize the auditor but they said the agency intended to establish standards for how auditors should be trained and how audits should be conducted.
It was not clear how listeria got into the packing plant to begin with. Listeria is frequently found in soil or manure but tests of the soil on the farm did not turn up the bacteria. Officials said that a dump truck used to take culled melons to a cattle farm was parked near the processing shed and could have carried bacteria to the facility.

Listeria can cause high fever and diarrhea and cases can be especially severe among older people or those with weakened immune systems. Most of the people who died in the outbreak were elderly. A total of 123 people in 26 states have been sickened in the outbreak, including those who died.

Herbert H. Stevens, 84, of Littleton, Colo., fell ill with a high fever on Aug. 24, a couple of weeks after eating a cantaloupe bought at a King Sooper grocery store. He has been in the hospital or a nursing home ever since.

His daughter, Jeni A. Exley, said she worried that he would no longer be able to take care of himself once he finally got to go home. “He’s surprised that he survived it, being that there’s so many deaths,” Ms. Exley said. “We should be able to trust the U.S. food supply but I don’t think you can right now.”


Allrighty then. Notice anything funny? How about the following?

1. “They said that water had pooled on the ground and that workers in the shed tracked it around and splashed it on equipment where melons were handled.”

It’s the workers fault? Their fault they are working in contaminated, standing water that they take home to their children on their boots and so on? Their fault they are on speed-up so they are racing the conveyer belt, splashing water on it and themselves?

2. “The farm had passed a food safety inspection by an outside contractor just days before the outbreak began, but the auditor failed to recognize some of the flaws identified later by the F.D.A.”

Water on the conveyer belt that can’t be cleaned? How hard a problem is that to identify?

So much for “government being the problem“. Let’s hear it for the F.D.A.

This is the kind of thing that fills me with despair. The fact that it happened. The fact that innocent people died. The fact that my fellow human beings are working in terrible conditions. The fact that we won’t spend money on food inspection.

The fact that toward the end of the article the damn truck gets blamed!

This time just when my spirits were lowest, I picked up a wonderful memoir about life on an organic farm by Kristin Kimball.

There’s a solution to this madness. We could change the way we raise food, change how we employ and compensate the people who grow the food, and we could do this within a generation. There’s hope. The Kimball’s Essex Farm is proof, and the subtitle to The Dirty Life says it all.

On Farming, Food and Love.

When a young, beautiful woman with a cool flat in Manhattan and a hip job as a freelance writer falls in love with a tall, curly-haired organic farmer, you have to wonder how it will all turn out. Look, she doesn’t even garden, and he has no patience for bars in the East Village.

Later when they settle in together in upstate New York on a gone-to-ruin farm, you really, really have to wonder IF and HOW it will all work out, but you root for them the whole way.

Talk about Romance! Talk about Suspense.

I stayed up past midnight reading just to find out if they made it through!

You will,too.



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Writers Support Occupy Wall Street

Posted by admin on Tuesday Oct 18, 2011 Under Uncategorized

I really didn’t know how to tie the whole Occupy Wall Street thing that has inspired me so much into my blog about life on the ranch until I got an e-mail from a friend with the following heading: Writers Support Occupy Wall Street. Check it out.

And there it was! A list of 200 writers —Pulitzer Prize Winners, Booker Prize Winners, Poets Laureates of the US, writers whose books had been made into movies, writers who’d been my teachers, writers I’d interviewed for NPR, a young writer who went to high school with my daughter, a writer who used to be a neighbor, very famous writers like Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood and Michael Cunningham and lesser known writers— who’d signed the following statement:

We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world.

And you know what? The list is growing by the hour. Two hundred and fifty and counting. I’m adding my name.

For all the criticism by the mainstream media about how incoherent the protesters’ message is, it looks like it isn’t all that unclear. Looks like a lot of smart, talented people got the message loud and clear.

Francine Prose, author of numerous novels and one of the signers of the statement of support, wrote the following piece about what she experienced in Zuccotti Park. I can’t say it any better, so here is her observation.

“As far as I can understand it myself, here’s why I burst into tears at the Occupy Wall Street camp. I was moved, first of all, by what everyone notices first: the variety of people involved, the range of ages, races, classes, colors, cultures. In other words, the 99 per cent. I saw conversations taking place between people and groups of people whom I’ve never seen talking with such openness and sympathy in all the years (which is to say, my entire life) I’ve spent in New York: grannies talking to goths, a biker with piercings and tattoos talking to a woman in a Hermes scarf. I was struck by how well-organized everything was, and, despite the charge of “vagueness” one keeps reading in the mainstream media, by the clarity—clarity of purpose, clarity of intention, clarity of method, clarity of understanding of the most basic social and economic realities. I kept thinking about how, since this movement started, I’ve been waking up in the morning without the dread (or at least without the total dread) with which I’ve woken every morning for so long, the vertiginous sense that we’re all falling off a cliff and no one (or almost no one) is saying anything about it. In Zuccotti Park I felt a kind of lightening of a weight, a lessening of the awful isolation and powerlessness of knowing we’re being lied to and robbed on a daily basis and that everyone knows it and keeps quiet and endures it; the terror of thinking that my own grandchildren will suffer for whatever has been paralyzing us until just now. I kept feeling these intense surges of emotion—until I saw a placard with a quote from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” And that was when I just lost it and stood there and wept.”

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Eggplants Everywhere

Posted by admin on Thursday Oct 13, 2011 Under Uncategorized

I’m happy to report that my Bell’s Palsy is improving. I’ve gotten a bit of my smile back, and I’m hoping my eye returns to normal soon.

I’ve kept busy harvesting all the eggplants. What to do with them? That’s the question.

Why do anything with them? Is that what you’re thinking?

Well, like a lot of people out there (the other 99% of us), Dave’s and my little retirement portfolio has tanked, so self- sufficiency is seeming like a pretty good plan. Fortunately, I can handle it, and, as another writer—Susan Gregory Thomas—has discovered it’s really “no big deal”.

While Ken Lewis—the BofA CEO egomaniac who wrecked my stock portfolio with his avaricious little grab of Countrywide– is, I’ve been told, traveling in Europe (How nice for him, and he can afford it since he hot-footed it out of there with $84,000,000,000. Count it. EIGHTY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS, people.), I’ve been very busy gardening, canning and freezing vegetables, making bread, cheese, jam and just about anything else I can figure out how to do. And the good thing? Unlike Ken Lewis, I get to feel righteous. I have a clean conscience.

Back to the eggplants. I’ve made vegetarian moussaka, eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, caponata, grilled eggplant with mint and hot chilis, and my friend, Bonnie, just gave me a recipe in which you marinate the grilled slices in an herb vinaigrette before freezing them.”Try putting them on panini with provolone cheese and grilling,” she told me. What a great dinner for the middle of winter with a bowl of minestrone. I’ve frozen those ingredients, too.

I’m sure Ken Lewis in his European travels is not dining half so well.

Anyway a while back, a friend brought an eggplant dish to a potluck that was so delicious I went home and immediately ordered the cookbook from the — The Bombay Cafe — just so I could reproduce it. This, with some homemade flat bread (piece of cake from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, was supper last night.

Eggplant Layered with Tomato Conserve and Ginger Yogurt


2 eggplants
1 cup vegetable oil

For the Conserve:

1 1/2 TBS vegetable oil
8-10 fresh kari leaves
1 TBS Panch Puran
11/2 tsp. fennel seeds
16 ozs. drained canned or fresh (remove skins first) San Marzano tomatoes roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt

For the Yogurt Sauce:

1/2 cup yogurt
1 clove garlic minced
11/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

2 TBS. chopped cilantro


Slice eggplants into 1/2 inch rounds, salt with kosher salt and set in a strainer over a bowl for about half an hour. Rinse well and pat dry

Fry eggplant slices in 1 cup of very hot oil for about 2 minutes a side. Drain on paper towels and set aside in a warm oven.

To make the Tomato Conserve:

Heat 1 1/2 TBS of oil in a 2 qt. saucepan. Add Panch Puran, fennel seeds, and kari leaves. Cover immediately to avoid splattering and cook for about a minute.(BTW I didn’t have kari leaves. They’re the new lemongrass I’ve been told, so I’ll hunt them down at Whole Foods.)

Add tomatoes, cayenne and salt. Let simmer for 15 minutes.

To make the ginger yogurt:

Whisk garlic and ginger into yogurt. Set aside for 15 minutes.

To assemble the dish:

Arrange slices of warm eggplant on a platter. Spoon tomato conserve over them, covering all but outer edges of eggplant. Drizzle the ginger yogurt on top and sprinkle with cilantro.

Woody Guthrie Art

If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard that’s not getting foreclosed on, grow something on it. Remember Woody Guthrie? This land was made for you and me? Do something with it. You know, my grandmother who was from Appalachia told me something I never forgot. She said she hardly noticed the Great Depression, that nothing much changed on the farm. ” It wasn’t the country people that was jumpin’ out of windows, ” she said.

And now the city people are catching on, too. You’ve got to read Susan Gregory Thomas’s op-ed piece in the New York Times — Back to the Land, Reluctantly.

When a divorce left Thomas impoverished and with kids to feed, she built a few raised beds behind her apartment in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, folks, Brooklyn.

She didn’t know how to garden. She didn’t even know how to cook! Now she’s feeding a family of five on $100 dollars a week.

Read it!


We can (or freeze) tomatoes, apples, beans, corn, squash, apricots . . . .

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A New Yorker Cartoon and a Little Rant

Posted by admin on Thursday Oct 6, 2011 Under Uncategorized

NY Blog BreakdownI love the New Yorker. I really do. Can’t wait for it to show up in my little rural mailbox so far from anything remotely resembling New York City.

But now I have to respond to this cartoon. See the cartoonist’s little pie graph on the left titled “Blog Breakdown”?

A blog, according to this cartoon, is divided into three parts. One third: someone giving out recipes for “crap they made” — in this case a little old lady giving you her apple butter recipe. Another third: self promotion — a guy hawking his book. Last third: a rant — whereupon we see a fanatic-looking character typing some sort of position paper. That’s it. Recipes, self-promotion and rants.

Oh really? Let’s see. Jane’s Ranch. Recipes? Check. Asking you to read my book? Checkaroonie, as Dave says. Rants? OOPS.

Looks like I forgot to rant about something.

How about I start by defending homemade apple butter from snobby New Yorkers’ disparaging remarks. Really, if Zabars were selling bottles of apple butter made by Alice Waters herself from local apples hand-picked in the Hudson Valley and laced with Calvados, you know wealthy New Yorkers — like those hedge fund banksters — would be lined up.

When the Occupy Wall Street kids shout “MAKE ‘EM PAY”, they don’t mean make’ em pay $15 dollars a half-pint for apple butter at Zabars. But those bankers would, because they’re too lazy — I mean, too busy, too busy gambling with your money — to make their own.

For the rest of us mere mortals (the other 99% of us) and for the 1 in 5 residents of New York City who are now living in poverty according to the latest statistics, I offer you my recipe for apple butter. There’s nothing better in the dead of winter than a slice of homemade whole wheat toast slathered with apple butter, eaten at a window while watching the birds cluster around the feeder.

Jane’s Ranch Apple Butter avec Calvados

7 cups peeled, cored, chopped apples ( a mixture is good)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup Calvados
1/2 cup apple cider
juice of 1 lemon
1 large cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
tiny pinch of cloves

In a large heavy, non-reactive pot, add all ingredients and bring to a boil on medium high heat. Stir constantly, being careful not to scorch.

Once the apple mixture is boiling, turn to low-medium and simmer until very soft.

Take off the heat, cool slightly, remove cinnamon stick (don’t throw away) and do one of two things — run the mixture through a food mill or use an immersion blender to puree.

Return the apple butter with the cinnamon stick to the pot and simmer for about two hours until thick.


Here’s the thing: I put the apple butter in sterilized jars in the refrigerator. They don’t last long around here. I glaze squash with it. I use it in baking. It goes. HOWEVER, I’m not suggesting you do that.

YOU should can according to Ball Jar instructions. ( And, if you’re going to all that work, you might as well double the recipe.)

Apples should be coming in pretty cheap now. Hey, you can even hand-pick your own. The Calvados, I admit, is a splurge, so go in on a bottle with a friend.

Better yet, put on the Wailin’ Jennys and make the apple butter together.

Okay, so I’ve covered the apple butter recipe, the rant, and all that’s left is the shameless (utterly shameless) self-promotion part. I’ve put up Chapter Two of Palace of the Blue Butterfly for those pod-castingly challenged folks out there.

And one last thought, brought to you from New York City, too, from one of those kids occupying Wall street.

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