What My Winter Prep Looks Like

I can only eat food from a few specific farmers so I have to put up what is growing when it’s growing if I want to eat in the winter. You can learn about why this is by skimming through my Hidden Corn laundry list  and reading some of my corn-tamination posts on individual foods. Because of other allergies, my “lockdown season” has been from November until June. One of my farmer-mommies began planting some winter crops I could eat so my lockdown is now from about January to June.

People frequently want to know what it looks like when you can’t just run out and buy food for half the year, so I took these pictures. What I have put up I will probably eat about 60-70% of this year, to myself. The large volume is mostly because I can’t eat any grains or starches due to not having safe sources. Corn is my anaphylactic and most sensitive allergy but I am also allergic to eggs, soy, and dozens of vegetables including all of the ones that grow in cold weather such as broccoli and cabbage.
PLEASE NOTE that the mason jar lids shown here are NOT safe for canning for most and may not be safe for frozen or dried storage for many. The BPA free canning lids from Ball and Kerr contain a resin that contains some corn. I personally can jar things with them but cannot have stuff that was canned (boiled in hot water for a long time) with them.

All of my preserved food is frozen or dehydrated because in addition to the Ball/Kerr canning lids containing a corny resin, I also do not seem to tolerate the Tattler canning lids. Not sure if this is a corn issue or not. I have not yet tried the Weck jars although I will eventually. More (but not enough) on corn-free canning here.

ANOTHER NOTE for people buying freezers- you want MANUAL DEFROST for any long term storage. “Frost Free” freezers are dehumidifiers which will eventually freeze dry your meat if it is not in a 100% airtight seal. My safe meat packaging is ziplocks, so those are not true hermetic seals at all.  I also observe, although the internet at large contradicts me, that frost free freezers contribute to MUCH faster freezer burn in all of my food.  I have meat in my manual defrost freezer from well over a year ago that is still totally fine, and it wouldn’t last nearly that long in a frost free freezer.

 

 

Clockwise from upper left:

  1. Dry storage & lactoferments: home dried & ground paprika, dried tomatoes, dried sweet & hot peppers, dried tomatoes, celery, more dried tomatoes, spicy pickled cucumbers & ancho peppers on to ferment still.
  2. 20 cubic foot upright freezer #1: Jars upon jars of fruit purees, tomato sauce, foodsaver vacuum-sealed bags of green veggies, pear sauce, a LOT of peaches, frozen grapes, and berries.
  3. 20 cubic foot upright freezer #2: Cucumber juice (yes really), more tomato sauce, fruit purees, more peaches, berries, and some pecans I never got around to shelling because they are a pain in the rear.
  4. 20 cubic foot chest freezer: These really are the best for fitting way more than the same cubic foot in an upright, not accidentally leaving open slightly & losing a bunch of food, and not building up with frost as quickly. However omg keeping them organized. I used the inserts that come with the freezer for the bottom part and then stacked these sterilite bins on top so i can easily remove the bins and see what’s below. best I can do for organizing.
  5. 4.4 Cubic Foot “all fridge” minifridge. This is my backstock mini-fridge. I unplug it when I don’t  need to store more produce than my regular fridge can hold. At the time of this picture it contains cucumbers I need to process still, and pickled veggies that are done fermenting.

Corn Free Canning

Spring is here, and for those who need to avoid grocery store produce due to sprays and cross contamination, that means food preserving.  I have done a little bit of canning, but I’m no expert: I’m here to talk about avoiding corn in canning supplies. If you have questions about how to actually do the canning safely or how to make your canned goods taste *good*,  that is a question for someone else.

Avoiding Corn in Canning

Lids & Jars

The standard glass canning jars available in the grocery store are perfectly safe for a corn allergy. Rather, it’s lids are the single biggest concern for corn allergy in canning. The new Ball BPA-free lids are NOT corn free. I don’t think anyone has been able to get a detailed answer from Ball about what exactly is in the resin, but something in it is causing many corn allergics to react, and NOT just the most sensitive folks. Some are even breaking out in a rash from touching the lids. I had thought for a time I was okay with them because I was able to store non-canned food in them. Turns out that the resin in the seal was simply staying on the lid and not touching the food. Once I water-bath canned dozens of quarts of (expensive, mail-order) mandarin oranges, I discovered that when the boiling water melts the resin and creates a seal, it also infuses all of the water with corn. My non-allergic friends and family have been enjoying my delicious, now-corny mandarins all winter.

One possible option other than the Ball canning lids is Tattler reusable canning lids.

I’ve been using the Tattlers and so far, so good, but I’ve done basically two batches of applesauce so far and not much else. Updated August 2015: Yeaaahh I think I had a mild reaction to applesauce canned with the old school tattler lids. On top of that, right after I bought a bunch of them they changed their lids to be “new and improved” and have a better seal. No definitive reports on safety.

Another alternative is to use the Weck canning system. These are reported safe by several corn allergics. I haven’t tried them quite simply because they are expensive. The seals on the Weck jars are natural latex rubber, so NOT safe for a latex allergy.

I suggest you give tattler or Weck (if you aren’t allergic to corn) a careful try with one or two cans and see how it goes. If you do not tolerate either, unfortunately you’re stuck with freezing and dehydrating.

There are a couple other kinds of canning lids, but I don’t know anything about them. If you have some options and links and contact info to the companies, please comment below.

Ingredients

As always, any ingredients you use in canning need to be safe for you. Application of heat can denature some allergens for some people, but so far I haven’t heard of anyone with a corn allergy being able to eat corn just because it had been cooked enough.  Here are the biggest concerns with canning:

Salt

Salt can most definitely be corny, so use something that you know is safe for you. Any safe salt should work fine instead of “canning salt.” The main reason to use canning or pickling salt is that it will not have minerals which may alter the appearance (but not taste or safety) of your canned items.

Sugar

Sugar can be cross contaminated with corn. Make sure to use something you know is safe for you.

Lemon Juice or Vinegar

Botulism requires an anaerobic (no air) environment and low acidity to grow. Adding an acid is a common way of making a low-acid food item such as a vegetable or some varieties of tomatoes safe for water-bath canning. Both pre-squeezed lemon juice and vinegar are commonly corntaminated. In the case of vinegar, it’s actually typically  made *from* corn. There are vinegars that are not made from corn, though many of them are contaminated in some way. If you have a safe premade vinegar, great. Do NOT use your own homemade vinegar though, unless you have a way to be 100% sure that it is ph 4.5 or below. Similarly, the FDA’s official recommendation on lemon juice is to only use the bottled stuff because it has a standardized acidity. Of course this standardized acidity can be achieved by adding corn-derived acids, so that is no good for us. If you have a bottled lemon juice that works for you, great.

If you don’t have safe vinegar or lemon juice, probably skip these recipes and convert them to pressure canned recipes instead, which do not require a high acidity since the high heat of the pressure canner will kill all botulinum spores.

General Canning Resources

If you are new to canning, I recommend that you read up on canning safety. Even if you have some basic familiarity, you may want to review. Safety recommendations have changed in the last decade or two, so what you learned from your grandmother may not be safe.  Botulism is a real concern with canned goods, even today, so it is important to follow temperature, acidity, and cook time guidelines in well-tested recipes. The below resources can teach you about canning in general, but be aware that the recommended ingredients may not be safe for you.

National Center for  Home Food Preservation (UGA)

Ball/Jarden Official Website

Pick Your Own

Punk Domestics

Barbecue Season: Grilling Out Corn Free

It’s grilling season. Even if you don’t have safe meat or don’t eat meat, all *kinds* of other foods are delicious when cooked over charcoal.

Wait, I have to worry about corn when I grill out?  Even if I’m not cooking any food with corn in it?

But of course.

  • Propane: The gas itself is corn-free, but the distinctive rotten egg odor added to it is from ethyl mercaptan which is typically sourced from corn. I personally don’t have a lot of concerns about reacting to the fumes in a well ventilated area, or about food cooked over it in a pan, but wouldn’t want to be in an enclosed room with it, and wouldn’t want to eat food that was on a grill directly over it with a closed grill top.
  • Charcoal Briquettes: Briquettes are bound into shape using a starch, often corn but sometimes wheat, potato, or rice as well. Less sensitive people may be fine with being near or even cooking over corny charcoal as long as the food doesn’t touch it directly, but I personally can’t even be around it let alone eat food that was cooked over it.
  • Charcoal lighter fluid: Often contains ethanol from corn. And also smells terrible even if you aren’t allergic.
  • Grill and utensils: If cast-iron, can be pre-seasoned with a problematic oil. Corn oil is rarely used in pre-seasoned cast iron, however soy oil is very common, and even for those who are not soy allergic, many pressed vegetable oils contain citric acid as degummers and other contaminants that will be problematic for a corn allergy.
  • Grill and utensils: Can be cross contaminated. This is a big concern only for the truly sensitive. I discovered through experimentation that if I carefully clean a grill that has previously had corny charcoal burned in it, I can handle meat cooked over lump charcoal with the lid open. If, however, I close the lid and let the smoke infuse through the meat, I react to the meat. Somehow residue from the old allergens cooked in the grill remain even after I scrub and cook into the meat. Same with my oven. If I use a brand new grill with the same charcoal and close the lid, I’m fine. Porous foods get corned even with the lid open. Again, you probably have to be crazy sensitive to worry about this, but I know first hand that it is possible.

 What do I use instead?

Since some briquettes are bound using non-corn starches, you *could* research a brand that uses one of the alternative starches. However, they could change their source or formula at any time. I prefer to avoid binders entirely and use  lump charcoal that is only made from wood, no fillers. Check my product list to see which brands I am using safely. Note that some brands of lump charcoal are extremely poor quality and people have found things like carpenter’s nails in them because they are made from scrap wood. Check online reviews before you purchase a brand and make sure that it’s a high quality product.

Lump charcoal is far more temperamental to light and keep lit than briquettes. That’s why people use briquettes. To get it lit without lighter fluid, I use an electric charcoal starter. You pile the coals over it and plug the starter in, and the coals light in a relatively short time. Because the charcoal isn’t infused with the natural tinder of corn starch, a quality grill that retains heat well and allows for good airflow is important. I got a cheapo grill that had great reviews on Amazon and have found that my lump charcoal doesn’t seem to want to stay lit in it, so will probably need to upgrade. Our  more expensive but corny grill has no such problems with the same charcoal, so I do know that it is the grill causing the issue not the fuel.

Are All Lump Charcoals Safe?

Probably not. The issues I would be concerned about are:

  1. Quality control
  2. Packaging

Typically lump charcoal “should” be just fired wood, but depending on the source of the wood lots of other stuff could end up in there. Check out this FAQ about lump charcoal. 

“Since making lump charcoal is often done under somewhat crude conditions, it is normal to find a few rocks or pebbles in lump charcoal. However, a few other oddball items have been found like a mouse, human hair, a tootsie roll wrapper, varnished wood, and black shiny objects commonly referred to as moon rocks. Personally, in over two years and hundreds of pounds of lump charcoal, I’ve found 3 rocks and a tootsie roll wrapper. It shouldn’t be a great concern.”

Even if one isn’t concerned about allergens, that’s just kind of gross.

Then after that, it could be possible that the facilities are shared with something allergenic or whether the bags might be dusted with corn starch or made out of plant fiber or lined with corn plastic (PLA).

One could call and ask about all of these things, but I just guinea pigged the Royal Oak and it’s been okay, so I stick with it.

Cross Contamination

Barbecues are often chaotic. People are usually milling about,  moving dishes around and touching things constantly. If you are preparing both safe, and non-safe food, keep a close eye on what food is touching what utensils and surfaces and don’t let your corn free food come into contact with those things. Probably set yourself up a completely separate prep  and staging surface for your food, and consider using a separate grill top if not an entirely separate grill for the corn-free food.

I actually have to use a brand new corn-free grill, as I am so sensitive to cross contamination and traces that  corny foods cooked in an enclosed space like an oven or closed-top grill will stick to the walls in such a way that they contaminate other foods cooked in it. When I cleaned our grill top and tried to cook food on our old grill that had had the cornstarch-charcoal cooked in it, I was able to eat something that had been cooked for just a few minutes with the lid open, but reacted to a mushroom cooked for a long time with the lid closed.

Wash your hands frequently and keep an eye on your guests and family members, especially if they are drinking alcohol. One friend of mine that doesn’t really know much about my allergies constantly tries to “help” and ends up touching things he really shouldn’t with cross contaminated hands.  Another friend was standing near my “safe” grill and absentmindedly put some corny trash into my burning coals.  It was just the end of a hand-rolled cigarette (corn in the adhesive) and not enough to affect my food, but it could have been something much bigger.  Another dear friend is usually VERY careful about cross contamination, and after a couple of beers walked up to my safe grill and stared at the rack of short ribs roasting on it, then reached out and POKED IT WITH HIS FINGER. I think lasers probably shot out of my eyes, because as soon as he did it, he took three steps back and went, “Oh DUDE, I am SO SORRY.”  The rib was fine BTW, as he’d just washed his hands before doing that and had only touched his relatively clean beer bottle with his other hand.

Eating Seasonally: Prepare for Flu Season now!

Elderberries are in season on the Pacific NW and may be in your area as well! If, like me, you’re too sensitive to traces and cross contamination to tolerate any of the prepackaged elderberry syrups or prepackaged dried elderberries, now is the time to stock up on the wild foraged stuff and freeze or dehydrate to make into syrup for the flu season. Not familiar with elderberries and why I’d want them for the winter?

Where to Get Them

What we have growing wild and native in the area is blue elderberry. There may be some folks growing black elderberry in the area, but I haven’t found them. Let me know if you know of any in the Western Washington area or even down in to Oregon. If you live outside of the Pacific NW, you may have a different species available to you. The most common species seems to be American Elder, which has a strong folk tradition of medicinal use, but please do your own research and don’t just go taking herbs on my say so.

Only black elderberry (sambucus nigra) has been officially studied for its medicinal effects but I am taking a chance on blue elderberry being as good for you since it’s what I have access to. There’s at least enough folk wisdom referenced about the use of blue elderberry for medicinal purposes to make me feel comfortable doing so. Foraged and Found Edibles at the Seattle Farmer’s market has them right now and hopefully will for a couple more weeks. I emailed ahead and asked them for 13lbs to pick up at the market and he had a box just all prepped for me to pick up when I arrived.

How to Process Elderberries

Note that the stems and unripe berries are toxic, so you will want to carefully pick over your berries and remove those. What I do is wash them and place them still on the stems on baking sheets in my freezer. Then when they’re frozen I take a fork and pull the berries off the stems and remove as many of the stems as I can. I flash freeze again since the berries have melted a bit while I do that, then pick over to get the last of the stems and green berries out and then put into quart bags to freeze. Some stems still make it into the bags so I will rinse them and sift yet again before using.

You could also dehydrate the berries. I just chose to freeze mine.

How to Use and How Much to Store

Here is the recipe I use to make elderberry syrup. 1 cup of berries should make 1.5 cup sof syrup, and 1.5 cups of syrup will make about 5-6 days of doses for one person at the recommended 1 tsp every 2-3 hours.  My 13 lbs of berries made about 8.5 quarts without the stems so that’s about 170 days of flu-level elderberry syrup doses, give or take. Should be plenty for two for the winter, heheh.

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Corn-tamination Series: Avoiding Corn in Meat

There’s Corn In Meat?

Oh, of course there is. The degree  to which those with corn allergies have to worry about it will vary with the individual. Some are more reactive to corny washes than to corn feed, and some have to only worry about animals fed whole kernels of corn but not corn-derived vitamins or other corn products. It just depends on the person.

The two biggest ways corn gets into meat is the animal’s feed, and the disinfecting washes used on meat in processing. Not everyone is sensitive to both things or either of them. I started out having to worry about neither, and then progressed over a period of many years to having to worry about both, and to the point that not even the tiniest traces of corn based sanitizer used on the meat at any point were okay for me.

Finding Out Where the Corn Is Can Be Tricky

When I got more sensitive, I found that I even reacted to the pre-cut meat from local pastured meat ranches who swore to me that not only did their animals never eat any corn at all, but they didn’t rinse the meat off with any disinfectants.

I spent weeks on the phone trying to figure out what the problem was. The big clue came when I noticed that my reaction to a particular ranch’s beef was much more severe than to their pork. That ranch happened to have their own slaughter and butcher facilities (most ranchers send their animals to third parties for slaughter and butcher) so I called the facility manager. She kept insisting over and over that they didn’t spray the meat with anything, until finally, after the third conversation, she said, “Oh! you know, after we slaughter and skin, we do the acid wash. But that’s just white vinegar, that’s from rice right?” Wrong, vinegar is from corn and it’s bad news for me. Compared to lactic acid, which I still am sensitive to, it’s basically pure corn.

Turns out the reason the pork was better than the beef is that after the acid wash, a layer of outer fat is trimmed from the pork, while with the beef the butchering is done directly after. So more of the corny vinegar wash was trimmed away with the pork. It still really got in there, so I was unable to do it.

The Laundry List: How Corn Gets Into Meat

Here’s my understanding of how corn gets into meat in the USA:

  • Corn in the animal’s feed. Not everyone has to worry about this. I can’t eat corn fed meat but seem to be able to eat corn fed eggs and dairy. Many others cannot even do dairy or eggs from corn-fed animals. Note that some “grass-fed” beef is still “grain finished”: fed grain the few weeks before slaughter to fatten them up. So if you need to care about feed, also ask if it is grass finished. Some smaller farmers purchase their animals as weanlings from other farmers and raise them after that point. Also note that even though some feed labels do not contain actual corn kernels, they will still contain corn-derived vitamins such as tocopherol and ascorbic acid, and contain fermentation products that were fermented on corn sugar. Also some animals such as pigs will be supplemented with kitchen scraps that may be corny. Not everyone has to worry about this, but I seem to have to worry about all of the above, personally.
  • Corn in dietary supplements given outside of feed. Recently one of my corn-free friends ended up with 3/4 of a cow her allergic kids were reacting to, and the only variable that was different from their last (safe) beef was a “mineral lick” that contained a number of corn derivatives.
  • Corn fodder used in bedding that the animals may end up eating. 
  • Slaughter: Hot wax is often used to help in plucking poultry. The wax may not be corny but I’m not minded to risk it personally.
  • Slaughter: Antimicrobial solutions applied after skinning. With livestock (vs wild game), slaughtering and butchering are often done by two different people.  A guy will come out to the farm and slaughter and skin the animals, and for larger animals they will cut them into very large chunks. Then the chunks will be sent to the butcher to be further cut down and packaged.  The USDA requires some sort of antimicrobial solution be applied after skinning, and this solution is usually paracetic acid, acetic acid (vinegar), lactic acid, or citric acid. All of these are from corn, and I react to all of them.  Steam/hot water disinfecting is supposedly allowed but I rarely hear of it being done.  In some states, USDA rules *must* be obeyed even on custom processed animals. In other states, as long as you buy the whole animal you can dictate what is done to it, no problem.  When calling around, what you are looking for is “custom meat processors.”
  • Slaughter: USDA “roller brand” is applied to USDA certified meat classifying the grade. Not sure what this stamp is allowed to be made from but reports of people who had meat custom processed and reacted to it say that the stamp on their meat was made from grape juice, which of course has the potential to be corny.  Ask about the USDA stamp/”roller brand” and see if it can be skipped.
  • Slaughter: Detergent, soaps, and lubricants used on surfaces, cutting implements, and hands. Dawn, Dial, Bon Ami, and most other cleaners and soaps commonly used for washing hands and surfaces are corny.  The powder on powdered gloves is corny.   Some types of cutting tools are oiled with an oil that may not be safe for you.  If the processor uses gloves, identify a safe-for-you glove and provide those. Identify a safe-for-you detergent and cleaner and ask the processor to use those. If you can’t work that out, either consider finding another processor, or ask them to rinse their tools really, really, really well. Maybe see if they can use the tools on another animal first so that the corny detergent gets worked off of the tools. Of course if they are hosing their other animals off with a corny solution, that won’t help you as they’ll just be contaminating the tools more.
  • Butchering: Aging. Unlike lamb, beef has to be aged for 10-14 days after slaughter in order to be edible, otherwise the meat is very tough. Wet aging *should* involve just putting the beef into vacuum sealed packaging for sale and keeping it refrigerated for a period of weeks. If something is added in with the meat to “help” it age or inhibit “bad” bacteria, that would be a problem. Or if the beef were wet-aged in a different package from what it was sold in (unlikely), you’d have to ask About both packages. Dry aging involves hanging the carcass in a refrigerated locker at very specific temperature and humidity and.. letting it hang. This should be safe for corn, unless some kind of brine or antimicrobial spray is used during this process.Article on aging beef. Article on dry aging beef.
  • Note that the aging process makes breed high histamine so if you react to histamines in food, exercise caution with beef.

  • Butchering: Detergent, soaps, and lubricants used on surfaces, cutting implements, and hands.  Same story as above: Ask them to use safe for you soap, detergents, and gloves. Since the butcher will be doing a LOT more to the animal than the person who does the slaughter, it is particularly important that you work with someone who is truly custom and truly wants to do what YOU need. I found a place that is very small and actually only open “on demand,” that are very accommodating and are willing to do whatever I need.
  • Butchering: Meat grinders are washed and sanitized with corny solutions. Meat grinders being what they are, they are usually going to be washed and sanitized with something heavy duty and of course corny.  Additionally the act of grinding the meat exposes more surface to potential allergen contamination. You can ask the to just rinse the grinder really well with water after washing, but I ask them to skip all ground meat and instead do stew chunks. I can then grind those chunks into ground meat using my food processor, if I choose. How to grind meat in your food processor.
  • Butcher and slaughtering: Cross contamination if corny washes/cleaners/sprays are used. I prefer to only go with a facility that doesn’t ever use the corny washes if possible. If that weren’t possible, I’f try to get them to process my animal first, after washing all equipment in the safe soap/sanitizer I supply, so that any corny washes used for the other animals don’t get on my animal, but I’ve heard that cross contamination is frequent when the butcher typically used the corny washes and skips them on demand. I have heard stories from a number of people that their first meat order was a horrible failure because even though the processor didn’t use corny chemicals on their animal, there was corn just left over on their instruments and surfaces. In all cases, switching to a processor that didn’t use the corny washes *ever* was the solution.
  • Packaging: Butcher paper may have corn fiber in it. Waxed papers may use a corn-based wax.  Plastic liners may also contain corn polymers.  Stretch plastic wrap is  usually dusted with corn starch. All of the  other items may also be dusted with corn starch to keep them from sticking. You’ll need to get the item numbers and  manufacturers/suppliers name from your butcher and contact them about what’s in/on the packaging. My butchers have agreed to just put everything into Ziplock brand bags, which I know are safe for me.

The above refers to US practices as I live in the US, but many of the issues mentioned may be issues in other countries as well. The disinfecting wash mentioned seems to have been banned in the UK up until 2012, but is now approved by the Food Standards Agency. I think it is not yet common practice, and the European suppliers of lactic acid often use wheat rather than corn glucose to produce their lactic acid, however this may increasingly pose a problem for the more sensitive UK corn allergy sufferers.

So How To Get Corn-Free Meat?

Well, it depends on how corn-free you need it. Many people will not need to get their meat custom processed right away. I didn’t need to for many years.

If you (or your loved one for whom you cook) are reacting to your grocery store meat, there may be some steps you can take before you have to dive in to the expense and risk of getting meat custom processed.

First try to eliminate some variables. Grocery store meat is going to be rinsed in citric or lactic acid several times and possibly have dyes applied to keep it looking fresh, and then packaged with a citric acid soaker pad and then wrapped with plastic wrap that is dusted in corn starch. Try a butcher counter, and from a real, artisan butcher who can tell you what happened to the meat from the time it came to him. That won’t cut out the initial corny wash after slaughter, but maybe you can get away with that part of it if it isn’t then hosed down in more corny washes and then wrapped up in more corn.

If you find a good butcher and aren’t able to tolerate “light wash” meats, then figure out if corn fed is a problem for you, or corny washes, or both. One way to tell, if you don’t have an allergy to chicken, would be to get an Empire Kosher chicken. Many Trader Joe’s locations sell them as do many kosher stores. Affordable Kosher here in Seattle sells them, and you can order from Affordable Kosher via Amazon Fresh. The empire chickens are fed corn, but are not washed in citric acid or any other corn-based solution. I don’t know what the plastic packaging is made out of, so what I’d do to really isolate variables is get a whole chicken, then rinse and skin it before cooking. Make sure to cook in a fashion that won’t introduce corn. I had a lot of false reactions for a while because the oven in my rental house had some kind of corny buildup in it and was cooking corn into everything.

If the Empire Kosher chicken isn’t working for you, and you’re totally certain you don’t have an allergy to chicken, then it’s probably safe to bet that corn-fed meat is your problem. I react to Empire Kosher chicken.  There may be some other experimenting you can do around that, just depending on the resources available to you.

If you find yourself in a situation where none of the store-bought meats are working for you, you’ll need to locate some farmers that raise corn-free livestock and then negotiate custom slaughter and butchering. To locate the farmers, use Eat Wild and  Local Harvest. Locating safe butchers and slaughterers is another story. I actually just lucked into my butchers- the folks I bought poultry from used them for their lambs and I was able to negotiate something safe.

My Story and Experiences

As I mentioned earlier, after several years of avoiding corn, I eventually became unable to tolerate even the tiniest traces of corn derivatives used anywhere near my meat. When you get to that point, the only thing left to do is to choose the animal you want from a rancher that has never fed it anything that could be a problem, and control every step of processing from slaughter to butcher and packaging.

Unfortunately navigating the custom processing is not easy, and also carries a hefty financial risk. You generally need to order a large quantity of meat such as 1/4 cow (what that looks like) or 1/2 of a pig (what that looks like).  In addition to paying for the meat itself (from hundreds to even thousands of dollars), you will also be investing in a freezer in which to store it. That’s a pretty significant expense if you get it wrong and react.

I am very lucky to live in an area where there are a number of farms who raise non-corn-fed chickens and pigs. Outside of this area it seems that corn-free chicken and pig feed are unheard of. Here we have two feeds that don’t contain corn available. Both are described on this feed ingredients document from the Seattle Farm Co-op.

I have recently tried some chicken fed one of these “corn free” feeds, Scratch & Peck, and had a reaction. I am pretty sure it was the feed- there are a lot of corny vitamins and additives in it even though there aren’t any literal kernels of corn, so that could be the issue, or it could be a cross contamination thing. I am pretty sure it wasn’t a processing problem. The chicken I eat is fed a corn-free variety from InSeason Farms, but I don’t know which one. Have asked my farmers for details.

I also failed some pork that wasn’t fed actual corn kernels, but was given kitchen scraps as a dietary supplement that likely contained corn, and was fed expired dairy products. Not sure which products exactly, but many brands of sour cream contain corn starch and other dairy products have corny vitamins in them. I also cannot seem to tolerate meat from animals that were fed corn at the beginning of their lives but fed corn free later. Apparently any amount of corn in their diet is a no-go. So for me, my meat can’t even eat “corn lite,” it has to truly be corn free.

Not everyone will be this sensitive- just covering the bases of what is possible here.

Getting a large animal custom processed was beyond me last summer, but since many local farms slaughter and process the chickens themselves, I was able to get several safe chickens. Those ran out around January, though, and then I was down to just eggs for protein. (I haven’t found any beans that I don’t react to yet. Not sure if that is a bean problem or a corn problem.)

As of the last update of this post, I have successfully had chickens, lamb, and beef custom processed. The chickens were processed by the farmers who raised them, while the lamb and the cow were slaughtered by a contractor and then transported to a butcher for portioning out. The beef was dry aged for 14 days before butchering. The lamb was delicious, but also served as a lower-risk test to see if I’d covered all the bases with my instructions than an entire side of beef. The lamb cost me about $575 after the slaughter, transport, cut and wrap fees. I only got a quarter cow for my first beef order and all told it cost me about $560 for 175 lbs of beef. It worked out to about $11.50/lb for the lamb, where you’re usually paying $16-$20/lb in the store, and $3.20/lb for the beef which is a steal for grass fed and finished.

Question List

Here is the list of questions I advise people to ask of potential meat processors. First I have just the questions for copy/pasting. Below that, I’ve gone into each question and my commentary.

Ask First

  1. Who kills the animal and skins it? Then who cuts, and who packages?

Depending on the answer, you may need to ask up to 3 people these questions.

Kill/Slaughter

  1. What do you use to clean your knives, surfaces, and other equipment, including the interior of the truck for transport?
  2. Do you use any kind of antimicrobial wash after skinning?
  3. Do you use a roller brand after skinning?
  4. Are gloves used?

Butcher/cutting

  1. What detergent, soaps, and/or lubricants are used on surfaces, machinery, and cutting implements?
  2. Are gloves used?
  3. Do you dry age or wet age the meat?

If wet aged

  1. Just to double-check, you wet age by putting in the final packaging that you sell the meat in, right?

 

If dry aged

  1. What do you clean your aging locker with?
  2. Do you every apply any antimicrobial solution, brine, or anything else to the meat before or during aging?

Packaging

  1. Are gloves used?
  2. What brand packaging do you use?
  3. Would you be willing to use packaging I provide?
  4. Does the meat come in contact with any other packaging like wax paper?

What should these answers be?

In many cases it will depend on you/your sensitivity. Here are the answers I’m looking for:
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Making Corn Free Hot Sauce

This will probably never be a recipe blog. I just don’t have enough safe foods to really have what you’d call “recipes.” Most of my meals consist of 3 safe foods prepared very simply, without cooking oils and with minimal spices. My taste buds are kind of broken after a long winter of very few foods I could tolerate, so these days the simplest things just taste wonderful to me. I’m okay with a number of things people find appalling to even consider: salad without dressing (if the ingredients are fresh and quality), cooked lettuce (tastes just like spinach!), food braised in water instead of sauteed in oil, and raw honey eaten by the spoonful as a snack.

But I do like some spice in my life, so of course my first post about food I *do* eat instead of food I *don’t* eat is about hot sauce.  I loooove hot sauce and put it on pretty much everything. The only time I refrain is when a food is still a “trial” item, as one of my first reactions is mouth and tongue burning and hot sauce confuses the issue. The sensation of spice is markedly different from the sensation of tongue swelling/burning, but I prefer to not confuse the issue.

Make sure to use safe-for-you ingredients. Peppers should be unwaxed and unsprayed. Vinegars, citrus juices, and additional vegetables and spices should be tested individually for safety before putting them in the recipe.

This is the first hot sauce I made, and followed the recipe exactly:  How to Make Hot Sauce on Omnomnomicon

It turned out wonderfully, but of course I am allergic to garlic now. Or, I reacted to several garlics, might still be corn. Haven’t checked.

Anyway since then I haven’t even been using a recipe- I chop the heads off of peppers and puree them with a vinegar (I use bragg’s apple cider vinegar and/or my own homemade kombucha vinegar, then heat on the stove for a time, probably 20-30 minutes, maybe longer if I’m getting in to a movie or something. (If you have an open kitchen, do this when it’s okay for the whole house to smell like hot vinegar.)

I taste-check every 10 minutes or so. Do this by dipping one tine of a fork in the sauce and barely licking it. Do NOT take a whole spoonful right away and do NOT stick your face over the pot to smell it. You’ll probably do this at least once without thinking, and regret it. Hot pepper and vinegar fumes are pretty caustic.

It’ll boil down over time, and I just taste and add more vinegar if needed and sort of spice up with whatever tastes good, then boil down more as needed until it tastes right to me. You’re basically trying to really infuse the vinegar with the peppers, then add other flavors and then cook just enough to infuse them without destroying them.

I think last time I added molasses, honey, salt, and a tiny bit of lemon juice at the end. I feel like maybe there was another spice there and that I told someone about it last week and they thought it was ingenious for me to put in hot sauce, but I can no longer remember.

But in general the recipe is very forgiving and you can get away with a LOT of experimentation. If you have a safe oven *, roasting the peppers first is really awesome for making a smokey taste.

Here is a recipe for hot sauce that involves lime juice instead of vinegar. Basically you just need some kind of acid.

*The oven in my rental house was baking corn into everything I made. I tried and tried to clean the death out of it, but eventually I just gave up and bought a really nice toaster oven

Avoiding Another Lean Winter: Planning out Your Schedule for Preserves

Eating corn free generally requires eating seasonally and at least semi-locally. Things that have been transported a long distance, or grown by a large corporate-style farm, generally have corny things done to them. But of course most foods aren’t available locally for the entire year, so you’ve really got to plan ahead to preserve, or you’ll end up with very little to eat.

Folks who are able to eat grocery store produce are in a somewhat better position, but even if you can eat grocery store food right now, I encourage you to at least store a little bit away in case of emergency. Allergic sensitivity can change rapidly.

Last winter I moved into a larger rental house with a big kitchen and lots of storage space in order to accommodate my increased sensitivity to corn, and during the winter a leak in the basement caused mold to run rampant in it. I am allergic to mold, and the exposure brought my histamine levels up so high (we call this a “full bucket” in the allergy world) that I became hypersensitive to the tiniest traces of corn in foods, meaning that I could no longer tolerate a number of foods that I had previously been okay with. Additionally, I developed (or discovered) new allergies to basically most of the winter vegetables. So the foods that I had available to me locally and totally corn-free were all poison for me anyway.

For about 8 weeks I ate literally two foods, without spices or cooking oils. There was actually few days where I started reacting to my two safe foods, too, and just ate small amounts at a time and waited for the throat constricting to pass before eating some more.

After I figured out about the mold and shut it away from the rest of the house, I was able to add a couple more foods back: Organic lettuce from the grocery store, local unwaxed apples, even some big-box organic berries. Not all brands of course, just a specific one.

But now that summer is here, there are all *kinds* of foods I can eat, and I intend to make sure that I have *plenty* put away to get me through the barren months of winter. And being the Type A personality that I am, I made a spreadsheet with fancy formulas to help me calculate how much I need to preserve each week.

I’ve made this sheet available as a google doc, so you can take advantage of my formulas. Hope it’s useful!

Food Preservation Planning Worksheet

This year I think I am mostly freezing stuff. I can and have done water-bath canning, but I honestly just don’t *like* doing it much. I also have a pressure canner for low-acid things like meat, but haven’t figured out how to use it yet. I have two 5-cubic-foot freezers, but I’m doing a *huge* meat order this summer now that I have some safe sources worked out, so those may fill up fast. Maybe I’ll have to can more.

My tolerated foods can be something of a moving target: I have discovered  a few new food allergies over time, and  also I will sometimes notice build-up reactions to foods that are ever-so-slightly corny and have to cut them. So rather than cooking entire recipes to preserve, I tend to try to store single ingredients without spices as much as possible. This helps cut down on the possibility of having to feed 20 pints of chicken stock to my non-allergic boyfriend just because I’m no longer tolerating a spice in it. Instead I cook the chicken down without even salt and add spices later.

Don’t know what’s in season in your area when? Here’s one way to find out. There may be better charts out there for your area, but that has all the states in the US pretty well covered.

New to the idea of eating locally/seasonally? Here’s a great intro article to get you acclimatized, with links to more resources.