Thursday, 31 May 2012

Bananas - Pisang Awak

This sweet banana is often found as banana fritters.  However, I have discovered that quite a few of my Sunday market customers also enjoy eating it raw and also used them to make banana pancakes or locally known as lempeng.
This banana has a nice smooth feel to the skin and is a lighter yellow in color.  The body of the fruit is more rounded with soft edges and the end is slightly elongated before reaching the end.
At the farm, the tree grows up to 8m tall with a thick pseudostem.  The inflorescence of this is bitter hence I do not recommend it to be eaten as ulam.  There are two types of this banana, one with seeds and one without.  My preference is the one without and it definitely spoils the enjoyment of banana fritters when you bite into the seed which has a slight bitter taste.  At the farm, we only plant the ones without seeds.

The banana has a very sweet taste, sweeter when it is harvested when fully matured and ripened naturally without the use of chemical agents.  Due to its high sugar content, you will find that the frying oil turns brown rather rapidly when making banana fritters due to the caramelization of the natural sugars.  I have also experimented making banana bread with it and find that you can reduce the sugar suggested in the recipes and also taste great when made using unprocessed sugar.

The inflorescence of this banana plant can also be eaten as ulam or cooked to make savory dishes.
Hence, if your purchase them when just ripened, you can consume it raw as it has firm texture with a sweet taste.  As it futher ripens, you can transform them into banana fritters or pancake and when it is over-ripen, you can turn them into banana bread or cake or even pancakes.  With so many options, it is definitely a versatile banana.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

SHL Project: Aqua Jannah Part 3

The creation of the third pond is taking longer than I expected.  Between the frequent rains and additional modifications that I decided to have done, it has added an extra month.  However, since my preference is to do it right the first time, the additional time is inconsequential in the realm of thing.
One of the features that I like about this project is the connection holding pond between the second and third pond with its bridge.  This holding pond has a concrete floor with high steps along the side.  The bridge is about 10' long and almost 3' wide, allowing a nice area for relaxing.  Plus, it enables me to cross-over to the other side with my wheelbarrow.  There is still some finishing work to be done to the railings of this bridge.
The third pond also has a conrete floor and walls surrounding it and measures approximately 30' x 100'. 
The walls is being built similar to the holding pond, with steps.  It will serve as a barrier against soil erosion along the sides of the pond as well as a retainer barrier against river.  The depth of this pond is below the water line for Sg. Lui, which is just over the small hill.  Hence the separation between Sg. Lui and this pond is just about 20'.  I wanted to be able to totally dry out all the ponds  at each harvest which would have been impossible if this pond didn't have a concrete base.  The insides of this pond will be plastered.  One could say that once this pond is done, it will resemble a swimming pool but with lots of fish swimming around. 

With all the rains, the first and second pond have begun filling with water and the level seems to remain at 1'.  Grass, water lilies and various types of keladi have begun growing in there and I will leave it there when I start releasing water into it.  This will serve as additional food for the fishes and helps with the conditioning of the ponds.  There are other refinement works that I want to do to the ponds but I will defer this until at least one harvest.  By this weekend, we will begin to fill up the ponds, the first since the renovation and upgrading works.  I look forward to this happening and seeing the water level.  If all goes well, by June 1, I will be able to release about 60,000 baby fishes, insyAllah.  It will be exciting for me :).

Friday, 18 May 2012

Kerinci Expedition: Bawang Prai

Driving through the farming land of Kerinci, I saw quite a few plots of onions being planted and amongst them was a type that I wasn't familar with, Bawang Prai.  Apparently the leaves are popular here as ulam and also in cooking.  The taste is blander than the regular onion leaves and the size is also larger.
In my research on this onion, I found study references that linked the benefits of consuming these leaves to reducing your blood pressure due to one of its nutrients, Organosulfides.  Most of the references I found were published by Indonesians with quite a few recipes.  As the weather at the farm is similar to Kerinci, I decided that I would to obtain starter plants. 
So, as were touring the agricultural area, I was on the lookout for plots that had this where there was someone there that I could buy it from.
Lo and behold, I spotted a plot as were drove and had the driver reverse back once I noticed that someone was there.  He was busy clearing the weeds and grass around the plants and I noticed that the cangkul handle was interesting,  The top end was angled, making it easier to work with.  Most of the handles that I find here are not so angled, just slightly.  I made a mental note that I need to find this type of handle.
Taking a closer look at how it was planted and the soil, I found that it was planted in approximately 1' beds and 1' apart all around, and the soil, as with many of the other planting plots, was almost black and with high humus and organic content.  The normal rain waters the plants.  With the cooler nights, condensation occurs resulting in water droplets being absorbed into the soil.  Hence no irrigation is required as the soils ia able to retain the right amount of water to keep the plants growing.  Due to the quality of the soil, no other fertilizer is required.  Note to self: need to increase the humus and organic content to the soil as from my observations, this is the main reason why the plants grow so well.
I bought about 10 bunch of plants for IDR 5000 (less than RM 5) and kept the roots moist to take it home with me.  So first order of the day when we got back was to try it - raw of course, to get a full taste of it - and I find that I liked it.  It doesn't have as strong an odor as the onion leaves that we get here and I look forward to planting the remaining 15 bunch and producing these.  I think that many people who try it will like it and there will be a demand for it at the Sunday market especially for those of Indonesian descent,  For those who have high blood pressure, here is another item to add to your normal meals without feeling like you are taking medication but just enjoying a "vegetable" in your meals.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Kerinci Expedition: Sweet Potatoes or Ubi Pilo First-hand

The main source of income for many of the people in West Sumatra is agriculture.  The soil in the Kerinci area is fertile and over generations of cultivation, it has improved even more with the main source of fertilizer being of organic nature.  This rich, humus soil is perfect for the cultivation of ubi pilo or sweet potatoes (biological name: iponomea batatas) , a sweet, light creamy brown color-skinned tuber, which tastes good even when eaten raw. 

I have heard about the cultivation and production of these sweet potatoes but nothing beats experiencing it first-hand and actually seeing it with my own eyes.  Actually seeing what work is required to maintain it as well as the soil and environmental conditions gave me a clear understanding of what is required to produce quality tubers.  The main point that is of interest to me is that the growing of these sweet potatoes is done without any chemical fertilizers or pesticides - the way that I love to grow produce.  Another point of interest is the fact that the growers have extremely limited funds so they have to exercise creativity in ensuring that the plants grow to its maximum potential. 

The plant is cultivated from stem cuttings and planted with at least two points where the roots can sprout.  The main source of water is from the rain hence with the rich organic matter in the soil, the soil is able to retain sufficient water for growth in between rains without requiring other forms of watering.  The soil is so rich that it is almost black in color.  It is planted in beds of about 2-3 feet in width and is weeding is done manually.  As it is a crawler, the stems are folled back about once a month to keep the growth of the tubers in groups.

It takes about 5 months before it is ready for harvesting.  The plants are easily uprooted and then tubers dug out from the beds that it is child's play.  In Kerinci, the plots are worked by a family, with extended family helping out. Each plant can generate over 1 kg of tuber.

The tubers are packed into sacks weighing approximately 50kg and sold to brokers and transported to warehouses ready to sale and transport to markets as well as for onward processing.  These sweet potatoes are transformed into flour as well as used in the production of kerepek and soap.  The price at growers or the warehouse is 600-900 IDR which translates to about  RM 0.25-RM 0.4 per kg.
These sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary figer, beta carotene (a vitamin A equivalent nutrient), vitamin C, and vitamin B6.  In Kerinci, these sweet potatoes are also eaten raw to reduce morning sickness or as a stomach-calming agent.
I obtained some cuttings from this visit and look forward to experimenting and applying the knowledge that I gained from this trip to growing quality ubi pilo.  The first thing that I need to do will be to improve the organic quantity in the soil, trying to achieve the quality of soil that I saw in the Kerinci plots.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Kerinci Expedition: Cinnamon or "Kayu Manis"

I have never been to the island of Sumatera and this early May, I had the opportunity to go there.  I landed in Padang and headed towards Kerinchi.  My journey to Kerinci allowed me a first hand view of how this aromatic spice that is commonly used in many dishes, is produced.  Driving from Padang to Kerinci, you are served with breathtaking views of the cool Kerinci Mountains.  You can find many species of trees that are comonly found in the cooler climate countries such as pine. Then you are served with the beautiful rows of cinnamon trees or its biological name: cinnamomum burmannii or Indonesian cinnamon. 

This wonderfully versatile spice is derived from the inner bark of the cinnamon trees.  They are often used as condiments in cooking and baking as well as in flavoring drinks and desserts.  I have always wondered what they looked like.  These trees are beautiful, tall trees with nice long trunks that measure no more than 12 inches in diameter at its thickest point, with the leaves at the tops of the trees.  These trees grow well in this high organic soil with its forest-like environment.  From my chats with the locals, it takes at least 8 years before the tree is deemed to be ready to be harvested.

In these cinnamon "farms", when the tree is mature, it is chopped down and processed.  The trunks are cleared of the branches and chopped into these spindly-looking logs.  The trunk is stripped of its outer bark and a beautiful brown trunk remains. 
These bark-less trunks are then further sized down into strips approximately 1m long before being bundled and sent to drying areas.
In the Kerinci area, these pure cinnamon "sticks" are further sized down into strips of about 12 inches and set out to dry in the sun where it will curl when dry, taking about 4-6 hours.  When thoroughly dried, the color turns into a rich brown and the strips are then sold to warehouses who then shipped them off to large spice producers, where they are further processed to either cinnamon sticks or cinnamon powder and packaged accordingly.  Proper drying of these strips are essential to prevent fungus growth which would require treatment and reducing the quality of the cinnamon.
Studies have also been conducted on this spice and there are several studies that suggest that cinnamon may have a regulatory effect on blood sugar, making it especially beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes.  Cinnamon also has an anti-clotting effect on the blood and has been used in studies on the treatment of athritis. One study found that smelling cinnamon boosts cognitive function and memory. When added to food, it inhibits bacterial growth and food spoilage, making it a natural food preservative.  It is also a great source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.
So, if you have ever wondered what is the source of the cinnamon spice, it is actually the inner bark of a tree.  This is one tree that I would like to add to the farm and hope to be able to get the seedlings in the near future.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Bananas - Pisang Nangka

Like banana chips? This is one of the banana types used for making those tasty chips.  It is also eaten raw and used to make banana fritters.
At the farm it grows to about 10 m tall with a thick pseudostem between 15-20cm.  Each plant can produces an average of 8 "sikat", with each sikat weighing up to 3.5 kg though more commonly ranging from 1.5-2.5kg.  The banana itself is amongs the largest, from what I have seen, second only to pisang tanduk and competing with pisang embun.  The main difference in shape between pisang embun and pisang nangka is that pisang embun is more rounded whereas pisang nangka is more angular.

Pisang Embun (L) and Pisang Nangka (R)
The fruit has clear edges with the end having a cone-like shape.  The skin is of medium thickness.The young, mature banana is used to make banana fritters.  To know when it is ready to be turned into banana chips, check the end of the banana - the flower bud has turned to black and dried off, ready to drop off.

This skin will remain green even when it is ripe and ready to be turned into banana fritters.  The difference will be the softer feel to the fruit when pressed.  The texture of the fruit is firm and is sweet though not as sweet as pisang abu bunga or pisang awak.  As the fruit further ripens, it will begin to turn to yellow and will turn yellow when over-ripen.
So here's another banana for you to add to your repertoire :)