Thursday, 15 November 2012

Catfish - And you thought it is plain......

Guess what?  This fish is one of the most versatile local fish that I have found.  The options of what to do with it is limited by your imagination!  First things first, select a good quality fish and this means that you should know the origins of your fish - the water quality, the feed, the time to market.  The water quality should be good, preferably a pond with continuous flow of fresh water coming in.  The feed should not consist of any elements of waste such as waste products from chicken and carcasses of dead animals. Don't be shy about asking the seller.

For the general consumer, this may be difficult unless you know your fish seller so here are some tips:
  1. If it has a strong smell, run!!!!!
  2. If possible, buy them live.  However live doesn't mean that it is good.  Check out if there is a lot of "slime" around it.  Less is better.
  3. Check the underbelly.  It should be white in color - not slightly yellow.
  4. The flesh of the fish must be firm.  If it is mushy, then it is not fresh.
  5. If the color of the flesh has a yellow tint to it, it has either been stored incorrectly or not fresh.
  6. The fat should also be white or the color of milk.
Cleaning this fish can be quite a challenge as it is often cleaned when it is live.  Some suggestions to assist you in handling the fish are:
  1. Hold the fish as in the picture above.  Be careful of the side stingers.
  2. Place it in the freezer.
  3. Put it in some salt.
The above two will put the fish in a comatose state for ease of handling.  If cleaned properly, the fish should not be slippery or slimy to handle.  Once cleaned, if you are not going to cook it right away but want to store it for later, it should be frozen immediately.  Do not store it in its raw state in a chiller for more than a day.  This is one fish that retaining freshness is supreme.

The catfish can :
  1. be cooked from its cleaned, raw state
  2. be smoked, either salted or marinated previously
  3. be dried, either salted or unsalted. or marinated
The combinations that I have found to work out well for marinades are (1) salt and lemon grass (serai), (2) kaffir lime leaves (daun limau perut), salt and calamansi and (3) lemon basil (kemangi) and salt.  Locally, the popular ways of preparing smoked catfish is by cooking it with coconut milk and chillies or by frying it.  It is then eaten with rice.  The same applies for dried catfish.

The most often ways of preparing raw, whole catfish are masak lemak cili padi, asam pedas, cooked over charcoal and deep fried.  All these options tend to limit the accompaniment - rice.  However, if you get good quality fresh catfish which is more than 600g, you can fillet it and produce a nice piece of fillet which you can then cook in many other ways.  I have got feedback from people who have tried my filleted catfish that when they had cooked it and served it to other people, they couldn't guess what fish it was.  Catfish (keli) was definitely one of their guesses!  You can:
  • marinate it with a various ways using many combinations of herbs and grill it,
  • you can cut it into bite pieces and create fish nuggets, you can dip them in batter and deep fry,
  • or you can even just bake it in the oven. 
This opens up options of its accompaniments:
  • you can eat it with salads for a light, fresh healthy meal,
  • with potatoes - french fries, mash potatoes, baked potatoes
  • or even on its own.
So, try it out and use your imagination :).

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Jackfruit (Nangka)

One of the fruit trees that I find grows well in this area is the Jackfruit (Nangka).  Its botanical name is Artocarpus heterophyllus.  There are several varieties of this fruit and some bear fruit that can weigh over 20kgs.
Personally I enjoy this fruit when it is firm, not soft and mushy.  By careful pruning and shaping, it can provide a great resting area as it has lots of leaves providing for a shady spot on hot sunny days.
The tree can start fruiting as early as 3 years after planting and can grow quite tall.  Selective pruning can assist in keeping the plant healthy and productive.  It does well in a soil mixed with organic matter and relatively low in clay.  It loves lots of water but the roots do not fare well in constantly soggy soil.  The leaves are mid-size and have a waxy texture to it.  The smaller branches also periodically dries out and should be removed to keep the tree nice and neat.

The jackfruit flower is green in color which will transform to a small gritty-skin "baby fruit".  It has an interesting shape and doesn't much resemble to what we normally see as a flower as it remains green and almost appears as if it is the beginnings of a new leaf.  When the fruit is mature and ripe, the fruit emits a distinctive sweet smell and turns into greenish-yellow before turning yellow. 

At the farm, sometimes the flowers appear in clusters resulting in a cluster of fruits.  To ensure good quality of fruits are produced, I tend to remove some of the fruits, leaving no more than 2 per cluster.  This is due to the fact that since the fruits tend to be big, the branch may not be able to support so many fruits and may break before the fruit reaches maturity.  When picking the fruit, watch out for the "latex" that is produced as it can stain your clothes.  To remove any of these goey stuff that is stuck to your hands, use a little bit of cooking oil to liquify it before washing with soap and water.  To remove any that is stuck on your clothes, rub some cooking oil followed by some regular flour before doing your laundry.
When ripe, the color of the flesh ranges form yellow to a golden yellow to an orange-yellow and is more often eaten raw.  I find that when the flesh is firm, it can be added as an element in a tropical fruit cocktail.  When is is soft and mushy, it can be turned into a milkshake - providing good dietary fibre deliciously, helping improve your digestion.  You can add this to your list of healthy, high fibre milkshakes.  The young jackfruit is also a favorite locally to be used in cooking curries or savoury dishes either on its own or with dried salted fish, beef or chicken, and eaten with rice.  It is not recommended to be eaten raw as it has lots of "latex" and should at least be blanched until tender.

Being a small farmer Part 4 - Selecting the inhabitants

The basic principle that I follow for "inhabitants" of the farm is that if they serve as food or therapy, then I will select it for introduction or retention at the farm.  The second principle is: I plant or grow only what I like :).  The third is the preservation of our natural heritage.  In selecting the plants, I have chosen to have plants that I consider to be short term revenue producers like the vegetables, mid term revenue produces such as fruits and long term such as surian.  However both the long term and mid term can generate revenue in the interim.  Annuals and perennials as well as evergreen are also taken into consideration as this will affect the maintenance work that needs to be done.  The plants and trees that we have at the farm include:
  1. Fruits: Bananas, Rambutan, Soursop (Durian Belanda), Durian, Jackfruit (Nangka), Cempedak, Mangosteens, Jambu Madu, Longan (Mata Kucing), Mango, Calamansi (Limau Kasturi).
  2. Herbs and therapeutic plants/trees: Cat's whiskers (Misai Lucing), Ruku, Selasih, Lemon Basil (Kemangi), Cosmos Dianthus (Ulam Raja), Tumeric, Lemongrass, Senduduk Hutan, Cilantro, Lengkuas, Ginger, Ginger torch (Bunga Kantan), Jeruju, Bebuas, Surian, Kaffir Lime (Limau Perut).
  3. Roots and Tubers: Tapioca, Sweet potatoes, Yam (Keladi)
  4. Vegetables etc.: Kailan, Sawi (Choy Sum), Cabbage, Tomatoes, Kangkong, Spinach, Bird Chillies (Cili Padi), Long Beans, Aubergine (Terong) and Turkey Berry (Terong pipit).
As there are various soil types at the farm, careful consideration is taken when selecting the location where it is planted to promote healthy plants and trees.  Thought is also put into how the plants can co-exist so as to promote benefits for both such as a tree providing a semi-shady area for plants that prefer semi-shade.  I have found that many plants or trees serve multiple purposes - some as food and at the same time can be used for therapeutic purposes or even as a bio-cleansing agent or pesticide.  I continuously seek to increase my knowledge on each plant or tree at the farm and I am continuously surprised at what I find.  Nature is definitely bountiful.

In line with making it an integrated farm, I have elected to rear chickens and fish.  Chickens of course provide not only meat but also healthy eggs.  They also function as my insect-control mechanism feeding on the ants and various other bugs and grass.

The fish that I have selected as the primary fishes to rear are tilapia, catfish (keli) and lampam.  I find that these fishes are really versatile as they can be eaten fresh, dried and salted either with or without herbs,  and smoked.
 I have also found that both tilapia and catfish can be filleted to produce beautiful fillets that can then be prepared in various other ways for consumption other than the normal Malay or Chinese style of preparation.  I am considering having some local goats - not so much for consumption - but more for its "weed-eating" capability as well as an additional source for fertilizers.  However, more research needs to be done so that I can provide the optimum living conditions for the goats as well achieving a balance with the other inhabitants.

I am pretty much done with selecting inhabitants though I am always on the lookout for interesting plants and trees.  Now we have basically moved away from the development phase and on to the "growing" phase to increase production quantity and quality.  The journey continues......

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Durian Belanda (Soursop)

As I was doing my rounds at the farm today, I noticed some interesting things about my Soursop (Durian Belanda) tree.  The Malay name when translated to English means Dutch Durian.  Although it may have some similarities in its external appearance to a durian, it is very unlike the durian both in taste, smell and the fruit inside.  Its botanical name is Annona muricataThe soursop fruit ripens with a green skin with yellow undertones but the “needles” are no longer sharp and pointy and has turned to a brown-black color.  The flesh is white with an almost custard-like texture with hard-shell brown/.black seedsThe nearest taste that I can think of that is similar is soft green apple.

My interest in this plant was first raised when a customer at my Sunday morning market asked me if I sold Soursop leaves or know where he could obtain some.  He was from Thailand and I asked him what he wanted it for and he explained that it was for his brother that had stones in his gall bladder.  I provided him the leaves the following week and for a few more weeks after that and he told me that it helped improve his brother's condition.  Something so simple!

Based on my research on this tree and its fruit, I am quite astounded to learn about its benefits.  The whole tree - stem, bark, leaves, flower and fruit - are purported to have many therapeutic and medicinal properties.  The extracts from the leaves and stems are reported to have anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties in attacking the malignant cells,  In some traditional medicine, the leaves and bark are crushed and boiled and the resulting mixture is strained and consumed.  It is also purported to prevent cancer by consuming it periodically such as once a week.  There appears to have been many studies conducted specifically in the treatment of cancer.  Based on a study by Purdue University, the phytochemical Annonaceous acetogenins has demonstrated its ability to attack cancerous cells whilst not affecting healthy cells.
In Brazil, their traditional medicine men have used the plant to treat hypertension, influenza, rashes, neuralgia, arthritis, rheumatism, high blood pressure, diarrhea, nausea, dyspepsia, ulcers, ringworm, scurvy, malaria, dysentery, palpitations, nervousness, insomnia, fever, boils, muscle spasm.  In Thai and Malay traditional medicine, the leaves extract that was obtained by boiling the leaves have been consumed to treat liver and gall bladder ailments.

This tree grows tall and is not "rounded" - it just seems to get tallerHowever, by pruning the branches, it encourages new branches to form.   The flower has an interesting shape and unless you are looking for it, you can easily miss it, hidden amongst the leaves.  The petal is a light green and the inner part of the flower is almost a light peach colour. 

This flower then becomes a brown colored bud-like shape that if you didn't know, would think that it has dried-up. 

You might even be tempted to remove it.  However, that would be a mistake as it is the beginnings of the fruit.  At a glance the fruit may appear like a durian but it does not have the sharp points.  The fruit is green in color that will turn into a lighter shade as it ripens.  To harvest, cut the fruit from the fruit stem.  I find that if you try to twist it off the stem, it may injure the branch and this can adversely affect the tree.

Based on research by USDA:
  1. It is an excellent source of vitamin C
  2. Has a high fiber content which can prevent constipation
  3. Contains half the potassium in bananas which can help prevent leg cramps
  4. Its high magnesium content can help prevent water retention especially for women who experience this in PMS.
  5. Good source of thiamin, the B vitamin needed for aerobic energy production, the process where oxygen is used to convert sugar into usable energy
  6. Loaded with the trace material copper which is essential for healthy bones.  It also helps boost the effectiveness of vitamin D, which promotes the absorption of calcium.
  7. A good source of niacin which studies have shown to have significant benefits on levels of HDL, the good cholesterol
  8. Good source of folate which is a mineral that is recommended to prevent deficiencies during pregnancy for pregnant women.
  9. Good source of iron, an essential element in the body producing healthy red blood cells
  10. Rich in riboflavin where studies have shown can help prevent migraines.
With its good content of iron and vitamin K, it promotes production of red blood cells hence it is sometimes used in alternative therapy for anemics.

As with anything good, over-consumption can lead to fatigue so based on my research, moderation is recommended and the consumption rate is three leaves as a tea, once a day.  At the farm, we produce soursop tea so that it can be easily stored and be ready on-demand.  It can be air-dried the chopped leaves and and to make tea, just steep it in just-boiled water for about 10 minutes.  It produced a golden-brown tea with a distinct smell of soursop.  The tea has a slightly sweet taste with the soursop flavor.  I enjoyed drinking it warm.  As a farm produce, we produce the tea using a dehydrator to dry the leaves.  

If you have a soursop tree and would like to make the tea yourselves, select mature leaves (starting from the the third or fourth leaf of the stalk) and you can either dry the leaves before or after "chopping" them to pieces.  As with harvesting of the fruit, use garden scissors to cut the leaves at the leaf stem.  You can also make an infusion by simmering the fresh leaves in a pot of water for about 10-15 minutes.  The drinks can be consumed hot or cold.  Happy growing the tree and trying the fruit and teas.

Updated: 25 July 2017

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Being a small farmer Part 3 - Finding balance

Having an integrated farm is a challenge of balancing the natures of the various elements.  Since the goal is to go as natural as possible, we raise free-range kampung chicken so this means that they are free to wander all over the farm.  By nature they will scratch the ground looking for insects and worms to feed on as well as pecking at the young shoots.  Being what they are, they are also capable of flying quite a distance - I have watched them fly as high as 2m across the fish ponds which is about 10m wide.  So fencing off areas is not really feasible.  While they serve a function as pest control mechanism, they also become the pest.
At the same time, there are all those insects and worms that just love to munch their way on the leaves and for some reason, they tend to leave the weeds alone!  The rule is no chemical pesticides because not only do I not want to introduce them into the vegetable, albeit may be traces of it, I also do not want it to leach into the ground and making its way into the pond or the water system.  At the same time, not all insects and worms are bad - some insects are natural predators to the insects that are pests.  I also want to have earthworms and they are the natural soil aerator as well as natural mechanism for improving the soil.
I also have 10 cats and I need to protect my vegetables from them too.  In spite of having a large area for them to do their "business", they like to dig around the "softer" soil of the plant beds.  On top of that, when they decide to play catch, it wreaks havoc on the plants.  These cats serve a purpose of keeping what I consider pests to a minimum - I haven't seen a rat or mouse since I started having them on the farm and the smaller snakes have also seen to disappear - some were caught by them and maybe the others decided to find better living conditions.
I am constantly working on ways to better improve the balance so that I can produce the best.  Every day is a learning experience and nothing beats going through it and my mind is constantly challenged to try and figure out the solutions to issues.

I now plant all my leafy vegetables in polybags and there are placed in the greenhouse so that they are protected from the chickens and to a certain degree, the insects.  This also helps to ease controlling the weeds.  For climbers like long beans, they are also planted in polybags but each polybag is surrounded by "tube" fence that  keeps the chickens and goose from getting to them whilst at the same time providing a support structure for them to climb.

My tomatoes are also planted in polybags and when they are big enough, will be surrounded by the fence-tube to provide the support structure they need.  The tomato plants are also placed in the greenhouse.
We try to compost as much as possible, returning back to the earth what is good, in the effort of continuing to balance our environment.  In this manner, all the weeds have a function - they become fertilizers later. 
Finding balance is important after all, every living thing has a right for the best and we all co-exist.