Book Review: Lentil Underground by Liz Carlisle

Lentil Underground by Liz Carlisle

I adore this nonfiction book for so many reasons! As a gardener, a dreamer, a reader, and a Montanan (after being here 43 years), this book nurtures those of us craving some prodding towards creativity. It’s about the conversion from conventional, large-crop, synthetically fertilized farming to rotating, small crop, organic farming. Technical while still being accessible to the non-scientist, Lentil Underground explains the process of finding new ways to do what no longer works and the willingness to take the leap away from the mainstream. Many third-generation farmers were facing bankruptcy in the 1980s while farming the way they were told to do by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Montana State University agriculture professors.

Liz Carlisle, a Missoulian by birth who holds degrees from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, writes in a crisp journalistic style made popular today by writers such as Michael Lewis and Mary Roach. She weaves information into a timeline featuring real characters in an ongoing story that reflects recent history of the past few decades.

“My intention has changed from making money to growing good-quality, healthy food. I think the soil’s happier. The farm just feels better. It’s like it knows I’m not going to pillage.” These few farmers in Montana who moved away from debt to large corporations towards certain weeds to replenish their soils represent a broad philosophical shift. The independence and innovation of farmers fortunately cannot be restrained, even though they were bucking the trend and often alienating neighbors and family members. In the long run, most organic farmers not only survived but thrive.

What began with some founders of AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization), now based in Helena, has become essentially commonplace. Albertson’s and Walmart carry organic produce, whereas that designation used to be only carried by specialized, expensive health food stores. The movement no longer is the domain of a small, kooky cluster of transcendentally minded hippies, although the evidence, as explained by Carlisle, is that it started that way. Both the history of the movement and the character descriptions involved make colorful fodder for reading.

As a gardener, I still feel mixed about black medic and clover helping fix the nitrogen in my flower and vegetable beds. On one hand, I care about appearance. I get stuck in those middle class values that Carlisle confronts: “It became customary, when passing by a tidy, productive farm, to remark that a good family must live there.” Alternatively, I feel relief knowing I help the soil by ignoring what’s under the canopy of flowers and vegetables, thereby contributing to healthier, nutrient-rich soil.

She includes some celebrities, too, since land use often mirrors personalities of those that own it. I won’t be a spoiler, though, because reading the book far exceeds reading this review. If you have doubts about picking up a copy, keep in mind that it was the ‘Read for all Incoming Freshmen’ at the University of Montana in the fall of 2017. The themes of thoughtful change while taking charge of destiny from the ground up can inspire future leaders and gardeners everywhere to ask essential questions and experiment.

BOOK REVIEW submitted by Bess Lovec


Recipe: Pumpkin Pudding

Pumpkin Pudding


2 cups cottage cheese
2 cups cooked well-drained pumpkin (or other winter squash)
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar (or less)
1/8 tsp. salt

Blend cottage cheese, pumpkin, eggs, sugar and salt in the blender. Pour into small greased Pyrex glass baking cups till about 2/3 full. Set cups in baking dish and fill baking dish about halfway up cups with hot water. Sprinkle tops of custard with nutmeg, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees until custard is set – about 45 minutes to an hour.

from NY Times Natural Foods Cookbook
Submitted by Ann Guthals

Yellowstone Valley Food Hub Update

Efforts to launch the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub continue apace. A sold out Chef’s Dinner at the Moss Mansion featured local foods and local chefs. The Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill hosted a hugely popular kickoff for their fundraising project in early summer. Fundraising is expected to continue, but the successes of this summer means the project is on track for a soft launch of the Food Hub this fall.

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The Yellowstone Valley Citizen’s Council initiated the project to link consumers with fresh, local foods grown in South-Central and Eastern Montana. Now that it’s becoming a reality, local food producers are taking up the reins to run the Hub as a collective of family farmers and ranchers. The Hub is initially planning to supply local restaurants and offer seasonal CSA boxes. The Hub’s space for dry/cold storage of produce and meats will make it easier for local producers to get their products to our tables.

The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub is an exciting development for our area and is the first of its kind in Eastern Montana. We’ll have better access to healthier food that’s traveled fewer miles. A reliable supply of local food will bolster restaurants catering to the foodies among us. We will be able to meet our producers, understand how the food was raised, and support our community with our food purchases. Food Hub producers are frequently concerned about methods, promoting minimal use of pesticides and emphasizing ethical and humane care of animals. The Food Hub is a win all around and I’m looking forward to all that it will bring our community.

If you’d like to contribute to the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, you can donate at https:// For more information, you can contact Annika Charter-Williams at 406-259-1103.

Submitted by Kris Glenn

Swanky Roots Tour

On August 28th, Master Gardener Association members were treated to a tour of Swanky Roots, a new aquaponics business in Billings. Our tour was given by co-owner Veronnaka Evenson, who graduated from Montana State University in 2016 with degrees in Plant Science and Agricultural Education. Veronnaka and mom, Ronna Klamert, are owners/operators of this most clean and modern greenhouse business. (I was most impressed with the requirement of washing our hands and walking on a specially treated mat to be sure no contamination entered the greenhouse.)

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At this early stage of the business it’s mostly lettuce being grown, which is available for purchase if you happen to be out in the area…on the way to Oscars Dreamland. The future will include sales of fish and more produce items, as ongoing research and demand are determined.

As you enter the greenhouse, you see the large blue tanks that are holding the fish (which some of our group got to feed!). The fish water is then cycled to irrigate the plants that are grown through a Styrofoam type mat that floats in aerated bins of water from the fish tanks. The large greenhouse is filled with these long bins of water and plants, with the exception of an area along one side, which has larger plant material grown in a medium of expanded clay balls.

This was truly a unique, first-time tour for our group of a business such as this. We wish them well on this most ambitious business venture.

Recipe: Onion Kuchen


This recipe comes from Mr. Siebel (83 year old “student” in my dad’s Adult Ed Art Class) who served it when Dad visited him at home. Dad took a big helping thinking it would be a dessert….and then was too polite after polishing it off to say no to a second helping.

3 med. onions, sliced and separated into rings
1/4 c. butter
1 (7.5 oz.) pkg. refrigerator buttermilk biscuits
1 egg
1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. poppy seeds

Saute onions in the butter until softened. Separate biscuits and place in a single layer in an ungreased 8 inch layer cake pan, pressing together to cover bottom of pan. Spoon onion mixture over dough. In a small bowl, beat egg, stir in sour cream and salt. Spoon over onion mixture; sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 min. or until topping is set. Cut into wedges; serve warm.

Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

Recipes for Tomatoes and other Garden Bounty

All Those Tomatoes Spaghetti Sauce (AKA Stephanie’s Freezer Spaghetti Sauce, All Recipes)
4 chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
16 cups chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons dried oregano
(or 4 tablespoons fresh oregano)
Cook down onions, garlic, and pepper in oil in your crock pot on high. Add chopped toma-toes, herbs, sugar, salt, and black pepper. Cook on low heat for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust herbs and spices to taste. Cool sauce and freeze in plastic bags (quart size – add one can tomato paste when ready to use).
Fresh Tomato Salsa, All Recipes
3 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
Stir together in a bowl and enjoy!
(I sent in a different one last year…)
Homemade Pesto Pizza
Pesto Sauce []
Use fresh herbs such as parsley, oregano, mint, basil, rosemary, cilantro in combination to your taste. Chop to make 2 to 3 packed cups. Add a clove of chopped or pressed garlic, 1/4 cup chopped toasted nuts – pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or macadamias – 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil or other light oil, and about 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Combine and pulse in a food processor until finely chopped and of a thick, paste-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Store up to 1 week.

Pizza Crust (Pioneer Woman) []
1 tsp or 1/2 packet active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
Sprinkle yeast over warm water and let it bubble. Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Drizzle in olive oil and stir until just incorporated. Drizzle yeast/water into flour mixture then knead until soft dough forms. Coat a bowl with olive oil and turn the ball in the bowl to coat. Cover with a moist towel and let rise in warm location for an hour, or store in refrigerator up to two days. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Divide dough (makes two medium pizzas) and spread on oiled or greased pan or stone. Lay toppings on dough (sauce, meats, cheeses) and bake on center rack 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
Spread dough with pesto, using oil to thin if necessary. Choose toppings – my favorites are Romano, mozzarella, cheddar, and/or ricotta cheeses, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, breakfast sausage, chicken, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, olives, ham-burger, green and red peppers, fresh tomato.

~ Submitted by Corinna Sinclair

Rhubarb Chutney
Mix together in a saucepan:
¾ c. cider vinegar
1 ½ c light brown sugar

Boil together and ADD:
8 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup either raisins, craisins, or currents
¼ c. chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic- chopped

Salt and pepper to taste
Add chopped nuts if desired.
Seal in jars or store in refrigerator up to 3-4 weeks.
Especially good with pork.

rhubarb 1.png~From Gwen Rock, submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

Cilantro Pesto
2 c loosely packed cilantro leaves
3-5 garlic cloves
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c toasted pumpkin seeds
red pepper flakes and salt to taste

Purée in food processor until smooth.
I have made this numerous times and freeze it in ice cube trays then put in a Ziploc in the freezer. I use it to season soups, chilis, or rice to accompany a Mexican dish, even over pasta with a sprinkling of feta or goat cheese. I do a
similar thing with kale.

Submitted by Temia Keel