Growing Fava Beans

As a fledgling gardener, one thing I have been trying to do each year is to grow something new, so that I can expand my gardening knowledge and broaden my culinary horizons!

This past year I decided to try fava beans.  Why?  Because I was in a natural food market and saw these beautiful, huge, marinated, wonderfully flavored beans.  They were in one of those “help yourself” bars along with marinated and/or pickled olives, mushrooms and peppers.  They were so good!

There wasn’t a sign anywhere saying what kind of a bean they were, but a friendly customer next to me said she thought they were fava beans.  So, I decided I would try growing my own fava beans and find a recipe for this wonderful, flavorful snack!

growing broad beansTurns out I was misinformed.  The marinated beans were not fava beans, but a type of lima bean.  Oh well.  I had already bought the bean seeds and they had germinated by the time I figured this out.  Speaking of the seeds…

I found a wonderful seed company that I just adore!  They are based out of Chico, California and I had the opportunity to visit their store recently.  More about that in another story to come soon.

So, on with the fava beans!

The beans were very quick to sprout and were setting their first true leaves within 10 days!  Of course, I attribute some of this to my homemade kelp fertilizer, with the natural gibberellic acid in it, which is a growth hormone for plants.

I started the beans in an enclosed patio, about 4 weeks before the beginning of spring, because fava beans are much like english peas, they are somewhat of a cool weather crop and would be harvested sometime in May or June.  I had a picture of the seedlings growing in their pots, but alas, my camera got run over by our truck (don’t ask) and I was unable to retrieve all of my pictures.  🙁  But, once I put them in the ground, they started growing…growing broad beans

and growing…

I should have had some type of support for the plants, even though they are a bush type of bean, because some of the stems that were about 2 feet long started to twist and droop as they grew, I guess from their own weight.  A few even broke.  I’m not sure if that is the nature of the plant, or gardener (me) error. 😉

growing broad beansOnce the fava bean plants began to bloom, I was totally in awe!  The blossoms are gorgeous!  The white with beautiful lavender throats really stood out.  To me, they resembled an orchid. Apparently the pollinators thought they were pretty cool, also, because it wasn’t long before small, tiny bean pods developed.  In fact, in the picture on the left, you can see a butterfly (or is that a moth) with it’s head plunged head into the flower!  You can click on the picture for a better view.

Then we had a hail storm!  Shoot!  Nuts!  The hail absolutely destroyed some of my garden plants and heavily damaged others.  Luckily, the fava bean plants seemed to be fairly resilient. Though they were pretty well bruised, the leaves healed and recovered fairly quickly!growing fava beans

Within another month the bean pods were huge.  I mean H U G E! You can see in the picture at the left that the pods are bigger than my fingers!

growing broad beans

Once the outside of the pods started to show the bulge of the beans inside, it was time to harvest. Since I only had four bean plants (which I originally thought would be plenty to experiment with), I decided to dry them in the pod, as it didn’t seem like I was going to get very many actual beans.  I harvested each pod as it appeared to have mature beans inside, let it dry in the pod, and then shucked the beans into a bowl. Oh, by the way, most other people in the world call them Broad Beans!



Let’s get real here.  The plants grew well.  The flowers were gorgeous.  But this is all the beans I got?


growing fava beans

Then, I went online to see how to prepare the beans.


I found this on Dr. Weil’s website:

Cooking time: 60-120 minutes

Liquid per cup of legume: 3 cups

How to cook fava beans: Soak overnight. Drain water. If your fava beans were not already shelled, you should be able to slip the outer skins off after soaking by squeezing the beans between your fingers. Once favas are shelled, fill pot with fresh, cold water for cooking. Place on stove and bring to a boil in a pot with a lid. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, tilting the lids slightly to allow steam to escape, and leave to cook for one to two hours, until tender or desired consistency.

Whaaaaaaaa….?  I have to soak overnight and slip the outer skins off of EACH BEAN! That seems like a pretty time consuming task to me!  These puppies better be worth it!

So, I soaked my meager bowl of fava beans overnight and then tried to “slip” off the skins. Umm… nope!  The skins did not slip off in any way, shape or form.  Then I started wondering if I had skinless beans (could I be so lucky?), and dug with my nail into one of the soaked beans to see.


growing and cooking broad beans

Yeah – not very pretty. I guess this is what happens when you soak your fava beans longer than overnight, so that the skins will “slip” off. NOT!

Except mine were so thick they would not slip off.  So, I decided to soak them for a little longer.  Still didn’t work.  I went ahead and gouged each skin off (not very carefully, as I grumbled the entire 1/2 hour it took me to do it), and finally boiled them for almost an hour.

The result?  They pretty much turned to mush!

I guess the extra soaking didn’t do any favors for the texture of the cooked bean, because they all split apart and were almost unrecognizable as beans.  Harruummph!

Were they good?  Well, I guess so.  I like beans, and these tasted like… well… beans!

But, rather than eat mushy beans, I decided to puree them and use them as a dip that is very similar to hummus.  I found this recipe on the Whole Foods website.  It was good!  Not great, but good. If you try this recipe, I would recommend making the hummus at least an hour ahead of time and then let it sit for a while, allowing the flavors to meld.

broad bean hummus

Fava bean hummus. I tried to make it look pretty. . .   really I tried.

My take on all of this?  Well, let’s just say I am not going to grow fava beans this year. They took up waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy too much garden space for such little result.

One bowl of hummus.  😉

And since we didn’t swoon over their flavor and texture, why bother?

Was the experiment worth it?  You bet!  Now I have a better knowledge of what fava (broad) beans look like and taste like, how to grow them and how to prepare them. Who knows… someday I might have a larger garden and want to try growing then again, and  I also have a greater appreciation of those who DO grow them.

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I’m Growing My Own Tea!

I adore tea.  Black, White, Green or even Oolong.  Offer me a cup of tea and I will be your friend forever!

I enjoy drinking herbal teas also, but nothing can beat a cold glass of lemon balm leaves steeped in white tea on a hot summer day.  Ahhhhh  🙂

I thought I was doomed to continuously spending lots of money on my tea habit until I found out that I can actually grow my own tea plants.  Happy Dance!

Until a few months ago, I thought all tea plants were tropical!  Nope!  Shows how much I don’t know. In fact, a lot of tea plant varieties can withstand freezing temperatures down to 0 degrees and grow well in zones 7 – 9.  Seriously!

One Green World, Korean TeaThen I saw these Camilla Sinensus v. Sinensus (that’s the official name of a tea plant that comes from eastern and northern Asia. Camilla Sinensus Assamica comes from India and regions surrounding it) plants for sale on a website called One Green World, and I just couldn’t resist.  The Sochi variety and the Korean Mountain variety of tea can both withstand the coldest temperatures that we get here on our homestead, so that means I can grow tea!         Oh Joy!

So, I bought two tea plants, one Sochi and one Korean Mountain, and they arrived a few weeks ago.

How to grow camellia sinensus

This is how the tea plants arrived. They were so well packed that I don’t think any leaves were harmed! Thank you, One Green World, for sending me such beautiful plants!

Can you believe the size of these plants?  From root tip to leaf tip, about three feet tall!  I certainly wasn’t expecting them to look so good!  Now, I am not a spokesperson for this plant nursery, nor have I been compensated in any way for saying this.  I just think that when a business makes a happy customer, they should be commended.  Kudos!

Growing green tea

Here is how the tea plants came from the nursery.

The plants came in plastic pots, where they had to stay for a few days while I went into town to get some newer, larger ones.  I took them out of the box and set them upright, but kept the plastic sleeve over the pot so the roots wouldn’t dry out.

Because I want to plant these into the ground near our new home, for now they will have to live in pots until most of the building is done.  The plants like to get some sun and enjoy partial shade, but harsh summer afternoon sunshine is not their “cup of tea”.

Yes, I just said that.  😉

How I am growing camellia sinensus

Look at the root system of these plants – very well established. I just teased the roots a bit before planting in the new pots.

I can’t wait to harvest some tea and try it, but I am going to wait until the plants are better established in the pots.  They both have some new growth already, but it is still early and I would assume they have some shock to go through from shipping, so I am going to let the roots “steep” (holy cow, 🙂 I am on a roll) in their new soil for a while first. After a few weeks, once the spring temperatures are more stable, I will give them some of my homebrewed kelp fertilizer.

I did some research on how to grow the tea plants, and apparently these plants like a fairly acidic soil that well drained and can be kept moist, which is what we have. They also like to have part shade if your afternoons are hot, which is just the kind of conditions that my new elderberry plants wanted – so I may end up putting them next to the elderberry bushes.  Mmmmmmmm… elderberry green tea sweetened with stevia…

Speaking of my elderberry plants – they are already beginning to leaf out!

How to grow camellia sinensus v sinesus

The elderberries are starting to get leaves. This is a branch of one of the larger plants. All four plants did well through the winter, so I hope to harvest more elderberries this year and dry some just for my tea!

Once the tea plants are established, I will harvest some of the growth tips and try my hand at preparing the tea leaves into either white or green tea, depending on how the leaves are processed. Maybe even oolong or black tea. I hope to post that process soon, but I don’t want to shock the poor plants right now any more than the shipping may have.

How to grow Tea

These plants have plenty of room to spread their roots, and I hope to be able to plant them in the ground next fall, when (hopefully) there won’t be as much construction traffic going on.

However, I have read that it is necessary to harvest the new tea leaves as soon as they appear, before they get too big and not useful. Harvesting also helps to prune the plant and keep it at a reasonable height, as some can grow more than 15 feet tall, and I certainly do not want to climb a ladder for my tea!  After doing more research, I found that harvesting the tea leaves four times a year would not be unreasonable, starting with what the Chinese call the “first flush” n the spring, and ending sometime in August, so that I don’t disturb the fall flowers too much.  I think my honey bees will just adore the tea leaves!

In the meantime, I am dreaming of all the types of tea add-ins – rose hips, madrone berries, dried elderberries, lavender flowers, dehydrated orange peel, dried mint and or lemon balm leaves…  the possibilities are endless!  Of course, to sweeten the tea, I have my faithful stevia plant or my yummy honey from our bees!  I think I am going to collect a bunch of beautiful jars with the bail top lids so I can store the tea and all these flavorings.  Won’t that look pretty on an open shelf in my kitchen?

This is going to be so much fun!

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Hugelkultur Potatoes

Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Our harvest of purple fingerlings from one 5 gallon “grow bag”. Not too bad for our first try!

Two years ago I grew potatoes in one of those newfangled “grow bags”.  I was told that the bags enhance the potato’s natural inclination to grow upward.  You see, in a “normal” potato patch, soil is mounded around a potato plant as it grows taller, and potatoes will develop all along the stem of the plant.  However, it can be difficult to hill potatoes in this way as the hills don’t always stay put.  A strong rainstorm could break down the hill, and so could any number of critters. The taller the mound, the wider the hill has to be. That’s just physics. Supposedly the “grow bags” would eliminate these problems.  One simply added dirt in the bag as the plant grew and this hill would be neatly contained within the bag.  I had a moderately successful result.  But, then I read about another method called hugelkulture, and was intrigued enough to try it.

Hugelkulture is a method of vertically composting large woody material and other organic matter to create a  raised garden bed. All you have to do is layer branches from trimming trees, leaves, manure, cardboard, straw, wood chips, grass clippings, compost or any other biomass you have available, top with soil and plant your fruits and/or vegetables.  My research into hugelkulture revealed that potatoes do very well in vertical hugelkulture beds, and if you know me, you know I had to try it!

hugelkulture for potatoes

Here is one of three towers Ray built.

Dearest husband Ray was happy to build three hugelkulture towers in the garden/orchard space.  I wanted to get the potatoes planted around Saint Patrick’s Day, which is the traditional day to plant potatoes in our area, so we had to hurry.  We had lots of fence boards left over from our valley home, so these were used as the sides, with some “not-very-straight” landscape timbers purchased at our local box store serving as the framing.

Once the hugelkulture towers were built two fence boards high (each board is 6 inches wide, so the towers started out 1 foot deep), I placed a layer of pinecones in the bottom (mostly for aeration), some small branches, leaves, mulch and a layer of dirt.  Upon the dirt, three potatoes were placed in each tower. Then another layer of leaves, some pine needles, mulch and dirt.

growing potatoes with hugelculture

The potatoes were nestled down into a layer of compost and dirt, then more leaves, mulch, wood chips, etc. were added on top. You can see, if you click on the picture and zoom in, that the potatoes are already starting to grow!

Then, this happened:

hugelculture potatoes

A freak snowstorm hit us just after we planted the potatoes! Here in California, in the middle of a drought, in the middle of March… go figure!

You can see the towers in the orchard/garden area, covered with snow.  I wasn’t sure if the potato seedlings would be frozen, and since they had already started to sprout I thought it was a lost cause, but at that time frozen potatoes were the least of my problems!

Here they are, bright green and perky!  They survived the snowstorm and were growing quite well.

Here they are, bright green and perky! They survived the snowstorm and were growing quite well.

Sure enough, with a little bit of luck and a lot of patience, the potatoes grew.  As each plant grew taller, I layered in more leaves, mulch, small branches, compost and sometimes I threw in a little bit of our red clay dirt – just for good measure!

The potato plants grew even taller and I added more and more mulch/compost/leaves, so I had to add another layer of boards on the tower.

And then another layer!  This continued all spring and into the summer.  Finally, in June-ish, the plants stopped growing as quickly, so I stopped adding the mulch, compost and leafy stuff.  The towers ended up six boards or a little over three feet tall.

growing potatoes with hugelculture

You can see that I finally got up to six fence boards, which was a bit over three feet tall – and the potato plants were taller still!

how to grow potatoes

Beautiful flowers adorned the potato plants.

The potatoes developed some really pretty blossoms.  I never did see any of our honeybees on the flowers, but I did see some of the native pollinators flitting around them.

I had read that one fun feature of these hugelkulture potato towers is that you can sneak a few new potatoes from the very bottom without disturbing the entire plant. Of course, I had to try…

My result?  So cool – It works! I got enough potatoes for a meal and they were delicious.  All I did was wrap them in foil with butter and garlic salt.  About 20 minutes on the grill and they were fork tender and oh so tasty!

Stealing a few potatoes from the bottom was fun, but getting all that stuff back in and the board back on was a challenge!  :)

Stealing a few potatoes from the bottom was fun, but getting all that stuff back in and the board back on was a challenge! 🙂

Around the end of June the plants in one of the towers started to die back.  I wasn’t sure why, so I went online to do some more research about growing potatoes.  Well, I still couldn’t figure out what was going on!  Either I was watering too much, or too little.  Perhaps I had a virus or a blight or a bug or something, but apparently the only thing to do at that point was to harvest.  So I did.

The result?

growing potatoes with hugelculture

Well – I guess this isn’t too bad of a harvest. Nothing much to write home about, however!

Not much to get excited about.  I had put three fingerling potatoes into this tower and received back about 24 tubers, some larger and some smaller than the originals.  I guess in the grand scheme of things you might consider that I got back more than what I had planted, but this amount certainly wasn’t what I had in mind as a great harvest.

Heck – we harvested this many potatoes from the volunteer potato plants in our compost pile!

So, when the next group of potato plants started to die back a few days later, I assumed it was time to harvest this group also and got another disappointing harvest.  The second tower had even less than the first one did!

I decided to try watering the third and last tower just a bit more, to see if, indeed, it was too dry.  The three plants in this tower had not died back, as the others had, and when I gave it  more water, they stayed green and lush for another two or three weeks. So, I suppose the problem may have been my error of not watering them enough.

Today I harvested the last potato tower and got quite a surprise.  Not only were the potatoes bigger, but it looked like perhaps I may have harvested too soon!  There were itty bitty potatoes still developing on the roots of the potato plants. But then, when I got to the bottom of the hugelkulture tower I found a couple of potatoes that looked like they, themselves, were about to sprout into an entirely new plant!  Perhaps I harvested too late?

growing potatoes

Did I harvest too late, or too early? I have a lot to learn about growing potatoes!

At any rate, though the potatoes were a bit larger, there were no more in numbers than in the other two towers.

If our lives depended upon potatoes, we would come up short, indeed!

So, what did I learn?  Perhaps I need to water potatoes more often. Although the hugelkulture method is supposed to preserve water within the biomass, here in California everything has been dry, dry, dry.   Also, I did not feed the plants.  I am aware that as organic matter decomposes, it uses up nitrogen in the process.  Maybe next time I should add nitrogen in the form of aged chicken manure.  Further, the potatoes I used as seed were French fingerlings that I bought at an organic grocery market.  The last group of potatoes harvested were supposed to be purple fingerlings, but instead looked more like Norland Reds.  I think the next time I grow potatoes I will buy actual seed potatoes from an organic nursery. 🙂

Growing potatoes using hugelculture

Don’t these potatoes look like Norland Reds to you? They were supposed to be purple fingerlings! No problem, they were good anyway.

The hugelkulture method itself was a great success.  After only five months the leaves, wood chips and small branches were already starting to break down into a nice moist, black compost. There were also several earthworms in the mix. My plan is to add some more small branches, wood chips, and pine cones to the bottom of the tower, add back the moist compost followed with a little bit more dirt, then plant my fall crops.  Supposedly I can also add some almost fresh cow manure deep into the bottom layer, and the decomposition of the manure and the other organic matter will produce some warmth, which will extend the growing season by a few weeks.

We’ll see.


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Mmmmm…  making your own sourdough bread

Fresh sourdough bread!

I grew up and have lived in Northern California my entire life.  One of my favorite places to visit has always been San Francisco.  There are so many things to do there, but I never go to the “City by the Bay” without visiting the Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf.  I shamelessly eat an entire sourdough “bowl” filled with clam chowder, then waddle on over to the store to buy a loaf (or two or three) to bring home.

I tried to make my own sourdough by catching the wild yeast in the air in a slurry of flour and water, but was never satisfied by the taste of the sourdough. It just wasn’t what I was used to. I do plan to try this again, however, because I found out that it wasn’t supposed to taste like the San Francisco Sourdough!  Each region around the world has it’s own “wild” yeast floating around, and each bread will taste different!  Some will taste more sour, while others will rise faster!  Then, I found out that you can actually buy the San Francisco Sourdough yeast and “grow your own”!

That’s exactly what I did.  I had previously bought my Kombucha starter through Cultures for Health and saw on their website that they had quite a few different fermented items for sale, including sourdough.  The company offers sixteen different sourdough yeast varieties, including ones for spelt, rye and brown rice.  But I was after my favorite, which is the San Francisco variety!

homemade sourdoughWhen I got the yeast packet, I decided to just dive right in and get the yeast activated.  It was simple enough – especially since I wasn’t having to “catch” a wild yeast – which made me feel a bit more confident.  I followed the instructions that came with the yeast packet.  I had to buy some water, because our tap water has both chlorine and fluoride (ick), which can kill the yeast.  Our well water on the future homestead is good and pure, without chemicals or excessive minerals, so I will bring home a gallon or two of that water the next time we go up.

One thing I have learned sohomemade sourdough bread far is that it’s a good idea (for me, at least) to write the time on your sourdough container.  That way, you won’t forget when you last fed your sourdough.  Also, beware!  This stuff is like Gorilla Glue!  Seriously!  Wipe up any spills immediately and wash off spoons and jar rims right away, otherwise you will have to soak and then scrub.  Also, a word to the wise – it doesn’t smell anything like you might expect!  That’s why I had thrown out my “wild” sourdough attempts – it really has a strange smell to it.  Not that real sweet “yeasty” smell that you get from the commercial homemade sourdough pizza recipeyeast packets we are all used to.  And it wasn’t really “sour” either, but more alcohol-ish, but not really like beer either.  I was worried that I had contaminated the sourdough with my kombucha.  Apparently, I hadn’t.  However, if you are fermenting several things at the same time (kombucha, apple cider vinegar, sourdough, even vegetable pickles), it’s wise to keep everything at least five feet apart!

Oh…  one more thing – these little yeasty beastys like to escape!  I put my quart jar of sourdough into our entertainment cabinet where it is always warm due to the electronics, then came back several hours later to find sourdough dribbling over the rim of the jar, down and over the shelf and then to the floor!  That’s when I went out and bought the half gallon size of jars.  😉sourdough bread recipes

Once I got the sourdough bubbling well, and had fed it four times, I was ready to make some bread!  I followed the simple sourdough recipe that Cultures for Health have on their website.  Word of warning:  the sourdough takes a LOT of kneading!  20 minutes!  The

homemade sourdough bread recipes

………………………….It’s Alive!!!

first time I did the kneading, my husband helped.  Now, I just turn on TV and mindlessly knead while watching!  Hey, don’t judge me – at least I’m multi-tasking!  Once kneaded, the bread must rise for 4-12 hours!  Yup, it takes a lot longer to raise sourdough than it does the “regular” kind of bread, but of course a lot depends on the air temperature.  When we have a fire going, it takes about 4-5 hours for the bread to rise.  But, in a cool kitchen (about 65 degrees) it may take overnight, or as long as 12 hours!  You just need to get used to your sourdough to figure out how it will work for you.

sourdough bread recipes

A nice warm fire helps the sourdough bread rise!

Let me tell you, baking that first loaf of bread was pure torture. It smelled so good while it was baking (our mouths were watering and our tummies growling) that when it was done we couldn’t wait for it to cool down, like the instructions stated. We were like ravenous vultures tearing into the bread!  It was so good!  Not quite as sour as the San Francisco Sourdough that I’m used to, but very good just the same.  Apparently I need to let my sourdough “sour” a bit more to get that rich sour flavor, by feeding it one more time before I cook with it.  I have also read that as my sourdough “matures”, it will get more sour.  Also, I think the crumb is just a bit too fine, so perhaps this first batch didn’t rise enough or maybe the oven wasn’t hot enough.  These are all things I just need to learn with my sourdough!   I don’t mind practicing.  🙂

Of course, I couldn’t stop there.   The Cultures for Health website has oodles of recipes, so my next dish was pizza. homemade sourdough pizza recipe This was easier and faster than the bread because you don’t have to knead it so much or even let it rise for hours.  However, when I rolled it out on the cookie sheet, I thought I had it thin enough, but it was still just a bit too thick for our taste.  We don’t like doughy pizza dough, but are more partial to the thin crust types, so now I really roll it thin.  What is great with this recipe is that you actually cook the dough before you put the toppings on it, then finish it in the oven – which gave me a great idea!  I could make several pizza crusts, bake them, and then freeze for future meals!  One caveat, however, is that they take up a lot less room in the freezer if you make square or rectangle crusts, then stack one on top of the other!homemade sourdough pizza crust

What was next?  Crackers!  Bacon, Rosemary and Cracked Peppercorn Crackers!  These were really good.  Again, the recipe is on the website at Cultures for Health.  Luckily I have an old overgrown rosemary bush out back, so I was able to harvest my own rosemary – can’t get any fresher than that!  The bacon flavor comes from bacon grease, not the actual bacon, so if you want to make these crackers, save your bacon grease! These were really good with a little cream cheese spread on top.  Yum!  But, where the recipe says to roll very thinly, they mean it!  I really didn’t get mine thin enough the first time, and though they tasted great, the crackers just didn’t have any crunch. They are better when they crunch! sourdough crackers

Finally, I wanted to show you my Olive and Parmesan sourdough bread.  Well, I wanted to show you the bread, but before I could take a picture of the final product, it disappeared!  Yes, this one is that good. Here is another tip I would like to share with you:  don’t add the olives right away.  They get torn into quite a few small pieces while you knead the dough.  Knead the dough for a good five minutes first, before you add the olives.  You might also consider adding whole olives (the recipe calls for sliced), because even by adding them toward the end of the kneading, they still get torn into smaller pieces.Olive Parmesan Sourdough recipe

I hope you try making your own sourdough, if you haven’t yet!  There are tons of blogs and recipe websites out there with instructions on how to “capture” your own “wild” yeast.  Or you can do like I did and start with a proven source of sourdough yeast.  Either way, I am sure you won’t be sorry.

And for those of you that are gluten intolerant: apparently fermenting the wheat makes the gluten more tolerable!  There are those who cannot eat “regular” white bread, yet can eat sourdough bread.  Of course, if you truly have celiac disease, you want to be cautious, but read this article first – you may be surprised: Gluten Intolerance & Sourdough Bread from Livestrong.  

For my next batch of sourdough, I am going to make the smaller boule type sourdough shapes so that I can make a sourdough bowl and add some salmon chowder to it!    One recipe that I have been looking for (can’t find the original blog) is actually using stale sourdough (is there really such a thing?) to make stuffing.  I would also like to find a recipe for a french herbed sourdough using herbes de provence, but actually using the individual spices and not the herbes de provence already mixed together.  Do you have a favorite sourdough recipe?


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