Thursday, December 24, 2009


A few things going-on on the farm... The chickens have settled into their winter schedule; we're getting 1 or 2 eggs per day ( instead of 7-9), they have learned that they can go inside when it rains and then they don't get wet!

I have been shopping for a motor for my oil press... It's not cheap as it actually takes quite a lot of force to crank the thing. I have learned a lot about electric motors and how can be used.

Why do I want a motor... well my arm is tired!... We sold 10 bottles of oil this week and we have a local store that wants to start selling it in the new year. I have been trying to build up enough inventory that they can have a decent number on their shelves but we are selling it as fast as I can make it. The current innovation is that the press is now setup where I can see the TV so Rebecca and I can watch together in the evening while I press oil.

We had a big Christmas dinner last night; turkey, stuffing, brussel sprouts and potatoes... The potatoes and the celery in the stuffing came from the yard 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Slow Squeeze

It's been quiet on the blog but not on the farm... We made another 50 pints of Jelly from grapes that Peter brought us. The grapes were really on their last legs and about to start rotting. We had to throw a lot away but managed to salvage enough. The Jelly tastes... great... same as the last batch.

Meanwhile I am slowly churning out sunflower oil. The black seeds give me much greater yield per pound (hence they are called 'Black Oil Seeds') but it is much harder work to run them through the press. As a compromise I have been running a 50/50 mix of black and shelled. I'm going on Friday to look at motors; if I can get some mechanical assistance it will make the whole thing a lot easier.

The other change I am making is that I'm going to make a 'semi-permanent' setup down in the downstairs kitchen. For the last few years that room has been known as 'The Shop" but now it's going to revert to kitchen. I will have the press set up, seed storage, a filter/settling station, a bottling area and a storage area. This will save me a lot of time as currently every oil pressing session has 30 minutes of setup and 30 minutes of tear-down (not counting the cleaning that I will still have to do). This will also give us our upstairs kitchen space back.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Search result for Oil Regulation...

207       Sunflower seed oil

            (1)        Sunflower seed oil shall be edible oil obtained from the seeds of Helianthus annuus.

            (2)        Sunflower seed oil-
(a) shall have-
(i) a specific gravity (20°C/water at 20°C) of from 0.918 to 0.923;
(ii) a refractive index (40°C) of from 1.467 to 1.469;
(iii) a saponification value offrom 188 to 194 milligrams potassium hydroxide per gram; and
(iv) an iodine value of from 110 to 143; and
(b) shall not contain more than 15 g/kg of unsaponifiable matter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On the Jelly Roll

Well it looks like we will be processing another batch of grapes next week. Peter is going to bring us another 100lbs or so of his fabulous Cab grapes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who is keeping us safe?

As I have been looking at various oil press designs I thought I would see what regulations are involved. The USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service, FSIS, sets the standards for such things in the US... I just wander how they pronounce the acronym... FSIS. 

For real information I found a great link that summarizes US and international standards:

A total nut

I guess I'm going to give the walnuts one more try... I suspect that the problem may be that the nut still had too high a water content. I left the nuts in the oven at 200 for a couple of hours last night... one more try.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Standing your ground on oil

It appears that you can find supportive evidence on pretty much any position with regards to healthy or unhealthy oils. For example:

Olive Oil is probabaly one of the worst things you could fry something in. Of course, you said you baked it...but, even then, olive oil should never be truly cooked. It gives off free radicals by the cupfull. Of course, Canola is worse...rapeseed...a relative of castor beans...poisonous as well as free radicals...very bad, or soy oil...even polyunsaturates, either...baaaad, bad, bad! I've been told that sesame oil, or sunflower oil are much more stable for cooking

Olive pomace oil and virgin olive oil are both highly monounsaturated oils and therefore resistant to oxidation and hydrogenation. Studies have shown oxidation and hydrogenation occurs to a lesser degree in olive oil than in other oils.  But in any case, the amount of hydrogenation is miniscule and no home cook would ever experience this problem.
I have been reading a lot of stuff on oils... personally I am no longer cooking with Olive Oil... but then I get to cook with freshly expressed home-made sunflower or peanut oil. There are some charts in earlier posts that compare various aspects of different oils.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's nuts

I have now spent about 5 hours trying to press oil from the walnuts, with little success :-(... Walnut oil is "prized for it's light clarity"... not mine... it's pasty goop. The way it looks is one thing... but the taste is also disappointing. Maybe my pallet is too undeveloped (I did smoke for 25 years) but, to me, the flavor is too subtle, read lacking. This is meant to be a 'finishing' oil, good in salad dressings or drizzled over your cooked fish... I think the sunflower oil is far superior... at least in as much as it's much tastier. The sunflower oil is also a good cooking oil, which neither walnut nor olive oil are.  So it goes... I have probably used about 2/3 of the nuts I picked... now I have to decide what to do with the rest.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Roasted Goodness

WOW... the nuts roasted taste SOOO much better than raw... and the raw ones are very good. Much fuller, deeper flavor... yum!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Nut cracker... sweet

So Rebecca and I took about 7.5 lbs of the walnuts and opened them in about an hour. We discovered that if you give the nut a firm hit on the 'end' (the sharp end) with a hammer getting the nut out in large pieces, often even whole, is quite easy. We ended up with 3 lbs of nut meat and 4.5 lbs of shell... that's a better ratio than I was expecting.

Next I'm going to roast the nuts and then let them cool before extracting the oil... lets see how it goes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wine, wine, wine

Of the 500 lbs of grapes we picked; about 150 lbs were turned into Jelly. The other 350 lbs have ended up here:

This is 15 gallons of wine. 2 fives, 1 three and 2 one gallon jars... When one fills a jar it is vital that it be filled all the way to the top, otherwise the oxygen in the jar does "bad things" to the wine. Over the next year, periodically, one decants the wine, pouring it off the settled sediment. At each stage you need to end-up with completely full jars, despite leaving the sediment behind... hence the distribution of the wine and not 3 five gallon containers.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Squirrels Attacked My Nuts!

The squirrels went for my nuts so I built my drying racks into a single structure and encased the whole thing in chicken wire.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More Nuts

Yesterday Brian and I went up to Yountville and collected nuts off the ground of a friends farm. We picked about 100 lbs of nuts in a couple of hours.

Today I built drying racks and put out the nuts to dry:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Great read on small scale oil production

Black Oil

So the Oil I pressed from the black oil seeds doesn't clarify as clear as the previous oil I've been making. It's not as pretty. It tastes great, if anything I like it more... it's got a mellower taste without the bitter undertone the other stuff has. The 'color' of the oil is a lot like a high grade Olive Oil in its cloudiness... so it shouldn't be an impossible barrier. Pressing the un-shelled seeds is MUCH harder work. I think I might give up on these seeds until I have a gear, or something, to give me some mechanical advantage.

Tomorrow morning I'm going up to Yontville to pick walnuts... walnut oil next. After I work out how to husk, crack, and extract them.Local nuts, local oil.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

not so pretty

As of this morning the oil from the black seed that I pressed last night has not clarified. The oil is still dark and cloudy... it may be the cold ambient temp... if it still isn't clear tonight I may warm it to see if that helps.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local connection or competition?

SF based oil company -

Another chart

So the sunflower line on this chart lines up with the Linoliec Sunflower on the previous chart... I wander if this chart pre-dates the other sunflower oils or it they have an agenda. I do... I want sunflower oil to look like one of the best!

Black Seeds

So... turns out I was working too hard again... Any store that sells bird feed sells black oil sunflower seeds at about $1/lb... That's not the $13/cwt but it's better than $2.50.. the black seed is also higher oil content. So After I picked up the kids from school I stopped and bought some seeds, came home and ran about a pound through the press.

Because they get run with the shells on they are harder to press. It looked to me like I was getting about the same amount of oil per pound but then I am running the shells as well as the kernel. The oil is now sitting to clarify... the big question will be, how does it taste? better? worse? the same?

Meanwhile, I took the cake... which having the shell in it is REALLY no good for human consumption. I ground it back into a powder, mixed it with some water, and formed it into cones with string in the top and a chop stick sticking through it. These are now in the oven (along with dinner that I was making at the same time). The idea... once they are baked hard I should be able to hang then in the tree as a bird feeder.

I've backed off from the idea of making chicken food for now because of the complexity. There is a real science to chicken food mixing and if you get it wrong the chickens will not be healthy... too much pressure!

Oil Nuts

So... if I buy organic sunflower seeds I am paying about $2.50 per pound for confectionery seeds. That's all I've used so far. Searching on-line shows that buying OilSeeds (the black ones that don't need shelling to make oil) cost about $13 per hundred weight (114 lbs).. I need to work out how to tap into the cheap end of the supply chain. The other issue is finding local seeds... I can make a 'locally pressed' oil from seeds I bring in but it still not a truly local product.

I can buy the seed from China... it probably has less CO2 impact to ship from china than to truck from ND (that's conventional wisdom these days). I couldn't find a price on the Chinese seeds but I did find that they all have like 20 ton minimum orders... I wander how long it would take to put 20 tons through my little press :-)

Chicken and egg... I need enough oil capacity to be able to respond if I sell oil... I don't want to make a bunch of oil if I can't sell it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fat Content -

The oil I have been making is a regular Linoleic Sunflower Oil. I am now hoping to start using NuSun seeds which is arguably better for you than olive oil (less saturated fats)

Keeping track of the farm

Last Saturday we went to market for the first time. We sold our Cabernet Sauvignon Grape Jelly, our Honey and Sunflower Oil. We sold enough to cover the days expenses and then some... here's some stuff from the day:

This is the handout that we had at the stall -

‘The Dale Family Farm’ is more a state of mind than anything else. We live in a regular house in West Berkeley and have a very standard urban back yard. The Farm is the fact that we love to grow stuff and make stuff, we do this because we love the process.

The Honey
We have a single bee hive in our back yard. It is tucked in the corner of the vegetable garden where the kids and the chickens will not bother it and it will not bother them. Bees travel several miles to find food so we have not noticed any more bees in the yard now than before we got the hive. Given where we live we guess that the majority of the honey is produced by foraging the East Bay wetlands, the Berkeley Marina and the other green areas that run up and down the side of the bay. The honey we are selling today was all harvested a few weeks ago. It is much darker than our previous harvest. The ‘books’ say that the dark is ‘better for you’; all those ways that honey is meant to be good for you, but more so.

The Oil
We have just started pressing oil over the last few months using a hand powered crank that we bought from Europe. Pressing oil turns out to be a slow meditative pastime but the flavor of the oil is amazing. So far we have worked with sunflower seeds, peanuts and coconut; we are now looking for local organic nuts and seeds so we can be using truly local oil. If you know anyone with a nut tree that isn’t harvested please let us know. Today we have a small amount of Sunflower Oil that we pressed about a week ago. The oil has a fabulous nutty flavor and smell. It is great for salad dressing as well as for cooking. Sunflower Oil is relatively high on the ‘healthy oils’ list and has a ‘smoke point’ of 460 degrees making it a ‘high temperature’ oil. You want to store the oil out of direct sunlight as it will go rancid faster than commercially processed oil. If you want to know if your oil is rancid, sniff it, if you have any doubt that it’s OK… then it’s OK.

The Jelly
This year the small local grape growers of Napa and Sonoma have not been able to sell their grapes to the wine makers. This is a result of the economic down turn and is ironic because by all accounts this is one of the best (quality not quantity) in many years. We picked about a ¼ ton of grapes from our friends Sonoma vineyard and the immediate result is this jelly. Next year we will have wine too but that takes longer to make. These are very high quality Cabernet Sauvignon grapes; because we could, we only picked the best grapes on the vine. We added a low sugar pectin and as little sugar as we could. It was hard to find the right sugar balance as these wine grapes are much sweeter than the table grapes that are used in most recipes. The final result is, I think, pretty spectacular, I’m just sorry that we couldn’t process more and am sad every time I think of the tons of grapes that have rotted on the ground this year throughout Northern California.

If you have any questions, or know of some ‘spare’ nuts… you can contact us at:

Here are some photos from the day: