Monday, October 01, 2007
...and how far we have yet to go.
So, today is October 1st. Three years ago today we bought this house and came here, with our eight-month-old daughter, directly from the closing, to start to pull up carpeting, shovel out old furniture, and pull down curtains...all to prepare it for the floor refinishers, the electrician and the drywaller. Whew.
I am showing you a picture of the shelves of canned goods. I have a slowly filling root cellar elsewhere, and the chest freezer is nearly full, and there are at least 15 pounds of dried beans that need to be shelled in the potting shed...and the gardens are still full of goodies, including about 100 pounds of potatoes. There's a good three pounds of garlic braided and hanging in the kitchen. My mention of these things is really simply a wrap-up of September's Eat Local Challenge. And I have a long way to go.
But the recent Harvest Moon got me in mind of this whole "eating-in-season" idea. What would the ideal be, I thought to myself. The ideal, of course, is what most everybody has now: the denial of the seasons that our first-world global-access grocery stores offer us. But what would it truly mean, that is, to deny the seasons and STILL do what I am doing on my 100-Foot Diet?
I am going to seriously look into this. I have a feeling the greenhouse will help.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
What a crock
So I bought three heads of cabbage at the farmstand on Sunday.
"I bought cabbage for sauerkraut," I told Tom when I got home.
"But we don't eat sauerkraut," he said, wrinkling his nose.
"Yeah, but then, have we ever really HAD sauerkraut before?" I asked. "I'm doing this on the Chinese Food Principle," I told him.
You see, I despised Chinese food, that is until I got away from my small-town Indiana take-out establishment and actually ate real Chinese food in the city. That cornstarch and MSG-laden fare I'd grown up with just did not resemble the stuff I got in Chinatown, thankfully!
So I have a crock of the shaved stuff sitting (stinking) away in the basement right now. It takes a while to ferment and "cook down." I will let you know if we end up becoming converts to the home-made kraut. (Remember, microbes are my friends, so this is yet another experiment in friendship maintenance.)
Food preservation is funny this way. You end up making (or trying to make) that which is outside your normal victuals, mainly because you CAN. The garden is like that, too, though thankfully I have planted enough different veggies that I have stumbled on more winners than losers. The quest for variety is fairly high here in this household with our city-shaped palates; I do tend to go out of my way often to make something novel. We can always get down a can of tomatoes to throw on spaghetti if my "creations" end up being really awful...and the chickens and the compost heap are none too picky, frankly; to them, it's all good!
And if this cabbage is a kraut failure? Well, I'm out $2.19 and a bit of time.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
This made 3 quarts of juice, 3 pints of sauce and 5 half-pints of ketchup
Tomatoes: Love them! Other than fruit jam, it's tomatoes that get the most processing around here. They are very versatile, as you all well know. There are loads of sites that will tell you how to process them, starting with the USDA. I'm just going to describe the ways I "put them by," as processing tomatoes is a task I take on every other day between mid-July to the middle of October.
Tomatoes are one of the few things most anyone can can. Boiling-water baths are great! However, for a few reasons, I have mostly abandoned my big black enamel pots when I get the glass jars out during Tomato Season. Instead, I use my pressure canner.
Clockwise from top right: cook pot, food mill, can funnel, can lifter and big pressure canner
Pressure canners, though huge, spendy, and somewhat spooky, are actually a lot more forgiving of the harried home-canner than boiling-water baths. One, they get a lot hotter (240*+ versus maybe 212*), and the actual pressure process allows you to add things to your tomato sauces that would be too risky to do with a boiling-water bath (it has to do with the acid level in the tomatoes themselves: any added onions, peppers, basil, etc. may tip the pH scale to Microbe City, which is not a city you would like to visit, trust me.). You can actually put nearly ANYTHING in jars and can it in a pressure canner. I have rows of cooked beans downstairs, as well as jars upon jars of stock. If I were a carnivore, there'd be jars of meat, too, as premade as soup or stock or chili or whatever.
Likewise, with a boiling-water bath process, you need to be monomaniacal about cleanliness, boiling both the jars and the sealing lids before you fill them (and fill them with HOT contents, while the jars are still HOT). Pressure canning? Not so much. YES the jars and lids should be absolutely clean, but they don't need to come out of a boiling pot before they're filled.
But back to the tomatoes. My larger heirloom tomatoes tend to have thick skins, so I try to get the peels off before I do my preserving. There are two ways to do this: one is by hand and the other is the Lazy Person's Way, with a food mill. By hand: Wash and score (make an "X") on the bottom of the tomatoes with a sharp knife. Place tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for about a minute or more; scoop them out and immediately plunge into a pot of iced water. You can use your knife and peel the skins off, core them, and then cook them. By the LPW: Wash and cut off rough spots of the tomatoes. Core them and cut into smaller pieces. Place in pot and cook until mushy. Run through food mill: I use the medium screen, as I like the pulp and can tolerate the few seeds that get passed through it. They're now ready to can.
In the beginning of the Tomato Season, I am much more fussy about separating the tomatoes by type (cherries for sweet things like ketchup, paste tomatoes strictly for paste, big fat watery ones for juice, etc; I also separate by color because I'm obsessive), but toward the middle of the season I am tired of all that and process maybe two-three quarts at a time with Whatever Is Ready To Go TODAY. This mix just ends up being simple sauce. In the winter, I will figure out what to do with that sauce when I take the jar off the shelf. Soup? Pasta sauce? Chili? It might need to be cooked down some (i.e., boiled off), but that can happen when I'm readying everything else for the meal.
But back to the pressure canner. This device allows me to make things like salsa, or the Glut Sauce I made the other day, or ratatouille, etc. with the 'maters. It usually isn't too much work to prep the tomatoes a la Lazy Person's Way whilst I do dinner prep, and while they're cooking down, or processing, I do my other cooking.
One thing about the pressure canner: it does take longer. Getting one load up to pressure, the processing time itself, and getting down from pressure sure takes lots longer than doing one boiling-water bath. Because I do my pressure canning in dribs and drabs while I do other things, this is no big deal. But when I have a bushel of things to put up? Yeah, either I set aside the whole evening to do it, or I get out those old black pots!
So: am I advocating that you all should run out and buy pressure canners? Absolutely not. I would say put it on your wish-list if you plan to do both as much, and as many, varied different kinds of food preservation as we do around here. But if you buy your produce in big quantities from the farmer's market, as I used to do as a city girl, those big boiling-water pots work just fine! For jams, pickles, and simple tomatoes, this may be all you need. For other stuff, though, yeah, pressure canning is the way to go.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
I've started packing things away for the end of this growing season.
One way to preserve the harvest, of course, is to preserve the next one! These are sprouted lettuces. I cut the stalks, place them blossoms-down in paper bags, and then hang them up (closing the bags first) on the walls and rafters of the potting shed. I don't deal with them, then, until early next spring, when I crush the dried blossoms to release the tiny seeds.
After I bag and hang the seed heads, I chop down the rest of the stalks to about 2-3" above ground. I cover the bed with a good 2" of compost, then another 5-6" or more of grass clippings. The worms appreciate the cover of the clippings and the food in the compost, and the lettuce stalks and roots slowly decompose and aerate the soil at the same time.
All this nonsense takes me about 15 minutes to do. I find I have an endless supply of lettuce seed, though, for a little bit of effort.
Geek notice: Lettuces do cross-pollinate, though the extent to which they do is debatable. This is the second year of these three particular types, and I have grown and harvested them side-by-side the whole time. They still appear to be that which they were originally (namely, Green Oak Leaf, Amish Deer Tongue, and Green Bibb lettuce), so I continue to grow them in the same bed.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Yet another example of our tightwaddery: Fruit Leather
(And yes, I either need better eyes or a better camera)
Okay, I admit it! Last night I cried "Uncle!" and went to bed at 9:30 after *only* decanting four gallons of grape juice into the freezer. I just did not have the energy to go on. Tom said he'd finish up, and he also said he'd use the residual grape pulp to make fruit leather.
If you are the parent of a small-ish child, you know the ubiquity of "fruit snacks," plastic packaged bits of carrageenan and maybe (maybe) 5% REAL fruit juice. I pack my kid's lunch every day, all organic, all home-grown, all whole foods, and yet I can't stop her from snacking on her friend Olivia's "Froot Snacks". But Hah! Revenge is sweet. And so is this grape leather.
Basically, any kind of fruit pulp (ground in a blender) that's dried in the oven overnight will result in leather. Some of the naturally drier/stringier/less sweet fruits like apples or peaches may need a bit of presweetening first to appeal to the young palate; we do add some spices to the apple leather we make. Tom looked at all our food preservation books, but he used the how-to's from this site to make the leather.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Time for a turn with the cider mill
Time for another turn with the peeler/corer
I swear most of my posts for the Eat Local Challenge seem to be all about the wonders of Products, not Produce. Here I am, shilling for cider mill and peeler/corer producers everywhere, but I swear my natural instinct is What Would the Amish Do. As it was, the mill doesn't work too well with our mostly juice-less McIntosh apples, but that peeler/corer worked great. We ended up making 12 quarts and 7 pints of applesauce, one small thing of apple leather, and only half a gallon of juice.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Don't look too closely. It is very blurry.
This lack of water here at the house has put a serious dent in my plans for Greater Grape Domination. I've been canning and freezing still, somewhat miraculously, but somehow I don't have the heart to do anything grape-related over the next few days. (Maybe it's the fact that I have to boil water to wash, then rinse, the dishes. Maybe.)
BUT! Enough about me. I did manage to put away about a garbage bag full of basil into the freezer last night. This method works with most fleshy herbs, like parsley or cilantro, though basil is a great candidate as its flavor is so fickle and easily lost with cooking. (The other herb that freezes well this way is sorrel, but I know that is something not everyone has growing in their Back 40.) I lightly rinse then remove the leaves from basil that has not flowered, tearing them into small pieces. I put them into my grandmother's Cuisinart food processor (circa 1975 and still whirring away) with a tiny bit of water. I pulse to a mince (no further) then I scoop them into ice cube trays. Once they're frozen, I put them in a resealable freezer bag and keep them in the upstairs freezer for easy use. I will reheat one of those many jars of tomato sauce, and, at the end of the heating, I will pop in a cube, then toss the lot over some spaghetti for a quick winter meal.
My mom goes about 4 steps further by making actual pesto that she freezes in trays, then wraps the cubes individually in foil. This obviously works, too, but my husband isn't too hep on cheese and nuts, so I just stick to the simple stuff.
This is yet another entry into the Eat Local Challenge for preserving the harvest.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Ding! The Niagara grapes (Vitis labrusca) are ready. Time to harvest and process them.
Step one: Send child off for a day with her Nana. (This step is not really necessary; the circus, fortuitously, was in town. Believe me, the child will have other grape opportunities yet this year.)
Step two: Grab pruners and the wheelbarrow. Yes, the poop hauler/coop cleaner/dirt slinging wheelbarrow: I am of the school that, with a little effort, anything can be clean again. It's the only form of redemption I truly believe in. Now go out and hit the vineyard!
Step three: Shocking, but true: the first two vines made a wheelbarrowload! Egads. This here is about 60 pounds. Sixty pounds will yield about 5 gallons of juice. Considering I am working solo today, it's time to process the first barrow. (Notice Penny, ever wanting you to please, please throw her frisbee for her.)
So, over the next three hours, I hose off, then de-branch, this load of grapes in ten- to fifteen-pound increments. I take them inside, run them through the food mill, then squeeze the resulting juice through two cheesecloth-lined flour sack towels (one at a time). The juice goes in the fridge until I get a big batch. Then, I put the juice into freezer bags and pin the bags closed with clothespins to do a first freeze in the basement freezer. I will haul them out tomorrow and seal them for the final time.
A bit of background on the vines here: our farm is called Old Vines. It's an old fruit farm, one of thousands in this area; ours hasn't been a working farm for probably 30 years. The grapes, though, still produce; they're 80-90 years old. We have been organic since we started with them. Our method the first year was nothing, just to see what cooties came and ate them. Well, Japanese beetles were our pest of note. So that fall Tom started applying milky spore to the ground by the grapes. Last year was a no-harvest summer, as a very late frost wiped out the imminent fruits. This year? Bonanza. It was a near-drought year then tons of rain in August, so, um, we're overwhelmed. Tom sprayed kaolin clay on the leaves and fruit twice during the Japanese beetle push (late June through July). Kaolin colloidal clay is just that: clay, the kind you'd use in facial masks, interestingly. Well, it sure made for some pretty and mostly critter-free grapes, I will say. The leaf canopy was undamaged by the bugs, so the fruit production was enhanced.
You're just making juice, you ask? Yes, partially. Niagara grapes are the #1 grape used in this country for white grape juice. We'll thaw the bags in the winter and dilute the contents slightly for a morning beverage. Anyway, this is the simplest way that I process these growing things. I mentioned that for the September Eat Local Challenge, which emphasizes food preservation, I would start simple and move my way up to more "complicated" preservation methods. Dang, though, I am beat, as I did another wheelbarrow load after this one! Another 60 pounds, another five or so gallons. And this, quite frankly, is JUST THE WHITE GRAPES! Only 4 vines out of 44!!!!
(Yes, I will be getting help with the next batches...)
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Three weeks to go
...and I say you can can.
September is the Eat Local Challenge with an emphasis on preserving the harvest.
BY FAR, the easiest method of food preservation is cold storage (a la a root cellar), but I will get to that at a later post.
Right now, though, I would like to discuss refrigerator pickles. You need a refrigerator, pickling produce (cucumbers, green beans, even summer squash or corn), vinegar, a way to boil water, and some clean jars and lids. Oh, and some salt, and maybe some dill or other herbs. Here is a good site for refrigerated cucumber pickles. The one advantage that I have found to this method is that the lack of cooking makes for some crisp little salty treats.
Now, before you all rush out there to try this, realize that the USDA does not recommend doing any preservation without boiling-water bath canning or pressure canning. BUT, well, for years now I have made "Dilly Beans" with my first green beans and my first fresh dill. Basically, these are pretty little treats is all; I put up about four pints, wait 12 weeks, and then we eat them. Likewise, I make small batches of things like jam or pasta sauce that can be frozen or refrigerated if the harvest was too small to invest the time in getting out the glass jars. In other words, that precious space in the refrigerator? I'd rather it IS NOT taken up with canning jars!
But if you have extra refrigerator space, are afraid of canning, and you are a sucker for pickles, you should give this a try.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
The Last Supper (of One Local Summer 2007)
and Meal #1 of the month-long Eat Local Challenge for September, 2007
Am I saving the best until last? Well, maybe. How about the most time-consuming. Though this is a great meal to put together if someone's hovering about your kitchen, chatting with you while you work.
Paula Wolfert, whom I generally consider a windbag, I readily concede knows her way around a kitchen. Her take on the Provencal soup Soupe au Pistou was amazingly delicious last year when I first made it. (Yes, how ridiculous is that: I am recycling my last supper from last year's One Local Summer!) You see, I've been judiciously watching the ripening of my Flageolet shell beans in preparation for this soup this year. All other stuff came from the garden, and the butter (yay!) came with a wink and a nod from a vendor at a local farmer's market (it's illegal to sell raw milk products in Michigan). The noodles are quasi-local too; coming from another farmer's market in Indiana.
I also made a roulade (basically, a rolled-up souffle) with a roasted tomato filling, topped with some Amish farmer's cheese.
A salad of fresh tomatoes rounded things out. My mom and brother were our guests. (I called Mom this morning, knowing she was coming by to take the kid to the beach, and asked if she planned on staying for supper. "Of course; I am no fool," she said.) It was great!
Okay. The Eat Local Challenge thing: I certainly won't be posting daily meals, though I might do weekly. This local-eating thing is kind of old hat with us. But I will be posting about ways to save the harvest, as that is the challenge of this month's Challenge. I'm looking at all the fruit still coming down the line (pears, apples, and all those hundreds of pounds of grapes on our vines) so just getting ahead of all that WILL be a challenge! Stay tuned...
NOTE: ROULADE RECIPE FOLLOWS IN THE COMMENTS!!