Saturday, October 31, 2009

Starting our Third Year

Jim and I started our local eating journey with the 100-mile diet on Oct. 31, 2007. Oct 31 is the Celtic New Year, which starts at the beginning of winter. The Celtic day starts at night at the setting of the sun. That's one reason why Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Halloween are so important in our calendar. The Celts believed that at the turn of the year, the veils that separate our world from the spirit world became very thin. They of course considered it to be a holy time.

Two years ago we started "making the road by walking" with local food. We're not quite as strict as when we started, but local eating is working better and better. During this year we started getting more foods from the "100-foot diet"--eggs from our chickens (and chicken from a few of them), vegetables from our front-yard garden, and our selection of fruits.

This year the apple trees bore heavily, but no crop from the peach trees. So we have boxes of apples in the garage and applesauce in jars. But we don't have dried peaches. The greengage plums had a modest showing. They are SO Sweet I don't like eating them fresh very much. I cooked them down to a plum butter, which didn't need any sugar, and is very tasty.

Our food circles: 100-foot circle (from our yard)--chicken, eggs, fruit, some vegetables; 15-mile circle--CSA, most meat, some other vegetables, some dairy products; State of Colorado circle (square)--some staples, Western Slope fruit, pastured poultry; Western U.S. circle (not exactly round)--the rest of the staples, nuts and dried fruits, olive oil and olives, a little Alaska wild-caught salmon; the World--tea black and green, a few cans of artichoke hearts, spices, a little coffee, a little chocolate.

Our seasons: When you eat local food, you pretty much eat seasonally. This year I put less food up for out-of-season eating. I'm feeling more comfortable each season with what the season brings.

I enjoy the lactofermented foods in winter and spring, but not in summer. We have tomato juice and sauce put up, and some nectarines and peaches, bread and butter pickles, tart cherries in the freezer, apples in the garage. Today I got a bag of pumpkins from our CSA: enough for pies, soups, and casseroles.

Local food is just what we eat. Some evenings I look at the plates of food I have fixed, with high-quality local meat, vegetables, beans, cheese and other dairy, and fruit for dessert. What a sheer delight of freshness and flavor! How fortunate we are.

I have spoken to other members of our food cooperative. They also feel that their food choices and meals have changed to be so much more supportive of good health and enjoyment. And we can feel glad to support local farmers and ranchers in hard times. They need help from all of us. They are dedicating their lives to bringing good food to the tables of their neighbors. We're happy to bridge the gap between the growers and the eaters.

Happy New Year to all of you! May the coming year bring happy times and good meals to you and your families.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Three for the Season

We're at the turn of the seasons now--the summer bounty is fading fast, the fall fruits and vegetables come into their own. If you haven't put up enough tomatoes to last the winter, it's probably too late. This was a tough year for tomatoes here; they grew slowly in the cool summer, and just didn't want to ripen. Boxes of field tomatoes for preserving showed up late, for just a few weeks.

We're ripening three trays of small tomatoes from the garden, yellow gooseberry and red pear. They're very tasty; as they turn their appropriate colors we snag them as snacks. The juicy cooling salads of summer are morphing into salads of sturdier greens, trimmed with carrot and daikon and the last few tomatoes.

Here are some turn-of-the-season recipes.

Last of Summer Pasta Dish

3 frying peppers (mild light green), seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped, or one leek sliced
2 stalks celery
oops too late for the zucchini--omit
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium head broccoli, cut into small flowerets
3 or 4 good-sized tomatoes with a few soft spots
4 oz tomato sauce (optional)
Fresh or dried herbs as available
salt and pepper to taste

Grated parmesan cheese
Freshly cooked pasta, regular or gluten-free

Heat the oil, add the chopped onion, garlic, peppers, and broccoli. Saute over medium heat for 5 minutes or more. Chop the tomatoes, cutting out the spots; don't bother to peel. Add tomatoes to skillet, and tomato sauce if using. Add herbs--maybe 2 tsp mixed fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, marjoram, or 1 tsp dried, and if you have a little parsley, chop that and throw it in too. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer covered until the tomatoes start to disintegrate and the vegetables are done.

Have the hot pasta drained. Place in bowls, top with sauce, and sprinkle with cheese. Yum.


Beans and Greens Soup

I'm always careful to soak all beans very well before cooking, even these little guys. Be sure to pick over your beans well, removing bits of dirt or rock, and broken or discolored beans. Then rinse and soak. Don't use salt when cooking dried beans; it toughens them. You can salt them after they are tender.

1 cup navy beans
a little ham or small piece of ham shank, if desired
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
1 lb hardy greens as available: kale, chard, tatsoi (a dark green spoon-shaped green), mustard greens, turnip greens, etc., washed and chopped
8 oz tomato juice or 4 oz tomato sauce
1 large tomato chopped
1 tsp Thai curry paste of your favorite type, or 1 tsp chili flakes
salt and pepper

This is where the time comes in:
Day before, pick over, rinse and soak the beans in water to cover. Next day, drain, add fresh water to cover by 1 inch, ham if you're using it, and chopped onion. NO SALT at this point. Simmer 2 hours or more until beans are tender. Add water as needed to keep it from going dry.

While preparing dinner, heat the beans, add the broth and the chopped greens of your choice, and the tomatoes. Stir in the curry paste, chili paste, or chili flakes to the hotness desired, and salt to taste. If you like, you can throw in some small pasta such as Orzo or alphabets (always fun). Simmer 10 minutes or more, until everything is suitably tender.


Rhubarb Crisp

We recently got some fall rhubarb, and I made this decadent dessert. It was totally wrong of us to eat the whole pan that night, but we did.

2 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb (frozen is OK too)
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste (you could use Succanat or honey)
1 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1 cup gluten-free oatmeal
8 tbs butter (1/4 lb stick)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar (or 1/2 c Succanat and 1 tbs molasses)
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Put the rhubarb in a small pan with water to just cover, and the sugar. Stew gently until it becomes soft.

Mix flour, oats, sugar and salt in bowl. Work in butter with your fingers, until like crumbs. Reserve half of the mixture. Spread the other half in a 8x12 baking dish. Then spread the rhubarb mixture over it as uniformly as possible. Mix the almonds into the reserved crumbs and sprinkle evenly on the top.

Bake at 375 degrees 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit a few minutes before dishing up. You don't need to top with cream or ice cream, but if you do, I won't tell.

Monday, October 5, 2009


An important part of local eating in a temperate-zone area is putting up food for the winter. We're doing our best to eat fruits and vegetables from Colorado, and when winter arrives, they will no longer be available. So it's up to me to put them into jars, dry them, or freeze them.

The guesswork comes in: how MANY jars? what kinds of food? Besides that, every harvest season is different. It's a lot of expense and work to put up things that nobody wants to eat. And you really would like to finish off 2008's jars or freezer items before you start putting 2009 crops away.

What you should NOT guess at is when you preserved something. Every every jar gets its own label: what it is, month and year. I was pretty much amazed in the winter, as we went through jar after jar marked 8/09, 9/09, 10/09.... I must have been in a food-preserving frenzy last fall.

I put the dried goods into jars too, labeled with item and date. I mark the freezer bags with dates too. Rotating stock is SO important.

--The green beans and snap peas I froze last year must have been blanched too long, because they came out kind of mushy. We weren't very interested in eating them, and they are mostly still in the freezer. Too bad.

--The nectarines and peaches in light honey syrup were WONDERFUL. I did a load of them, and then another load. Box after box. We enjoyed them all winter long, and I still have 16 pints left. Overshot just a little, but we'll eat the 2008s first. I did a few plums too, which were nice.

--The tomatoes were fabulous. I made stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, and tomato sauce. We used them as pizza topping, in soups and casseroles, and tomato juice for drinking. I'm down to one quart juice, and 1 half-pint sauce. Turned out just about right, since the tomato crop is VERY late this year. I've got tomato sauce simmering on the stove right now. I'd like to find another box of tomatoes to put up, while they're still available.

--I still have some dried fruit left. I haven't dried any more this year, since we have so much. I'm drying more herbs this year: basil and dill from my CSA, mint from the garden, celery leaves from a head of celery I found at the Farmer's Market. This is not prime celery-growing territory, and I was happy to see it.

--We polished off all the lactofermented (pickled) cucumbers (6 half-gallons), in short order. They were followed by the (3 jars) lactofermented green beans, and we got through most of the (2 jars) of lactofermented salsa. I still have a few jars of mixed lactofermented veggies; I seem to lose interest in them in the summer. For this year, I've made three jars of wax beans, and one jar of cukes finished, with another three sitting on the counter now. And I've just put 2 jars of kim chee in to ferment.

I'd like to do a jar of salsa if I can get the tomatoes. And a jar of sauerkraut. Lactofermented pickles stay happily in your frig for months, sometimes even into the second year, if you don't eat them in time. Overshot just a bit on the lactofermented veggies. Or, perhaps we're not eating enough of them?

--I dried some green beans last year, forgot about them most of the winter, then discovered them in time to add to winter soups. They really come out well. I also have dried bell and banana peppers; I used some but not enough.

Some vegetables have gone to waste this year, because I have not gotten to them either in cooking or in putting up. You shouldn't try to put up old stale, wilting veggies, but plan ahead and put those veggies up when they're fresh.

--This year we have apples, loads of them. We haven't had a crop for the last two years. I'll be doing applesauce and apple rollups, so I don't think I need any more peaches and nectarines this year. We'll pick through the apples, choose the nicest ones and store them in boxes in the garage for the winter. These apples keep pretty well until March in a cold place. The rest will go into the kettle for applesauce.

--This winter I plan to do more sprouting. The fresh foods taste so good in the middle of winter. It's easy to do in a jar on your counter.

So, in general, my guesswork of last year worked out pretty well. I'm fine-tuning this year: what do we need more of, what less? What worked, what didn't? Where do I need to work harder at finding recipes and using the foods that we have?

To sum up, the rules of thumb for food storage are:
****Label Everything, with the date.
****Store what you eat, eat what you store.
****If you have a bounty of something, put it up while it is still fresh.

Year of the Garden: Update

The baby lettuces you see in my previous post grew up into an astonishing array of variety in colors and shapes, nice medium-sized heads. I picked them all before the freeze last week. The kale, chard and chicory breeze right through mild freezes near 30 degrees. This was my most successful garden bed. Planted in mid-July, the greens had time to get good sized before frost. We had many servings of delicious thinnings along the way too.

I picked a big bowl of little tomatoes before the frost. My varieties this year were Austin's Red Pear and Hartmann's Yellow Gooseberry. Both small and very flavorful. We picked only a dozen ripe ones, with hundreds on the bushes. I covered the plants, but the foliage got zapped anyway. However, the remaining green tomatoes survived, and I picked the rest of them the next day. I have 5 trays of the little guys waiting to ripen up (or give up).

The pumpkin vines did fine, making ten pumpkins. The watermelon and cantaloupe didn't ripen. The beans were a total disaster this year--I think my problem was rabbits or voles eating all the new shoots.

The flowers and herbs in their cement-block pots did wonderfully. They were easy to water. The mint stayed within bounds. And they were so pretty. Hopefully the perennial herbs will overwinter.

I'm now in apple harvest. We have three mature apple trees, variety Delicious, as Delicious used to be: sweet and flavorful. Great keeper in the garage over the winter. Sweet enough to not need any sugar to make applesauce and apple butter. They're also a good cider apple, mixed with bitter-sharp cider apples.

These are Delicious as they were before the plant breeders got to work trying to make them more red. The watery, pithy, flavorless Red Delicious in the stores, mostly from China, are so cheap that U.S. growers have been grubbing out their Red Delicious trees. There is no U.S. market any more.

Delicious need to be allowed to ripen on the tree to get their full flavor. Mine were finally ready to go this week. I've been sampling the last couple of weeks, to make sure they have come into their full flavor. We'll put aside the best into storage boxes, and I'll make applesauce out of the ones with worm damage.

A friend of mine offered to bring a troop of Girl Scouts to help pick. I figured maybe 5 or 6 girls, very much appreciated. Wow! Thirty girls showed up with at least 10 parents. They were scampering around, climbing up in the trees, filling up boxes. In less than an hour they had the trees pretty much picked, and they are big trees, full of apples. The energy of the young is astounding! And the power of community.

Picking apples has been close to an ordeal in previous years, when my DH and I did all the work. It is still fun to pack those beauties away in boxes and give them to friends and neighbors, but it's a lot of work. Now I have the boxes packed, and the girls had fun and took apples home with them. The chickens are enjoying the windfalls.

I didn't get to the wild plums the way I wanted to. I checked when they were not ripe (and VERY sour). Then time got away from me, and they ripened and mostly fell off before I got them picked. They are tasty when very ripe, a lovely dark pink color. Since we're not big jelly eaters, we just eat them fresh, or I freeze a few.

I picked the Greengage plums about a month ago, just as they were dead ripe. I made jam out of them; they are hard to dry, being so sweet. The jam was sweet, spicy and flavorful with just the plums--no sugar required. They're really almost too sweet to eat out of the hand.