Preservation

by jericho | August 12, 2012 at 11:00 AM | categories: food, harvest, maine | View Comments

We got rain!!!! Finally.

We were definitely starting to worry that all plant growth was done for the season because everything was just too parched to go on. I was starting to feel a bit like that myself actually (I thought we were moving NORTH for goodness sakes!).

Anyway, it has been a lovely few days of gray skies and rain and it seemed like a good time to write about some of our food preservation endeavors. As the summer progresses, gardening tasks like weeding and planting are easing up a bit and we are transitioning into the harvest season. It started slowly with a few snap peas, a head of lettuce, and some chard. Then one day that turned into 15 pounds of turnips...and then 5 pounds of cucumbers...and then 5 pounds of tomatoes!!! Oh my.

At the moment, our diet mainly consists of meat and fermented vegetables so we have chosen to turn most of our harvests into sauerkrauts or "ferments" of some kind. Fermentation is a wonderful thing. It is what makes popular foods like yoghurt, cheese, beer, coffee, and chocolate possible for one thing. Vegetable ferments also contain helpful bacteria such as lactobacillus and leuconostoc which we find make vegetable digestion much more pleasant (for everyone).

All of the recipes that we have used so far either come from "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Katz or "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon, both books that I HIGHLY recommend. Not only do they have lots of recipes, but they also have great information on fermenting foods and interesting perspectives on health and nutrition. Here is a recipe for Sour Beets (one of our favorites!) in case you want to try it out:

Sour Beets

From "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Katz

Ingredients

5 lbs Beets

3 T sea salt or canning salt (something without iodine or anti-caking agents)

Directions

1. Peel and grate beets.

2. Sprinkle grated beets with salt as you go.

3. Mix beets and salt in a bowl until well combined and until you can see some juices start to coming out of the beets.

4. Pack beet/salt mixture into a crock or a mason jar, pressing down on the veggies so that the juices come out and cover the top. Depending on the container you have chosen you can either find a weight that fits in the container and will keep the beets pressed down below the level of the liquid, or you can just put a lid on the jar and open it up every day and press down on the beets with a wooden spoon (or other implement) to try to keep them below the level of the liquid.

5. Leave out at room temperature for a couple of weeks. Generally, we start tasting our beets after two weeks or so and when they taste just right we put them in the fridge.

For more info on fermentation I suggest going to the Wild Fermentation website.

As Jean-Paul mentioned in our last post, we recently harvested our garlic and hung it up to cure in the shed. Most of the garlic that we grew this year was a softneck type called Inchelium Red. This type of garlic stores really well (6-7 months!) and because the stems are soft and a bit bendable they can be braided into lovely hanging home decor which you can enjoy looking at while you also enjoy eating it.

With all of this harvesting and preservation we are definitely feeling the coming of fall and the end of the growing season (though we still have a couple months to go!). This certainly means some relaxation is possible, but it also means that it is already time to start planning for next year. As our spring brassicas finished producing, it was time to figure out what to do with that garden area once the plants were pulled out. Cover crop? Sheet mulch? Compost? Leaving it bare and at the mercy of wind and water erosion was not an option for us, but deciding what to do with it also meant deciding what we want to do with it next year.

We have been doing quite a lot of reading this year about farming and about nutrition (the two are so inextricably linked), and one of the conclusions that has come out of this reading is that, no matter how you do it, growing vegetables is pretty rough on the soil ecosystem that has perfected the art of water filtration, erosion prevention, and perennial growth (among other things) and has taken hundreds of years to get where it is. With livestock, we can leave that ecosystem intact and maybe even help it out (if we are careful) by adding some nitrogen in the form animal manures, but for vegetables? Well, that's another story. One of the books that we found particularly compelling and would recommend to anyone interested is "The Vegetarian Myth" by Lierre Keith.

So we have decided that although we are still going to grow some veggies next year, we are scaling WAY back. We will have three beds for annual vegetables (instead of this year's 18 beds); one bed for perennials such as raspberries, blueberries, and hazelnuts; and the rest of the garden will be used as more grazing area for livestock. For the annual vegetable beds and the perennial bed we plan to plant a mix of crimson clover and japanese buckwheat as a cover crop. The buckwheat grows really fast so can hopefully get established before other weeds do, the clover will add some great organic matter to the soil, and both of these will not overwinter so we don't have to worry about combating our own cover crop when we are trying to plant in the spring. For the grazing area we will plant the beds into a perennial pasture mix from FEDCO Organic Growers Supply. Hopefully we can get this pretty well established this year so that it will come up strong in the spring and outcompete our troublesome weeds! Each year we will rotate one of the annual beds out of production and into pasture mix and turn one of the pastured beds into an annual bed. This promises to be a lot of work of course, but breaking into one new bed each year seems like nothing compared to creating eighteen all at once.

So there's a plan. Certainly not a perfect plan, but a starting point from which we can work toward our vision of positive impact food production. I don't know if this is a term anyone else is using yet, but for us it means a positive impact on the land and on ourselves. And the plan involves multiple years which feels a little crazy, but also really good. Here we are and perhaps here we'll stay for a bit.

Enjoy the harvest everyone!

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Winter's Bounty

by jericho | March 11, 2012 at 10:30 AM | categories: food, building, maine, seedlings | View Comments

Our recent rash of snow storms has thrown us back into what feels like the depths of winter and for some reason this inspired me to write about food. Perhaps because one of my favorite things to do on a stormy day is to stay in and cook. Also, this is an interesting time of year for those trying to "eat local" because stored produce is starting to run out, and the first spring greens have yet to arrive.

Last summer I did quite a bit of canning and freezing to preserve the delicious produce from Waltham Fields Community Farm for later use. We tried to eat a lot of it before moving (so that there was less to move), but I was pleased to find some greens, applesauce, and a few other goodies in the freezer when we got here in February. We also still had a few jars of sauerkraut (everyone should try to make this! A great recipe can be found here) that I had canned, which is delicious although sadly not alive anymore (because the heat required for canning kills all of the good lactobacillus in the live kraut).

However, the fruits of last summer's labor are not enough to live on so when we first arrived in Dover-Foxcroft, I did a little searching and was thrilled to find out that Ripley Farm has delicious root vegetables and other storage crops that can be ordered and picked up every other week until the end of March! We are also lucky to have Widdershins Farm and Maple Lane Farm close by so that we can get local meat and eggs.

What are we making with these fabulous ingredients, you ask? One of my favorites is a chili recipe that I made up that has no tomatoes in it (since anything in the nightshade family is on my dietary "no list" unfortunately). Pureed carrots take the place of the tomatoes as a base, with a little bit of tamarind paste and/or apple cider vinegar to give it that tomato-y kick. Granted, tamarind paste is not local, nor are the many spices that really turn this into chili, but carrots and ground beef make up the bulk of this tasty dish so it is a great winter local meal. Here's the recipe in case you want to give it a try:


INGREDIENTS

4 lbs Carrots

2 T Olive Oil

1 Onion

1 1/2 lbs Ground Beef

2 cloves Garlic

2 tsp Cumin

2 tsp Celery Seed

1/4 tsp Cloves

1/4 tsp Cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp Oregano

1 Bay Leaf

2 C Water or Stock

1/4 C Apple Cider Vinegar

1/4 tsp Tamarind Paste (optional, but tasty)


DIRECTIONS

Cook carrots and mash or puree. I cook mine in the pressure cooker, but you could steam, boil, or roast them depending on what works for you.

In large saucepan, saute onions in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add meat and garlic and cook until meat is browned.

Add spices, water or stock, carrot puree, apple cider vinegar, and tamarind paste. If using a pressure cooker, bring to pressure and cook for 15 minutes. If not, bring to a boil and simmer for 1-2 hours.


I also decided to embark on a new fermenting adventure and try making sauerruben, which is like sauerkraut, but made with turnips or rutabaga instead. You can see what this looks like in the picture of my sauerkraut earlier. The fermenting rutabaga is the one that is very orange. The only complaint I have about sauerruben so far is that it requires grating a large quantity of rutabaga: I made this two days ago and my hands, neck, and arms are still sore.

In other news, we ended up moving our seedlings over to Lori's house because they were not getting enough light in the cabin and were getting very leggy. She let us put up her seed bench and take it over for a few weeks (until we get the hoophouse built). Our little plants are now cozy and spoiled by warm and bright grow lights, however, they do have one little problem.

His name is Helo and though it is easy to be fooled by his mild mannered (and ridiculously cute) exterior, inside lies a ruthless plant-killer waiting to strike. Well, actually it is more like he just curls up and sleeps on top of the statice, but the effect is the same.

Ok and just one more tangent that I have to include is the fact that I built a picnic table/work table all by myself! Ah, the things I get excited about.

Happy Spring everyone!

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