Larder may not be a familiar word in our modern times, but it was a very important thing in your great-great grandma’s day. It was the stash of food that families pickled, smoked, salted and preserved for the winter months ahead. A well stocked larder was often essential for survival for the pioneers since many times they lacked the luxury of a grocery store they could frequent if their supply ran short. Continue reading
As a vegetable farmer, all season long I’m confronted with too much abundance — it’s absolutely overwhelming. In winter, though, it can feel like the opposite if I don’t prepare. So the question for me is, how can I manage the abundance of summer so that I can enjoy it into the winter?
Organic gardener, author, blog contributor, and mother of five, Karen Geiser, is no stranger to country living. She shares her expert advice with customers just as if they have pulled up a chair on her front porch. . . and all the while shelling peas, pitting cherries, or churning butter (depending on what is in season on her farm).
We always enjoy hearing about fascinating customer connections that happen in our store. And Karen certainly has the pleasure of interacting with many visitors and hearing their stories!
Here are some recent tidbits she reports:
- Last week I met folks from Colombia, Costa Rica and Brazil (Must have been Latin America day).
- A fellow from Pennsylvania visits frequently and always tells me about his garlic (which he got from me) that has won several blue ribbons at the county
- This week there were many good conversations over edible weeds – around the table were an herbalist from New Mexico and a family from West Virginia who really knew their plants.
- An interesting couple from Virginia who has lived off grid for many years visited the store to finally buy the luxury of a gas refrigerator – mainly to have ice. It’s hard to believe they could live without a fridge for so long, and they described how they can their butter.
- This week a lady said she was there from Robinson, IL because she heard me speak at the Master Gardener conference over a year ago. She had no idea she would run into me, and we had a good laugh together as she told me about the things she grew because I recommended them (like mouse melons). I helped her figure out other places to hit for her first adventure in Amish country. She said some of her girlfriends have visited Lehman’s after the conference, too.
Stop by Lehman’s on Thursdays, from April through early November to visit Karen and learn from her wealth of hands-on knowledge.
It’s easy to eat local in Massachusetts in August. Sweet corn, vine ripened tomatoes, tender green beans, creamy milk and abundant eggs make consuming local food a treat. But come the dark days of January, that local diet is a lot harder to manage. That’s what food preservation is all about. You take what’s cheap, plentiful and delicious at the peak of its freshness and preserve it for later use. Preservation is all about manipulating the environment of food so it retains its goodness for months or even years.
Food has a lot of enemies. Microorganisms (mold, yeasts and bacteria) are enemies of food. So is physical damage (one bad apple really will spoil the whole bag). Enzymes that cause food to ripen don’t halt their work when food is harvested. They continue to work until that lovely cantaloupe becomes a sodden mass destined for the compost heap. Food preservation works by controlling the temperature (freezing and root cellaring) removing moisture (dehydrating) or killing mold, yeast and bacteria and then protecting from further contamination by removing and excluding air (canning). You can also change the environment of food by adding salt, sugar or vinegar.
So why discuss food preservation now? Here in Massachusetts the asparagus and rhubarb is still just a promise. The early strawberries won’t even make an appearance until June. We need to discuss it because now is the time to plan your garden, join your CSAor make contact with the farmer who will provide you with raw ingredients for the dilly beans and tomato sauce that will grace your January table.
It’s not too early to take an inventory of jars and lids, pectin and salt and make sure you can put your hands on the ladle and jar lifter when the happy days of canning arrive. I’ll be doing an inventory of what we ran out of and what I overdid so I can plan next year’s pantry. I know without looking that I ran out of peaches and applesauce (it was a terrible tree fruit year) but I rather overdid the tomato sauce. I find I still preserve like I did when I had 8 kids at home. There is only one child at home now, and I just don’t need as much food as I once did.
Before I decide on amounts I find it useful to consider the worst case scenario. What if one of my adult kids lost a job? Might they need some food support? Suppose we have a supply disruption? We have had them before and will certainly have them in the future. So what if I have too much sauce? Contrary to popular opinion, canned food does not need to be discarded after a year. As long as the seal is tight and the food looks and smells as it should it’s fine to eat. Last year was a bad year for cherries but no worries for me. I had canned over 100 quarts the year before and we are still eating those cherries.
So what’s on your agenda? Are you going to grow or purchase? What tools and equipment needs to be procured or replaced? Don’t be put off by the high price of good equipment. Go in with a friend or your sister or your church group. Get what you need now while supplies are good. Who knows what the summer may bring. Be prepared to eat well.
It has been cold here. It isn’t really out of the ordinary, -10 degrees in January is pretty typical but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. My root cellar doesn’t like it either. It’s a fine dance we do, keeping the door open just enough to keep the temperature above freezing but not so high as to trick the carrots into thinking spring is here and it’s time to sprout.
It is so important to check the food down there. Today I find that I have cabbage and carrots that must be seen to and apples that must be used up. The apples are easy. We love apples and onions caramelized with some butter and maple syrup and poured over pork chops. The cabbage and carrots are going to be fermented. We are kraut crazy around here. I got one of those dandy little air lock tops and lids for my ½ gallon Mason jars and now I can make kraut without getting the brine all over. Bruce bought me a mandoline for Christmas so I’m going to break that in too. I do love my little gadgets!
I cut the cabbage by hand but we love our carrots in slivers and that’s where the mandoline comes in. I make the mixture about 1/3 carrots and 2/3 cabbage. For 2, ½ gallon jars of kraut, you need about 5 pounds of vegetables. It can be any mixture you like. I sometimes add a bit of garlic, some beets or Daikon radish if I have it. Today it will be straight cabbage/carrot. 5 pounds of vegetables will need three tablespoons of salt. It is really important to use good salt. It should be coarse and not iodized. There are so many lovey salts to choose from, some pink, some grey, but I have made many a jar of kraut with just kosher salt. I put my salt in a bowl and sprinkle as I go so the salt is fully incorporated. As you put the cabbage/carrot mixture in the jar, tamp it down tightly. This helps draw the water out of the cabbage and creates the brine. I use the wooden reamer from my old-fashioned food mill. You have to really push it down. Once the jars are full you should start to see the liquid rise to the top. You should re-tamp the kraut every few hours. If, after a day, the brine has not covered the vegetables, you can mix a tablespoon of salt to a cup of water and pour it
over the top. This happens if the vegetables are older as they simply have less water in them.
Now let the kraut sit in a cool place to ferment. I check it every few days. You will see a bit of scum on the top. Just skim it off. It won’t hurt the vegetables as long as they remain submerged. The warmer the spot, the quicker the fermentation will be. When you reach the right level of tang for you, refrigerate your kraut and enjoy.
The brine is full of healthy lacto-bacillus. If your stomach is feeling iffy a table spoon is a great tonic.
From all of us at Lehman’s, our very best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.
It is hard to believe that summer has wound down, and we’re all looking at fall gardening chores already.
One of those fall gardening chores is the harvest and proper curing of my Butternut Squash. Butternut Squash is one of the most popular types of winter squash.
Don’t get confused with that term. By no means does that mean that you plant or harvest your squash in the winter. It simply means that the squash was bred to be harvested late in the season, and eaten throughout the winter. Continue reading
It’s been a tough year at Barefoot Farm for all things in the squash family. But things are starting to look up. Who knew gardening could be this much fun?
Apparently, when I added some compost in the herb garden this summer, I included a pumpkin seed. I discovered this one tiny pumpkin, hiding in the herbs. It’s small and, as I have no way of knowing what the variety is or whether it’s the result of random fertilization, I don’t know what to expect as far as edibility goes. It looks good and I’m assuming the best so now I need to decide what to do with it. Continue reading