Sausage and Potato Soup

This is the epitome of a seasonal dish, and a real “pantry-buster”.  A traditional homestead would have veggies in the root cellar such as potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, etc. and cured and smoked meats such as ham and sausage.  So this dish is easy to put together.  Even if you don’t have some or all of the items, because they are seasonal, they are generally less expensive at the grocery.

wpid-img_20150204_094255815.jpgThe ingredients for this dish are simple, adjust amounts for how large a batch you’d like to make. Use potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic and your favorite sausage. Peas and/or corn are good additions, as well. Use whatever you have. You may notice by now potatoes, garlic, etc., are looking a bit wilty. This is a sign it is time to use them up! These veggies are fine to use as long as they retain their fresh normal smell. Cut open your potatoes to be sure there are no spots in the middle.  Peel all the vegetables and cut into fairly uniform sized pieces.

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I like to cook this soup in stages. First, I like to cook the sausages, uncut. “Fry” them in the pot with just a touch of oil. This lets them develop their flavor to the fullest, the skins sealing in all the juices.  Once the sausage is sizzling and weeping, add the cut veggies and gently pour in just enough water to cover.  Or you can use any stock you may have saved.

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Cover and gently simmer the soup for at least an hour, until the vegetables sink, indicating they are fully cooked.  At this point, pull the sausages and slice them into bite-sized pieces. Return them to the pot, add a couple cups more liquid and return to simmer.

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Now you can decide if you want to make this soup creamy or brothy.  Either way, it’s time to add the rue.  Rue is the secret to thickening sauces and soups without lumps.  Rue is simply a paste formed from a mixture of lot liquid and flour.  Pull about a cup of HOT liquid from the soup into a smaller bowl or measuring cup. Stir in about 1/4 c flour, more depending on how big your batch of soup is.  Thoroughly combine the liquid and flour to form a thick paste. Then re-introduce the rue to the soup, stirring constantly until the rue disappears into the soup.  To reach full thickening potential, the soup must now be brought to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent burning.  It need only boil shortly to activate the rue.  Then let it back off and reduce to simmer. The soup should now fill about half your pot and be about twice as thick as you expect the finished product.  If it is not thick enough, repeat the process of pulling liquid and combining with flour, measuring by Tablespoons, until the desired thickness is reached.

From here, if a creamy soup is desired, it is time to add milk, cream or a mixture of the two.  If a brothy soup is desired, add more water or stock, filling the pot.  Simmer another hour, stirring occasionally, to marry all the flavors, and then the soup is ready to serve.

Follow these guidelines and be inspired by whatever you have in your pantry or root cellar to create a wonderful soup or stew to ward off the Winter chill.

To learn more about the energy-free tradition of root cellaring, I recommend this book, Root Cellaring by Nancy and Mike Bubel.

 

The Warmth of Winter

Spectacular Winter sunrise

Spectacular Winter sunrise

This Winter seems relentless.  With the frigid temperatures and endless snowstorms, it can become challenging to keep everyone in good spirits.  I have found that pulling out some old-fashioned tricks has helped tremendously.

First of all, don’t forget to stop and look around.  Winter is beautiful, especially with lots of snow.  Some of the most amazing sunrises can be seen now, and grumpy tired children are instantly warmed and wakened with a view of the colors.  The heavy snows transform the landscape, rounding and hunching the evergreens and creating vast palettes with which the wind can toss and brush, revealing amazing patterns and textures on the surface of the snow.  wpid-IMG_20140206_104959_756_wm.jpg

When the weekend comes and boredom threatens to set in, bundle the kids up and go for a stroll outside.  One needn’t venture far, sometimes the most amazing things can be spotted right off the house or garage.

Icicles dancing

Icicles dancing

Cool icicles and frost patterns on windows are fascinating, and kids of all ages love to pluck down an icicle for themselves, as big a treat as a lollipop!

A small oak leaf left from Autumn, trimmed with frost

A small oak leaf left from Autumn, trimmed with frost

It is very helpful to connect with Nature to find the beauty and inner joy of this time of year.  Like the nighttime of every day, Winter is a time to rest and rejuvenate, to heal, to reflect in quiet time, to dream up hopes and aspirations anew for the coming Spring and Summer.  Take the time to notice the low and distant angle of the sunlight unique only to this time of year, to appreciate the crisp colors of the cold daylight sky, and the extra vividness of the starry  night sky.  Savor the absolute brilliance of the Full Moon illuminating a snow-covered landscape, as bright as daylight itself.  Stop and listen to the soft stillness of Winter, every sound muted by the soft blanket of snow surrounding us.  All this beauty is more than worth braving the cold to witness.

Our creek completely iced-over, a rare sight

Our creek completely iced-over, a rare sight

Common-place things become extraordinary in the winter landscape.  We live on the East Branch of Nanticoke Creek, a year-round stream.  Only in extremely cold winters such as this does it ice-over.  This year there is even a collection of 6-inch thick cakes of ice on the banks, jammed and piled together creating a mini arctic landscape.

Common things become extraordinary in the winter landscape.

Common things become extraordinary in the winter landscape.

The snow tells tale of an animal crossing, amazing that life continues even in the bitter cold

The snow tells tale of an animal crossing, amazing that life continues even in the bitter cold

It’s fun to spot and identify the different animal tracks in the snow.  It’s amazing that so many little creatures are able to endure the bitter cold temperatures, and we can appreciate our ability to seek shelter in the warmth of our homes.

When you do get back inside, you’ll find otherwise restless children calmed, refreshed, ready to enjoy the warmth of the home.  Now is definitely the time to break into the stash of all the goodies that have been put up for Winter use!  Canned salsas, chutneys and relished can come out with crackers to chips to create a quick snack, apples from the root cellar can be made into sauce or canned applesauce is warmed and enjoyed with cinnamon.

Finished sauce ready to eat

Finished sauce ready to eat

Frozen berries are made into syrup to jazz up pancakes or waffles, or baked into muffins and quick breads.  Extra milk from the cow?  Time for hot cocoa and homemade pudding!

Pancakes with blueberry syrup

Pancakes with blueberry syrup

These comforting activities in the kitchen add warmth and spirit to these cold days, as well as creating priceless memories for the children to pass on to the next generation.

Winter is cold, but it is also beautiful.  Without these colder days we might forget to appreciate the warmer days ahead.  Rather than feeling gloomy during these days, remember to find the fun parts of a snowy landscape, whether inside or out.

What are some of your favorite Wintertime activities?

Egg Season Repost

If you shop for your foods locally, you may have already noticed that eggs, like many other items, have a season, a time of greatest abundance.  And like other seasonal items, one is challenged to find ways to preserve the abundance for the times of scarcity.  This has been an age-old question, with some interesting solutions.

For our farm, eggs are abundant at this time of the year, early spring and summer.  Often the heat of August can cause the chickens to stop laying their eggs and go through the molting process, when they naturally drop all their feathers and grow a new set.  Obviously, the warmest weather is the best time for this, so that is when they do it.  But again, this means no eggs! (But hours of amusement watching naked chicken butts running around!)

So the trick is to somehow stash the eggs up while they are plentiful.  Storing eggs has limits, because a whole egg does not freeze well.  A thawed egg is still edible, one can no longer distinguish between the white and yolk, and they no longer froth if needed.  If you enjoy your eggs scrambled, they can be beaten and frozen raw, or cooked scrambled and then frozen.

Eggs can be hard-boiled and pickled, if you enjoy the unique taste.  Simply save the brine from store-bought or homemade pickles and drop in your own eggs.  Let them sit in the brine at least two weeks for best flavor.  Pickled eggs should be stored in a very cool, dark place, such as the refrigerator or proper pantry (below 40 degrees, F).

One of our favorite ways to store up extra eggs is to make homemade pasta.  European-style pasta is traditionally made from eggs, flour and salt.  Pasta can be thus dried or frozen and will keep for a while.  Make lots of batches of pasta while the eggs are abundant, and enjoy throughout the year.

      My pasta recipe is simply:

8 cups of flour

6 eggs

2 tsp salt

water, if needed to moisten

We mix ours with the dough hook, but a paddle will work fine.  It needs at least a couple of minutes of mixing to get the gluten strands going.  The dough should not be sticky when finished.  It can be rolled out by hand or put through a pasta roller.  Keep layers of pasta separated with floured wax or parchment paper, or they will re-combine.

Issac loves to cook and has his own pasta maker.

Fettuccine ready for the pot.

Homemade fresh pasta is boiled for a shorter time than dried.  Fresh pasta is done in under 5 minutes.  When it is finished it will float.  It is such a treat, much more filling than the pasta from the store.

Another old-time method for storing whole eggs is to bathe them in a substance called “water-glass”.  This is sodium silicate, and is used 1/3 cup to 1 qt of boiled, cooled water.  Eggs must be unwashed (but wiped clean) and un-fertile.  Eggs can be stored immersed in the water-glass solution for up to three months under 40 degrees F.   I have personally never done this, but have heard my elders talk of doing it with good results.

And of course, the best way to keep fresh abundant eggs from going to waste is to indulge is rich dishes and deserts that use many of them, such as mousse, sabayon, bread pudding, homemade pudding, Quiche, Carbonara, etc!

Please share your favorite recipes and methods of keeping extra eggs.  I would love to hear them.

A couple of good books with information about storing eggs and other foods:

Putting Food By, by Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan and Janet Greene

The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, by Carol Costenbader

As American As Applesauce

At Summer’s end, one of my favorite activities to do to welcome in the next season is collect apples from the trees around the farm and make applesauce.  This is a warm, memory-making tradition for children.

Apple trees dot the Upstate New York landscape

Apple trees dot the Upstate New York landscape

Here in New York, many of the country hillsides are covered with apple trees of various old-fashioned varieties, some whose names have been forgotten.  There are an array of colors and sizes, blending in with the Autumn leaves themselves.

"Wild" Apple trees

“Wild” Apple trees

Many of these apples seem undesirable for eating out of hand, planted long ago by farmers intending to make many of them into hard cider and vinegar to store for the winter.  (As a child I was told they were “crab apples”.  I know now this name belongs only to the cherry-sized ornamental apple trees from which one can also, by the way, make sauce).  But a number of the apples are sweet and delicious to eat, even if a little smaller in size than we are used to.   Either way, they can be used to make country-fresh applesauce.

Autumn Bounty

Autumn Bounty

During a good apple year such as this, a great bounty can be collected driving about in search of abandoned trees along country roads, or if you have access to some land and folks happy to let you pick.  It is good to have a truck of some sort, for apples quickly add up in weight and volume.  It’s a great outdoor activity to take children out to pick apples, for they are agile to climb trees to reach the best fruits, and they are fearless in tasting and selecting the best varieties.

Amazing finds!

Amazing finds!

Once you’ve got a nice load of apples collected, or even if you grab some at your local market, you can make applesauce to enjoy now and preserve for use all winter.

Beautiful Fall colors

Beautiful Fall colors

Applesauce is easy to make using your crockpot.  If you have a food mill or grinder to remove skins, no need to peel the apples before cooking.  If you do not, and will mash them by hand or in a food processor, peel the apples first then cook.  Cut the apples free from their cores, either by using an apple-corer, paring into slices and removing the seeds, or just cutting most of the flesh free from the middle.  Fill the crockpot full of apple wedges, add about an inch of water in the bottom, and cover, cooking on low until they are totally soft, about 6hrs.

When the apples are soft, mash them with a grinder or food mill to remove the skins, and sweeten to desired taste.  How much sugar is needed will depend upon how sweet the apples were to start and which sweetener is used, whether sugar, honey or syrup.  It seems better to add the sugar after the apples have cooked, rather than adding it to the raw apples.  The cooking time and temperature of the crockpot will caramelize the sugar, adding a darker color and muting somewhat the sweetening effect.  If using honey or maple syrup, this over-cooking can bring out some of the more “earthy” aspects, which is not always a pleasant experience.  :/

Using my tomato press to grind and separate the skins

Using my tomato press to grind and separate the skins

After mashing to a smooth consistency, return to low heat on the stove to add the sweetener.  Add cinnamon, if desired.  You can also add raisins, nuts, other dried fruit, brandy, whatever the occasion calls for.  This is wonderful enjoyed warm or chilled to enjoy cold.  It’s a great snack for the lunchbox and after school.  Don’t forget this applesauce can be used to bake your favorite breads and muffins, too.

Finished sauce ready to eat

Finished sauce ready to eat

Fresh applesauce can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, or it can be canned to use all Winter.  I hot pack the sweetened sauce in quarts and process in a water-bath canner for 10 mins.  Or can some pints for gifts or a healthy addition to the lunchbox..

Remember, anyone can do this, even if apples are gathered at a u-pick, at farmers market or from the grocery.  It is so easy, delicious, and comforting, it is a great way to create family memories for children while begining to build excitement for the newly-arrived Fall season.

Storing Basil and Parsley

 

 

Reader Question:

Hi! I was just wondering. Is this the correct time to harvest basil and parsley? Also how do you keep it for use over the winter?  Freeze it?  Thanks for any help.

Red Rubin Basil

Red Rubin Basil

Italian Flat-leaf Parsley

Italian Flat-leaf Parsley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer:

Basil and parsley can be harvested anytime, if you cut them and leave the plant, it will regrow over and over all summer. Both can be dried by hanging upside-down or cutting just leaves and spreading them on a screen to dry in an airy dark place.  A dehydrator also works.  Or they can be chopped in the food processor and mixed with oil to make a pesto, then packed into ice-cube trays and frozen. Popped them out and collect in freezer bags to use all winter.  Just grab a couple cubes and toss in sauces, soups, dips, whatever you’re making.

My Favorite Pepper

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I enjoy growing a variety of peppers, including Green Bells.  We eat them often and they are easy to preserve for Winter.  Finding a good bell pepper for gardens in the Northeast US can be a challenge. I spent years trying different varieties, and have been delighted to find one that works for me.

It’s all in a name.  Often, started pepper plants from commercial garden centers have names like California Wonder or Golden Calwonder.  The “wonder” lies in why one might grow California Anything here in New York?  I have found great results instead with King of the North, an OP pepper.  There are other hybrid strains that do well here, such as Ace (F1), but I like to use Open Pollinated varieties so I can save my own seed on some crops.

King of the North reliable produces multiple fruits

King of the North reliable produces multiple fruits

I get King of the North seeds from Fedco Seeds of Maine (www.fedcoseeds.com), though they are likely found with other purveyors of heirloom open pollinated seed.

They do well both in the high tunnel and outside.

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I start my peppers under a grow light at the end of March to set out around Memorial Day here in the Southern Tier of New York.  They like full sun.  Too much nitrogen will encourage leafy growth and leave less time for fruits to develop.  I usually have full sized green fruits to pick by the end of July.  I generally have no trouble collecting a number of red fruits well before frost.

Peppers are easy to put up.  I simply cut the raw clean peppers into chunks or slices and place in quart sized freezer bags to freeze.  They will be flaccid upon thawing, but this texture if fine for the dishes we commonly enjoy, such as pasta sauce or chili.

Let me know what varieties of sweet bell peppers you grow for your region.  I’m always looking to try something new.  🙂

Bell peppers produce well without taking up much space

Bell peppers produce well without taking up much space

Kimchi

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First batch for the season using Napa cabbage.

I make it by first soaking greens in salted water overnight.  Rinse 3-4 times, then I make a paste of garlic, onion, fresh ginger, salt, sugar, chili flakes and Cayenne flakes and a little sesame oil.  Amounts depend on how big the batch of greens.  I leave in a bowl covered with a cloth and set to ferment, 2 days to 2 weeks depending on the weather.  Adapted from recipe given to me by Old Barn Hollow.

Chive Alive!

One of the first plants to come up in the Spring is the humble little Chive.   That tasty grass-looking herb with the mild onion flavor.

This member of the Allium genus is easy to grow and is often the first success of a fledgling perennial herb garden.  It grows in a clump of tiny bulbits, which start out as white at the soil line but quickly turn green as you travel up the stem.  The bulbits send out fresh growth early each Spring, with beautiful onion-scented purple flowers soon after.  These flowers attract many pollinators, and they will soon turn pale and papery, full of angular black seeds which are easily collected or shaken out to resow.  It is easy to reproduce chives by dividing the bulbits as well, so if you have a friend growing them, they will likely be happy to share some.

This herb is well-known for its mild onion flavor that is most commonly seen with sour cream atop a baked potato.  But the Chive’s delicious flavor can add real pick-me-up to a variety of dishes, salads, and even condiments.  Chop or snip raw chives on to dishes for a fresh onion pop of flavor, or add to blended salad dressings, dips, hummus, anywhere you like a little zip.  The beautiful purple blooms are edible, too, and their unique oniony flavor makes a beautiful addition to salads, quiches, and salsas.

Chives are plentiful in the Spring, and will continue to grow after the blooms fade in May, but the growth the rest of summer is not as vigorous.  Cutting the plants back to about an inch high after the flowers drop can help.  Chives are very easy to dehydrate to use later; they can be cut long and hung to dry or placed in a dehydrator, they left whole or chopped.  They can also be cut to size of choice and frozen with water in ice cube trays.  Pop the cubes out when done and store in a zip-lock freezer bag.

Chives have a cousin called Garlic Chives.  They are very similar in flavor and habit, except the leaves on Garlic Chives are a bit flat, and the flowers are white instead, and the blooms a bit more spread out on the stem.  They appear almost like the shower of fireworks.  And yes, the flavor is a bit more toward garlic.

If you already have Chives, they are likely growing and close to blooming by now.  If not, now is the time to find some and put some in your herb garden.  They also grow well in a pot on your windowsill.  Either way, chives are a great herb for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike, easy to grow and so many ways to use.  A great way to sneak a little “fresh vegetable” into your everyday dishes.

Planning Ahead to Go Local for the New Year

As we make our New Year’s Resolutions, one good one to keep in kind is that of producing or keeping more of your own food.  Now is the perfect time to plan for the coming growing season.  While it would be great  to provide all our own food for the year, taking on this entire task alone is unrealistic.  Many a well-meaning family has tried, only to become overwhelmed and give up.   In today’s world, it is very unlikely that one would be able to provide  all your own food, but one can certainly provide a number of key items for your family, and put a bit of a dent in your grocery bill.  The secret is using baby steps. Master one project at a time, try adding something new after your first successes.

Winter is traditionally a time of planning and dreaming about the summer garden.  Seed catalogues have arrived, and the chilly days and slower pace are perfect for sitting and musing about warmer days to come.  But it is also the time when your family is eating the foods that you’re going to want to put up for yourself.  Now is the time to pay attention and take note of what you are eating and buying at the grocery or market.  Local, seasonal eating takes practice, and working with what you are already doing is going to make the transition much easier.  Keep lists or a notebook if you need to, or keep  you grocery receipts.  See what veggies you are buying, which canned goods, which meats you eat the most often.  These are the foods to concentrate on when planning to provide your own.

And be honest with yourself:  One of the first canning projects many people undertake is cucumber pickles or relish.  Yummy as this is, it’s not really going to mean much to your family if they really don’t eat them anyway.  Find yourself eating more salsa instead? Marinara sauce?  Go for these items when canning instead.  Certainly, eating local and seasonal means learning how to eat what’s available and keep it interesting, but again, successes with your staple items will inspire you and your family to expand your palate and diet.

 How do you use fruit?  Do you  enjoy bread and jam, or chunky fruit with your oatmeal or yogurt?  Do you want whole strawberries for your Christmas cheesecake? Or do you enjoy strawberry sauce over ice cream?  Or both?  Keep these things in mind when planning how you can best prepare these items when preserving for yourself.

When your’e shopping at the store, stop and notice all the different ways foods are presented for you  to buy:  You’ll find items fresh, frozen, canned, dried.  How do you use these foods?

Once you’ve figured out which foods you use the most and want to try to provide for yourself or preserve for winter use, it’s time to come up with a realistic plan.  Again, using baby steps, figure out which foods you want to grow, which you should start buying in bulk to save money, and which you should purchase in bulk locally and put up for the winter.

Break it up into two groups:  What you can grow, what you can buy in bulk to can or freeze  to put up yourself.

Consider what you have available in terms of space to grow, freezer and pantry space.  If you have adequate space to grow some food, you can put some energy into that.  If you have freezer and pantry space, consider focusing on preserving foods you use often, and look for ways to save money by using your freezer.

Keep in mind that freezers are vulnerable to power outages, though these usually occur during winter months when the cold weather gives you an advantage.

Try to keep your freezer is in a cooler space (ours are outside our home.  My second choice for placement within the house is my pantry, which is off my unheated porch just a hair warmer than outside).  They come in many shapes and sizes, and often can be found rather in expensive in the classifieds.

If you don’t have an extra freezer, plan to dehydrate or can your foods.  Canning really is optimal, because the foods are safe from power outages.  You will of course still need storage space, for the jars both full and empty, but we Americans are accustomed to accumulation, and this for once is for a very useful cause.  If you don’t have a collection of  jars, put the word out with your friends that you are looking, and keep an eye on the classifieds, often people will sell their entire collections at once.  Canning kettles are fairly inexpensive, and a good one will last you for years.  And they come in different sizes, depending on how much space you have on your stove top.

A small dehydrator will not cost you    much and can really help with saving    summer bounty.  Kids love dried apples and peaches, and many other fruits and veggies dry well to be used later on.  And you can save  a ton of money drying your own herbs.  Fo’ schizzle.

Think about this for your meats, too.  Often you can get a discount if you buy in bulk.  Sometimes you need to find the right supplier, not all smaller operations can afford a substantial discount.  Or you may be able to buy whole or half animals, this is usually cheaper than the retail prices even with discount.

A family of six can easily take down at least two pigs a year, and it is so awfully handy to have it all in the freezer, rather than running to the store every week!  Buying a whole pig twice a year is a real money-saver.  Look into doing this with whatever meats your family enjoys.

Buying fruits like apples, peaches, pears and plums and canning or freezing for the winter is great for both better product and saving money. These can be used all year for so many things, and again so handy to have your own stash.

Berries freeze well alone or can be made into jam.  Jam can be used for cooking in a variety of ways, it’s becoming a real staple condiment in a true Foodista’s kitchen (sorry, Guys!  If you’re going to do it, you’re still a Foodista.  There is no ‘Foodistus’).

Think  pragmatically when planning what to grow.  Balance how much you consume with how much you can effectively grow.  Tomatoes are great, but they can be a lot of work and take up space, and if you need to can 50-100 jars, trying to grow that many if you have limited space may be impractical.  Buy those in bulk at market instead.  Grow for yourself instead things like salad greens and herbs, which can be pricey at market but fairly easy to grow.

When growing lettuces, ask around and make sure you get good varieties that do not bolt or get bitter easily.  Do not plant Black-Seeded Simpson.  Keep replanting every two weeks starting in early spring until it starts getting hot in June. Plant herbs in spring and keep cutting and drying your leaves so they keep growing back all summer. Bring them indoors if you want in the Fall.

Other items to grow that use less space and yield well are summer squashes, green beans, beets chard, collard and other greens, and scallions.  Onions can work out well, too, if you have the time (or a good trick) to keep them weeded.  Again, it all depends on how much room and fertility you have.  But in general, plan to buy-in and put up other veggies like sweet corn, winter squashes, melons, cukes, peppers, eggplants, etc. These items take more attention and space to grow, and might not be the best choice for beginners who are also trying to put up their own food.

Some of your pantry staples can be gotten in bulk, as well.  Check around and see if your community has a co-operative buying club or similar venture.  Flour, sugar, pasta, dried beans, rice, etc. are also handy to have in storage.  But do take caution, and keep your pantry items well-sealed against grain moths and moisture, both of which will ruin your foods.  Again, planning is important when taking on the responsibility of storing your own food, and it must be kept healthy and safe.

Do take this seriously:  It will do you no good to go through all the trouble of collecting  food all summer if it is tainted in storage.  This means diligence.

Make sure your freezers are running properly.  And plugged in.  Make sure your children do not leave the doors open.

Your pantry must be cool, dark and dry, but shouldn’t freeze.  Dehydrated items must stay dry until use.  Canning jar lids should always be double-checked for a tight seal before opening to use, and get in the habit of sniffing each and every jar before you serve.  But these things re just that– habits.  You’ll get used to doing these things, and they will become second-nature. Every little bit takes you one step closer to food independence.

That’s enough for now. Next few posts we’ll talk about different ways you can procure your own food in different living situations.  Whether you live in an apartment in town, in a house in suburbia or out in the sticks, there are different things you can do to get more of your own food locally and in season.  So stay tuned and start planning!

Planting Garlic

One of the last few tasks in the garden each year is that of planting garlic. You can buy garlic heads to plant at a farmstand or farmers market.  The grocery store is not the best place, as what they have is likely to come from elsewhere, and you want something grown close to your location, so you know it will grow well.  Take your heard and break it apart to reveal several individual cloves.  These are what you will plant.  Look at them closely, the end with the tiny point is the top, the bottom being the roots.  Plant them root down.  They will grow if planted upside-down, but they will not get as big.  (They are interesting to look at, though!)  Plant the largest of your cloves, eat the smaller ones: The larger the love, the larger the finished head of garlic next year.

Cloves ready for planting

Garlic grows best when planted in the fall, anytime after October 1st until the ground is frozen.  Technically, the earlier it is planted, the better as it has more time to root in a little before winter sets in. But really it will usually do well no matter when you get  around to planting it.  Just remember, the later one waits, the colder, wetter and heavier the soil, and generally the less pleasant the task.

Since garlic cloves will be sleeping in the ground all winter, remember they will be subjected to the heaving up of the soil that naturally occurs when the ground it freezing and thawing with the changing weather.  Garlic cloves that are not planted deep enough can actually heave right up out of the soil, and left sitting on top of the ground, they will most likely rot.  There are a few ways of dealing with this, depending on you situation.  When planting garlic, try to get the cloves at least 3 if not 4 inches into  the ground.  A handy way to measure is to use a trowel with measurements on it, or get an old stick and mark in at 4″.

If your soil is less than desirable and you can not get it in that deep, cover your planting when you are finished with some sort of mulch or covering, such as straw, grass clippings, compost, or even newspaper. The garlic will send out green shoots in the spring.  It will grow right up through hay, compost or clippings;  newspaper will have to be lifted off with a rake as soon as the first shoots appear.

Plant the garlic 4-6 inches apart, in rows about 12″ apart for row culture.  Garlic is from the genus Allium, in the same family as onions, chives, shallots and leeks.  All Alliums also respond well to growing in”clumps”, and many growers plant their garlic in this way, close together yet spaced enough so each plant has room to grow, but touching each other when full sized. Alliums also tolerate cold weather well, and are often the first green shoots to come up each spring.

Garlic usually pokes through as early as late March.  It’s always nice to see the first shoots, an affirmation both of Spring being not far off, and of your success in planting the garlic! If you have heavily mulched them, gently pull the covering aside and let Nature take its course.

 

Garlic on May 24th, 2011

The only other thing you need to do with the growing garlic is remove the Scapes. Scapes are the term for the garlic’s flower stem which usually appears in June.  When let to grow, these stems will curve beautifully into a corkscrew pattern a short time before they ultimately straighten up and produce a number of little bulbits.  These bulbits can be planted and will produce garlic heads, but it takes 4 years for them to reach full-size.  (These garlic bulbits are terrific to save a few however, for they make great garlic pills, being live and active, and are far better product than can be bought in the store.)  To remove the scapes, let them grow and curve at least one full circle:  If cut too soon, they will simply regrow, and you also will be missing the chance to do some really great cooking!  Cut the scapes with a knife or scissors.  You can either compost them, or cook with them!

Garlic scapes just beginning to curl

The scapes have a wonderful garlic flavor, slightly milder but not unsatisfying to the garlic-lover’s palate.  They can be used like a scallion, chopped or minced and tossed into cold and hot dishes.  My favorite way to prepare (and preserve) them is to throw them in the food processor with some olive oil, and chop them into a nice paste that look much like a Pesto.  This can be used as is, tossed on pasta or to make garlic bread, salad dressings, etc.  Or if you have a good quantity, you can put this green paste into ice cube trays and freeze.  Once frozen, pop them back out of the trays and into freezer bags to use all winter, or the rest of summer while you wait for the garlic heads to finish. Another wonderful thing to do with scapes is to pickle them.

from Old Barn Hollow Farm
Garlic scapes ready for pickling. Photo by Karen Allen

 

Pickled Scapes Contributed by (Allen’s Old Barn Hollow Farm)

 1 lb scapes
 1/4 c. canning salt
 2 tsp. mustard seed
 1 tsp. dill seeds
 2 3/4 c. white vinegar
 2 3/4 c water

Pack scapes in hot jars.
Boil the rest of the ingredients for 1 minute.
Pour into jars leaving 1 inch head space. Put on lids and WB for 10 min.
 makes 3-4 pints

Garlic is finished and ready to harvest any time between late -July and mid-August, depending on the variety you’ve panted.  Garlic should not sit in the ground until the tops die back, though this is a popular myth.  By then the garlic underground has split its paper, and is less desirable for cooking and storage.  Burst bulbs are fine for planting, however.  the garlic should be pulled when only the bottom two leaves are obviously dead.  Digging one to check is fine. Properly planted garlic will need to dug to loosen the roots when harvesting, otherwise pulling alone may lead to broken stems and lost garlic.  Just use caution, do not jab the shovel in too close or the head may be severed.  If you do cut up some bulbs during harvest, these will not keep, and thus should be eaten up first.

Once pulled, the garlic can sit on the ground in the garden for a day or two to cure and dry the papers if the weather will be sunny.  Then the garlic should be bunched (or braided) and hung in a dark, airy place to finish curing for a couple weeks.  Garlic is perfectly edible before the curing, but you will notice the papers are not fully developed and it’s a bit more effort to peel it. For fresh garlic, you are not likely to mind.

Once cured, the stems can be cut and the garlic stored in onion bags or baskets in a cool dry place, such as a pantry. (Don’t forget to select you planting stock for the next year! Pull out the biggest heads and/or cloves to plant; this will increase the size of your heads every year.) They need dry conditions to store, the fridge is not the best place.  Garlic will normally store until about New Years, some varieties longer. To keep your garlic supply going longer, there’s a couple things to try.  One is to peel the individual cloves and store them in a jar in the refrigerator.  These should stay crisp for fresh mincing.  You can also put the cloves in the freezer, but when they thaw they will not be crisp.  They are still great for sauces, etc, though. Garlic can also be minced and mixed with oil to refrigerate or freeze.  Garlic is excellent to pickle, as well. A great way to store it for years is to peel and slice the cloves, then dehydrate.  The dehydrated garlic can be thrown whole into sauces or stews, or blended/mortared into garlic powder and used as is.  This works really well, definitely worth the investment in the dehydartor!

Dehydrated Garlic

Share your garlic stories, recipes, your favorite way to store it, and your favorite varieties!  Mine currently are German White, Spanish Roja, and Carpathian. What are you planting?

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