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.

 

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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?

Parsnips, a Mid-Winter Break

Harvesttotable.com

        Right now in Upstate New York we are enjoying what is know as the January Thaw, a fairly predictable period of time in Winter (anywhere from early January to late February) when temperatures rise above normal for a few days, allowing some of the snow to melt off, a few of the insects to come buzzing about again, and perhaps even a bear or two wanders out of hibernation and stretches its legs.  Invariably it may bring gardeners out-of-doors, to stroll and smell the beds put to sleep for the season, likely even find a tool or two that was consumed by weeds back in September.  Bulbs of garlic and tulips that have heaved out of the ground are poked back in, and perennial beds that were neglected are hastily mulched, fingers crossed in hopes that they will again be forgiving and grow on in the Spring, despite our ill-care.

By this time in the Seasonal diet, items from the root cellar like carrots, beets and turnips, potatoes and squashes have become the staple dinner fare, with dried beans, onions, garlic and canned veggies from the pantry rounding out the variety.  It’s hearty, comforting and nourishing food, perfect to carry one through the cold season.  But, oh, would not something fresh from the garden be such a treat?

Enter the Parsnip, planted first thing in the Spring, and best harvested during the mid-Winter thaw!  Days like these are perfect to go out and lift the mulch, looking for the tiny tell-tale bright green shoots that indicate treasure lies below.  Parsnips have traditionally offered fresh fare to liven up mundane Winter tables for generations.

Fresh-dug Parsnips.

Fresh-dug Parsnips. source: Two Chances Veg Plot Blog

Parsnips were very well-known in our culinary history, having fallen out of fashion as of late, yet now enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  Parsnips look like blond carrots, with their flavor being best described as a cross between a coconut and a carrot, creamy, earthy and sweet.  Unlike carrots, parsnips need to be peeled and are generally eaten cooked, not raw.  Parsnips show two phenotypes, long and slim, and shorter and chunky.  The core of the thicker parsnips can be a bit woody and bitter, I find it best to core the larger ones.

Parsnips are in the carrot family, and thus biennial, meaning they grow leaves the first growing season, then will send up a seed stalk if allowed to grow a second season.  Parsnip stalks are upwards of 5 feet in height, and have flowers and seeds that look much like Dill.  Parsnip seed head and seeds Source: wikipedia

Parsnip seeds like to be planted first thing in the Spring, as soon as the ground can be worked.  Better yet, prepare the ground ahead in the Fall.  Parsnip seeds should be surface-sown, thus they like the wet days of April to keep them moist.  If it happens to be a dry Spring, keep the seedbed dampened until they sprout.  Parsnips grow much like carrots:  They fare just a little better against weed competition, but not much, so keep them weeded and watered regularly over the growing season.  Thinning the seedlings will result in better yields.  One reason Parsnips may not be for every garden is they are a space commitment the entire season and beyond.  However having fresh harvest in Winter and early Spring can more than make up for the space given.

Source: Benedict Vanheems     Parsnips can be harvested at the end of the growing season in the Fall, but they are so much better if left to build some bulk and sugar content through some cold weather.  Mulching the parsnips will protect them from mice or other predators, and makes it easier to dig them out.   Once that warm spell in mid Winter hits, run out and lift the mulch and use a broad fork to carefully extract the delicious roots.  Parsnips can also be left in the garden to harvest in the Spring, but be sure to get out early and pull the before the leaves actively start growing again.  Once they bolt, they should be lifted and composted or left to go to seed for your garden next year.

Do take care not to over trample the garden bed, for soil compacted while wet can take time to recover.  To cut down on soil compaction (and muddy boots), lay some boards, cardboard or even newspaper on the ground where you are working.  No help for the mud on the parsnips, though. :/

Wash peel and core your parsnips, and they are ready to cook.  They can be prepared any way you enjoy carrots: parboiled, steamed, mashed, glazed, baked or even roasted.

They are excellent with butter, cream, parsley, nutmeg, ginger, cheeses, even caraway.

One of my favorite recipes with parsnips is that of Cheddar Parsnip Soup, from Sundays at Moosewood:

1 med onion, chopped                          3 med potatoes, peeled and cubed (~1 1/2lbs)

1 tsp salt                                                  3 cups water

2 Tbs vegetable oil                                1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds

2-3 tsp caraway seeds                          3 cups med sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

5 medium parsnips,                             3 cups milk

peeled and cubed ( about 1lb)         chopped fresh Parsley or sprig of Dill

 

I a 3qt saucepan sautee onion with the salt in the oil on low heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 mins.  Mix int he caraway seeds and parsnips.  Stir and simmer gently about 5 mins.

Add the potatoes and water.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Moderately simmer for about 10-15 mins, until potatoes are tender.  Remove soup from heat.

Stir in fennel and cheese.  When cheese is melted, pour in milk.  Cool soup 10-15 mins.  In blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches.  Gently reheat, careful not to boil. Serve hot with garnish or parsley, dill or grated cheese.

 

This soup is so good!

So, if you’ve planted parsnips, get out and pick them.  If not, they are in season at the store or at farmers market, get ahold of some a give them a try.  Then plan to add them to your garden this coming season.  You will be so glad you did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Seconds, Please! (Getting More From Your Garden)

Some of the veggies we grow in the garden are very delicate; the slightest stress from weather or bugs and they’re toast. Others seems to thrive no matter what befalls them.  Members of the Brassica family, or Cole crops are especially hardy.  Broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards are in this group.  They will grow in heat, cold, wet, can tolerate dry conditions, and improve in flavor after the fall frosts.  And best of all, even after cut and harvested, they still aren’t done!  Many cole crops are cut-and-come-again, meaning if the plant is left in the ground when the edible part is harvested, the plant will regrow more to harvest!

Broccoli ready to cut

Broccoli ready to cut

Many gardeners already know that after cutting the first head of broccoli, if left in the garden the plant will send out a flurry of fresh tender shoots.  These quickly add up many more meals of broccoli, extra to freeze for later, or more sales at market.  But be sure to pick them when they are prime, for just like the main head, they will shoot up to flower tiny yellow blossoms if left too long.

Broccoli buds

Broccoli shoots

Bee-Friendly tip: To be friendly to honeybees, allow a few broccoli shoots to go to flower, for they are some of the last flowers of Autumn and the bees absolutely love them!  You’ll soon find them busily buzzing and twirling about them, grabbing a last little bit of nectar for the Winter stash.

Cabbage ready to pick

Cabbage ready to pick

It may be a surprise to find out that cabbage will do the same thing!  After harvesting the main head, leave the rest of the plant in the ground and wait.

Within a couple days, 5 little new cabbage buds will appear.  These will grow into 5 new little cabbage heads.

5 little cabbage buds

5 little cabbage buds

5 new cabbages

5 new cabbages

Chinese cabbage will do the same thing!

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Chinese cabbage sprouts

Chinese cabbage sprouts

The resulting cabbage heads will not reach full size, but they are great to eat and really help extend the harvest.  And they’re actually pretty popular to sell at market, with more and more singles and couples looking for smaller portions to keep their servings fresh.

 

 

Fresh harvest from the garden is such a delicious and satisfying treat, it’s great to  know that some of our favorite crops even serve up seconds. 🙂

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

First Fruits

As we reach the height of Summer, the gardens are beginning to yield:  flowers that we have anxiously watched turn to tiny green fruits are at last ripening, and it is the gardener’s delight to find those first fruits; whether it be a cucumber, green beans or summer squashes. The garden picture is finally complete!  It is very gratifying to see results of this labor of love that we call gardening.

That first Cucumber!

That first Cucumber!

In conversations with home gardeners, I have noticed a tendency among the novice to feel reluctant to harvest these first-comers, for they look so beautiful and it’s fun to show them off to visitors.  Resist the temptation to dwell upon this image, and go ahead and pick those first fruits!  What many folks don’t realize is that these first to ripen are merely a bit of a test for the plant, a “feeler” if you will:  How quickly the plant finds itself parted with its first offering is indication of “demand”, thus influencing “supply”.  Simple Economics.  If the first fruits of a plant are allowed to go to maturity and set seed, the plants gets the message to slow down growth, that it has accomplished its mission to reproduce and there is no need to produce very many more fruit.  If those first ones are picked, the plant kicks into production mode and begins to send out several more.

So, to get more beans, cukes or squash, it is important to go through and collect the first ones that appear.  You’ll get the double gratification of enjoying what you have grown and watching many more to come.

So pick all you want!  They’ll make more. 😉

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!

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