|Veggies ready to be preserved for the winter.|
Carolyn Raffensperger gave me a copy of Nourishing Traditions which changed how I think about what and how I eat. I hope to be like her when I grow up. She wrote this note on FaceBook about how she organizes her life and pantry to eat locally. After I read it I immediately wanted to run out in this 100 degree heat to pick blueberries. I asked her permission to share it with you all. Below are Carolyn's ten steps for storing food for year round bounty:
|Carolyn Raffensperger - Photo credit to Carolyn's Neightbor|
For the past 15 years I’ve tried to either produce my own food or get it from within ten miles of my house. Here’s how I do it along with lessons learned along the way.
My initial goal when I lived on our farm in North Dakota was to be self-sufficient. I had some experience canning and freezing food with my grandmother, but calculating amounts, planting and harvesting the total foods required was a new experience. I began by planting a one acre garden. I raised everything from dried edible beans, sweet potatoes, to popcorn and about 125 hills of potatoes, among the usual things like tomatoes and green beans. I made a lot of mistakes including planting about 35 hills of zucchini. Eventually I figured out what grew well and how to plan meals for the winter. I only planted one or two hills of zucchini after my first hilarious mistake. I should say that one acre was too big, but it gave me room to try things and make mistakes.
In 2000 I moved to Ames, Iowa and bought a house with an acre of land assuming that I was going to do exactly what I had done in North Dakota, grow all our food. But it became clear that the deer, groundhogs, raccoons and other beings thought they owned the land. Growing a large garden would require declaring war—not something I was willing to do. The creatures taught me a new goal, community sufficiency. By community I include the farmers, the animals, the pollinators, the prairie grasses, the disabled man down the block, my neighbors – all of them. This means that I attend to all these relationships when I am growing, buying, preserving and storing food. In Iowa I raise some food but mostly get it from two CSAs (community supported agriculture farms) that deliver boxes of produce every week and the farmers market.
So here’s what I do. Basically, I identify my household’s food habits (holidays and daily routines), calculate how much I need during the year, source the food and store it appropriately. The quantities and kinds of food don’t change much over the years unless the family gets bigger or smaller.
1) Find out what grows well in your neighborhood and when it grows.
Iowa is different than California or North Dakota. We have our own seasons and our own glorious foods. Sweet corn, for instance, is quintessentially Iowan. Our corn season is pretty long and we grow a lot of it. The kale that I dearly loved in North Dakota can be bitter in Iowa. Certain tomatoes that are rated highly on the east coast don’t taste good grown in the alkaline soils of North Dakota.
2) Calculate how many servings you want of any given foodstuff and obtain enough to preserve.
I estimate the number of servings per week for my household times the weeks I’ll need food. So I budget for November 1 until May 15th – about six and a half months of fruits and vegetables with some things that carry over until they are ripe in July or August. I don’t buy much that isn’t grown right here, so I need to store enough for the household’s daily needs. For instance, I want about three or more servings a week per person of mixed leafy greens for five months (we have kale into November and dandelions by April). So I freeze about 60 quarts of mixed leafy greens, kale and chard with some mustard, spinach, beet greens and other things. 50 or more quarts of broccoli. And about 45 pints of various fruits since they are my primary source of vitamin c until the new greens emerge in the spring. All in all, I freeze mass quantities of shelled peas, leafy greens, broccoli, pea pods, green beans, corn, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and anything else I can find.
3) Preserving food is a hidden art, a lost art.
I’ve discovered that cookbooks assume that you have watched some older maternal relative make jam or blanch vegetables. It does help if you have someone show you a few basics before you launch a major canning or freezing project. I use three primary storage techniques: freezing, canning and storing things in a root cellar. I freeze things like tomatoes, fruit and most vegetables. I can things that I don’t depend on for vitamin C. Canning or any heat treatment destroys vitamin C. Most fruits can be frozen raw and used in the winter for smoothies and other things. I just pour raspberries into a bag, or hull and cut up strawberries and freeze. I can corn/cabbage relish, dilled green beans, Harvard beets and other pickles. I store potatoes, apples, winter squash, onions and bags of grain in the root cellar. Most vegetables require that you steam or blanch them for a few minutes before you freeze them. I freeze most things because it can be done so quickly. Sure you have to snap the ends off green beans, but you put a little water in the bottom of a pan, add the beans, cook them until they turn bright green, run them under cold water, put them in bags and freeze them. You will note that I don’t dry much food. My climate is damp and I don’t have a good food dehydrator.
4) I keep records of everything I freeze or store in a kitchen notebook.
I include where I got the food, the date I froze or canned it and the amounts. This means I can check later to see if I preserved enough or too much. I also have a record of the weather and other natural phenomenon that coincides with the food. Are the peas harvested the same time every year? When were the fox kits emerging from their den? I have records going back 15 years.
5) There are some things no one tells you but you’ll need to know. I
learned the hard way that you don’t store apples and carrots near each other. If you put them together, apples off-gas and make the carrots bitter. Don’t’ store onions and potatoes together. Sweet potatoes want to be kept warm. If you put them in the root cellar where the potatoes and onions are happy, the sweet potatoes turn black. If you are going to store a lot of food, its wise to check out best practices so you don’t waste your time or food. Two caveats. Prior to freezing I don’t cook vegetables as long as most cookbooks tell you to. You want to cook them through, but just. Don’t cook them until they are mush. The other caveat is pay scrupulous attention to cleanliness and possibilities for bacterial problems, especially when you are canning foods or freezing raw foods that you will not cook before eating.
6) Sourcing your food for the winter takes some planning.
I’ve convinced my farmer friends to provide winter shares and give me less lettuce or other uniquely summer foods that can’t be stored. Instead they bring me garbage bags full of green beans and leafy greens. In the fall I get 125 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of onions, winter squash and other things that I store in the root cellar. If your local CSA or farmer at the farmer’s market knows you want a large quantity of something, they can plan too. I’ve got farmers who raise shelling peas or other things just for me because I use such large quantities.
7) Look for recipes for the foods you have in excess – like cherries or raspberries. Test the recipes to make sure you’ll use those foods through the year. I have two plum trees and a couple of apple trees. Last fall a local chef created a magnificent fruit syrup out of honey from our farm, plums and the elderberries that grow wild in the yard. But you have to figure out how to use foods like that so they aren’t languishing in your pantry next year, unloved and uneaten. I do have some recipes and shortcuts that serve me well and that I use year after year. I combine Asian vegetables into a soup or stir fry mix in one freezer bag. So pea pods, broccoli, and mixed greens with some fresh cilantro are a combination I use frequently. I have another mix of corn, green beans, green peppers, and carrots that can become a country soup or shepherd’s pie. My hard work in the summer means I can be astonishingly lazy in the winter.
8) I put up extra food beyond what my household will eat. Because we raise cattle on our farm and I put up so much food, I am a source of food for people who don’t have access to much beyond what they can get with food stamps or at a food pantry. I have found that high quality protein, deep green vegetables and deep red fruits are hard to get and very expensive if you are living below the poverty level. My three freezers and large root cellar are part of my community’s assets. I am not entirely sure how people have found me over the years, but there is a steady stream of hungry people. I am continually surprised at how people crave something dark green or dark orange/red.
9) When I plan food for the winter, I keep my eye on mid March. That’s the season when it is still winter out, and I’ve been serving the same round of vegetables and fruit for months. Historically, that’s when people in our part of the world would have been at their lowest nutritional point. So I need to build in crunchy things and foods that feel fresh in the mouth. I especially need to be vigilant about vitamin C. This is when frozen fruit smoothies, pickles, salads out of shelled peas or the corn relish, maybe a salsa frozen in August, can do wonders for sparking the palate.
10) Energy consumption is a key factor in my food storage and preparation plans.
I have three freezers located in a cold, underground garage. But they do take a lot of electricity. Canning takes some fuel and is usually done at the hottest time of the year – a double energy whammy if you need to cool your house afterward. Some of my friends do their canning on a Coleman stove outside so they don’t heat the house. Because I heat the house with a wood stove, I cook soup stock and dry edible beans in the winter on the stove and freeze them for the warmer seasons. Since freezers are more efficient if they are full, I add soup stock and cooked beans in the winter even as I deplete the vegetables and fruit.
Foy, please feel free to use my note. I intended it to be helpful. I have added some new things to my summer practices namely quite a bit of fermentation. Kimchi is a star player in my kitchen now since it doesn't require canning or freezing. - Carolyn
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