Archive for January, 2008

Inventory, Part Two

January 19, 2008

My hoop greenhouse was demolished in yesterday’s wind storm, so any local foods I’m eating these days will be things I put up last summer and fall. And so, inventory continues.

Purslane Pickles

Using a recipe from Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I made a jar of Purslane pickles last summer. Using homegrown dill, peppers, and garlic with vinegar, I was able to fill one 16-oz jar with purslane stems and homegrown green tomatoes. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so they sat at the back of the fridge for months, but I’ve been working them into sandwiches lately. They are fantastic. Purslane pickles add a tart crunch to a sandwich without the wet slipperyness of cucumber pickle slices.

Sun-dried Tomatoes

I don’t know if this is an innovation of my own, or if I read it somewhere, but it’s a great system. After picking homegrown cherry tomatoes dead ripe, I slice them, salt them, and put them on the dashboard of my car. Summer heat will dry them to the crispy stage within a day or two, at which point they are ready to be packed into jars, which are sealed but not processed. They will keep through to the next tomato harvest, and get tossed in with any sort of noodley casserole type dish.

Sprouts

I’m not sure where exactly the line falls on “local foods”, but sprouts are questionable. I’m growing them, but I don’t know where the seeds come from. I don’t have a large enough garden to allow plants to set seed for sprouting, so I don’t have much choice. The sprouts are “home-grown”, but only by a matter of a few weeks. I’m currently sprouting alfalfa and mung beans, using the alfalfa for salads and sandwiches and the mung beans for stir-frys. I’m a novice sprouter, but my loose and simple procedure seems to work:

Cover the bottom of a small, lidded jar with one layer of seeds. Cover the seeds with water, and allow to soak for a few hours, up to overnight for alfalfa. Drain the water. Every day that follows, rinse the sprouts off after breakfast and while preparing dinner. When the sprouts reach the desired stage of maturity (taste test to find your preference), stick them in the refridgerator.

They make special sprouting jars with mesh lids, but I just use the solid jar lid to hold back the sprouts, as if I was draining pasta in a pot. When my watering can is empty, I drain my sprouts into it to re-use the little bit of water that goes into sprouting.

Chives

When the snow isn’t too deep, I can still get thyme and parsley from the garden, and I have some basil–in pesto form–in the freezer, but the only truly fresh herb I have through the winter is chives. In the fall, I pot up a clump of the bulbs and sink the pot into the ground. Around the New Year, or whenever there is a convenient thaw, I pull the pot out and bring it indoors. The chive bulbs, which have gone through their required dormant stage, react to the warmth of the house as if it were spring, and they put on new growth. I’ve read that it’s best to have two pots going, so as to alternate and keep a steady supply through winter, but my single pot hasn’t given up yet.

Aside from a chunk of local venison in the freezer (given to me by the mother of an overzealous hunter), that is where I stand in the New Year on local food. Next month begins seed-starting season, so I hope to give some information on the shower-stall greenhouse I use to prepare plants for the summer garden.

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Inventory

January 13, 2008

Despite a seriously disturbing warm stretch here in Michigan (high 50s in January), there isn’t a lot of fresh local produce available. I could probably piece together a salad from the thawed-out lettuce left in the garden, and there is still some broccoli, brussel sprouts, and kale holding out through the winter, but that’s about it. The farmer’s market is closed until May, and the grocery store is stocking stuff from Florida and beyond. I do have a freezer full of stuff from last year, though, so I thought I could start with that.

Frozen Vegetables

Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, swiss chard, green beans–mostly standard stuff. I am not a canner, so it’s all frozen. The peppers I freeze fresh, just cut into chunks. The tomatoes I drop into boiling water so that the skin pops off. The rest of the stuff is boiled for a couple of minutes, then dunked into ice cold water. As I understand it, this halts the enzymatic processes that cause the food to break down in storage.

I also have some frozen purslane, which volunteered in my garden. Purslane, which looks a bit like a miniature, spreading jade plant, has edible stems and leaves with a tangy flavor. It’s not bad fresh out of the ground, and I’m looking forward to cooking with the quart or so that I’ve frozen. Apparently, it gives an oozy quality (“mucilaginous” is a word that comes up often) to soups and stews. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I’ll find out as soon as I run out of the less terrifying vegetables.

Walnuts

Walnuts are very easy to find wild or semi-wild in this area. I filled two five-gallon pickle buckets with the green, lumpy walnut fruits last September after finding a source on an online message board. The fallen fruit can be a serious hazard–when the husk starts to soften, the walnuts turn into greasy little rollers, and they can take down an incautious pedestrian. My source was glad to get rid of them, and I was glad to have found a supply of local nuts within the city limits.

I’m going to save the details on processing walnuts for walnut season, but after husking, cleaning, squirrel raids, shelling, and picking, I went from 8-10 gallons of fruits to about a quart of nut meats. The nuts are very different from the grocery-store (English) walnut. They are a lot oilier, which gives them a more intense flavor and a tendency to go rancid. I kept my unshelled nuts in our unheated second floor, and keep the cleaned nut meat in the freezer. They make a great addition to pumpkin bread, zucchini muffins, and other baked goods.

Squash

I had horrible luck with squash last summer. Powdery mildew and squash bugs took more than their share of my harvest, so I only had a few to keep through the winter. We keep these on our unheated second level, and I’ve still got one acorn and one spaghetti squash in good condition. The squash held up until about March last year, but they’ll be gone by that time this year.

First post

January 13, 2008

Let’s start out with a blanket disclaimer: I started this up after searching for geographically-relevant information about homegrown, locally grown, and wild foods. I’m not an expert, I don’t have a science or culinary background, and I’m not in touch with a local food movement, if such a thing exists in my area. Obviously, anyone who wants to try some of the foods I write about should check, double check, and triple check with a few field guides before eating anything they don’t recognize.

I hope to use this space to share my amatuer experiences with gardening, home preserving, gleaning, foraging, and otherwise finding, producing, or preparing food from my immediate vicinity. I also hope that I will be driven to try new foods in order to generate material for this journal.

I live within the city limits of Grand Rapids, Michigan, about an hour inland from Lake Michigan. I intend to write about foods as they come into season, which should be fairly consistent throughout the Great Lakes region.

Here’s a remarkably stupid essay about local foods from the most recent issue of Time magazine. I don’t know how long the link will work, and I haven’t learned how to make text into a hyperlink yet.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1702353,00.html