Inventory

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.

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