Monday, 5 April 2010

The lazy preserver

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Maybe claustrophobic preserver would be a more apt description. I feel hemmed in by having too much preserved. Preserved doesn't mean food lasts forever, and it loses quality fast in the freezer compared to other methods that I have come to depend on. I can some, I freeze some, I dry some, I lacto-ferment some, I root cellar some, and some I just harvest all winter long.

Growing up, canning and freezing was it. You grew summer crops, and you preserved them in the fall, and then you ate canned or frozen summer vegetables all winter long... . Now I have nothing against eating summer fruits all winter long, in any shape or form. But vegetables - I want summer squash in the summer - and I want my winter squash in the winter, even though I grew it during the summer. I have definitely acquired a seasonal palate, and to sooth my seasonal palate I have changed my gardening habits too.

I no longer chase the 10 different varieties of any vegetable unless I am trialing it. And to trial in my garden, means you better produce lots, survive with minimal care, taste good, have a snappy name, and probably be purple ;) Ok, so the purple isn't that important - but it does catch my eye.

By changing what we eat, and when we eat it, things have fallen into place in the garden and in the preserving kitchen. I am always on the lookout for vegetables that store easily without any preserving or energy use, vegetables that can be left in situ and harvested as needed, or that overwinter in the garden without much protection before they begin to grow again. And like anything, not just one method fits: we have winter squash in an unheated bedroom, potatoes in the barn, root crops left in the row and hilled with soil, and greens growing in the garden. By eating winter type vegetables in the winter, and summer type vegetables in the summer, we are eating in season, and getting away from the store mentality of, everything is available every single day of the year. We find we enjoy different foods much more this way. After a winter of beets, I will not miss them in the summer. And the same goes for most of summer vegetables too - when the first brussels sprout is ready in October, I am glad to kiss lettuce good bye for awhile. Until we meet again in the spring, my deer tongue!

This week on our table, from the garden and our stores.

Succulent Kale raab or rapini from our overwintered kales. Much easier than trying to grow early broccoli and what we don't eat before the flowers open can be allowed to bloom to provide food for pollinators, when not much is blooming yet. Started in June and harvested throughout fall, winter and spring - this is one prolific plant to have in your garden. And I did not have to preserve any of it - just harvest, prepare, and eat.

To find out what will survive in your garden, you do need to do some trials. If a vegetable passes the eating test, then it progresses to the second year in the garden. This year I planted 6 kinds of kale. As you can see from this photo and the next, some are thriving and some are dead, knocked out by our frigid December weather. If we had been blessed with our normal snow cover, the varieties that succumbed may have made it. This year it was obvious who wins. I can't always count on snow to insulate our winter garden.

When I trial a variety, I subject all to the same conditions. I plant at the same time, in the same row or next to each other and treat all as equals. The plants will show you how to make your decision. As you can see they are not created equal.
Thrivers: Lacinato Rainbow, Wild Garden Kale, Redbor, and Winterbor.
Duds: Lacinato, White Russian.

Another winner is chicory. But fair warning, it is bitter even when cooked. An acquired taste for sure, but very good and very hardy.

Another winter staple in our house is winter squash. It keeps until May or June with proper curing, and storage. No need to freeze or can it - it keeps well. Winter squash is one of my favorite summer sunlight filled vegetables. We relish it for a vegetable side dish or in pie or custard.

And last but not least, plain ol' peasant food - the much maligned root vegetables. They grow well with in a medium fertility soil, and lend themselves to many methods of cooking or eating raw. Roots are also a winter staple for our family cow. By storing them in the row protected with soil, they are fresh and tender still, and I planted all of these last May or early June, almost a year ago now.

Winter gardening begins now with planning - I hope I gave you some ideas.