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Showing posts with label low carbon vegetable storage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label low carbon vegetable storage. Show all posts

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sunchokes

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
In a foot-wide bed along one side of my garden grows a line of sturdy plants, six to seven feet tall.

The leaves and stalks look a bit like sunflowers, an impression reinforced in fall when the plants are topped with sparse clumps of bright yellow daisy-like flowers.

They're pretty enough to be just a decorative garden backdrop. They grow tall enough, even in a small space, to make an excellent privacy screen, and grow thick enough to make a decent wind-break for the garden beyond. They don't set seed, so no worry about volunteer seedlings turning into weeds all over the place the next year. Plus they're drought- and cold-tolerant perennials, and easily divided. I like self-sustaining plants.

The leaves will withstand the first light frosts, but die when the winter temperatures drop to a hard freeze. The stalks wither, but if left in place will harden and stand firm throughout the winter, continuing to break the wind, catching and holding the snow.

All in all, by mere appearance and hardiness these plants have earned their place in my garden. But they're not just pretty. These plants are sunchokes, sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes, and they produce food too. Easily dug and pulled, the plants produce tasty tubers at the base. The thin-skinned tubers look a bit like ginger root, and don't need to be peeled. Raw, they have a mildly sweet and nutty flavor, a texture a bit like jicama. Boiled or steamed, they can serve as a starchy substitute for potatoes or turnips, and cook in much less time (bonus - their sugars break down into fructose instead of glucose during digestion, thus making them a good starch for diabetics). I like them sliced across in thick slices and tossed into stir-frys at the last minute as a substitute for water chestnuts, or chopped and toasted and sprinkled atop curries instead of almonds.

The tubers will keep in a bag in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, and maybe a month in a cool cellar or pantry. But it's even easier to just leave them out in the garden all winter. Freezing weather doesn't bother the tubers. I just pull up plants as needed. I cut the withered stalks down to a few feet after they freeze, to tidy up the garden, then use the shortened stalks to see where to harvest, throughout the winter and spring, and on into early summer.

You might be able to find the tubers in your local supermarket, or they're available through many seed and plant catalogs. Though maybe expensive, you only have to buy them once. There are always a few tubers left in the ground to start growing again in the spring, so plant them in their own permanent bed. Perhaps in richer soil or milder climates they could become invasive, but I haven't had any problems in my dry sandy soils. I'm happy to have found another reliable, hardy, self-sustaining food crop.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fermenting Cucumbers

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's late summer, and the garden produce is really rolling in. I only have a few more weeks, if I'm lucky, before the nights drop below freezing. So I'm busy harvesting then using various preserving methods to squirrel stuff away for later. For years, canning various flavors of pickles was standard operating procedure around here for dealing with the cucumber glut. And I still have plenty of jars full of sweet, dill, bread & butter pickles and relish.

Last year, I tried fermenting the cucumbers instead, and found a new favorite. I like sauerkraut - fermented cabbage. Fermented cucumbers, also called sour pickles, are just as good - plus easier and less time-consuming than heat-processing lots of jars. And now, as the heat of summer fades, it's cooler inside. The fermentation process works best between 55F and 75F (13 - 24C). Above that, the pickles ferment too fast and get soft. Lower temperatures just mean a longer fermentation time, and slower is better. I use a 2-gallon glass crock, but for those interested in trying this method a gallon glass jar works great.

Your cucumbers should be fresh, right out of the garden if possible, picked before the seeds inside start to toughen up. Size doesn't matter - bigger cucumbers just take longer to ferment (so eat the little ones first). If your cucumbers are a couple of days old, you can soak them in water for half a day to refresh them a bit. You might want to take your kitchen shears out with you when harvesting. Try to clip with a little 1/4 inch of stem attached instead of pulling them from the vines. Don't use damaged fruit, and wash away any remaining dirt or debris.

Slice away the tiniest little sliver from the blossom end. The blossom contains an enzyme that encourages the cucumber to continue to ripen. Removing it stops the process, and your pickles stay firmer and crunchier. Old recipe books say adding young grape leaves will make crunchier pickles. I have a couple of organically-grown grapevines, so I figured it couldn't hurt. I don't know if it made the pickles any crisper, but the leaves pickled along with the cucumbers and were so good I now add extra just be able to eat them on their own.

For a gallon of fermented pickles, you'll need about 4 pounds cucumbers (about 6-7 salad-sized ones). Put any or all of the optional ingredients (2 tablespoons dill seed or a couple of fresh heads of dill; a couple garlic cloves, a couple dried hot peppers, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, and/or a layer of 4" grape leaves) in the bottom of your container, and add the whole cucumbers. You can pack them in vertically if you're using the big ones. Stir 1/2 cup non-iodized salt into 8 cups water with 1/4 cup vinegar added. When the salt dissolves, pour the mixture over the cucumbers. Use a clean ceramic plate or glass jar to keep the cucumbers submerged an inch below the level of the brine. Cover with a piece of cloth or another plate, and put it somewhere cool where you can check it a couple of times a week. Skim scum and mold from the surface as needed.

As the cucumbers ferment, they'll lose their bright green color, turning translucent (that's not mold - it's white flakes of sediment, easily stirred up and then it settles out again). Complete fermentation can take from 4 - 8 weeks.

You can eat them at any time, but they are fully fermented when no white patches remain. If kept in a cool spot, the pickles will continue to get sourer. If you can't find a cool spot to keep the jar, refrigerate them for longer storage.

I'll keep my crock on the kitchen counter for 4 - 5 weeks, adding additional cucumbers as I continue to harvest, making additional brine solution as necessary to keep them submerged. After that, I'll move the crock down to the cooler cellar, to keep through the winter. Every week to 10 days an almost gel-like layer of scum forms on the top - rarely it would get a couple specks of blue-topped white mold on top of that. It's easy enough to just pinch that layer, pull it out, and toss it.

When I want another pickle, I'll fish one out, redistribute those left, and replace the plate. Inside the house, I keep a quart jar of brine in the refrigerator, where I keep the current pickle, cutting slices off as needed. No scum forms on the jar in the refrigerator. When the cellar starts warming up, in the spring, I just transfer the pickles left to a jar in the refrigerator to keep eating until I either run out or I can start a fresh batch. My reference source here.

Friday, December 31, 2010

My Little Veggie Hanger

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
After seeing yesterday's post from my co-writer Amy, I now have serious pot rack envy. I could really use the cupboard space freed up by hanging a few pots and pans, for food storage instead. The ceilings in our house are so low, though. Even a pot rack with a very low profile might be more in the way than useful; maybe look too cluttered. I think I'll tape up some paper cutouts first, to see if a permanent installation is what I really want.

I thought I'd share photos of a hanging rack I do have installed in my kitchen, though - one I designed and hubby built. My husband had taken out a piece of the wall between kitchen and living room, opening up our small space and allowing for better airflow inside (with no central HVAC system, open circulation is important for both our summer cooling and winter heating). I thought the wall cutout would make a perfect space to hang foods to dry: chiles, corn, beans, garlic, items from southwestern cuisine that grow well in my high-desert climate.

The rack is a two-foot piece of one-inch wooden dowel. Aries made a couple of end brackets, then stained everything to match our existing woodwork. Brass "S" hooks were threaded onto the dowel before installation, the open ends facing my kitchen for easy hanging access (the hooks slide easily, but can't be removed). Attached to the top of the cutout, it's attractive, decorative, and useful - perfect!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Winter squash harvest

by Throwback at Trapper Creek


I find people either like squash or don't care for it at all. I happen to love squash of all types, especially winter squash. Not only is it really good for you, providing much needed nutrients in the dead of winter, it tastes good, and stores with a minimum of fuss. No canning or freezing is needed - winter squash comes with it's own storage container, namely a tough skin. All you need to do it store it in a cool, dry place and protect from freezing. It doesn't get much easier than that.


It also can be very productive if you have the space to devote to the rambling vines and fertile soil. I grew 427 pounds of winter squash in less than 1/3 the space I devoted to growing 400 pounds of potatoes. Granted I have large gardens on our farm, but I think even a smaller garden can grow some productive squash vines with a little ingenuity in regards to variety selection, and trellising or maybe a 3 sisters approach.


Sweet Meat winter squash - corky stem.


Rather than talking much about growing winter squash, I want to center on harvesting techniques to ensure good results in storage. We live in a cool, maritime climate, which has a long growing season for some hardy crops, but getting warm season crops to ripen is sometimes a little sketchy. Butternut types (Cucurbita moschata) are out in my location, however Hubbard type (Cucurbita maxima) and Acorn and Delicata (Cucurbita pepo) are the best candidates. Maxima type tend to keep longer than the pepo type. If you're not sure of what type you have, you can tell by the stem. Maxima usually has a corky stem with no spines, and pepo will have a woody stem with spines. If you want short term storage (2 -3- months) the pepo type like Acorn are great, and for longer term storage (5 - 8 months) try some Maxima types. They also come in a variety of sizes, small for easing into squashdom, and larger for aficionados.


Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin - woody stem.

Careful harvesting techniques are crucial to long term storage. Keeping the stem intact is important, not for a convenient handle, but rather to keep the entire squash enclosed in its protective skin with no openings. The easiest way to do this is to cut the stem instead of trying to wrench it from the vine, which often results in a corky stem attached to the vine instead of your squash. Carry your squash by lifting it with both hands, instead of using the stem for a handle. Likewise if you are buying winter squash for storage, look for specimens that still have their stem intact. Field harvesting techniques need to be expedient, and most winter squash for sale even at the farmers market most likely will be missing their stems, since most are destined for immediate use, not storage. In the home garden you can afford to take a little more time and keep your stems.

Dogs on vole patrol.


Not all your squash may be suitable for storage. In this particular variety, Sweet Meat, you will be looking for a grayish blue squash. This immature green squash pictured above will not be ripe enough to keep and shouldn't be harvested for keeping. It will make great hen or livestock food though, so it will not go to waste.


The squash on the left will keep many months in storage, the grayish, green squash on the right may keep for a while but should be used first.

Wheelbarrows come in handy for transport heavy squash to the curing area. These weigh in between 12 - 18 pounds apiece. By carefully placing these I can avoid the stems damaging adjacent squash, since the skin is still tender before curing.


Sweet Meat winter squash original Gill Brothers strain.

Winter squash will benefit from a curing period of two weeks or so at 70 - 80 degrees before being moved to a cool storage area like a cool bedroom, or attic. I use a greenhouse bench, covering for nighttime if the temperatures are going to dip below 50 degrees. The curing period at a higher temperature dries the shell creating a perfect storage container. This particular variety gets sweeter in storage, and keeps well until June. If you haven't grown winter squash before, now is a perfect time to taste test varieties from the farmers market, it would be realistic to expect if your local farmers are growing winter squash, it will do well in the home garden too.

For the frugal pantry, it's hard to go wrong with such a versatile vegetable that lends itself to savory and sweet recipes and requires virtually no processing for storage. I see pumpkin pie in my future this winter!