Thursday, October 29, 2009

Try Jean's Soups

From Doug:

It's starting to get a little cooler so Jean Titus of Abundance Health and Wellness Center is going to add soup to her menu at her store. See the sidebar of this web site for the soups available each week.

You can drop by the store at 903 A W Jackson St in Sullivan (next to Dairy Delites) to pick up some soup. However, to ensure availability, call Jean at 217-620-7880 by 5:00 pm the day before to reserve your container.

I promise you will not be disappointed with her soups. She uses fresh vegetables and no artificial ingredients. Making soup from fresh vegetables does take some extra time but it is well worth the better quality. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Loving Winter Squash

My family has discovered the greatness of winter squash. Even my three-year-old likes it!

I have never eaten a winter squash at my parents' house. Until I started experimenting with it last fall, I would have said it tasted bland (based upon little or no experience actually eating winter squash). Last year I bought a booklet on cooking squash because I wanted to support the Moultrie County Historical and Genealogical Society's historical one-room-school project at The Great Pumpkin Patch. Then, I bought some squash so that I could use the recipes. In the end, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the recipes in the booklet, so I searched the Web for more. Toward the end of my squash supply, I found two that my family really likes. This year, we started our squash season earlier, and I have made each of our favorites twice in the past two weeks.

The first is Acorn Squash with Apple Stuffing. Since I don't have the notes for the source, it is probably from either the Historical Society's book or a booklet from Whole Foods Market. My great discovery this year is that I can make it in the microwave, which means I don't have to think about it an hour or more ahead of time:

  • 2 med acorn squash
  • 2 med apples, chopped (macintosh or red delicious)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1//2 cup raisins
  • 5 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp butter, melted
Slice squash in half, discard seeds, & place face down in a baking dish. In an oven, bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees; in a microwave, bake on high about 7 minutes (depends on the squash size and power of your microwave).

Combine apples, nuts, raisins, and brown sugar in a bowl and mix well. Spoon into squash. Drizzle with melted butter. In an oven, bake 25-30 more minutes at 350 to taste; in a microwave, back on high 2-3 minutes more.

The mix of apple and squash flavors is just great!

Our other favorite is Delicata Squash with Rosemary, Sage, and Cider Glaze. Peeling squash takes a bit of time and muscle, but this dish is worth it. One day I'm going to try the advice of baking the squash whole for a little while before trying to peel it.

On Saturday morning I picked up a supply of squash from The Great Pumpkin Patch as an exchange for the squash in my plot at the Sullivan Victory Garden. We served as an isolation plot for the heirloom squash that the GPP's Mac Condill grows for seed. There are several different species of squash (the correct term is curcurbit), and seeds of different varieties within the same species will cross and produce un-true seed if planted too close to each other. So, our plot hosted several types of squash from different species. Mac kindly offered to trade more common types of squash for the squash that he wanted to keep for seed, and today I took him up on his offer. (Thanks, Mac!)

If you want to get local squash in the Sullivan area, you can find it at The Great Pumpkin Patch through October 31 or at Buxton's Garden Farm into November, while supplies last.

Happy Eating!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Eating Seasonally

As I was looking up something in my 1950's Betty Crocker cookbook (a reprint), I skimmed the introduction to the vegetable section and read,

"Thanks to modern agriculture, we not only have bigger, juicier vegetables than our grandmothers or the old Greeks and Romans ever knew, but because of modern transportation and refrigeration, we enjoy vegetables from all over the country the year around."

I enjoy and appreciate bananas, grapes, and other fruits and vegetables that are difficult or impossible to grow here, and I think that it is important to remember that refrigerating and transporting vegetables was a technological advance that still benefits us today. After all, how many of us have time to can (or even freeze) all of the fruits and vegetables that we want to eat over the winter? Or have a root cellar to store enough potatoes, winter squash, onions, apples, and other produce, some of which will likely rot and be wasted? And, even if we have the time and equipment needed for food preservation, we would also need to find enough time to harvest (if not also plant) quantities large enough to sustain our families.

So, I'm not ready to give up my transported, refrigerated produce.

But, I am enjoying the great flavors that come from eating produce in season. As I became an adult responsible for my own cooking, I gradually decreased my consumption of fresh apples. Too often, grocery store apples were mealy and tasteless. By the turn of the century, I think I hardly ate apples.

Four years ago, I started buying apples in the fall from our local Okaw Valley Apple Orchard and discovered that they are delicious--crisp and full of flavor, like an apple should be. Fresh apples were available from the orchard from August through November, and I enjoyed every month of that time.

Last year, I extended my apple eating season through March by buying a huge bag of apples when the orchard closed on November 15. I double-bagged them to keep in the moisture (as Okaw Valley's Jim Bailey advised) and put them in my refrigerator. I didn't try any of them fresh, but my family and I enjoyed cooked apples through March. At the simplest, just cut them in half and microwave them until soft (time depends on the power of your microwave and the number of apple halves). Similar, yet surprisingly different when eating, cut the apples into bite-sized pieces and microwave until soft. I like to put cinnamon on mine; some people add sugar, and others eat them as-is.

Last winter, we bought lots of pears from the grocery store and enjoyed them every two or three days at supper. I didn't really understand that pears are seasonal until March or April, when fewer pears were available at the store, and those that were there didn't taste as good. Those that did have a good flavor were imported from Chile and New Zealand (if I remember correctly), and cost more. Other fruits were starting to come in at that time (I think it was mostly California fruit--strawberries and peaches, for example), so I stopped buying pears. One of the benefits to eating seasonally is looking forward to the return of each fruit or vegetable as its season arrives. And, these days, I am excited that the time for sweet, fresh pears has arrived.

The final member of my fall season menu is winter squash--we mostly eat acorn squash, butternut squash, and delicata squash. Last year I was disappointed that I didn't figure out how to use squash (the topic of a post to come) until it was too late to get any more local squash. The grocery store squash was satisfactory and available for longer, but I would rather buy locally grown squash if I can. So, as the fall season approached, I began to look forward to winter squash. Today, I laid in a store of winter squash. Supposedly you can keep it for weeks or months, depending on the variety. That will be one of my studies for this year.

If you want to lay in a stock of local produce, it's not too late:
Look for end-of-season discounts the week before businesses close, as they try to clear as much produce as possible. Shop earlier for greater selection.

Enjoy the flavors of the season!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Growing Garlic: It's Easy!

I took advantage of the warm, sunny afternoon--and dry soil--to plant my annual garlic supply. Yes, for several years I have grown all of the garlic my family eats. My husband is Italian, so that is not a small amount!

It's really not that difficult. I spent not more than an hour one afternoon picking out the largest cloves from the largest heads of this year's harvest. This afternoon, I spent another hour hoeing a small patch and planting 80-90 cloves. I used a 4-inch bulb planter to make individual holes. These cloves are planted 3 inches deep and 4-5 inches apart.

The garlic will sprout this fall, grow a little, and then wait dormantly over the winter, like winter wheat. When spring comes, it will start growing again. In late May, the garlic will put up stems to be cut off before they flower (cut them just as they are starting to curl, perhaps even before, and cut below 2-3 sets of leaves). These are called garlic scapes and are delicious. Think of them as garlic-flavored green onions and use them in a similar manner.

In early July, when most, but not all, of the leaves are brown, the garlic is ready to harvest. I loosen the dirt with a shovel and dig them up. Then I put them upside down in a box on my un-airconditioned back porch to dry. After 2-3 weeks, I cut off the stems and roots and put them in a box in a dark place in my basement. They come up briefly to be sorted for seed, and then they spend the rest of the winter, spring, and summer in the basement until they are eaten. The garlic heads keep until summer (or longer), when the next harvest is ready.

I'm still experimenting with the exact timing of the planting. Today might, in fact, have been a little late. Over time, my garlic heads and the individual cloves seem to be getting smaller. I wonder if I don't plant them early enough, so they don't get a good head start on their fall growing. One year I didn't get them in until the second week of November. They grew, and I got enough of a crop to eat, but that was definitely too late.

How did I get started growing garlic? It was originally supposed to be a one-season project to grow out and save my sister-in-law's garlic seed while she and my brother spent a year in Japan on his sabbatical. Four years later, they are still in Japan, and I have come to enjoy growing garlic.

I grow my garlic for the pleasure and because this variety has a really good flavor. However, it is neat to think that we haven't spent a penny on garlic (a staple in our kitchen) for four years!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Local food is a national trend

I first heard the term local food in 2003, when I agreed to plan and facilitate a Local Foods Forum for the Sustainable Agriculture Program of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The purpose of the Forum was to bring together people working on food issues from the Chicago area and downstate Illinois to inform the IDOA's Sustainable Agriculture Committee about the needs and priorities related to local food issues in Illinois, so that the Committee could make Sustainable Agriculture Grants for local food projects.

Already at that time, people in many areas were growing, promoting, and selling local food, and I have seen these activities expand over time. The term locavore, while not yet common knowledge around here, had not yet entered any of the discussions that I read in 2003. By early 2009, the number of people aware of and devoted to local foods had grown large enough to persuade the newly elected President Obama to have a vegetable garden planted on the White House grounds for the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt's wartime victory garden during World War II.

To me, however, the best indication of the widespread penetration of local foods awareness can be found at our local IGA. The IGA has sold apples from our local apple orchard for several years. At first, they had no special labeling. A couple of years ago, the sign in the produce section said, "Homegrown," if I remember correctly. This year, the sign reads something like, "Locally Grown and Handpicked by Okaw Valley Orchard."

And, at the back of the produce section last week, there was a basket of walnuts labeled, "Locally Grown."

When a trend reaches Sullivan, it is truly national.

Here are some places you can look for more information:

Friday, October 9, 2009

How to Save Cucumber Seeds

Doug sent the following quote from Mother Earth News on how to save cucumber seed:
In order to save seeds from cucumbers, you must let them thoroughly ripen on the vine. They will enlarge and turn yellow. They should stay on the vines until the vines are dead. Bring the cucumbers into the house and let them ripen further on a dry shelf in the pantry (or someplace out of direct sunlight). When the cucumbers begin to turn soft, scoop out the seed mass and put it into a large jar of water. Let the seeds ferment for five days, then separate the scum from the good seeds that have sunken to the bottom. Rinse the seeds in a colander, then dry hem on screens for at least three weeks, or until the seed snaps when bent in half. Store the seed in airtight containers, label and date clearly. Store the containers in a cool, dark place free of humidity. Seed processed properly will remain good for at least eight to 10 years.
Mother Earth News is one of my favorite magazines. It has interesting articles on not just gardening but also cooking, construction, tools, and homestead living. It occasionally has articles on political philosophies and government policies that divide the magazine's readers: some love them; others cancel their subscription in disgust. Overall, though, it's a good read, and their web site has great information.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The labor question

Doug and I were talking last week about the abundant bounty of produce in the garden, and regretting that some of it was going to waste because no one was picking it. The garden has come up against an age-old problem: How do you get enough labor to harvest?

It seems to me that in the past, people solved this by having family vegetable gardens and lots of children to help harvest. Even my 3-year-old has helped me on some occasions already. With industrial vegetable production, part of the solution has been machinery. However, with tender vegetables, not all labor can be mechanized away, and so we have migrant workers as well--agricultural workers who move from place to place following the harvest of various vegetable crops. (Thankfully, vegetables mature at different times. Imagine if everything ripened at the same time, from asparagus to winter squash!)

Our solution was to put a box and a sign to let people know that they could come and pick what they wanted, and leave a donation to support the Moultrie County Food Pantry. (I realize this post is almost too late to be of use in publicizing the availability of these vegetables; next year we'll be more organized.) Some people did pick and leave money, and still there are vegetables going to waste.

How can we make use of it all?