Sunday, July 19, 2009

Eating locally

I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, on a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. It changed my outlook on eating.

My first shopping expedition after the trip was a big disappointment. I hoped to convert our diet to locally grown foods, but in a small Minnesota town, in October, the only locally grown food in the produce aisle was winter squash.

A friend aaked “Why are you doing this?” when I said I wasn’t buying bananas any more.

In part, it’s to see if we can live off the land – grow or barter our own food. We are fortunate to live in the country. We have infinite garden space and plenty of room for animals. But I also like the idea of supporting the local economy. I buy strawberries and raspberries from a woman I know at the Tuesday farmer’s market in town. I buy cabbage, beans, and summer squash there also.

If someone sold local cheese, I’d gobble it up, but unfortunately, no one does. I learned how to make mozzarella after reading of Barbara Kingsolver’s adventures. It was dead easy and tasted wonderful with dried leaves from our own purple basil plant mixed in. But I might as well support our dairy farmers by buying cheese from a Minnesota dairy rather than use nonfat dried milk from who knows where, to make my own. Also, although my first batch of mozzarella was almost perfect, each succeeding batch was less successful. I am perhaps not cut out to be a cheese maker.

In fact, a large part of our diet is locally grown – lamb, maple syrup, honey from our own hives, eggs from the neighbor just north of us, and garden produce starting sometime in late May or early June.

This year, I decided to find other local foods, and to stretch our garden season. The neighbor who sells eggs also sells chickens. I harvested lambs quarters, dandelions and amaranth along with some self seeded lettuce from last year for May salads.

We also began picking rhubarb in May. With thirteen well established plants, we had an almost inexhaustible supply. I froze it, gave it away, made sauce and desserts. Rhubarb grows enthusiastically and easily and continually for over a month, almost two - it would be a perfect food if you didn’t have to use quite so much sugar to make it palatable.

As gardeners, we are quite successful. Dave orders seeds in January and plants melons, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, peppers and herbs in the house in April. He nurtures them, rotating the flats so they get the best warmth, the best sunlight, the best chances to grow, until late May when we set them out in the garden. He tills the garden behind the house, a spot that was once solid clay and is now a wonderful, rich bed of black dirt and humus, thanks to thirty years of mulch.

We plant corn, cucumbers, squash, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, cilantro, peas and spinach. I add nasturtiums to the flower garden for spicier salads, and perennial herbs to harvest in the summer and dry in the fall. And then we wait for things to grow.

It has been a cold summer. Nothing is growing rapidly. But we finally are harvesting cups of sugar pod peas – perhaps our most successful crop - daily. We cut off all the Swiss chard and all the spinach yesterday, and blanched and froze all the leaves – two quart bags for spinach soufflĂ© next winter. At that rate, two bags of frozen spinach from ten feet of row, we’ll never be self sufficient. But we’ll re-harvest the spinach in a few weeks and by then the cucumbers will be ready and we can shift from eating chef salads made mostly of greens for supper, to chef salads with cucumbers added.

June berries look like small blueberries, they have an intense flavor and more seeds. They taste great on granola and freeze perfectly and easily for winter. In the past, the birds had always picked all our June berries as they ripened and I never found any to harvest. It took us several seasons to figure out what was going on. Now, we cover the bushes with bird nets and several weeks later, pick quarts of the berries.

Nankin cherries ripened in mid-July, but their seed to fruit ratio is quite high so I only use them for jelly or juice. I froze a scant two cups of juice yesterday – not enough to do more than flavor apple sauce.

We won’t have apples until mid-August when the first summer varieties ripen. Those are also best used in sauce or pies. I’m not a good pie maker, so last year, Dave and I sliced our early apples and dried them. Tomorrow, we’ll take dried apples on our next canoe trip.

1 comment:

  1. Here's another book I think you will be interested in reading that's somewhat related.

    "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan