Archive for October 5th, 2011

What Will I Eat this Winter?

Sharon October 5th, 2011

Several readers wanted to know what my family will be eating, given the destruction of our garden and of local crops in the valleys.  I’ve delayed answering this question because I’ve been waiting to see some of what emerges in the month after Irene and Lee.  As you know, the Schoharie Valley, historically our primary produce source, was horribly flooded during the hurricanes, wiping out the crops of most of the farms I’ve relied on.  Other farmers had lesser damage, but it has been a tough year.

In some ways, the last month has been further disappointing - nearly non-stop rain has meant that even farms that didn’t lose crops to the tropical storms have lost some of their usual produce - for example, my usual source for fall raspberries in quantity lost everything.  Another source has had so much mold and mildew due to the rain that they aren’t picking either, so it looks like no raspberry jam this year.  Fortunately, we had a great year for blackberries and peaches, but raspberry was everyone’s favorite.

In other ways, there have been some heartening developments.  Several local farms have done the work of sourcing fairly local produce from farms in the region.  While the prices are up (they have to buy it), I can get bulk peppers, sweet potatoes and onions.  Some of the farms did have some crops in for the year before Irene and Lee, so while they lost all their field crops, they do have carrots, potatoes and garlic in some quantity - so one answer is more of what they do have.  Another is that in a minor crisis (and this is not minor here, but it isn’t a region-wide food failure without the capacity to transport food around either), I can rely on my local farms to source food for the customers from other farms in the larger region.  So I can add to my pantry most fall staples.

There will be some major gaps in my pantry this year - very few tomato products, and no salsa at all (Next year I’ll remember to mix it up more - I had decided I’d do all the whole tomatoes and sauce first and then the salsa when the hot peppers were riper, but that wasn’t such a terrific plan,  Definitely one of those live and learn things.

Despite being under 3 feet of water, the one really flood proof warm weather crop I did have were the tomatillos - astonishingly (given that they are more adapted to heat and drought), they’ve continued to grow unabated, where pretty much everything else but the greens drowned, rotted, succumbed to fungal disease, burned down or fell into the swamp (there is something Monty Pythonish about the ways that plants succumbed).  So along with some greens, we’ll have a lot of salsa verde and carmelized tomatillo jam.  This will definitely take up a larger role in our diets this year.

Turnips mostly survived, so we’ll eat more of those as well.  We had a good quince year, our best ever, and many local farms do have apples, so apple-quince sauce and quince jam and paste will also take center stage instead of standing towards the back.

We’ve fortunately got hay put aside, but no corn for our livestock or for us. I have some pop and grinding corn left over, and the corn stalks have fed goats and rabbits so it isn’t a total loss, but still, we’ll be buying more feed this winter than I like.

There are two implicit questions here - what will I eat this winter, and what would I eat in a disaster that meant we couldn’t bring in what we had.  The answer to both is “more of what there is” - but it would be vastly harder to adapt to in the case of an inability to bring in crops from further away.  We keep enough stored food to be able to eat all winter, but we’d grieve the lack of many of our usual root cellared staples that make that diet more appealing, and to the preserved foods that give brightness, spice and pleasure.  Still, we would eat.

To me, this emphasizes the central importance of both food production and food storage - any of us may see crop or even whole garden/farm failures in any given year, and none of us can be 100% sure that we will be able to replace what we have lost.  Food storage gives us leeway, and the option of keeping everyone fed.  Food preservation allows us to take what is abundant (and something is always abundant in even the worst years) and use it to supplement and rebuild food stores, in case not everything is abundant.\

The other thing I have learned to this is to assume less - I did not rush when the cucumber became available because ordinarily, I have another month of pickling.  I could have canned more tomatoes, put up more of the rhubarb, harvested some of the corn before the storm and dried it indoors.  Hindsight, of course, is always clear - but it will remind me next year, and as I fill my root cellar not to take for granted the idea that next month’s gleanings will be there.

I think my family has never had such an acute lesson on the importance of food storage, of keeping up with the preservation and making good use of all we have, and of appreciation of what is ordinarily available.  We are lucky - we can replace some of what is lost.  People in my region benefit both from the networks of farms that allow us to reach out a bit further from our local circle and also from the fact that we don’t, as yet, HAVE to rely on local food.  It gives us time to strengthen and build for a day when we may.