Archive for September, 2012

Preserving Food Around the Year

Sharon September 28th, 2012

Note, this comes from _Independence Days_, but I think it bears a repeat.I do want to emphasize that while you can go crazy trying to can or dry every single thing you’ve ever liked to eat so you can have it every day of the year, honestly, I think that in many ways, that’s just as nuts as  eating the pasty supermarket strawberries in January. That’s not to say that I’m not just as addicted to salsa in the winter as you are, just that the more you can get used to eating the foods that are actually in season, either fresh (think season extension) or stored fresh in a

root cellar or  equivalent, the easier on you all this preserving will be, and the easier it  will be to find the time to do it. Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize.  On the other hand, sometimes a little hard work really does save us time. Yes, it can be a pain to chop up all those tomatoes for pasta sauce, but it is so convenient to be able to dump the whole wheat pasta into the pot and pour it over not gloppy, super sweet, supermarket sauce, but your own roasted tomato and vegetable sauce. You are investing time now for freedom later.

So here’s my food preservation year. It sounds more impressive than it is, since often I don’t get it all done. I’m going to start my preservation year when things first start get going, in May. Some of you will be able to start it much earlier, others later.


  • Can rhubarb sauce —  a favorite dessert, and quickie breakfast dumped over raw rolled oats. It tastes much better than it sounds.
  • Freeze eggs for baking and scrambling.
  • Sell any extra eggs.
  • Bake eggshells, pound them up and store in a coffee can to be added to home-produced chicken feed and to the watering can.
  • Lactoferment dandelion green kimchi, although this isn’t really a “storage” item since it always gets eaten almost immediately.
  • Freeze and can up any squash or sweet potatoes we haven’t used up. I’ll also coat some eggs with shortening and store them at room temperature, but because I won’t want them until fall, that will be later in the season. They keep about six months, so I do this more with late eggs.


  • Pickle garlic scapes.
  • Dehydrate strawberries.
  • Can strawberry jam, strawberry sauce and strawberry-rhubarb pie filling.
  • Freeze snap peas.
  • Dehydrate sweet shelling peas.
  • Dehydrate greens (this is especially good for greens on the verge of bolting late in the month —  they can be ground up and added as a filler to flours and soups).
  • Can mint syrup for adding to water in the winter.
  • Dry onions.

I should also pickle some early baby beets, but somehow I never get to it.


Preserving Boom Begins!

  • Can blueberry jam, blueberry sauce, currant jam, currant juice, peach sauce, peach jam, apricot sauce, apricot jam, raspberry sauce, raspberry jam, peach chutney.
  • Dehydrate blueberries, apricots, peaches, black currants, red  currants.
  • Can beets.
  • Make kimchi out of various greens and roots.
  • Freeze grated zucchini to use as a meat extender for ground beef.
  • Dehydrate zucchini.
  • Pickle green beans. (I don’t bother to preserve green beans any other way. We don’t like them frozen, dried or canned, so they, like asparagus, are one of those things we enjoy when we’ve got them.)
  • Dry and braid garlic.

For us, tomatoes, corn and peppers do start this month, but they are too new to bother preserving —  I wait for the glut later in the season. I manipulate my cucumber harvest so that most of them come in around September, when it is cooler.

This is also when I seriously start my root cellaring garden. Some things, like parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and Brussels sprouts have already gone in, but most of the carrots, beets, cabbage, celeriac, and other root crops are planted in July, as is some more kale and collards.


  • Can tomatoes for salsa, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes.
  • Dehydrate tomatoes.
  • Dehydrate sweet peppers.
  • Freeze watermelon.
  • Can watermelon juice (surprisingly good).
  • Dehydrate watermelon (really good!).
  • Make watermelon rind pickles.
  • Freeze sweet peppers.
  • Pickle, dehydrate and freeze hot peppers (this depends on the variety: cayenne, kimchi, aleppo and poblanos get dried; jalapenos, fish peppers and bananas get pickled; serranos get frozen).
  • Freeze and dehydrate sweet corn.

I might make some cucumber or zucchini pickles too, if it isn’t too hot. Or I might not.

August is also when the last crops of greens, peas and favas go in, except spinach and arugula, which can keep going until September. Oh, and when I make raspberry vodka.


More of all of the above, plus cucumber pickles and beets. I also usually pickle some onions. By late September I may be harvesting dried-on- the-plant foods like dry corn, popcorn, amaranth and dried beans as well, or I might wait until October, depending on how things look. We also start canning applesauce and dehydrating apples. Most of the early apples don’t keep that well, so they are better eaten fresh, sauced and dried. Since September tends to be the last month I can reliably solar dehydrate, I try to do the dried apples then, but if I don’t get it done, they can be hung up behind the wood stove.


  • Harvest all the stuff we dried on the plant.
  • Can more applesauce, pear sauce, green tomato pickles.
  • Preserve late fruit (raspberries, apples, quinces, pears) in liquor.
  • Make apple butter.
  • Make cider syrup for pancakes.
  • Make late fruit leathers.

It is also when we start butchering chickens and turkeys, and if I’m really ambitious, I’ll can some of them —  the meat and the broth —  since I’m trying to minimize my freezer usage. Usually they get frozen, though. I make more late tomato sauce until the last harvest comes in. Also my own V8 juice.

We also start filling the root cellar — digging the potatoes, beets, turnips, harvesting the cabbages, etc. But the balance is hard. Because our root cellar is actually an unheated porch, we have to wait to put things in until it is consistently cold, but if we wait too long we get the fun of pulling beets out of frozen ground. So there’s always a race.


Most years, the race goes into November. We’re still preserving food, although the focus has moved away from canning and dehydrating. In November it’s cold enough to do large-scale lactofermentation. Until now, we’ve been making kimchi and sauerkraut in small quantities, to be eaten right away. Now we move towards big bucketfuls, because the process of fermentation slows down and we can keep it for months.

  • Ferment daikon, cabbage, carrots, napa, bok choy and other greens.
  • Dig potatoes and see if we have to buy more.
  • Put the carrots in buckets of sand.
  • Hang the onions.
  • Add in fall butchering and late canning.
  • Put up the coldframes and mulch things to overwinter.
  • Gather the nuts —  if we can beat the other nut-eaters.


This is the time to make presents and make cute little baskets of things. And to rest on our laurels a little. It’s usually a quiet time in the food preserver’s year. Most of the root-cellared stuff is new enough that there’s no need to preserve it another way, and there’s little new coming in, maybe just a few greens from the garden.

January – April

Now comes the project of management in earnest. You have to track the stores. When onions show signs of shriveling, we put them in the dehydrator. When the apples start to go soft, I start canning applesauce. A squash develops a spot? Great, cut it up and freeze it, or can it. It isn’t intense, the way summer preserving is, but it is constant, a little here, a little there, it all adds up. And that’s pretty much the way it will be until May, when the cycle starts again.

Oh, I Do So Love Rebecca Solnit…

Sharon September 28th, 2012

ay it, sister!

O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be furious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being radical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Because what we’re talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cosmology, but an attitude, and one that is poisoning us. Not just me, but you, us, and our possibilities.

Read the whole thing, and read it now. Then go back and read it a couple of more time.  More:

I don’t love electoral politics, particularly the national variety. I generally find such elections depressing and look for real hope to the people-powered movements around the globe and subtler social and imaginative shifts toward more compassion and more creativity. Still, every four years we are asked if we want to have our foot trod upon or sawed off at the ankle without anesthetic. The usual reply on the left is that there’s no difference between the two experiences and they prefer that Che Guevara give them a spa pedicure. Now, the Che pedicure is not actually one of the available options, though surely in heaven we will all have our toenails painted camo green by El Jefe.

I don’t mean to be rude, or anything, but I’m with her here.  Am I disappointed in President Obama?  Umm…of course.  Would I have been disappointed in anyone that actually got elected?  Umm…of course.  Does that mean he’s not a hell of a lot better than George W. Bush by my lights?  Yes.  It amazes me how fast people forget that the lesser of two evils is actually usefully LESSER.

Ultimately, I don’t hold out a ton of hope for national politics, but I will say this – I think that there are a lot of things that national politics could do to make the quality of people’s life in an era of decline a lot better.  Taking care of people is better than not taking care of people.  Making sure they have food is better than not.  And when we have better, it is worth saying so – while we still keep our eyes on the ball of what sucks.

Say it, Rebecca!


Getting the People in Your Home to Eat the Actual Food

Sharon September 6th, 2012

I think I get more requests for ideas for helping people who are on-board with the idea of sustainable eating get the rest of their families on-board than on any other food storage topic.  So let’s talk about that.  I actually wrote this post back in 2008, before our fostering adventures, so I’ve added some suggestions since then, based on my experience of getting traumatized kids who have lived on not enough food and all processed to eat good, real food.

In a perfect world, of course, our partners, roommates, children and other assorted members of our lives would say “Oh, I’m so thrilled you are growing a garden – now I can get rid of the honey-barbecue chips and the fast food, and start really appreciating rutabagas like I’ve always wanted to.”  In our perfect world, when Daddy unveils his laboriously created six-vegetable risotto with an enthusiastic “Voila!” the kids would say “Wow, Dad, is there really, truly bok choy in it?  And we can have seconds?  Yay!” instead of “What’s ‘wallah’?  It looks gross.  And ewww, what’s that green stuff?”

I would say the odds are good that most of us live in a somewhat imperfect world.  If we’ve been lucky enough to have started our kids on this stuff from birth, we may avoid the latter (mostly), but since most of our lives also involve some adults we didn’t get a hand in raising, and who we love despite their weird habits, we’re kinda stuck with them, and the painful reality that shifts in diet run up against people’s weird habits pretty hard.

The thing is, changing someone’s food habits is a big thing – we can do this for ourselves – all of a sudden we see the light and begin eating a new way – but making others do it?  That’s a challenge.  In many ways, we define ourselves by what and how we eat – so attacks on diets look like attacks on people, and often are fended off with the ferocity of warfare.  Nor does moralizing work very well – we all know the truth – the Western diet kills people, and the dying often cling to it with a passion that proves firmly that you can’t make most people change by simply telling them how bad their choices are.

As far as I can tell, with rational adults, and extremely rational teenagers there are a few ways of at least getting them onboard for the broader project of changing diets.

1. You enlist them in the name of self-improvement and being better people.  You can do this straight, or manipulatively. (And yes, I know in a perfect world, you’d never manipulate people at all, but I’ve never met a family in which there was no manipulation at all, if you include the sort of blatant, half humorous stuff.)   The straight way is simply to say “I think we all ought to be eating better – do you agree?  Here’s what I want us to do.”  This works in some families and with some people – and it doesn’t with others, even if we wish it would.  Don’t forget to mention the chance to be self-righteous to them that like that sort of thing the “I can’t believe those people who eat all that processed…”

If you do need/want to be sneaky,  it helps, I think if you start the discussion from the assumption that you both care very much about these things and want the same things.  That is, some people can be confused a little by simply starting from the “Of course we both care desperately that everyone have enough food in the future, so I know you will agree with me.”  Some people will assume that if you are assuming they care about this seemingly good thing that they must, and that gets you part of the way.  Or perhaps you could enlist their help against a larger obstacle ”Katie our two year old is so terribly picky, and I’m so terribly concerned that she be able to eat things…perhaps you can help me make it easier for her…” Or if you think that it will work (and if they are a person you’d say this sort of thing to) you can tell them it turns you on when they eat what you want them to eat.    Heck, you’ve got weirder kinks than a taste for seeing your girlfriend devour kale, right?

2. You use a different motivator than the one that moves you.  If you know the person you are thinking of is, say, cheap, you talk about how to save money, with an emphasis of doing the things you want to do anyway.  If the person is into cool gadgets, talk about the neat stuff you can buy to preserve food.  With small children, a great strategy is to convince them that you don’t really want to share your asparagus anyway because it is a wonderful grownup food that children don’t need, or to describe the food  in disgusting terms – you aren’t just offering them healthy food, you are offering them roadkill stew with sweet potatoes, and if they eat it, they can tell their friends that they ate week old raccoon.

3. You sneak the food into their diets gradually.  This is often the case when the motivated person is the primary cook, and has some control over what goes into food.  Suddenly, the noodles are whole wheat or brown rice flour.  Secretly, the meatballs are half tvp or ground zucchini. The yogurt is in the old containers, but it comes from home and has homemade strawberry jam mixed in.  You don’t talk about it, unless someone says something nice.  The word “fritter” shows up in your meal, and the fritters are suspiciously green.  The cookies get kinda browner and a little denser.  When asked about these things, you tell people they must be imagining things.

4. You are a total hardass.  This works only if you are the sole cook for someone without much power to get food elsewhere – young kids, teenagers too young to drive or too poor to buy food, spouses so accustomed to eating the partner’s cooking (or sufficiently well disciplined ;-) ) that they won’t dissent too much.  It starts out once a week – there’s this meal, and no snacks unless you eat some of it.  Then it goes up to two or three meals a week – dal and rice replaces burgers, no one buys snack cakes and juice boxes and carrot  juice is in the pitcher.  Don’t like it?  Tough patooties.  Guess who is holding the car keys?  The problem here is the danger of mutiny, or that someone else might actually learn to cook.

5. You compromise – a little of this, a little of that – and the truth is that while you have to eat more out of your storage, and you find some meals that everyone will like, you never quite get to the point where everyone is really eating this way all the time – there’s still some frozen stuff and take out in your life.  And that’s ok – just as long as you have a range of things people will do with the 75lbs of dried chickpeas that don’t involve sculpture.

Some practical ideas:

1. I’ve had great luck (and other people I know have) getting kids to eat raw cabbage dipped in ketchup, even if they won’t eat it cooked.  For that matter, a bottle of Heinz is a small price to pay to help kids adapt to eating veggies.

2. Root vegetables roasted in a pan are the basis for tons of meals – they can go inside enchiladas or wrap sandwiches, act as a starchy side dish (and are great at room temperature or cold),

3. Fritters.  You can dip them in anything.  Also dumplings.  No one has to know what’s inside/

4. Less sweet pumpkin or sweet potato pie can be breakfast, lunch and dinner (although maybe not in the same day).

5. For people who like strong flavors and mixed up foods, things like jambalaya, gumbo and casseroley things are your friend, because it is hard to tell exactly what’s in it – particularly if you chop the mustard greens finely.  If kids or family members hate onions or pepprs, try pureeing them for inclusion.

6. For people who like everything to be separate with nice clean lines, the potato is your friend.  Meat and potato people can get used to an ever-increasing amount of potato and a gradually decreasing amount of meat.  Sweet potatoes are almost a potato, right?

7. Vegetarian cookbooks are your friends – even if you aren’t veg.  They often have recipes that you’ll be able to put together with only pantry and garden.

8. Teenagers like power.  Get them cooking – and give them the power, within certain parameters, to choose some of the meals.

9. It really helps to let go on some things.  If you reassure your honey you aren’t trying to take away everything she loves, that you will still love him if he stops at the convenience store, your kids that candy is still allowed now and again, this will help the transition.  In fact, it helps if you instigate – let them have ice cream sundaes for dinner once a year, and you put it on the schedule!  Work with them, at the same time you are working “against” them.

10. Sometimes using a fat/salt/sugar laden technique is what is needed to get started with a new food – make rutabaga chips fried in oil with salt – and once they admit they like rutabagas, then you can work on mashing them.  Cheese sauce makes all things better.


But All the New Jobs Suck!

Sharon September 6th, 2012

In case you missed this article last week, we find what most of us have already guessed – a lot of the much-vaunted “new job creation” is crappy, ill-paid make work without much future – and yet again, people who could once earn a living are now struggling to manage bad jobs:

The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.

The job market has turned around since then, but those fields have represented only 22 percent of total job growth. Higher-wage occupations — those with a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 — represented 19 percent of job losses when employment was falling, and 20 percent of job gains when employment began growing again.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

At the same time that the cost of a college education has skyrocketed well past the rate of inflation, those without college degrees are being squeezed out, as are young college graduates.  This represents a deep and really disturbing change in the way the economy works, and one unlikely to turn around – instead, we’re seeing the reality – you can’t afford to get an advanced degree, and you can’t get a job without one.  This is the gradual elimination of the middle class – and it ain’t going away.


Turning Towards Knitting Weather

Sharon September 6th, 2012

It was a hot summer.  I started a few knitting projects but I’ll admit, I didn’t really want anything wooly (or even cottony) on my lap most of the summer.  It is still steamy here, and we’re going to hang on the remnants of Hurricane Isaac for a day or two, but then they are  predicting a sharp turn in the weather – by Monday highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s.  That’s more like it baby – I want to knit!

Honestly, most of what I make are small projects – socks, hats, mittens – the kids lose mittens so fast that I have to keep knitting to keep up.  I want to make Baby Z. a blanket and have some lovely superwash wool that is just crying out to be a soft warm baby snuggly.  And my children are campaigning for me to make them monsters for Chanukah -and who could resist that?  I mean seriously, knitting monsters is awesome.  I could also make a few more diaper covers.  And one of these days I’m going to finish knitting my tallit (a project I’ve been working on for ummm…nigh on infinity).

So it isn’t like I don’t have anything to knit, but hey, give me more ideas.  What are you making?  What would you like to make?  It can be sewn (I’m learning to make Waldorf dolls), or crocheted or whatever – what’s your handwork?