Friday Food Storage Quickie: The Soup Pot

Sharon December 4th, 2009

It is Friday again, and time to add a few more things to our reserve of food.  Because Thanksgiving has just past and winter is coming on (not that you could tell yesterday here in upstate NY where it was 60 degrees, but hey), and I thought it would be good to add some soup ingredients to your pantry.  So this week we’re going to add lentils or beans and some onions and carrots.  We’ll also throw a few seasonings in.

Why lentils or beans?  Well, it is perfectly possible to make a tasty bean or lentil soup without much of anything else lying around.  Good, tasty legumes will make a slightly bland but not unpleasant broth pretty much by themselves, as long as you have seasonings and vegetables.  If you can add some wine, or soy sauce or fresh herbs or a chunk of meat it will be that much better, assuming you like that sort of thing, and many of us can, but a really basic lentil or bean soup is simply not that hard, and it is good.

I like a range of legumes - to me Hutterite bean soup and Lentil Soup and Black bean are all really different and wonderful flavors, but you can pick anything you and your family like.  Lentils have the advantage of not requiring soaking or precooking, but dealing with dried beans is easier than a lot of us think - you just have to remember to put them on the night before to soak.  If you need to cook them ahead (recently harvested dried beans often don’t need precooking, but old ones do), a solar oven (if it is the season), a thermos or hay box cooker (heat it up to a boil and put it somewhere to stay hot), a pressure cooker or the back of your woodstove will help reduce the energy and attention involved.

You can make bean soup out of almost anything, but I’d have a hard time getting it done without some onion family vegetables - onions and garlic are the basic staples of all cooking around here.  The great thing about them is that even in a regular kitchen, they will keep a few months if you put them in a cool spot, and if you have a cold cellar, or any part of your house that doesn’t freeze but gets pretty chilly (consistently below 50 degrees) you can buy in bulk and store a lot of onions and garlic. Otherwise, consider dehydrating onions and garlic - not quite good, but still worth eating.  Right now near me I can buy 50 lbs of onions for 16 dollars direct from the farmer - that’s a lot cheaper than at the supermarket. 

I also recommend carrots, which can be stored in cold storage for several months, or dehydrated and added directly to soups and stews.  Again, this is the time to do it, as farmers wind up the harvest.  Carrots are delicious in a whole host of ways - just having fresh carrot sticks to go with your soup is a gift.

Everything tastes better with herbs and spices, so make sure you are gradually adding these to your pantry.  Ground spices store 1 year at room temperature (keep them away from heat and light) or 2-3 years in the freezer.  Whole spices store almost indefinitely.  Dried herbs if kept dark and cool also last a year, but the nicest way to have them is to have some fresh, so consider bringing in a few plants over the winter if you have a sunny windowsill.  It is worth adding these to your pantry now, since many stores have spices on sale before the holidays.

And this week we’re also going to add one thing to our more general preps - it is time to get ready for cold times, so make sure that you have sufficient blankets to keep warm if the heat goes out, or if you ever have to take in friends or family.  If you don’t, check out your local thrift shop.

Finally, let’s not forget how many people don’t have a good pot of soup on their stoves these days.  As you are out shopping, pick up some extra food for the food pantry - certainly onions, carrots and lentils will be welcome, but consider adding some cans of pre-made soup, for those who not only lack food, but cooking skills, or access to a kitchen or time to cook.

This feature, the Independence Days Update and a few others will remain at this blog regularly, with weekly (I hope) updates.  On Monday, I’ll be premiering the new blog, but this one will remain active and archived.



Best Books on Practually Everything: Gardening Books

Sharon December 3rd, 2009

Yet again, I come to you asking for recommendations to improve the Bibliography of the AIP book.  So tell me - what are your favorite garden books? 


What's Your Letter?

Sharon December 1st, 2009

Love the Peak Oil Hausfrau - you’ve got to take her “what are you doing to prep” quiz and find out what category you fall into.

Me, I guess I’m the trite B, but I’m thinking of dumping the farm and shooting for C, if only I could figure out where to get the money for gold ;-) .  Ok, maybe not.


The Three Sisters Cake: What Happens if Your Kids Love Your Life

Sharon December 1st, 2009

I’m not complaining, mind you, but sometimes I’m pretty surprised by the path things take in my life.  I don’t mean the farm or the goats or the fact that I actually butcher chickens.  I don’t mean the writing career, although that was a surprise of sorts. I mean my kids’ response to their life - their sheer exuberant embrace of all the things I say I want to do, but haven’t quite come to terms with.  I’m not always ready for it - but it is good for me.  It does play out in some strange ways, though.

Now I know I got it easy by starting so early - I hear all the time from people who are trying to transition their kids off their Wii and onto the farm, and it isn’t always easy.  So I may not be a typical example - but my kids have picked up on their parents’ values in a lot of ways - more than I think I would expect, and sometimes, it  plays out in ways I didn’t expect.  Now I am not seriously complaining - in fact, I know just how lucky I am.  But if you embark on this lifestyle, you must be prepared for being dragged along into places you weren’t expecting.

Consider the blankets for example.  I had planned to make Eli a fleece blanket for Chanukah, and back in September, I bought the fleece.  The younger boys were with me, and they conspired for a moment, and then announced that *they* wanted blankets too, and moreover, wanted to help sew them.  I argued with them that I’d planned to get them something else, probably toys or books.  No dice, the kids wanted blankets.  I shrugged, and then foolishly agreed to let them help sew them.  I had taught Simon to sew a little bit last year, but he didn’t enjoy it much, and Isaiah and Asher at 3 and 5, I figured would struggle with it. I was betting on 10 minutes each of sewing, and then I’d be able to run them quickly through the machine.

Bad bet.  Every single one of them was bound and determined to sew their seams by hand…every…single…inch.  You should see Asher’s - he just turned four, and the stitches aren’t even remotely near one another.  I do periods where I do it hand over hand, just so that the thing will hold together.  But boy is he proud of it.  And so we sit there doing it, day after day…after day, after day…..  I should be thrilled - they are building a useful skill, and developing self-discipline.  Actually, I keep thinking that I could be done by now (I know, I’m a bad parent for thinking that, but we’re pushing my patience limits pretty hard by now, after three consecutive weeks of this ;-)), but hey, that’s the consequence of telling kids it is better to do it yourself.  They might believe you.

Then there was Simon’s birthday cake.  Each of the kids is allowed to pick their own cake type at their birthday, and we endeavor to provide what is wanted.  In the past we’ve had everything from Tuscan Cream Cake to Black
Forest Cake to plain old white cake.  Well, this year, Simon had a brilliant idea.   In honor of our family’s 3 sisters garden, Simon wanted to make a 3 sisters cake.  What, you ask, is a three sisters cake?  Well, he informed us, it is a chocolate cake (the dirt), with gummy worms under green icing (the cover crop), and with the candy versions of the traditional three crops - candy corn, jelly beans and those candy circus peanuts, which look, he informed us, like butternut squash.

Ohhhhhhhhhkaaaaaayyy.  Here was a shining, enthusiasm that was hard to resist, proposing that we make the most disgusting cake ever, and it is all Mommy’s fault for getting them excited about gardening.  What the heck am I going to say to that, except…great idea honey! 

It was a huge hit at the party.  We baked the cake and filled it with raspberry jam, whipped the cream and dyed it a revolting green and did the rest of the prep before the party.  A dozen happy kids spent a good hour making the cake as revolting as humanly possible, ensuring that there was not an inch of cake without a gummy worm to surprise you.  The butternut squash/circus peanuts rose dramatically over the other candy in a form that Eric immediately christened “peanut henge.”  Most of the adults promptly disclaimed any interest in cake.  The kids were ecstatic, and Simon’s idea was praised for its brilliance.

The thing is, I am thrilled that my kids embrace their lives the way they do, and the endless sewing session and circus peanuts are a pretty tiny price to pay.  I love it when my kids tell me that they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, when they list off their favorite playthings and the list consists of baby goats, the creek, the climbing trees, the dog and Daddy.  I love it when my kids tell me “we should try and make this ourselves.”  I admit, I sometimes am unprepared for the result, as when we spent a week chipping needles out of bones, and I still haven’t cleaned off all the ink stains from learning to write with turkey quill pens, but what the heck.  I’m a lucky Mom.

The children are already plotting their next adventures. Isaiah’s birthday is coming up, and he’s chosen pumpkin pie, accompanying a turkey dinner (with Chanukah Latkes) as his theme, and wants to help cook everything.  They are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalog, so that they can order their poultry - they are taking chickens to the fair next summer.  They’ve already each picked out their animals to give to other families through the Heifer fund (Bees for Eli and Simon, Rabbits for Asher and Ducks for Isaiah), and Simon and Isaiah can bake a loaf of bread with only a little help.  Their requested Chanukah presents (none of which they will be getting, but hey, a kid can dream) consist of “a barn with a hayloft that attaches to the house” for Isaiah; “a belgian horse for me to ride” for 4 year old Asher, and “a farm where we can walk to shul with our friends” for Simon.  I can’t argue with their dreams - in fact, I’m just thrilled by them.

As for me, I may be a little afraid when the boys start talking about how when they are 9, 7 and 5, they want to raise water buffalo, but I’m learning just to go with it.   Water buffalo, huh?

BTW, if you are on facebook, I’m going to put up pictures of the creation of the 3 sisters cake, if you’d like to see it.


Variety Recommendations

Sharon December 1st, 2009

Because I am on the mail and email list of every seed company in creation, I am spending a lot of time trying not to read plant variety descriptions.  You see, I have other things to do.  But it is hard.  Seed catalogs are porn for garden people like me - I find myself beginning to enter into wildly unrealistic fantasies, in which I am harvesting bushel baskets of okra, and drooling slightly.  It isn’t very attractive, but it is kind of fun for me.  I want to curl up with a cup of tea and a pile of catalogs and let my imagination take me away.

But since I have told myself that I have to finish setting up the new blog before I do so, I will.  But I didn’t say anything about not indulging in discussions of varities with my readers.  This, of course, is important work, and wholly justifiable.  Heck, I might even nobly help improve someone’s tomato or carrot harvest if we do this.  It is all for you folks, really.

Ok, maybe not, maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to talk produce, but I do have to do a blog post, and I really do want to hear what you’ve all had good luck with.  So here are some of my favorite varieties, up here in the cold, wet northeast.  I’d love to hear what you’ve tried that you really like - do include your location and planting zone when you do it, so that we have a sense of the conditions of your garden.

On the subject of hybrid vs. OP/heirloom, btw, I have a general preference for the OP veggies, but no real objection to the judicious use of hybrids.  The reality is that for my climate, a number of hybrids are better than the OPs - I simply can’t get lots of really good bell peppers with even any of the cold hardy OP varieties.  That doesn’t mean I don’t grow and save seed from the OPs - I just separate them in the garden, and don’t plan to rely on the hybrids if times ever got really tough and I couldn’t afford or acquire more seed.  My general rule is that I grow a hybrid only if it offers me something no OP variety can, and if I want the crop in the long term,  I also save seed from an OP variety.  If I can’t do both, I keep the OP.  But I find I usually can - for example, I sometimes grow a hybrid sweet corn - but only after a bumper year of my preferred pop and dry corns, when I’ve got plenty of saved seed.

So you’ll see some hybrids, but a lot more OP varieties.  As with everything, YMMV.

We’ll start with the tomatoes:

Unlike everyone else last year, I didn’t get the blight.  It still wasn’t much of a tomato year, though - we had 26 inches of rain in June, and everything was stunted.  It was cold until late July, and we had another 14 inches of rain in July.  Still, tomatoes that did well in the crappy weather we had deserve their praise.

Paste: Orange Banana was the clear winner in productivity, but I still prefer Opalka and Polish Linguica for taste.  Linguica didn’t do well in the cold and wet, but Opalka was respectable.  Orange Banana is pretty good, though.

Slicers: My beloved early Glaciers came through like champions, producing early and often, despite disgusting weather.  Prudens Purple and Pineapple did ok.  Jaune de Flame didn’t do well at all, and neither did the Brandywines.  Taxi was respectable early, but petered out.

Cherries: The one hybrid tomato I always grow is Sungold - there’s nothing like it.  There was an OP variety circulating, but it just isn’t as good.  Sungolds mostly shrugged off the weather - in fact, I got a respectable crop even from a garden area I’d totally abandoned because of heavy flooding early on.  Black cherry also did well, with little cracking.  Be My Baby Cherry was really tasty, although not super-productive  The rest cracked constantly due to the wet conditions.

Peppers - it was just plain a crappy pepper year for us.  The ones that did best were planted late, actually, they missed the worst of the rain and coolth. 

Heirloom: Albino bullnose is not my favorite pepper, flavorwise, but it is a reliable and solid producer, and not bad.  It has shrugged off bad conditions every year to go on and do well.  The only other real success in this category was Amish Cheese, which was extremely tasty and productive.  Chinese giant was passable, although very late, and are my favorites for flavor and size.

Hybrid: Sunbell and Flavorburst did pretty well for me. 

Hot: Terrible hot pepper year, even for those in pots.  I’m a pepperhead, and I like my peppers with good heat - not a great set of choices.  Serrano de Sol did ok, So did Early Jalapeno, for a fairly kind definition of ok.  Long red cayenne and Fish were passable.  The habaneros totally tanked, as did most of the other peppers.

Potatoes: Some scab this year, because of the wet, but not a terrible year.  Russian banana fingerlings were extremely plentiful, Purple Peruvian shrugged everything off, and Green Mountains did the same.

Eggplant: Surprisingly, it wasn’t a bad eggplant year - I have no idea why, since it should have been. Italian White produced very nicely, and has become a staple.  Those little tiny ones “Hansel” and “Fairy Tale” did very well, and I think I’m going to sell the plants, but I just have no use for such tiny eggplants myself - I don’t have time to sit around stuffing midget veggies.  Pingtung Long did fine, as did Rosa Bianca, so I’ll stick with them.

Carrots: Not a bad carrot year, even given the wet.  Dragon did extremely well, was very sweet and my kids loved it. This was our first attempt with it.  Oxheart gave its usual solid performance. 

Turnips: We had the best turnip year ever.  I realize this is not something most people would consider a delight, but I like them.  Purple top white globe did very well, as did Japanese White.

Beets: This was the year of the Yellow Intermediate Mangel - they are delicious, easy to grow and did very, very well.  Rote Kugel was a close second.

Broccoli: We really loved Purple Peacock - tasty and successful.  Umpqua was a nice, reliable performer. Romanesco did well and was yummy, despite taking up space all year.  Blue Wind, an early hybrid, came in nice and early when it was raining all the freakin’ time.

Peas: Alderman did very well for us, as did Sugar Ann.  Blauschokkers did terribly - almost no soup peas this year.

Corn: We had a nice harvest of Northstine Dent corn, planted on the late side and it did very well.  It is the best tasting meal corn I’ve ever eaten, even if not the heaviest yielder.  We ate the Black Aztec in the green stage, because it was pretty clear it would never have matured all the way, given the rain.  Tasty, but I wanted it more for grain than green.

Cabbage: Was slow to size up, but Early Jersey Wakefield did well enough, and January King and Glory of Enkuizen did great for me.

Kale: They all did fine.  My favorite for flavor is Lacinato, my favorite for texture is White Russian.  But I’ll eat any kale or collards happily.

Beans: Not a great bean year.  The red noodle beans did very badly, which was a pain, since I love them.  The asparagus beans did ok, but not up to previous performances.  The dry beans didn’t all get dry enough - Mrocumier, Hutterite and Jacob’s Cattle did the best.

Green beans: The bush beans were late, but finally did pretty well. I got a good harvest out of Royalty Purple and Benchmark.  The poles weren’t as good this year, but Northeaster, Fortex and Blue Lake did ok.  I tried growing Genuine Cornfield up the corn, but it just didn’t work well this year - too much wet and cold early on.

Cucumbers - Well, there’s something that mostly liked the weather.  Poona Kheera remains a major fave, while Northern Pickler did very well.

Ok, I can’t remember what else I planted ;-) .  How about y’all?


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