Category Archives: Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm

Growing Up in the City Doesn’t Mean You Have to Miss Out on the Farm

Nico and DogThis week, our Orchard Gardens Farm apprentice, Nicolas Matallana (or Nico for short), has recorded a bit about his experience this summer. We are grateful to the Missoula Federal Credit Union for funding his position, enabling him to learn about farming and nonprofit operations. It also helps us grow Orchard Gardens as place where those of any income can eat fresh—whether that means bringing a prescription, a few bags to fill, or a few seeds and a caring hand. Nico originally came to Missoula to explore the mountains and learn about the ecology while pursuing a degree in Ecological Restoration, but little did he know that local food would strike his passion. Nico has been gardening and volunteering on farms since his first semester in Missoula. 

I’m going to tell you about a youngster that I got to know this summer. He lived in the Homeword housing complex, next to the Orchard Gardens Community Farm. Let’s call him Carrot.

As a five year old, he was too old for the resident play structure, but still too young for Kindergarten, so he would spend his days looking for something, anything, to let him let out his creative energy. From the field, I would often see him speed by on his bike, yelling unintelligibly, as he lapped and lapped the housing complex. It reminded me of the endless summer days of my childhood, biking or skateboarding back and forth on the curb, trying to spend an unlimited amount of energy.

Orchard Gardens Farm
Orchard Gardens Farm. Photo by Chad Harder.

He wasn’t usually allowed to come into the farm, so he would often swoop on us while we hauled our harvest across the parking lot to the barn.

“What are you doing?”

“We’re getting ready for the CSA.” One of us would respond.

“Why?”

“Because we have to get these vegetables ready” One of us would say patiently

“Why?”

And so on, he would hang around and ask questions and linger and pick up things he shouldn’t and we’d sometimes have to kick him out. But he would always be back, laughing and goofing off the next day.

My co-worker, Michelle, was the true wizard at keeping him busy. She’d see him coming towards us and immediately find something to entertain and occupy him.

“Do you want some kale?” She’d ask.

“Mmmmm… No!”

“How about some cucumber?”

“Mmmmmmmm……. Okay!”

And off he’d go munching on his cucumber to chase around the other neighborhood kids. He ate most things that came out of the field, which impressed me for his age – I certainly didn’t eat so many vegetables when I was that young. When good things were being offered, like apricots or cherries, the entire neighborhood kiddo-herd would come, flocking around us impatiently.

“What do you say first?” Michelle would remind them all.

The chorus would respond, “PLEASE!”

We knew this was a special place for Carrot. While the other kids came and went, Carrot came by consistently. When Dave was out running errands, he would ask where he was every couple minutes. If we were busy in the field, he would always ask us when CSA was, which he knew was when he could get our attention. At first, entertaining him felt like another job, but over the summer I grew to appreciate his persistence.

Nico and Campers
Nico and some summer campers at Orchard Gardens.

I wish I had grown up with a farm next door, with a Dave and Michelle to put a cucumber in my hand when I needed something to do. My neighborhood friends and I would get so bored that we would eventually end up in trouble, and over the years it just got worse. Carrot sometimes got in trouble, but handing him a vegetable would usually do the trick.

Next year he will be in Kindergarten. I’m sure he’ll come around every summer, looking for a snack or a human to talk with. And it will be the farm employees, the vegetables, and the community gardeners that will welcome him. I’m glad the farm can keep him out of trouble. Maybe he’ll even be a farm apprentice one day.

Flirting with Tatsoi: 5 recipes for one hot little green

tatsoiWe’re just getting to know one another, tatsoi and I, and this green is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Crisp with a slight heat, and just a touch of bitterness — it is one interesting character.

Tatsoi is considered a cold weather green, a member of the brassica family (cousin to broccoli and cabbage), and many recipes that include tatsoi are called winter salads. That’s because it likes the cold, and will sustain temperatures of -10 degrees Fahrenheit (gardeners, take note!). So Montana is a great place to grow it, and a good reason it is showing up in the earliest batches of your CSAs and farmers’ market runs.

chalkboard

Listen to the chalkboard: “embrace spring greens!” It is that time of year. And there’s a whole world of greens out there to rub shoulders (or should I say tastebuds?) with.  The basics with these greens: don’t cook ’em too much, just add a little ginger, sesame oil, tahini and rice vinegar, and you’ve got yourself a great side. Add chicken, tofu, or scramble in an egg or two and you’ve got yourself a mean stir fry.

If you want to go a bit further, Googling this critter is a bit tricky, because it is not as well known as many other greens–in fact my autocorrect really wants to change the word tatsoi to tats. Hmmm. If you have favorite recipes that include arugula and/or mustard greens, try tatsoi as an alternative. Both of these greens have a little spice to them, and cook for similar times.

A lot of the spring/winter greens are interchangeable or can be mixed with one another (pak choy, mizuna, bok choy, and tatsoi are great combos). These early and quite tender spring greens are great raw in salads, and hearty enough for stir fry. Tatsoi and its cousin bok choy are often recommended for stir fries.

If you want to get more creative, here are my top five recipes to mix up your tatsoi repertoire. All of them are something that you could make on a weeknight — several of them with many staples in your pantry.

ONE: TATSOI & MUSTARD GREEN SALAD WITH GINGER HONEY VINAIGRETTE

An easy, raw salad from Sunday Suppers. And if you want a little more complicated salad, here’s one that made my mouth water. . .I’ve just never been one to follow recipes when it comes to salad.

TWO: GRILLED HALIBUT WITH SPICEY THAI CHILES

A main dish with simple ingredients. Many who reviewed this recipe coated the halibut with panko bread crumbs and pan fried it.

THREE: WHOLE WHEAT SHELLS WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

Wilt your greens in with pasta! Love and Lemons is a gorgeous food blog with lots of solid recipes. This one has lots of alternatives and would be pretty kid friendly and simple.

FOUR: QUICK BRAISED CHICKEN WITH BEANS & GREENS 

This is a great one pot dinner loaded with nutrients.

FIVE: TOFU & WILTED GREENS

This is pretty much the recipe that the PEAS Farm chalkboard recommends, if you want more instructions and proportions from I Can Cook That.

May you embrace your spring greens and have a very happy Father’s Day. Maybe even try cooking some of your tatsoi for a Father’s Day feast? Let us know what recipes you love!

A delicious (and quick!) way to make your garlic scapes

Just as I was about to buy my first garlic head at the grocery, garlic scapes are ready to harvest – hallelujah! Hardneck garlic plants all over Missoula are sending up what we call garlic scapes — a curling stem ending in a bud. Here’s a pile of them after our harvest:

freshly trimmed garlic scapes

I was out with the Community Garden team on Thursday, and we harvested scapes. Garlic scapes siphon needed energy from the garlic bulb, and put it into the blossom. So, we cut the buds and their associated stems, right above the first leaf and took them home for dinner. Here’s Patrick and Emy, my co-workers, at the Providence Garden — just after we finished harvesting scapes. They’ve moved on to thinning carrots. It’s a great way to start the day: gardening with good people.
Community Gardens Staff thinning carrots
What to do with scapes? You can really use them anywhere. You can straight up grill them, you can add them to a stir fry or your mashed potatoes. They make a mean pesto (many of my favorite cooks say scapes make the best pesto, but you are using it raw, so it is gonna be strong, and make you and your breath smell like garlic). This pesto recipe includes a seasonal green, too: chard! You can also store them and pickle them.
Scapes have a mildly garlicky, slightly sweet flavor. When cooked, their texture resembles asparagus. I wanted to have a little fun with both scapes AND asparagus, since they are both in season, and chose Sesame Ginger Scapes and Asparagus, from Montana Public Radio‘s site, written by T. Susan Chang for this week’s recipe. It’s easy, quick, and delicious. You could fry an egg, shovel it on top with a little spritz of Tamari and call it a meal, especially if you are eating alone. Otherwise, it makes a lovely side. It’s actually good cold, too.

Here’s how I prepared it:

I got out all the ingredients. It’s a stir fry, thus everything happens SO FAST.
Ingredients
I chopped the asparagus and scapes into 2 inch pieces. Grated the ginger. (Side note: I keep a few fingers of ginger in my freezer and it has changed my life. Or at least, made cooking many Asian dishes at the last minute possible because I can keep fresh ginger on hand.)
Chopped veggies
I didn’t have soy sauce or tamari on hand, so I used coconut aminos instead. I didn’t have any mirin (a sweet rice wine often used in Asian cooking) either, so as per these guidelines I used Marsala wine instead. I added about a quarter teaspoon of fish sauce to bring the salty back , and balance out the sweet Marsala and coconut aminos.
Coconut oil seemed the best choice of vegetable oils since this is such a high heat operation. I think you could use unrefined, but I used refined because I didn’t want to change the flavors too much.
Heated the oil hot! in my wok. Because my cast iron skillet was crusted in egg from breakfast.
wok and oil
Added the scapes for 2 minutes, till they got a little darker.
cooking scapes
Added the asparagus and ginger (stir like crazy so the ginger doesn’t stick to the side of the pan right off the bat — try to get the flavor distributed before the inevitable sticking happens), for another minute or so (you can cook it a bit more after you add the sauce if needed).
scapes and asparagus
I did my best to push the veggies to the side as Chang suggests, and added the sauce mixture. It took about 4-5 minutes to reduce it to a syrup — it will vary depending on what you are using for sauce.
After it looked a bit like syrup, I removed it from the heat, and tossed all the contents together with the toasted sesame oil. As a finishing touch, I toasted the sesame seeds because I wanted to boost their flavor (and, they’ve been in my cupboard a long time).
finished product
I also broke the buds open and sprinkled their contents on the top of the finished dish. This is a great addition to a salad or something that needs a little garlicy kick.
garlic sprinkles

Recipe (adapted from T. Susan Chang’s)

4 servings 
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 1 dozen garlic scapes chopped into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 small bunch of thin asparagus, chopped into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 1-inch ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon coconut amino sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • About 1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds to finish the dish

See above for preparation instructions, or check out the original.

Happy scaping! See you next Sunday on the Real Dirt.

Save

Save

Sorrel. Photo by Michelle Parisi

Unsung Sorrel

This week we’re featuring a very special guest blog post from Michelle Parisi, Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm Assistant. Michelle grew up in Chicago and taught kindergarten before moving west to test her farming skills. She first sprouted her gardening wings as a volunteer for veggies at River Road Farm for her first four seasons. Now the assistant at Orchard Gardens, she aspires to be outfoxed less often by voles and weeds


At Orchard Gardens a patch of sorrel bolts skyward, red and yellow seeds ripening on on four foot tall stalks.  They are hard to overlook, yet these plants had never been harvested until a very special visitor showed us a delightful way to use their sour, lemony leaves.

Sorrel. Photo by Michelle Parisi
Sorrel. Photo by Michelle Parisi

It turns out that sorrel grows semi-wild in many parts of the world.  It was easily and enthusiastically recognized by Mr. Karaman, who was visiting his sons at Orchard Gardens homes.  The Karaman family is Kurdish, and their hometown of Hakkari sits high in the mountains of southeastern Turkey.  Due to ongoing political violence in the region, the family has been forced to flee, leaving behind a beloved home and garden.  As we toured the farm together, Mr. Karaman spotted the sorrel and identified it as the very same plant that grows on the hillsides around Hakkari.  He picked a large bunch, deftly tying it with long blades of grass, and invited us to share the soup he would make with it.  The following is the recipe he passed along to us.

image1 (2)
Michelle smiles with the Karaman family at the Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm. Photo courtesy of Michelle Parisi.

Delicious Kurdish Sorrel Soup

½ cup cooked chickpeas

½ cup cooked bulgur

1 bunch sorrel

1 bunch spinach

mint, thyme, oregano to taste

2 cans chicken broth

1.5 lbs yogurt

1-2 jalapenos (if you like spice)

1 tomato, grated

1 lemon

2 tbsp butter

Salt

Mix chick peas, bulgur, greens, tomato, herbs, salt, and butter in a large pot.  Squeeze the lemon into the mix.

In another pot, warm up the chicken broth and slowly mix in the yogurt.  Stir for a few minutes on low heat.

Add broth and yogurt to the greens.

Bring to medium heat, keeping it below the boil, until the greens melt to a soft consistency.

Enjoy!

Veggie train is leaving the station — all aboard!

The Blog

This blog is all about seasonal recipes, great places to get new ideas,  and a bit about the flavor (forgive the pun) of each farm.  That’s this one. We’ll email you a link each week on Sunday mornings to let you know it’s up.

We write this blog mainly for our CSA subscribers/members, but anyone who lives in colder climates with similar seasonality to us in lil’ ol’ Missoula, Montana is welcome to join in the fun. It’s about how to cook and store food that is growing nearby, in your backyard, and in your CSA.

It is also about sharing information. If you have a recipe that floored you, or that you made up, PLEASE SHARE! We want to hear from you. Comment away. Or get in touch. I’ll put it in the following week’s posting!

The details for your first pickup

Bring a few bags to pack up your bounty. We don’t provide boxes (but don’t worry, at most farms we do have extra bags around if you need them.)

If you can’t pick up your CSA please ask your friend, neighbor, auntie, coworker, anyone you can think of to pick up your share for you. (You can repay the favor with some cucumbers…)

If you can’t find someone to help let us know at least 24 hours in advance (or the Friday before if you are a Monday pickup). We’ll be happy to reschedule you. If left at the end of the pickup, your fresh produce will be taken to the Missoula Food Bank or Poverello Center.

Greens are coming. . .

If you want to read up on greens — the bulk of what you will see in CSA shares these first few weeks — give this blog a gander.

The Farms

Garden City Harvest has four farms in Missoula — The PEAS Farm, River Road, Orchard Gardens, and Youth Farm. Each farm has its own personality, some depend more on volunteers, some on students, some on teens learning the ins and outs of farming, running a farm stand, and basic job skills. They all grow food for agencies like the Missoula Food Bank, Poverello Center, and Youth Homes along with food for their CSA subscribers. The farmers provide a network of support for each other, from ordering seeds and rotating crops to creating a seed saving program for the farms. It is amazing what you can do with many hands. It does help the work load feel lighter.

Here are the faces of the people who head each of these beautiful, food-filled places:

Josh SlotnickPEAS Farm – Josh Slotnick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave VictorOrchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm – Dave Victor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greg PriceRiver Road Neighborhood Farm – Greg Price (photo by Erick Greene)

 

 

 

 

Cori AshYouth Farm – Cori Ash

Make sure to say hi to your farmer. We can’t wait to meet you, and see you for 18 weeks this summer. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

 

Red worms, Eisenia foetida

Composting with Red Worms

This week we’re featuring a special guest blogger – Dave Victor, Orchard Gardens Farm Manager. Dave is a lover of plants and the soil that sustains them.  He has a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana where he focused on seed saving at the River Road Farm. Off the farm, he enjoys tending to his red worms and growing mushrooms. His knowledge and passion for worm compost is well worth sharing…

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Looking for a kid-friendly backyard ecology project?  Interested in making high quality compost but tired of turning that smelly pile in the backyard?  Want to eliminate your paper waste stream from filling up the recycling center or landfill?  Intrigued by keeping ‘livestock’ that doesn’t require much room or pasture?  Tired of hunting down worms for your next fishing trip?  Then red worm composting may be for you!

 How It Works: Food and vegetable scraps are buried into paper bedding within a plastic or wooden bin.  Red worms, with the help of invertebrates and microorganisms, break down both bedding and food scraps into a high-quality, biologically rich compost called castings.  Castings are then used to fertilize garden plants that feed you, your family, and your friends.

 Benefits of Worm Castings: Worm castings are biologically and chemically different than traditional compost.  While the macronutrient levels (NPK) in worm castings are lower than traditional compost, castings have a profound influence on plant growth and health.  Reasons for this include increased levels in humus, micronutrients, and plant growth promoters available in castings that aren’t found to the same degree in traditional compost.  Because castings are biologically dynamic it is noted that plants grown with small amounts of castings germinate better, grow faster, yield better, and are more resistant to disease and insect pressures.  Need proof, then try it for yourself!

The three trays in the foreground were all planted at the same time in our greenhouse. The tray in front contains worm castings while the other two do not.
The three trays in the foreground were all planted at the same time in our greenhouse. The tray in front contains worm castings while the other two do not.

The Worm Bin: A worm bin is simply a structure that holds bedding, worms, and food scraps.  You can make one yourself (which is really easy) or buy one from a supplier.  For your first worm bin, I recommend using an old plastic tote.  Drill a series of ¼” holes on the bottom, sides, and lid to allow for air exchange as plastic bins tend to hold too much water through condensation.  Or simply skip the holes and leave the lid slightly cracked.  If you make a wooden worm bin then drilling holes is not necessary as wood breaths better than plastic — just be sure to cover bedding with a plastic trash bag to hold in moisture.  If holes were drilled, line the bottom with screen window material to prevent stuff from coming out of the bottom.

Worm bin options
Worm bin options

Bedding Materials: The first thing you will want to add to your new worm bin is bedding material, which is the carbon-based material that you will bury food scraps into.  Shredded office paper, junk mail, and old newspaper (no glossy or lots of color) work really well and is a great alternative to recycling.  Bedding should be between 5 and 12 inches deep, should be kept loose and airy, and must be moistened to the feel of a damp sponge.  Your bedding will help absorb liquid from your food scraps and control stinky smells.  Your worms will consume both bedding and food scraps.  Be sure to mix in a handful of living soil to the paper.  This helps inoculate the bin with beneficial organisms that help shred and chew materials before worms get to it.

Shredded paper bedding next to a bucket of castings
Shredded paper bedding next to a bucket of castings

The Worms: There are many species of worms, but not all are suited to living in a worm bin.  Some worms live deep in the soil such as earthworms and are not good for composting food wastes. Others, such as red worms, live in the upper litter layer of soil and are excellent composters.  Red worms, such as Eisenia foetida — also known as red wiggler, manure worm, and red composting worm — are what you want to add to your worm bin as they will consume large amounts of decomposing vegetation and paper bedding.  They can eat up to half of their weight in feed per day and reproduce quickly under ideal conditions.  So you can start with a small batch of worms and easily increase your population to handle all your food waste needs.  Red worms can be sourced from fishing bait shops, friends and neighbors, or online.

Red worms, Eisenia foetida
Red worms, Eisenia foetida

Worm Bin Dynamics: Think of your worm bin as a functional ecosystem with its own food web dynamics.  By adding bedding material and food scraps we eventually get worm compost, i.e. castings, in return.  This doesn’t happen magically though.  It follows nature’s pattern of material breakdown with the help of invertebrates (millipedes, pill bugs, enchytaeids) that chew and shred materials making it easy for your worms to eat.  Protozoans, fungi, bacteria, rotifers, and nematodes also perform a role in material breakdown and serve as a supplemental food source for our worms.

Worm Castings: After several months you will begin to notice that your bedding has started to breakdown and there is a layer of black crumbly compost, called worm castings, on the bottom of your bin.  This is the product of your worms’ digestive system with the help of microorganisms and invertebrates.  Castings can be harvested and used to side-dress garden and house plants, used as a supplement in potting soils, or made into tea and sprayed on plants.

Considerations: Inside of your bin is a working environment.  Proper conditions are needed for everything to work smoothly.  If the bedding is too wet or too dry, worms will want to leave the bin.  If your bin is too stinky, try adding less food and more paper.  If you have fruit fly issues, you may have exposed food scraps that need covering or your bedding may be too moist.  Locate your bin in a shady spot.  The ideal temperature for your bin is between 70 and 80 degrees F; red worms will tolerate temperatures between 38 and 95 degrees F.  During the winter, bring your bin into a garage, basement, or even in the house.  For several years I kept worm bins under my bed during the winter…remember, a properly maintained worm bin is neither smelly nor dirty.  Most important of all: have fun, observe, and learn from your mistakes and observations.

This information was written to be an introduction into worm composting.  Much has been written on the subject both in the literature and on the Internet.  For further reading I recommend Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

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A huge thank you to Dave Victor for sharing his insight!

Bad goat equals good dust

Molly BradfordHere’s a final post on putting up food for the winter from Molly Bradford, one of our dedicated winter share members, who knows how to put food up like a champ!

I’ve been putting up food for nearly a decade with produce from the winter share through Garden City Harvest’s River Road, also called the grubshed. In my last guest post for this blog, I touched a little bit on using some grubshedder techniques for your summer CSA. In this post I’ll talk about best practices for storing onions, garlic, shallots, squash, and root vegetables: carrots, celeriac, parsnips, beets and potatoes.

I’ve tried numerous techniques over the years for preserving my food, for as many months of the winter as possible, with the least amount of effort as possible. After many years blanching and chopping and drying and vacuum sealing and freezing things like carrots, I’ve come to realize that most root vegetables are easily preserved in damp sawdust.

Fun at Bad Goat Good Wood picking up sawdust for vegetable storage.
Fun at Bad Goat Good Wood picking up sawdust for vegetable storage.

This week my son and I visited Mark Vandermeer at Bad Goat Good Wood products here in Missoula’s Northside. He generously gave us as much sawdust as we wanted. It was actually pretty fun to hang out near the train tracks and scoop up handfuls of these wonderfully scented curly Q shavings, some already damp from the rain.

sawdust
Loading up the bags of sawdust for home.

The first thing I do is add water, a little bit at a time, to the shavings until they are damp but not swimming in it. I don’t want it to be so wet that when squeezed a bunch of water comes out. The next thing that I do is find some crates: milk crates, metal crates, doesn’t really matter. If the holes are pretty big, this is better for aeration. I either line the crates with screen, which I buy by the roll at Ace, or with cardboard that I’ve poked a bunch of holes in.

It’s a pretty quick and easy process:

  • Couple inch base layer of damp dust
  • Single, packed layer of root veggie
  • Enough dust in next layer to cover and protect first layer
  • Another layer of veggies
  • Repeat until crate is full, veggies are gone, or you’re out of dust

The raw veggies, ready to go:

before storage

Then, the potatoes getting covered in sawdust:

sawdust and potatoes

I always reserve a large handful of carrots for my fridge to start, as I go through those the fastest.  I’ll also keep out a little of the rest to cook this first few weeks: 6 beets, a couple parsnips, one celeriac, and a few potatoes.

I do get about 3 or 4 different kinds of potatoes in my grubshed. To keep them sorted, I like to divide one of my larger crates with pieces of cardboard horizontally so that I can create two or three little “bin” areas within my crate. Then I just layer each one of those areas individually after I line the crate with screen. I top each area with a little sticky note, so I know what kind of potatoes are in each “bin.”

Potatoes and sawdust in sections
Purple potatoes organized for the winter.

Don’t forget to check how to dried out your sawdust is getting throughout the winter. You can just use a spray bottle to mist the sawdust on the outside to keep it damp. The stuff on the inside is going to be wetter than the stuff on the outside naturally. Usually when I’m peeling back sawdust to get out some more potatoes or carrots, I take this opportunity to mist from the top and the side.

Luckily the garlic and shallots we get from Garden City Harvest already come dried or cured. But the process that they used to do this really isn’t much different than what I end up doing with my onions. As as recommended by Greg at the River Road farm, get a long piece of twine about arms with, fold in half and knot it at the end. Start laying the onions with the green stems through the twine. After you lay one onion through, twist the twine two or three times in one direction and pull the stem through as far as you can so the twine is tight and as close to the onion is possible. Then layer the next onion in the opposite direction. Twist 2 or 3 times. Then lay an onion in the opposite direction, twist again. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Hang up the onion braids in a cool, dark, dry place so they are not touching. When the onion greens are completely dried out, you can snip the onions off and put them in the big crate with large openings for good air circulation. I store my garlic and shallots the same way as my onions; in crates or metal bins with good air circulation.

Braided onions
Onions hanging in the garage.

If you have a lot of squash, like we get with the winter grubshed, you first need to make sure that you harden them off inside. I usually spread them apart on a towel or a cardboard box and make sure that none of the skins are touching. I let them hang out for a week or so.

We have figured out a storage technique that seems to work pretty well. I rip pieces of cardboard from packing boxes. Because you don’t want any of the edges of squash touching, I use the strips of cardboard as barriers between my squash. The parts that touch can make soft spots quite quickly and cause mold.

The basic technique goes like this. Line the bottom of a crate with some cardboard. Put some squash in the bottom. Put some cardboard barriers between the squash that are taller than the squash. Put another horizontal layer of cardboard. Set some more squash on top. Put some more strips of cardboard between them to make a barrier. Repeat this until you have filled your crate.   I check my squash once in awhile to for mold or soft spots. The lucky thing with squash is, if you get a soft spot, you can just cut that part out and then cook up the rest of the squash and you’re good to go.

Tidbit on last years harvest: this year we ate our last squash in about April, and we had onions, garlic and a few root veggies til May!

Squash
Squash, separated with cardboard. If the squash comes in contact with another squash, it is much more likely to start to get mushy or mold.

This weekend, in addition to packing vegetables in damp sawdust, we’ve been unpacking vacuum sealed fruit that we picked at the peak of summer season like apricots, raspberries, and flathead cherries. Can you guess what we’re making? Fruit leather!  This year’s flavors include apricot almond spice, flathead cherry raspberry rhubarb with vanilla, and sweet asian plum with sour pie cherry, maple syrup and cloves.

Next up we’ll be making a huge batch of that sweet apple cider kraut I talked about in my last post, while my husband is turning all the hot peppers into an apricot hot sauce.

Hot peppers
Turning hot peppers into sauce. . . Apricot hot sauce.

Happy grubshedding!

To Share or Not To Share, Is that the Question?

Molly Bradford This week we have a guest blog from Molly Bradford – a grubshed winter share member at River Road Farm and a master food preserver.  This woman knows how to keep eating locally all winter long. She also is the co-owner of GatherBoard, one of the makers of MissoulaEvents.net and Missoula Indoor Ads. She is a connector of people, products and ideas and a self-taught marketer who finds inspiration where art and business intersect. In her spare time, Molly is an avid yet amateur gardener, cook, skier, and hunter. Oh, yeah… add: busy mom and wife.

This summer is my first CSA.  For those of you who know me, this might seem unbelievable.

The fact is, I’ve had a winter share, or Grubshed, at Garden City Harvest’s River Road Farm since our oldest was an infant.  However, this summer is indeed my first weekly summer CSA.  As with our Grubshed, we share our share with another family. Both this sharing of shares, and the amount of food preservation I’ve learned over the past 9-years has made this a fairly fun summer CSA.

I’ll admit it, though, there have been times this summer where I have been intimidated by the amount of food I was getting on my “on” weeks.  And sometimes I’ve shared my share of the share with a neighbor or used it as an excuse to invite friends for dinner.  Mostly we’ve had more mornings of the best green smoothies ever, my kids (now 2 and 9) have eaten more vegetables both hidden and obvious than ever before, and my toddler’s garden variety identification and vocabulary are certainly voracious.

By looking at my Summer Share with Grubshed glasses, things quickly became less intimidating and more manageable.  Last week Genevieve shared about soup, stew, bone broth, aromatics, and mirepoix.  She must have had Grubshed lenses in her onion glasses when she told you about cooking up a bunch of mirepoix, letting it cool to room temp and freezing in ice cube trays for later. This is where you and I are going – preserving summer’s share for winter.  Get out your vacuum sealers, clear some space in your freezer and start your stove top.  What follows are the most common things I do to freeze summer.

In most cases I find a recipe I like, and then I start substituting with items from my CSA or Grubshed that seem similar, sound good, or just have to get used up STAT.

BLANCHING

I really like blanching.  It’s not nearly as time or resource consuming as canning.  And it tends to start happening when the days are a bit cooler and shorter, so having a pot of boiling water going for a while doesn’t seem oppressive. Don’t get me wrong, this mama likes to can and pickle like a mad-woman. But sometimes I prefer a quicker option for food preservation with what I have on hand.

The basic concept of blanching is to plunge fresh vegetables into boiling water, scalding them for a short period of time, then shock them in a bath of ice water until cool. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.  The length of time is key – under-blanching doesn’t stop the enzyme.  Over-blanching causes loss of color, flavor and texture.  A simple internet search for “vegetable blanching chart” will bring up many great sites from home food preservation to extension services.   (NOTE: as I’ve learned about putting up mass quantities of food for winter, I always read two or three sites through to determine consistency of message and technique before I begin.  And to make sure I have all the equipment on hand.)

Before you begin, make sure you have at least a few big bags of cubed ice – you’re going to need it. (Thankfully this can be attained at nearly any hour from a gas station.) Also, some sort of blanching set up is preferred to scooping veggies from boiling water with a slotted spoon or wire basket spoon.  For water blanching I do large batches with my pasta insert in my stock pot. For steam blanching I go with smaller batches with a metal colander balanced over my stock pot.

Here are the basics:

Chop stuff up into manageable pieces. (Corn is the exception, I keep it on the cob.)  I normally err on the side of mid-chunky, assuming I’ll be cooking them into stew, soup, potpie, pizza topping, pureeing, quiche, etc… later in winter.

Get water boiling.  Follow the blanching chart from above.  Blanch.  Ice bath.  Spin dry in a salad spinner or roll in an absorbent towel (wet veggies = freezer burn).

After they are dry enough, I like to seal my veggies with the vacuum sealer in 2 to 4-serving sized pouches.  Too small, waste of plastic.  Too big, won’t use them after I thaw them, what a waste.

Veggies I like to water blanch and freeze:

  • Corn on the cob
  • Beans – like string, wax, green
  • Greens – hearty types like kale, chard, collards
  • Peas – in edible pods

BUTTER BLANCHING

I’m not sure if this is even a real term… basically, it’s the same technique Genevieve used with the mirepoix. (After a quick internet search for “butter blanching,” I could not find anything of the sort. I learned this term and technique from an old foodie friend, Chef Boy Ari.)

The goal is the same as water blanching: stop the enzymatic process of breaking down the food so it will last longer – and preserve some color and texture in the process – but with butter! (I’m sure you could substitute an oil of your choice that stands up to sauteing – canola, olive, coconut.)

Here are the basics: chop up the stuff you want to butter blanch into bite sized pieces.  Melt some butter in a pan until the foaming subsides.  Add in some onion and saute at least until translucent — I like a deeper flavor and go for golden and starting to caramelize. Add in the things you want to preserve.  Saute until al dente – not mushy, a little under cooked.

Transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet to cool more quickly.

Then freeze in one of these options:

  • ice cube trays – pop frozen cubes in a ziplock – suck the air out before finishing sealing;
  • little reusable plastic baggies – suck the air out before sealing; make tiny vacuum sealed pouches;
  • I like to freeze on the cookie sheet – break or cut into cubes – put in ziplock – suck air out.

When you’re ready to make soup or quiche or pizza or stew, pull out a few cubes, let stand on the counter to thaw or throw in the pan to thaw, and go!  No chopping and sauteing needed.

Foods I like to butter blanch:

  • Morel mushrooms with onion, garlic and sage
  • Mushroom mixes w/ herbs, onion, garlic
  • Mixed bell peppers
  • Mirepoix Caramelized onions
  • Shredded potatoes (potato pancakes- yum!)

FREEZER PESTO

One of the easiest and most satisfying things to do with excessive greens is make pesto or a pesto alternative. The basic pesto recipe calls for basil, olive oil, salt & pepper, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese.

The substitution possibilities here are endless.  Want a smear for sandwiches, substitute butter for oil.  Looking for more of a spicy, green herb type sauce, think chimichurri.  Not sure about pine nuts? Try toasted walnuts, pecans or cashews.  Allergic to nuts? Go with seeds like sunflower or pumpkin, or skip it.  Same for cheese – Parm, Asiago, and Romano are the Italian trio but any hard cheese will do.  Experiment with oils, herbs, seasonings.

My mother-in-law recommended adding a little lemon juice and grated lemon peel to classic pesto to preserve the green color and fresh flavor.  Since I like to freeze mine in blocks, this was an especially great step.

Just tonight our toddler and I picked the leaves from 2-huge basil bushes from our Grubshed. Right now the leaves are plumping in a bath of cold water over night.  Tomorrow, after I dry the leaves, we’ll make pesto.  We have about 8-cups of leaves, so I expect to have about 10-cups of pesto when it’s all said and done.

Pesto kids -- these are my two kiddos after last year's pesto making extraveganza.
Pesto kids — these are my two kiddos after last year’s pesto making extravaganza.

For large batches I go with tried and true recipes like the one I linked to above, plus the aforementioned lemon addition.  After it’s done I’ll line a brownie pan with parchment in both directions and pour in all the pesto.  Set it in the freezer overnight with another sheet pressed on top. The next day, pull out the parchment sling or flip over the pan.  If you let it sit a moment the oil on the sides will loosen up and it slides out.  Moving quickly, cut this big slab into small cubes – about 2” by 2” by the height of your slab.  Put all the cubes in a ziplock freezer bag, seal 90% of the way, suck out the air and finish sealing.  Making pasta, pizza, soup, quiche, sandwiches, dip, etc… pull out a cube per 2-servings.  Yum.

SALSAS, SLAWS & KRAUT

Have just a few too many tomatoes, tomatillos and jimmy nardello peppers? Or what about that third head of cabbage, those huge carrots and another round of brightly colored cauliflower? Bottom line on salsa: it can be with tomatoes, tomatillos, fruits, beans, corn, onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers sweet and spicy, citrus, zucchini, cucumber, etc… And slaw is great with cabbage, kale, chard, leeks, shredded carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers sweet and spicy, citrus, apples, pear, onion, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cucumber, etc…

Wait just a second – most of the items on both lists are the same – how can that be?  It’s all in the sauce.  Find a recipe you like, get the basics of the seasonings/sauce down, and then completely mix it up with the fruits and veggies. But for me, the finale is the sauerkraut, or in my case, it’s more of a süβkraut – a sweet apple cider braised cabbage.  This time of year I make a huge batch from this recipe my mom gave me a decade ago.  I expand it enough to accommodate 3-5 heads of cabbage, and I use green and purple for color.

After braising all afternoon, we put some in a separate put to enjoy with delicious sausages — the recipe calls for Knockwurst.  The rest I put in sterilized jars and give a 15-min water bath.  Your mouth will say Danke all winter long.

———

By thinking ahead just a bit, trial and error, and a little bit of reckless abandon corralled with a recipe here and there for good measure, managing the weekly CSA and/or a Grubshed are not just doable, they are edible all winter long.  Freezing tomatoes, braiding onions, packing root vegetables in damp sawdust… I’ll get to that another time.  For now – pick a few things that taste so much better now than they do in January and prepare them for a revival in winter. Then share.

Refrigerator Stews & Soups: their love don’t cost a thing

Stews and soups are a flexible dish, and a great place to start to play with ingredients.  Start with your fridge: what’s in there?  For me last night around 9 pm, it was onions, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, and some stew meat.  Stew time!

I got out the slow cooker and got to chopping.

Beef Stew

I modified this recipe for my stew. I didn’t have celery or frozen peas.  But when do I ever have every single ingredient? I used the called for carrots (more than what the author suggested), a big ol’ onion, extra garlic (cause I love it, and so does my 3 year old), and mushrooms.

Chopping veggies

I also added some cauliflower and roasted tomatoes to make up for the lack of celery and peas. All this I chopped the night before.

Onion goggles
That’s me, in my onion goggles. A present from my husband, bless him. If you don’t have a pair, you can always use ski goggles to keep the tears at bay.

This morning, I browned a bit of stew meat (Oxbow stew meat is on sale at the Good Food Store right now, $1 off — perfect!)

After browning the meat, I added it and the herbs (I used fresh parsley and everything else was dried), broth and tomato paste.  I used chicken broth instead of beef — it’s what I had in the fridge and I needed to get rid of it. And set it on low, cooking it for 10 hours.

When we cracked open the slow cooker at dinner time, the meat was tender and veggies perfectly soft but not falling apart.  Yum!

Cracking open the stew pot
The stew cooking.

Substitutions

Soups and stews are some of the most versatile things on the planet — they beg you to SUBSTITUTE and play!  That sweet stew of mine, as long as I had the stew meat, I could have put almost any veggie in there.  Potatoes, kale, broccoli, winter squash. . . So many of these vegetables soak up flavor and will withstand being slow cooked.

Soup is even more versatile. Here is a great universal recipe for how to make soup from almost any vegetable.  The lesson here: as long as you like the vegetable, you can make soup from it. If you are cooking a soup on the stove, then the main consideration is cook time, and adding the vegetables at the right time so they cook long enough to release their flavors and short enough to not be squishy.

Here’s another great primer on creamy vegetable soup from almost any vegetable.

Aromatics are key in making soup — and easily grown here in Montana and stored for the winter. Onions and garlic in your basement.  Parsley dried and stored in an airtight container. Carrots in your fridge. These are the base to almost any soup or stew.  Saute your aromatics first, until they are fragrant, then add the broth.

You can saute this and freeze it in ice cube trays to start most any soup easily, and you can feel French while you are at it — you’ve made a Mirepoix! Then, you’ve got your base ready to (as my 3 year old would say) rock and roll.

A note on kale: is a wonderful soup ingredient.  It gets milder in flavor, and holds up well.  And, of course, is full of nutrients.  Plus — kale the cooler nights add a sweetness to kale.

Two Words: Bone Broth

Bone broth is one of the easiest, cheapest healthy things you can make. Yes, this is your grandmother’s stock — it is really good for you. Read more about some of the health benefits here. It is true, chicken soup is a healing food. No, I’m not going to tell you it will make your bones stronger, but it does have a lot of good stuff for your gut and your body in it.

Use your vegetable scraps and left over bones.  I have a bone bag in my freezer — the fact that it says “bone bag” on it in florescent duct tape grosses my husband out. Or maybe it is the fact that there’s a bag of bones, literally, in our freezer.

In any case, I put chicken carcasses in there, pork chop bones, whatever scraps I can come by. In the winter, every other weekend I fire up the slow cooker and make broth.  I add some carrots and celery if I have it, or scraps of veggies — especially aromatic ones, to give it some flavor.  Definitely some garlic. And a little apple cider vinegar.  This recipe is a great base.  I don’t cook my broth more than 24 hours as this recipe suggests you might, the vegetables can get pretty bitter if you keep cooking them — I usually stick to between 12 and 24.  24 is great because I do it at night when I have a few calm moments, and don’t have to mess with it until the next night, after our 3 year old is asleep, and I have another calm moment.

I hope you will share a few tips and tricks you have for your soups and stews.  Next week, we will have guest blogger Molly Bradford to tell you about how she puts up her winter share. Until then, eat well!

UPDATE:  I just got a question about making vegetarian stews, and how to best do them in a slow cooker — great question.  I had to research, and found that sauteing the base (onions, garlic, potatoes, etc.) and then adding it all to the slow cooker is the key.  Here are two recipes that sound delicious — one for the stove top and one for the slow cooker.  Both sound hearty and delish.

Falling for Autumn

Rachel Mockler 2015This week we have a treat (both literally and figuratively) in store. Rachel Mockler is a home chef who creates masterpieces to feast your eyes on (she takes a lot of photos of her food) and those lucky enough to share her table get to feast with their mouths, too. While getting her Masters’ from U of M’s Environmental Studies Program, she worked at the Buttercup Market and Cafe, creating seasonal fare for Missoula. She also interned a summer at the PEAS Farm, and wrote many a blog post for the Real Dirt in her grad days as well. Plus, she is punny. Really really punny. Enjoy, friends.  I’ll be back next week with more on the upcoming fall vegetables. . . A weighty and wonderful time of year.

There is a little dusting of snow on the mountains surrounding Missoula and there is a crispness in the air heralding the approach of fall…But, there is also a warmth in the breeze reminding us that summer is still here at least until September 20th…

There is also a mix of produce at the farmers market, in your CSA, or (and?) in your garden, marking the final days of hot weather crops such as peppers, cucumbers, melons, and basil.  Yes, apples, winter squash, potatoes, are creeping into the mix, and making us think of the days ahead — I’m trying to get into the idea of of making a hearty soup and bundling up indoors. However,  I myself am a true summer lover — my friends will tell you, I crave warmth and sun.  So I’m paying tribute to this summer bounty with this easy recipe. It’s been an incredibly productive summer.  This recipe makes use of the remaining Dixon melons, heirloom tomatoes, and basil, before we have to wait an entire year for this taste of summer.

Watermelon Gazpacho

Watermelon Gazpacho

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

  • 1 small sugar baby watermelon (or 5 c. watermelon puree)
  • 3 medium heirloom tomatoes (or 4 c. tomato puree)
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 c. loosely packed basil
  • 1 c. lime juice
  • 1 onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper, to taste

How to:

1. Roughly chop the watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and basil and add to blender.

2. Add lime juice to fruits and vegetables in blender and whir to desired consistency.

3. Garnish with fresh cracked pepper, to taste.

4. Enjoy the last taste of summer!

Even though I am not looking forward to winter, I am quite excited about the excellent fruit year we are having in this cool weather — all of it that is available right now.  One of my favorite cakes to bake is this not-so-terrible sweet lemon almond cake. What takes it to the next level is a garnishing of juicy pears baked atop of it.  Although almonds are perhaps not the best nut to be eating right now because of California’s drought crisis, this recipe only uses a few almonds.  This cake is best served warm, perhaps with a scoop of ice cream, a dusting of powdered sugar, or a lemony glaze, if you so desire.

RachelMockler_AlmondCake (6)

Lemon Almond Cake with Pears

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ c soy milk or other milk alternative
  • 2 Tbsp flax meal
  • ¾ c oil
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp almond extract
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
  • 1-2 pears, sliced
  • Sliced almonds (optional)

How to:

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2) Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.

3) In another large bowl, mix together soy milk, apple cider vinegar, and flax meal.  Mix well.  Add oil, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, lemon zest.

4) Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined.

5) Pour batter into a greased and floured 9” round cake pan.

6) Garnish with sliced pears and almonds.

7) Bake cake for approximately 35 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

8) Enjoy!