We call it the freshest party of the summer because:
1. It has a lot of fresh vegetables that are prepared by the students and teens that grew them, into delicious salads including potato, slaw, kamut, carrot, and a nice green salad. UM Catering helps us with a few of the salads, and much of the roasting (did you know they have an oven that is as big as a room? You can walk into it!).
2. Beer from Draught Works Brewery. Local, delicious, and dedicated to our cause. They give 100% of the beer for the party, which is a big darn deal.
3. We’re cooking up some of the freshest burgers, grass-finished, and Montana raised, from Oxbow Cattle Company cooked up by UM Catering for you! Also, marinated zucchini for vegetarians and vegans.
4. Fresh music: Mudslide Charley is one of Missoula’s classic bands, and they are particularly hot right now because of their new lead singer, Lee Rizzo. Plus, we’ve got Good Old Fashioned who is one of Missoula’s freshest, newest bands.
5. Bring your dancing shoes! By the end of the night the floor is always hopping, often thanks to the PEAS Farm students who have spent their summer growing veggies for the community, from 20,000 pounds for the Missoula Food Bank to 100 CSA members. The Farm Party is a celebration for them, and a way to show Missoula a little slice of the magic they’ve taken part in (and made happen) in the last few months.
Menu should be posted next week, including all the ingredients!
This week we’re featuring a guest blog by Seth Swanson, who has a background in horticulture and agronomy and is the Horticulture Extension Agent with Missoula County Extension. Seth works with producers, nurseries, landowners, and community members to strengthen and improve local agriculture and plant production. This is achieved through technical assistance and educational opportunities for commercial producers and hobbyists, as well as a variety of on-farm research. MSU Extension improves the lives of Montana citizens by providing unbiased research-based education and information that integrates learning, discovery and engagement to strengthen the social, economic and environmental well-being of individuals, families, and communities. The Extension Service provides coordination, educational outreach and training using current research-based information and resources to address the needs of the public in the areas of weed & pest management, horticulture/agriculture, youth development, family and consumer sciences, and nutrition. The Extension’s Horticulture and Plant Clinic programs are great resources and offer help with plant care and pest management issues. Bring in samples of bugs, plants, disease problems and they will identify and give information on how to control them. They also answer questions on landscaping, gardening, soils, and related areas.
Winter is approaching Western Montana, and though the intensity may be relatively mild (for Montana), the duration can make for a challenging environment. Yes, many of us live in this region so that we can take advantage of the seasonal outdoor opportunities, but as March comes around winter’s grasp often takes its toll. One factor in particular that makes the winter season seem so long is not the ubiquitous gray sky, the shortened day lengths, or the perpetual ice on the trails; it is the lack of fresh local produce. How we long for the first bits of green or small flowers that emerge from our gardens, or for the seemingly exponential weekly growth and additions of fresh goods at the farmers markets’ and grocery stores. Once June comes, we are treated with the jewels of the summer; the strawberry.
Strawberries are indeed a symbol of summer, and are embedded in the memories of nearly everyone taking them back to u-pick farms, fresh pickings from the garden, and the cherished preserves that help ward off summer withdrawals through the long winter. When we actually take the time to think about where our strawberries come from, it may be difficult to nail down a source. You may have a small collection of plants in the backyard garden, or you may be lucky enough to live in a town that has a u-pick strawberry farm. Generally speaking, Montana does not have much for strawberry production, just 13 acres for the entire state in 2012 according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. It is not because our state is too cold to grow strawberries; Minnesota in comparison, has nearly 600 acres of strawberries in production (USDA NASS, 2012 Census of Agriculture).
Anybody who has grown strawberries in their backyard knows that despite their dainty white flowers and ruby gems, these plants can be a mess to deal with. Weeding is a bare, pest and diseases management can be a never-ending battle, and spring and fall maintenance is a hassle. Think of the labor required to expand your ten foot garden bed of strawberries to an entire acre or ten acres! What makes strawberries more of a challenging crop is that contrary to the efforts required for maintaining the crop, there is a small window of consolidated harvest for June-bearing plants, and smaller yields over a longer season for ever-bearing varieties. Yet, there is a huge market opportunity for Montana producers to integrate strawberries into their existing production systems.
In 2015, with the support of funds from the Montana Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Missoula County Extension began working with producers in Western Montana, including the PEAS farm, to initiate a three-year study to investigate alternative strawberry production strategies. In particular, we are evaluating the efficacy of annual strawberry production in high tunnels. High tunnels are the unheated hoophouses that are employed by many small producers in our region to stretch the short growing season out on both ends. Strawberries are perennials that are typically productive up to three to five years, but if we treat them as an annual crop we can eliminate much of the maintenance required. Treating this crop as an annual will also allow the producer to grow the plants entirely during the productive state, and open up planting space for alternative crops once the strawberries have been removed.
So here is how it works… Typically June-bearing strawberries are grown as a matted row system where a single row of plants is lined out in the middle of a two foot (or wider bed). The plants are planted in the spring, and the entire first year is dedicated to establishing the beds through the stolons (runners) and no fruit is harvested. This requires a significant amount of maintenance with no return until the second season when the plants bear fruit for a small window in early summer. Contrary to the conventional matted-row system, the plants in the annual system will be planted in the late summer/early fall at a much higher density. The plants will then produce fruit the following spring and the plants will be immediately removed. Once the plants are removed, the production bed can be used for an alternative crop, thus maximizing the return on the available planting space. Additionally, the integration of hoophouses for the annual system will likely result in an earlier harvest. Preliminary results indicate that annual high tunnel production of strawberries begins five to six weeks prior to the perennial matted row system outdoors. That means fresh strawberries by the first week of May.
This production strategy could allow for producers in our region with existing infrastructure, to add a high value crop to their production system without sacrificing the production of other crops, and to make use of the shoulder season maximizing the productivity of their high tunnels. And more importantly (perhaps selfishly), more strawberries produced locally means more tasty gems at the grocery store for us all to consume.
The Farm Party is in a little over a week from now. If you haven’t been, it is a big old party up at the PEAS Farm celebrating this great community, and the harvest that abounds this time of year. We cook everyone a big meal, and host some live music (Shakewell and Local Yokel this year!). It’s really fun. This year, we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary, which means we’ll have cake and a photo booth and a few other fun things.
One of the longstanding traditions around this party (we’ve been doing the party for 14 years, so we’ve got some serious traditions going) is that Josh (PEAS Farm Director) and the PEAS Farm student crew make the food. They harvest it in the fields, truck it over the First Presbyterian Church’s commercial grade kitchen, and get to work. The party has gotten so big that UM Catering has now taken over cooking the burgers, so we can focus on what’s most important: the veggies.
This wonderful group makes six salads (green salad, cole slaw, carrot, cuke, roasted beet, and Kamut Brand Khorasan Wheat). It’s a treat for them to show Missoula what they’ve been up to all summer. All their harvesting, weeding, moving pipe, tractoring, educating, more weeding, seeding and re-seeding, and harvesting again, and sweating and sometimes freezing — it all adds up to a rich and new experience. So it is a special thing to be able to invite all of you up to the farm to see a little piece of it in action.
In the spirit of sharing, I asked Kali, an EVST grad student who is one of the group’s leaders this year, if she’d share a recipe. She did some calculating (these recipes are sized for making food for around 1,000) to make it for around 6 servings, and gave me this year’s version of the Kamut® Salad recipe. Grain salads are great because you can stick all sorts of things in them and they taste great with a little dressing. This year, the crew is adding peaches (that’s right!) to the savory salad. It’s a great way tie many seasonal ingredients into one dish. Eat it as a meal, or as a hearty side. To make this gluten free, sub rice.
1/4 cup safflower oil or olive oil
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
A few sprigs of basil
1-2 tsp raw honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup Kamut® berries, cooked and cooled (shorten the cooking time if you soak the berries overnight — see here for simple cooking instructions — mine cooked for almost 60 min)
3 – 5 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
1/2 sweet onion, diced small
1-2 peaches, chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Prep all your ingredients.
Emulsify the dressing with an immersion blender.
Massage the chopped kale with a small amount of the dressing to tenderize it. Then combine all the ingredients in a bowl!
We hope you’ll make this, and come to the Farm Party on August 18th, 5:30 pm at the PEAS Farm to try ours! Come find me and we’ll compare recipes, will you?
This week, we have a bonus post from guest writer Ari LeVaux, writer of Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that’s appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 25 states. Flash in the Pan also regularly appears in The Atlantic.com, Alternet, Slate, Civil Eats, and other online publications. Ari lives in Montana and New Mexico.
Taste chicory at the PEAS Farm with ARI LeVaux!
Ari will be offering tastings and recipes for chicory during PEAS Farm CSA pickup, Thursday 6/30 and Tuesday 7/5 between 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Anyone is welcome to join in the fun!
Here’s Ari. . .
At an airport salad bar in Rome, recently, I filled a plate with leaves. It was a basic cafeteria salad bar, one that in the U.S. would probably be dominated by a large bin of iceberg lettuce laced with carrot shavings. But instead of lettuce, the leaves were chopped escarole and radicchio. Dressed with oil and vinegar, they were crisp and watery. And they were bitter, a taste I have been coming to appreciate.
By this point in my travels I was well aware that the Italians are ahead of the curve when it comes to eating chicory, the family of bitter-leafed plants that also includes endive and dandelion. At various stores and markets along the way, I had picked up several seed packets of different chicories, like the stately, thick-stemmed Catalogna that looks like a dandelion on steroids, or the Rossa di Treviso, a leafy radicchio shaped more like romaine than the typical tight radicchio head. These and several other equally interesting varieties would become the basis, when I returned home, of the chicory project.
The chicory project, which also includes Italian chicories ordered from GourmetSeeds.com, is now fully underway at an area farm. We are investigating which varieties do well in our climate, while playing with different ways of serving it that might appeal to the locals.
This last part is kind of a tall order, as we are programmed to reject bitterness from an early age. Newborns will scowl at the taste, and for good reason: most toxic substances are bitter. Our default status, thus, is to avoid them all until we learn otherwise. Like, say, when we learn about beer, or mixed drinks that contain bitters. Or coffee. Or chocolate. Or something charred on the grill.
The American palate is catching on to the dark flavor of bitter. Dark chocolate is increasingly popular. Dark roasted coffee is all the rage. But how dark is too dark? Everyone has their own comfort zone. I personally think dark roasted coffee tastes burnt, and so I always order the lightest roast. Similarly, I don’t like my food blackened on the grill.
Many bitter flavors from plants come from the presence of glucosinolates, and other plant defense compounds, that are toxic to insects and worms and other hungry critters. But at the levels we humans consume, these molecules are not dangerous, and are showing promise in actually preventing a variety of diseases.
Meanwhile, fiber. One hundred grams of escarole only contains 17 calories, but has nearly 10 percent of your daily fiber requirement. The bitter leaves tend to be stacked with other nutrients as well, like folate, and various antioxidants, and readily accessible forms of minerals.
There are ways to remove, hide and blend away the bitterness of chicory. You can soak the leaves in ice water, balance the bitterness with fruit or a sweet dressing, or combine it with other bitter foods, like mustard, to create a smooth continuum of bitter flavors. You can braise chicory leaves in butter or melt the stems into a fatty sauce. But the best way to deal with these and other bitter foods is to embrace them, head on, and celebrate them for what they are.
I don’t know anyone with more of a chicory habit than my wife. And those tight burgundy radicchio heads, dreadlocked frisse and grand Batavian leafed escarole aren’t cheap. Which, admittedly, is a big part of my interest in the chicory project.
Like the Italians, she equates a strong bouquet of bitterness with complex flavor, while mild lettuces no longer hold her interest. She has two primary ways of using chicory. They are both exceedingly simple, and instructive to those bitter-curious who may be interested in embarking on this path.
One method is to use leaves like tongs, to grab and encase food en-route to one’s mouth. The food that is grabbed could be anything. A bit of crumbled hamburger patty, some onions, tomato and mustard, and a radicchio burger bite is ready to go down the hatch. A leaf-grab of ratatouille, or a bitter leaf-bite of some other salad. Some people bring their own plates to potluck dinners. My baby, she brings heads of radicchio.
The other way she eats chicory is via what I call the “chip and salsa” technique. She makes a salad dressing of two parts olive oil to one part vinegar, with the vinegar portion split equally between cider vinegar, balsamic and white balsamic. Then she adds soy sauce to taste.
She then dips prepped leaves into the dressing like a chip into salsa, and chomps them down. How the leaves are prepped depends on the type of chicory, her mood, and how much time she has. The only requirement is that they be cleaned.
Freshly gathered dandelion greens are eaten whole, two or three at a time, and folded in half, with the fold dunked in the dressing. This shape holds the dressing for the potentially messy journey to your mouth. With radicchio, my wife will sometimes cut the head into wedges, which also hold dressing very well too, having oozed between the leafy layers.
One enjoyable combination of both of these methods is to wrap a thick chunk of bacon or other meat in the leaf, and then dip in dressing.
If she has the time, my chicarista’s all-time favorite way of eating chicory is in a big salad tossed with this dressing:
In a blender (or other processor) whizz ½ cup olive oil with a few cloves of garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt. When smooth, blend in the juice and some zest of a lemon or lime and a tablespoon of white vinegar. Adjust salt and vinegar to taste.
There are all kinds of interesting recipes out there for braised radicchio, wilted escarole, endive torte, and many others. Enthusiasts of cooked chicory praise how it mellows the flavor, and how it adds to sauces. But after adapting my palate to the crisp texture of the raw stuff, I have no interest in soggy chicory. And I don’t want to mellow the flavor anyway, because I’m into bitter. I’ve acquired the taste, and I can go there by myself without training wheels. I’m a chicory grown up.
We’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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Added the scapes for 2 minutes, till they got a little darker.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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:
Here’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.
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.
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:
Then, the potatoes getting covered in sawdust:
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.