Category Archives: Youth Farm

kayajudanelson-4

Tales of Pigweed

This week Kaya Juda Nelson writes about her work as an apprentice at Garden City Harvest’s Youth Farm, run in partnership with Youth Homes. After spending her freshman year at Boston University, a semester of her sophomore year in South America, and a semester of her senior year campaigning with a climate action organization in Denver, Kaya graduated from the University of Montana with high honors in Environmental Studies and a minor in Climate Change Studies. For the past year and a half, Kaya has also been part of a bluegrass band, Local Yokel, in which she plays the fiddle, banjo, writes, and sings. Here’s Kaya: 

We choose to farm because it connects us with our environment and offers a relationship to the cycles of the seasons. Farming feels great as we work our bodies and work the earth under the sun, in the rain, feeling the wind against our faces.  But even more than the connection to place and weather, this season working at the Youth Farm has affirmed my favorite relationship brought about by farming: the relationship with food.

After a morning of weeding and thinning the carrots or harvesting salad mix (a sometimes tedious and time-consuming task), a trio of young adults from various Missoula youth homes and an adult staff member (often myself) break to make the lunch for our 10-20 person crew.

We learn how to properly cook rice and lentils, what you can do with the abundance of radishes, how delicious raw kohlrabi can be, and the fact that cucumbers should never, ever, ever, under any circumstance be cooked. The first days we cook lunch I hear:

“I hate veggies”

“there’s no meat?!?”

“are we seriously eating this for lunch?”

By the end of the first meal, we have converted most of the youth into veggie lovers. I remember getting excited about having agency in the food I ate when I was in high school. Now, watching that agency develop in these adolescent faces as we make lunches each day, I relive it myself. Carrots and onions are chopped with confidence and chard is discovered to shrink when you cook it and sometimes the stir fries are too salty and sometimes the beets are horribly crunchy but the food education is palpable.

Zayne arranging CSA boxesAs you all may have read in Genevieve’s post, Zayne, one of our youth employees tells the story of discovering kale at a mobile market stand while living at the Council Groves apartments. He proudly declares himself as the kale kid, and always asks for an extra bunch to take back to the Tom Roy youth home where he lives, located adjacent to the farm. When his mother or grandmother is in town for a visit, he begs to take them a bouquet of the hearty leafy green. I see part of this as a simple fact that kale is delicious and has become nutritionally notorious both in the local and the mainstream food world, but you can also see Zayne’s pride in his cultivation of his favorite crop and his desire to share a tangible fruit of his labor.

The CSA is the other venue in which the Youth Farm employees have a chance to shine and pass along their thoughts and opinions on produce to the roughly 60 CSA members that come to collect their share each week. For a few weeks in late June, we offered pigweed in our CSA share. Yes, this is a weed that we harvest for our customers. We constantly battle pigweed as it grows rampant through the farm. When we learned from a visting Greek that it is delicious cooked in olive oil and lemon, we made lemons out of lemonade and added it to our CSA offerings.

Pigweed is amazingAs Zayne greeted the CSA customers that week with a giant box of pigweed, he spun the story of the Greek farmer into a personal tale of meeting this man and together sharing the delights of pigweed. This pitch was mostly fabricated, but Zayne encouraged our CSA customers to try this leafy weed with an unappetizing name in such a spirited and hilarious way, it didn’t matter whether it was factual. It was about a connection with this crop and with the CSA members.

We work with groups of young adults that have come from wide-ranging and diverse backgrounds, but who are all living in the Missoula Youth Homes. These teenagers are navigating the difficulties of adolescence, while living in homes that are not their own, and while I wish I could say that the farm provides a fairy tale solution, but I can’t. But when the rusty steel triangle that serves as a lunch bell is rung and the giant cast-iron pan of bok-choy is brought to the table, it is evident that change and connection are happening in ways I’m not always aware of, and the effort, joy, and learning put into the meals we share out here in the sun and rain and wind provides a sense of ownership and accomplishment for the employees of the Youth Farm.

Zayne and the Greek Farmer’s Pigweed

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb fresh pigweed
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 T olive oil  salt to taste

Instructions

Heat olive oil in a pan and add pigweed (whole, not chopped).  Add lemon juice and stir until all the pigweed is covered with oil and lemon juice. Cover the pigweed until it has wilted slightly, then uncover and cook off any liquid that has accumulated. Add salt to taste. Enjoy!

The Kale Kid

Zane
Working hard at the Youth Farm.

We’ve talked a lot about how to cook the food you get from one of our gardens or farms. I wanted to talk a little about a few of the people who grow the food, starting with Cori Ash.

In the first year of the Youth Farm, farm director Cori Ash was sitting at her Mobile Market stand. Most of our Mobile Markets take food from the farm to senior housing. But this market was set up at an affordable housing complex for families.

A 10 year old boy came biking up to Cori, asking for kale. He had his allowance with him, and wanted to spend it on the kale. She was impressed, and sold him two bunches. He teetered off on his bike, a bunch under each arm.

The next week he was back, and he brought a friend. They each bought kale again, and again went away.

Mobile Market
Mobile Market in full swing.

The third week, he came alone. He suggested that maybe he could trade his labor for kale. He’d help her at the market, and take home kale in return. She was thrilled. It was often just her at the stand because of school scheduling with the teens that worked at the Youth Farm, so she really did need help unloading the boxes, making change, and talking to customers.

We stopped serving that apartment complex the next year, and lost touch with the boy.

A word about the Youth Farm. Most all of the workers save Cori, the farm assistant, Mark, and farm apprentice, Kaya, are teens living in a group home. There are anywhere from 3 to 10 youth that work 20 – 40 hours a week at the farm, plus many of the other teens at Youth Homes come by to volunteer at the farm once a week.

When one of the Youth Homes volunteer groups came, there was a familiar face in the crowd. It was this boy. Cori couldn’t place him at first, and neither could the boy. So they both took shy glances at each other until they figured it out. “You’re Captain Kale!,” Cori said.

She offered the boy a job by mid-season. He said yes.  Zayne has proven to be a hard worker — one of the teens she depends on to get things done on the farm. Because they raise food for a CSA and market stand, there are high standards and strict deadlines. These teens have to get things done efficiently and beautifully.

Zayne is still working at the farm today, as the days get cooler and the weather wetter. And he still loves kale. He makes sure the harvest doesn’t go to waste at in his group home’s kitchen.

Zayne and Kaya will be writing about their favorite times and recipes in the next few weeks. The kale only gets sweeter as the weather cools, so it is a great time to cook it up.

Youth Farm Barn
The red barn at the Youth Farm.

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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.

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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.

 

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!

Curing onions by Jacinda Davis

How to: putting up veggies for the winter

The changing weather signals that it is time for putting up food for the coming winter months. Since each crop prefers different storage conditions, I wanted to share some storage information that has helped me to stretch my local food long into winter (and even spring!).

The Crop Run Down

Potatoes

  • The key to good potato storage is to keep them away from light, at temperatures around 42- 55°F, with a relatively high humidity.
  • Try storing your potatoes in places like an unheated entrance, spare room, attic, basement or garage. Choose a place that is insulated to protect the potatoes from freezing temperatures.
  • Since potatoes like a bit of humidity store them in a perforated plastic bag, but do not tightly seal the bag — air flow is crucial to preventing mold and decay.   Bringing home the goods.

Winter squash and pumpkins

  • This crop stores best at 50 -60°F with a low humidity.
  • Good places to keep your squash are similar to potatoes (see above) with a bit less humidity. Just think cool and dry.
  • Winter Squash and pumpkins are a relatively easy storage crop. That said, their typical storage life is anywhere between 8-12 weeks. Hubbard and spaghetti varieties store a bit longer, acorns a bit shorter.
Pumpkins in the Youth Farm fields by Jacinda Davis
Pumpkins ready to be picked in the Youth Farm fields. Photo by Jacinda Davis.

Onions, Shallots, and Garlic

  • The important factors of good storage for onions, garlic, and shallots are low humidity, good air circulation, and cool temperatures.
  • The mesh bags you took these crops home in are great for storage. Try hanging the bags in a closet, or in an unheated room of your house.  It is as easy as that, and you will have these jewels to spice up your meals all winter long.   A few more storage tips…
  • Be sure to check your vegetables frequently and remove any crops that are starting to go bad.
  • Always protect your crops from freezing temperatures.

Carrots, Beets, Cabbage, Kale and Kohlrabi

  • Carrots, beets, kale, and the monster kohlrabi do best with near freezing temperatures, a.k.a. the refrigerator.
  • High humidity is also critical for long term storage of these crops, so keep them in a perforated bag. Watch humidity, if the bag is full of condensation open it up a bit to let some moisture out. If your crops are drying out close the bag up tight.
  • If you are willing and able to give up some space in your refrigerator for these winter crops they will easily last you till the spring!
Greens by Jacinda Davis
Chard, collard greens and curly kale. Photo by Jacinda Davis.

 

 

Experiment with storage locations, new recipes, and most importantly enjoy!

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.

Zucchini by Chad Harder

Recipe Round Up Vegetarian (& sometimes vegan) Style

I do love meat, but sometimes a sister has to give it a rest.  And many readers have said, “FOCUS ON THE VEGGIES, GENEVIEVE!” Totally. You are right.  And it might be that I skipped lunch, but doing this research has uncovered some of the most interesting, beautiful vegetarian and vegan cooking blogs.  Here are a few, with a smattering of recipes that work well with what’s growing right now.

My favorite blog: The First Mess

This blog’s author has a garden of her own, and her breathtaking photos bring to life her fresh and delicious original recipes. Her veggie burger is supposed to be phenomenal.

[Vegan] EGGPLANT MEATBALLS with KALE PESTO

Kale only gets sweeter as the weather cools, and it’s our last chance for eggplant. . . Also enjoy garlic in this recipe.

SUMMER PANZANELLA

This bread salad mixes tomatoes, shallots, peaches, basil in a balsamic vinaigrette.

Cookie and Kate

[Vegan] Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Roasted summer vegetables mixed with herbs and quinoa — a great way to use what’s in your fridge and get your protein too (thanks, quinoa, for being a complete protein!).

[Vegan] Summer Squash Tacos with Avocado Chimichurri Sauce

Includes yellow squash or zucchini, corn, garlic, onion and herbs. Good for lunch or dinner.

Green Kitchen Stories

Bowls like these

A simple meal of veggies (you could top this with an egg for breakfast salad bowl, and substitute a great deal of these ingredients for what you have in your fridge).

[Vegan] Beet Bourguinon

Solid! Beets as a main dish. Julia would be so proud. Includes garlic, onion, carrots, fresh herbs, and lentils (a great local product of Montana).

Naturally Ella

[Vegan] Garlic Soba and Zucchini Noodles

Easy, simple Asian inspired dish of Garlic Soba and zucchini noodles (have I mentioned how you should get yourself a veggie spiralizer?

Sweet Corn and Sorhum Stuffed Peppers

Great seasonal combination of green peppers and corn, along with come fresh cilantro.

Other Vegetarian Recipes that Caught My Eye. . .

Unbelievably Delicious Cauliflower Soup – Ramsons and Bramble

[Vegan]Creamy Red Chard Linguine – Post Punk Kitchen

Beet and Black Lentil Borscht – My New Roots

Side note on pesto:

A little on how to make 11 kinds of pesto from Saveur — I feel like I am turning green, there is so much basil out there to make into pesto. . . And before you know it, the frost will nip that little basil.