Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Following The Harvest

dinner

Probably the best thing that has happened inside my head (there's a lot going on in there--you wouldn't believe it) since I began changing the way I think about what we eat is that I'm not doing as much aimless wandering about in the grocery store, or randomly browsing the internet trying to figure out what in the world is going to be for dinner every night. Instead, I find myself thinking, as surely people before me have since for, well, ever, in terms of what's available. Let that sink in for a minute. Of course, everything IS available, but what, by all reasonable parameters, should be? What time of year is it? What's for sale in the outdoor markets and roadside stands? If you live in a temperate zone, what are your gardening friends and family members bringing to you by the armloads? In Arkansas right now, tomatoes are ripening, cucumbers are overflowing their beds, and we're entering high squash season. Greens are mostly gone, and my lettuces bolted so quickly that I never even had time to harvest them.

Being a total gardening n00b, I have to rely on the indicators mentioned above--if I don't see it somewhere, I don't really know what's in season. I've grown too accustomed to NOT noticing "what time it is," so to speak, and too complacent in the artificial abundance of the piles and piles of waxy, bland fruits and vegetables stacked up in their sterile, water-misted, fluorescent-lit bleachers at the grocery store. And I haven't really found a comprehensive seasonal timetable that shows me when to expect what, or at least in what order. If you know of such a thing, shoot me a link.

I've managed to go to a brand-new, and quite small, certified local farmer's market every other week since its grand opening this spring, and if I show up early, there I can get an idea of what's what. Some things, like strawberries, rhubarb, and greens, are long gone. Arkansas heats up early. Others, like tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots, are just getting started, so the offerings are of small, young produce of those varieties, and not much of it. When one lovely couple priced their beautiful baby carrots for me, I looked at the bundle on the table, and said, "I'll take them all." We munched on them for days, cooked them up as parts of one-dish meals, and fed the tops to the chickens. I'm looking into other ways of storing them, aside from blanching and freezing, because as I understand it, being root vegetables, they should keep, if only I knew how to do it.

pull up some carrots
Something that is an immediate consequence of making a good-faith effort to check out of the cruel feedlot/battery meat-production cycle is that we are automatically eating less meat. This means that my husband is going to need to start consuming food during the daytime, and not going without all day long and waiting to eat until he gets home. Hopefully, he's reading this, and will re-commence a habit of feeding himself. Back to the point--less meat. In the first place, it's much harder to find cruelty-free sources of meat, and in the second place, when you find it, it's going to be expensive, at least compared to what you're used to paying for the mass-produced meat and poultry you've been consuming. As our chickens, not being Frankenchickens (more on this later), will be nowhere near butchering size for some months, I have bought organic, pasture-raised chicken. An 8-lb. bird cost me $15, which really isn't that bad...but you better believe that I used every bit of that bird I possibly could. I believe we got 4 complete meals out of it.

This is a cause-and-effect which strikes me as wholly appropriate. When something is hard-won, hard-sought, or dearly bought, well, you put more thought into what becomes of it, and make more of an effort not to waste it, don't you? And I think that's as it should be. I cannot imagine the countless numbers of vegetables and fruits that have rotted away in my refrigerator crisper and countertop bowls over the years...I'm sure it would be shameful. But ask me if any of my farmer's market bounty has gone to waste. No way. I looked too hard, got up too early, paid too much, or all three, to let that happen! And I also, realize, looking back at our last week or so of dinners, that at least half of them have been meatless.

Before, I really felt it necessary to serve a standard meat/veg/starch plate to my family--I didn't always do it, but I always felt the need to do it. That's how a meal looked "right." But since having access to a variety of fresh, flavorful foods, I've just been cooking up what I have. What's available. What looks good. And knowing that it balances out over time, nutritionally, which is more in line with how we're designed to operate--balance over time. Which is why I didn't feel guilty serving entire meals based on just one or two components. Those tomatoes at the top of this post? The ones that aren't ripe yet? Those were dinner one night, as fried green tomatoes (full recipe here). I made some garlic & cheese biscuits to accompany them, and served them with cold ranch dressing. The monochromatic plate looked wrong at first, but boy-howdy, it tasted right.

fried green tomatoes!!

That weekend, I'd also come home with an armload of fresh corn, because mine is still in its infancy (and I won't have enough for more than a few meals, anyway). One day, Bella and I just had fresh-steamed corn on the cob for lunch, all by itself. It felt like such a radical act! The cob with the green holders, without a molecule of corn left on it? That's Bella's. She ate it typewriter-style, like one of those cartoon crows.

when Bella eats corn on the cob, she does not mess around.

The rest of the corn, I shucked, washed, and cut off the kernels, stopping for just a moment to take the husks, silks, and the little green worm that was nestled in the top of each shuck, to give to Bella to take out and treat the chickens. Chickens are fantastic garbage disposals, and very much appreciate both corn-husks and little green worms. Did I mind the little green worms on my produce? I imagine that if, a couple years ago, I'd brought that corn home from Kroger and discovered a worm, I'd have thrown an indignant fit and returned it in a huff. This time, I just took in the sight of each little worm with a smile, as proof of the unsullied life of that corn crop. It takes several ears of early corn to yield 4 cups of fresh kernels, but I kept at sawing them off until I had enough to mix with fresh yogurt, eggs, and cornmeal and make this delicious fresh-corn spoonbread. This was served as a meal all by itself one night, too, and then the leftovers as a side dish with the next night's meal (recipe link will be in place momentarily).

why it's called spoon bread

Tonight, Alex declared that he didn't want anything to eat (which was a LIE, as it turned out), and Bella asked to cook the tiny new potatoes and small sweet potatoes we'd gotten at the farmer's market. I did consider, for a few minutes, thawing some chicken or venison to make a "main" dish, and then I thought of all the times we've eaten baked potatoes for dinner, and just peeled and chopped the sweets, washed and halved the news, tossed them in olive oil with herbs, garlic, and salt, and roasted those bad boys until they hollered for mercy.

olive oil, garlic, herbs, new and sweet potatoes

OK, they didn't holler. But they DID caramelize, which has gotta hurt. I served everyone a plate full of the roasted potatoes, with a sprinkling of grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream, and it was soooo good. Bella gave that meal TWO thumbs up. Have I told you that Bella is now rating my meals as if I'm a gladiator, and she's the emperor? Yeah. She holds out both fists, and creates a suspenseful moment in which you wait to see whether you get one thumb or two. Tonight she tried to fake me into thinking it was a one-thumb-up meal, then shot that left thumb in there at the last minute, with a huge laugh, and her "I had you goin'!" face on.

Oh, and Mr. I'm Not Hungry? After dinner (which, if you recall, he supposedly didn't even want), he asked me to make him a smoothie. Which I did. Because I'm easy like that. But he'd better not get used to it. So now he's peacefully sleeping, full of anthocyanin. If he were awake, he'd be able to see better in the dark! Tonight's smoothie was all local and organic, some farmed, some foraged: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, tart cherries, and liquid stevia to sweeten. My smoothies bring all the boys to the yard.

Are you following the harvest this year? What are you serving in observance of whatever bounty you may have? Got some can't-miss recipes to share? Please do! No, really. I could use the help.

16 comments:

  1. OK, I have been all OVER that website, and never saw that calendar! Thank you!

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  2. I covet your potatoes! :-)

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  3. *tap tap tap*

    Cornbread recipe, please!

    (Did you see my tweet a few days ago that you MADE ME buy a cheese making kit? Because you DID!)

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  4. So when I come up for a visit next time, can I eat at your house every night? And will you please make some of that fresh corn spoonbread? PRETTY PLEASE? Miss you!

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  5. good morning, b,
    your meals look terrific!
    if you've got the money -- things are tight everywhere -- invest in a dehydrator. It'll cost about $200, but pay for itself in a month of saved grocery money in the winter.
    i use an American Harvest, which has round stackable trays. I dry onions, celery and bell pepper in dice so they're ready to use in soups and stews or to rehydrate for sauteing before jambalaya and so forth.
    you can dehydrate those root vegetables easily -- and the benefits are that they take up WAY less storage space than canned AND aren't lost if the power goes off for a couple of days, like frozen would be.
    See if anyone you know at church has a pressure canner to borrow. (A good one costs another $200). you'll need that for corn, green beans, summer squash and just about everything but tomatoes. to go with that, pick up a copy of the most recent Ball Big Book of Canning for most up-to-date times and such. some people have a mental block about pressure canning, but it's actually easier and safer (in the process) than hot water bathing.
    Oh, and troll ABE books for root cellaring books. Unless you have an unheated earthen space or basement, tho, root cellaring might not work so well in Ark.
    Canning and food storing is hard work at the hottest time of the year. But I don't know any other satisfaction that matches seeing those rows of finished food.
    And you'll find that you spend less at the market, because you'll do your "shopping" in your own pantry. It's wonderful.
    sorry to go on so long -- again! ;-)

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  6. These dishes look absolutely delicious. Can't wait to try fried green tomatoes, and I hope you put that recipe for the corn spoonbread up soon!

    I've be trying to come up new recipes for kale, because I'm getting a lot of it in my CSA shares these days. Sounds like you're beyond kale at this point in your season, but you can find my meal inventions (and other recipes for local fare) in the "eats and treats" category of my blog.

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  7. I don't have a link for what's in season in Arkansas, but I was able to find a timetable pretty quickly via Google for our region.

    It's hosted by the state's agricultural department if that helps at all.

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  8. This is our first year using a CSA and I'm keeping track on my blog, both so that I can predict what we'll get next year AND so I can remember all the great recipes I've found.

    I, too, see that it's changing the way we eat. We're in prime green season where I live and the bags upon bags of greens were freaking me out, but last night I made a spring green pizza with a side of sauteed greens and used almost all of them up!

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  9. Don't know how close you are to Conway, but there's a "Locally Grown" organization where we buy from local producer, most of whom are trying to make their products in a better way, if not officially "organic". Some don't quite meet the qualifications, some don't want to hassle with the paperwork. Here's a link http://conway.locallygrown.net/welcome

    As for meat, I've looked into Payton Creek Farms for 100% grass-fed beef, but I don't know their processing procedures. There is a beefalo farm in El Paso http://www.localharvest.org/farms/M8786
    Petit Jean Farms (one of the producers in the Locally Grown) has some meat. I've gotten their ground beef and sausage. Not cheap, but really good. Localharvest.org is a good place to find small farms and information about their practices.
    You mentioned foraging in your last post. Wild blackberries are in season now. We have them all over the place. Not as big as the tame ones and plenty of thorns, but if you can stand the chiggers, they're worth it.

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  10. Please to consult your copy of Keeping The Harvest. Those girls do discuss root cellaring and other great ways of saving root veggies. I'll agree, most of those are for preserving them through the winter, but getting a jump on that idea might not be a bad one.

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  11. GAH! I miss my mama's fried green tomatoes!! And her fried zucchini too. Oh yeah, and her succotash... and her freaking pineapple chiffon cheesecake! Oh, wait. I know how to make the cheesecake. I'm just too lazy to. WAAAAH! I miss her fried green tomatoes!

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  12. Wow, wow, wow. Very inspiring. I want to eat my screen right now, that food looks so good. I think I might need to get myself to the farmer's market this week finally.

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  13. Nomnomnom!

    Barbara Kingsolver has a beautiful illustration of harvest on her website Animal, Vegetable, Miracle look for "The Vegetannual."

    I have been scouring Craigslist for pressure cookers for canning and food dehydrators so I can preserve some of our CSA food for winter. I am excited to get started.

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  14. "OK, they didn't holler. But they DID caramelize, which has gotta hurt."

    LOL! Too hilarious for the morning reads... I think I busted my tooth on my coffee cup (a coffee cup with illustrations of The Eight Comb Types of Chickens, of course) while reading that, over and over, and laughing.

    RAH!

    My girls have turned to fighting in my living room "indoor coop" as I like to call it. I must step in now.

    Gardening is hard, but what you do get rocks, doesn't it?

    WAIT! My word verification is "poody." That is so excellent!

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