Making Do & Farmstead Pantry Planning
eed catalogs are littering nightstands and kitchen tables everywhere this time of year. What to buy? How much to plant? You remember that old saying when you take too much on your plate? “Eyes bigger than your stomach? It’s so easy to over buy, and take on too much. Good thing some seeds keep years I like buying seeds and trying new varieties. But we only have so much room, in the garden and for storage. Then there is the time you need to invest to get your seeds to the table or the pantry.
If you’re ready to move from casual gardening to stocking up for the winter, I can’t stress enough to plant more than you think you will need, or in other words plant more than you eventually want to harvest. And plant a variety of foods, you may have a crop failure. It could be the seeds, you or the weather, but the end result is the same. Nada. Food is also perishable. Yesterday I was going to cook up my weekly winter squash for the week ahead, and in going over my stores, I see a large winter squash going bad. Then getting to it I knocked the stem off of a different one. Dang, I hate the bull in a china shop feeling!
Growing up with a farmstead pantry, and blemished foods, I know what to expect. As a seed saver I am curious. Why is this one spoiling and the other 30 squash nearby aren’t? I suspect poor pollination, natures way of getting rid of this specimen for the future. As I thought, when I cut into the squash, there weren’t many seeds, and the squash was soft and starting to mold in the soft spots. The flesh that was firm smelled good, as only a fresh-cut cucurbit can smell. The seeds and soft parts went in the chicken scrap bucket and I cooked the rest. We had it for our New Year’s dinner. Celebrating the New Year with food we grew, and making the most of it. The spoiled squash will make eggs and the rest we will enjoy.
I understand the photo of rotten food may be a little upsetting to some. When you purchase your food from a store, farmers market, or even a CSA, they are dealing with the spoilage and loss, and shielding you, the consumer. I’ve said this many times, if you garden, you are the produce manager. You deal with the icky parts. A farmstead pantry is made up of a lot of making do, not in the sense that you are poor, but more in the sense that you don’t waste what you have or spent time growing, harvesting and putting by.
I try to minimize the icky parts as much as possible by selecting varieties that meet my criteria of stocking a raw pantry. Raw pantry in the sense that I stock ingredients for our meals in the lowest processed or mixed form possible. This may stem from the fact that I am growing, harvesting and putting up the food for winter, not just buying it in season. Many times I just don’t have the time to spend breaking down something. Chickens for instance. We plan to have our meat chickens done by the time we start cutting hay. Breaking down the whole chickens each week as needed makes my life simpler. Or my pantry style may have evolved from the way I cook, usually on the fly because I really would rather be outside with my cows or in the garden. Year round. I stock the pantry simply, so I can simply cook.
I think you get the idea though, if you can store your food without processing then do it. Be more flexible in your gardening and preserving choices, many things store without a lick of electricity or processing. Think root cellar, cool room, or here in the Pacific Northwest in the garden, as is the case of some root crops. Or maybe winter growing under cover is a way to slow down your preserving chores. If you crave salads in the winter, put in some beds with hoopies over them (even in cold gardening zones), look for the icons that denote winter growing. Seed catalogs are a wealth of information, there is so much cultural information in them that you can glean tidbits even if you don’t want to purchase from the company. As for salads in winter, you may need to expand beyond lettuce and get into some of the more flavorful, hardy winter greens but life is nothing but a grand experiment anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
So, you want to stock your pantry with keepers? As you thumb through your seed catalogs, look for phrases like stores well, keeps months, good keeper. And open your mind. You don’t need pumpkins to make pumpkin pie. Use winter squash instead. I grow Sweet Meat, because it will easily keep a year, and it makes the best pie in the world, and I don’t have to can the darn things before they rot. I also grow it because it was developed in Portland by a local company, Gill Brothers. Growing up, Gill was a household word. I like keeping that going. I also met my hubby on land that used to be where the Gill Brothers nursery was, sadly by that time, it was just a forlorn, old, vacant property waiting for the rest of the I-205 to bring progress to the land. Thank god we have that freeway, and those pesky old farms are gone… . If you’re not saving seeds you can branch out and grow many different varieties of squash and really tweak your taste buds throughout the winter. Personally I’m trying to duplicate a self-reliant farmstead garden that will feed us and allow me to save seeds from my “keepers.” On the flip side though, it’s important to keep the seed sellers in business too, the good ones deserve our business.
Another thing besides storage, is yield potential and the ripening schedule. If you want to process tomatoes into sauce it’s nice to have a quantity to process at once so you can streamline your preserving chores. We like to snack on tomatoes early in the season, so we grow a variety of types, some for fresh eating, and some for processing for big canning projects, and when the season ends they all get processed into glut sauce, even the cherry tomatoes we planted just for snacking. If big project processing isn’t your thing, look for statements like, ripens over a long period of time, as opposed to puts on a large crop all at once. Fruit can be the same, grow everbearing and one crop wonders. I like stuffing the freezer full of raspberries from our July bearing plants, and then switch over to grazing on the everbearing berries until it gets cold.
Besides all those things that you read in the growers guides, experiment too, with the vegetables you grow. I like a little sweet corn on the cob at summer’s end, and I like to put away some corn off the cob too. I have found (through neglect I might add) that if I leave the second picking of corn to ripen a tad, it makes great corn for soups and stews in the winter. The neglect part came in because I was busy processing something else. I don’t expect drop dead tender corn on the cob in winter, that’s for a summer treat when the wind blows warm. Pushing that summer food into winter smacks of gluttony to me. Plus, it never tastes the same to my make-do palate, that one variety of corn becomes two different vegetables. Rethinking our idea of a garden that can feed us year round through a variety of growing and storage methods is a good way to be headed. We don’t want to duplicate the on-demand mentality in our pantries otherwise we wouldn’t be canning peaches for winter fare. I say expand the canned peach idea, you’ve already dropped the fresh peach in January model, think of ways that you can spread out that thought process and come up with a new pantry paradigm.