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Creaming the Crop

October 25, 2012

In looking for meal inspiration, I have no idea really what came first?  The garden or the meal?  In my case since I am somewhat of an uninspired cook, and more of an avid gardener,  I usually go with what is in season in the garden, or larder.   In this case I have lots of fresh milk, cream and sauerkraut.  Cream of sauerkraut soup is one of our favorites, but usually it ends up being more than just a creamy soup, by the time I got done with the soup last night, it was more of a chowder, with several veggies besides the sauerkraut.

Melissa cabbage & Brilliant celeriac

In the Pacific Northwet we can forage from the garden for many months, sometimes all winter, while all the summer crops are done, the roots and brassicas are really taking center stage right now.  I plan my plantings specifically for this.  Fresh food harvested just before mealtime, no preserving, no storing (unless you count the garden row) and not too many worries.  The garden can be thought of as one big refrigerator for storing crops that like high humidity and cool storage.  We have stuffed the freezer just in case we get some real cold, and we have made sauerkraut to change-up the cabbage recipes a bit.  But, for the most part we leave lots of crops out, kale, carrots, rutabagas, celeriac, parsnips, beets, chard and cabbage.  Some of these crops require a little maintenance, I hill soil over the tender root crops, and I pull or twist most of the roots off the cabbage (note Melissa above lying to one side of the row) to prevent the heads from splitting from too much rain, but all in all, it’s a lot less work than preserving all these foods.  Everyone’s climate has an advantage, and this is one of ours in this part of western Oregon.

Kraut makings

Ms. Jane Butterfield

So while last night’s meal started somewhere way back with spring planted seeds or the birth of Jane, it’s not much different than what most farm cooks have been doing for centuries.  It’s really only been a short time where the bulk of the population has looked to the grocery store and television for cooking inspiration.  As for recipes, my cookbook could be called “Recipe for Disaster!”  Not really, but like anyone who spends time in the kitchen,  I don’t seem to be able to follow a recipe for very long.  Sure, canning and baking are a little different, but soup or stew?  Soups and stews evolve depending on what you have on hand.

The cream of sauerkraut soup came together beautifully.  On hand I had a gifted leek, and some bacon ends to use up.  So I fried up the bacon ends to render some flavorful fat for cooking the leek, celeriac, and carrots for the vegetable base of the soup.  Meanwhile I made a quick bechamel with whole milk and thinned that with chicken broth.    When the vegetables were tender, I added the vegetables and 2 cups of sauerkraut to the white sauce and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper.  It was delicious!

Red Cored Chantenay carrot

Do you have a favorite go-to “recipe” for using up what you have?

25 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2012 9:14 am

    You really are a tremendously successful gardener.. I am a coleslaw fiend, i put everything into it, in fact my coleslaw is a complete food! Awesome soup, i have never heard of it before.. c

    • October 25, 2012 9:27 am

      Cecilia, I’m with you on coleslaw – I love it! No one else here does so I don’t have share 😉 Daisy will be happy to help with that soup I bet!

      • October 25, 2012 12:00 pm

        I am always grateful when members of the family scorn my favourite food!! c

  2. Katharina permalink
    October 25, 2012 9:19 am

    no matter that you don’t think of yourself as a great cook…. if you use celeriac, you’re a winner! Makes everything taste better! It might be the number 1 underrated vegetable there is.
    I tried turnip and delicata gratin last night – FAIL. Moving on 🙂

    • October 25, 2012 9:24 am

      Katharina, my dogs love me for my failures 😉 Two Australian Shepherd garbage disposals make wonderful kitchen companions! I started using celeriac because it is so much easier to grow than celery which I love, but sadly it needs more water than it’s knobby relative 😦

  3. October 25, 2012 10:10 am

    I try every year to grow cabbage and don’t do well. I’ll keep trying because it’s such a versatile, healthy critter for the family and I’d love to make sauerkraut. (Although I got some “Yucks” from the kids when I mentioned Cream of Sauerkraut Soup!) You have an inspiring blog for those of us trying to garden. Thanks!

  4. October 25, 2012 10:34 am

    I stopped using celery because it has too long a season and hubby is not really that keen and so I have resorted to lovage for the leaves rather than celery for the stalks.

    I envy you being able to grow things right the way through the winter. Our winters are far too harsh -32C (-26F) last winter. I am determined to keep trying to stretch the season a little but we are expecting snow tomorrow.

  5. October 25, 2012 11:15 am

    My soup pot absorbs all kinds of what’s-on-hand produce, too. Home-canned stock as a base, sauted onions to start the seasoning, and then the sky’s the limit. I get a lot of inspiration from a little vegetarian book titled “Twelve Months of Monastery Soups” that is organized by season of the garden, so it is perfect for cooking with what’s growing now. I do add meat to some recipes, carnivore that I am…

    • October 25, 2012 1:29 pm

      TD, I might say I add some veggies to my meat, carnivore that I am 😉 That book sounds great, I got my original sauerkraut soup from the Multnomah Falls Lodge cookbook, it was called Reuben Soup I believe and had maybe sausage or pastrami in it, can’t remember and can’t find the book :p

  6. October 25, 2012 12:55 pm

    I can’t wait to move to Oregon!! I just finished editing a community cookbook for our year-round indoor farm market and I can assure you that even in West Virginia there is call for sauerkraut!

  7. October 25, 2012 2:06 pm

    I envy you being able to leave crops in the ground overwinter. Here in Northern MO zone 5A winters are way too wicked for that. Everything must be either in a root cellar or preserved some way.

    • October 25, 2012 2:55 pm

      Canned Quilter, we don’t have too much of a temperature swing, or if it does get hot or cold it never lasts, the Pacific moderates our weather pretty well 🙂

  8. Enjay permalink
    October 25, 2012 2:16 pm

    I like adding veggies to sauerkraut. I already mix it with shredded cabbage because it’s often too strong for my youngest kids so shredding up whatever needs using and adding it isn’t a hassle. There’s something else that I make that’s more of a formula than a recipe. It’s really simple, meat, starch, and vegetables, Brown about a pound of meat (sausage is really a star in this but ham, ground meat with smoke flavoring added, anything with a good strong flavor works) set that aside. Slice and brown potatoes, I use the equivalent of a large 4″ baked potato per person, add in a T of mustard seed and a T of prepared mustard and whatever veggies you want to use, let that brown for a minute then add about a cup of water and the meat, cover and simmer until tender adding water as necessary. Shred up half a head of cabbage and place on top of the mix and cover again to wilt, i usually take the skillet off of the heat while wilting as we like our cabbage crunchy. I often use rice instead of the potatoes, browning everything in my pressure cooker than adding in the rice and liquid and cooking to the directions for my area (I think it’s ten minutes at 10 lbs) I’ve also added in lentils, and a friend uses quinoa but I haven’t experimented with that. As for the cabbage, any green will work, beets, turnip, mustard, collards, chard, kale and spinach are some that I’ve used, but if the green is going to wilt into nothing I do add cabbage on top of it.

    • October 26, 2012 5:28 pm

      Dang it Enjay, that sounds really good and really doable. Might have to try that tomorrow night…

      • Enjay permalink
        October 26, 2012 6:00 pm

        It’s super simple and I find that as long as I’m still in the kitchen I can babysit it and do other things too. I do want to clarify, when you use different starches like rice and quinoa you do need to adjust the amount of water so it’s appropriate to the starch.
        Another variation I do is to add apple slices in before the greens and let those soften too.

        • October 26, 2012 6:40 pm

          Enjay, I have to agree with TD, that sounds delicious, my biggest deal about meals is “thinking” of what to cook, I don’t mind the actual cooking task so much as the thought process. I want to be thinking about cows 🙂 Thanks for the great idea!

  9. October 25, 2012 2:41 pm

    I am the same, I can’t understand people who buy ingredients for a specific recipe, I just pull things from the garden/freezer until I have some kind of meal! Half the fun is trying to figure out how to cook something new that you wouldn’t normally buy. Lately I’ve been trying to find a good way to cook liver from the steer we had butchered. And I had no idea what to do with turnips and swedes at first – turns out they are lovely grated in a salad 🙂

    • October 25, 2012 2:53 pm

      Yeah, kind of like the mystery box challenges on cooking shows, who knows what you’ll get, but it’s always guaranteed to be good 🙂

    • Enjay permalink
      October 26, 2012 6:01 pm

      Try soaking the liver in milk then lightly breading it and pan frying. I hate liver and even I can manage it when it’s cooked like that.

  10. October 25, 2012 3:50 pm

    Thank you so much for your column or blog or whatever they call it nowadays. I have always wanted to grow all we eat and was not able to because of outside work, but have always grown a lot of it. Even though I don’t have a flock of chickens, I do have two hens, which give us some eggs. I enjoy reading about your garden, milk cow, and everything you write VERY much. I kind of live it vicariously with you. Thanks for cheering up this elderly grandmother down here in Alabama! I get a lot of good ideas from you that can work down here too! And Hey, I would like to have a picture of you in it now and then so I could envision you in my mind while reading your words! Thanks again.

  11. John permalink
    October 26, 2012 5:12 am

    I’ve had good luck with Borscht. It doesn’t use as many beets as one might expect, but it is a great “catch-all” kind of thing and I’ve found recipes (points of departure…) for both hot and cold versions which allow for a kind of culinary season extension.

  12. Diana permalink
    October 26, 2012 7:31 am

    Last night I made fried rice with about 1 1/2 cups of leftover rice. I sautéed some onion, celery and carrots (freshly dug up before the snow started falling yesterday!) then added gingerroot, garlic and zucchini. Finally, I added the rice and seasoned with cayenne pepper and soy sauce then scrambled the last egg in. It’s a great way to use up lots of bits– in the past I’ve added green chiles, turnips, nuts, kohlrabi etc.

    We had sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, applesauce and kielbasa for dinner the other night. I want to try your soup soon, it sounds delicious!

  13. Bee permalink
    October 26, 2012 7:45 am

    I’m a chowder fan myself, although I really don’t like sauerkraut. But some nice raw milk with cream, pretty much any sort of veggies (but always onions) and some protein offer endless combinations. I usually use carrots, onions, celery, green onions and parsley, plus home-made chicken broth, cream and milk for the base.

    Add corn and it becomes corn chowder. Add shredded Cheddar cheese and it’s corn/cheese chowder. Use chicken plus the base soup for cream of chicken soup. Other meat possibilities are ham, sausage, bacon, ground beef, ground lamb or leftover roast. I’ve added shredded zucchini or cabbage, chard and bok choy, leeks, potatoes and leftover winter squash. The key is to taste as you go. This sort of soup is very filling, but for a little extra boost I make dumplings or biscuits to go with it. If you have fish or clam broth to substitute for the chicken broth, you can easily change this into fish, salmon or clam chowder.

    Another great base recipe that lends itself to experimentation is something called Pasta Democrazia (don’t ask me why, I found it in a cookbook). Cook one pound pasta, stir in one cup cream, one cup grated Parmesan cheese, two or three cloves minced garlic and half a cup of butter. Add meat of your choice — sausage (browned separately) is particularly yummy. Greens such as chard or cabbage cooked the last five minutes with the pasta work well; so does kale, but cook it from the beginning or it will be tough. Frozen shredded zucchini or patty pan squash can be stirred in with the butter and cream. This one also freezes nicely, which chowder doesn’t.

    Finally, I like to cook vegetables in cream. Radishes (especially good for mellowing radishes with a sharp bite), salsify, chunks of winter squash, carrots, onions, etc. Saute the chopped veggies in a little butter or water until crisp-tender, add 1/4 cup cream per cup of veggies and a minced garlic clove. Simmer until veggies are tender and cream has reduced to thick sauce — about 5 minutes.

    Best of all, these are mainly one-pot meals — in addition to being a lazy cook, I’m a lazy dishwasher!

    • October 26, 2012 8:20 am

      Bee, sounds delicious! I’m the same way about sauerkraut during the summer, although I checked the current batch last night, and it was very tasty so I think with me it’s a seasonal thing 🙂

      I’m a lazy dishwasher too! Some days it seems like that is all I do between milk stuff and cooking!

      • Bee permalink
        October 26, 2012 4:16 pm

        Nita, we work so hard doing everything else, I figure we’re entitled to be lazy about at least one or two things…

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