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Making Do & Farmstead Pantry Planning

January 2, 2013

Seed 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.

Sweet Meat

Sweet Meat

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.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. jenj permalink
    January 2, 2013 12:34 pm

    Your comment about seeing spoilage was kinda funny. Of course we never see it in the grocery store, and I’d never purchase something that’s damaged (ok, well, that’s a lie – I buy seconds on tomatoes and peaches at the farmer’s market for canning purposes). HOWEVER, if I grew it, I don’t care if a bird ate a corner out of a ‘mater, or a bug took a nibble out of that broccoli leaf. Dammit, I spent good time and effort on that plant, I’M GONNA EAT IT! And if not me, then at least the chickens! No waste here!

    Perspectives change a lot when you’re more invested in your food sources, that’s for sure! 😉

  2. January 2, 2013 12:36 pm

    I’m getting there for sure. I don’t buy much in the way of vegetables at all, maybe a bell pepper for some seeds, if I buy anything it tends to be citrus fruits and mushrooms. Citrus fruits I can’t do anything about as we don’t have the climate for that, but mushrooms just requires a bit more coordination and no visits by forest pigs.

    Thanks for the recommendation of the book “The Winter Harvest Book.” It is a mine of information for sure. What I find most inspiring though are the bits where Eliot Coleman writes about what he has tried and has either failed at or decided not worth it for him, but he puts it in there anyway in case it is more useful to the readers conditions. I am not sure we will manage year round harvesting with the kinds of temperatures and lack of light we have, being so far north here in Latvia, but I am certain that many of his techniques and suggestions may help us at least extend the season somewhat.

    • Emerald permalink
      January 7, 2013 9:44 pm

      Look for Elliot’s book “four season harvest” a very good book for extending the harvest all winter. Where I live in MI(USA) The Four Season Harvest has worked well for several things.. Carrots/Parsnips/Radishes and Brussels sprouts do beautiful in our area with a minimum of protection.. As soon as my knee heals I will be making more cold frames and buying new plastic for my greenhouse to venture into the Asian greens and cole crops like Broccoli and kale.

  3. January 2, 2013 2:28 pm

    Great post and a woman after my own heart. Funny I lost one of my Long Island Cheese pumpkins this weekend too! Those Butternut are holding great though. Got my seeds on order for that Sweet Meat that I’ve heard so much about : ) I love the idea of more winter gardening but unfortunately my age and arthritis just don’t go well with alot of outdoor activities in winter. I just don’t take those ice tumbles and frigid temps as well as I used to so I’ll leave it to you younger ladies!!

    • January 2, 2013 2:31 pm

      Canned Quilter! LOL, younger ladies 😉 Getting ready for some ice here tomorrow, something I am not looking forward to. 😦 I had one squash in the field that rotted the same before I harvested, and I wonder if this was from the same plant? I love Butternut but never have been able to get them to ripen reliably…maybe the greenhouse?

      Stay warm!

  4. January 2, 2013 3:43 pm

    Pantry paradigm … I like it. I’m like you; I like to keep my preserving simple. Home grown heirlooms are extraordinary as they are; simplicity is my fave.

  5. Carol permalink
    January 2, 2013 7:27 pm

    The only thing I would worry about with some molds is that they produce a toxin that I have read is carcinogenic. Although the mold stays in one place the toxin migrates through any moist part of the fruit or vegetable. That said, I would have done the same thing but maybe not when I had little kids around.

    I so enjoy your photos, thanks for a great blog.

  6. January 2, 2013 10:11 pm

    When are you going to organize your ideas and methods into a homesteading book?

    • January 3, 2013 5:54 am

      Paula, good question! I always wonder how much farming and homesteading people actually do if they write books…

      • January 3, 2013 1:11 pm

        Ghost writers. Thanks, Paula. I thought Moh was going to put a restraining order against me if I asked her for a book one more time.

        • January 3, 2013 2:20 pm

          HFS, ghost farmers? There are already lots of people writing farming books that don’t know what they’re talking about… or am I being a crank?

        • January 3, 2013 7:40 pm

          Not ghost farming!! Ghost writing! You have so much knowledge under your belt about homesteading that it would be really useful for a lot of us to have access to organized information. Just please stay away from Skyhorse Publishing because they clearly don’t get it when it comes to homesteading.

          I want you to understand that you may think of yourself as a farmer, which you are of course, but you don’t climb into the air conditioned cab of a ridiculously expensive combine everyday and mow down acres and acres of the same mono-culture crop… are more than that. You are a homesteader, a successful homesteader, and your knowledge is really valuable.

          Way more valuable than a farmer’s.

        • January 3, 2013 10:31 pm

          Paula, I knew what he meant, but if a book is written by a researcher than anyone can write the book, it doesn’t necessarily mean it would be right, or pertinent information. If you watch any of the popular homesteading or farming authors, most are spending lots of time off their land selling their book, etc., not homesteading or farming anymore. I’m not saying I wouldn’t write a book, but I have no idea how to fit it in, or really how popular it would be, my blog is not all that stupendous visitor-wise. No one is beating the door down trying to get me to give away their products…although I wouldn’t mind a nice boysenberry kitchenaide…;)

          thanks for the continued support though 🙂 You too Chris!

  7. January 3, 2013 12:24 pm

    I always enjoy your posts and this one is no exception. I just made pumpkin risotto the other day for my husband and brother in law and nary a word was said at the table because they were too busy eating. My husband doesn’t like pumpkin pie, but it appears that most everything else pumpkin is okay in his book and next year I will be growing some Brodé Galeux d’Eysine aka “Peanut Pumpkin” from seeds I’d saved previously. Now I just need to get my long-term winter storage up to snuff.

  8. CarolG. permalink
    January 3, 2013 3:53 pm

    I’m reminded of the time I just went merrily through all the catalogs and wrote down a list of everything I thought would be nice. By the time I was finished, I had over 10 acres worth of crops for my fantasy garden before I even started on the areas for the trees! I looked, laughed, and trimmed back my list considerably to fit my city lot needs. Nonetheless, it was an interesting exercise in what I might want to consider another time.

  9. January 3, 2013 10:39 pm

    So I guess what you need is someone here, who values your work to trawl through your blog and cobble together a book that you could read and comment on. There are plenty of book publishing companies that can produce books or at least e-books these days. Mind you there are also book companies that can instantly make a book from a blog too – it would just need organising into sections then.

    • January 3, 2013 10:40 pm

      Oh yes! Sorry but I’m not volunteering, hopefully I shall be getting on with my PhD studies soon and I somehow think I won’t have enough time 🙂

    • January 4, 2013 5:58 am

      Joanna, I don’t think that is what I need, it was other people think I need…

  10. MARILYN permalink
    January 8, 2013 7:41 pm

    Marilyn, I would like to know how to can sweet meat squash. I canned some and it was a little scorched. Can you suggest something. I just love this site, I also grow lavender and looking for different ways to market it.
    back to the sweet meat squash, the reason i’, canning it is one of started ripening, becoming orange on the outside, I think it was i became too warm

  11. January 25, 2013 6:33 pm

    I’d like to second (or third?) the book request. Although it’s always easy to suggest someone Else add a whole bunch of work to their busy schedule …

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