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Our Food System

September 2, 2013


I thought this would be a good time to lay out our food pantry, since it seems like I am canning a lot.  But one thing I should clear up is that when I say canning, I am really meaning preserving, and putting by some stores for winter.  Sorry for the confusion, but it’s kind of a loose term and interchangeable when you’re talking with folks who “can.”  I feel like I am talking to you when I write a blog post, instead of my local friends who are in constant contact about trading foodstocks, or sharing gardening and preserving triumphs and disappointments.  Here are some details about a farm grown pantry that is possible for most if you have a bit of land.  The key is to use a variety of methods of food storage, a variety of growing methods, and for many to change your idea of what you want to eat and when.   I like to say we eat seasonally, but that is not really entirely true because we use freezing, canning, lacto-fermentation, and bulk storage of raw vegetables.  And I do want to add that we put our pants on the same way as everyone else, we buy some foods we can’t grow or don’t want to.  This year I bartered for nectarines and purchased my meat chickens from a friend.

Our pantry includes the gardens that we can store some root crops in over winter, our freezers where we store our meats, butter, fruit, berries, and some vegetables that we don’t care for canned, cool moist storage for potatoes, cool dry storage for winter squash and alliums, dried fruits, fermented vegetables and our home canned goods.  A combination of all methods is what our personal foodshed has morphed into.  I’ve been tweaking our system for over two decades now, and some of our cost/labor-saving ideas came to be because I worked off farm.  I had no time to do things like process squash that didn’t need processing, I just stored it.  A counter-intuitive time saver for me over the years has been to store ingredients rather than spend countless hours making things like pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce etc., instead I can whole tomatoes, make tomato sauce,  and dry herbs. If I need to make marinara sauce, it’s only as far away as some whole canned tomatoes, some herbs, and a splash of olive oil.  No need to spend time making it ahead of time.  I am not locked into any specific amount of anything then, and can use my tomato sauce or whole tomatoes for anything requiring that as a base.  My one exception to that is salsa – which we use a lot of.

Our freezers are our most expensive real estate when it comes to storing foods, so high calorie and high value items go in the freezers.  Beef, pork, chicken, bones for stock, butter, and a huge stash of frozen fruit, along with some frozen brassica type veggies for the gap months, snap peas, peppers, pesto, mushrooms, and maybe a little cream corn.

Our climate usually allows for in ground storage of some our root crops such as beets, carrots, celeriac, kohlrabi, and rutabagas.  We also can eat hardy greens like kale, chicory, and sometimes chard almost all winter with only a short lull in the harvest period.  Leeks also can overwinter many winters here.  Other crops that can keep for long periods in the garden too are cabbage and brussels sprouts.  I take full advantage of our maritime Pacific climate and succession planting of many crops to insure we have an ample supply of vegetables to choose from for our meals.  I take my job as food provider pretty seriously.

Certainly we eat in season as much fresh food as we can.  Many foods that we eat all winter aren’t really very popular here in the summer, since we have eaten them all winter.  Carrots and beets pale in comparison to summer squash, cucumbers and tomatoes.  Same with corn on the cob and lettuce – we gorge and then we wait until next year.  The anticipation sharpens the palate I think, sun ripened tomatoes and melons are a wonderful thing.  The substitute shipped in from warm climes in the winter do not do those foods justice, so we forgo foods like that during the winter.  That’s not saying I don’t like the canned tomato products I have been putting up, it’s just that I don’t see them as the same thing really.  Corn on the cob is a fleeting thing here, we eat it as much as we can, and then freeze some corn for soups or pot pie makings come winter.

As for canning, this year I have canned tomato sauce, salsa, nectarines, pickles and green beans.  Freezer goods are beef, chicken, pork pretty soon, butter, berries, blue, black, straw, and rasp.  Ongoing right now in the freezer department is broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, peppers, corn, & prunes.  I plan to can some whole tomatoes, Creole chili sauce, tomatillo salsa, kiwi jam and then I think I will be done with actual canning per sé, unless I decide to can some corn.  Time will tell on the corn though.

We eat some fermented foods too, sauerkraut, daikon, turnips and spinach or orach, and there is always a jar of beet kvass going.

Other major crops for our food supply are onions, garlic, potatoes and winter squash which get stored in their cured forms.  Winter squash, garlic, and onions are stored in the house, and the potatoes are stored in the barn because they need a higher humidity for long-term storage, whereas squash and alliums like it cool and dry.

Fruit is the iffy one here.  Many years we do not have much tree fruit because of our rainy clime.  It may be warm and dry enough 10 miles west of us, while we sit in the clouds.  Not much pollination goes on during those types of days.  To that end, foods we like canned like applesauce is usually canned in large quantities and stretched over several years.  If we have enough keeping apples or pears we store those on the cool side of our porch, the original farm refrigerator.  Prunes are another crop we love, but don’t get consistently.  We dry as many as the crop allows, and freeze some too.

For us the key is not being fanatic about any one method of foodkeeping, whether it be fresh, frozen, canned, or fermented. But rather to keep our minds open to new methods of pantry stocking that allow us to feed ourselves well, grow most of what we eat, and be flexible about the things we can’t change.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2013 6:17 am

    Hey Nita,

    I’m having trouble posting my comments on your blog. I have a couple of passwords and can’t remember which is which (one for my wp blog, one for posting on others – or so it seems). The real point is, sometime come October or November it would be lovely if we could visit. Your food preservation system sounds about right and is pretty much spot on to my own. I’ve been thinking about quantities needed per person and what gives the most bang for the buck given ones limited space and time. Stuff like that is still available through extension but the time available to work on the “farm” vs. the deep debt everyone is carrying and the attendant amount of time they must work away from the “farm” (along with the endless draw of entertainment we city kids must deal with) leaves me to think a new formula is in the offing. Besides, we all know most these urban “farmers” are not really eating their food regularly or growing with an eye on getting through the winter. Well, some might and some might not but there is an awful amount of fluff and silliness out there.

    Okay, enough about that. Would like to talk sometime.


    • September 2, 2013 8:51 am

      H, sounds good, right now November seems a long ways off, but it’ll be here before we know it 🙂

      I agree about urban distractions, and eating from your stores. When I worked in town, sometimes the urge to not cook was greater than my resolve, the only thing stopping me was the thought of driving 15 miles (at least) for a meal someone else had prepared. Fuel and many other things were more affordable then too, now it’s just simply a matter of not spending that much to do something I can here as well and with better ingredients.

  2. September 2, 2013 6:37 am

    Great post that helps validate what we are doing in north San Diego county using the same multiple storage methods you describe. We grow most of what you mentioned plus citrus and avocados, the latter still a major commercial crop in our area. The citrus is consumed fresh, although I occasionally have enough lime or lemon juice to freeze in ice cube trays to extend their seasons. Surplus avocados not given away to friends are made into guacamole and frozen. Like you, we eat a whole lot of salsa, preferring fresca whenever possible. We are able to keep tomatoes on the vine for ripening through Thanksgiving. After that, we rely on frozen whole tomatoes to make a reasonable facsimile until the new crop starts in June. One of these seasons I intend to attempt year-round tomatoes in a small greenhouse. Our “root cellar” is a small wine room, temperature and humidity controlled for wine. Not perfect, but it’s been pretty effective for winter squash, onions, garlic, and better than the kitchen for the potatoes. We have chickens for eggs, but buy all of our meat.

    • September 2, 2013 8:47 am

      J Bachman, mmmm I’m jealous of your citrus, and avocados. Yum – both are treats around here, except I do cop to buying limes for fajitas, another major food group here besides the salsa fresca. Curse my mom for naming me Juanita 🙂

      I’m thinking I may try some frozen tomatoes this year, if I have room in the freezer. I can’t do fresh cilantro either for too much longer, but we have lots of cilantro pesto in the freezer and some just cilantro and EVOO which when blended in with dishes in the winter gets pretty close if we close our eyes, and forget we aren’t wearing down vests 😉

      Buying my meat chickens this year really brought home what a mistake that was for the farm budget. It’s a mistaken thought to think you’re just trading dollars for dollars. My hubby had a bum wing so I didn’t want to take on the processing without him to help. What we missed out on was of course lots of fertilizer, and all the feet and offal. I did not want to buy chicken livers or feet after so many years of having so much at my disposal. Well worth the money, but I had so much to spend on chicken and that all I got was chicken. No extras. It’s good value adding for the farmer, but eek for the consumer adds a lot of expense.

      Your system sounds wonderful 🙂

  3. Diane Knowlen permalink
    September 2, 2013 7:33 am

    Have you used the Tattler canning lids? I’ve been experimenting with them this year but have been disappointed in the number of failures. I’m getting better but would appreciate any tips you might have???

    Thank you.

    • September 2, 2013 8:37 am

      Diane, you know I haven’t, I just didn’t want to make the investment. From what I hear folks either really like them or not. You can get BPA free lids from Ball and Kerr now, but I have to wonder what they replaced the BPA with. I try to be careful when handling the canned goods so the contents don’t touch the lids, so our exposure isn’t as bad with the glass jars as with canned goods from the store. I hope.

      I’m guessing readers will chime in with their Tattler experiences now that you’ve asked. 🙂

  4. September 2, 2013 8:06 am

    Well said my friend and right on ! Our styles are so similar yet different in that we have different climates. You will find that your style will change also as you age and as the number in your family drops. We raised so much more when we were younger. Put up more more jam for those PBJs when we had a house full of kids eating them. Put up more things like salsa and pickles when there were kids to consume them. As we age we have found that we are really somewhat down to the basics. We think we will always garden/preserve as long as we can walk but at some point to a much smaller scale. I mumble and complain about those high canning seasons but I have to wonder if I will miss them at some point in my life : )

    • September 2, 2013 8:57 am

      CQ, I know, same here. It’s getting pretty basic here too. We don’t get the cold you do, so a lot can be harvested right where it grew and that alone saves so much time and space.

      If you asked 10 years ago if I would make wine out of my rhubarb I would have been aghast 🙂 Guess what, we hardly eat much rhubarb pie or crisp anymore, so I made wine this year with Cariboo’s recipe. Delicious!

  5. Beth in Ky permalink
    September 2, 2013 8:26 am

    Canning applesauce and pickled okra today, not huge amounts but the kitchen still looks like a bomb exploded! The heifers are working as a clean up crew in the orchard for a few days taking care of the overly rotten or wasp riddled fruit.

    • September 2, 2013 8:53 am

      Beth, I’ve got a lull today, and a gap in apples…only a few Gravensteins, and a while before the Kings. So Gravenstein pie it will be. Back to the salt mines on the roofing front 😦

  6. Carol permalink
    September 2, 2013 9:17 am

    How do you store your chicken? I bought a big order of meat chicken from a farmer and he gave me whole birds, it was quite a challenge to bring all that home and then portion it out into serving size portions, or special cuts for recipes, and bones for soup etc. Ugh what a pain.

    • September 2, 2013 9:54 am

      Carol, I store my chickens whole, and then process them each week, into my hubby’s lunch broth and sautéed breast meat, and other cuts for family meals. I go through about 5 quarts of broth minimum a week to meet his special dietary needs and for braising greens etc. Breaking that down into a weekly task evens out my workload instead of making it ahead, and canning or freezing it.

      As for the farmer, it can be a source of value-added income to part those birds out and sell portions, usually breasts, tenderloins, legs and soup kits made up of backs and necks, visceral fat too is another option. I’ve been on both sides, when your bone tired from raising the darn things, and then butchering too, it’s time to add some help for the parting out. It only takes minutes to parcel out a bird, especially when their warm… . But I feel your farmer’s pain, maybe you could suggest selling a parted out bird as part of their marketing, they may be too overwhelmed to add one more thing. And I know as a busy cook, it can be overwhelming to start carving on a carcass when all you want to do is sit down with a glass of wine. 🙂

  7. September 2, 2013 1:01 pm

    Great post. I rely heavily on local farms and farmers markets to supplement my suburban garden, but it’s always most satisfying to put up what we grew ourselves, and hope eventually to have some land, for growing much more of our own. Lots of dehydrating, canning, freezing, and a bit of lactofermentation going on here — that last is still fairly new to me. but I loved last year’s brined green tomatoes. Those are definitely on the list for October. As we head into September I start getting stressed about getting everything done and for some reason, friends think it’s helpful to remind me that I don’t Have to do all that — could just buy the stuff at the store. Bleagh. COULD, yes. But — bleagh.
    Your comments about tomato sauce are interesting — it takes hours, but I think of it as the most useful thing I make, because reminding myself that the sauce is already made, so the spaghetti could be ready in 15 minutes, is sometimes enough to stop me from going for takeout on the way home. Not that making spaghetti sauce from canned tomatoes is that hard or time-consuming, but when, as you put it above, the urge to not cook overcomes one’s resolve, it makes a difference. Some of the time, anyway. I like putting up a few quarts of soup and chili, for the same reason. Don’t need gallons of them, but having a few on hand some nights feels like a lifesaver.
    So — onward. Since spouse has the day off, I put him to work watching tomato sauce simmer down. Dried culinary and tea herbs, frozen herb cubes, frozen squash fritters, check. Lots of dried fruits, homemade almond and vanilla extracts. Canned sour cherries, pepper onion relish, umpteen kinds of jam, canned corn (with red peppers and basil), corn chowder, check. Onion crop, total failure, damn, damn, damn. But the leeks are going, and the kale looks fine. Still waiting to see about the potatoes, with crossed fingers — I never want to go back to relying on store potatoes! Some raisins drying. Quite a bit of fruit leather, for spouse. Still to go, tomatillo salsa, ketchup, canned tomatoes, chili, applesauce, plum butter, apple butter, quince marmalade, maybe a few other things, depending on various factors. Thinking of the column Sharon Astyk wrote awhile back, about the children’s book “Hurry, hurry, Mary Dear.” I’m hurrying!

  8. September 3, 2013 3:08 am

    I spent 10 hours in the kitchen yesterday, putting up beans, tomatoes and cucumbers, but it looks like I’m in good company here. It looks like we are all in the throws of the harvest!

    I do many different preservation methods as well, but this year I have been canning more of the things I would normally freeze, because I have concerns about sustainability and the electrical supply. May be a silly whim, but just in case, and knowing all that it’s taken to get that food in the house, I wanted to preserve it in a way that I could still eat it, even if the lights go out. That being said, there’s still a LOT in the freezer.

    I just wanted to tell you that ever since I read your post a while back, I’ve been keeping the number 52 in my mind when I think of how much of something I would need. That was great advice, and it never occured to me to think of it that way. But it does help give me a basis for planning ahead, and it also helps me to know how much more space I’m going to need!

    • September 3, 2013 4:35 am

      j, I agree, definitely our freezers are our weak point. But, the thought of everything canned or fermented is not appealing at all. I would have to have a canning fest if for some reason the power was off for an extended period of time.

      Glad the 52 rule is helping 🙂

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