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Just What Do We Eat Anyway?

January 24, 2014

In the previous post about growing a good share of our food I didn’t really address just what we eat.  I think it bears saying that if you’re new to food gardening or homesteading with or without animals, you may need to lower your expectations or change your pantry to adapt to the place you’re in.  Adapting to the place you’re in could take on many different faces.  It may be a backyard with rabbits and kitchen garden, acreage with no improvements or a rundown farm.  You may have skills you can transfer or you may just be starting out learning all there is to learn about raising your own food supply.  I’m still tweaking, so don’t worry about getting it right the first time.  It won’t happen.  It’s helpful to change your perception of right.

To answer Bee’s question in the previous post.  In the days when I had a full-time bricks-and-mortar job as opposed to writing, which I can tuck into odd nooks and crannies of time (especially since I don’t watch television!) my food-raising was a lot more limited. It’s always a process and a journey. Nita, how long did it take you to get to point where you are now? Or did you always (as an example) raise roots for the house cow? I know Hangdog works off the place, but did you ever combine outside labor with raising food and how did you split the time between the two activities?

Are we there yet?  Not by a long shot.  When I had a full-time off farm job we still grew a lot of our food.  Dairy,  beef, eggs, vegetables and fruits.  What was different then was I canned a lot.  I repeated the gardens and foodstuffs I had grown up around.  You eat fresh like the dickens all summer and fall, and put up everything else for the dark days and hunger gap.  I also pre-made a lot meals, growing up with endless grange potlucks and feeds, I have quantity recipes drilled into the gray matter.  Lasagna for forty?  No problem.  Remember I grew up with a stocked pantry of raw ingredients and scratch cooking.  Home Ec was my favorite class in high school.

Another factor on the “are we there yet”  front is that things change.  Not just the weather, but food likes, dislikes, food allergies, health problems and the list could go on.  Those are just my changes.  I grew quite a bit of sweet corn last year, we ate about two messes of corn.  If you asked me fifteen years ago if I would ever grow corn and then not eat it, I would have thought you were crazy.  The cows were happy, and I was happy too, to tend those long corn rows and smell that sweet pollen, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything with it except feed it out.  This year I plan on growing corn again, and we may eat some, but I’m seeing frozen corn as a great extra for the dogs.  They love it, and as you have seen on the blog many times, our dogs eat lots of vegetables and fruits.  This article bears out the fact that our dogs aren’t really crazy.

But I wanted to talk about what we eat, not the dogs.  We eat almost all of our meals at home, all the time.  Once in a blue moon we’ll go out, but not very often.  So to produce the bulk of the ingredients for three daily meals here takes some adjusting the diet.  My husband has dietary challenges so his meals look different than mine and my daughter’s.  Our dinner is usually the same just to save some wear and tear on the cook!  Side note:  dinner here is the last meal of the day, the noon meal is lunch.

Breakfast is easy.  My husband drinks chicken broth for breakfast, sometimes he adds a little rice, and maybe a slice of pie if it’s available.  My daughter and I have a farmer’s breakfast of beef sausage, egg, and hash browns.  Once in a while we have bacon instead of sausage, one pig doesn’t yield a whole lot of bacon though, so that is a rarity.

Lunch is pretty easy too.  More broth and a slice of sautéed chicken breast for him.  It’s even easier for us – we choose from yogurt, milk, leftovers from dinner, steamed winter squash, braised greens or roasted root vegetables.  In the summer, it’s usually salad, fruit or sautéed greens or summer vegetables, plus milk.  We do a lot of snacking during the day, glass of milk, bowl of yogurt with some fruit from the freezer, sauerkraut, glass of home canned juice, apples, etc., and I try to keep a pan of roasted roots on hand during the winter.

Dinner gets a little more involved because I usually make a meal.  And dinner entrees are usually where the purchased goods come in, mostly in the form of flour.  Our flour purchases amount to about 100 pounds per year.  Pizza crust, pot pie, fruit pies and the occasional cake, cookies or rolls all take some flour.  And believe it or not, we buy the bad stuff.  White flour.  It’s to offset all my other clean living I tell ya’.  But you won’t find that flour used at every meal.  We have pizza once a week, and maybe a one crust fruit, quiche or pot pie every other week.  Most of our dinners consist of some kind of meat, and vegetables.  This winter the recipe repertoire usually contains the same things over and over (there could be more on this list, but I can barely remember what I cooked last night let alone make a list) with a few variations.  Oven fried chicken, steak, chicken pot pie, beef stew, chicken fajitas, pot roast, sauerkraut soup, chili usually without meat, beans and ham hocks, pizza, omelets, & stir fries, all with several different kinds of vegetables.  I think pizza is the worst of the lot, 4 cups of flour for the crust, which may offset the homegrown sausage, cheese and sauce – maybe?  Compared to the beef stew we had last night everything was from here except a few seasoning items.  The ingredient list was stew meat, pint of glut sauce, pint of green beans, quart of summer squash, six carrots, pint of frozen corn, a handful of dried chanterelles, salt, pepper, marjoram, and a glug of Worcestershire.

Vegetables play a huge part of our pantry despite the meat in our meals.  We took a huge leap away from purchasing vegetables, mainly tomatoes and peppers when we built the first greenhouse.  Getting ripe tomatoes once every 15 years maybe, hardly makes it worth your while to grow them.  With a greenhouse, now I know that every single season I can grow enough solanums to put up for winter.  The greenhouse also lets me extend my gardening season on each end, which in turn eases that hunger gap in the spring when stores run out or get tiresome, to squeaking out just a little more warmth to end the season with a bang.

I can’t say where anyone should work to bring their foodshed up close and personal.  I just expanded on what I already knew to grow, extended the growing season artificially which in turn increased our homegrown pantry.  It may be counter-intuitive but I really concentrated on foods I use everyday (onions, garlic etc.), foods I use every week, and foods that store with a minimum of fuss for storage needs.

On the animal front, I understand that beef cows or a dairy cow may not be your cup of tea.  But certainly a few hens or meat birds could add to the picture.  And I have yet to visit a vegetable farm that couldn’t use some type of animal to eat the discarded vegetables and do some mowing.  A few ewes and a ram could take care of all the headland mowing, raise a few lambs for meat, and eat up a plethora of blemished or diseased vegetables or plants.  Eat your mowing machine!  Or a few pigs, a little harder to feed than something that can just live on grass, but if you’re located near a dairy by all means get a pig or three.

I honestly have to say though that if we ate like we used to with lots of grain products in our diet, growing the bulk of our food would be difficult and would keep us tied to the grocery store or far off markets.  Portland has great farmers markets, CSA’s and health food stores, but that means a 50 mile round trip for me to buy food that someone else has chosen to grow.  I would rather stay home and invest in what I want to eat.  Like all the previous commenters I agree, growing and cooking your food is definitely a lifestyle choice and can be mixed and matched to suit your needs.  It’s not an easy task to take on the growing, storing and cooking of your food.  That’s the inconvenient truth.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben Hewitt permalink
    January 24, 2014 5:14 pm

    Wow, super similar to us, except our big meal is always midday and we don’t eat pizza every week. But I might start lobbying for it. And we don’t snack much, maybe b/c of that bit noon meal? The “noonday” meal is what my Grandmother used to call it.

    • January 24, 2014 6:04 pm

      Ben, yeah I would say we don’t as a rule eat a midday meal – it’s always something on the fly, a glass of milk or an apple, handful of dried prunes. Pizza is my fast food, dough can rise without much fuss, pizza bakes without much fuss, and it makes a great hay hauling carb fest…

  2. January 24, 2014 5:32 pm

    I so hear you on eating the same stuff 24 hundred different ways! But we are very lucky – those of us who can grow and can and freeze the majority of our own food. So lucky. I feel so sorry for people in high rises, or tiny houses wit no backyard even, that would kill me I think. You and I and many of your readers are the lucky ones.

    • January 24, 2014 6:02 pm

      C., I know – I have to take a nap after a trip to Stumptown 😦 Too much. We barely go to the city though. Usually we can get what we need in town, the city is definitely creepy to me. And it’s not really a big city.

      • January 24, 2014 6:08 pm

        We are the same.. I have just discovered that i can get amazon groceries, delivered free of charge, I am deeply tempted to get my nuts and seeds and oils and flours delivered – just imagine how lovely that would be! No more supermarket at all.. i could just go to the local village for toothpaste and toilet paper when I puck up the pig scraps.. But i do agree that to live like this we must be happy to live within our pantry’s means.. and it is simple fare.. good, but simple.. c

        • January 24, 2014 6:43 pm

          Exactly. Ah the internet shopping world gotta love it and gotta hate it. UPS and FEDex go by here every single day servicing the small home businesses out here in the woods. What’s one more package? Our food coop that used to be so good has now expanded to many states. To get that pickup I have to drive 14 miles one way or spend 1000K to have it delivered 😦 Not worth it. Hard cheese is about the best thing they carry that we want anymore – I was bound and determined to grow my own years supply of dry beans and the other stuff I can get in Portland. Bob’s Red Mill is right next to the place I buy my cattle minerals, so it’s not so bad, each area has a uniqueness in products or shopping opportunities, add that to online and we don’t have to go out too often. It’s funny how living simply can get complicated real quick. Hugs to Daisy, of course!

  3. Barb in CA permalink
    January 24, 2014 5:39 pm

    Thank you so much! After reading your blog for a few years, I’ve never really been able to completely fill in the blanks about how you use the food you raise. This is extremely informative. It lets us see how your system works, so that we can better fashion our own. I just have a couple questions. What is glut sauce? (Stew recipe) And with a diet so heavy in meats, how much beef, pork, chicken, etc. do you go through in a year? Again… thank you for your willingness to share all these details with us! It has saved us from many, many errors in the “trial and error” process that is learning to live sustainably.

    • January 24, 2014 6:00 pm

      Barb, have you read This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow. She would make a glut sauce out of whatever is in the garden at the end, roast to desired consistency and can or freeze it. Tomato based and very yummy, mine usually is cherry tomatoes, peppers, onions, summer squash, cilantro, basil, nasturtium buds and maybe corn.

      or this post of the actual stuff here.

      Ah let’s see the the meat question…about 1 beef, 1 pig, at least 50 chickens, plus the stewing hens. Keeping in mind that we feed our dogs too…I’m working on a post about fitting meat chickens into our diet since hubby’s requirement for broth 😦 We eat way more beef sausage than pork, the beef is easier for us to raise and goes down a little easier. But can’t give up the lard and bacon. Chicken I’m not too big of fan really. Definitely our diet would change dramatically in a SHTF scenario. Buh bye chooks and porks.

  4. Barb in CA permalink
    January 24, 2014 6:16 pm

    Ah, the link reminds me of your Sept. 3, 2013 post, where you explained that when roasting tomatoes you throw in all sorts of garden odds and ends, but I didn’t know that’s what you called it. Glut sauce certainly fits though. I’ll have to check out the book, thanks. As for the meats you eat, I would have guessed more beef and less chicken. See how helpful this is?! Thank you again for all the time and wisdom you share with us.

  5. CassieOz permalink
    January 24, 2014 8:10 pm

    I really hear you about changing your diet to fit what you’ve got (to a degree). One of the greatest ‘head’ changes since I moved to this farm is meal planning based on “what do we have that needs eating” rather than “what do I fancy to eat”. It’s one of those things that now separates me from my urban pals as they look at me blankly [what do you mean, eat kale just because it’s there? But I want Chinese roast duck!].

    We grow beef, pork lamb and chicken (and eggs), and the two Jersey girls furnish me with dairy (including hard cheese and butter). In a good year we produce about 80% or our fruit and veg but this year a killing frost at fruit setting time and a plague of hoppers with a heat wave are not leaving a lot behind. I barter for most of my flour, sugar, salt and coffee and buy condiments, seasonings/spices and ‘luxury’ items like some fruit from warmer places. All in all, we’re getting there. This is the second year of the fodder garden (pumpkins, rutabagas, mangels, corn and potatoes) to help the piggies to harvest time and to supplement the dairy girls.

    I wouldn’t swap this life for anything I left behind and it’s so reassuring to find others that don’t think living this way is weird.

  6. Bee permalink
    January 24, 2014 8:20 pm

    We call it slumgullion around here. It could be the odds and ends of the fruit in a mixed jam, several different leftovers in the soup or an unusual mix of veggies in the stir-fry. Nita, thanks for the details! We eat similar foods, although we’re not so heavy to roots because I’m still convincing other family members that beets are good! Although I bake bread for hubby and the small fry, I stay away from most grains. I get my flour from our local mill. Daughter makes her own bread too, and they do pizza regularly. For seven people, we go through about 1 beef (700 lbs. of meat, plus I render tallow, etc.) at least 3 pigs, 1 or 2 lambs (and sometimes an adult sheep for mutton), 100+ chickens and at least a million eggs. Hubby usually gets a deer or two, which we turn into chops, steaks and salami. He also brings in goose, duck and wild turkey, and this year TBO ( The Big One AKA oldest granddaughter; we also have The Middle One and The Little One) started hunting and brought home two geese and two turkeys. I expect she’ll bring in a deer next year. I’m sure the politically correct dieticians and nutritionists would have a stroke if they looked over our menus…

    • January 25, 2014 6:32 am

      Well, the saying around here is “you gotta die of something.” I keep thinking back to all the folks I knew growing up that ate this diet and lived long active lives taking care of themselves and their stock into their 80’s and longer for a few. Of course they slowed, and they did die – we all do. But it wasn’t from eating dairy, red meat and home grown vegetables. I recently “met” via the interwebs the woman who found a friend of mine dead on his tractor – he was feeding his cows and had a heart attack. That would be the way to go I think. Fast, and doing what you love.

      On the roots, I’ve only been growing extra roots specifically for the milk for about 8 years. I used to just feed the excess from the garden, but then came across a gem in Feeds and Feeding about parsnips and Channel Islands. I’ve jettisoned the mangels and have refined the milk cow stuff to parsnips and carrots. The parsnips especially work good here, because the voles go around them, they don’t need storage extras and if we don’t go through them the dogs like them dried. I’m the only one here who likes beets…it may be that the geosmin in beets turns off your family, it does mine. I learned the geosmin thing from Eating on the Wild Side. The roots go over better here roasted. And if there are some leftover I just add them to broccoli and make a Chicken Curry pot pie. Delish and the roots aren’t such a dominate flavor then with the curry tempering the sweetness.

      We don’t hunt, for fear any deer or elk we take just takes away the cougar food. I don’t care a whit about the cougars eating, but I do care when they eat my calves 😦 To hunt birds we would have to travel to a drier part of Oregon, although this winter is pretty dry – we’re on fire watch. I’m liking the dry, but I know we’ll pay for it this year in the pasture…

      • Bee permalink
        January 25, 2014 5:32 pm

        Oh, man, tell me about the dry! We’ve had four inches of rain and 8 inches of snow all season, when our usual by this time of the year is 20 inches. We’re actually looking at starting up the irrigation system in February, when it’s usually late May or June.

  7. January 25, 2014 8:29 am

    After following your last few ‘food’ posts…..
    What I am really liking, is that there are so many people out there making the effort. To me – (and we grow and/or produce almost ALL of our own food including condiments) – the point isn’t what percentage of food people grow, or whether they have adapted their diets to a fifty mile radius or whatever. It’s about each and every one of us in our first world environment, being responsible for as much of our own consumption as we possibly can. The planet cannot sustainably feed six billion people. So here we are – relying on scientists to mess with things to figure out how to grow bigger better faster in smaller spaces. If everybody who aims a fork at their mouths took responsibility for as much of their own food as they reasonably could do – it would make a difference. A salad garden on an apartment balcony, getting rid of the useless lawn and planting a small garden, a wee greenhouse out back, or a piece of land to raise livestock – whatever. It all counts. Reading all the replies to your posts – makes me think there is hope.

    • Bee permalink
      January 25, 2014 5:34 pm

      Not only is there hope — did you know that during WWII, the “victory” gardens produced the same amount of fruits and veggies that were produced by the entire commercial agricultural system in the U.S.? If we could do it before….

    • Carrie permalink
      January 26, 2014 2:39 am

      “The planet cannot sustainably feed six billion people.” – Colin Tudge, for one, [] would strongly disagree with that statement!

      • January 26, 2014 8:42 am

        I guess I should have qualified that statement with ‘as we are trying to feed them now’
        Checked out your link – the article ‘The Pig Idea’ caught my eye –
        The UN has estimated that if you were to feed livestock primarily on waste, surplus food and agricultural by-products, we could liberate enough grain…..’
        Really? Have you heard of BSE? Have you eaten a pig that’s been raised on ‘waste’?
        There are so many alarm bells in that sentence I wouldn’t know where to start.
        Apologies to Matron of Husbandry for de-railing your thread.

        • January 26, 2014 10:17 am

          Well, the website does report on the ‘passing scene’ in worldwide agriculture – as a kind of news service. That doesn’t mean it endorses everything it reports upon. Check Colin’s last two books if you want a feel for what he’s about: Good Food for Everyone Forever and Feeding People is Easy [Pari Publishing

  8. CassieOz permalink
    January 25, 2014 6:05 pm

    Nita, I’m new to growing row crops for the Jersey girls and am interested in some of the details of your methods. Is there a specific thread I should follow, as I don’t want to hijack this? You have voles and I have plagues of rabbits but I’m wondering how to make seeding and weeding less troublesome if I can.

    • January 26, 2014 10:20 am

      Cassie, I manage my garden like a truck garden, long straight rows, with wide paths for ease of weeding/hoeing and harvesting. For fine, slow germinating seed like parsnips and carrots I use my cleanest (least weed pressure) ground with the finest soil, and I plant ’em thick and then thin. Seed is cheap compared to the labor of weeding around hair-like tiny plants. If you have a bevy of workers to weed for you then it’s not so necessary to seed thickly, but in my conditions I have found that works the best. I don’t irrigate but plant so it would be easy to do so if I needed to. So basically I devote two 100 foot rows in the garden for the house cow. One “row” of carrots or parsnips is actually 3 rows, so 600 row feet of space for the cow roots. My problems seem to be voles in the winter, and deer in the summer. Dogs and cats mitigate some of that, and if the deer make a showing, I cover the rows with the plastic deer netting, which also works to keep the dogs out of the carrots, since they like them once they get ripe. For me parsnips are the most trouble-free, nothing bothers them, they take the freezing without any covering, and they are a fairly easy crop for me to save seeds from since the wild parsnip is on a different bloom time. Carrots are a little more troublesome everything wants to eat them, more freeze-prone and seed saving is harder due to the wild carrot bloom time.

      I’ve strayed away from beets, mangels, and brassica crops for the cow for a variety of reasons. But they are all good candidates if you’re willing and a little easier to manage weed-wise many times.

      • CassieOz permalink
        January 26, 2014 6:20 pm

        Thanks NIta, I was wondering whether you sowed thick and then thinned or used some other method. I’ve just spent a bit too long on my knees thinning lately and was hoping you’d found some other miracle, lol. I’m just growing mangels and rutabagas this year as an experiment. They germinate more reliably and need less water in this climate than carrots and parsnips. I’ll try parsnips if I collect enough seed from my own this year (no wild ones here). Pumpkins/winter squash are still my safest standby and they cope with the heat fairly well. Nothing copes with the rabbits and the electonet doesn’t keep them out.

        • January 26, 2014 6:57 pm

          Cassie, I hear ya on the thinning thing 😦 No miracle, but after trying the pelleted seed and careful sowing and then not being able to find the little buggers, I’ve went back to my old ways. I still was spending a lot of time with them pre-thinned 😦 The mangels and rutabagas are much easier to get going that’s for sure.

          Crap! I see your rabbit problem is about like ours, they chew that fence the minute it is off 😦 We’ve thinned them out though, but it’s always something.

  9. January 26, 2014 3:09 am

    It’s interesting that a significant number of your ‘food’ commentators use very little wheat/wheat products, myself included.
    Interested in your comment about when the SHTF and chickens – or hens as I habitually call them! I’ve just purchased The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery [] to assess/follow-up some of his ideas re feeding the fock from home resources. When the SHTF, it seems to me that reliance on bought-in food will cause acute problems for kitchen gardeners who keep a few hens. Using
    chickens as compost turners and accelerators helps – I do that now – but at one garden(er) scale, will it be enough to keep a small flock healthy, active and producing quality without external inputs? Doubtful, I think – the search for workable additions and alternatives is on!
    Books x 2 by Joan Dye Gussow added to my reading list for later in the year; huge backlog of reading at present but the book above and her last (Growing, Older) appear to be good reads. Thanks.

    • January 26, 2014 7:07 am

      Carrie, I agree, my chickens have taken up the slack on my extra milk this winter, although that won’t be a “problem” I have in the future. Chickens are a drain on any scale in areas where grain is not readily available. Mine could free range, but our predator pressure here is so great that I would have free ranging hens for about 2 weeks tops.

  10. January 26, 2014 10:53 am

    Thanks for another great post on your food system. I’m definitely hoping to have a milk cow, a couple goats, a pig, and chickens (maybe rabbits too). And I’m sure you’ve posted about it in the past, but how do you keep your hog? Some homesteader friends of ours tried raising a couple hogs a few years ago, and while they loved having the meat (we had some when we visited–the sausage and cured hams they made were out of this world good!), they said they would probably never raise hogs again because they destroyed the land. Our friends don’t have a huge parcel of land–maybe 10 acres or a little less–so I think they were discouraged at how the pigs turned usable land into a mucky, rutted cesspool. I’m assuming there’s a better way to raise hogs, though, otherwise no one would do it. And as someone who does eventually want to raise hogs, I would love as many opinions as I can get on the subject. Thanks!

    • January 26, 2014 11:44 am

      Meg, you’re welcome. I think you need to find your place pronto, I know of the perfect cow for you. Not mine but a friend’s. As for pigs, timing here in the PNWet is crucial unless you don’t care for what they do to the land. Most years we have our pigs (and we don’t raise pigs every year) in the feeding shed on the winter bedding pack so that isn’t as crucial for the weather aspect, but has to timed to match the shed cleaning and subsequent compost spreading on the fields. This year we made a temporary pen out of hog panels in an area I wanted to clear of blackberries. I needed it close for milk delivery, ease of watering and feeding. A lot depends on what you want to do, pigs are expensive to keep without some kind of protein, for example they are great go-a-longs with a family cow, as long as it isn’t a dual-purpose breed. Or if you happen to have access to free milk or dairy products. And I’m not necessarily meaning old milk from the store, homogenized and pasteurized milk isn’t that good for pigs either. Anyway depending on your situation Salatin’s Primer – Pigs-n-Glens is worth a look. Pigs in the forest and pasture can be a good thing or bad thing. Again it depends on location, expectation, and what you’re willing to do. Like chickens you can’t just expect a pig to go out and forage for his food unless you want pissed off neighbors.

      Pigs are pretty agreeable with electric fencing after some training, or a fixed situation so much depends on the land and the weather. Pigs outside here in western Oregon after the fall rains start is pretty hard on the land.

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