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Goals Change, the Old Orthorexic Mare Ain’t What She Used to Be

February 19, 2016
while I was seeding...

while I was seeding…

Darn kids, give them a camera and of course they like to take photos of you when you’re not aware.  I’m fair game I suppose, and since I don’t really look at the back of my head much, if at all, I was a little surprised to see I still had a fair bit of dark hair.  I would like to think that I am a little wiser after all these years of gardening and larder stuffing.  Each year I’m a little more satisfied with our food supply.  Not worrying as much about food and how I store it as I used to be, and learning that being obsessed with clean food has a name, Orthorexia. You can read about it here.  I’m probably in denial, but seeing these cool, vintage photos that I absolutely love, start to circulate on the interwebs really opened my eyes to how much my goals have changed in the last 15 years or so.

Eastern Oregon cellar, 1939, photo taken by Dorothea Lange, for the FSA

Oregon cellar, 1939, photo taken by Dorothea Lange, for the FSA


1910 fruit room

1910 is the date I have seen posted with this…

I love these old photos, but being someone who grew up with a fruit room exactly like these, I can see that the items while representative of the prowess of the makers, were staged for the photos, Gram’s Instagrams if you will.  Food Styling for pantry nerds.  Apples and cut rhubarb and potatoes exposed to the light?  Onions, squash and possibly celery down in the corner?  All those things would be present at a farm home, but most likely kept in different areas for the longest possible storage.  Gramma knew dark was the name of the game for potato storage, a thing I failed to pick up on when my old burlap bags gave up the ghost, I used modern white plastic burlap bags like I use for my dahlia bulbs, and guess what?  I ruined my potatoes, they turned green in the root cellar from the whiteness of the bags.  Lesson learned, pay attention to detail.

February 2016

February 2016

This is our fruit room, or actually one side of it, and I have actually seen it stuffed to the gills before with home canned goods from the garden and orchard.  I’ve even stuffed it a few times myself. Those old root cellar photos used to be my goal, now I can see them as historical photos showing what was happening then, not what I need to do now.

February 2016

February 2016

These days, the shelves hold more empty jars than full.  We have changed the way we eat and garden.  I still can a few things, but not near what I used to do.  We just have lost all desire for canned fruit, except chunky applesauce.  Ditto for most canned vegetables, but I still really like canned tomatoes in all their forms.  I grew up with the idea you planted your garden and then you canned or froze everything you could harvest in long marathon canning sessions to put that sunlight in a jar for the dark days. Necessity, and much better than going to the store for sure.  But these days, some things have changed or at least they have for us.

I think where the orthorexia comes in, is in the form of over-correction.  Depending on who you talk to they will tell you that you must eat the way they do.  Raw, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, omnivore, gluten-free, fermented, fresh, etc.  I get the proselytizing about probiotics, but you have to realize we eat a lot of raw food and dirt each day already, we drink untreated spring water, and I get the avoidance of factory farming of animals.  So we’ve preferred to take a moderate approach, and keep some of the old and the new ways of larder stocking.  As much as I would like to erase plastic from my life, it’s nigh impossible to completely erase plastic in some form in the food storage arena.

I think if you go back through my blog you will find posts about making 10 gallons of sauerkraut at a time.  That is how I learned to do it.  Grow it, shred it, salt it, pack it, and you’re done.  Sometimes unlearning one thing means you learn something new, or change what you’re doing a bit.  Sauerkraut is a live food, what you put in the crock in November surely tastes much different than what you pull out in April… .  The single most important thing about all these styles of eating and preserving?  You and most of the household must like the product, no matter how good you believe it is for you or your family, if they don’t like it, it’s a wasted effort.  None of us like lacto-fermented cucumbers, no matter how much brow beating we endure, we just don’t like them.  So we move on.  And we make and eat vinegar pickles, and we enjoy them, down to the very last piece in the jar.  That is what makes all the work worth it.

January King OP cabbage

January King OP cabbage

So now I try each year to make some kraut out of fall cabbages, but smaller amounts, and just relax and enjoy smothered cabbage as a vegetable side dish. Succession planting of different types of cabbage that mature at different time allows us some freedom from the old way of putting up.

People change the way they eat because they grow weary of eating the same thing.  By expanding my gardening season I can expand my pantry too.  I know too some of you are thinking yeah, easy for you to say, you live in zone 8, so I say read some Eliot Coleman, he lives in Maine, same parallel as here but a much colder gardening zone. “Well, then ignore what I have to say and go with what works for you.” -Eliot Coleman  His four season gardening techniques are not to be sneezed at no matter what zone you garden in.  I would venture it’s more the idea of gardening year round that turns off lots of folks, more than their climate limitations. Many make a greenhouse work for them in cold climates, with added row cover they fashion a greenhouse within a greenhouse ala Coleman and his four season farm.

Now in February maybe I am tired of cooking and eating smothered cabbage, and if I planned my winter garden and planted it in late summer or early fall, and the weather cooperated, I can make fresh kraut now with fresh cabbage, carrots and stored garlic, instead of dreading the 10 gallon slog through the October kraut.

Gardeners are gamblers for sure.  I know the supermarket is a sure bet, but seeds are cheap and I have learned for sure that if I don’t plant something, it is guaranteed I won’t be harvesting anything.  So I plant.  Sometimes the stars are aligned and we have great abundance, some times the fare is meager due to pests and weather, but it is there, and still a good alternative if you have just a little bit of space to devote to winter gardening.

I can’t say growing your own food will be guaranteed to be cheaper, many times it’s not.  The labor and space required for growing, and drying down dried beans or corn for cornmeal may seem silly when you can just go to the store and purchase these items.  And maybe a little orthorexia is in order, after all we should fear some things, but we shouldn’t paint ourselves into a corner either.

corn 3

I hope the yearning for a full pantry like those depicted in the vintage photos never goes away, but rather the full pantry just takes on a different look.


38 Comments leave one →
  1. deb permalink
    February 19, 2016 7:59 pm

    Nice post. And nice hair. 😊 and I am with you on the pickles.

  2. Craig permalink
    February 20, 2016 3:10 am

    Love the post. After 20 + years of growing stuff I’m finally starting to understand a lot of what you are talking about in this post. I love growing food…putting up grown food…not so much. So over the past few years I’ve started to do more with succession planting, paying attention to mature dates, and planting more crops that can extend my season. We still can and freeze some things simply because we enjoy having them out of season, but I would rather simply go to the garden or greenhouse for my grocery shopping any day.

    • February 20, 2016 12:04 pm

      Craig, I couldn’t agree more, I love to garden, canning and cooking not so much. If I could deliver the goods to the kitchen for someone else to deal with I would be ecstatic 🙂

      • February 21, 2016 3:46 pm

        that would be me, if we were neighbors. I love to cook and can, but I am a terrible gardener!

      • February 21, 2016 3:48 pm

        that would be me, if we were neighbors! I love to cook and can, but I am a terrible gardener!

  3. Beth in Ky permalink
    February 20, 2016 4:59 am

    Right there with you. I love to garden,can, & dehydrate, but have no interest in canning up things to sit on the shelf and go soft. Too much work and time goes into canning for it not to be eaten up. Promptly! I appreciate your honesty. Too many canning discussion groups will not tell the truth about bad results. If I am dissatisfied with something, I don’t want others to waste their time to produce an inferior product.

    • February 20, 2016 12:02 pm

      Beth, I know it took me a while to get there, but I’m making smaller batches and then it’s not so painful if it doesn’t translate to the plate. Fermented green beans were a waste of time. I should have canned them instead. Even if canned food is supposed to kill you because it is dead food, sometimes the alternative is worse.

  4. Bee permalink
    February 20, 2016 5:54 am

    And at our house, it’s the other way around; everybody loves the fermented cukes (and other veggies) and hates the ‘kraut. But I take issue with your orthorexic diagnosis, Nita:-) What we are is smart. Food fuels our health, especially in today’s world where we’re assaulted by so many toxins and pollutants. The rigid concepts of “right” eating have a lot more to do with one-upsmanship and keeping up with the Joneses (my diet’s better than your diet) than with nutrition. Outside of a few basic principles, IMHO, there are many dietary roads to Rome. Like you, I garden in zone 8, although with warmer summers and a longer dry period. But there’s always something growing out there no matter how full the larder is. Nice post; love your pantry pictures! And remind Ruthless her day will come; nothing I like better than seeing my daughter dealing with the same sort of guff she gave me now that she has three of her own…

    • February 20, 2016 11:59 am

      Bee, I get it on some fronts, but I know some folks who are almost afraid to come out of the house for fear of chemtrails, and GMOs are in everything. Then it spills over to the livestock feed, and living a life in fear is not living. Oh dear, Jane has eaten Calf Manna, non-organic molasses, and goodness knows what the chemtrails have done to our pasture and hay. At a certain point you’ve got to pull up your big boy or girl panties and get on with life. I think it truly can be a crippling mental disease. We won’t talk about my canning jar obsession or quilt fabric stash… 😉

      • Bee permalink
        February 20, 2016 12:42 pm

        Yeah, I know some of those paranoid Paulas and Pauls, too. Paralyzed with fear and worry, afraid to make a decision or change their minds, and clinging to the magic talisman of “doing it right.” The reality is that there’s not and never has been a time when there weren’t some risks related to food (or life in general, for that matter). The Ugg family cave didn’t have much in the way of refrigeration, ergot poisoning from rye grain probably contributed to the witch trials in Salem and the safety of modern commercial food is WAY overrated. People forget that we’ve got a marvelous mechanism called the human body that will handle a lot of those toxins and contaminants. It’s never going to be perfect, it’s never going to be perfectly safe, but you are so right that we need to get on with the business of living. On the other hand, a little psychotherapy might be just the trick for that canning jar obsession…

  5. JessB permalink
    February 20, 2016 6:01 am

    ” I have learned for sure that if I don’t plant something, it is guaranteed I won’t be harvesting anything.” So true! Yes, the store is always there but everything from the garden tastes better than the stuff from the store. And, the therapy from the garden is priceless.

  6. February 20, 2016 6:36 am

    I had no idea that’s why my Kennebec spuds (that never use to) were turning green…I’m going to have to find some burlap for them. Great post…gray hair means we should have learned something by now. One of things I’ve start doing with my red spuds is to store them I big tubs and use the pallet forks to put them in the heated Quonset….far easier (just wasn’t working for the Kennebecs). I grow Chatenay carrots and layer them with sand and dig them out as late as July.

    • February 20, 2016 11:53 am

      Ooh, good idea, the best tool on the farm is a set of forks. Especially for us gray hairs;) We’re pretty lucky we don’t have to bring in the carrots most years. But it is definitely worth doing in the colder climates like yours.

  7. February 20, 2016 6:49 am

    Oh there’s a ‘name’ for it? 😂 Is there a cure?
    I get an actual small bit of anxiety when I see empty jars in my canning room – and I’ve also canned things that sat forever because nobody cared to eat it – thankfully dogs, cats, chickens… my misguided plans. I jumped ever so briefly onto the lacto-fermentation bandwagon, until big jars of milk kicked it out of the fridge. I’ve learned a couple things over the years – just because you can grow something doesn’t mean you should, and if you have a glut of something that nobody is all that excited about (rhubarb) keep working it until you figure out how to make it a favorite (in my case rhubarb/strawberry juice). Putting up food is a skill I think everybody should have – not because of any ridiculous doomsday mindset, but because when your largest freezer up and dies in the middle of summer and you can’t afford another, at least you can save the majority of your hard work in jars.

    • February 20, 2016 11:51 am

      Val, yes, always a back up plan. As much as I love canned meat though, I prefer it in the freezer. Being I still have OCD Obsessive Canning Disorder, I have lots of new lids, and empty jars at the ready. I think a marathon session is part of the learning curve anyway, if you had to run two canners to save some food, you should be prepared to do it, mentally and physically.

      • February 20, 2016 1:05 pm

        I make sure I’m never out of jars and lids – and yep, I’ve two 14 quart pressure canners which I have run at the same time. Don’t think I could pull that off without my wood cookstove though – can’t imagine what that weight on electric burners during a marathon session would do to an electric stove. 🙂

  8. efrompdx permalink
    February 20, 2016 8:45 am

    Such good common sense here! The ‘don’t preserve it if no one will eat it’ lesson is important. I’ve given away lots of food that I wanted to try my hand at but we didn’t enjoy eating. Ok, I tried it, we didn’t like it… don’t repeat it!

    Also, while I love those old pictures and even wistfully covet them, the reality of preserving and eating today is different. The modern food storage room would also include a freezer.

  9. February 20, 2016 10:14 am

    I’m glad you wrote this post – great perspective. I only started putting up food in the last 5 years but already starting to reconsider the large quantities like my grandmother used to do. I have lots of jars we’ve lost interest in but hate the thought of wasting the food and my efforts to preserve it so I feed what I can to the chickens!
    I love that there is so much info being shared by bloggers on food preservation and they are doing it in small batches and that you can pretty much do it on the fly instead of planning a whole day (or several days) to do it. It makes it easier to experiment too.

    • February 20, 2016 11:48 am

      LFF, our pigs were quite happy last year, punch drunk on canned fruit. We’ve stared at the canned nectarines this winter as they age one more year, alas more pig food I fear. But it sure makes for some happy pigs and tasty pork.

      I for one am liking making kraut now in small batches. It was definitely worth the wait for those cabbages.

  10. quinn permalink
    February 20, 2016 10:43 am

    I’m really happy if I can store or freeze a few different things from my little garden, but my goals (and needs, really) are pretty small with just one person to feed. Now I’m thinking about reading Eliot Coleman, though, because at this time of year in MA it would be so joyous and miraculous to walk outside in my many layers of fleece and wool and insulated muck boots…and harvest fresh anything! 🙂

  11. Karen permalink
    February 20, 2016 12:28 pm

    At first I thought your title read “orthopedic” mare. 🙂 Shouldn’t joke. My brain refuses to catch up with my body.
    If you take requests, I’d love more thoughts on season extension as I’m not a big canner. Kinda have a love/hate relationship with Coleman. It’s almost overwhelming to look at the wealth of information being written and prescribed about gardening/farming, or any topic these days. One ultimately needs to keep tweaking what works for them in their little corner of the world.

    • February 20, 2016 12:42 pm

      Karen, I hear you on Coleman, he’s an opinionated man and that is from just reading his garden stuff, you should read the book his daughter wrote!
      I was thinking of doing some food storage posts, or not storage. Kind of like “what this farmer eats” sort of thing.

      • Karen permalink
        February 20, 2016 4:26 pm

        I’ve read Melissa’s book. We owe a lot to Coleman though. The university in our area uses his “The New Organic Grower” as their textbook in a horticultural class.
        Thanks for considering my request. Awhile back you briefly mentioned that you were trying to scale back on canning in lieu of growing fresh year round. It would be interesting to know how the time and resources spent in putting up compare to the effort of cold frames, row tunnels and such.

        • February 20, 2016 7:10 pm

          The New Organic Grower was very helpful to us for sure. Back that far Eliot was convinced animals had no place on the farm, I am glad he got enlightened on that subject 😉

          Good idea for a post!

  12. February 20, 2016 12:30 pm

    Hi Trapper! I really related to your blog. I too, remember growing up with rows of canned food in the pantry. Mother wasn’t happy unless she had 100 quarts of peaches canned at summers end, to say nothing of all the other fruit. We, children spent many a day around the picnic table in the backyard shade peeling the fruit of the season. I agree about the canned food now. I do prefer most frozen food over canned and fresh of course. I have to say that I agree with you, I still prefer canned tomatoes AND canned Italian prunes. Thanks for an insightful, entertaining piece! I always learn from your blogs!

    • February 20, 2016 12:45 pm

      Hi Helen! I can see your mom now slaving over the stove. I remember Marion Kirkham telling me he ate a quart of green beans every day for lunch! He’s what – 94? I guess it served him well, poor Ethel though 😦 Good to hear from you. I think of your book often, especially when I am on Cabbage Hill, loved that story.

  13. February 20, 2016 1:09 pm

    Love these pictures! I need to build a root cellar……

  14. February 20, 2016 4:35 pm

    Great post. I enjoy Eliot Coleman’s books. It gives us hope that if he can produce a four seasons garden in Maine, we should be able to do it here in zone 8. I’m going to install caterpillar tunnels over my raised beds to extend my summer garden and to jump-start my fall garden.

    Last year was the first year we put up our own produce to carry us throughout the year. What a learning curve that was! We tried many ways of canning and freezing our produce. The one method that was surprisingly good was to dice and freeze sweet bell peppers. We froze the diced pieces individually on a cookie sheet; then combined once frozen; and finally vac-sealed them. We are pulling them out months later and can use them raw in a salad. They aren’t the same as fresh, but they are still crunchy!

    • February 20, 2016 7:08 pm

      I too enjoy Coleman’s books and have them on my bookshelf. Lots of tips in that collection that we have used and put into practice even though we don’t market our produce anymore.

      I’ll give you a big tip, you can skip the freezing on a cookie sheet step, I used to do that, and then one day I just didn’t have space in the freezer for a 1/4 sheet pan, and I put the peppers in a gallon ziploc in late night desperation, and they come out of the bag just fine. Everything including berries (that I don’t wash either) go right into the bags, and they come out just fine for smoothies a little at a time. Do you like your vac sealer?

  15. February 22, 2016 1:03 am

    Right to the heart if the matter as always. Don’t preserve it just because it’s there! Feb is our hottest month but the time I need to get my winter crops in (brassicas) so that they’re 80% grown when the cold and winter dormancy hit, if not they just sit there stunted through winter. And in among this, tomato and cucumber seasons are here so I’m into the roasted tomato sauce (not nice having the oven on when the temp will be 36C tomorrow) and pickling cukes. I’m gonna be short of freezer space soon as there’s a fat heifer in there, frozen fruit, colostrum, butter, the remains of a sheep and I’ll have to find room for pigs come early April. It’s just that time of year. Oh yeah, and I’m upto my neck in milk as well. Gotta dry Jenny off as she’s 15 months into this lactation.

    • February 22, 2016 9:46 am

      Cassie, sounds yummy and so backwards from here, always interesting to hear what you’re up to!

  16. Emily permalink
    February 28, 2016 9:51 pm

    Hey, I had to check in on you as well. I always enjoy reading your blog, and have much in common with this post, as we scaled up the canning for a few years and now we are scaling it way back. I’ve been trying to preserve foods in the way we enjoy them the most which means that most the berries are going straight into the freezer and the rest of the vegetables are getting stored in a close friend’s cellar. Just pulled one of our beautiful garden cabbages out of a good friend’s root cellar, as well as the last of our beets, and a bucket each of very nicely stored carrots and potatoes. We like our vegetables fresh, raw, juiced and lightly cooked. My preservation goals are all about the root cellar and storing our crops fresh for as long into the spring as possible. Best wishes! Emily


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