The Rest of the Larder Story
I think if I were ever to write a book, it would be about teaching people to discern deliberately about farmsteading, or how to live a more deliberate life. When we realize that three generations ago, many people were involved in some way with growing their food, or at least preserving it, it’s easy to see how we have lost our way. On our journey to specialization and simplification we have lost many nuances of living close to the land. It’s a no-brainer for me to understand why Jane can’t be on deep bedding, but my beef cows can, to the casual observer though, Jane and my beef cows are cattle, and need the same things. That’s true in the vaguest sense, but that is like saying a Prius and a 3/4 ton farm pickup are vehicles and can be used for the same thing. Following me? I don’t say this to sound condescending, we all know what we know, I know a lot about farmsteading, and home economics, other stuff not so much. But I have seen that many times people assume that farmers are dumb, and that you can just start out with a piece of land and farm and grow your own food, it’s easy right? What’s to know? We all still have to put in our 10,000 hours making mistakes along the way.
What does any of this have to do with a well-stocked pantry or larder? A lot. Our larder is just an offshoot of how we live and farm, and our location. The larder will also be a reflection of how you cook and eat. We prefer moderation. I don’t want to can everything, or dehydrate everything, ferment everything, freeze everything or eat everything raw. So we do some of all things, canning, drying, fermenting, freezing, storing and fresh. Many dishes from our kitchen are a combination of all these “preservation” methods.
(I should probably go out on a limb here and say we are not concerned with being “off-grid” except with our food supplies. I have friends who say they are off-grid because their freezers are kept at a friend’s house and they pay a portion on the electric bill, I also have another friend who claims to be energy conscious by only keeping a small freezer for their preserved garden goods and purchased meats, but when pushed they cop to eating rotisserie chicken and many meals away from their home. I guess I believe that it takes a certain amount of energy to prop up a human, if you buy food at the store, that food is still being kept fresh, frozen or stored on a shelf that is maintained by the grid. So yes, you may have a small electric or gas bill, but a portion of your food is still using the grid, you just are paying for it each time you go to the store or restaurant.)
So how does one pull that off meals that come from all your different stores? You get creative, and you learn what and how to store food in many different ways. It helps that we live in a great climate for year round harvesting, that is if you like root crops and members of the cole family. Pictured above is the bok choy in the first photo, above it are the first starts (hanging on their mouse-proof shelf) of the parade of successions that will be planted soon. This is the hardest part of the year, the days are getting longer and last fall’s plantings of brassicas are starting to bolt, and the days are still short enough that new plants are growing slowly. Hurry up and wait. I don’t want to damage the new young plants by harvesting leaves, since they need all the leaf surface they can muster to grow larger, and we have to practically gorge (darn) on the bok choy, kale and cabbage before they get bitter.
Yesterday’s greens harvest became this morning’s breakfast, along with some fried eggs. But to prepare this breakfast, I had to be mindful last July and start those kale seeds, then again in August I had to start the bok choy. Then you say a little prayer to yourself or whoever will listen, and you do your darnedest to watch over those winter garden plants as if your next meal depended on it.
You also make a backup plan. This is where canning and freezing come in. Some foods just taste better canned than frozen. Dark cherries canned, while not fresh, taste much better than their frozen counterparts, probably due to the fact that you leave the aromatic pit in and after some time in the jar, that almond flavor seeps into the cherries and juice and is a great wintertime treat. Canned carrots? Yeah, not my favorite to eat since we can harvest them weekly from the garden all winter long and not bother with canning them.
But as a convenience food (convenience as in cooked, not necessarily heat and eat) coupled with frozen cooked chicken, I have the beginnings of chicken curry potpie, which we love. I for one am not convinced that cooked food is dead food. Explain to me the difference in this jar of carrots, that were dug fresh, prepped and processed for 25 minutes in a pressure canner from carrots that were prepped and cooked in a stew for hours on the stove? A friend recently told me about trying a low oxylate diet that was helping with some of her food issues, so I looked into it, and was surprised to see that boiled carrots were lower in oxylates than raw? Which I think proves there are so many things we don’t know about the foods we eat, and what effect they have on our bodies. Taking a moderation approach to how we preserve or not is well worth looking at, me thinks.
I am fortunate that I live in an old farmhouse that was built in the era of home food storage. These days of central heating and cooling along with the supermarket and refrigerated space have taken the food storage component out of house design. Couple that inconvenient truth with the fact that most people don’t know what type of food stores well or how to store it, a well stocked larder can be somewhat of a conundrum.
What we store and where:
Unheated bedroom – Winter squash, dry beans in glass jars, dry corn in mesh bags, seeds in plastic storage boxes or totes.
Ferments are in a category themselves, room temperature, basement refrigerator? Personal preference takes over on that.
The easiest storage method in our climate for many things is the garden. Unless we get a doozy of a winter, most years we can leave carrots, beets, kale, cabbage, celeriac, parsnips, leeks, rutabagas and turnips in the ground and harvest as needed. While I know that can’t be duplicated everywhere, it’s worth pointing out for folks that are new to gardening or to the Pacific Northwest in general. But, if you don’t feel comfortable leaving root crops to chance, you can always root cellar, or put up in some way.
Long term food storage is not a bad idea, each system has it’s weak points, our weakest point is our freezers. I guess in the long run being prepared is what comes into play. I could can our meat in the case of a power loss, I have enough canning lids, jars, and propane to do that on a Camp Chef. Meat is one of those things that you just don’t go out and harvest fresh like a salad. On the vegetable side we are continually trying to close the gap in our succession planting. Insurance comes in the way of some frozen vegetables in case we can’t harvest fresh, and retraining our supermarket/restaurant thinking away from the green salad every day days to more roasted root salads, or braised greens. For us, it’s a continuing journey that is constantly changing bit by bit each year.