Brian and I get a lot people asking what we eat in the winter, and how we preserve foods. So, here is a short foray into seasonal eating at our little homestead.
We are still learning and were a little busy this past season (having a baby), but we managed to save a lot of food. Here is what we did:
Root veggies: We saved all of our carrot, beet, onion, turnip, watermelon radish and potato seconds (the ones that aren’t pretty enough to sell but still taste delicious). We planted too many celery root and daikon radishes so we have a lot of them to eat up. All of these can be stored in a root cellar or fridge. Most things need to be wrapped in plastic to keep; the potatoes should be in paper and the onions in mesh.
We ran out of cabbage in December so we are planting more this season. Winter squash is not a root veggie but it stores really well. Ideally it should be at 10 degrees but we have it in a 16 degree basement and it is holding really well.
Freezing: A cube freezer is your friend. We blanched broccoli, beans and garlic scapes and froze them. Peppers are pretty awesome because they don’t need to be blanched, just washed and chopped. Frozen veggies like these are best in cooked dishes. Next year I want to do peas, celery and some others.
I cooked down tomatoes with herbs and garlic and froze them. They can go in whole but they take up so much space so I cook off most of the water. We froze a ton of kale. I hate blanching greens so we put it in bags raw. Based on what I read it stays good frozen without blanching for about 6 weeks. We will be blanching some greens this summer since they are so great to add to soups and smoothies. Brian and I also made a bunch of veggie puree’s (carrots and squash). These are great for dinner when inspiration is lacking. We just take them out to thaw then blend them with stock, or almond milk or coconut milk and spices for a quick soup.
Last season we made a lot of pestos: basil, arugula, and garlic scape. Just whip it up (sans cheese) and freeze it in portions that work for you. Some people use ice cube trays but I tend to use ½ cup at a time so that’s what I do. Herbs freeze really well. In 2013 I froze bags of basil leaves, dill, cilantro and parsley. I didn’t do it in 2014 and I’ve really missed them. We also froze all of our garlic seconds. Garlic should keep for several months if it is in good shape but frozen garlic is really convenient (it peels well and crushes easily).
Dehydrating: We have a pretty simple dehydrator (it’s a Nesco Snackmaster express that we got as a gift), but it works quite well. My very favorite thing is dehydrated tomatoes. We just slice them and dehydrate until they are leathery. They are shelf stable and don’t take up much space. To use them we soak them for a few minutes then blend them into sauces or soups. They taste amazing.
We also dehydrated a lot of leeks. We toss them into soups or grind them up to use like onion powder. They are incredible on roasted veggies. Brian grinds up the leeks and tomatoes together and uses the powder on popcorn; it tastes like a really gourmet barbeque chip flavoring.
Dehydrators are great for herbs, though you can just hang these in a dark well ventilated space.
I’d like to try vegetable chips (beets, carrots, sweet potato) with my dehydrator.
Canning: Confession, I’m a little afraid of pressure canning. I know it can be done safely but I’m not there yet so I stick to water bath canning. In water bath canning sugar, salt or acid keep your food safe. In 2013 I canned so many pickles: beans, beets, cucumber, radish, turnip, garlic, and I made relish. I canned whole tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato jam. This year I still had so many canned goods from 2013 that I only did salsa. Bernardin (the mason jar company) says home canning should be consumed in one year. Other sources say two. Two years works for me, but do whatever feels safe to you.
Sprouting: I don’t sprout in the summer but I do in the winter. I buy my sprouting seeds at mumm’s (online). I put 2-3 tablespoons of seed in a mason jar, soak it for a half day or overnight then rinse it every day after that. I have a lid with metal screening attached but a piece of window screen and an elastic band works just as good. Once the sprouts are the right size I stick them in the fridge with a solid lid. I start a new batch every week or so.
Fermenting: This is an area I really want to explore. You can safely ferment tons of different vegetables, creating delicious sour flavors and healthy bacteria. I love kimchee and sour kraut. I read that fermented foods are one of the top food trends for 2015, I sure hope that will be the case in our house.
What we eat changes in the winter. Before we started farming we bought groceries based on what we wanted to eat, now we plan our menus based on the food we have stored. It’s been a bit of an adjustment but it’s also rewarding. I don’t feel deprived; it’s not like tomatoes from the grocery store in winter are anything to get excited about anyway!
Don’t get me wrong; Brian and I are not purists about local seasonal eating. We love bananas and avocadoes. We use a lot of coconut oil and drink a lot of coffee. We just try to eat our food whenever we can and change the kind of food we eat as the season changes. Eating this way means that we are seriously excited as each new crop comes ready. In our lives it is snap pea season, or tomato season, or squash season, and we love each one.
Here are a few of our winter meal staples. In the summer we eat a lot of green salads; in the winter our definition of salad changes. We eat a lot of slaws: grated up carrots, beets, radishes and turnip. I find that cabbage and sprouts really fill my need for greens when I throw them into my slaws. I also toss in grains (quinoa, rice, wheat berries), or beans. Our frozen kale (un-blanched) is actually really great as a component of salad (it probably wouldn’t be as the main part). Brian made this salad using frozen kale and frozen beans and it was delicious: http://ohsheglows.com/2015/01/21/warm-roasted-winter-salad-bowl/.
We eat a lot of stir fries, soups, and curries and more pasta than we do in the summer. We can use all of our veggies in these. We also make some casseroles like shepard’s pie.
Roasted vegetables are a main stay. We roast just about everything we have including garlic. Roasted garlic is heavenly. We make a lot of humus and other bean dips and eat them with raw veggies, mostly carrots sticks or thinly sliced beets.
I love quick pickled watermelon radish and daikon carrot pickles and eat them as a side. I recently saw a post about quick pickling any vegetable and will be doing a lot more of that.
So there you have it. This is how we eat in the winter and what we do to get ready. It’s really not that much work. Most of our preserving was done in a few afternoons. This season I would like to spend one afternoon or evening every week doing some sort of preservation and Brian and I will be able to eat like royalty all winter.
We’ll keep you posted, until then Happy Eating!