Monday, October 24, 2011

In America right now families, including mine, are struggling to survive, to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their heads.

Local Food puts revenue back in to the local economy. It creates jobs in your local community. Thriving local farms are also more likely to donate food to community programs which help feed those that are hungry and/or homeless.

Growing part of your own food supply and learning to preserve the harvest year round can provide families more control of their food budget. It helps lower food costs. It encourages greater observation and attention to be given to what we eat and when we eat it. It promotes less waste and more creativity.

So far, since June 1, 2011, I have seen a drastic change in our household food budget. Growing my own, buying local food at a CSA and learning to store and preserve food has made a real difference in our expenses. My yearly food budget, including cleaning products and misc items, used to run around $12,000. (Feeding a household of 5 or 6 people and several animals) Now if I average the cost of our CSA farm shares, milk delivery and our much smaller grocery bills I spend about $5000. a year. These means eating local and growing my own saves me $7000. a year. Think about what you could do with $7000.?

This journey has only been going on 5 months. Getting through the winter will be a test of my food preservation skills, cooking creativity and indoor growing ability. Still the financial difference is real and noticeable. My family also eats healthier food and makes a lot less waste.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ripening Green Tomatoes

Ripe Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes
The last of the cherry tomatoes from the garden had to be picked while they were still green. It's cold at night now, too cold for tomatoes. The trick to ripening tomatoes inside quickly and without a lot of mess is apples. Place your green tomatoes in a paper bag along with an apple or two. The apples release gas that ripens the tomatoes. This can also be done with a banana but let's face it as banana's get old they turn into brown mush which gets all over your beautiful tomatoes. Apples on the other hand just shrivel up and then get tossed in the compost. Easy breezy. Now to wait another 25 days for my indoor tomatoes to be ready.....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Autumn has Arrived: Seasonal Food

I am now 3 and 1/2 months into this adventure to grow my own and eat local. Since June 1st the only produce that has been bought at a store has been bananas and avocados. These things just don't grown in New England. I've learned to expand the range of vegetables I cook and eat. I've also gained an education in where my local farms are, what they grow and how. The CISA website is a good resource to get started.

So what does mid-September look like for eating local and growing your own. Around here is looks like raspberries from River Valley Farm in Whately, MA, strawberries from Warner Farm in Sunderland, apples from Quonquont Farm in Whately. This led to a few more batches of jam and fruit leather.

September also looks like  a large chest freezer full of greens, corn, cherry tomatoes, fruit, jam, peppers and summer squash. The stores of potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions are growing. They sit in the root cellar along with canned fruits, pickles, ketchup, BBQ sauce, tomato sauce and soups. The last of the heirloom tomatoes came our way this week and made beautiful green, yellow, orange and red sundried tomatoes. So far so good.

We were happy to see some broccoli in our CSA share this week along with butternut squash. I am definitely going to have to find a local source for more cauliflower and broccoli to put away for winter.

Out in the garden the season was just to warm and wet for the broccoli I planted in the garden. I had huge plants but not heads of broccoli or cauliflower. The carrots and brussell sprouts are coming along nicely. I still have plenty of kale and collards growing. I picked the last of the beets, cucumbers, beans and radishes. I still have some cherry tomatoes that are ripening on the vine. They can't take much more cold weather though.

Atreyu, age 11, and I have begun indoor gardening. He has been seed saving all summer. We have yummy peppers, bell peppers, tom-tom cherry tomatoes and red cherry tomatoes growing in the window sill. We also have ornamental peppers that are edible and have quite a kick. We will be planting some lettuce and arugula this week.

Meanwhile here is the favorite recipe around here this week:

Berry Cake This can be made with blueberries, raspberries or strawberries. This is a really moist, melt in your mouth kind of cake. you may need to adjust the flour a little depending on how large your eggs are. I've also made it with honey instead of sugar and whole wheat flour and it works just fine.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cup berries

beat butter and sugar.
add eggs and mix
in a second bowl mix dry ingredients
add wet ingredients to dry alternating with milk
add berries
bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes in 8x8 pan

Thursday, September 8, 2011

From Backyard to Root Cellar

corn for freezing
This was a busy week for harvesting and putting up food. The first apples and pears were ready for harvest from our trees. From the garden came cherry tomatoes, kale, collards, shell beans and snap peas. From the local CSA came 40lbs of heirloom tomatoes, 7 dozen corn, 50lbs of peaches, a large basket of okras and loads of peppers. Getting all this food preserved and stored away was quite the yummy project.

This week I made peach and apple fruit leather, canned pears in light syrup, peaches in light syrup, made 2 dozen jars of peach jam, dried banana chips, "sundried" a dozen jars of tomatoes, blanched, canned and froze corn kernels, cobs, kale, collards and okra, made BBQ sauce, made two large batches of tomato soup and special batch of yellow tomato soup made from all those beautiful yellow heirlooms. I also made our now weekly regulars: 2 loaves of buttermilk bread, cream cheese, cottage cheese and garlic/chive cheese spread. There is a LOT of food in this house!

The colors were amazing! My family enjoyed a beautiful and yummy plate of Okra, Corn, Yummy Peppers (yes that really is their name) and Tomatoes. Here are some of my families favorite recipes from this weeks food adventure. Hope you enjoy them.

okra casserole
Fried Okra, Corn, Peppers and Tomatoes Casserole

  • okra (chopped into 1/4 inch pieces)
  • corn
  • yellow yummy or sweet peppers (cut into 1/4 inch pieces)
  • cherry tomatoes (cut in half)
  • black peppercorn (whole)
  • garlic (minced)
  • basil (minced, fresh or dried)

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and let it get hot. Once the oil is hot toss in the okra, a few black peppercorns and the garlic. Let the okra cook through for a few minutes. Add the yellow peppers, corn and basil and let it all cook up while tossing it together. Last add the tomatoes and toss them in for about another minute. Salt to taste. Remove from the heat, eat and enjoy! It is also yummy if you add some Parmesan cheese when you add the tomatoes. I served our okra casserole with French couscous, Parmesan cheese and steamed broccoli.  Truly wonderful.

Tomato Soup
Tomato Soup
There is simply nothing better than warm soup on those chilly late fall days.

  • 8-10 pounds of tomatoes (use a combo of slicing tomatoes and paste tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons of canning salt
  • 1 tablespoon of citric acid  (or lemon juice)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar (or honey)
Yellow Tomato Soup
Core the tomatoes and cut them into 2 or 3 pieces. Toss them into a large pot. (no need to blanch or peel).  Add 1/2 cup of water and put on medium heat with a tight fitting lid. Stir now and then. When the tomatoes start to get really soft take a stick blender and blend them. Add the broth, salt, citric acid and sugar. You could also optionally add basil, chives, scallions, garlic or other spices at this point. We like to make plain tomato soup and add things to it when we heat it up to eat. Cook on medium/low for another 3 hours with the lid on tightly.When done pour through a colander into quart or pint canning jars and process 35 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts in boiling waterbath.

yellow heirloom tomatoes
When we heat up the soup later we like to add a bit of milk or whey powder, some sliced cherry tomatoes and grated cheese. We made a special batch this week all from beautiful yellow tomatoes. It tastes almost the same but the color is amazing. 

The thick paste you leave behind when you run it through the colander makes great tomato paste. I like to put it back in the pot and flavor with garlic, basil and oregano. Simmer it for a few hours to finish thickening and can this tomato paste for later.

canned peaches
Peaches in Syrup

in a medium size pan boil some water. Drop two or three peaches in at a time and leave for 1 minute. Take them out and put them into a bowl of ice water. Then take them out of the water, take a knife and just scrape/peel the skins right off. Cut up and take out the pits. Add 2 tablespoons of fruit fresh to the peaches and toss. (this keeps them from turning brown).

Make a light syrup with 2 cups of sugar for every 5 cups of water. For extra light syrup us 1 1/4 cup sugar to 5 cups water. If you want to use honey use 1 cup honey to 4 cups water. Make enough to cover your peaches. Heat the syrup on the stove until it is warm. Toss in the peaches  layer at a time and heat until warm all the way through. Scoop the peaches out into sterilized canning jars and cover with syrup leaving a 1/2 inch head space. Remove air bubbles and process in waterbath 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What to do wtih all those lovely Tomatoes? (with recipes and instructions)

One of the most delicious part of summer in  New England is when the tomatoes are ripe. I have several varieties of tomatoes big and small growing here in our garden. My CSA farm shares from Many Hands Farm Corps and Red Fire Farm have also brought a large variety of beautiful tomatoes into my home. So what do you do with all those tomatoes?

Tomatoes should be picked when ripe and used within two days. Store them at room temperature away from the sunlight with the stems facing down. Don't pile them on top of each other as they make each other mushy this way. Resist the urge to refrigerate tomatoes as this changes their texture and makes them mealy.

Freezing Tomatoes
Small cherry tomatoes can be frozen on a tray or cookie sheet and then put into jars or (gulp, please avoid plastic) plastic freezer bags and frozen. They can then be used later for soups, sauces or even a winter salsa.

Large tomatoes can be frozen whole peeled or unpeeled. The tomato peel adds thickness to sauce or soups. The skins will slide off easily as they thaw so I don't bother blanching and peeling tomatoes. Just core them (remove the stems) and place on a tray and freeze. When they are solid toss them into a jar, seal and freeze.

For sauces or stewed tomatoes you can just make your sauce, fill canning jars, let them cool completely and freeze. To stew tomatoes, wash, core, quarter and simmer in a heavy covered saucepan. Once they are soft cook them for an additional 20-30 minutes. Then put in jars, cool and freeze. Sauces need to cook longer, usually 4-6 hours, and stir them every 20-30 minutes. You can also use a crock pot of the oven which makes burning the sauce less likely. Just use an oven proof container uncovered at 350 degrees and stir occasionally. Again just jar, cool and freeze.

Canning Tomatoes
The USDA currently recommends that tomatoes are pressure canned. This is because the acidity of different varieties of tomatoes differs greatly. You can still use the water bath if you add extra acidity to your tomatoes. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice of 1/2 teaspoon citric acid per quart of whole, crushed or juices tomatoes.

Tomatoes should be canned using the hot pack water bath method. To do this:
  1. Get your jars ready, clean and put in hot water. Don't boil the lids. 
  2. Get your canner pot filled with water, put the lids on and heat so its ready for use. 
  3. Choose your tomatoes, wash, remove the stems and drain.
  4. Option step: If you want to remove the skins blanch the tomatoes for 30-60 seconds in boiling water and dip into cold water. Slip off the skins. (The skins will add thickness to sauces and soups and there is no reason you can't just leave them on)
  5. Put tomatoes in a sauce pot and cover with water. Boil gently for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove a canning jar from the hot water with a jar lifter.
  7. Add citric acid or lemon juice to the jar.
  8. Pack tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2" head space. 
  9. Ladle boiling water from cooking over the tomatoes (again leaving 1/2" head space)
  10. Add 1 teaspoon salt per quart jar. 
  11. Wipe the rim, remove lid from hot water, screw the band down evenly until just firm.
  12. Add the jars to the water bath canner. Water level must cover all the caps by 1-2"/
  13. Put a lid on and bring to a boil. Once it is at a rolling boil process for 45 minutes for quarts and 35 for pints (adjust for higher altitudes) 
  14. WHhn processing is done take the jars out with a jar lifter and set them on a towel about 1" apart to cool for 12-24 hours. 
  15. Check the lids when they are cool.
  16. Label and store in a cool dark dry place until needed.
For tomato sauce, juice or stewed tomatoes add the citric acid or lemon juice to the hot jar, add hot sauce and follow directions as above.

dehydrated dried tomatoes
Tomatoes can also be sun dried, oven dried or put in the food dehydrator. Dried tomatoes make great snacks and can be vacuum sealed for winter. You don't need to skin tomatoes to dry them unless you want to powder them to use later for sauces or ketchup.

Choose smallish tomatoes and slice or slice larger tomatoes into lengthwise pieces. Sun drying take 1-2 days, the oven or dehydrator 6-8 hours. Post drying they should be put in a paper bag or open non aluminum container for 10-14 days to finish drying. Then they can be packed in clean glass jars and seal. I like to use glass canning jars and vacuum seal them with the food saver attachment for jars. Dried sealed tomatoes will last 6-9 months, twice that if you vacuum seal them. You can also freeze the dried tomatoes.

Recipes to Enjoy your Tomatoes

Basil & Sun Dried Tomatoes in Olive oil
  1. dry your tomatoes
  2. boil pint jars and let cool
  3. start placing dried tomatoes in the jars and after each layer add a few basil leaves. 
  4. when the jars are full pour olive oil over the tomatoes until full.
  5. use a chopstick or the back of a spoon placed down the side of the jar to remove any air bubbles
  6. seal the jar and refrigerate for up to 1 month (again twice as long if you vacuum seal it)
Easy home-made Ricotta Cheese to go with those Tomatoes
  1. heat 1/2 gallon of milk to 185 degrees
  2. remove from heat
  3. add 1/4 tablet of vegetable rennet dissolve in a tablespoon of water 
  4. add 1/6 of a cup of white vinegar
  5. stir just to mix the rennet and vinegar in then do not stir again.
  6. cover with a plate or lid and let sit for 8-12 hours (over night works great)
  7. pour into a strainer lined with cheese cloth or butter muslin and hang to drain for 4-6 hours
  8. add cheese salt to tast
  9. optional - add minced garlic and fresh basil or oregano
  10. chill for 1 hour
  11. eat and enjoy

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Food From the Backyard Update

July has come and gone and we continue to eat wonderful yummy food. So far our experiment in growing our own and eating local is a huge success. The only produce we have been buying at a grocery store are bananas and avocados (which don't grow here in Massachusetts). The rest of our produce (fruits and veggies)  since June 1st have come from out garden or our CSA share. The freezer is full and we've started packing the root cellar with pickles, beans and fruit. The supply of dried beans and herbs as been wonderful so hopefully we can keep drying them and have enough to get us to next spring.

The big upside to this project is significantly lower grocery bills and less trips to the store. 

As August rolls in we still have plenty of greens in the side garden and shell beans growing up the trellis. Our hops are starting to wind their way up the side of the garage. The tomatoes have started ripening and should continue all month. The cauliflower is just getting started and soon brussel sprouts too. 

We are waiting anxiously for our apples and pears to ripen and for the local peach season to begin. IT has taken 3 years for our apple trees to bear more then one or two apples. This is the year for lots of apples. Meanwhile we fill our belly with blueberries and watermelon from our CSA share.

The harvest from the garden has consisted of:
Swiss Chard
Collard Greens
Cherry Tomatoes
Summer Squash
Shell Beans
Green Beans
Sugar Snap Peas
Jalapeno Peppers

Monday, July 18, 2011

Putting Food Up

Eating food that is locally grown or grown in your own garden year round takes advance planning and regular attention. You have to make sure you harvest enough food in the summer months to eat now and eat through the winter. Then once you've harvested it all you have to "put it up" so that it will last for the winter. This might be freezing, canning, drying or storing in a root cellar. In our household we do all of these. Ihave found it needs to become part of your weekly routine just like doing laundry or picking up our CSA share. Each week I freeze, can, dry and store food for later while my family enjoys the rest fresh from the garden.

FoodSaver with jar attachment
The week started with a harvest of raspberries from our garden and Currants from Many Hands Farm Corp CSA. So I made a big batch of freezer raspberry/currant freezer jam.

Blueberry season arrived and we were able to get local blueberries through Red Fire Farm. I then froze half the blueberries. You don't need to do anything special to freeze blueberries. Just put them in a freezer safe container, seal them and toss in the freezer. To avoid both plastic and freezer burn I freeze things in glass ball jars. I use a FoodSaver to vaccum seal the jars before I freeze them. Vacuum sealing will make food that is frozen last twice as long. The second step was to water can some of the blueberries. To do this we cooked the blueberries in some light syrup just long enough to warm them all the way through. Then I put them in sterilized canning jars and water canned them. These can go down in the dark cool root cellar andwill make a really yummy treat during those cold winter days. I then made a big batch of blueberry muffins, some for now and some to freeze and another batch of freezer jam.

Atreyu canning green beans
Next came the bean harvest. In my garden we have long French green beans, purple beans, heirloom green beans and sugar snap peas. The kids and I have been able to harvest a big basket of beans twice a week. The snap peas were steamed to blanch them and frozen. They keep well this way and preserve a lot of their fresh flavor. The next task was to cut the ends of all those green beans and steam blanch and water can them with some salt. My son Atreyu, age 11, took on this task for me. These can go down in the root cellar for winter. The last batch of bean this week was preserved by salting (see directions below).

This week I made a batch of pickles, dried herbs and frozen a large batch of Kale and Swiss Chard. The harvest is shaping up well and preserving food, "putting it up", is just becoming part of our household routine. It's almost, I dare say, fun.

Preserving Bean in Salt
To do this you need a crock.
  1. Sterilized the crock 
  2. Put a 1 inch layer of sliced or whole raw beans. 
  3. Liberally sprinkle with kosher or canning salt. 
  4. Repeat until you're out of beans
  5. Put a plate on top to weight the beans down
  6. Cover with good muslin or a towel and leave it be
(The salt draws the moisture out of the beans, making a brine that preserves them. When you're ready to eat them, scoop out some beans, rinse several times, cook, and eat. Keep in a cool place.)

Growing our Own: Photo Update for July

Before (at planting) and After (July)



Summer Squash

Friday, July 1, 2011

Home Dairy: A Cheese Making Adventure

Mapleline Farm Milk
This week in addition to eating loads of yummy greens and veggies from our garden and CSA shares, I have been developing a routine for making the dairy based products we eat: sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, garlic and cheese spread.  I've master soft cheeses pretty well. My goal is to have mastered hard cheeses: cheddar and jack cheese by fall.

Making my own allows me to know exactly what is in the food we eat and to choose the ingredients carefully (such as only using vegetable rennet). Another added benefit to making my own milk/cheese products is I'm not buying all those plastic containers. 
Cottage Cheese draining
sour cream
I am using Mapleline Milk. It is local, only 4.2 miles from us, and the kids and I have been able to drive over and see how their farm works and their cows are cared for. (The cows have names.) Mapleline Farm Milk is a fourth generation family farm. They have a strong commitment to sustainability and have incorporated solar power and grey water recycling into their practices. The thing I really love is that I can get the milk in GLASS bottles (no plastic) and that they have delivery service. Yes, the Milk Man visits us every Monday!

This week I made 2 jars of sour cream, 2 quarts of cottage cheese, 1 quart of yogurt, cream cheese and came up with a recipe for spreadable garlic/scallion cheese. My inspiration for all this cheese making is the Cheese Queen herself, Ricki Carrol. You can get supplies, recipes or even sign up for a class at the New England Cheese Making Supply Company. They are a local business based in South Deerfield, MA. They hold classes in Ricki's beautiful home in Ashfield, MA.

Recipe for Garlic/Scallion Cheese Spread
2 qts light cream
1 packet buttermilk set culture
1/4 tsp salt
2 cloves of garlic
chopped or dried scallions
butter muslin

  • Mix the cream and buttermilk culture and bring to 85 degrees F
  • Put it in the yogurt maker and let it sit for 12 hours
  • Heat the mixture to 180 degrees F or until the curd and whey separate
  • Pour into a strainer lined with muslin and let drain for at least an hour
  • Mix in some cheese salt to taste
  • Mince the garlic and add garlic and scallions to the mixture
  • Refrigerate for a few hours
  • Enjoy! (It's great on crackers)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wild Food: June 15th: Violets

Violets (true violet) are not only edible, they are yummy. Many people make early springtime treats such as violet honey, violet jam or violet cakes from the flowers. What most people over look is that violet leaves are also wonderful and you can continue eating them well into the summer.

Some violets leaves are sweet and others have a more pea like flavor. Sweet violets are great for decorating deserts or just munching on straight from the ground. The earthier tasty violets are a great addition to a green salad in spring and early summer. Later in the summer the leaves become tougher and are yummy lightly cooked up with some other greens along with olive oil and garlic.

The most common type, the Blue Violet, has a sterile violet-colored flower that blooms in the spring. There are no leaves on the flower stalk. The heart-shaped, shallow-toothed leaves arise separately from the ground.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Phenology: Following Nature's Clues

First harvest of Kale and Collards
In the past I've always planted my garden based on when the last frost for my area is calculated. This year I was introduced to the concept of Phenology so I decided to give it a try. Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate. So when you use phenology you plant based on how the native species of plants and animals in your area are behaving.

Phenology Clues

Plant peasWhen forsythia & daffodils blooms
Plant potatoesWhen 1st dandelion blooms

When the shadbush flowers
Plant beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce and spinachWhen lilac is in first leaf
Plant beans, cucs and squashWhen lilac is in full bloom
Plant tomatoesWhen lily-of-the-valley are in full bloom
Transplant eggplant, melon and peppersWhen irises bloom
Plant cornWhen apple blossoms start to fall
Seed fall cabbage and broccoliWhen catalpas and mockoranges bloom

Seed morning gloriesWhen maple leaves reach full size
Plant cool season flowers (pansies, snapdragons...)When aspen and chokecherry trees leaf out

So far this method is working really well. I love the idea of following natures cue. For several weeks we've had lettuce, spinach and arugula fresh from the garden. Today I harvested collards and kale and put away the first bath of frozen greens for winter. I planted a second crop of collards and a few more cauliflower plants. I'm looking forward to plenty of greens all summer and enough to get us through the winter.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Wild Food of the Week: June 1st: Wild Lettuce

Lots of wonderful yummy things grow in the yard here and the nearby woods all by themselves. Free wild food!

This weeks pick is Wild Lettuce. It is a spring plant that should be harvested young. It is slightly bitter when young and grows more bitter as the plant grows. When small I like to add it to salads or other greens raw or simmered with some garlic and olive oil. When medium size the thing to do is boil it for 10 minutes and then saute it with some garlic and oil. Yum!

"There are many species of wild lettuce. All grow rank as they age, so it is best to harvest them between four and 12 inches high. Woodland Lettuce tends to have lobed leaves on bottom and grassy leaves on top. Look for a V-shaped leaf stem and pure white milky sap.  It’s one of my favorite spring time greens, boiled for about 10 minutes and served warm with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Depending on size, I chop them up and eat stems and all." (

You might want to check out this video about Wild Lettuce.

Fresh Eggs

I love having chickens! When my family first got chickens it was as a homeschool project for the kids. My daughter really took on the bulk of the care, feeding and love for them. After many years she is still their favorite person and they follow her around at times.I've grown really fond of our feathered friends. I always have a moment of peace when I look up from the garden to find one of the girls rolling in the sand a few feet away. It just seems like that is how it's supposed to be.

"The girls" , as I affectionately call them, our small flock of chickens and 2 ducks provides our family with about 2 dozen eggs a week. Some of our chickens are 4-5 years old yet they still faithfully lay an egg at least every other day. We supplement organic feed with free ranging and loads of veggie scraps from the kitchen. In the winter we also give them some fish for extra protein.

Fresh eggs from well loved chickens are the best tasting eggs in the world.