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)