Hi Farmgirls! Harvest season is in full swing up here in Alaska, I imagine your gardens are producing (or everything is bolting?) in excess with the amount of heat the lower 48 has been getting. On the farm, we have seen especially high yields of peas, zucchini and broccoli–nearly to the point of having too much to sell and eat! In the past, I would have dedicated a few days to putting up food for the winter, but it turns out that small children make this pretty difficult. Who would’ve thunk?
Did you know that Americans, on average, throw away 40% of their food? Food makes up the biggest portion of garbage that makes it into landfills. One statistic I saw said that 50% of all seafood that is purchased ends up in landfills! What?! This is infuriating when I think about how the world’s fisheries are very much in danger of collapsing due to over fishing. I’d like to think that the waste is mostly bones and heads and fish skin…but even those undesirables could be very useful as natural fertilizers, broths and animal feed. All of this contributes greatly to greenhouse gases and binds up a lot of nutrition that would otherwise hopefully be returned to soils through composting and animal waste.
I, by no means, am innocent when it comes to food waste. In fact (this is a major confession!), I’m guilty of cleaning out my fridge, finding a container that has been in there for goddess knows how long, and throwing away the whole container because I was too afraid to open it…yeah, I know, privilege at its finest. In a little bit less wasteful and less gross ways, I am often too tired or lazy to keep scraps or old food to feed to friends’ chickens or add to others’ compost piles. The trash can is too convenient, sometimes. That will be the ultimate downfall of humanity, I think: convenience.
However, I’m trying to fix this problem in small, achievable ways! Over the summer, I’ve instituted a few “rules” that I’m hoping to make habits. One of the most effective I’ve found is meal planning. I don’t plan out every single meal every day, I just make a flexible dinner calendar for the week. Since last minute get togethers or unexpectedly late nights happen regularly, I plan for five dinners at home per week. The “meal” is also loose–pretty much just a protein, veg and carb. I take an inventory of what we have that needs to be eaten and put those at the beginning of the week and stick others in where they fit. I try to make enough for leftovers for lunch, and we have a few breakfasts that we cycle through. I bet a lot of you have been meal planning for years and have great tips! I’ve found that this frees up a lot of time and makes every day life a bit less stressful. Plus, if I’m working late then Evan can see what his options are and make dinner, too!
The next major thing I’ve done is put up food for the winter in mini batches. I work on Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and sometimes Monday or Friday, so my freezing/canning day is usually Thursday. I’m so fortunate and grateful to be able to bring home amazing, beyond organic, locally grown, lovingly grown produce from the farm; but sometimes I bring home too much to eat in a week. I also bring home “ugly” castaway veggies quite often that will otherwise be fed to farm animals (lucky, healthy animals!). I’ve gotten in a pretty good routine of preparing and freezing food that has been in the fridge for a week or so. It is still in perfect condition and will be a special treat during the short days and long nights of winter.
My food processing days usually involve caramelizing one type of vegetable, roasting another and blanching another one or two. It tends to warm up the whole house! We’ve had a TON (maybe literally?) of zucchini, which I’m sure is very familiar to most of you. The head farmer told me that she caramelizes zucchini to freeze for winter casseroles and sauces. It is so, so yummy, even as a spread for crackers! I highly recommend it, look for the recipe at the end of this post! A recent Thursday food processing session involved: one jelly roll pan of roasted beets, one #10 cast iron skillet of caramelized zucchini, one bunch of chopped and blanched kale, six chopped and blanched baby boc choi and just under half a gallon of freshly picked blueberries. The roasting and caramelizing spanned a long amount of time, but the labor and attention involved was minimal; and the blanched veggies went from raw to in the freezer in about twenty minutes. I put it all in ziploc baggies or mason jars, label with date and contents, and stick them in the freezer! I will use them over the winter for soups and stews, casseroles, savory pies, and side dishes; and we will be able to enjoy the freshest produce now instead of working our way through older produce first.
By doing this, we can eat the freshest, most responsible food we can throughout the year. It also saves quite a bit of money. While blueberries are arguably one of the healthiest fruits out there–it doesn’t seem environmentally or fiscally healthy to buy $6 pints of blueberries that have come from Chile in January. This is especially true when they were freely available to be foraged by anyone on public land a few months earlier. And buying zucchini at the grocery store when it was being left on people’s doorsteps over the summer? That is lunacy.
As I write this, I see that I am extremely lucky to be blessed with an abundance of food and the knowledge, ability and time to be so conscious about it. I hope that you, too, are blessed with an abundance of something from your garden, a neighbor’s garden, your community’s farmer’s market, or even good deals on in-season foods from the grocery store. Are the strawberries super cheap? buy and freeze them now before their price quadruples in a couple months. Maybe you struggle with putting food up because of the up front time investment–but I’ve found that putting up small batches is worthwhile and not very intimidating! When making dinner you can blanch excess veggies and plop them in the freezer. You can can just enough jars of tomatoes or beans to fill up the pressure canner once or twice!
Now, when it comes to pickles and jams the micro batches might not work, but for the minimally processed food this system is working for me!
Here is a very basic guide to what can be put up and how:
Foods to Chop, Blanch and Freeze: greens like spinach, kale, chard, collards, choi; peas; beans; broccoli; cauliflower; brussels sprouts; zucchini; cabbage; carrots;
Foods to Caramelize and Freeze in Small Batches: onions; zucchini; tomatoes;
Foods to Chop and Freeze (without cooking): berries; onions/leeks; peppers; meat and fish; other fruits
Foods to Roast and Freeze: Beets; potatoes; winter squash; sweet potato;
Foods to pressure can: most veggies; beans; meat and fish;
Foods to can in hot water bath: Jams/jellies; tomatoes; pie filling; pickled foods;
This is a very basic list for those of you that are just beginning and there are many more foods that can be preserved in these ways and others. There are also the amazing worlds of dehydrating and fermenting (which I know pretty much nothing about), and cold storage (for those lucky enough to have a cellar!). There are so many ways to keep foods for the unproductive months if you have the time and means.
What are you filling your freezer and pantries with during this harvest season? Do you have any tricks of the trade to share with us?!
Until next time,
Sending peace and love from Alaska,
Alex, the Rural Farmgirl
p.s. Here’s my caramelized Zucchini recipe
- 10-15 small zucchini (enough to fill your pan to the brim and preferably those that have minimal seed formation)
- 2 cloves garlic (more or less to taste)
- 2 T olive oil
- 2 T butter
- one bunch of fresh leafy herbs (eg. Parsley, Basil, Sage, Tarragon)
- optional spices to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- slice zucchini into 1/4 inch discs
- dice or mince garlic
- heat heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat
- add olive oil and butter to pan
- once butter has melted add zucchini, garlic and some salt to pan, stir to coat
- lower heat to just above lowest setting
- cover and stir once in a while to prevent browning
- once zucchini has all cooked through and breaking down remove lid to reduce (it takes almost two hours on my stove to get to this point)
- chop leafy herbs
- Add herbs, salt, pepper and other spices
- continue cooking and adding flavor until you like it! Taste frequently, this takes another 45 minutes to an hour on my stove.
- Let cool for about 30 minutes
- scoop ~one cup into quart sized freezer bags or suitable mason jars
- Use within the week or freeze for later use
- To use from frozen just place container in fridge the day before you want to use it.
- Great in pasta, casseroles, soup, etc.