Sunday, January 17, 2010

New on my Blogroll: Wasted Food

New to my Blogroll is Jonathan Bloom's Wasted Food. Now I try not to waste food, but sometimes I don't try as hard as I should, except when it involves making sure those pralines don't go to waste! But Bloom has made me more aware of the problem, and I'm trying to do better. How can you prevent waste within your own household?

First of all, eat the food you buy or prepare. Our downfalls seem to be yogurt and fresh produce. Even if the Ladybirds will eat the out-of-date yogurt and the mushy produce goes into the compost pile, that's not the best use for those foods. Eat what you grow; eat what you buy.

If you can't eat it fresh, freeze it. We have finished maybe a half-dozen entire fresh heads of celery in twenty-five years. But you know what? Celery freezes great. Wash it, throw the leaves and big white ends into your stock vegetables bag in the freezer, and chop the nice green parts and freeze them for red beans and rice or dressing or whatever. Your recipe calls for half an onion -- you know that other half of the onion is going to dry out in your frig. So chop it and freeze it. It's a yellow onion? Be sure to save the skins in your stock vegetables bag. You bought five pounds of hamburger because it was cheaper per pound than one pound? Freeze it THE DAY YOU BUY IT! You made that gumbo three days ago and there's still some left? Freeze it.

Keep your freezer and panty organized so that food doesn't get overlooked. Sort through it periodically to make sure you are using the older stuff.

Are you throwing away free stuff? Do you save your ham bones for bean soup? Your turkey carcass for stock? Your rotissere chicken carcasses for stock? Ham drippings for soups and gravies? Maraschino cherry juice for making pink lemonade? Egg whites for frosting? Egg yolks for dumplings? Broken candy canes for crushing to sprinkle on hot cocoa?

Will your chickens eat it? Bread, rice, popcorn, carrots, apples, tomatoes, noodles, grits, oatmeal, eggshells (toasted so the Ladies don't get any ideas about eating their own). No onions, potatoes, or peppers, please.

Can you compost it? Vegetable and fuit peels (unless they'll do for stock or the chickens), coffee grounds, tea bags, spoiled fruits or vegetables that are too far gone for the chickens, shrimp peels.

And don't overeat. Food that is transformed into heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure is a waste of resources, too.

What is it okay to throw alway without feeling guilty? Maybe the bones after you've boiled them for stock. The fat you trimmed off your ribeye, although your chickens would probably actually like that, too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seasoning Granny's Chicken Fryer

I fried bacon in Granny's chicken fryer today and then sauted onions, bell pepper, and garlic for our evening meal of Hoppin' John. What's that -- you thought Hoppin' John was just for New Year's? We eat it year-round at The Realm. I've even learned to pressure-cook my black-eyed peas so that I can whip it out fairly quickly.

But today I was making it slowly -- my usual Sunday afternoon cooking session, where I listen to NPR, cook, clean out the refrigerator, freeze leftovers, and deal with meat or produce that needs to be processed for freezing. I fried and sauted in the cast iron chicken fryer to continue the seasoning process.

Over a year ago, I asked my mother if she had something that belonged to her mother that she could pass along to me. While I use many items every day that belonged to Love's paternal grandmother and a couple of items that belonged to his maternal grandmother, I had nothing of either of my grandmother's. Daddy's mother died when he was nine, and my Granny's house burned when I was twelve years old, destroying most of her belongings. I do have a chair that belonged to her and my Grandaddy, one that my mother rescued out of her parents' smokehouse in the 1960s, where it had hung, seatless, for many years. She had her uncle put a seat in it -- a deerskin seat. I brought it back to Arkansas with me several years ago when Mother was in one of her "if you want it, you'd better take it now" moods. (Being burglarized will do that to you. She lost most of her crystal and a great many older dishes to a burgler while she was out of state about ten years ago. This episode is one of the few events in my life that makes me wish I could cast curses!) But I'm rambling....

Anyway, Mother gave me Granny's chicken fryer about a year and a half ago, I brought it home, and it sat on the top of the refrigerator for over a year while I researched how to reseason cast iron and then waited until winter rolled back around before starting the process. Mother says she bought the cast iron fryer for Granny during World War II. It had a glass lid -- because of wartime rationing -- which broke several years later while Granny was cooking turnips. Somebody rescued it out of the ashes of Granny's house, and it sat in my aunt's barn for ten years. Mother claimed it from there, and cleaned it up as well as she could. I worked on it with steel wool, and Love took his sandblaster to it, and then I put it through an initial re-seasoning. But I'm taking every opportunity to use it in ways that will improve the seasoning. It still has a long way to go before it's up to par with Mamaw's skillets and those I've cooked with for 25 years, but I have plenty of time. Cast iron lasts forever.
Granny was a great cook in her day. She had a stroke at age 40 which paralyzed her left side. She never used her left hand again, but she walked, contrary to what her doctors predicted. She always dragged her left foot, and she didn't move fast, but she got around. Mother says the only thing that Granny never learned to do one-handed was tie her apron -- Grandaddy always did that for her. I've often tried to picture 6'4" Grandaddy tying his tiny wife's apron each morning as they started their day. My sister learned to cut up a chicken from Granny, who could do it one-handed. So now begins the ritual of using Granny's fryer and remembering her when I do.

I have friends who say that they don't want anything of their parents or grandparents, that material items don't mean anything to them. I can remember Granny and Mamaw (Love's grandmother) without those items, but every time I use Mamaw's ice tongs, I remember how she never touched the ice when she fixed us iced tea, I remember how she welcomed me into the family when she was an old lady who had every right to think I wasn't good enough for her favorite grandson, and I remember how I loved her. When Skye cooks with me, she hears the stories of how I grew up eating off the china that Granny gave me to keep for her a few years ago, how this toothpick holder belonged to Love's maternal grandmother who I remember just as a frail woman in a nursing home but who had worked to support her family when most women didn't, how Mamaw taught me to make cornbread in this very skillet. And Skye will remember, too.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

S Day Recipe

OK, so maybe you live where there are no Snow Days, either because you're in the North where you have the infrastructure to keep the roads clear or you're further south where the roads just don't get bad. So think of this as a Serendipity Day recipe: something you can prepare on a day when you have time, for days when you don't.

Homemade Brick Chili
This one is from a cookbook Skye's parochial school put together as a fund-raiser a few years ago.

5 lbs ground beef
2 oz water
1 Tablespoon salt
1/3 cup chili powder
30 saltine crackers, crumbled
1 Tablespoon cumin powder
2 Tablespoons oregano
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 Tablespoons paprika

In a heavy pot with a lid, cook meat, water and salt over low heat. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients, except crackers, and cook 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and add cracker crumbs. Spread mixture in a 9x13 inch pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Chill until set, then cut into 8 "bricks." Wrap each brick and freeze.

To use:

1 can tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
1 small can tomato sauce plus 1 can water

Add ingredients to 2 bricks. May additional water. Salt to taste. Heat and serve.

While your big batch of chili is cooking, put together the dry ingredients for your favorite cornbread recipe. Jar and label four batches. Then when you're ready to prepare the chili from two bricks, use your homemade cornbread mix to make cornbread while your chili simmers.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Farmer or Gardener: We Need Both!

Syke and I are home again today, although very little snow seems to have fallen last night. Love reports black ice on the roads and recommends that we stay home. It is cold, cold, cold: 11 degrees at 7:30 this morning. The news is full of reports of cold weather over much of the eastern half of the country. Citrus and strawberry farmers in Florida are battling for their crops and losing those battles. Such reports always bring back memories for me of life as a farmer's daughter, watching the weather take the year's profits. It takes great courage and faith to be a good farmer, and the country certainly needs more, especially young ones. But every family needs a gardener -- no, not a gardener on staff, but a family member who grows some of the family's food!

Sharon Astyk ran a piece several months ago about what makes one a farmer, and her definition -- and that of many of her readers -- is much broader than mine. I've thought a lot since then about how I define a farmer. I am not a farmer, and neither is my daughter. Growing things is an absolute necessity for my sanity, I spend much of my time at home in the gardens, my family eats what I grow, and we even sell blueberries most summers. Skye sells eggs on a weekly basis. But we're not farmers. If I call myself a "farmer," then the stakes change. If the garden fails, we can still afford to eat and pay the mortgage. If the farm fails, we lose the paycheck and the house and the farm.

And yet, there are farmers who farm in their spare time. Farmers who take day jobs (or the night shift) to keep the farm going. Farming couples who depend on one spouse's income to keep the family afloat. What makes them farmers while I'm not?

True farmers know that farming is a business. They may be true masters of the art and science that is farming, but they must be business people as well. Even if it's hard times for the business, even if it's running in the red, a farm is a business. Gardening is not. Gardening is growing food for your own table and panty and maybe a bit left over. That doesn't make "gardening" a dirty word (although there is plenty of dirt involved!) Gardens can make the difference between an abundance of food for a family and scarity, between a well-laden pantry and a bare one, between healthy food and junk food. Gardens made a difference for the country during World War II and for families during the Great Depression. And gardens can make a difference now.

So, if you haven't made a New Year's resolution, here's one for you: Garden! Whether it's a couple of pots on the patio, a couple of raised beds in the back yard, or your own personal paradise, garden! If you already garden, add something: a new variety of okra or a new technique or an additional bed. If you are a gardener who doesn't grow food, make a few changes or additions: a blueberry bush where you were planning a flowering quince, an apple tree where you had planned a Bradford pear, a few herbs among the posies, or even edible flowers -- nasturtiums add flavor and color to salads. Everyone gardens (or farms) in 2010!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2009 Wrap-up

I haven't calculated to see if I met my goal of doubling my harvest from 2008 to 2009, but it doesn't look like I met it. Lots of potatoes and onions, but no pecans, no blueberries, no blackberries, and no apples seriously hurt my totals.

applesauce - 4 pts (2008 apples)

garden peas - 2 pints, frozen

onions - 1 pt (chopped & frozen)

onions - dry - 20 lbs

pepper relish - 6 1/2 pints

potatoes - 100 lbs

purple hull peas, frozen - 3 pts

salsa - 8 pts

sweet pickles - 1 gallon

Monday, January 4, 2010

Snow Day

Skye and I were both surprised to wake to a Snow Day today. Last night brought a dusting of snow to cover the 1 1/2" already on the ground and roads too slick for safe passage by the local fleet of school buses. So here we are at home, doing the things we do on Snow Days. For everybody knows, Snow Days exist in a different reality.

Skye has a friend over. They've ridden the go-cart, made snow ice cream, thrown snow at each other, and whatever else girls their age do when it snows. Skye has also read, tended her animals, and finished her Christmas thank-you notes.
I've read, both a bit of a novel and my daily blog feeds. I've made "real" hot cocoa for the girls, built and tended the fire in the heater, washed clothes, made bean soup, and started a batch of chicken stock. Soon, I'll start a batch of bread. And tomorrow, it's back to the real world.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

This year's resolutions at Garden for Life:

1. Post weekly.
2. Adopt a modified Independence Day approach to gardening: On a weekly basis, plant something, harvest something, cook something from our garden, and preserve something.

In addition to resolutions, I also have goals for the year:
1. Help Skye get ready to expand her chicken flock and to add two dwarf goats by fencing off part of the woodlot and designing and building a new mini-barn.
2. Build a netting house over the blueberry patch.
3. Clean up the woodlot across the front of the place, making it more park-like. This includes taking out the callery pears and adding select young overstory and understory trees and bushes, as well as moving existing trees and bushes to more desirous locations.
4. Replace Stayman Winesap apple that didn't survive the summer and add a quince tree.
5. Install flashing in raised beds where soil is leaking.
6. Begin strawberry bed.
7. Build improved composting facility.
8. Continue gradual enlargement of canning garden.
9. Continue transforming cottage garden from annuals to perennials.

January Ozark Gardening Calendar

Kitchen Garden:
Lime & manure asparagus.

Berry patch:
Gather pine straw for mulching blueberries.
Prune blackberries, blueberries, & grapes (on mild days).
Set out new blackberry plants.
Fertilize blackberries.
Manure raspberries.

Cold frame:
Plant lettuce.

Plant cabbage, onions, leeks, and lettuce.

Cottage Garden:
Fertilize daylilies

Prune fruit trees.
Apply dormant oil spray.
Continue harvesting pecans. Dry in shallow boxes for two weeks before storing in shells for up to six months. Freeze shelled pecans.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rescuing Uncle Dillon's Wine Recipe

In a rare technological triumph, I have rescued Uncle Dillon's Wine Recipe. Between changing both laptops and PDA's, I thought I had lost the priceless wine recipe shared by my uncle at a family reunion a few years ago. But, in my efforts to find my equally lost cranberry tea recipe, I unearthed it on a backup on Love's computer. I've never made the wine, but I'm scheming to have my brother make it with the wild grapes that grow near his home in Texas. I just yesterday made another batch of jelly from juice he froze for me last summer. Uncle Dillon's daughter says that while she was hesitant to drink the wine -- afraid it would poison her -- it's actually pretty good. The cranberry tea isn't nearly so colorful, but it is a holiday favorite. It's not bad with peach schnapps added, either. Here are both recipes:

Uncle Dillon's Wine
July 30, 2006

1 gallon of grapes
3 cups of sugar

Mix grapes and sugar in a gallon jug. Tighten lid. Wrap jug in a newspaper & brown paper bag. Bury 3 feet deep for 120 days. Place board on top before covering, to prevent breaking when digging up. Strain through cloth -- don't mash or squeeze. May need to double strain. Makes 1 quart of wine.

Cranberry Tea
1 quart cranberry juice
small pkg red hots
3 cups OJ
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup sugar

Mix over low fire until red hots melt. Strain. Dilute with water & serve hot.