Archive for January, 2010

Survival Seeds

It’s right at this time when there are at least two more months of freezing temperatures ahead and the landscape has been brown, gray, and white for a couple of months already, that the colorful seed catalogs start arriving. Filled with promises of abundant summer harvests, they lure us into dreams of this year’s garden.

That’s a good thing. It’s time to take a look at my notes from last year, what worked and what didn’t (ugh, that tomato blight, and what about that pesky squirrel who ate the few tomatoes I did get?) and start planning.

seed-adA media kit I received from one seed company had the tag line, “Feed the Edible Garden Explosion.” Beyond the advertising intent, the sentence is a nice confirmation of the fact that there is an edible garden explosion going on. Seed companies for home gardeners report record sales on vegetable seeds in the past two years, and I can vouch for the fact that any food-related class I’ve taught at the New York Botanical Garden or Brooklyn Botanic Garden has had double the students the same classes were getting five years ago.

I think the interest in homegrown food is sparked by the convergence of several factors: increasing awareness of how our food choices impact the environment (including local vs. imported and organic vs. conventional), the lousy economy and the possibility of saving money by growing (or foraging) some of your own food, and the intense interest in the deliciousness of local, seasonal food spurred by celebrity chefs and authors.

One company, Hometown Seeds, has  put together a package it calls “Survival Seeds.” The seeds are specially packaged to guarantee viability for up to five years if properly stored (instructions come with the seeds), and all are non-hybrid and non-GMO so that home gardeners could start saving their own seed from the first crop to plant the following year.

All of the company’s seeds are non-GMO, but not all of them are non-hybrid. The ones in the Survival Seeds kit are, so that as Scott Peterson from the company says, “You can save seeds from your harvest and they will grow producing plants the next year.  So rather than have one seed for one year, you can see many harvests from the original purchase.”

Scott says that he “grew up with parents who were very prepared. We kept up to a year’s supply of the non-perishable foods we ate the most.  This was our first line of preparedness.  The second line were seeds we kept were for an extended need. My parents kept a seed bank for the possibility of a personal financial crisis where our family could garden intensely to reduce food costs.”

Hometown Seeds is offering a 10% discount on their seeds to readers of this blog now through February 28th. Just enter “thanks” as the coupon code.

Another seed company I like a lot is Pinetree Gardens. Their premise is that home gardeners don’t need the 100 or more seeds that are in most seed packets, and shouldn’t have to pay for what they don’t need. They offer packets containing fewer seeds at lower prices than most other companies.

Here’s to our 2010 gardens: may they thrive!

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

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Locavorian Progress & a Special Chutney Recipe

As the “wolf months” of winter progress, long before we’ll see any signs of spring, I am seeing signs of progress for the local food movement. My neighborhood coffee shop, Ozzie’s, now has a sign outside advertising that they use local milk.

the sign outside Ozzie's coffee shop

the sign outside Ozzie's coffee shop

A new indoor winter farmers’ market has opened five blocks away from me.When I first arrived it looked as though I might be the only customer

winter-marketbut the place quickly filled up.

market2

My neighborhood supermarket now stocks Ronnybrook milk (they don’t take the bottles back or offer the bottle refund though. For that I still have to go to the farmers’ market).

It’s getting easier and easier to be a locavore in New York City.

In my last post I mentioned that a financial crunch had inspired me to live primarily out of my pantry for the month. Despite an unexpected and very welcome contribution from a concerned blog reader (thank you!!!), I have stuck with The Pantry Challenge for the most part. Honestly, it’s turning out to be not that different from how I’d be eating anyway. I have cheated once: I bought some flour at the farmers’ market. I’d run out, which meant that I was also out of bread. I did without for a week and then decided to give in and do some baking.

I’ve learned that if I was really going to eat exclusively from my stored foods, I’d have to blanch and freeze a lot more greens. I didn’t worry about this too much last year, mostly just froze whatever I couldn’t keep up with in my CSA share. There are some hardy greens (kale and the like) available year-round at the farmers’ markets here. This month, though, the spinach and tatsoi in my CSA winter share from Farmer Ted’s unheated greenhouses were especially welcome.

On a different note, here’s a recipe. I’ve fallen in love with lacto-fermented chutneys, so much so that I’m considering turning all the vinegar-based chutneys I canned into ketchup (ketchup is basically just pureed chutney). The flavor of these fresh chutneys is so good that I could (and do) eat them straight out of the jar, plus you get all sorts of health benefits that aren’t in the vinegar versions (lacto-fermented foods have good-for-you bacteria in them–think yogurt).

The recipe below is a Northeastern locavore’s variation on one by Sally Fallon (I swap in just a little vinegar to replace non-local lemon juice, and local honey instead of Rapadura). This chutney is an especially good use up for the storage apples and pears we’re getting at this time of year.

The only downside is that lacto-fermented foods take up refrigerator space. You could process them in a boiling water bath to make them shelf-stable, but don’t because that kills off those healthy bacteria.

chutney

Apple or Pear Chutney

Makes approximately 1 quart

3 cups fresh pears or apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped

1/2 cup filtered water (the chlorine in straight tap water can halt the fermentation process)

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons whey* (if you’ve got yogurt in the house, you can make whey, see note below)

2 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 cup raisins (I used some that I got at a farmers’ market when I was in California, but other dried fruit would work, too)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground spicebush berries (or black pepper)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

Combine the water, vinegar, honey and whey. Mix with the other ingredients and pack firmly into a quart-size glass jar, leaving at least an inch of head space. The liquid should come up to the top of the fruit. If it doesn’t, add a little filtered water.

Cover and leave at room temperature for 2 days. Refrigerate and leave for another week before eating. Will keep in the refrigerator for 2 months. Serve with rice, meat, cheese, whatever suits your fancy. I’ve been putting dollops of it on top of butternut squash soup, and that’s a heavenly combination.

*Whey

If you drain yogurt through cloth or paper filters over a bowl, the liquid that separates out is whey. Drained yogurt is thicker than regular, and delicious. If you let it drain in the refrigerator for 24 hours you have something with the exact consistency of cream cheese, which is delicious on toast topped with some of that chutney you used the whey to make.

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Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

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Wolf Month Pantry Challenge

Happy New Year!

The January chill means I think twice before carrying my compost pail out to the bin. I look out through the window and think, surely I could cram a few more scraps in before I need to empty the pail?

jan-garden

I am starting the new decade with several challenges on my plate. A commission I was counting on for next month’s rent fell through at the last minute. The pipes in my apartment froze last night (tonight I’ve got running hot water but no cold) and I still haven’t heard back from my landlord. And so it goes.

Lost jobs and frozen pipes notwithstanding, there’s a reason January, February, and March have traditionally been called “the wolf months.” If the wolf is going to show up at your door, this is the time you’re likely to hear his noisy breath and his scratchy pawing. There are no new crops coming in now if you live in a cold winter climate. (Well, there might be some greenhouse and cold frame stuff, but that’s limited.) Mostly what you’ve got is what you got last year during the growing season.

I’d be living out of my pantry for the most part at this time of year even if I wasn’t in a financial crunch. I’ve decided not to spend any money on food this month except for milk (which I also turn into yogurt and cream cheese), coffee (not remotely local, I know, sorry), and what I already prepaid for my monthly CSA winter share.

Usually I’ve looked at my food preservation hobby as, among other things, a way to add variety to my winter diet. Can it also keep me alive if I’m counting on it as my primary source of food?

So far, so good. Here’s what I ate today:

Fried egg, toast with butter and peach marmalade. (Made the bread with a combo of Wild Hive Farm’s Bread Flour and Cayuga Pure Organic’s Half White Flour)breakfast

Apple (last one I’ll be munching fresh. Apples are starting to lose their crunch after months in storage, so I’ll be moving on to dried, applesauce, etc.)

Sausage-kale-white bean soup (kale was from blanched and in my freezer, sausage and beans in freezer as well)

Wild mushroom “risotto” (used Cayuga Pure Organic’s freekah grain instead of rice. Mushrooms were wild, foraged ones I dried last fall)

Salad with blue cheese and pumpkin seeds

Popcorn

I’m granting myself one more food shopping exemption: there’s a new indoor winter market starting next week just a few blocks from me and I want to show up and support. Just a cabbage or some such, okay? There might be a new winter venue for local foods near you. You can find out more here.

As for how my wolf month pantry adventure turns out, stay tuned…

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Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

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