Preserving the Harvest

Preserving the harvestI just polished off last night’s left-overs of pasta bolognese made with 2 jars of home grown Sweet Acre tomatoes.  Every bite tasted like summer, and, not only did it make me want to brag about it, it started me musing about the wonders of preserving food and what a feasible thing it is to eat so well in the winter.

As ironic as it sounds coming from a vegetable farmer, I’m not a very enthusiastic cook. I’m proficient, but I don’t relish the daily task of inventing and cooking meals, even with the freshest ingredients right at my fingertips! An abomination, I know.

I do, however, relish the larger and less incessant task of preserving the summer’s harvest for the winter, when the delightfully fresh ingredients are a vague, sunny memory.   For some reason, the idea of chopping pounds and pounds of veggies to simmer for hours on the stove top in the summer heat is more appealing to me than the “daily grind” of cooking dinner. Call me crazy – I wouldn’t argue.

On the farm we tend to do more freezing than canning. It is less time (and gas) consuming, and we have the luxury of 3 chest freezers in the garage. Plus, by putting liquids (like sauces and soups) in zip lock bags, you can stack them flat on top of each other in the freezer so they take up very little room. For those of you who just rolled your eyes and groaned about the fact that you would never be able to fit a chest freezer in your house, be aware that there are smaller models available (for example). If you have a garage or a basement, you really don’t have much of an excuse!

Items that I freeze a lot of for winter consumption include:
Cherry tomatoes (whole, like berries)
Vegetable soups (tomato & pepper, winter squash, gazpacho, etc., etc., etc.)
Ratatouille
Tomato sauce
Cooking greens (Kale, chard, collards, spinach, etc.)
Fresh Chevre (no kidding!)

Canning food in mason jars is a more traditional method that may take longer, but requires no super powers (contrary to popular opinion), and leaves you with a beautiful product to display on shelves anywhere in your house. No special appliance required, just a canning pot, jars and a few inexpensive gadgets (easily found via Google search). As of yet I have not canned with a pressure canner, so have no advice on that here.

Items I usually can include:
Stewed tomatoes
Sweet tomato chutney
Ketchup
Apple & pear sauce

Pickling is a third method of food preservation I’ve tried with some success. Since recipes usually include lots of vinegar, citrus and/or sugar there is limited need for all the boiling associated with canning. All the same jars, lids and gadgets though.

Things I’ve pickled include:
Cucumber pickles (Bread and Butter have been more successful)
Beets
Any vegetable suitable for Kimchi (Napa cabbage, choi, radish, hakurei turnip, etc.)
Dilly beans
Garlic
Onions

The above is a very limited introduction to what can be accomplished through food preservation! I am myself no expert, just proficient at a few select recipes that help relieve the pressure induced by inevitable surpluses on the farm. Because, man is it depressing to throw cases of cucumbers and tomatoes on the compost pile!

Make your farmer smile this season by buying something in bulk and trying food preservation out for yourself. The smile on your face when you crack open a jar of summer time tomatoes in frigid January will be equally as big.

Resources:
Putting Food By; Hertzberg, Vaughan, Greene
The Art of Fermentation; Katz
The Joy of Pickling; Ziedrich
The Joy of Jams, Jellies & Other Sweet Preserves; Ziedrich

Sweet Acre Farm 2015 CSA is now accepting members

 

spinach harvest

 

We’d love to have you join us!

 

 

Once again for the 2015 growing season, we will be offering CSA membership to our market customers who shop with us at the Storrs and West End of Hartford farmers markets. The share is customizable to any amount above $100. The bonus amount added to your share is as follows:

$100-$199 – 5%IMG_1345

$200-$399 – 10%

$400 and above – 12.5%

Our CSA is fully market-based, meaning that there are no boxes or required pick-ups. You shop at our market stand for what you like, when you can. Shares may be spent on vegetables, eggs, and flowers.

We will keep track of your purchases as you make them, and it is your responsibility to spend your entire share during the market season (May through November). It’s like having a debit account for our farm stand!

Open enrollment continues through, March 25, 2015.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a separate offering from the Bartlett Brook Valley CSA at the Capital.

Email jonathan@sweetacrefarm.com or charlotte@sweetacrefarm.com with any questions.

IMG_1465SAF Cut greens

We’re in!

Ailsa Craig Sweet Onion

 

As of this afternoon we have sown the first seeds of the 2015 growing season. The allium seeding (onions, leeks, scallions) is always the first of the season, as these seeds are hearty enough to wait out the last cold days of winter and germinate as soon as they decide conditions are right. So we donned our snowshoes, and armed ourselves with ice pick, shovels, and seeds, and made our way out across the white expanse of our yard.

Inside the greenhouse on a day like yesterday, with the sun shining down, you’d think that Spring was in full effect: the smell of earth, the magnified warmth of the sun, baby spinach plants waking up, the two of us in t-shirts counting out seeds in our palms. Seeing insects crawling around is always a delightful surprise in the early Spring when it’s been long enough to forget all about their existence.

The first days seeding are always particularly poignant as we reconnect with the physical, tangible work of farming. “Giddy” comes to mind.

Winters that linger as long as this one has tend to generate a kind of identity crisis in me. It’s been so long since I was dirty and strong and tired and productive enough to really feel like a farmer, that part of me wonders if I still am. I think this is also a symptom of my relative newness to the occupation. Heck, our first 2 seasons I had a hard time referring to myself as a farmer when asked what I did for a living! Somehow it seems that there should be a certain waiting period before one is fully integrated into such an age-old profession.   At any rate, these first days working with our hands, ruining our first pair of pants of the season, are always very, very welcome.

A pepper is a pepper is a pepper ad infinitum

In a food-to-school meeting I attended this week, we were told by a produce aggregator that “a pepper is a pepper is a pepper”. All producers of these “identical” peppers would be paid the same amount for them. To me, this statement betrayed the absenteeism and anonymity of our food system. Each pepper (besides being a pepper) is a cultural artifact representing a story of production.   To strip it of its story deprives the consumer of a deeper appreciation or spiritual satisfaction from the eating of the pepper. It also leads to the undervaluing of the food itself. An individual picking and biting into a pepper in late August that she grew from a seed in April and fostered to maturity over many months is a priceless expression of the connection between people and food. While it would be wonderful for everyone to be growing food in some capacity, it is unlikely for a lot of people, especially in cities. We find, therefore, that it is part of our job as farmers to foster this feeling of connection to food for our customers. Look at the pepper. Love the pepper.

SeedlingsFood is a cultural phenomenon. It tells a story. It is worth asking yourself: What story are you part of? What is your connection to food? Did you choose it? What subconscious assumptions drive you toward your purchases: Price? Quality? Human connection? Farming practice? A combination?

Speaking also as a consumer (and in a non-preachy tone, I promise), some thoughts about pricing: Though it may seem like a bargain, there are some very high costs to cheap food. When you enter into a Cosco/BJs/Wal-Mart-type mindset that values price above all else, you inadvertently enter into a bigger story that is often rooted in human and environmental exploitation. Worse, price is an addictive mindset that can rob you of the will power to enter into a food system whose primary values include quality of food, human connection and environmental stewardship. These are the pillars of the story we hope to tell and the points of access that we hope we can engage you in.

Human culture develops around food. It could be Burger King in the car, or a communal harvest festival, to put it starkly. In that it structures our daily lives, the production and consumption of food is life in a fundamental way. Unfortunately, this foundation has been undermined. The story we’re told (force-fed) is that food production is drudgery, food preparation is tedious, and that food is fuel and the quicker you can fuel up the faster you can get on with what is really important. The converse is food that is grown with care in a system which values all life- in its parts and as a whole.

We (the farmers) want the food we produce to inspire cooking that nourishes friends and families. This food should generate health and vitality, from which point we (the eaters) can better fulfill our human potential. Because food prep and production takes time to be done well, it slows life down to a pace that allows us to live more presently in our bodies, our minds, our families, and our communities. It is risky to speak in oversimplified ideals, but I believe that our food culture has spiraled so far out of control that we need to set a high bar for recovery. That is the story I want to be part of.

Find us at market:

westendTuesdays   |   4 – 7 PM
Clemens Green
Farmington Ave. btw Woodland and Owen
wefm.org

storrsSaturdays   |   3 – 5 PM
Mansfield Library
storrsfarmersmarket.org

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