Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The lengthening of the days

It's traditional at the Winter Solstice to review the experiences, both successes and failures, of the past year and make plans for the new one. I don't like "Best of the Year" lists, and I long ago realized New Year's Resolutions didn't work for me, so none of those here. I do like making plans, though, and of course any good plan is informed by experience.

So here are my local eating plans as Winter begins and the days start to lengthen again. This post is almost purely personal and may not be of interest to anyone but me, but if you'd like to share your own plans or react to mine, I'd love to hear it all!

I'm planning to plan ahead more. This past year I didn't spend enough time thinking ahead to winter. I was a grasshopper, enjoying the plenty of summer. By the time I started thinking about putting food by, my choices were limited. My freezer therefore besides meat contains little other than the fruits of late summer and autumn -- corn, kale, apples, potatoes, onions -- and my pantry holds only winter squash. This year I need to awaken my inner ant and start thinking about preserving as soon as there's anything to preserve.

Planning ahead represents a mindset change. I have a small pantry and try to not to allow it to get too crowded. So I've tended to buy what I need when I need it. I tend not to, for instance, have lots of dry beans on hand. The supermarket is only 2 miles from my house; they always have dry beans. Why should I store them? But trying to eat more local foods requires me to develop a new and unfamiliar habit. The farmers' market doesn't always have dry beans. I saw some a few times over the summer and neglected to pick them up; now my pantry contains no local dry beans. Trying to eat more local foods means seeing the dry beans (or whatever), realizing this may be a unique opportunity, and at least asking the farmer, "Will you have more of these later, or is this it?"

I think this mindset change -- developing a habit of thinking ahead with regard to food -- is probably the most important thing any of us who want to eat more locally can do. It represents a major change for many of us. It means looking at a picked-clean chicken carcass and thinking, "that'll do for stock." It means seeing celery at the farmers' market and thinking, "Wow, celery. How the heck do you save celery?" It means in many ways remembering the things our grandmother did (and which we often laughed at) and realizing why she did them. Jam, for instance, wasn't developed to provide sweets for breakfast. It was developed as a way to preserve fruit. Grandma spent all summer making jams because she grew up before commercially-produced jams were widely available. No jam-making meant a long winter with no fruit.

I'm planning to visit more of the farms I've been buying from. I'd like to tour them and take photos if possible. I have a hard time with shyness on this one -- unless someone actually offers me a tour, I have a very difficult time asking. I don't want to impose on folks, especially on farmers whom I know to be among those whose work is never done. How do I ask for a piece of someone's time without putting that person in a difficult position?

I'm planning to either find a local source for cow's milk cheese or learn to make my own. Ditto sausage. I've found some great sausages at Hyde Park FM, but I haven't been able to get up the gumption to ask where they source their meats. It seems somehow rude to ask, though of course that's ridiculous. And I haven't been able to find local cow's milk cheese at all. I'm thinking these are two methods of food preservation that would be worth my time learning.

I'm planning to plant more horseradish. My garden is plagued blessed by deer and other hungry wildlife, so there are only a few things I can grow. Horseradish is one. In my experience, deer won't touch it. (The imported cabbage worm, however, will decimate it.) And I like making things with it -- I've found a recipe for Horseradish Jam to use on beef, for instance. But this year I didn't have nearly enough, so I need to plant more horseradish. This year I had four plants. I'm thinking I need an entire 3' x 6' bed.


Anita said...

I can't speak for cheesemaking (which sounds like fun), but sausage-making is a blast. It's not hard, and you'll be able to make so many wonderful recipes and tweak them to your liking. The casings may be the one part you have a hard time sourcing locally, but it's worth asking where you buy your meat if they can special order for you; preserved in salt or brine, casings last a long time in the bottom drawer of the fridge.

Drop me a note if you want more encouragement. Or check out

valereee said...

Great sausagemaking post, Anita! Thanks for the link to it!


Eric said...

I would suggest starting with a simple cheese like ricotta, which I fabulous fresh, and we eat like popcorn.

There is a dairy in Logan County Ohio (just North of Mohr meats) that is begining cheese production this spring. You'll have to decide if that is local enough. I believe it is called Angel Dairy. Angel King is the owner's name. I found them on the Ohio CHeese Guild website at the bottom of the contact list.

By the way, I haven't been able to find a local (east of colorado) source for wheat berries (the whole grain that you grind for flour). Any suggestions.

Eric said...

Actually, the name of the Dairy is Blue Jacket Dairy, and the owner is Angel King. Sorry for the initial misinformation.

V said...

Another note on cheesemaking. . .
if you can find a good local source of raw cow's milk you can purchase the rennet and cultures needed to make a whole variety of cheeses at home! (www.cheesemaking.com)

The Mozzarella and Ricotta are supposedly the easiest-- I haven't gotten to try it yet, but I intend to soon!