This week I focused much less on meals than on preserving food. I've been a bit of an ant preparing for winter. Fair warning, I'm writing a lot about processing and preserving local food in this post. We did have an entirely local meal- one I grew up eating frequently. Stewed okra with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, and rice. The okra was in my freezer from last fall's CSA from Whitton Farms. Tomatoes and garlic came from two North Mississippi farmers. The rice was grown in Arkansas(Did you know that all Riceland brand rice is grown in the counties along the Mississippi River in Arkansas?) This is a simple, one-pot (not counting the rice) meal- sauteed onions and garlic, add peppers, add okra, add tomatoes and a bit of water, simmer down, serve over rice. The leftovers are really good. It's also fabulous with shrimp, chicken, or sausage. When we ate it again later in the week I added some sausage.
I spent so much time this week thinking about food- about school lunches, about preserving it. I've got a lot of good, fresh, perishable food that is either free or cheap right now. This fall and winter, this same food will be a) expensive and b) imported. I accidentally bought a bell pepper imported from Holland and had soemthing of a fit when I realized how far that yellow gem had traveled. Did it still have any vitamins? How much did it cost to ship a $1 bell pepper from Holland? All of this was in the back of my head on Monday, a good friend came by with 20+ lbs of pears and about 15 lbs of potatoes from his Mom's garden in Mississippi. I decided to make gnocchi with the potatoes (it freezes for up to a month- so I'll make some, use some, and see if it will keep for 2 months. The rest of the potatoes will go in basement storage for a bit) and pear sauce with the pears.
Now: canning. I'm not sure what's happened to me this summer except that I might be under my friend Jennifer's influence. She is a master canner. I've called her with questions, we've emailed about how-to and what-to. I attempted some canning in 2001 but haven't touched the weck jars or the huge stockpot I used to hot water bath process since. In late June, when I realized that my favorite tiny plums were about to go bad, I made a batch of jam with plums, blueberries, raspberries, and maybe some cherries. I put those up in some jars I had on hand, boiled them in the stockpot, and had 8 pints of jam. I could can food! And eat it later! It's silly, but I felt like embracing my inner pioneer woman.
A few weeks after the plum jam success, I borrowed my mom's huge (holds 7 quarts at a time) canning pot, some quart jars and lids, and bought a bushel (I think) of tomatoes. I put up 7 quarts of tomatoes and another 5 quarts of sauce (canned the tomatoes, froze the sauce). I had some free organic apples my mom's coworker gave her- those became 3 quarts of apple sauce. I ran out of quart jars and bought some pint and 8 oz jelly jars. When the last of my figs threatened to mold away in the fridge, they became 3.5 pints of jam (mixed with rosemary and lemon zest- yum). So when Michael and Lee showed up with all those pears, I knew I'd make pear sauce. And I did- ten pints. More apples are coming, more applesauce.
All of the blueberries we picked this summer went into the dehydrator (I lucked out 10 years ago and got an excalibur when my stepmother was clearing out her unused kitchen gadgets). Dried blueberries are so expensive, so good, and so easy to do yourself. We still have frozen berries from last summer, but we ran out of dried blueberries in October, so I concentrated on drying them this year. And Peaches! The essence of summer! Outside of what we've eaten, about half of the peaches I've bought, picked (25 lbs worth), or gotten for free because they were culls (scratch'n'dent produce, anyone?) have been dried, half have been frozen. The peels and bits of flesh from both of those were pureed and turned into fruit leather for little boy's lunchbox. Most of my fig crop was dried, but 6 gallons of fresh figs, when quartered and dried, only equal about 4 cups. Sad but true. The dehydrator has worked overtime this summer. We've even used it for grocery store bananas that had gotten a bit more spotty than we like- they dry sweet and chewy.
At this point, I feel a little like I have a mania. We even cleaned out the basement this weekend solely so that I'd have a place to put the canned food. But the pepper from Holland really made me open my eyes- and I've also just read ALL of Hodding Carter's humorous and thought-provoking essays for Gourmet. WHY NOT buy $2 extra of these wonderful 3/$1 pesticide free peppers at the farmers market, chop them, and freeze them for winter (and I'll be doing the same thing once my own peppers and tomatoes start ripening in my own garden). Too many cherry tomatoes? That seems to be all my garden's producing this year. So I'll pop them in a freezer bag for tomato cobbler this winter. I know how to can, why not turn free produce into something that my family loves to eat (and that I won't have to buy later). And yes, I have time on my hands. Yes, I want to save money (and time) later. No, I don't think this is something that everyone can (or will want to) do. But some of us can. So I am. And if you feel like it, I hope you do to.
I promise, I'll start writing about pottery again this week. I've been sneaking a little making time in over the past few weeks, but school starts tomorrow so my pottery break is officially over. Have a happy week!