Monday, July 27, 2009

Recipes for survival

As the sky darkens with thunderclouds and the familiar rumble ensues, the field prepares for another drenching shower. I am reminded once again of how unpredictable the pursuit of growing food really is. As neighbor farmer Jack said to me the other day, "A dry year will make you nervous, a wet year will kill you." Farmers have always struggled with the uncontrollable factor of the weather.

I am also aware, looking up at the swiftly moving clouds, that the climate is changing faster than anyone who's ever farmed before has experienced. Global warming doesn't mean that Rochester will get warmer. It might mean more storms, stronger & unpredictable. We will need innovative farming tactics to be able to adapt with the changing weather. As I look into the future of vegetable production (& vegetable eating), I imagine certain practices will be more & more useful to us.

Number one on my list is diversified food plantings. As human beings we can eat a lot of different things-- think about how different the traditional Mexican diet is compared to an Asian diet. (I would like to also hint that Asian diets hardly ever contain tomatoes or potatoes!) As Americans, we like to mix up cuisines often-- this is a good survival skill. This year, for example, we are experiencing a cool, wet summer: perfect for crops like cabbage, lettuce, & beets to thrive in. I even planted artichokes as an experiment-- they are thriving in this Meditteranean-like climate. Maybe next year I will try a whole bed of artichokes! But maybe next year will be hot & dry... guess I won't give up on tomatoes for good.

Learning to cook tasty meals with these different foods (or the abundance of one food) can be challenging. Adapting to a vastly-changing diet requires us to be creative & adventurous in our preparations. Another skill needed is food preservation. Canning. Pickling. Fermenting. Drying. Freezing. I am still opening up jars of homemade heirloom tomato ketchup I made last September with the abundant harvest. If we preserve the surplus of one year, it can help tide us over through meager years. This is a lesson learned long ago, that I feel needs to be resurrected in the face of the approaching uncertainty.

Other practices in agriculture are still in experimental stages, and I will be traveling a little this winter to try to discover more sustainable methods for the future of farming. I think that a movement towards more permanent, perennial plantings of crops is inevitable. Our reliance on big fuel-guzzling machinery can't last forever, and repetitive tilling is not only damaging to the soil, but releases more carbon into the atmosphere. Looking to the future I see more people involved in efficient hand labor on farms, composting playing a key role, and attention paid to creating habitat for beneficial insects & creatures to control pests.

Farming practices such as using genetically modified seeds, harsher chemical sprays, extensive plastic mulch, row cover, irrigation, & high tunnels will probably all increase, although I doubt the long-term sustainability of these choices. While they help us get a larger yield from our crops this year, future generations pay for the consequences of these practices. Farmers have thousands of decisions to make about how they grow their food. I am striving toward a truly responsible practice-- one that may leave a positive impact on the land, instead of just taking from it. Any ideas, comments, or suggestions are welcome.


Crunchy Kale Chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse leaves of curly kale, and pat dry with a clean dish towel.
Chop into bite-size pieces.
Mix in a large bowl with enough olive oil to lightly cover the surfaces of all the kale.
Sprinkle in salt to taste. (Or try hot pepper, curry powder, garlic powder, etc.)
Spread on a baking sheet.
Bake for about 10-15 minutes, then stir, and bake for another 10 minutes or so, until crispy!
Kale chips burn easily. Make sure you constantly check them. You don't want soggy, half-crunchy chips-- the ideal texture will snap-crackle-pop in your mouth.
Store in airtight container, as kale chips will quickly re-hydrate in humid weather.

Roasted Fennel
Cut fennel bulb into 1/4" slices. Mix with plenty olive oil & salt.
Spread on a baking pan & bake for about 30-40 minutes on 350 degrees, or until tender.

Cabbage recipes from the winners of the Great Cabbage Cook-Off Contest:
Thanks for participating!

Sour Cream Cabbage- From Karen Lauder
Melt 3 T butter in skillet & brown 3 cloves crushed garlic. Soften 8 cups finely shredded cabbage in 1/4 cup boiling water (cook on low). Combine 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 T lemon juice, 1 T sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp celery seed-- beat together & stir into cabbage, & heat through.

Cabbage Rolls- From Mary Kay Parrone

Filling- Mix together:
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 egg
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 large chopped onion
1 large green pepper
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 cups cooked rice (brown)

Sauce- mix together:
1 can tomato sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
2 t onion flakes

Take one head of cabbage, blanch to soften, and remove leaves. Roll about 1/2 cup meat mixture in cabbage leaf, place in 9 x 13 pan. Pour sauce over rolls, dot with butter if desired and bake 1 1/2- 2 hours at 350 until tender.

My friend suggested that you use the large outer leaves to cover the rolls before you put the sauce on-- she said this keeps the rolls from burning and the leaves can be discarded. I bake them covered for half the time (foil) and uncovered the rest of the time.

Apple Coleslaw

6 cups chopped cabbage
2 unpeeled red apple, cored & chopped (I used Braeburn)
2 unpeeled granny smith apple, cored & chopped
2 carrots, grated
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
4 green onions, finely chopped

2/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 T lemon juice, or to taste

In a large bowl, combie cabbage, red apple, green apple, carrot, red bell pepper, and green onions. In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Pour dressing over salad.

Serves 8-10

Did you know that you can eat beet greens? Beets & Swiss Chard are actually the same exact plant-- each bred for different uses: beets for the root, chard for the leaves. Thus, anything you can do with swiss chard you can do with beet greens! You can even chop up the stems finely & add to whatever you're cooking.

1 comment:

pd73 said...

Erin, thank you for your thoughtful post. Along these lines, I recently dug up my grandmother's recipe book for pickling. Last night I pickled and canned two weeks worth of beets.

Danish Pickled Beets
2lb Beets
1 tablespoon salt
6 oz sugar
3 cups vinegar.

1. Trim leaves from beets, but leave skin on. Place in pot with water to cover, add salt, bring to boil then simmer 45 mins.
2. Drain beets, then place under cold running water. The temperature change shocks the skins, making them easy to peal off. Peel all the beets and slice them as you like (Traditionally 1/4" inch disks, but quartering is fine for smaller beets). Loosely layer the beets in jars.
3. Heat sugar and vinegar to a boil, then remove from heat. Ladle over beets while still warm. Allow to cool then store in the fridge.

In the fridge they will keep for quite a while. I had extra sweet vinegar left over, so I am saving that for the next batch, or for cucumbers later in the summer.