We’re still learning the best way to do this whole garden thing. One of the subjects we haven’t mastered is succession planting. This practice of sowing the seeds of a single crop several days or weeks apart to stagger the maturation of that crop is meant to extend the harvest and avoid the ‘feast or famine’ scenario.
Full disclosure: when I say we haven’t mastered this practice, what I really mean is that we have never been put together enough in the spring to plan and execute a succession planting plan. We talk about how much easier it would be if our produce came ready in a slow and steady stream, rather than the ridiculous, seemingly instantaneous glut of vegetables that a single planting produces. And yet, here we are, picking 20lbs of green beans in an afternoon, staring down a dozen zucchini, and wondering if there’s a small southern army somewhere that would like to help us eat (another) pot of greens. Slow and steady… not our forte.
I’m not complaining, though it might sound otherwise. Sometimes, though, I just have to look around, shake my head and allow myself to feel overwhelmed for a bit before going back to work making sure these amazing gifts from the earth don’t go to waste.
One of the most valuable things we’ve learned in this journey is that becoming a connected eater starts with learning how to take what you’ve got and make it into what you want. Instead of starting with a recipe and gathering the ingredients for it, you’ve got to look at the ingredients you have on hand and then go find a recipe. You’ve also got to get creative.
Case in point: vegetable-based pasta and sauce. The photos above show our valiant attempt to use up some of the greens, beets, and turnips we were inundated with several weeks ago. Last year, amidst a plethora of kale and carrots, we decided to buy a NutriBullet. Turns out, it’s good for more than just smoothies. We’ve used it to puree greens for green pasta, beets for that beautiful magenta pasta, and carrots, turmeric and some of last year’s winter squash for that bright yellow bunch at the bottom.
That first picture up there, the one that looks like veggie confetti, that’s the base to a “ragu” sauce. For this tomato-less pasta sauce, the vegetables are diced up and sauteed until they start to soften and/or are nicely browned and caramelized. Add stock and allow the veggies to simmer until soft. We use an immersion blender to mush it all into a nice consistency – if you don’t have one, you can use a regular blender, but work in small batches and be careful of exploding hot liquids! At this point, season, herb and enjoy over some nice fresh pasta, or continue to cook the sauce down. Better yet, throw a braising cut into the pot, cover, and let it simmer for an hour or so. This was the Mr.’s idea, and after that first round with braised lamb shanks, I was sold.
Alas, no matter how creative and delicious the meals get, there is a limit to the amount of fresh produce two people can eat. Most of the vegetables we pull from the garden end up in mason jars or freezer bags, holding their sunshine in a suspended state until the winter months call them forward.
The single most useful piece of equipment we own is a pressure canner. This beast holds 14 quart jars, or 17 pints. It makes the most incredible stock, and allows us to preserve all the low-acid, low sugar foods that would simply kill us if canned using the water bath method.
(Seriously though, canning can be risky business – follow directions! The best source for canning methods, steps and times is the National Center for Home Food Preservation.)
It takes time, and effort, and attention to detail to can your own food. You’ve got to be conscious of your preparation methods and food safety practices. It forces you to think about how you’ll use foods in the future and how best to preserve each item to fit those needs. But if you take pride in DIY food, this is your jam. (Pun totally intended.)
There’s nothing better than showing up to Thanksgiving with a green bean casserole and saying, “I grew these!”. Or getting home late, not really wanting to cook, and still being able to whip up a stellar meal because all your ingredients are ready and waiting. Your food is always clean – you know exactly what went into each of those jars and vacuum bags in the freezer. And most of all, it is deeply gratifying to know that you were able to coax verdant little miracles from the earth, and that you didn’t take those miracles for granted or let them go to waste. My shelf of home-canned goods is a constant reminder that I am part of the seasons, the sunshine and rain, the harvest, and the happiness of dirty fingers and pure life.