Category Archives: Preserving Food

August UFH Challenge #5: Create an Eating Plan

Where by “eating plan” I do not mean a menu plan, I mean a list of items that you eat. Do you know what you eat? You need to in order to be a mindful eater (the purpose of this year-long challenge.)

I also hesitate to call this a preservation strategy because not all of you can or want to preserve all of your own food. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t preserve some of it, or do things like eat in season to take a bite out of the commercial food industry.

Preserving local, seasonal crops and eating in season has the added benefit of dramatically reducing your food bill – if you find smaller farmers to buy from, and shop around for better prices or seek out U-pick locations. And that makes eating good food affordable for nearly everyone who has time to watch television so don’t let anyone tell you local food is only for the elite!

But back to your list. Your list should be more detailed than just “meats, vegetables, eggs, dairy, fruits, nuts.” Perhaps it will read “chicken, beef, pork, eggs, milk, cheese, leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, applesauce, strawberries.” Perhaps it will read “fish, dried beans, peas, peanut butter, nuts, leafy greens, beets, squashes, soy milk, blueberries.” If you are having a hard time compiling your list, go look in your pantry, fridge, freezer, garbage and recycling bin.

No matter how your list reads, I want you to sit down and think about how much of each food you will eat, and at what time of year. Where and whom will you get each food from, and how will it preserved? Will you do it yourself or buy it that way already? Do you have storage space, garden space, freezer space, pantry space? Do you have the time and desire to preserve during summer’s all-too-short months? Do you have helpers in the family, or family members that will support you and be excited to eat all the food you grow/harvest/put up for them?

There are many different eating plans – in fact every one of you will have a different plan based on your climate, your personal preferences, your schedule, living situation and family members.

There is no right or wrong eating plan!

The right plan is the one you feel good about, that you enjoy putting into action, consuming and sharing.

What this plan does for you though, is make you think about what you eat, when you eat it and what went into getting that food to you. This plan will make you a mindful eater.

If you want, you can take this plan even further and try to preserve some or all of the foods in your plan using the methods we have already challenged you with:

Canning with Marissa of Food in Jars
Fermenting with Wardeh of GNOWFGLINS
In garden or garage cellaring
Eating locally in season.

For more information on canning and fermenting, check out my recipe index, or Wardeh’s new podcast on food preparedness.

This concludes what may well be the most important month of the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge – food preservation (or the lack of it, as in eating local seasonal fare.) Thanks to those readers who have been playing along and allowed this August challenge to extend so far into September. Or Augustember as I will forever refer to it.

And now, head on over to the freshly re-dated round up post to leave comments or link up with your Augustember activities in order to be eligible to win some great prizes!

UFH Challenge # 3 Cold Cellaring

I’ve always dreamed about a root cellar. A cave of damp earth dug into a hillside with a door for access, filled with apples and potatoes and squashes and ferments to get us through the winter. But in Seattle, with clay for topsoil, and hardpan and water table one inch down (not to mention rats the size of cats because of the ever-present access to fresh water, ivy rockeries and garbage cans) that dream is just not practical.

So what can I do to keep from working so hard to make my harvest shelf stable and energy efficient (or neutral)? Well I can still cold cellar! And so can you!

Many receptacles make perfect cold cellars. Ice chests or unplugged refrigerators in cold climates, garbage cans filled with damp sand, bales of straw surrounding boxes of fruit, or even your garden beds. In many cases just a subterranean garage and cardboard boxes will suffice.

It turns out different foods store better under different conditions. Here are my top choices for easy storing produce:

1. Potatoes store easily in an extra fridge, ice chest, cardboard boxes in a temperate garage, or boxes surrounded and covered by hay bales in near or below freezing temperatures. The trick is to keep them in absolute darkness, check them frequently and remove any rotting potatoes. In many climates they can be stored in the garden and dug as needed. Just be sure they are located in an area with good drainage before attempting that.

2. Winter squashes, once properly cured, can sometimes be stored until spring in warm and dry conditions with good airflow around each squash. I don’t even bother roasting, pureeing and freezing pumpkin for pies any longer since I can do it on an as needed basis all winter long (when I would rather the oven were on anyway).

3. Soft neck garlic, shallots and onions, once properly cured, can be stored either hanging from rafters in the garage or in hanging mesh baskets in the kitchen or somewhere warm and dry. One other option is to hang them inside a greenhouse. Garlic is usually ready in July and you can use them to provide shade for tender winter starts or keep fall salad greens from bolting in August temperatures inside the greenhouse. The warmer temperatures inside a greenhouse will hasten their drying time.

4. Carrots and beets need high humidity and cool temps so do best either in a closed bag inside the refrigerator (once the tops are removed) or in a garbage can or rubber storage container full of damp sand. I’ve successfully stored fall beets in a spare refrigerator into February in this manner. In some climates carrots can be stored in the garden all winter long. In colder climates you should cover them with thick leaf mulch or straw so the ground does not freeze lest they be inaccessible when you want them.

5. Cabbages are best made into saurkraut but you can store extra heads in clean, dry straw in boxes, ice chests or spare refrigerators. The outer leaves will wilt but just peel those off and use the inner ones. They won’t be as crisp as fresh summer cabbage but they will roast up beautifully or make perfect additions to winter soups. Some varieties of cabbages, when started in mid summer, store perfectly well in your garden all winter long without special protection. Imagine harvesting dinner from your garden in the middle of winter!

Your challenge: Choose one of these items, buy it from a local farmer, and store enough of it to last your family at least 3 months.

Even if this feels like a baby step – it’s a huge step towards building a local food economy and food independence! You don’t need to grow the food yourself (although bonus points if you did) but buying it from a local farmer – and not from the grocery store – will prove to you that it is possible to make this way of eating habitual. In other words, with enough late summer and fall planning, it’s possible to eat locally all winter long in your climate!

August UFH Challenge # 2: Fermentation

It’s all the buzz – preserving food by fermentation. I bet your grandmother remembers eating something fermented, be it cabbage or pickles or fish. But you, maybe, can’t remember doing that. Maybe a pickle once in a deli, or one time maybe you picked up some kim chee in the refrigerator section. But you have been thinking about it. Maybe scared to try but curious?

Curious about this method of food preservation that requires no energy to process and renders the food even more nutritious than it was before processing. That’s right, because while the actual heat process of canning destroys a good chunk (some say up to 30%) of the nutrients and all of the enzymes, fermentation actually increases the vitamins and protects all the enzymes.

So maybe it’s time for you to give it a go and see what the fuss is all about.

Wardeh of is waiting to take you under her wing and get you going.

Wardeh Harmon’s book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods was recently published and it’s fantastic – I’ll be reviewing it this month and giving away a copy.

If you want to get an idea of some of my favorite things to ferment, check out the Fermented Foods under my recipe index. But first skip on over to Wardeh’s and see what she’s got bubbling.

As always, remember to come back here at month end to leave a comment or link to your blog so that you can be in the running for some great prizes!

August UFH Challenge #1: Small Batch Canning

Are you ready? I’m so excited about Marissa’s challenge for you. It won’t be the easiest but it’s so empowering. Head on over and take a look!

Preserve the Bounty: Peppers Four Ways and an Easy Canning Day Dinner

This is it – Summer’s last huzzah in the form of tomatoes from our bulk buys and peppers from the farmer’s market.

Why peppers? Because when the sun sets in October here in the Pacific Northwest and doesn’t reliably return until early summer, I cling to every thing bright and fiery that I can. That may be a crackling fireplace (burn bans notwithstanding), it may be a hot cuppa joe, and it certainly will be in the form of cheery, zippy peppers that I squirrel away like there is no tomorrow and stuff into every dish I can all winter long. Like a shot of schnapps in sub-zero windchill that warms my soul.

I have many favorite ways to preserve these summer beauties.

Fermented Pepper Sauce.

To make it, simply cut the tops off about 6 pounds of your favorite peppers, place them in a food processor with enough water to process them, and place them in a large jar or crock. Add 1/4 cup of whey, 1/4 cup kosher salt and a chopped head of garlic, cover with a towel and let it get bubbly on the counter for 3-5 days. When the bubbling subsides jar and refrigerate. If you like more acid, add some apple cider vinegar. You could then strain the liquid, or use it as a paste. I like to add the seeds and a bit of the paste to apple jelly or apricot preserves as I make these things, instead of making a separate batch of red pepper jelly. It tastes phenomenal on crackers with Pav’s Annette cheese, or cream cheese, or chevre.

Lactofermented Salsa

Brook introduced me to fermented salsa awhile back and it’s a personal favorite. The salsa lasts in the fridge into mid to late winter (if you’ve made enough). The flavor and color are like fresh salsa because it’s never been cooked and the nutrients and enzymes are intact and loaded with beneficial bacteria.

Quick Pickled Peppers (a Peck)

I pulled out the cherry bomb peppers from my box of mixed peppers and simply put them in mason jars covered with a mixture of equal parts water and apple cider vinegar. This will keep them pickled and perfect for winter pizzas and sandwiches when the tomatoes have run out. They are also great chopped and added to cornbread.

Smoked Jalapeno Peppers

I love these. I’m not sure what more I can say about them to convince you that you simply must try them. I love them on grilled cheese sandwiches, mixed with mayo, on hamburgers, in salsa, on nachos, in beans and bean soups, in mashed winter squash with Beechers, and in carnitas (more on that later.) They require very little active time to make and last for at least a year in the refrigerator.

To make them, simply cut off the stem end, slice the peppers in half and cold smoke for about four hours. Once that is done I dehydrate them until they are about 1/3 of their original mass and store them in the fridge in mason jars.

Try adding them to your favorite salsa recipe to alter the flavor dramatically.

An Easy Canning Day Dinner – Carnitas

In fact, the easiest ever. Cook a pork roast covered with water, a teaspoon of salt and several smoked jalapenos for several hours, until it’s fork tender. Serve with beans, salsa and fresh veg. Pickled pepper cornbread would make a most excellent side dish.

Do you have your summer bottled and ready to dispense yet?