Here in northern New England, it's imperative to be prepared if you are at all committed to eating seasonally. "Being prepared" means stocking the pantry with excess produce while it's in season -- either by freezing, canning, dehydrating or root cellaring. Whether the produce is from your own garden or from a local farmer, it makes both economical and common sense While I am just now starting to crave fresh green vegetables, I'm still doing most of my eating out of the pantry, and am thankful for it.
I have a vegetable garden because it's a great way to spend time outdoors, stay fit and clear my head. Mostly, though, I garden because I love to eat high quality food, and I can easily grow $1000 worth of organic produce in a growing season. Keeping a large garden also means that I must practice and hone my skills when it comes to putting this bounty up.
While my grandmother was a pro at growing and preserving food, I had no interest in acquiring those skills from her when I was young. So unfortunate. Everything I have learned in the past few years has either been from books (The Ball Blue Book and Preserving Summer's Bounty are two that I use) or tidbits picked up from friends. Canning can be intimidating to beginners, freezing is pretty straightforward (blanch first!) and underbed storage for things like onions and winter squash is a snap.
In the few short years since we've moved to Maine from New Jersey, we have come to rely on the food that I put up during the growing season to sustain us through the long, cold winter and into spring. The first full year we lived here, I was shocked at how long it took to find fresh local produce -- peas and strawberries are typical 4th of July fare. It was difficult at first to change my way of thinking (spring peas are a summer food?), but now that I know what to expect, I make sure to freeze plenty of peas (over 8 lbs last year) to get us through to the fresh harvest. Eating from the pantry has many merits, and even if the only fresh vegetation besides leafy greens is still some time off, it allows us to enjoy the preserved tastes of last summer well beyond our short growing season.
Two days into this year's Eat Local Challenge, on a cool, rainy day, my pantry rewarded me for my efforts: lamb raised by a friend cooked in the Daube style with homegrown carrots, onions and tomatoes. Mashed potatoes with fresh chives. I make no excuses for the red wine -- it was from California. But at least it was organic.
This is why I preserve the harvest. In those moments during the summer when I'm working in a hot kitchen and just can't stand the idea of peeling yet another tomato, I hope to remember this chilly day in May when, seven months after I last picked a fresh vegetable from my garden, we sat down to a meal almost entirely homegrown.
Liz makes her home on Pocket Farm in Maine, a modern homestead where self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and simple living reign.