Hi, Rachel here, with an update from the kitchen side of our food growing adventures. For the majority of our relationship, Jared and I have shared food preparation tasks, either cooking together or alternating chef duty. These days, with Jared working so hard to keep up with the growing Vegetable Academy community, daily supper prep is a task that I was happy to take on (with the occasional support of our two little girls of course). In this post, I will take you behind the scenes to show you what we are eating from our garden at the end of winter.
I have always enjoyed cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, but this task has become much more fulfilling since we started primarily eating food that we grow ourselves. The food is more beautiful, more delicious, and there is a sense of sacredness and connectedness knowing that hands I love were the ones that planted the seeds, nurtured the plants, and harvested the produce. But enough with the mushy stuff. Let's talk about what it actually looks like to still be eating the food we grow ourselves ... in Saskatchewan ... in March?
Of course, our options are a bit more limited these days compared with the peak of harvest, but we've still got a range of colours and flavours to work with and the challenge of using primarily our own vegetables in our meals has pushed me to discover new recipes and combinations. Many afternoons start by typing a few key ingredients into Google to see how I might be inspired. Thanks to Jared’s diligence in monitoring what we have stored in the cooler, we still have carrots, parsnips, beets, onions, and potatoes in great shape. (You can learn more about how we keep the carrots crunchy all winter long in this Classroom post.) In the freezer, we have whole tomatoes, strawberries, celery, green beans, pureed squash, cauliflower, and piles of bell peppers. And lastly on our storage shelves, we are still stocked with cured garlic, the last few winter squash, and a variety of dehydrated and canned vegetables. There's certainly enough to choose from to keep our meals interesting.
I am always trying new ideas in the kitchen, but here are a few of our staple recipes that make best use of what we have stored away at this time of year.
Fresh Tomato Soup (see recipe below) - Perhaps we need to use the term ‘fresh’ loosely here, but we still have everything we need to make this delicious comfort soup. We have loved this soup for a long time, especially during the middle of tomato season, so the last time we made it, Jared said it was like getting together with an old friend from the summer.
Maple Parsnip Soup (Simply in Season) - I am not sure if it is the creaminess or the healthy helping of maple syrup, but this simple soup always feels like a special treat. We will often roast some potato wedges to go with it.
Garden Vegetable Curry (More with Less) - What I love about this recipe is the flexibility. When we still have cabbage we include cabbage, but when the cabbage runs out it is still delicious. I’ll throw in a little squash or some chickpeas if I want to fill it out. It’s always good.
Shakshuka (Plenty) - This is best served with fresh warm biscuits to dip and scoop. This recipe really is a fantastic way to use up our peppers and tomatoes.
Ultimate Winter Couscous (Plenty) - This is a set of ingredients I would have never come up with on my own, but what an amazing flavour combination! We often use quinoa instead of couscous, and this year we are going to attempt to grow our own quinoa, so stay tuned for that experiment.
Reflecting on our winter food supply this year has left us with a few goals for next winter. In the past, our focus has been on selling our produce, so we have made it a priority to select crops for our farm members. This year, we are planning a garden that best suits our own family's year-round needs so we can so our crop proportions look a little different. For example, kale is one crop that we we are looking forward to stocking up on again. Though it wasn’t a favourite crop of our farm members, we love massaged kale salads when harvested fresh, and I appreciate that its texture holds up even after being blanched and frozen. Stored kale will provide us with a lot more green stuff through next winter. Another hope for next year is to get a consistent supply of greens growing under lights in the basement, because at this time of year we are really missing some of that freshness.
The average Canadian today isn't eating food from their garden in March and April, but this used to be the norm. Storing our own food for this long connects us to ideas from our cold climate ancestors who relied on their food reserves to survive the winter. Today, we are fortunate to have grocery stores close by that can help fill gaps in our supply, so our motivation to store food isn't just basic survival. For us, storing our own food is part of an effort to live more sustainably and work toward self-sufficiency. The savings on our grocery bill is an added bonus. Now that we know how possible it is to produce a year round supply of so many crops, it would be hard to go back to our old ways.
If you've been dreaming of growing your own year round food supply as well, know that this was once just a dream for us too. It doesn't happen overnight, but with the right planning and infrastructure in place, it is a very realistic goal to strive for. Now is the time to start planning what you'll be eating next winter, so I hope this post offered you some inspiration.