Don’t forget about what’s in the root cellar or freezer

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Perhaps this can be a reminder of the payoff of “putting up” the garden in spring, summer and fall:  we have extended our homegrown eating pleasure into the winter months with some basic preservation methods.  If you froze, dried, canned or otherwise preserved fresh fruits and vegetables in 2012 do not forget about them (or horde them for some unreasonable time.)

First, open the freezer and assess what’s there:  blanched Romano beans with some ice crystals forming inside the freezer bag?  Plan a stew for dinner.  A big bag of grilled corn (from Gallrein’s, which you cannot beat) sliced from the cob?  This corn is so sweet we just use it as a side dish with a little salt and pepper.  The tomato and zucchini mixture is holding up well so I will search out anything else that is starting to look freezer-weary.

Spring peas are ready to be steamed in a little water and finished off almost sautéed in olive oil with some garlic.  These were blanched briefly, iced down to cool, drained and frozen in deli containers.  Better than grocery bought from the frozen vegetable aisle.  
On the pantry shelves I can reach for canned tomatoes for my cottage cheese or chili; lacto-fermented green beans go great with roasted potatoes and olives.  Next I will make a salad of pickled beets, walnuts and blue cheese.  Some blackberries preserved in balsamic vinegar was great on vanilla ice cream, I know that sounds weird, but it was really good.  That plum compote would be good on pork.  And of course, Andy’s oatmeal has our dried apples, figs, persimmons and pears in it; the combination made more complete with peaches from Mulberry Orchard.  My husband’s routine peanut butter and jelly is not complete without my blueberry or blackberry jam.  How much to shelve is a calculation based on how many sandwiches need to be made before the berries come ripe again.

Root vegetables
There are many vegetables that do not need to be transformed from their fresh state to be preserved for later.  For example:  we are eating turnips from mid-summer that I just tucked away in a plastic bag in the back of the crisper drawer.  I like to eat turnips raw and after several months chilled in the refrigerator these turnips not only remain crisp but they have largely lost any of their heat.  I am also getting turnips from my friend Janice Walls and her later season harvest taste as fresh as one’s just pulled from the ground.  This is why people used to eat turnips…they lasted and they fed you and your family through the winter.  This is no lowly vegetable.
And, at my fingertips in our basement, I have loads of potatoes stored on slated racks.  I admit they are getting a little shriveled but quite frankly once they are roasted, stemmed or mashed no one would suspect anything other than perfect potato.  The winter squash are holding up well, as we monitor for any decay which means you get eaten next.

I do realize I am obsessed with all aspects of food but it didn’t seem like I went to great measures to stock up for the winter and 2012 was a busy season that took me out of the kitchen more often than not.  Still we have good food that we grew and we have chicken, eggs and lamb to make the meal complete.  I am so grateful for each animal, fruit and vegetable, perhaps that’s where the obsession comes from.

And, I must share this last anecdote about the early summer harvest.  My friend Mary Courtney gave me a big, beautiful head of Napa cabbage back in June sometime.  We enjoyed that Napa cabbage cooked, raw, on BLTs, and as an experiment in freshness.  I kid you not; I have one lone piece of Napa cabbage in a little zip lock baggy in the refrigerator today (yes, February 2013).  I will deliver it back to Mary as a symbol of how great our local farms and farmers are.

(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at Jwiche@shelbybb.net. or at  www.SwallowRailFarm.com)