Tag Archives: local food challenge

5 Ways to Put Away Food for the Winter

IMG_2770It’s mid-July and the garden at the Williams Street Farmhouse is overflowing with vegetables and berries.  Although it feels like summer has just begun, this is the time we normally start putting things away for the winter.  Over the years, we have experimented with various ways to preserve our garden bounty, and have found there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  What we use over the winter depends very much on how we cook, which is constantly changing.  One year we use up every last parsnip, and have shredded frozen zucchini left over and the next year it is opposite. Every year we try something new and keep finding amazing products like Matt’s fermented tomatillo salsa.

No matter which method you choose, start with best quality produce for the tastiest and most nutritious results.  Vegetables that are overly mature do not store well.  Also, process vegetables as soon as possible after you harvest them. Produce continues to respire after harvest and enzymes begin breaking it down, affecting flavor and nutrition.

  1. Canning: Canned produce is convenient because it is shelf stable and will last for years. It requires no thawing or cleaning or rehydrating. Unfortunately, it is laborious, destroys up to 65% or the original nutrition value, and can be dangerous if not done properly. We can tomatoes, jam, applesauce, and bone broth.
  2. IMG_2054Cold Storage: Easy when you have a good spot to do it, as the veggies require minimal preparation. Temperature needs to stay 35-40º and humidity around 90-95% for optimum storage for most vegetables.   We insulated a small room in our unheated garage and put in a heater on a thermostat. You can also adapt a crawl space or minimally heated garage.
  3. Drying: A simple and ancient method of preserving food, dried foods are easily stored. The nutritional content is similar to frozen foods, and the flavor is better than canned. Many herbs lend themselves well for drying, although you can dry many fruits and vegetables as well. Most vegetables need to be blanched before drying.
  4. Freezing: Freezing is an easy way to store food that preserves many nutrients. Generally vegetables that are eaten cooked as well as already cooked foods freeze well. The downside is that you can quickly run out of freezer space and freezers are expensive to buy and run. It also takes a little planning to take what you need out of the freezer ahead of time so it can defrost slowly.
  5. DSC_0457Fermentation: The only method of food preservation that actually increases the nutritional content of the food! Fermented food is extremely good for you, and can actually heal many gut problems. Many people are familiar with sauerkraut, but you can ferment almost anything. Fermented food must be stored in a refrigerator or cold storage to slow fermentation.

One of the most difficult aspects of leaving this fall is not having our normal food stores.  I can’t quite imagine what we are going to cook!  I am so used to having our garden food available in some form or another year-round.  Matt and I cleaned out our cold storage yesterday and found a treasure trove of garden products.  Perfect produce preserved in various mediums ready whenever we want… chutney, relish, jam, wine, and the best surprise… our very own raw apple cider vinegar.

IMG_2767Since we can’t take all our garden produce and preserves with us on our trip, we are selling what we can at our new self-serve farm stand in our garage.  I stock it up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays when we are around, but you can stop by anytime and see what we have!  Leave your money in the jar and if you don’t see something you want, don’t hesitate to ask.  It has been a lot of fun sharing our garden bounty!




Dinosaur Kale

Dinosaur Kale

Everyone kept asking, ” What are you going to do with all that kale?”  I didn’t mean to plant so much… some of it was left from my spring greens mix and everything else had bolted except the kale.  And some of that kale wasn’t really kale, it was sprouting broccoli or broccoli rabe that never sprouted.  So I’m left with eating the leaves which is kind of like kale.  And then there was the extra 2 kale plants I stuck in the corner because I had extras.  Oh, and the black or dinosaur kale I planted under the apple tree.  It is excellent in salads but the leaves are so skinny that there is not much leaf on there and they are more work for freezing.

I have already brought 2 large loads of kale over to the MIssion soup kitchen, but the main patch was still left.  I had a couple friends help me harvest it on Monday and we had a huge bucket full in less than 5 minutes.  I sent them home with some, but the bucket was still overflowing.

IMG_1818Tuesday I got all set up to freeze it.  I have my system down.  I get the water steaming on the stove while I strip the leaves off the stem and throw them in the wash water in the left sink.  As the first batch is steaming I fill the right sink with ice water and get out a large towel for drying.  Three minutes for each batch in the steamer, them I throw it in the ice water, fish it out, and squeeze it dry.  It gets packed into ziplocks in 1/2 pound packages and labeled and into the freezer.

After about 10 batches I had barely put a dent in the bucket.   I started having flashbacks from our Alaska Food Challenge year.  I froze WAY too much kale and we got a little sick of it.  Matt has been a little anti frozen kale since then.  There was no way we were going to use all of this kale this winter.  Besides, I already had beet greens and chard put away.  I texted my friend, “Help!  Too much kale!  Save me!”

Kale and Celery Salad with apples and green onion

  • 1 large bunch dinosaur kale, stemmed and cut into thin strips
  • 4 stalks celery, with tender leaves, chopped
  • 1 tart apple, sliced thin
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine kale with vinegar and salt and mix very well.  Let sit 20 minutes.  Add olive oil and toss again, then add the rest of the ingredients.


Eating After the Challenge

Many people have asked if we are still doing the Alaska Food Challenge or are back to eating “normally.”  The answer lies somewhere in between and depends on what you call “normal.”  If you compare how we eat to the average American, I would say we are definitely not normal!  And proudly so!  If you compare our eating habits now to how we were eating before the challenge, I would say we are eating more Alaskan food, but not 100%.

IMG_0998So what have we kept from the challenge and what did we decide we don’t want to live without?  Here are the details!

Drinks and candy: Coffee, black tea, and wine have all returned… although I no longer feel like I need them!  Our juice is now rhubarb, raspberry, or cranberry.  We got a chocolate subscription from our friends at Nova Monda Chocolate to fulfill all of my deepest chocolate desires. (Use the promo code “Saskia” to get a 10% discount.)

Wheat products: Tortillas have been around occasionally, but I’m finding we just don’t eat them like we used to.  And they are not as tasty as the ones I make myself.  Ditto with bagels.  Matt is back to eating pretzels and loving it.  We have also been buying crackers, but my friend Sara showed me a recipe for some very easy home-made ones that will hopefully become my new cracker standby.  After buying bread this summer, I am now back to making it, although I re-introduced a little white flour, as it makes the bread so much lighter.  We got some packages of dried pasta, but have become more proficient at making it ourselves, and usually prefer to do that.

Sugar: I also brought back sugar into my pantry for those treats where honey just won’t do.  I think that was one of the hardest things to do without because I have a huge sweet-tooth and I love to bake.  But I did learn to be more moderate with my sugar intake, and I was amazed by all the great things I could make with honey.

Dairy: Although I was relieved to be able to buy butter, I think I’ll go back to making that as well.  It was so nice to have cream and buttermilk around, especially in the winter!  I’ve perfected my yogurt-making and it is now a part of my routine.  However, it is nice to have parmesan, manchego, and brie cheese back in our lives!!  When our chickens were on strike recently,  I was blown away by the inferior quality of even the organic “free-range” eggs from the store.  The yolks were pale yellow, the whites runny, and taste bland.

Cooking essentials: We are using olive oil for some things, but have not brought back vegetable oil.  We have a few kinds of vinegar and love to have lemon juice (or lemons) around.  One of my potted lemons is blooming, and I would love to get all my lemon and lime fixes from my house-plants someday.  I also really love having a box of white wine for cooking.

Rhubarb BBQ Sauce

Rhubarb BBQ Sauce

Condiments: We decided we couldn’t do without dijon mustard.  All the other zillion bottles in our fridge?  Meh. But we have a very good zucchini relish recipe that is great with caribou burgers, Matt’s mom’s recipe for pickled hot peppers, and we developed fantastic rhubarb ketchup and BBQ sauce recipes.  Gooseberry chutney is still in the works.

Vegetables : We continue to eat 98% local, from our own garden.  We didn’t go back to buying tasteless winter lettuce, tomatoes, or avocados.  We did buy canned tomatos from Costco since Bells did not have their cheap deal on tomatoes this summer and our own crop was pretty poor.  But I’m really happy with my stocked freezer, pantry, and root cellar.

IMG_8547Fruit: Graysen is a huge fan of fresh fruit, so we have been buying apples, cantaloupe (his favorite), and bananas, which I haven’t bought in years.  It’s pretty much the only special thing we are buying for him.  Otherwise, he eats what we eat.

I am surprised by some of the things I missed, that have not really returned to my diet.  A block of blue cheese I picked up at Costco in July is still lingering in my fridge.  A bag of walnuts is chilling in the freezer. We haven’t even opened a brand new bag of quinoa.  The rolled oats that used to be essential have pretty much gone unused as well.  Matt finds he misses rice, but I’m pretty happy with potatoes and barley.

I suppose the point of the challenge was to get us to change those non-local habits.  It’s not to deprive us of them for ever, but show us local alternatives.  It is still nice for a holiday treat to break out the chocolate bourbon pecan pie recipe, and it’s also nice to have an all- local pumpkin pie as well.

Overall, I feel our diet is healthier and more delicious than before.  But we are still learning and getting better at growing, preserving, and cooking local food.  A cookbook based on local, seasonal foods is in the works.  Our journey is far from over, and we are still enjoying the ride!

The Hardships of Eating Local

Matt was really worried about having food to eat in the beginning of the Challenge.  At the end of June, the garden is just starting to come on.  Lettuce is abundant, but how many salads can you really eat?  A lot, it turns out.  Especially when you can bring salad to share with all your friends and get fed fresh fish and other yummies in exchange.  It really helps to have friends without gardens who really appreciate your fresh lettuce!

A sea of veggies!

And now, a month later, we are swimming in fresh veggies, and starting to put some away for winter.  Broccoli, kale, and beet greens are blanched and in the freezer.  Gallon bags of strawberries and chopped rhubarb…. in the freezer.  Chamomile is dried and put into jars for tea.  We’ve got zucchini coming on, bok choi, turnips galore, baby beets, cabbages starting to head up, and green tomatoes on the vine.  The only problem is choosing what to eat out of the many awesome choices.

I brought some turnips to a BBQ along with my usual salad, because that is what I had on hand.  Not your usual party offering, but we sliced them up and threw them on the grill and they were a huge hit!  People were fighting over the last turnip.  Well, they didn’t really know what they were fighting over.  Everyone kept calling them parsnips or rutabagas… but they loved them!

Garlic scape

For a kayaking trip I made a pasta salad with garlic-scape pesto and steamed broccoli and chard that was out-of -this world.  OK, so the walnuts and olive oil I used in the pesto weren’t local, but the rest was!  If I could only make a gallon of that pesto to take with me into the winter, I would not ever want for flavor.  But maybe that is the beauty of garlic-scapes….they only come once a year, and there never seems to be enough of them, so you just have to savor and appreciate what you have!

On Saturday we picked up our 20lb block of mozzarella cheese at the South Anchorage Farmers Market, and also grabbed some oyster mushrooms, salami, and sidestripe shrimp.  What delicacies!  Our dinner on Sunday was fresh salmon, shrimp, sauteed beet greens, and roasted beets and potatoes.  Matt commented that many of our dinners this year are going to look very similar.  I think I can handle that!  I’m thoroughly enjoying all this loval food we’ve been eating.  In fact, sometimes I forget that we are doing this challenge at all!


Rising to the Challenge

Thirteen people gathered in our home to talk about an exciting new project… eating Alaskan, all Alaskan, for a year.  We started by talking about our personal goals with our neighbor, and the energy generated in the conversation could have powered our lights for a year.

Why would people… more than just a few… be excited about all the things they would forgo for a year?  Why would they willingly give up the conveniences of lentils, peanut butter, tortilla chips, or wonder bread?  Isn’t fixing tasty, healthy food challenging enough?

Anna's blueberry fingers

Yeah.  Maybe that’s the point.  We’ve become too complacent with our cupboards full of food from all over the world.  Who grew it, where did it come from, and how did it get here?  It is the same food that is in every kitchen across the country.  What is our regional cuisine?  What makes Alaska special and unique?  And I’m not talking about Eskimo ice cream or buried fish heads.  What can we grow or forage to feed ourselves year-round in the city?  Can we celebrate the earthiness of a beet or a crisp sweet carrot? Fresh goat milk and sweet, delicate, wild blueberries?  Can we develop recipes that use only the bounty that Alaska provides?

There was a resounding optimism that it could be done, contrary to popular belief.  The conversation kept jumping to sources and ideas, as we tried to figure out how we could all work together to make this happen.  Collectively, we had a lot of knowledge already, and we all wanted to learn new things as well.  We could have weekly foraging hikes, potlucks to share recipes and learnings, field trips to Prince William Sound to collect seaweed, saltwater and deer.  We could have specialty items that we can trade among ourselves for other good.  Maybe we could even get sponsors… would anyone like to give our group discounts on Alaskan food products?

This is beginning to sound like an adventure.  And in the process we can prove that it can be done, not just by the wayward hippie homesteader, or Pruis-driving greenie, but by normal everyday people of any age or income.  We may drive open more markets for local produce and products.  We might develop the cuisine that people will rely on when shipping costs rise and imported food becomes prohibitively expensive for most people.  And at the very least, we will have a connection to the food we are eating.  We will know the land that the elk grazed upon, the hand who slaughtered him, and how it came to rest on our plate that we give thanks for.