Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eating Locally

I have been gradually working towards a more and more local diet since moving to Dancing Rabbit.  I've spent large parts of the season trying to grow my own food, which is part of the reason it's taken me so long to finish building my house.  I've got the vegetable gardening down pretty well and am able to produce a lot of my own veggies throughout the season and even into the winter such that I rarely, if ever, buy vegetables from the grocery store.  I rarely buy fruit, but will stock up and preserve it when it is available locally or on farm.  Strawberries, black raspberries, grapes, and gooseberries are the only things I've been successful with so far.  A few crops like peaches, seem really difficult to grow here organically.  Pears and apples are slightly easier, but my trees are only just getting to fruiting age, and I know they have problems with disease in wet years as well.

Abenaki Calais flour corn
This season I experimented a bit with growing flour corn, with the idea that I might try to produce my own grain to take the place of the rice I buy on a regular basis.  Corn is a crop that is fairly easily grown here, can be productive, and can be stored for use throughout the year.  I do eat corn a lot in my diet already and imagine I could shift my diet pretty easily to have it replace rice.  People like Michael Pollan rant against Americans being entirely made of corn because of the large amount of high fructose corn syrup found in the foods they eat.  I don't think my desire to increase the corn in my diet is deserving of the same critique.  Corn was a staple food of Native Americans living all over North America for thousands of years, and although they didn't chemically alter it to extract corn syrup, they did chemically alter it to make it more nutritious in some ways, by a process known as nixtamalization.

Nixtamalization involved boiling dried corn kernals with wood ash and leaving them overnight.  Then they would wash out the ash and grind the corn into a wet flour.  The boiling and soaking with ash caused the corn to break down somewhat, making it easier to grind.  It also gave the corn a distinct flavor that was the result of the combination of the corn and the lye in the ash.  If you've ever tasted the difference between corn in cornmeal or cornbread and that in tortilla chips or tamales, you probably know the flavor I'm talking about.  Above is some of the corn I grew this season.  I ended up with about a gallon of grain from a small bed of corn, and I plan to nixtamalize it and use it to make tortillas and tamales.  I am just waiting on getting the right kind of flour mill for the wet corn kernals. I could dehydrate the corn after nixtamalizing it and then grind it into dry flour, but I've heard it is much better to make food from the freshly prepared kernals.   In Nicaragua, the women get up at the crack of dawn every day to make tortillas.  I remember watching the family that took care of the farm I worked at nixtamalizing corn over an open fire. Maybe someday I'll have enough corn to do this on a regular basis.

Another easy corn food is popcorn.  I'd grown it as a kid and loved that I could grow in my garden a treat that I regularly enjoyed as an evening snack.  There is no reason not to grow your own.  It's easy.  You just have to be sure to dry it thoroughly before sealing it in a jar.   You can braid the husks and hang it up for a pretty decoration too.

Often I have been looking at my meals and noticing that nearly every ingredient is something I grew or raised myself.  This makes the food taste better somehow, just by the mere fact of it.  I'm sure it also tastes better because it is fresher and more nutritious in general than the food that is raised in a factory farm, fed hormones, antibiotics, sprayed with pesticides,  chemical fertilizer, basically food that was made from fossil fuel and not from extant sunlight and resources.

Cornish Broiler with herbs and shitakes
Earlier in the season Julie and I made this chicken roast in the solar oven.  There is something very satisfying about eating a meal cooked with the sun and entirely made of ingredients you grew yourself.  It was one of our chickens from the previous season topped with fresh spring herbs from the garden and shitake mushrooms from my mushroom logs.  We were able to raise meat chickens this year and 26 out of 31 survived the predators, which is a pretty good success rate.  The cornish rock cross breed we use grows so fast and is so good at converting food to meat we don't have to have our investment at risk for much of the season, about ten weeks.  I'm finding they are the better bet for getting food from chickens around here.  I would prefer to be successful with heritage breeds that can reproduce themselves, but they grow so slowly and have to consume so much food to get to eating size.  We were able to feed our broilers about half duckweed from the pond in my backyard, so they were very efficient with feed.

Unfortunately, I am no longer raising eggs, which up until we gave up on laying hens were a major part of my diet. I found the hens to be a lot of work, a lot of feed, and a lot of waiting for them to reach laying age. There was also the problem of predators, which lately have been ravaging the poultry flocks around here. People can barely get their hens to laying age or meat chickens to eating age before they are devoured by raccoons or killed by minks.   Our laying hens got in the bad habit of eating their eggs this season and it became almost pointless for us to continue taking care of them.

I have gotten good at growning some of my basic staples like onions and garlic.  The wheelbarrow above was part of my onion crop this year.  Many of them were over a pound each.  I grew a crop of short storage onions and sold or ate most of them soon after harvesting them, and I had another crop of long storage onions to tide me through until the walking onions come up in the spring.  I have always had plenty of garlic in recent years, actually more than I am able to eat, and I've had to reduce my plantings.  Potatoes are still a challenge here because of our high water table in the spring and because they require so much fertilty and water.  I hope to get to the level of being able to raise all I need through the year and store them for winter.  This season because of the drought I had a lot of false starts in my attempts to establish fall crops like broccoli, carrots, beets, cabbages, and cauliflower.  I was just a little too late with some of these crops this season, and some of them, like carrots, I didn't try to plant after the initial failed plantings because I knew they wouldn't mature.  Maybe someday I'll figure out the trick here, because many of these I was able to grow fine in Wisconsin.  I think we just have too hot of temperatures when it's the right time to plant fall crops.  But if I could get fall crops figured out, I could store a bunch of food for the winter.  Below are some of the successes I had with fall crops.  I got about 20 heads of napa cabbage, many of them big ones like the one below, weighing in at around 5 pounds.  I did get some carrots and broccoli, but not nearly as much as I'd planted or planned to have.

This is tofu made from soybeans grown by the organic dairy farmer down the road, the same one I buy my milk for cheesemaking from. Tofu is a good meat replacement because it provides protein and fat. The problem with tofu is that it can be both energy and water intensive to make and there is a lot of fiber byproduct from making it. The fiber, called okara, could easily be fed to livestock, but I don't currently have any animal to give it to. You can make something called soysage from the pulp, but you usually have a lot more pulp than you know what to do with if you make a lot of tofu. This is definitely a place where livestock can be used to advantage.
I planted a lot of hot asian chilis this season because I wanted to be sure to have a good supply of hot sauce for the year.  I'd been buying sriracha from the store the last year because the jalepeno seed I'd bought ended up growing mild or sweet peppers instead of the hot jalapenos I'd wanted.  This time I did it right and made the firey hot sauce below that contains garlic from my garden, vinegar, sugar, salt, and of course hot chilis.  It doesn't taste like the store bought stuff, but it holds its own, and I think will serve well for the year.  I ended up with close to a gallon of it.

My gooseberry bush finally produced a lot this year.  I've had a currant and two gooseberries behind my house for a couple years now and they've been getting bigger every year, but this was the first year tha I got a good crop off the bushes.  I ended up making a tart gooseberry jam from the fruit.  Black currants seem to do well here, and this year I planted about ten bushes on the west side of the hoop house.  If you've never had black currants, they are not very good to eat out of hand and the plants have a strong junipery smell, but the sweetened juice is really delicious.  Black currants are much more popular in Europe.

Below is a stirfry made from the above tofu, onions, garlic, broccoli, and pak choy, using chicken broth from our chickens as the base for the sauce.
This was another meal from all local ingredients.  The home fries are made with potatoes and onions from my garden and the sandwich consists of a soughdough bun made by Julie in her bakery, greens, tomatoes from the garden, and bacon from Primer pork, a local pastured pork farmer.  The bacon is obviously the least sustainable thing on the menu, but it is local and partly pastured.  It was all delicious.  I have somehow ended up with a lot of meat this season, more than I've ever had in my life.  A local deer hunter offered to drop off a few of his deer in the village for people here to eat.  Julie and I got one, butchered it, and ended up with over 30 lbs. of meat, about half of which we are making into jerky.  It was free local wild caught food, so we couldn't turn it down.  And it didn't take an entire season to raise.  It mostly lived off shrubs and corn from other people's land.   I have also been doing a trade with Jack over at Red Earth Farms so that he can get whey for his pigs.  I had been throwing out the whey from my cheesemaking because I had nothing to do with the 4-5 gallons of it I ended up with nearly every week.  So he offered to give me pork in exchange for the whey.  Whey is a really useful feed to have if you are trying to raise pigs on pasture.  It also makes a great salad dressing for less palatable crops waste and other foods pigs might normally turn their nose up at.  I ended up with 20 lbs. of sausage, brats, and ground pork for just trading something that would have otherwise been dumped on my yard.


1 comment:

Adam said...

Great post. I really enjoyed reading about the awesome ways u are staying local. Good luck to you this year in all you attempt to grow!