Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Squirreling It Away

The huge tomato Amana Orange ready to eat. I'm thinking this looks like a breakfast tomato!

There is so much food in the garden right now, and the tomatoes have not kicked in. Yes, I had a handful of those small grapette tomatoes that adopted my shrub border. Yesterday, two of the first Amana Orange heirlooms were ripe. Bushels of tomatoes, no not yet. Still it is time to kick it into "squirrel mode".

I have a few jars of blackberries and strawberries that I froze as whole berries and then tumbled into can and freeze jars. Today thin slices of green pepper joined them in the icy darkness in the top of my freezer. Freezing green peppers is one of the easiest preserving things the home gardener can do. Literally, wash, slice them up thinking of how you will use them. If you are going to add them chopped to a sauce, chop them. If you will ad them to fajitas or Philly cheese steak sandwiches, slice them up long and thin. Portion them into the amounts you typically use when cooking your dish, and freeze them. That's all there is to it. No need to blanch them.

During the school year, I eat a lot of soup for lunch and one of my favorites is a chicken corn chowder. I found a recipe for drying sweet corn and a recipe for a chicken corn chowder using this dried sweet corn as its base ingredient in an older English canning and preserving book, Perfect Preserves, by Nora Carey.

Here is my attempt at drying the kernels. I'm about 3/4 of the way there. This drying recipe involves cutting the corn from the cob without blanching and then mixing it with a bit of salt, sugar, and heavy cream. The corn is then dried in a 200 degree oven.

I'm looking for recipes for drying, oiling, and canning my harvest as freezer space is at a premium this year.

One of the plants we grew last year was Aunt Molly's cape gooseberries. The seed was a give away from Jung's in addition to purchase. I started the seed when I started my tomatoes and transplanted 12 seedlings into the garden only to have them kill to the ground from the May 26, 2011 hard freeze. Four of them bounced back and provided just enough of the sweet berry like fruit for a taste; the Twins claiming this fruiting annual for their own and renaming it "tomato berries". They learned how to find the ripe berries versus the not-so-ripe, and how to husk them. They would sit right down next to the plants and harvest everything edible on every trip to the garden, leaving very little with which to play with in recipes and none to preserve.

This year, I planted 25 plants from seed harvested from those plants. They have grown into big heavy plants 40" wide and covered with fruit. My Handsome Son helping me harvest yesterday said, "Mom, you've got TOO MANY tomato berries!" The Twins are at the Dells at a waterpark, and with even 25 plants this is the first I have gotten of the fruit.

We picked everything that had fallen from the plants. When they are ripe you can gently lift the plants and shake gently. If it doesn't fall off it is not really ripe. The outer husk protect the fruit and they can easily be scooped up. A much easier system than attempting to pick them near ripeness from the closely connected stem and vine.

Husking them is quick and my box easily yielded a quart of clean fruit. I am going to attempt to dry them like a raisin and use in cookies or oatmeal. Last year, I put a handful of them cut in half in the dehydrator. Cut in half they were too small to be worth the time scraping them off the dehydrator racks. This year I placed them in my oven (with a standing pilot) at 200 degrees for an hour and then turned off the oven. We'll see how that works. I'd like to have about six quarts of dried golden berries (their "new" organic marketing promotional name) for my use through the winter. We'll see how that jibes with the Twins' appetites!

The other plant creating quite a stir to visitors in the family garden is golden amaranth. I planted this "grain" (It is not really a grain, although used like one.) as a non-gluten flour substitute. My gluten-intolerant sister-in-law spends a lot of money for pricey flour substitutes. She would really like to use quinoa, but we are too far north to expect a reliable harvest. Studies have not gotten quinoa to flower in Minneapolis, a good equivalent for our climate here. Without flowering there is no harvest. So quinoa is not the grain for us.

Enter amaranth.

Amaranth can be used for pancakes and biscuits and puffed and made into energy bars and cereals. The puffing process is similar to popping popcorn the old-fashioned way. I decided amaranth might be the grain for us. Not knowing what to expect, I planted the seed pretty thickly. Incredibly, I think every seed germinated! Not wanting to thin it out, one of my twin nephews and I dug up a 4 foot section of the row and replanted half the seedling 10" over when they were about 4" tall. Okay, this is me and a 3-year-old. He wanted to be involved and planted every plant. I don't think we killed a single plantling. The plants are about a foot or so shorter at this point, but our transplant experiment was a success.

The amaranth has received no fertilizers, has been grown organically. Yesterday, it was taller than my head thanks to my brother's timely watering through the season. Watering aside, the amaranth will head out even in drought conditions. Each plant can produce 1/2 to 1 pound of seed, which is the grain.

Cleaned this seed goes for as much as $12 a pound, internet, or health food stores. I figure we have 200 plants all developing seed heads. This might be a serious cash crop for us, if we can find an outlet. If nothing else, it could be a top dressing for the donkeys!

I am not the only one thinking of squirreling away food. The squirrels have actually attacked my hazelnuts, actually sitting in one of my garden chairs to enjoy their repast!

On my way home I saw one of the big CAFOs harvesting for green chop (possible ensilage) into big semis(like 10 or 12, maybe more) a 60-acre field of irrigated corn.

This is corn that even with the heat and drought looks fantastic. Planted thickly, because irrigation was part of Plan A, not back-up Plan B, this is corn that would have beautiful ears. Ears that might bring $10-12 a bushel later this winter. Irrigated and thickly planted corn that might make 240 bushels to an acre...

I'll do the math for you. At $10 a bushel, that's a field's harvest worth $144,000. And, it is being green-chopped. Now. Because there is more food value with the growing stalks than the value of the fall crop. Because someone has to feed a HUGE herd of cows. Because there is NO hay...

I don't where this is going, but my dad is also making some hard decisions. Selling dairy animals with great bloodlines before they are even bred, for MEAT, not as replacement dairy animals. Likewise, his decision to borrow money to buy hay, now when hay can be found to buy, and stockpiling it, figuring the price increase in hay and the milk it can produce will cover the interest it will cost to borrow the money. Because, even at 80, he doesn't want to liquidate his herd. A herd that has the employment of 5 1/2 people riding on its continuation.

Yes, milk is a trickle-down economy, in the truest sense of the word.

So make like a squirrel.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like we should all starting eating amaranth - wonder why it isn't grown more around the world. Hope everything works out for your dad.