Based in Portland, Oregon, Harriet Fasenfest gardens, cooks, writes, teaches, and speaks on the issues of food security and justice. Her book, A Householder's Guide to the Universe, was published in fall 2010. She is currently working on a new book and curriculum guide for teaching householding and householding economics.
So it is September and I’m taking a moment to consider the fruits of my labor. Is it a matter of conceit or reality check? I am, after all, looking for a replacement logic to shopping my way towards stewardship. But how much can I really do in a small backyard garden? How much can I either grow or harvest from other small farmers that will end up as the substantive offering in a meal? Or am I spending all my time making flourishes for the table? Am I, in the end, simply talking chutneys and chow chows?
These questions are part of an evolving interest in making the most of my soil and time and, too, born from the growing awareness that not all yields and food calories are the same. Garlic and onions take up little space relative to say, summer squash, and give me much more joy throughout the year. So space is a concern. But there is also the recognition that some produce multiplies in value by way of predigestion. That is, eating a chicken (or their eggs) that eats my greens will offer me more nutrition than the greens alone, or different ones to be sure. And more for less, or some reasonably balanced exchange for my labor, is what I am looking at. It is, at least, the partial lens through which I view this year’s effort.
Taking a tally of my pantry, I notice lots of berry jams: strawberry, raspberry, loganberry, blackberry, currant, peach, and mixed fruit. To be sure, there will be no Smucker’s in my shopping cart this year. That’s nice, but not exactly high nutrition. I could have gone with local honey, but I don’t have bees yet. I have friends who do, however, and who get great honey from their bees, but I didn’t. At least not yet. My husband is still a jam man — every morning on toast or yogurt (two things I do make). But that might pass. Still, I guess it’s a good use of the berries I grow. Not sure, though. Could be that this year the berry patch (or one of them) will be turned over to something else.
There’s lots of backyard beans (Romano and Kentucky Wonder) in the pantry this year. Both of the varieties I grew were good producers, and this year I am harvesting seeds for next year’s planting. I admit that it’s the first time I’m doing that. Seems like a no-brainer, but I am a recovering urban no-brainer, so I cut myself slack. What I did harvest has been canned, pickled, and frozen in copious quantities. The time spent growing beans has been deemed a good thing and will definitely get air time next year.
My Russet potatoes have been harvested and stored. I’m proud of them, but didn’t really grow a bumper crop. Not sure if they’re in the cards for next year’s garden. Still, I doled them out lovingly and am sure to get through the 30-pound box I set aside before they sprout. My new potatoes are still in the ground and have made nice eating throughout the summer, but are not storage quality. That’s fine. I like immediate gratification and, too, not having to pay what they are asking for the darlings in the market. I’ll have to think about it, but they might not make the cut, either.
My Copra onions, shallots, and garlic are harvested, cured, and stored. I am in love with them. They hang in great long strands and are the thing I am most proud of. I’ll see how long they take me through the winter, but unless I am greedy, I suspect December or January to be sure. I’m glad, since they have also gotten fairly pricey. Truth is, everything has. But then you already knew that. You can’t hardly get through the farmers’ market without spending a cool $50 bucks, even when being very frugal. But I get and respect the reason. I only choose to indulge it in moderation.
My cucumbers have been good producers for everyday eating, and when collected, made good pickles — but never in the quantity I desired. So I bought my 25-pound bag at the market and turned them into the 20 pints of fermented pickles that are sitting on my shelves. The ones I did grow became the sweet bread-and-butter chip that only I like.
Still, pickles do not a meal make. They are good in adding to a meal and they, like the jam, seem to be a favorite for my husband, but they’re not exactly survivor food. Which isn’t to say fermented foods are not powerfully nutritious; they are. Only once I’ve canned them (which I have), they become pasteurized by the heat of canning. Tasty, yes. Nutritious, slightly less so. I guess I will leave my live fermentation to the kraut that I eat throughout the year.
Cabbage, however — essential for classic kraut — is not something I grow. Mostly because it takes up so much darn space and because it is prone to every sort of garden pest known to man, or at least known to me. I’ll wait till October to buy those big fatties grown for us kraut makers and go for it then. It is possible to have a live kraut barrel fermenting throughout the winter offering the type of health properties sailors and Slavs love to talk about. And like wine, it only gets better with time. Sadly, it hasn’t gotten the press grape fermentation has but that, I’m sure, has to do with the buzz. Once we figure out how to get happy on kraut, things are gonna change.
Along with cabbage, I don’t grow peaches. I did plant a nectarine tree that lost all its baby fruit in a freak hailstorm this year, but even so, I would still pick Veteran peaches. It’s one of my earliest U-pick experiences as a transplanted Oregonian and has become a tradition of sorts. This year I went out with a new friend and mom to harvest 71 pounds of a not-so-perfect crop. Of course I think I went out a little early, but they did can up nicely — 8 quarts and 20 pints and that’s not counting the ones frozen for future pies or smoothies throughout the year. Are they power foods? Doubt it. But would I want to eat garlic cobbler? Doubt it.
And speaking of frozen peaches is like speaking of the 36 pounds of Blue Crop blueberries mom and I picked one roseate morning in late July. Oh gosh, they were good, but 36 pounds? Let’s call it my patriotic duty. I’m supporting local farmers in a big way, and that beats shopping in the mall which was, as I recall, a patriotic directive from ol’ knuckle head. I’m wondering if Palin will suggest we hunt moose, but then that’s another story.
Along with peaches, there are backyard Bartlett pears harvested and ripened and turned into dried pears, pear butter, pear sauce, pickled pears, and canned in light syrup. Those I canned will become the base for New Year’s Day upside-down pear gingerbread cake. I’ll not say there is anything but sweet goodness to that, but what is there not to like about sweet goodness? Like cod-liver oil, it has its place.
To be continued tomorrow …