Friday, June 13, 2014

So you think you can't garden, Part 2

My title is not perfectly a propos of my content, but I have to pay homage to the fact that "So you think you can't garden..." ended up on a Swamplot linkpost the other day (insert smilie here).

OK, so maybe you've figured out by now that you can garden.  But harvesting is only half the backyard battle - what do you actually do at that magical moment when you end up with more fruits and vegetables than you ever thought possible?!
You could arrange them in an artistic still life, as I've done here with Japanese eggplant, green peppers, Anaheim peppers, and about a gazillion Sweet Million and Yellow Jellybean tomatoes.  But ultimately, it would be a good idea to actually eat the stuff that you took the trouble to grow.  
Eat it how??  If you are a suburban family of three or four people, how do you deal with the fact that even a micro-garden such as mine is expected to yield five to fifteen pounds per week of fresh fruits and vegetables during harvest time?!  How does anybody eat all that?!

That artistic still life above represents one day's worth of harvest from about 40 square feet of active growing area.  What I'll do below is show you how I route all of that stuff to productive use, and on a short time frame to boot.  It's important to remember that you don't get a long window of opportunity to process home-grown food.  It spoils more quickly than store-bought food because it's not chemically treated, it's not irradiated, it's not waxed, it's not adulterated in any way.  That's good from a health standpoint but it can be a bit of a challenge from a logistical standpoint.
I cook the fresh tomatoes into prepared dishes to the extent possible, many of which I then freeze in mass quantities.  However, there are still too many tomatoes to be used all at once, and therefore I have to freeze some of them.  I do this by sealing them in gallon zipper bags with the air sucked out, freezing them one layer at a time so that they'll freeze as quickly as possible. 

After each layer has frozen solid, they can be stacked up like this for efficient storage.

I had really good luck doing this last year when our entire crop consisted of volunteer tomatoes (because I didn't get to the nursery in time to buy new hybrids).  Cherry tomatoes don't need to be blanched before freezing as many other vegetables do - you can just pop them in the freezer and then take them out to cook later in a wide variety of sauces and stews, using them the same way you'd typically use canned tomatoes.

However, cross-bred cherry and grape volunteers tend to be smaller, less sweet, and have tougher skins than their pure hybrid progenitors.  All of those volunteer characteristics make them ideal candidates for freezing.  I'm a bit worried about my efforts to freeze and use these pure hybrids the same way.  They are larger, which means that they took longer to freeze (which is always bad), resulting in some splitting which you can see in the photo above.  Hopefully they will still work acceptably months down the road in prepared dishes.  There's only one way to find out, and that's to go ahead and try, as I have done here.  
OK, so that's the day's tomatoes taken care of.  Onward...
I roast almost all of our Anaheims on the BBQ in preparation for freezing.  
If you roast until the skin is a golden brown and then let cool, it will be easy to peel off the skin and remove the seeds, leaving the flesh.  
This is very labor-intensive work for a relatively small amount of New Mexico-style green chile, but this stuff adds so much taste to prepared dishes that it's well worth the time.  Italian sauces, Mexican dishes, omelettes, you name it - it does wonders for everything it touches.

To my knowledge, New Mexico-style green chile cannot be bought anywhere in greater Houston (someone please email me if I'm mistaken).  If you want it, you have to make it yourself.  
I freeze this stuff in these little leftover containers that are available at any mainstream g-store.  One container works well in a vegetable omelette.  Two or three containers will do wonders for a batch of chili or spaghetti sauce.  
Next, the eggplant.
I combined those two shown in the initial still life picture with two more I'd harvested the day before.  Japanese eggplant needs to be eaten quickly - it is very perishable.  
Incorporating two of our front-yard onions, one Anaheim, and other ingredients specified in this well-rated recipe, I cooked up a batch of spicy eggplant, most of which we ate on the spot and some of which I froze. 
Last but not least, the green peppers I harvested that day.
I actually combined the green peppers, three of the Anaheims, two of our front yard onions, about a pound of our fresh tomatoes, and two pounds of okra that I'd harvested, blanched, and frozen last September into a shrimp and sausage jambalaya which I then proceeded to also freeze.

I do not recommend that okra be frozen for as long as nine months (three or four months would be preferable), particularly if you plan to re-freeze the resulting dish.  However, it's a hardy vegetable and the age of it did not detract significantly from the resulting jambalaya in this case.  
I actually get exhausted at this time of year because I have to be processing a significant number of fruits and vegetables daily, on top of every other life responsibility.  But the upside to this is that, once the toils of June are completed, I really don't have to do much more cooking until September rolls around.
This is what my freezer looks like right now - crammed to the brim.  As long as we don't get a hurricane-related power outage, we are set for months.  
Incidentally, if you keep up with the daily commercial news, you are probably aware of the intensifying dialog on fat vs. carbohydrates within the context of health, obesity, and heart disease.
This iconic juxtaposition of TIME magazine covers shows how beliefs have about-faced in the past 30 years.  This month's TIME article is paywalled, but their tag line reads "For decades, it has been the most vilified nutrient in the American diet.  But new science reveals fat isn't what's hurting our health."

Magazine covers screengrabbed from Facebook, originator unknown.  
This other nonpaywalled recent article presents some of the strongest arguments to date for eating in a style consistent with what I'm showing in all of my garden-, freezer-, and food-related posts.
Screengrabs above and below from that article.  It's worth reading.  

The obvious question then becomes - how the hell is a person supposed to eat like Grandma's generation did?!  We are not living in 1955 - this is 2014!!

I'm showing one answer here.  Look at that freezer photo above.  There is not one teaspoon of refined sugar anywhere in that freezer.  Not one teaspoon of refined white flour.  Not one teaspoon of corn or soybean oil (I use only animal fats and olive oils, and I use both liberally).  In a perfect world, we'd be able to prepare all of our meals fresh from scratch each day, rather than batching and freezing them for future use like this.  I don't know about you, but I don't live in any such perfect world.  I am the mother in a two-working-parent family.  We simply don't have the kind of kitchen time that both of my non-employed Grandmas had at their disposal.  This is our viable alternative, and it works.

Let's close with a bit of a meme-fest, shall we??  Particularly if I'm going to get linkposted, I'd like as many people as possible to enjoy these gems.  
I embedded Finley's TED talk at the end of this post.  
Garden work-out guide.  
My all-time favorite Libertarian. 

Meme attributed to this site.  

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