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How to Make Your Own Pancetta

Pancetta Finished 20161016 550 pxl

Pork Belly is Back

Among the mainstream, pork belly has risen from an obscure reference in a movie to the top dog in many kitchens - both commercial and home. Its availability and ease in preparation with excellent results make it a great “starter” meat for those wanting to learn about curing meat at home.

I took this recipe from Dry-Curing Pork by Hector Kent [1]. It is an excellent book that starts with several short chapters explaining the process, then moves to recipes with increasing levels of difficulty and a “lesson” to be learned with each new one.

My two takeaways from this experience: start using metric units for charcuterie, because it makes the math and measurement easier; and second, my spare refrigerator may not be the right equipment to use for dry curing. I’ll explain later.

I chose to try pancetta because I have become interested in spaghetti carbonara - a dish that I have never eaten but was fascinated by the concept of a sauce made from egg, cheese and cured meat. The recipes call for a cured meat such as guanciale, pancetta or bacon. Because pork belly is far easier to find than pork jowls used for guanciale, I took the path of least resistance, used the belly and made pancetta. Since this was a test run, I used a small piece of pork belly that did not allow me to roll the meat for drying in the traditional Italian style.

The Metric System Will Not Hurt You!

When dry curing, the percentages or ratios become very important, especially when it comes to adding the salt. Too much and it is too salty and dry, too little and it will not cure properly and may be dangerous. These additions are based on a percentage of the starting weight of the meat — therefore, it is important to use measurements of weight such as grams, ounces and pounds. Do not use units of volume such as cups, tablespoons and teaspoons.

Using the metric system makes all of the calculations easier, and most scales that you are using for your home charcuterie efforts should have both Imperial and Metric units. Take the leap now and convert to metric — it will make things easier in the long run.

Here is the recipe and process.

Homemade Pancetta (Italian Bacon) Recipe


• Pork Belly, 1060 gm (approx. 2lbs, 5oz)
• Dry Cure Ingredients
• Salt, 29.15 gm (2.75% of 1060 gm)
• Black Pepper, 5.3 gm, lightly toasted (0.5% of 1060 gm)
• White Pepper, 2.65 gm, lightly toasted (0.25% of 1060 gm)
• Garlic Powder, 2.65 gm (0.25% of 1060 gm)
• Rosemary, 2.65 gm (0.25% of 1060 gm)
• Cure #1, 2.65 gm (0.25% o
1060 gm)
• 2 Bay Leaves, crumbled
• Juniper Berries were included in the recipe, but I did not have any at the time. If you want to add some, add 2.65 gm.


1. Mix together dry cure ingredients.

2. Cover all surfaces of pork belly in cure.

3. Place in a 1-gallon zip-lock plastic bag.

4. Refrigerate one week, flipping daily.

5. Remove from the bag, rinse with water and dry

6. I did not roll mine. Instead, I put two holes in opposite corners and hung it to dry in my refrigerator with a bowl of salted water to add some humidity.  

7. After about 6 weeks, I started tasting the pancetta. You can start “testing” it at about 4 weeks. Use part or all of it when you think it is ready. It is safe to eat without cooking.

Pancetta Hanging 20160712 550 pxl


This is still a work in progress as about a pound and a half of my pancetta is still hanging in the refrigerator. The flavors are supposed to intensify and meld with time. I plan to use some with mashed potatoes or mac and cheese at Thanksgiving.

I did use about 8 ounces to make Spaghetti Carbonara and liked using it. The pancetta was tasty but a little dry. I do not think it was the salting process but more from the lack of humidity in the refrigerator. I expected this to be a problem and need to examine ways of increasing humidity without causing a mold problem. I also think I need to start with a thicker piece of pork belly. Maybe I’ll try to track down a belly from a heritage breed.

Any advice from you folks would be greatly appreciated.

I want to thank everyone that wrote me or commented on my last post about figs. Who knew figs had such a devoted following? I’m pretty sure Mary talked me out of moving the fig tree and Beth’s suggestion of pickling the figs totally piqued my interest. The tree/bush has put on a second batch of figs that I hope I can harvest before it gets too cold.

The holidays are just around the corner. Does anybody have a really great, significant or sentimental recipe that they want to share? It looks like we are hosting around 25 people for Thanksgiving this year, and I was thinking about trying something new this year. Let me know and maybe I can post a few.


Hector Kent. Dry-Curing Pork: Make Your Own Prosciutto, Salami, Pancetta, Bacon, and More! (Woodstock, VT, United States: Countryman Press, 2014), 59–61.

Photos by Jennifer Hudson 

Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of Food Preservation Projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here and contact him via email at He is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Cultivating and Cooking with Swedish Whitebeam Berries

Swedish whitebeam ripe berries 

There is a fascinating story to Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia). Everywhere in northern Europe there are avenues planted with it. In big cities, the like of Stockholm or Hamburg as well as there are small country roads, leading to the edge of nowhere, lined with whitebeam trees about everywhere. I believe it’s the most common avenue tree between polar circle and about 52nd lat.

But why is that? You might get a clue, when you hear the German word for it: Mehlbeere, which translates to “meal-berry”.

Cooking with Swedish Whitebeam Berries

Swedish whitebeam berries are ripe about the end of September. Middle of September last fields of grain are harvested here. Now, if grain harvest wasn’t good, perhaps due to bad weather or fungus, people used the berries of Swedish whitebeam to supplement or sometime even substitute grain.

The flesh has a mild, somewhat “boring” flavor, while the seeds, once ground, develop a pleasant marzipan type flavor, and are rich on fat. So even in terms of nutrients these berries are a good substitute for grain. They, of course, aren’t grass, so they are lacking gluten. So, for backing purposes, berry meal would need wheat or spelt added to.

Our ancestors used to dehydrate berries and grind them in a grain mill, which is an awkward process and not every modern grain mill would take the oily seeds.

So, if I bake traditional whitebeam bread, I would just shred fresh or frozen berries finely in a blender and use the pulp, instead of water, to make dough of wholesome wheat or spelt meal and yeast. A drop of maple syrup or honey and a pinch of salt would enhance flavor.

We traditionally eat buttered whitebeam bread along with autumn’s first pumpkin soup.

There is another kind of whitebeam, the large or “German” whitebeam (Sorbus aria). Its berries are much larger and have rather big pits which are bitter in taste. It grows in areas south of Swedish whitebeam’s habitat. I am not sure can you use its berries as well. Since those trees are not as tolerant against minus temperatures and cold wind, they wouldn’t grow here and I am not really familiar with their use.

Besides baking bread, Swedish whitebeam berries can be used for to make jam, but should be blended with more tasty berries or apples. They also can be dried and used instead of raisins for baking. Especially when they are dried first and then soaked with black rum, they would add a nice “Christmas-type” taste to cake or cookies. Dehydrated and then shredded berries make a nice marzipan-flavored fruit infusion.

Cultivating Swedish Whitebeam

The sturdy little trees won’t grow much taller than about 30 feet. They are highly resistant against strong wind and salt, here they have to frequently put up with winds around 100 mph, being exposed to salt spray.

They would grow in any soil, but if you want to sufficiently harvest berries, it shouldn’t be too poor or too low on PH. Swedish whitebeam seeds need rather cold temperatures to germinate, but the tree itself can do without regular frost, if summers are not too warm. In cold temperate and subarctic climates, Swedish whitebeam can behave a little invasive, especially on fertile ground. Its seeds would  germinate everywhere, even on roofs, old rotten fence posts or in gaps or joints of buildings.

Marion Gabriela Wick lives on a secluded, 3.5-acre homestead in North Frisia, Germany where she guides tours to the European Wadden Sea National Park and the salt marshes located almost at her doorstep. She has been instrumental in protecting Wiedingharde Beach’s unique “fruity heritage” made up from thousands of wild and heritage fruit trees and shrubs growing along roads and trenches, around fields and farm houses, planted by generations of farmers trying to protect their cottages and grain fields from the regions very harsh weather conditions. Read more from Marion at The Fairies Garden and connect with her on Facebook. Read all of Marion's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Making Boiled Cider, with Recipe for Scalloped Apples


Reduced cider is the secret ingredient. All through the year, a bit of cider reduced to a syrup adds deep apple flavor to so many recipes. It’s no work, very economical, and your house will smell fabulous all day! Choose a cool fall day, rainy or not.

How to Boil Apple Cider

Pour a gallon or even just ½ gallon of fresh apple cider into a big stainless pot. I often start with a gallon, drink a couple glasses because it’s so delicious and then reduce it, so I start with about ¾ gallon in a 6-quart pot.

It isn’t apt to boil over. Set it over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn the burner down to medium and keep the cider at a slow boil until it reduces to half, then turn down the heat a little more and let the cider simmer until it’s reduced to about 1/3 of the original volume. It will be darker and about the consistency of warm maple syrup.

Let the cider cool, then pour it into wide-mouth jars and freeze. I keep mine on the door shelf of the freezer, along with yeasts and ginger puree. Right there, ready to use. Don’t be tempted to add cinnamon stick or other spices — they could become bitter and, reduced that much, you won’t have control of the flavor.

Add your boiled cider to apple pie and apple crisp, apple cakes and breads, and any other recipe that will benefit from a shot of pure apple flavor, adjusting the liquid in your recipe. It keeps a year or more in the freezer. Since the cider contains natural sugars from the apples, it doesn’t freeze quite solid, so it’s easy enough to scoop out a spoonful.

GMO Warning: The GMO apple could be appearing in markets soon. The varieties are ‘Arctic Golden’ and ‘Arctic Granny’. You’ll want to check the little sticker on apples to be sure you avoid buying these “frankenapples."

Scalloped Apples Recipe

I made the 2 person size pictured; you can multiply the ingredients and increase the baking dish size for as many servings as you wish, allowing about 4 inches square and 1 good sized apple for each.


• 2 good-sized apples that bake well such as Golden, Granny, Greening.  I used fresh Galas.
• 2 tbsp organic cane sugar
• ½ tsp best-quality cinnamon
• 2 tbsp unsalted butter plus a little for the baking dish
• 2 tbsp boiled cider
• Optional interesting things to add: Diced dried apricots, raisins soaked in rum, dried cherries, chopped walnuts, or pecans.


1. Butter your baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Peel and core the apples and cut them lengthwise into ½-inch wedges.

3. In a small bowl, stir the cinnamon into the sugar. Melt the butter and stir in thoroughly. Now, add in the boiled cider. If the cider is ice cold, the butter will clump up — no matter, just stir until it’s evenly distributed.

4. Arrange the apple wedges in the buttered baking dish, packing them in pretty tight. Spoon the sugar-cider mixture over as evenly as you can.

5. Bake for about 40 minutes. Halfway through, use a spoon to baste the apples with the syrup in the dish. Some might top a serving with whipped cream or ice cream.


Cover and refrigerate. For breakfast, serve them cold with yogurt or warmed and stirred into oatmeal. To top a waffle? Or just leave it out and somebody will come along and finish them.

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Grass vs. Grain: Improving the Nutritional Profile of Beef (And Making Pastured Meat More Affordable)

Grass Fed Beef Nutrition 

Working within a traditional diet, we save a large portion of our grocery budget for quality meat and dairy. It’s a harsh reality, but they do carry a hefty price tag. Unless, of course, you live on a farm and can buy your own cow, you’re going to fork over some hard earned cash for these products. We’re hopeful this post will shed some light on ways to lessen the financial burden while choosing the highest quality food for your family.

(For more tips on saving money check out these posts: Sourcing Raw Milk, Cutting Costs in a Real Food Kitchen, and How to Save Money on Dairy.)

Strolling through the meat department at the grocery store can make anyone’s head start to spin. The choices seem endless, where does one even begin?

I used to stop looking at words and just look for the best price tag, then toss the meat into my cart and call it a day. These days, I’m looking for quality, but seeing $9.99 for one pound of pasture-raised ground beef makes my head spin! Does anyone else feel the same? Which leads to the question…

Is Grass-Fed Really Best?

In short, YES! But at almost three times the cost, I’m guessing you’ve wondered how much better while staring at all those packages of beef.

There are so many unknowns when it comes to the health benefits of grass vs. grain-fed: Is it really that much healthier than grain-fed? Is the price tag worth it? If not, I’d rather save that extra money and buy some organic oreos (I tease). So what’s the true benefit of this somewhat cost-prohibitive meat?

Grass vs. Grain

While all cows start out the same (drinking milk at birth then free ranging for the first few months of life), grass-fed/grass-finished cows remain on pasture (or hay) for the remainder of their life. Grain-fed cows are moved to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or “feedlots”) between 3 and 12 months of life where they remain until they’re butchered.

Often, these feedlots are overcrowded and unsanitary. The abysmal living quarters bring the possibility for disease, so the cows are routinely given antibiotics just in case. Since the money’s in the meat, the more cows each farm can produce the better, so cows are given growth hormones to speed up the rate at which they put on weight.

And no, these antibiotics and hormones don’t magically disappear once butchered, rather these toxins are stored in the fat and consumed by us where they can wreak havoc on our bodies.

Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef

You’ve heard it said, “You are what you eat”. The truth is, you are what you eat eats, too! The antibiotics and hormones cows receive actually change their nutritional makeup. Grass-fed beef can have slightly less saturated and monounsaturated fats while maintaining similar omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.

The real difference is in the omega-3 fatty acid composition. This is where grass-fed beef is the clear winner, consisting of nearly five times the omega-3s as grain-fed. Grass-fed comes out on top again with twice the Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). CLA is known to reduce body fat, aid immune system function, and even ward off certain types of cancer.

Both meats contain ample amounts of vitamins and minerals (such as B12, B3 and B6, iron, selenium and zinc) and contain protein, creatine and carnosine (all important for the development and function of the brain and muscles). However grass-fed beef has more potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and sodium than grain-fed and contains Vitamins A and E (which our cells store to protect from oxidation).

Grass-Finished is Equally as Important

Be a label reader! You may be disappointed when you find out that “grass-fed” beef wasn’t grass-finished as well. Sadly, some, but not all, grass-fed beef is finished with grain. This is a practice some farmers use to both pack on extra weight and creating the preferred “marbling of fat” throughout the meat (which gives it a good “grade”). So does grain-finishing beef change the nutritional makeup?

You bet it does! The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids are completely altered after a mere 30 days on grain and many of the nutritional benefits are eradicated by grain-finishing. Don’t be fooled by tricky labeling — if it doesn’t say “grass-finished” on the package, it’s worth spending 10 minutes calling the company and getting some clarification.

Marketers are brilliant when it comes to wording on a package. As long as we, the consumers, feel happy about the product, we’ll buy! But trust me when I say beef that’s not grass-finished isn’t worth the extra money, especially when it’s not much better than the CAFO version sitting right next to it.

Making Quality Meat More Affordable

Unless you’re willing to sell a kidney to fund your grass-fed beef supply, you may feel buying sub-par beef is your only option. Not so fast, keep those organs intact and check out these tips for saving money on grass-fed, grass-finished beef:

Buy a whole cow. Are there any local farms willing to sell you a whole cow? How about a farm within a 100-mile radius? Even with the drive buying a whole, half or even quarter of a cow can be worth it. If this isn’t a financial reality, see about going in on a whole cow with five or six families, then divide it. We bought half a cow that averaged out to $3.50 per pound (even for ribeye, ya’ll!), it lasted our family of six about 14 months. Do the math — if you have the freezer space, this is probably the best money-saving option.

Become a farmer. Too obvious? Well, if you’re not ready for your own farm, look into the possibility of a local farmer who already raises cattle that might be willing to raise an extra cow (from calf to slaughter) for an agreed upon fee. Some farmers even have the means to butcher and process the meat, saving loads of money in butchering and packaging fees. Worth the mention, even if it is a long-shot!

Buy from a friend. Not an option for everyone, especially those within city limits, but do you have a friend with a few acres of land? Farmland is in no short supply up in the Idaho Panhandle, and our state offers livestock tax exemptions for raising a certain number of cattle on your property. This can be mutually beneficial as it allows a family to raise their own food, as well as getting a tax break and making a few bucks by selling an additional cow to you!

Make friends with your butcher. The last time I picked up meat from our local processor, they mentioned that offal (organ meats) are frequently left behind. Color me surprised when I asked if they’d consider selling it and they said, “just stop by, if we have some you can have it, free of charge!”

Buy in bulk. No, not a whole cow, but our local meat processor offers deeper discounts on purchases of 20 pounds or more. After chatting with our butcher, we ended up buying a 20 pound, untrimmed top-round and turned it into the best jerky! (Check out our recipe here!) Which leads me to my next tip...

Buy off-cuts. Sure ribeyes and New York strips are delicious, but they’ll eat up your budget in a heartbeat. Inexpensive cuts like stew-beef and roasts can make delicious meals when cooked “low and slow”.

Try offal. If you haven’t tried offal I feel it’s my duty to let you know you’re missing out on some of the most delicious parts of the animal. Because they’re less common, many butchers will be willing to sell them at more affordable prices. For more information on offal, read this post. And if you’re not sure how to cook with offal, check out our delicious Tacos de Lengua recipe.

Do you have any additional tips and tricks for stretching your meat budget? Please, share them with us in the comments!

Kelsey Steffen is a aspiring farmer, wife, mom of four, and homeschool educator in northern Idaho. Join Kelsey and her family over at Full of Days as they blog about life in the Steffen household, and follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Using Wild Yeast To Make Pineapple Vinegar

Wild Yeast to make Pineapple scrap vinegar TaylorMadeHomestead

I use a lot of vinegar in our home, it has so many uses! On any given day I'm using vinegar for cooking, cleaning or even hair rinse! I've tried unsuccessfully in the past to make apple cider vinegar from scraps left after processing and canning fresh apples into homemade Apple Pie Filling. But for some reason, the mixture always seems to go bad instead of being magically transformed into that miracle byproduct that is vinegar. So, I typically prefer to make my homemade vinegar with pineapple scraps.

Now this really is a win-win situation. I've never failed at my pineapple vinegar and it's so easy to make! I'll show you how I do it:

Gather Your Ingredients

To make my vinegar, I use the scraps that previously would have just been composted. I thoroughly wash and rinse the skin and cut off the top of a fresh pineapple. (You can plant the top and it'll actually produce a pineapple in 2 years!)

Then, I cut off the bottom and peel and core the pineapple. I have a handy-dandy *pineapple slicer/corer, so peeling and coring this pineapple took less than a minute! Now, it's time to enjoy that pineapple's sweet juicy deliciousness. (ummmmm...)

Pineapple cored in minutes TaylorMadeHomestead

Now, I turn my attention to the pineapple scraps. I dice the core, peel and chop bottom pieces into approximately 1-inch chunks. I need a vessel to hold my vinegar while it's fermenting and glass is an ideal material to use. I like to use a large, wide-mouth jar that's much larger than I need, because it seems to make stirring easier.

You'll want to sanitize the jar to assure it doesn't contain any yeasts or bacteria that you don't want in your vinegar. Sanitizing the jar is easy! Just wash it with soap and water, and place it on a cookie sheet and into the oven set at 220 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Assembling Your Vinegar Ingredients

After my jar is sanitized and cooled, I add one quart of filtered water and 1/4-cup sugar. I give the mixture a quick stir to dissolve the sugar. All that's left to do is add my pineapple scraps. I drop the pineapple chunks into the jar, give it all one last stir and cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth. This allows the wild yeasts and organisms naturally present in the kitchen to help the vinegar along.

Wild Yeast to make Pineapple scrap vinegar  scraps in water  TaylorMadeHomestead

I keep this covered jar on my kitchen counter to remind me of my daily maintenance to it. Each day, I stir the vinegar with a wooden spoon and recover the jar with cheesecloth. By stirring the mixture every day, I'm able to keep tabs on the vinegar's progress. Stirring also introduces oxygen into the mix so it can do its magic.

I take this daily opportunity to smell the vinegar and make sure it still smells right. Fermenting vinegar smell is good, rotting pineapple smell is not so good! Within a few days a thin, light gray film covers the top of the liquid. I spoon off as much as I can and just stir the rest back into the vinegar.

Two Weeks Later: Test The Vinegar For Taste

After two weeks, I dip a clean spoon into the vinegar and give it a little taste. I'm looking for that subtle yet tart vinegar taste I love and by now it should be about right. There are lots of variables including the room temperature as well as the wild yeasts I've got going on in my kitchen. Vinegar will proceed faster if the temps are in the 70s or 80s, slower if the kitchen is cooler. So a quick taste will let me know if it's where I like it or not.

If I feel it's not quite there, I'll leave the pineapple pieces in the jar for another week, stirring daily. But if it's to my liking I'll remove the pineapple chunks now. The pineapple pieces are still not wasted, I drop them into my compost tumbler so another magic product can be produced — compost!

I still need the vinegar to mature so I leave it in the jar covered with cheesecloth for 2 more weeks. During this time, there's no daily maintenance required. I typically leave it on my kitchen counter so I can keep an eye on it. At the end of that time, I sample my pineapple vinegar once again. If I'm satisfied with the taste at this point, I'm ready to prepare it for storage in my pantry.

Storing Your Homemade Vinegar

I like to use a flip-top glass bottle or jar, or perhaps just a quart-sized canning jar to store my vinegar. I sanitize the jar using the same procedure as above by washing with soap and water and placing it in an oven heated to 220 degrees for 10 minutes (if using flip-top jar, remove the rubber gasket after washing and replace it when the jar's been sanitized).

After the jar cools, I pour my finished vinegar into the clean jar, straining it through a fine mesh strainer to remove any small pineapple bits. If I want the vinegar even more clear I might strain it through a coffee filter to remove even the very tiny bits of pineapple. But typically this fine-mesh strainer is quite sufficient for me.

When capping my jar, I've found the metal lids don't work very well as the vinegar seems to corrode the lid if it's made of metal. So, if I'm using a canning jar to store my vinegar, I always opt for one of my BPA-Free *Tattler Lids instead of anything metal.

The resulting vinegar has a subtle scent of pineapple with the tangy taste of vinegar that I love. I like to use it in dishes that naturally highlight the taste of vinegar. Good examples are a fresh vinegar/oil salad dressing or maybe stirred into pasta salad. When my vinegar runs low, all I have to do is buy another fresh pineapple and enjoy it, then start the easy vinegar procedure again. Oh the sacrifice!

I typically use my vinegar within a few months so I don't feel the need to further preserve it by pasteurizing or canning. I love that it's pure, raw vinegar! But if you'll be storing your vinegar for more than a few months you might want to consider further preserving it using those methods.

Tammy lives & works on a NE Texas ranch and writes about home cooking, gardening, food preservation, MIY, DIY and living as gently as possible on this big blue planet we call home. You can visit her Homestead Blog – or follow her on Facebook or Pinterest. Find all of Tammy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Local Growing, Local Eating

“I bet there’s a zucchini in there somewhere,” Mark commented as I slipped a calzone covered in chopped tomatoes in front of him last week. “Why would you think that?” I replied. Just because we have eaten a zucchini in some form  every day for the last two weeks does not mean one is hidden under the crust — although he was right. It was good, too.

In the past eight years, we have shifted our diet to encompass seasonal, fresh, local produce as well as locally raised beans and grains, milk and eggs. It was a gradual change brought on by our increasing abilities in the backyard garden as well as our connections to local farms. It nudged me out of a serious cooking rut and set new challenges, like how many different meals can we eat from a huge head of cabbage in February and what to do with a cucumber glut in August. (Think pickles.) It is a logical development for even an urban homestead. Local growing means local eating.

Menu Planning for Local Eating

Planning all-local meals can be difficult, as most cookbooks are not considering whether red peppers and winter squash are ripe and available at the same time. Some of my favorite old cookbooks have slipped to lower shelves because of this. To speed up the process, I divided the year into eight sections based upon the British Cross Quarter days as well as the equinoxes and solstices. I then rummaged through all of my cookbooks, dividing the recipes up into seasons and listing them on note cards.

I developed a good eye for soups and salads that fit the seasonal calendar and made alterations in old favorites that did not. After all, who really wants a red pepper, anyways? I then did some serious research in the public library, bringing home stacks of cookbooks that focused more on seasonal cuisine. Many were based in Northern California, which is not radically different from the Willamette Valley. For months, I copied out recipes onto more notecards, filing them away in the eight  sections.

After cooking through the box for two years, the recipes are filed appropriately, although I do occasionally have to dig through the previous season to find a particular recipe. Now I can plan the week’s menus quickly by combining simple standards like frittata, pasta with veggies, and rice and tofu with the more detailed casseroles and soups from the box.

Because I plan all of our meals around what we have on hand, from the garden, and from local farmers, we waste very little food. Every onion and stalk of celery has its place in the menu. We do not buy what we will not eat that week. Occasionally, I will find a huge cucumber in the bottom of the vines or a nasty bit of salad greens wrapped in a cloth bag, but compared to what we once composted, it is minuscule.

Food Preservation and Storage for Local Diets

We save both money and resources.  It has also encouraged me to put food by for the winter. I have learned to can and dry excess fruits and vegetables and take great pride in the jars lining the shelves in the basement.

We have found that we really enjoy this way of eating. When green beans are on, we eat them every day. Just when we are about to be bored with them, the vines die back for the summer.  Tomatoes are the same way. We dream of eating sweet 'Sungolds' on our way in and out of the back yard and do so until our mouths are sore in August.

In January, I watch for the huge and brilliant leaves of mustard to emerge from the Sunbow greenhouses and we eat the spicy greens two or three times a week with gusto. We rejoice when the new potatoes are ready because we have not eaten any tubers for about two months. Each 6-week season has its favorite foods and preparations, as well as the best pies, quick breads and cookies. We just finished a 6-week stint of zucchini bread with blueberries and walnuts; today we had our first loaf of oat bread and dried currants.

What we grow and what we eat need to be intertwined and, in early October, as I take stock of the gardening year, this lesson becomes increasingly clear. There is enough — if we are willing to eat in season, even if it means another zucchini calzone.

Charlyn Ellis has been growing vegetables since she was five years old, when her mother bought her her first rake and pitchfork. She and her family are urban homesteaders and have a large organic vegetable garden, fruit trees, a beehive, four chickens, one rabbit, and two cats on a small urban lot in the center of town, surrounded by college students. Charlyn considers permaculture principles when she makes changes in her designs, especially the idea that the problem is the solution. Find her online at 21st Street Urban Homestead, and read all of Charlyn's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Fresh Produce Storage Tips for Peppers, Lettuce, Tomatoes, and More

Fresh produce is one of the cornerstones of healthy diet, and each season brings its own cornucopia of fruit and vegetables into supermarket aisles, farmers’ markets and, of course, backyard gardens. But how do you make the best of your garden harvest (or even supermarket harvest) to extend its shelf life?

There are many methods of food preservation such as canning, drying and pickling, but in this post I’m going to talk specifically about fresh produce – that is, vegetables stored for a limited time period in their natural state.


Fresh peppers. It's wise to plant as much as you can reasonably use. 

Don’t buy (or plant) more than you can reasonably use. When buying fresh produce, make a realistic estimate of how much of it you can use or preserve in a reasonable amount of time. My husband finds eggplants irresistible, so I’ll often find myself with ten eggplants taking up an entire refrigerator shelf, and thus I’m trying to think of new and creative ways to use up these big glossy vegetables before they aren’t so glossy anymore. When vegetables turn into something resembling a Petri dish before you have had time to use them, it probably means shopping (or planting) habits need to be re-examined.

Food Storage Tips for Top Vegetables

Tomatoes. Tomatoes don't react well to cold. They should be stored at room temperature until completely ripe and afterwards up to one week in the refrigerator. Remove stems before placing tomatoes in refrigeration. To prolong the tomato's shelf life, store in plastic bag with large holes for good air circulation, and put a paper towel (or small kitchen towel) next to the tomatoes to absorb excess moisture. Personally, I prefer a plastic box lined with a towel, for compact storage.

Note: slightly wilted, wrinkled tomatoes may not be very good for salads, but are perfectly fine in sauces, stews, soups, etc.

Bell peppers. Peppers are more cold-tolerant than tomatoes. A firm pepper in good condition can be stored in the refrigerator up to ten days. The nylon bag and paper towel idea can be used in this case too.

Cucumbers. In many refrigerators the temperature is too low for cucumbers; on the other hand, they can't be stored outside the refrigerator, because they tend to wrinkle and shrivel up very quickly. The best compromise appears to be, again, storing them in a plastic bag with a paper towel. Always remove the residue of the flower attached to the cucumbers, because rot usually begins to spread from there.

Eggplants. Like cucumbers, don't react well to cold, but can't be stored outside of the refrigerator for a long time either, so it's better not to stock on them. Personally I only refrigerate them during the summer months. It is recommended to buy light eggplants with firm, shiny skin. Heavy eggplants tend to have many seeds, which add a bitter taste.

Lettuce. Lettuce, like other leafy vegetables, needs to be stored in very cold temperatures close to freezing point. In your average refrigerator, it will survive in decent condition for approximately a week. To prevent wilting and allow air circulation, it's best to store lettuce in a plastic bag with tiny holes.

It's important to remember that the upper shelves of a refrigerator are slightly colder than the lower shelves — it's particularly true for older refrigerators (such as ours). Therefore, if storage at room temperature isn't practical, we store cold-sensitive veggies on the lower shelves.

Parsley. We love fresh parsley in soups, stews, meatballs and various other dishes; however, I only use a bit each time. As a result, whenever there’s a fresh bunch of parsley, about half of it gets used at once, and the other half slowly wilts, until it looks very sorry indeed and finally goes out to the chickens. I solve it by shredding the parsley in a food processor, pressing it into an ice cube tray and freezing it. This way I have handy small portions of fresh parsley to use in cooking. The same method can of course be applied to any herbs such as cilantro, basil, thyme, mint, etc.

This post was based on content from my book, The Practical Homemaker’s Companion.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

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