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Candlemas: A Midwinter Homesteader's Holiday

2/17/2014 8:40:00 AM

Tags: Candlemas, winter, holidays, candlemaking, food preservation, Maryland, Ilene White Freedman

In early February (February 2, to be exact), there is an ancient holiday called Candlemas. It is celebrated between the winter solstice (December 21) and the spring equinox (March 20). On Candlemas, people would gather wax and all the half-used candles around the house and make more candles from old wax or dip fresh beeswax candles to get them through the second half of winter. February means you’re half way to spring (guess this depends where you live!). It’s a half-way-through-winter and let’s make sure we’ll stay cozy and well-fed kind of celebration.

CandlemakingCandlemas came across my desk in our Waldorf homeschool studies. Waldorf School originated in Germany, along with the celebration of Candlemas. German settlers brought Candlemas to the US in the 1700s, which was then the origin of Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day doesn’t do anything for me, observing a groundhog for hints about how long it will be before the winter cold days melt into spring. I don’t give the weather forecasters any more attention than I give the groundhogs. But Candlemas Day speaks to me. Although I am sure there is much more to it in its Christian origin, it is a homesteader’s holiday.

Taking Stock Midwinter

Candlemas is the time to check the pantries and the firewood, along with the candles, to make sure there is enough to get through the rest of winter. It is time to do inventory to make sure there will be enough to eat: check the barn stocks of hay and grain for the animals and wheat for making bread, the pantry for jam and tomatoes and applesauce, the cellar for cider and potatoes and beets.

Back then, it was of life or death importance to be sure the stocks will last through the winter. Will we have enough to get through the winter? For a reminder, read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. Today, I have easier access to food to get me through the winter. I could easily get into the habit of buying food from the store, forgetting about the tucked away stores of harvested produce hiding in the freezer.

So I take Candlemas as a flipside inspiration: Will I use up most of my preserved harvest before the next harvest comes around? I am not so concerned about having unused canned goods, as they last well for a long time. But I will want room in the freezer for freshly harvested strawberries, string beans, squash and tomatoes come the next garden season.

Making Use of Frozen Harvests

So I take Candlemas as an opportunity to check my freezers, and I flip the question over: Am I using the frozen stock of harvest goods from last year’s season? Now is the time to make dishes with frozen shredded zucchini, blocks of pesto, bags of tomato sauce. In February and March, I appreciate these treasures from my own summer garden. I sure don’t want to find those in June, when I am blessed with a fresh harvest and less eager to use things from the freezer. February is the perfect time to inspire myself to dig a little deeper into the freezer and see what’s hiding there. Soup ready for the eating. Frozen strawberries from a sweet April harvest, ready for ice cream and smoothies. Pumpkin puree. Sun-dried tomatoes, dried and frozen, delicious in pasta or grilled cheese sandwiches.

My kids and I shredded lots of zucchini and there are stacks of it in the freezer. We love Zucchini-Crusted Pizzas from The Moosewood Cookbook. I freeze the shredded zucchini in 4 cup quantities, which makes two recipes of Zucchini Crusted Pizzas. And there is plenty left for warm zucchini bread and tea for a cold winter afternoon snack.

Zucchini pizza

The best way to use up stocks from the freezer is to have a couple recipes like the pizza recipe that you love to make, and store the ingredients in the right portion for that recipe.

Another one for me is pumpkin puree. Pie pumpkins don’t store very well, so I bake a bunch of them in late fall and freeze them in portions for soup. I love making pumpkin puree soups in the winter. I dump a frozen lump of sautéed onions and garlic into a stock pot, sautee sliced carrots, then add frozen pumpkin puree and frozen or canned tomato puree. Frozen chicken stock from the bones of the last chicken dinner, or some vegetable stock or water. Even better if I thought ahead and defrosted all this on the counter in the morning. Add some spices and I have a beautiful pumpkin soup, easily made from frozen harvest ingredients. The Moosewood Daily Special Cookbook’s Tunisian Pumpkin Soup is my favorite base. I don’t use tomato paste, I add garden tomato puree or tomato sauce instead.

Celebrate Candlemas this month: make some candles and check in on your harvest stock.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at Mother Earth News and blog.houseinthewoods.com, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to www.HouseInTheWoods.com.



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