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Real Food

Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.


Local Growing, Local Eating

By Charlyn Ellis


Tags: local foods, menu planning, food preservation, Charlyn Ellis, Pacific Northwest, Oregon,

“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. 


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