Winter brings a welcomed down-shifting of gears at our homestead. The garden is tucked-in and I smile that further work on it is impossible while the compost piles are frozen. We’ve stopped milking until next spring when the calves are born, and the time spent milking, sanitizing equipment and making cheese can be spent elsewhere. Our city friends can’t appreciate how much easier our lives are because they know we’re out in the cold twice-a-day feeding animals, hauling manure and working to create a milk room in the barn. However, they don’t recognize the big bonus we have of eating fast food in the winter!
The secret to our easy-to-prepare winter meals is in the basement where colorful food in glass jars lines the shelves. There’s also the corner root cellar that is filled with root vegetables and winter squash. A freezer holds meat, vegetables and even cheese. Trips to the basement are like going to a fast-food store—the work of harvesting and cleaning, chopping and processing was done in the summer. All we need do is bring produce upstairs, put it in the pot and come back later for a delicious meal that is free of chemicals and packed with nutrition.
Roasted vegetables are one of those meals. Current fare includes potatoes, turnips, onions, garlic (lots of garlic this year), carrots and sweet potatoes—each year is a little different. After a quick scrub, I coat them with olive oil, sprinkle on a bit of sea-salt, add some dried sage or rosemary and mix them together by hand (literally). One variation includes some of our dried apples and a bit of allspice. Other meals include grass-fed beef with the vegetables. It’s fun to have meals cook on the cast-iron Dutch oven on the wood burner that also heats our home. The house smells good and the meal cooks slowly to perfection.
Meals aren’t all about meat and potatoes at our house. Pizza ranks high because it’s fun to make as a team, we vary the ingredients each time, and it provides an easy left-over for another meal or two. I admit that it does take fifteen minutes to make the crust, but having crust made from whole wheat flour, as well as milk and honey from our farm makes the nutritional pay-off worth the effort. The team effort begins after the dough rises, and my husband prepares the toppings while I roll the crust. Winter pizzas can include: tomato sauce, onions, diced peppers (frozen), dried tomatoes, grated cheese, dried basal, oregano, sage or parsley, and other frozen, mixed vegetables. I agree it’s not as easy as having a pizza delivered to the door, but for a minimal effort we get a superior, less-expensive product with no excess packaging.
Most of the work on the chickens in the freezer has been done to get them there. The cooking is easy because the older hens cook breast-side down, for at least half the day on the wood burner. We then have delicious meat to accompany roasted vegetables for a “big” meal. It’s no trouble to strip more of the tender meat off for some enchiladas the second day. The remaining carcass cooks in water on the wood burner until I separate the remaining meat from bones the third day. A handful of dried beans are sometimes added to cook in the broth until the beans are tender. Vegetables from the basement and some egg noodles are added later. Lettuce from the greenhouse rounds out a meal with this flavorful chicken soup. Lettuce might not qualify as a “fast” or previously prepared food, but it is the freshest item on the winter table. Perhaps my amazement is that it takes so little effort for these wonderful meals.
We’re not deprived of fruit in the winter. Chopped rhubarb can be found canned or frozen, sliced apples are canned or dried, and peaches are in canning jars. It’s easiest to serve them plain as a side-dish, but we sometimes can’t resist sweetening them up for pies or a crisp.
If there is a “too plain” meal, like chicken sandwiches , it’s easy to increase the nutrition and prettiness of the meal by adding some pickled beets, “sweet relish” or even sauerkraut or dill pickles from the crocks. Some of these projects seem like a lot of work in the summer, but the memory of their great taste keeps me motivated to do the summer processing work.
I do need to actually “make stuff from scratch” in the winter, just to replenish egg noodles, pie crusts and bread. I make each of these in multiples and have the extras waiting in the freezer. Having “fast food ingredients” for most our meals makes these few kitchen demands a pleasure. Next summer, when the summer chores begin to seem overwhelming, I only need to remember how much I’m now enjoying this incredibly good, fast-food.
Photos by Mary Lou Shaw