This is the fourth year of the past five that I’ve eaten only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent. I call these days Homegrown Fridays. I find that it deepens my understanding of what it takes to feed ourselves when I limit myself to only what I’ve grown. By this time of year stored food supplies are diminished and the garden is not quite awake. Our garden and food preservation program has evolved to depend on staple crops that can be stored, rather than canned or frozen. Although I did do a little canning this year, most of the things that couldn’t be simply stored properly to keep were dried in our solar food dryers. I won’t name all the dried veggies here, but having a variety of things to cook with, besides our staple crops, makes for better meals.
In the photo you can see one of our Homegrown Friday meals. The top dish contains sweet potatoes and boiled peanuts. My husband and I agreed that we like peanuts raw or roasted, better than boiled. Mississippi Silver cowpeas and collards are also shown. What you see is the basis of a lot of winter meals, in different combinations. The cowpeas are our dry bean of choice, since they grow so well here in Virginia. Bean beetles don’t bother cowpeas like they do other beans. Collards and kale grow under a low plastic tunnel for harvesting through the winter. Sweet potatoes keep well just stored in a basket or box in the house, as do winter squash. Besides peanuts, we can tap into our hazelnut and black walnut harvest. Hazelnuts and black walnuts seem to have alternate year harvests. 2012 was the year for black walnuts and, by the looks of all the catkins, the hazelnuts will give us a good yield in 2013. Corn, wheat, and sorghum are the grains that I grow. Bloody Butcher corn is what is most plentiful in my pantry at this time of year. Cornmeal mush is what’s for breakfast on Homegrown Fridays. Learn more about my Homegrown Fridays at Homeplace Earth.
In addition to kale and collards, we had carrots and beets in the garden. It takes some planning to have them for harvest through the winter, but it’s worth it. I still have some garlic left, but as far as onions go, we are down to the last of the dried ones. After the onions are harvested, it is important to check them occasionally for the ones that you feel won’t store well. They will be a little soft where the stem comes out. Those are the ones to cut up and put in the solar food dryer. The ones that are pretty solid on top will keep a long time. I braid those and hang them until they are needed. I’ve got to grow more onions so that I’ll still have some of those braided ones in March. Onions and garlic add some great nutrients, as well as taste to meals.
One thing I realize when I observe Homegrown Fridays is my appreciation for my community food system. Yes, I can feed myself from my garden, but if I eat only what I grow, it would be a lonely existence. It is fun to go the farmers market, which is even open on alternate Saturdays through the winter now. I can buy things to expand my diet, such as meat, and enjoy visiting with others of like mind. I was a founding farmer of the Ashland Farmers Market when it opened in 1999. The three years I sold there were building years. We had to attract customers and growers at a balanced rate, or each would be disappointed and not come back. I stopped selling at the market to concentrate on teaching. In the years since, the market has grown and become a hub of activity on Saturday mornings. This is truly a local market with the crops that are sold there being grown within a 35 mile radius of Ashland.
Homegrown Fridays has taught me to be mindful of where my food comes from–every bite of it. I invite you to try putting together a complete meal from just what you’ve grown or from all local food, depending on where you are in this journey. It is truly satisfying to sit down to the table with loved ones and call to mind where everything came from–and be thankful.
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at www.HomeplaceEarth.wordpress.com.