Thursday, February 12, 2009

Summer, Preserved

This last summer was the first year I made a real effort to preserve local produce for the winter. It's not that I had never wanted to before, I just hadn't had the motivation or shelf space to really go for it. Summer 2008 was a flury of activity - picking, harvesting, canning, drying, packaging and enjoying. All of this in addition to working a 40 hour job, doing the daily cooking and walking the dog. Oh, and seeing friends occasionally and sleeping. By the end of the summer I was tired and felt a real kinship with the falling leaves. I wanted to fall and let myself decompose during the winter after a hard summers work.

Well, it's winter now and decomposing is something I'm doing a lot of. Do you even know how many great movies there are on Netflix? But I do make it up off the couch and into the kitchen occasionally and my favorite meals lately have included the fruits of my summer labor. There is something magical about opening a jar you put up months ago and being transported back to that time and place. I am totally sold on this food preservation thing if for no other reason than the flavor.

But there are, of course, a myriad of other reasons. I have tomatoes in my pantry that I bought for a dollar a pound and canned myself. I spent less money than I would have on organic canned tomatoes AND I know exactly where the 'maters came from. They were not shipped across the country, or handled by unknown, underpaid workers who don't really care about my health and well being. They were handled by the farmer and by me. Only.

I also have a fair amount of wild or "feral" plant life in my pantry. All of my berry preserves and a couple treasured jars of plum sauce came from plants running their own lives in local parks. Sandor Katz talks about wild energy of wild plants and how eating them can infuse that natural, uncultivated wildness into your own life. I've been watching those plum trees for years and ended up with about 15 pounds of plums in one evening of harvesting. I recently discovered the dried plums I made from some of that fruit hiding in the back of my pantry. They are delicious beyond what anyone would expect a prune to be.

Another great joy of preserving food is having the ability to trade or give it away. I went to visit friends in Southern Oregon last weekend and brought with me a selection of jars from my pantry. One family got applesauce and hot pepper jelly, another plum sauce and blackberry jam. I was able to trade my blackberry jam with another friend for her wild blueberry jam. Both are delicious, and it's all the more exciting to spread a bit of the Southern Oregon mountains on my toast, knowing my dear friend's energy is in it as well. I spent no money on Christmas presents this year either, I just gave away jam.

I recently dug some roasted red peppers out of the freezer to add to my February First Red Soup. My boyfriend brought these peppers home from a U-Pick farm in early September when our dealing-with-food energy reserves were getting low. They looked pleasant enough, even if there were vast quantities of them. And then someone cut into one. Holy moly! We started refering to them as the devil horn peppers. Never kiss a man who has been chopping peppers, not even if he swears he didn't eat any. You will get capsaicin on your face and it will be painful. We made hot sauce, red pepper jelly, and hot relish. We dried them and gave them away and still there were more in the box! Finally I threw the last of them in a baking dish with the last of the tomatoes, some olive oil and some garlic and roasted it until they were soft and a bit charred here and there. I put the fiery goo into the freezer and said good riddance.

Here is this years rendition of my traditional red soup that I make every February First. The roasted chiles added a wonderful kick, and I was glad to welcome them back to the table.

February First Red Soup To Warm the Belly and the Soul
2009 Version

*7 cups homemade chicken broth and/or water
*1/2 cup roasted red peppers
*1 cup red lentils
*1/2 onion, diced
*3 cloves of garlic, sliced
*1 tbs cider vinegar or wine
*cooking oil (goose grease, coconut oil, or whatever you like)
*mustard seed (about a tsp), curry powder (maybe 1/2 a tsp), seasoned salt, pepper and turmeric to taste/color

*In a 4 quart pot warm/defrost the chicken broth and roasted peppers. Puree in the blender once liquid, if you choose. Bring to a boil and add the lentils. Taste the liquid for salt and adjust as necessary. Once boiling drop the heat to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are disintegrating.
*In a separate pot or sautee pan heat the cooking oil and the mustard seed. After a minute or two add the onions and curry powder, salt and pepper and stir. When the onions are soft add the garlic and sautee another minute or until fragrant. Add some turmeric at this time if you would like.
*Deglaze the onion pan with the vinegar, stir to get all the browned bits up and pour the vegetables into the pot of lentils. Taste and adjust seasoning and simmer another couple minutes to combine the flavors.
*Serve with curried or turmericked sour cream and red bell peppers as garnish.

Have you ever done any food preserving? What is your favorite part of the process? Are you delighting in any out-of-season-from-your-pantry goodies this winter?

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