storage crops

In the daily reckoning of what it takes just to feed ourselves well without creating destruction in packaging, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, questionable additives, social injustice, unethical treatment of animals and the climate-destroying one-two punch of tillage and transporting food long distances, it can be exhausting just to get food on the table. On the other hand, when we prepare food that eludes all of that, it’s a victory for the world we want to see, and a three-times daily victory feels pretty gratifying. Frankly revolutionary.

Given how precious the food we grow or buy is when it is produced in alignment with our values, we don’t want to waste it.

Storage Crops

One of the ways we’ve been shifting our thinking in an effort to reduce food waste is to learn about traditional storage crops. While it takes some time to put up the jams, jellies, chutneys, butters, vinegars, booze that fill our pantry, it takes little time, effort, space to put away storage crops. Autumn is the moment for this. Whether you have a garden or not, whether your potato and sweet potato crop failed (yes, they did) or your squash production can meet your needs (not yet), whether your land or your neighbourhood has nut trees bearing (yes!), whether you grow enough carrots, beets, parsnips to sustain your family all winter (not quite), you can still connect with farmers and put away food. These are foods that thrive when stored properly. This is not like buying too much food and seeing it molder at the back of the fridge.

Farm-to-Table

About now, middle November, a local farmer (who uses no-till, beyond organic practices) will bring us sacks of squash and root veg to store away. Squash sits on the staircase. Beets, carrots, parsnips go under damp sand in a box somewhere cool, potatoes in a sack go into a cool dark corner. Garlic is already hanging in a dry spot. We’ve cleaned and cured the walnut crop and it could last all year in the shell if they weren’t too good to resist.

Whole grains and the Winter Potager

Our grain mill further extends our storage since whole, unmilled grains last, stored dry and away from creatures, for years. We can leave cool, hardy greens like cabbage, kale, tatsoi, winter lettuce and our root veg standing in the garden til we need it, and in colder climates those could live under a low tunnel, or two, so there’s nothing wasted there.

There’s simplicity in creating meals this way. It’s a great relief.

foraging and preserving nettles

The old-timers would take bitters in early spring, and wild stinging nettles grow just at the moment when we really need some good greens. Nettle is good for all of us here on the farm, and can be used in many ways. In early spring we head out foraging.

sun-dried-nettles

Harvest the nettles

The moment to forage stinging nettles for fresh eating and preserving is a dry day in early spring, while the tops are young and fresh. Heavy gloves, long trousers and sleeves and great respect for the plants are required. I keep a bit of calendula or comfrey salve to hand for stings. We like to use a pair of snips and a burlap sack, and we just cut the top few leaves, plenty of them as they dry down to very little! Then we take them home to preserve.

Preserve the nettles

To preserve the nettles, I shake them out onto a cookie tray (to keep from getting stung), put my oven on its lowest temperature with the fan on, and pull them out when crispy-dry. They should crush to a powder. Once dried or cooked the sting is removed, happily. Or, if you catch a good warm, dry day, you can lay them out on a clean sheet and turn them now and then til they are crisp. Fresh or dry, or a combination of both, you can make them into a nettle tincture.

Store the nettles

I love to have a store of dried nettle and tinctures put away for the year. As a tincture they store indefinitely. Fully dry in a glass jar they will keep for a lot longer than any of them ever last at our house, certainly past the brief autumn harvest and through to the following spring.

Use the nettles

A friend on a nearby farm harvested some nettles to provide me with mineral-rich tisanes as I was convalescing after an illness, and later on we gathered a huge batch together. Infusions full of minerals are just the thing to give me strength and are particularly good to help counter my iron-deficiency. You can make fresh nettle soup, pestos, ravioli too.

Nettles for flora and fauna

When the nettles are older they’re no longer safe for teas and soups, but they are excellent for making a liquid fertiliser for the garden – simply cover with water, put a lid on it, and allow to decompose til liquid. Then dilute to use. Goats love to eat nettles fresh, and our ducks and chickens like them if we crush them first to remove the sting. How great to create fertilisers and fodder from the wild larder! Closing the loop on fertility and feed is a huge step toward greater community-reliance.

dried-nettles

Foraging and preserving nettles for high-mineral wild infusions, medicinal tisanes, fertilisers and fresh eating is a very old, trusted practice. It feels good to continue it.

pickling cucumbers

Something of a curse has hung over my pickling ambitions. Each time I had the luck of finding pickling cucumbers in late summer – great joy! Delight! A week later, those cucumbers would remain, decidedly unpreserved, aging unpleasantly in the fridge, my life having swamped us with some unforeseen and dramatic circumstance. Once more this summer, old fashioned fainting episodes, emergency journeys! On the second pickling attempt I steeled myself for calamities. Despite threatening chaos, we pickled! Now, I’m ever so pleased to show you how easy it is to pickle, if you’re as nervous (me) and excited (all the neighbourhood children) as we were. What’s more, I’ve the fresh-pack dill cucumber pickle recipe we used, here, so generously, from Canning & Preserving with Ashley English. Thanks, my friend!

ingredients-s.jpg

You will need:

  • 6 pounds pickling cucumbers
  • ¾ cup pickling salt (divided)
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • Garlic cloves, peeled
  • Dill seed
  • Fresh dill heads (if unavailable use dried dill)
  • Black peppercorns

blossom-cut cucumbers

The children on the lake gathered in our kitchen one late summer evening, and took turns to prepare the cucumbers for an overnight brine.

Rinse the cucumbers in cold water. Scrub gently with a vegetable brush to loosen any hidden soil. Remove a thin slice from the blossom end of each cucumber (if you can’t tell which end is the blossom end, just take a thin slice off of each end).

salted cucumbers

Place the cucumbers in a nonreactive glass or ceramic bowl, add ½ cup pickling salt, cover with water, place a plate or towel over the top, and set in a cool place or the refrigerator overnight or for 8 hours.

brined cucumbers

In the morning, all the children returned for a bit of dill pickling, peeling garlic and measuring vinegar.

Drain off the brine.

rinsed cucumbers

Rinse the cucumbers thoroughly to remove salt residue. Set aside.

Sterilize 8 pint mason jars, lids and screw rings.

In a medium stainless-steel pan, combine vinegar, 3 ½ cups water, and ¼ cup pickling salt. Bring the brine to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.

(The taller children and I did the very hot bits.)

spiced pickle

Many (little) hands make light work.

Into each sterilized jar, place 1 garlic clove, ½ teaspoon dill seed, 1 dill head or ½ teaspoon dried dill, and 8 black peppercorns.

packed pickles

Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remember to adjust for altitude.

pickled pickles

Oh, we all enjoyed making these, how nice to have a cupboard full of dill pickles. With such a lovely experience of making fresh-pack pickles, now we must investigate making our own fermented pickles! And pickling throughout the year, beets, squash, anything you like. Thanks for the introduction, Ashley. You might like to check out her tried & true, here.

halloumi

After making cheese at home, cheese as delightfully simple as cream cheese and as entertaining as mozzarella, I was thrilled to spend a day studying how they make cheese on the farm. Another soft cheese, the exquisitely squeaky halloumi. Follow me around Old Plawhatch Farm‘s dairy to see how it’s done.

making halloumi cheese

We begin, of course, with the milk. Old Plawhatch’s biodynamic farming practice is not only idyllic, deeply in tune with a beloved herd and the rolling Sussex hills they graze on, but it produces a living food, full of all the enzymes needed to digest cow’s milk. It’s clean, gorgeously rich stuff, and what’s more, we’re making cheese just at the time when the cows are eating that rapidly-growing springtime grass that seems to promote extraordinary healing. You’ll see the golden evidence in the pictures below.

making halloumi cheese

Compared to my cheese-making, even seeing this much milk at one time is remarkable. The walls of the vat are filled with hot water to slowly warm the milk.

making halloumi cheese

Meet Tali, who runs the dairy. She’s measuring and preparing rennet for when the milk reaches the correct temperature;

making halloumi cheese

Then stirring the rennet well in, just as I do with mozzarella and other cheeses.

making halloumi cheese

We clean the dairy extremely well in preparation, as we’ll need a sterile environment to culture the cheese.

making halloumi cheese

Isn’t the old cheese press gorgeous?

making halloumi cheese

Large, round cheese moulds are lined with a reusable cheese-cloth. A metal screen is also sterilised, ready for when it is needed to strain the whey from the curds.

making halloumi cheese

Tali has a good trick for checking if the vegetable rennet has set the milk: press a finger into the surface, then lift up – the curds should separate cleanly.

making halloumi cheese

We attach large metal blades to the mechanism to cut the curds. This is the same step in making mozzarella, when you slice the curds into cubes with a long knife.

making halloumi cheese

Gorgeous, chartreuse whey releases from the curds.

making halloumi cheese

While we’re between tasks the brine is made by measuring sea salt into a clean bin and filling it with water.

making halloumi cheese

Now the screen is fitted to the vat. Here we go! The next part is a bit like a fire brigade, only with whey. Luckily we had a bit of an international brigade of volunteers.

making halloumi cheese

Open the tap; catch the whey in a clean bucket;

making halloumi cheese

And pour it into another vat. This one will heat the whey.

making halloumi cheese

Scoop up the curds;

making halloumi cheese

Into the waiting cheese moulds.

making halloumi cheese

Fiddle with the cheese press, add weights, set it all up to press on the moulds.

making halloumi cheese

Whey will drain across the table and into waiting buckets. A treat for the pigs! Let’s go have lunch at the farm shop while we wait for it to press. I love the food there, grown on Plawhatch, the sister farm Tablehurst, and all over England.

making halloumi cheese

Pressed. Look at that.

making halloumi cheese

That is a cheese!

making halloumi cheese

For halloumi, there’s a few more steps. Having turned the cheeses out of their moulds, cut them up.

making halloumi cheese

Cut, and cut.

making halloumi cheese

Once it is cut you can see what an astonishing amount of cheese it is. Remember the hot whey?

making halloumi cheese

Drop the cheese into the vat of hot whey. We leave it there for awhile;

making halloumi cheese

Then lift the cheese out;

making halloumi cheese

Rub it well with sea salt;

making halloumi cheese

And send it off to chill.

making halloumi cheese

Once it is chilled, drop the cheese into the waiting brine. The sea salt will preserve the halloumi well, for a soft cheese. Tali recommends soaking the halloumi in water for a bit to draw out some of the salt before using it.

making halloumi cheese

Have you eaten halloumi? I adore it grilled, served with lots of vegetables. Absolutely delicious. Thank you, Old Plawhatch!

mrs beeton’s

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861, a guide to all facets of running the Victorian household.

mrs-beeton's-sweets

I love it particularly for its colour plates of an endless variety of beautiful dishes;

mrs-beeton's-household-utensils

For such beautiful little prints, and such fascinating style and language;

mrs-beeton's-electric-cooking

And for its illustrations and discussion of household tools, solutions, recipes, remedies. It’s an extraordinary bit of history to page through. I had a peek at Mrs Beeton’s apple turnover recipe, of course.

I love that she calls pastry, simply, paste. So it is! Patisserie.

mrs-beeton's-fruit

This is a 1906 edition of the book, first published in full in 1861. I’ve borrowed it from a friend and found it full of yellowed clippings and ads dating back from the 1920’s. Entrancing stuff.

mrs-beeton's-book

The book is available to read online, and for a bit of social history along with a look at Isabella Beeton’s life, there’s Sophie Dahl’s The Marvellous Mrs Beeton.

rosehip cordial

Last year we made a rosehip infusion, sweetened lightly with a little stevia, and used within a short time like you would fresh juice. This year we wanted to preserve rosehip cordial to use medicinally throughout the winter. Gathering rosehips to make a vitamin C-rich cordial was encouraged during wartime in Britain. We’re growing very fond of the tradition. We used a combination of rosehips, including apple roses like the ones Alÿs Fowler showed us. We’re so fond of nibbling round those fresh, but they were starting to go, so we hurried to collect a bowl of them.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Give the hips a rinse,

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Then remove the stems. Aren’t they just gorgeous?

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Chop them roughly. Keep in mind that the seeds are used for itching powder! You needn’t remove them though.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Toss them in a pot of boiling water using just less than double the volume of water as their weight – so if you have 400 grams of rosehips, use about 700ml of water. Bring it all to boil again, leave it to cool somewhat, and pour through a scalded cloth.

rosehip-5

Hang up your muslin or jelly bag full of rosehips and let them drip for a while, and repeat the whole process again. This time leave it to hang overnight.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Combine the infusions and measure them. The River Cottage Preserves recipe calls for 650 grams of sugar to about 1 litre of juice.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Slowly heat til the sugar is dissolved, then boil for a couple of minutes.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

I sterilise my cordial bottles in the dishwasher and if I can’t time it well to have warm bottles ready, I fill them with hot water while they’re waiting, then quickly pour the water out just before ladling in the hot syrup and corking them. Preserves says to use within 4 months. This won’t be a problem over here. Sterilise in a water bath if you want to keep it longer, and keep refrigerated once opened. We love a couple of splashes of rosehip cordial in a glass of water and we’re very much looking forward to having it all through the cold seasons.