Saturday, November 28, 2009

Seasonal Eating - Feasting on Rutabagas

A big part of living sustainably is raising our own food. Cooking almost completely with seasonally available produce was a big adjustment for me in our first years here. One thing it did was to make me a more conscientious vegetable gardener, I really had to plan the gardens better.

One of the things I decided to plant a few years ago was rutabagas. I had been visiting some local farmer friends and they were overwintering rutabagas under row covers. I had never eaten them before and discovered they were delicious. Besides that, I really liked the name, Rooootaaabaaaaagaaa. They are especially delicious boiled and mashed with lots of butter and salt and pepper.

This year I actually began craving them as they came close to being ready to harvest. After several meals of them mashed with butter, salt and pepper it was time to do something different. I felt like trying a cream of rutabaga soup, and this is how I made it. Sorry for the vague measurements, I just improvised and eyeballed it.

Wash and cut your rutagabas into chunks, leaving the peel on. Boil till soft. Drain and set aside. Mix half milk, half cream,(or you can use half and half), you are aiming for the soup to be half rutabaga, half cream. Melt several tbs. butter in a fry pan and add 2 or 3 tbs. flour - vary this depending on the amount of liquid you are thickening - I had about 4 cups of liquid and used 3 tbs. flour. Mix and cook the flour in the melted butter, stirring constantly. After a few minutes, slowly add the milk mixture. Stir and cook over low heat until it thickens. Puree the rutabagas and combine with the milk mixture. Salt and pepper to taste and add some nutmeg. Thinly slice a leek and fry in butter till it softens. Add some sliced almonds to the leek and cook for a few minutes. Serve the soup warm garnished with the leek almond mixture.

We ended up with quite a bit of leftover soup, I made a lot for three people! I just mixed in the rest of the leeks and almonds and stuck it in the fridge. Today was the first full day with our new intern so the routine was being adjusted. Lunch time came on fast and I needed some inspiration. The soup cried out to be morphed into... something. Oh yeah! It looked kind of like mashed potatoes. And one of the best things to do with leftover mashed potatoes is to make potato pancakes. That was it! Rutabaga pancakes! Here's how I made those:

Scramble a large egg into a large bowl. Mix in your leftover soup. Add more salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add enough flour to make the soup mixture somewhat stiff, and add baking powder proportionally - I put about 3/4 cup flour to 2 tbs. baking powder in around 3 cups of leftover soup. Mix well. Heat some oil (I used olive oil) in a large fry pan. After the oil is hot, put about 1/4 cup of the batter in the pan and fry till golden brown, flip once and brown up the other side. Keep cooked cakes warm in the oven by placing them on a plate with paper towels to drain excess grease. These turned out great, crunchy/chewy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside. I served them with a warmed pearsauce, but applesauce or sour cream would do just as well. Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Strawberry Madness

Today I was working in the official strawberry bed pulling runners and picking off flower buds. Amazingly enough, the strawberries are flowering.

I acquired my strawberry plants several years ago at the Scottsville Amish auction. It is a huge horse drawn equipment auction held in the spring, with lots of other goodies being auctioned off and/or for sale. I had wanted strawberry plants for quite some time and bought a hanging basket of four plants. They gave me some tasty berries and spent the season in the pot. When late fall came I popped the four plants into one of the garden beds on the far side. Those four plants got pretty neglected the next year and proceeded to send out runners, runners and more runners. They threatened to take over that whole side of the bed. So I made another bed, an official strawberry bed, and transplanted out some of the runners, sold some and bartered with some. I left the unofficial bed - I’ll admit, I just don’t have the heart (or need the space) to get rid of them all. The unofficial bed occasionally gets out of hand, at which point I launch a runner ripping attack to keep it in check.

Now you may wonder why I have not, like many people who grow strawberries, just yanked them at the end of the season and planted new ones in the spring. Well you see, I got seduced by an idea.

There was this book that I read called "Ten Acres Enough". It was written anonymously by a man who farmed with his family in New Jersey in 1864 on ten acres. I identified with this guy since the farm they bought was really weedy and beat up. Using manure, manure tea and backbreaking labor he made the farm pay for itself and give his family a decent living and lifestyle. He grew peaches, strawberries, produce and blackberries and shipped them into the city. He prided himself on the quality of his fruit. He farmed with one horse and milked two cows. He had pigs and chickens. He utilized every acre of ground to its maximum advantage. I was totally captivated by this book. He claimed that strawberries were perennials and were capable of bearing almost indefinitely if they were taken care of properly. This appealed to my gardening bleeding heart and also to my pocketbook.

According to the Ten Acres Enough guy, the first year you clip any runners and all blooms so the energy of growth goes into the roots. Good enough. I did a decent job of clipping blooms and a fair job of keeping up with the runners. When our intern came, it wasn't too hard to keep up. After she left, every once in a while I would go and rip out the runners when they got too rambunctious. Over the summer, when it got dry, the strawberries got some kind of bug. They looked brown and crispy. I fretted, all that work and I was going to lose them. I sprayed some insecticidal soap on them once, and they still looked lousy, but things were so busy and they seemed to hang on. When the rain started back up, they came right back and looked great.

Today I was thrilled at how many flowers each plant had, and my mouth watered at the thought of strawberries and fresh cream in the spring when I would finally let them fruit. I wondered if all of that work was worth it, coddling these plants instead of starting out with a fresh set each spring. I decided, yes, it was worth it, because oddly enough, I had become rather fond of these strawberry plants, these tenacious leafy guerillas that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. And as I walked into the house I thought that that was a way worth emulating.