Henry Homeyer: Eat local — from your backyard

By Henry Homeyer
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

For breakfast I often drink a green smoothie that includes a banana, kale, some OJ, half a lime, fresh ginger, fresh mint and water. It’s healthy, tasty and uses kale I grew.

I usually pick fresh ‘Winterbor’ kale from my garden until mid-December as even temperatures in the 20s don’t seem to bother it. All winter I have bags of frozen kale I can chop and add to my morning drinks – and winter stews.

Having a spare freezer – or more than one – is a wonderful way to keep eating from the garden all year. Here’s what I have in mine right now: tomatoes, peppers, green beans, broccoli, kale, strawberries, blueberries, leeks, apples for pies, peaches, applesauce and plum puree.

Tomatoes dominate the freezer. I freeze them whole, skins on, and make sauce or use them the way I would canned tomatoes. The skins come off easily – I just drop them into a pan of hot tap water for a couple of minutes, then rub the skins off. Of course you can leave the skins on, if you want.

Kale is a good winter veggie.

I also have homemade tomato sauce in the freezer, complete with onions, garlic, basil, oregano and other herbs. And then there are the bags of tomato paste I cook down from tomatoes that I cut up, puree in a blender, and boil down till very thick. I freeze the paste in ice cube trays, then transfer the cubes to zipper bags when frozen.

Freezing does take some work. I blanch kale, beets, broccoli, squash and green beans before I freeze them. That means I drop them in boiling water for a minute or so, put them in cold water, and then dry them well before freezing. The quick boiling kills the enzymes that cause aging, making for a better product. I don’t blanch tomatoes, peppers, fruit or leeks. But for best results it is good to eat those in year one, not year four or five.

The easiest way to keep food for eating all winter is to store it in a cool location. I have a cold basement and a cool area in the entry area of my house. Potatoes, carrots, kohlrabi and rutabagas store well in the basement with high humidity and temperatures in the 33 to 50 degree range.

When I have lots of root crops I store them in a cement block bin with a plywood lid. The bin is big enough for six 5-gallon pails. It keeps out the mice, holds in the humidity, and keeps the vegetables at a relatively constant temperature. I keep an indoor-outdoor thermometer sensor in it, so I can monitor the temperature from upstairs. If it gets too cold, I plug in an electric heat mat I also use for starting seedlings. I put a little moist sand in the bottom of each bucket to help with the humidity.

Excalibur dryer does a good job on cherry tomatoes and more.

Other veggies need low humidity and cool temperatures. Those include onions, shallots, garlic and winter squash. I keep them on a wooden rack I got from Gardeners Supply, their “orchard rack.”

I have that in the main part of the house where I have a wood stove – hence low humidity. But I keep them near the mudroom, which is unheated, so they stay cool. You can also keep squash under the bed upstairs in a spare bedroom with the heat off and the door closed.

Lastly, I dehydrate cherry tomatoes, hot peppers and apples. I find the drying process tends to concentrate flavors. I cut the cherry tomatoes in half, set the thermostat at 130 degrees, and bag them up when dry, but not brittle. Hot peppers I dry till brittle, and then grind them in my coffee grinder. That way I can add just a little zing to a dish, and avoid hot chunks. I grind the pepper seeds, too.

So here is a good winter stew made from my own veggies. You can add a pound of sausage or stew beef to this or leave it as a vegetarian dish. I do it both ways. If you use meat, brown it first in oil, then drain any excess oil and add the veggies.

First, chop 2 yellow onions coarsely and brown in a cast iron pot. Then add the root vegetables according to what you have and what you like: 5 medium carrots cut in rounds (about 2 cups), 1 cup rutabaga cut in ½ inch cubes, 1 cup kohlrabi peeled and cut in ½ inch cubes, ½ to 1 cup celeriac, finely chopped. If you have no celeriac, substitute celery, they are relatives with the same flavor. Potatoes will go in the stew at the end, as they tend to fall apart if cooked too long.

Kohlrabi ‘Gigante’ is a good winter keeper.

Next add 5 frozen tomatoes, skinned and coarsely chopped. If you don’t have your own, add a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, preferably organic. Add 3 to 4 cups water or broth, and perhaps a cup of apple cider. Add 1 to 2 cups chopped kale if you like kale. Simmer.

Garlic tends to burn easily if added with the onions, so add it after the liquid to avoid that. Use 1 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped fine.

Next add herbs, according to your supply – and your taste. I have frozen parsley, and chop a couple of tablespoons of it. I add fresh rosemary from a plant on the window sill, a nice sprig chopped fine. A tablespoon of Herbs de Provence from the Coop is good, too. Then I add some ground hot pepper to add some zing. Simmer.

Lastly I add 2 cups potatoes cut in ½ inch cubehs that have been boiled for 10 minutes in a separate pot. Drain, and add to the stew. Simmer another 10 minutes and serve. Enjoy!

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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