Friday, October 31, 2008

A Time to Every Purpose

Though we haven't reached the end of the calendar, this weekend finds us all at a turning of the year.

Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day all remind us life in its many forms comes to an end. Samhain, the old Celtic holiday, literally means "summer's end" and represents the last harvest as the plants in our gardens and farms die back in the face of frost and snow. And the religious feasts of the saints, celebrated in many countries, give us time to remember our loved ones who have died and to reflect on our own mortality. Even the end of Daylight Savings Time offers a tangible reminder that time marches on and night draws closer (at least for a little while).

Perhaps that seems too somber a topic, but let's not forget that, as every year proves, somehow, life goes on. One season ends, and another begins -- and while we may regret the passing of the old, the new has many pleasures to share with us as well.

A time to plant, a time to reap...
A time to laugh, a time to weep...

The famous passage from Ecclesiastes (made popular in the song "Turn! Turn! Turn!") offers a good meditation at this time of year, when we finally have time after the summer's gardening, farming, and/or food preservation to sit back and rest. And before I jump back into all my projects at home this weekend, I want to share some thoughts and news from other folks -- some of the day-to-day "saints" whose work I appreciate so much -- that seem fitting at this time:

--Ed celebrates his sweet potato harvest and makes me think I should plant some next year
--Charlotte muses about canning jars and why she loves them so much
--Laura harvests her first chickens (it's graphic but very informative)
--Shasha reminds us that not everyone can afford good food and asks how we can help
--Sharon calls us all back into action to get ready for winter

The other news that has slowed me down here at week's end is having learned earlier this week that my fellow food lover, the beautiful and sweet Bri, has died following a second grueling round of breast cancer. Though I barely knew her, Bri brought a great deal of light and love and laughter into my life through the words she shared on her blog and her compassionate emails shared just with me. Her husband Marc posted a loving tribute on her blog and sent out a request to all her readers:

I have a favor to ask of all of her readers and friends around the globe.

Life is unpredictable and often shorter than we wish. When you sit down to eat, take a moment to savor the deliciousness that crosses your palate. Delight in each precious moment of joy, beauty and friendship. We never know how many we will be given.

For the love of all things scrumptious


His request dovetails perfectly with this turning of the year. Life is too short, and we don't know what we will be given. But that makes it all the more vital to focus on what is truly important, the things that often seem too simple or too easy to take for granted, and to "savor the deliciousness" that life brings our way.

There is a time to every purpose under heaven. I have to believe that. And while the work of life is never done, there is time to sit and enjoy the fruits of our labor, sharing it with open hands and open hearts, in "
blest communion, fellowship divine."

And may we all find a little rest this weekend.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When Will I CSA You Again?

I've loved our CSA share this year so much that I'm not able to give it up just yet!

Bless the Lady Bountiful, she had another good crop of vegetables to choose from this week and sent an email to a few of us in the CSA this morning, telling us what she had available. Not being one to pass up good food, I replied to her message and indicated that My Wonderful Parents and I would be back out for one last additional CSA pickup.

What a treat!

I wasn't able to get a good overview of the basket this week, but it was about as full as it's been all season:

--one pint of sweet onions (split)
--two eggplant (one for me, one for my folks)
--six sweet peppers (all for my folks)
--one bunch of cilantro, with the roots still attached (for me: I hope to pot it!)
--three pounds sweet potatoes (for my folks; I bought a separate 10 pounds)
--four bulbs garlic (split)
--three pounds Kennebec potatoes (for me; my folks bought a separate 7 pounds)
--one quart red tomatoes (split)
--one bunch pac choi (all mine!)
--one bunch carrots (split)
--one bunch leeks (for my folks)
--one butternut squash (for me)

The week's sheet included the usual cooking and storage tips, but the recipe for oven roasted Parmesan potatoes sounds especially delicious -- might have to try that!

After our usual visit, we loaded up the vehicle, and while My Wonderful Parents stayed warm (did I mention it snowed again today? lightly, but still...!), I took a walk out back with the Lady to inspect the progress made so far on the new pole barn.

The barn measures 60 feet long and probably 20 to 25 feet wide, with a 20-foot long pavilion on the far end. It will have room for them to store their equipment, to load their trucks with produce for market (and to park the trucks overnight), to keep their CSA produce fresh in a walk-in cooler, and -- under the pavilion -- to set up for CSA pickup days.

Given that the pavilion tucks nicely under a big tree and offers a vista of the whole farm, I am really looking forward to next year's CSA and spending some time out here!

When we got too chilled, we headed back, crossing paths with the remaining hen (destined for its own harvest tomorrow).

I really appreciate the intricacies of the farm and the way all the pieces fit together like this -- everything has its place and its time
. And though I'm sorry to see the season end for us all, I'm ready for the next phase of the year and will look forward to next year's growing season, too.

I'll CSA you again soon!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: October, Week 4

Now that the harvest season is mostly over around northeastern Ohio -- produce is still coming in, but with farmers' markets at the end of their year, it can be more difficult to find fresh local foods now -- it's finally time to do some more cooking.

The weather has been consistently cool lately (downright frigid at times), and we even saw our first snow today. Brrr! So coming home at the end of the workday and turning on the stove or oven to cook something warm and comforting for dinner has great appeal.

Over the past few days, I've managed to eat several almost entirely local meals. I just haven't bothered to take photos. But here's a sampling:

--an Indian feast for the Renaissance Man and a friend, featuring baingan bhartha with CSA eggplant, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, and garlic along with local butter and cream; spiced CSA potatoes with homegrown kale; and coriander-cilantro flatbreads with CSA cilantro, homegrown coriander (cilantro seeds), and local spelt flour

--a fry-up of CSA potatoes (shredded), spinach from the farmers' market, and local eggs

--buckwheat pancakes with local buckwheat and spelt flours, milk, egg, and butter

--and tonight, eggplant parmesan with CSA eggplant, topped with a fresh sauce of CSA tomatoes and garlic plus local spinach; steamed market broccoli drizzled with local butter; and homemade wheat-spelt hazelnut bread

Add to those meals the occasional local cider or a dessert of delicious pumpkin pie or leftover Indian pudding, and you can understand why I've been so content to cook and eat lately.

I still have plenty of fresh local produce sitting around -- I confess, it's all a silently nagging reminder that I haven't spent enough time in the kitchen lately -- so I'm sure I'll be coming up with some other good local eats soon.

There's still time to head out and pick up local foods that will keep, like potatoes, squash, onions, garlic, and apples. But as we head into winter, you'll want to think outside the box a little for local foods. You'll also want to take some time this winter to look around for other sources of local foods, either for next year's growing season or for staples that can be bought year round.

This would also be an excellent time to start thinking about next year's garden or even starting some seeds indoors right now. I'm hoping to plant some kale seeds in a pot this weekend to have fresh greens by the holidays (I hope!).

In the meantime, enjoy the last of the variety from the local farmers' market -- or the continuing bounty, if you're lucky enough to live near a year-round market -- and keep stocking up.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Not Just a Country Pumpkin

I'm pretty lucky. I may not have thought so when I was growing up, but I was lucky to get a solid kitchen training from the Chef Mother. No matter how much I might have fussed then, I'm awfully glad I know how to make a wide variety of recipes and how to make the best use of the food I buy.

Not everyone is that fortunate, I know. But I'm always happy to pass along what was taught to me. And if I get to enjoy some of the end results... well, even better!

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've mentioned before that the Renaissance Man, a man of many talents and far-reaching intellectual pursuits, is not a cook. He wasn't taught, and beyond making very basic dishes for himself, he hasn't generally attempted to expand those skills. Don't get me wrong, he's very capable with some techniques (roasting squash, baking cornbread, opening cans) -- but he also has a pantry that desperately needs to be cleaned out because he doesn't usually venture too far beyond his tried-and-true classics.

He's willing to try, though, and lately he has apparently set some goals for himself. First he asked me for some basic bread recipes so that he could try baking breads on his own. Then, he decided -- after eating a pumpkin pie bought at the local grocery -- that he needed to learn how to make pie. Being all too happy to help someone develop new skills (especially when he has done the same for me), I offered him one of my CSA pie pumpkins, one of my glass pie pans, and my coaching.

Since he decided that he wanted to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, we made it our weekend project. Yesterday, he baked the pumpkin, and once it had cooled, he scooped out the flesh and mashed it. Today, he made the crust under my close supervision (including the Chef Mother's never-fail trick for flaky crusts: ice water) and trimmed it to the pie pan.

After just a quick show-and-tell on my part, he fluted the edge of the crust quickly and beautifully. Then we set the pan in the refrigerator while we took a breather and ran errands.

When we returned, he mixed the pumpkin puree with the remaining ingredients -- deciding that he could live with a bit of stringiness in the batter if it meant he didn't have to pull out the food processor or blender and smooth it all out.

And really, in the long run, that didn't really matter.

As soon as I pulled the pie out of the oven, I could tell that he had successfully completed his project. It looked absolutely professional.

It tasted pretty amazing, too, especially with the homemade whipped cream I contributed to the experiment. (Can you tell that we couldn't wait for the pie to cool? Look at that cream melt!)

The pie was a huge success. The pumpkin filling retained its pumpkin taste, but pleasantly blended with sugar and spice, and the crust was perfectly flaky and melted in the mouth. Upon finishing his piece, the Renaissance Man mused that in comparison to this from-scratch pie, there wasn't really much difference between a store-bought pie and a pie made with a pre-made crust and filling from a can -- the from-scratch pie was so superior.

So who says you can't learn something new? We can all stretch beyond what we were taught growing up, and we can all share in the joys of the kitchen.

But you can't all have that pie. Sorry! (Boy, was it good!)

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Market Report: 10/25/08

It must be time for the farmers' market to close up shop for the year.

It makes me terribly sad to admit that, but given the chilly and damp weather this morning -- along with the scarcity of farmers on the square -- I'd say the harvest season is about over.

I arrived at the market early so that I had plenty of time to visit with the remaining farmers (and to share home-baked pear scones with them) before we said good-bye for the season.

The Gentleman Farmer and his eldest son manned their farm booth today as the Lady Bountiful was at home caring for their sick daughter. Their faces lit up when I handed them the treats, and we talked a good bit while I settled on a small butternut squash, a small spaghetti squash, a pint of small onions, and a trio of red peppers.

I also enjoyed visiting with the Cheerful Lady, and Handyman Joe and I got in our last razzing of each other for 2008. I walked away from their table with two small heads of broccoli and a lot of cookies. (Yes, I paid for it all -- in more ways than one!)

And on the way out of the square, I picked up sweet potatoes and a beautiful head of cauliflower from the Amish Farmer. (I thought about getting a head of cabbage, but I just don't see when I would have time to cook with it this next week.)

It was a fairly small haul for me at the market, but at this time of year, I'm generally well set on produce storage and don't need much more. And I certainly didn't want to overload my backpack as I hiked home.

So it's farewell to my favorite farmers for another year. Thanks to all of them, I know I will still eat very well over the winter.

And I hope to see them all back next year!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Am I Pudding You On the Spot?

Now that CSA season is over (sniff!) and my food preservation projects have been wrapped up, I'm getting back into the rhythm of cooking meals and baking wholesome treats. (Finally!)

To celebrate that fact, I decided to invite a couple people over for a dessert night -- two of the students from work who have been stressing over their senior projects lately. And since the one student was She Who Cannot Be Labeled, I decided to make... pudding.

In fact, two pudding recipes demanded to be made for the occasion: an Indian pudding simmered in the slow cooker, and a bread pudding baked in the oven.

The Indian pudding is an old American recipe, using cornmeal (or "Indian meal") in place of the flour that was so scarce for early colonists. It proved to be a wonderful, warming dessert that showcased plenty of local foods: cornmeal, butter, eggs, milk, sorghum molasses, and my oven-dried raisins.

Bread pudding also has a long history and exemplifies the frugality of the traditional housewife. Since it's generally made with old, stale bread (especially crusts), I filled this pan with the last slices and heels of the wheat-hazelnut bread I made last weekend. I also added peeled and diced pears, found in my CSA share a few weeks ago and now at the peak of ripeness, along with local butter, eggs, and milk.

The students appeared on my doorstep in the dismally rainy and chilly dark this evening, and I welcomed them with spicy fragrances wafting from the kitchen. They each loaded up on both kinds of pudding as well as a cup of local cider, and once She Who Cannot Be Labeled stopped giggling over the repeated use of the word "pudding" (I admit, I like to torment her about that), she agreed that this provided an excellent and delicious break from her studies.

(I will add that shortly after the students left, the Renaissance Man stopped by for his share of the dessert feast, and he agreed with the favorable reviews. And his pudding wasn't even as warm!)

On such a chilly and damp evening, something warm and spicy and old-fashioned really does hit the spot, and I think I should probably make the Indian pudding again sometime as a pleasant change of pace from cookies for dessert.

In fact, I'm pudding it on my list right now.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Just To CSA You One More Time...

While it's true that our regular CSA season wrapped up last week, the Lady Bountiful held out a small glimmer of hope that she might have additional produce this week to put together a few extra shares. Once she had a good look at her harvest this morning, she dropped me an email to let me know what she had available.

I checked with My Wonderful Parents, who immediately said yes, let's go! And I wrote back to the Lady Bountiful, telling her we'd be there, check in hand for another week's share.

She had the produce all laid out beautifully in one of her bins, waiting for us, and had I had my camera with me, I'd have gotten a photo of her excellent handiwork. As it is, you'll have to settle for a glimpse of my portion of the share:

--five small sweet onions (3 for me, 2 for my folks)
--two eggplant (split)
--four sweet peppers (split)
--one pint Brussels sprouts (mine, all mine!)
--one pint poblano peppers (split)
--four bulbs garlic (split)
--three pounds Red Pontiac potatoes (mine)
--one quart red tomatoes (split)
--one quart green beans (for my folks)
--one head cabbage (for my folks)
--one quart pears (split)
--three small kohlrabi (split)
--one pint tomatillos (split)
--one bunch leeks (for my folks)

After that, I followed the Lady Bountiful out back of the house to see where they had cleared space for a new pole barn. This small barn will give them a large designated space for storing and cleaning their harvest each week (coolers and vehicle bays included), for sorting everything for CSA pickups, for people to visit while they pick up their CSA produce, and for the family to park their loaded vehicles overnight before heading to market. It sounds like they've thought through everything and will start soon!

Though the Lady and I both love to talk food, we couldn't stay out very long before the chill winds started whipping around us. So she headed back to the house while I climbed into my folks' vehicle and headed home.

Of course, now I have to figure out what to do with yet more tomatillos! But I'm delighted to have a little more good food as I gear up for cold-weather dining this week.

I'd better get cooking!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: October, Week 3

So you spent your summer buying up wonderful local produce, going home, and blanching it for freezing or drying. You've lined your shelves with jars of canned fruits, tomatoes, jams, pickles, and relishes. And maybe you've even started a batch of sweet liqueur to warm your stomach come winter.

Now what?

Well, I hate to tell you this, but your work isn't really done. The hard part is, yes, but preserving produce is only the first step.

Now it's time to devote some attention to storage issues, to guarantee that all the food you put up for winter lasts until you're ready to use it.

I know, that sounds like a no-brainer. If you've taken all the necessary precautions in preserving the food, it should last, right? Right. But it doesn't hurt to check just to make sure that something unforeseen hasn't happened to spoil your plans (and your food).

Remember the mishap I had with my pickle jars? That's the first time I've had a whole batch of jars un-seal on me, and I've been doing this for years. But I may well have stored them in a less-than-optimal place or changed my procedures just enough to cause a problems.

So this week, take the time to check all your jars. Make sure the lids are still concave, indicating a good seal. Make sure you don't have a sticky trail down the side of the jar, which could also indicate a less than perfect seal.

And when you're done with the jars, check the produce you still have sitting around. Some of the fall vegetables I've been stocking up lately -- potatoes, onions, squash -- can be stored as is in a cool, dry, and preferably dark space, but if I've missed a cut or blemish in the vegetable, they could slowly rot even in optimal storage conditions. So check those, too.

Now, in checking on those items, say you find a couple of onions that are getting a little soft in spots. You can still use most of the rest of the onion, but you have to do it now. What do you do, short of using them in dinner?

At this point in the season, if I have any room left in the freezer, I might take the time to use some of my last or fading produce and to make purees. I hit upon this last year as I had a surplus of onions, garlic, and hot peppers that needed to be used before they rotted, so I chopped them and pureed them together in the food processor, scooped them into muffin papers, and froze them in small hockey-puck disks. Since so many curries begin with a saute of these vegetables, I had essentially set myself up with several dinners' worth of jump starts.

You can modify this kind of puree to the kind of dishes you make the most. If you make a lot of Asian dishes, you might puree together onion or scallions, garlic, and ginger; for Italian dishes, you might combine onion and garlic with basil, oregano, or other herbs.

The bonus to this kind of preparation is that the sauces or dishes you make with them end up a little smoother because you've started with such small pieces of vegetable. (That also saves you some space in the freezer!)

Think about other produce you have yet to use: does this look like the basis of a sauce or a soup or another dish? At this point in the season, most of us have had a surfeit of tomatoes and may be running out of ideas for what to do with them. So why not puree them, especially with fresh herbs?

I usually end up with extra second-crop cilantro around this same time, so I like to puree tomatoes and cilantro together and freeze them in cubes, again for curries and Indian-spiced soups. You could do the same with basil to give yourself a jump start on spaghetti sauce.

And while we're talking herbs, need I remind you about pesto? It's an incredibly easy and tasty way to preserve herbs -- and you can make different kinds of pesto with different herbs. I've used a cilantro pesto in Thai cooking, and I imagine a parsley pesto might brighten up a vegetable soup come winter. These sauces freeze well, too, especially when you use ice cube trays to spoon out the pesto in serving-size cubes.

Frozen purees might seem like a silly addition to the preservation pantheon, but the time they'll save you later on is invaluable. Experiment with what vegetables work well in this format -- I haven't tried many, but I know that roasted and pureed eggplant freezes well. Fruits can also be pureed and frozen, if need be, though what fruits are left at this time of year (apples and pears, primarily) can usually last a while in cold storage.

Winter's coming all too soon, so before you settle back and say you're all done with food preservation, do take a little time this week to check on your stores and to see what you might be able to simplify for use later on.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Knead a Little Dough?

It's difficult to ignore the world outside the door these days and to remain completely unaware of the economic crisis. Opinions vary wildly on the need for and the repercussions of the "bailout," on the housing crisis, on the shrinking credit situation, and on the possibility of an impending depression.

Even my favorite blogs have focused more attention of late on the current economy as it relates to food and the need to stay local, and Sharon's emphasis on food preservation and storage for World Food Day seems even more urgent this year. Other folks have turned their cooking skills to more basic dishes and have learned to make do with humble ingredients and traditional "peasant" fare.

Obviously, I can't escape the economic crisis at work as I hear of dwindling retirement accounts, tapped out budgets, and relatives of co-workers being laid off from their jobs. In the privacy of my office, though, even my current project in the archival files keeps my mind on today's economy as I leaf through pamphlets from the Depression and World War II that exhort housewives to make the most of their food rations and to save flour and fats wherever possible.

It's depressing, isn't it?

Maybe there's a reason, then, that the dishes we think of as "comfort food" tend to be so simple –- it's those simple dishes that get us through hard times and give us the nutrition we need to keep working and living and hoping for the future. Maybe that's why I pulled out a recipe and started making a dense but satisfying bread using the last of one bag of flour and part of another along with nuts leftover from a previous baking project.

And while the bread dough rose, I pulled together my notes from Sharon Astyk's book Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front to write a review for the Ethicurean. I've wanted to read Sharon's book for months, having become addicted to her blog and her profound but also amusing musings, and I found it to be every bit as straightforward and blunt -– yet uplifting -– as her blog writings (perhaps because the bulk of the book first appeared on her blog, though not so well organized).

Depletion and Abundance stresses preparation in many areas, with food preservation and storage being key areas of consideration. Reading Sharon's blog has helped me take a more conscientious approach to my annual food preservation work, inspiring me to develop a chart at the beginning of the year so that I could remember what kinds of preservation methods I wanted to use for what kinds of produce, and it helped me keep track of how much I was then able to put up for winter.

Granted, it's an imperfect system, as you can see I had to add a lot of notes about quantities and kinds of preserves, but it gives me something to work with over the winter, and I hope to improve my work chart for next year and to give myself target quantities for the most heavily used items.

In the current economic climate, I'm so glad I spent so much time this summer putting up vast quantities of food -– and that I still have enough money to be able to stock up on other food items, like nuts and grains (still to be picked up). I'm confident that by preserving so much food, I will still be able to cook nutritious meals for myself and to share with others (like My Wonderful Parents and the Renaissance Man). And I am really and truly delighted that my preservation efforts –- and my talking about them in this space –- have inspired others to put away a good bit of food for themselves and their families for the lean months.

I can't come over and put up lots of food for all of you, but if what I write gives you the courage to do it for yourself, all the better! And if you have taken the additional step of involving family or friends in your food preservation –- whether in sharing the work or in gathering produce and sharing the results –- my hat is off to you. You're doing the most important thing of all: building a community where each person contributes skills and goods to the benefit of all.

All of that is worth more than the billions that went to failing corporations, and though it may not pay the bills, it helps us all find a way toward a more sensible and sustainable economy of the kind Sharon describes in her book.

Maybe that's the kind of dough we all knead.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Tomatillo?

There are so many wonderful aspects to purchasing a CSA share that it seems almost, well, ungrateful to harbor any complaints. And I admit, my complaint is truly tiny -- not to mention a problem of my own making.

But when faced with a bountiful harvest of so much good food, I can only do so much with it all. I really don't like to waste any of it, and I think I've managed to lose very little of what I've brought home. Even with sharing the produce with My Wonderful Parents, I have, on rare occasion, ended up neglected small portions of vegetables.

And when some of those vegetables are ones I haven't fully incorporated into my cooking or preserving repertoire, at some point I'm at a loss to know what to do with them.

Take tomatillos and poblanos. (Please!)

It's not that I don't like them. So far the uses I've found for them have been very good -- I just haven't been able to use or store them as readily as other produce.

That's not a fault of the Lady Bountiful (and Lady B, don't you dare think so!). It's not even really a fault so much on my part as I have really challenged myself to try new recipes with these ingredients. After a while, though, I just can't make any more salsa!

What was I to do, then, when our last CSA pickup included yet more of both items? Since my food preservation projects are down to almost none, I knew I'd have time to cook this weekend -- but what?

I started with the idea of a Southwestern-influenced soup made from roasted butternut squash, pureed with homemade vegetable stock and combined with a saute of onion, poblano pepper, spices, tamari, and oven-dried corn.

That was easy enough, I thought. But the tomatillos?

That's where my friend and Ethicurean colleague Janet (over at FoodPerson) comes in. She recently ended up with a surplus of green tomatoes from her sister, and not only was she bold enough to try a chutney from them, she also baked a cake. Yes, you read that right -- a cake, made with green tomatoes and tasting something like a zucchini cake.

And then it occurred to me: tomatillos, related to ground cherries, could easily fit a similar sweet role. And as I thumbed through my recipe book, I found a recipe for a chocolate banana bread that not only could be adapted for tomatillos but could also be spiced to fit the Southwestern theme of the soup.

So that's what I made: a chocolate-laced quick bread with tomatillos, cinnamon, chili powder, and cloves -- a semi-sweet, slightly tangy, and rich dessert after a deeply savory and thick squash soup. What a warm treat for a chilly evening!

Who knew? Thanks, Janet, for the inspiration -- and thanks, Lady B, for the excellent produce I'm finally learning to use properly!

And though there's many a thing I'd like to tell you, I'll just stick with the recipe.

Coco-Tillo Bread

The original Cocoa-Banana Loaf recipe came from the book Baking by Flavor and is really pretty easy to throw together, though it definitely doesn't hold back on the good stuff. I made some adjustments since I only had three tomatillos left, but it all worked out well and resulted in a rich, chocolatey, not-too-sweet bread with just enough spice to create character (not to burn your mouth). It may sound strange, but it's really quite good!

1 c spelt flour
3/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c Dutch cocoa
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 lb. (8 T or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 chopped tomatillos pureed with 1/2 c plain yogurt

Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa, spices, and salt. In a small mixing bowl, toss the chocolate chips with 1 1/2 tsp of the sifted mixture.

Cream butter in a large bowl. Add brown sugar and mix in well. Beat in eggs, one at a time, blending well. Blend in the vanilla extract, then add the tomatillo-yogurt puree; this may make the batter look slightly curdled, but it’s OK!

Add the sifted mixture in two additions, mixing just until the particles of flour are absorbed. Allow the batter to sit for half an hour for the spelt flour to absorb whatever liquid it will.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir in the chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan, mounding it slightly in the center.

Bake the loaf for 1 hour, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the loaf withdraws clean. Cool completely in the pan on a rack before slicing.

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I Got Plenty of Nuttin'

A few years ago, I was astonished and delighted beyond measure to discover that a couple of older ladies had home-grown walnuts for sale at the farmers' market.

Now, if you know me, you know I am nuts about nuts, and finding a local source for one of my favorite nuts thrilled me. Unfortunately, I never saw them again after that year, and though my friend Sojourner has kindly sent me some pecans from a farm local to her, I have not been able to source my nuts locally.

Last year, in my desperation, I did an Internet search for nuts in Ohio and stumbled across a grower not too far from me. I contacted him too late in the season, but he promised to add me to his mailing list for this year.

Just last week, I finally heard from The Nut Farmer and received a list of the nuts he had available and the cost per pound (shelled and in shell). He had butternuts, heartnuts, hazelnuts, black walnuts, hickory nuts, and a couple of cross varieties -- but his Persian walnut crop provided nothing of substance this year.

Still, it was enough to set my mouth watering, so I shot an email back to him with my order and a request for directions so that I could head down and pick them up (and save on shipping).

I persuaded My Wonderful Parents to join me on a lovely country drive to take advantage of the sunny fall glow today, and we wandered down the road to the Nut Farm. The farmer, his wife, and their lively squirrel-chasing dog greeted us enthusiastically, and I traipsed off with the Nut Farmer to collect my boxes.

He demonstrated how best to crack the nuts (since I had bought them in shell), especially the hard-shelled butternuts, and he offered samples of the fresh nuts to us all. Aside from the hazelnuts, I hadn't tried any of the varieties I had requested, but I loved them all!

I took some time to talk with the Nut Farmer, who explained that he had been planting, grafting, and harvesting these nut trees since he retired in 1988, and he did most of the work himself (aside from the gathering help from their grandchildren). He talked about some of the problems he faces: the hickory trees are too tall to spray, so he has to harvest them quickly to avoid future infestations of the hickory weevil. And his butternuts are among the last in the country -- 90% of the nation's butternuts have succumbed to a canker, and though his trees show this canker, they are still producing good nuts, and he's the only one in the country to sell them. (Sorry, he's already sold out!)

It proved to be an educational visit for me, and I thanked him profusely for his time before climbing back into the car and heading home with my boxes.

I did share plenty of each kind of nut with My Wonderful Parents, in thanks for their transportation (and for the gallon jug of local apple cider vinegar they brought me!), but I saved the bulk for my winter baking. Here you see a box of hazelnuts on top (part of the 5 lbs. I bought) and the butternuts below (the remains of 10 lbs.).

The hicans, on the left, are a cross between hickory nuts and pecans, and though they taste much like pecans, they have a delightful sweet husky subtlety that seduce your tastebuds. (Think of them as the Lauren Bacall of nuts.) The heartnuts, on the right, are related to walnuts and have a lighter, slightly more buttery taste.

I'll wait until I'm ready to use them before cracking most of the nuts open, but you can see them here: clockwise from upper left, hicans, heartnuts, and hazelnuts. (I wasn't able to crack a butternut on my own.) I'm keeping them in cold storage (my north-facing studio room, which has the floor vents closed) until I'm ready to get crackin'.

Nut until then!

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Market Report: 10/18/08

Who turned off the heat? I actually had to turn the furnace on this morning (low, of course) to take a bit of chill off the air at home, and I bundled up well under light layers before hiking to the farmers' market.

After picking up a hot drink at the pastry shop, I visited the few hardy farmers and vendors out on this sunny but frigid morning. Yes, the crowd is dwindling again, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to let them go for the year!

The Lady Bountiful and the Gentleman Farmer still -- three months after the first! -- have okra, and they also had a second crop of both wax and green beans to sell along with the remaining tomatoes and eggplant and the continuing fall crops. I enjoyed talking with the GF for once (I usually have a long chat with the Lady, but she kept busy with customers), and he agreed to set aside some wax beans for My Wonderful Parents since I knew they'd be by later. For myself, I bought from them a quart of green beans, two pints of lovely little Fairy Tale eggplant, and a bunch of Swiss chard.

Moving on, I shared greetings with the Goat Lady and the Old Man of the Orchard before spending lots of time talking with the Spelt Farmer. She had large bundles of gorgeous carrots along with enormous daikon, bags of fingerling potatoes, fennel stalks, and her usual array of spelt products. I ended up choosing the carrots, a loaf of her fantastic focaccia, a spelt molasses cookie, and a small bag of spelt berries.

The Cheerful Lady teased me from the get-go -- not because I was running "late" but because she had "finally worked up the courage" to stop by to visit me with fresh cinnamon rolls -- and discovered I wasn't around. She did save the rolls for me, though, so I tucked those into my backpack along with a head of broccoli, a bag of spinach, a small bundle of rosemary, and two of her daughter's cookies.

After picking up a bunch of celery from the Amish Farmer, I stopped across the way to visit with the Madcap Farmer and to purchase some of the luscious fall raspberries he had for sale.

By the time I had wandered around to chat with everyone (and stepped across the street to cash a check at the bank), I had spent about an hour and a half downtown. But as I wandered through again on my way home, I bumped into My Wonderful Parents -- and then had to make the rounds again with them in tow!

We stopped first at the Cheerful Lady's stand so that my folks could pick up their half-turkey from her, along with a bag of spinach and one of her delectable little rhubarb coffeecakes. They also collected their wax beans from the Gentleman Farmer, along with some colored peppers, and they also succumbed to the Spelt Farmer's carrots and focaccia. (Hey, I get my good taste honestly!)

Even though their visit was considerably shorter than mine, I ended up spending two hours at the market -- surely a new record (not counting the time I got roped in to help)!

But why not? Last week will be the last for this year's farmers' market, and then I'll have to wait months again until I can see them all.

So despite the cold, I'll hang on to their warmth as long as I can.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? Week 20

Well, here we are, at the end of this year's CSA season. And what a wonderful experience it has been!

Though the weather has been cooler lately and our farmers have had to worry more often about potential frosts, we still found an enormous bounty of beautiful produce waiting for us today, with some new additions:

The earlier crop of beets hadn't done well, but the Lady Bountiful persisted, and for this last week we were able to pick up a bunch of them. My Dear Papa and I were happy to split them: he loves the greens, and as I had planned to go home and roast the Chioggia beets still sitting in my refrigerator, I was more than happy to take these to add to the mix.

The other delightful surprise in this week's basket was the discovery of sweet potatoes, with their vivid skins ranging from deep orange to almost magenta. Just seeing this box of seconds made me hungry!

And though we didn't take this enormous sample home, we did get two very large sweet potatoes (totaling 3 pounds) to share between us. (This one almost looks like a musical instrument, and I'm sure it could feed an entire village. Wow!)

What we did take home was impressive enough:

--one winter squash (acorn; for the folks)
--one box of four small sweet onions (two for the folks, two for me)
--one dark and one light eggplant (dark for them, light for me)
--three sweet green peppers (all for the folks)
--one bunch celery (for the folks)
--one box poblano peppers (one for them, the rest for me)
--four bulbs garlic (two for them, two for me)
--three pounds Red Pontiac potatoes (split)
--one pint tomatillos (split)
--one quart red tomatoes (split)
--one pint yellow tomatoes (for me)
--one bunch leeks (for me)
--one bunch Swiss chard (for My Dear Papa)
--three pounds sweet potatoes (split)
--one bunch beets (split as noted above)
--one bunch cilantro (for me)
--one bag basil (for me)
--three gourds (for me)

I lingered to talk with Tara when she arrived and to arrange our upcoming outing, and then once everyone else had picked up their produce, I had a chance to talk with the Lady Bountiful and the Gentleman Farmer and to thank them for all their hard work over the year. They've really made a success of this CSA this year, and they hope to expand it next year, with additional pick-up days.

I also asked about extra produce and was able to purchase another pie pumpkin, two small butternut squash, two and a half pounds sweet potatoes (seconds of all sizes), and a small spaghetti squash (so don't worry, Tara, I still got one!). I'm sure I'll still be able to get more at the farmers' market, but I feel relieved to have more of those put away for winter now since they're so useful in the cold months.

Whatever will we do now, with no weekly newsletters to tell us of the happenings on the farm? Will we have to wait until next year to see the new pole barn that will house the CSA pickups? (Possibly!) What will we do without our weekly outing, and our weekly load of gorgeous and delicious produce? However shall we live?

I know, I'm getting a little dramatic here (a little???), but our CSA has become such a wonderful part of our routine this year and such a good way for My Wonderful Parents and me to spend time together that we'll just have to find something to fill the gap until next year's CSA begins.

So here's a big public thank you! to the Lady Bountiful, the Gentleman Farmer, and all their perpetually smiling and helpful children for all their hard work, good cheer, and generosity this year. A big thanks also goes to My Wonderful Parents for the transportation to our pickup -- and for sharing their memories and thoughts as we traveled down the road together.

And we'll just wait and CSA what happens next year!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: October, Week 2

After you've covered all the usual methods of food preservation -- and worn yourself out with months of hard work to put food up for winter -- there are still some other techniques you might find worthwhile.

The method that seems to surprise people the most is steeping fruit in alcohol and making a liqueur by adding a simple syrup.

Why is this such a surprise? I'm not inventing something new here. For centuries, people have added ripe fruit to wine or brandy or other spirits as a way to preserve an abundant harvest. And though making liqueur is slightly more involved than that, it isn't difficult and doesn't take much time of active preparation.

Liqueurs consist of three basic parts:

--fruit (and spices) for flavoring
--vodka (or brandy)
--a simple sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water) for sweetening

The recipes I use the most come from a little booklet I found at Lehman's (also available as a PDF) called Making Liqueur for Gifts, and they are made by one of two methods:

--Steep the fruit in the alcohol for an extended period, strain, add sugar syrup, allow flavors to blend, strain, bottle; OR
--Steep the fruit in the alcohol and sugar syup for an extended period, strain, bottle.

Very easy! You don't have to fuss with special equipment since all you need are clean jars and lids, a saucepan to make the syrup, and a funnel for straining.

Late in the summer, I decided to use some of the extra fruit I had found at the farmers' market to start two batches of liqueur: plum-cinnamon and pear-ginger (my all-time favorite). As you can see, the fruit is cut in large pieces, and in both cases I added the vodka, spices, and sugar syrup to the fruit from the start.

While the plum liqueur needs to steep until almost Thanksgiving, the pear-ginger was ready for the first straining after only three weeks. To strain the liqueur, I use a funnel with a piece of clean muslin or cheesecloth to catch some of the sediment from the bottle as I pour the liqueur into a clean jar. I add the fruit to the compost, wash out the fabric, recap the jar, and let the flavors blend for another few weeks.

After the second stretch of inactivity, the pear-ginger liqueur has taken on a rich amber hue, and it looks absolutely stunning when bottled. (You can get these nice green glass bottles at places like World Market, but I also look for liqueur bottles at antique and thrift stores, and I also recycle iced tea bottles for the purpose.)

This past week I bottled both the pear-ginger liqueur and the mead I had started weeks ago, and it warms my heart to know that comparatively little effort on my part has resulted in mildly alcoholic drinks to warm my throat and stomach come winter. (Neither are very potent, just pleasantly intoxicating.)

I'm not a heavy drinker by any stretch -- it can take me a couple months to go through a bottle of wine -- but I do enjoy turning local fruit into something special to sip with friends or on a quiet, mellow evening. I've tried different fruits and have found I most enjoy the pear-ginger, a cranberry-orange brew, hazelnut (very fine in homemade hot chocolate!), blueberry, and orange with coffee beans, but I've also tried peach, raspberry, and even strawberry in the past. The possibilities seem endless!

These homemade liqueurs also make good gifts for friends who appreciate a little tipple once in a while. My Opera-Loving Friends look forward to my different brews each year and provide me with useful feedback -- and they treat each little sample with great reverence, savoring a few sips on special occasions.

This method certainly won't become your most heavily-used way to preserve produce, but it does make a nice change of pace from canning!

Won't you drink to that with me?

Pear-Ginger Liqueur

1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 lb pears (Bartlett are best; avoid ones with cuts or bruises)
1 1/2 c vodka
3 large slices of candied ginger
2 cloves

Combine sugar and water in a small pan and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 to 4 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and syrup coats a spoon. Set aside to cool thoroughly.

Slice pears and place in two glass wide-mouth quart jars. Add vodka and spices, distributing evenly between the two jars. Divide the sugar syrup between the two jars. Stir gently and cover. Allow to steep for three weeks in a dark, cool, dry cupboard.

Strain liqueur into a clean jar, using a funnel and cheesecloth or muslin. Steep another 3 to 4 weeks, then strain again into final bottles.

Yields approximately 1 1/2 pints

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Making the Roast of Leftover Produce

It's astonishing how quickly my refrigerator fills up with produce.

Between farmers' markets on Saturdays, CSA pickups on Wednesdays, and the occasional garden visit, my fridge has the tendency to overflow with green things. And even though my social calendar hasn't overflowed in an equal fashion lately, I've been busy enough that I just haven't been able to keep up.

Thank heavens for the weekend! Now I finally have a chance to catch up...

After returning from the market this morning, I balanced my Saturday cleaning (laundry, etc.) with kitchen work. First I quartered a lot of tomatoes, scattered them in two small glass baking dishes, drizzled them with olive oil and lemon basil syrup and sprinkled them with salt and pepper, and slid them into the oven for a slow roast.

While those cooked, I breaded eggplant slices and slid a pan full of those into the oven to bake, too. After that, I made lunch: colcannon, an Irish potato dish using CSA potatoes, kale and carrots and scallions from my own garden, butter and yogurt for creaminess, and a bit of shredded local cheddar cheese to top it all off. Delicious!

By the time the eggplant came out of the oven, I had lunch made and had also found time to strain and bottle my nasturtium vinegar, now an amazing brilliant orange color.

Once I had finished lunch, the tomatoes proved to be done, so I pulled them out and slid a couple trays of herbs into the oven to finish drying (just for a few minutes, so they didn't get too crisp and dark).

I pureed the tomatoes with some roasted garlic and a bit of homemade vegetable broth in order to make a quick soup to have on hand for meals next week. (I also enjoyed a little dish of just a few warm roasted tomatoes with some crumbled goat cheese melting into them. Divine!)

Next, it was time to roast the tomatillos with onion and part of a poblano pepper, making a savory, soft mix of vegetables to set aside for dinner.

I had originally thought to make corn crepes and fill them with the tomatillo mixture. But I didn't have much of the roasted vegetables to fill more than one crepe, and I was out of milk and eggs, so I switched gears and made cheddar cheese grits, topped them with steamed green beans, and then combined the roasted tomatillo mix with plain yogurt and cumin for a savory topping. The Renaissance Man, who came by for dinner, thought it was a pretty good result for an off-the-cuff experiment!

And with support like that, how could I fail to give him dessert? Since I got pears in my CSA share a couple of weeks ago, I've been saving a few to make the pear-hazelnut torte I fell in love with two years back. I love how the cake batter puffed up a little in the middle where the pears didn't meet, and pushed up the hazelnut-sugar streusel for a little cap. So tasty!

I've still got plenty of produce in the refrigerator, but that's all I could manage for today, and it gets me a head start on next week.

So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make the most of the rest of my weekend!

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Market Report: 10/11/08

The cool sunshine that greeted me as I headed down to the farmers' market this morning highlighted reddening leaves and fading blossoms. I do love fall, and I so enjoy how the different light creates a whole new world in passing.

I ran a few brief errands on the way to the square and popped into the Hungarian pastry shop for a little smackerel of something as well as to say hello to the Pastry Lady, but I soon made my eager way over to visit the farmers.

The Lady Bountiful had help from the Gentleman Farmer himself today instead of one of their children (the other Saturday market they attend is closed for the year now), so I enjoyed the chance to talk with them a little more as I cast an eye over their produce. I ended up buying two more of their lovely little pie pumpkins, a box of small onions, and some of the Lady's excellent beeswax hand cream.

Among the other farmers I stopped to chat with were:

--the Maple Syrup Folks, who gladly parted with a quart of local maple syrup to fill my pantry
--the fellow from the Orchard, though I didn't buy anything from him
--another new baker, who had chocolate-drizzled pretzel rods that I couldn't resist
--the Sheep Farmer, whose parsnips and carrots also called my name
--the Cheerful Lady, who I paid for a reserved half of a turkey for My Wonderful Parents' Thanksgiving table; she also had comfrey plants, so I bought one for the herb garden
--the Fiddlin' Farmer, who had a truckload of bittersweet, one of the Chef Mother's favorite seasonal decorations

I lingered for well over an hour, not minding the chill in the morning air, and enjoyed the company of all these good people.

Only two more weeks to go -- and it's been such a marvelous market year!

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Green Space

Though the nights have grown a little chilly lately, we still haven't had a serious frost. (Well, the Lady Bountiful has reported frosts on her farm, but I haven't had any in my gardens.)

So when I thought I would have a lot of clearing to do in the garden when I stopped by today, I was pleasantly surprised to find the remaining vegetables still growing.

True, the tomatoes have only put out a handful more green fruit, hardly worth mentioning, but their neighbors are flourishing. The carrots have finally hit their stride and are growing nicely, though they haven't gotten too big. The herbs in the area -- parsley, sage, and oregano -- have also grown lush, so I picked some of them to dry.

The Southern Belle had picked all of the kale for me two weeks ago, but since she left the stems, a second crop has appeared, so I picked even more of the tender leaves. (I do love kale!)

Two kinds of lettuce apparently reseeded themselves before I had a chance to gather any seed, so their lime-green leaves make a brilliant and fortuitous addition to the garden!

On top of all that, I harvested a sizable amount of chickweed (growing under the nasturtiums) and stinging nettle (under the tomatoes), and I pulled a few small scallions as well.

The Absent-Minded Professor has yet to set up a compost bin for us, but it looks like we still have some time left before we'll really need to clear the garden.

And we're already making plans for next year...

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bake In the Groove

Can you believe we're already through almost a third of October? Only lately have I started to relax, to unfurl after weeks on end of food preservation, gardening, and constant activity. What a relief.

To celebrate this shift in the seasons, I felt it was time to bake again. And since I can now pick up gallon jugs of delicious, fresh, local apple cider at the Orchard, I knew it was time to pull out my ginger-molasses cookie recipe (with local sorghum molasses) and whip up a batch to share with friends and the students at work. (Yes, they loved the combination as much as I do!)

But it's also time for me to pick up pen (or keyboard) again. You've all been so gracious in expressing your appreciation for what I've been able to write this summer, but I've also felt like I haven't covered everything I wanted to tell you. I've also felt way behind on sharing things over at the Ethicurean.

Last week, though, I took a day off work and attended the Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit in Columbus, and my report on the day is now up over at the Ethicurean. I don't claim to have understood everything I heard, but I did learn a great deal and had my enthusiasm for farming and local foods reignited by some of the new projects going on across the state. I brought home plenty of handouts to read and absorb more deeply, and I even enjoyed the afternoon snack at the summit: some of my favorite local potato chips!

There's still plenty of food preservation to catch up on, and there's a good deal of baking I hope to do soon, so this brief respite won't last.

But it's good to be back in the groove...

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? Week 19

October is getting off to a cool start around here, and though we had a gloriously sunny weekend, we're back to grey skies and drizzles. Yep, here's fall!

And while it seems like the warm weather is slipping away all too easily, I'm not sure what I'll miss more -- that, or the weekly trips out to our CSA farm for produce pickup. We're at week 19, with only one more week in the season and a big question mark over further produce, due to the steady drumbeat of incoming frosts.

But boy, you might not really know that based on today's selection!

The Lady Bountiful had laid out a gorgeous harvest feast for the eyes -- and stomach!

--one spaghetti squash (for my folks)
--two sweet onions (split)
--two eggplants (split)
--two green peppers (for my folks)
--one quart Fordhook lima beans (for My Dear Papa)
--one bunch celery (for my folks)
--one box poblano peppers (split)
--four bulbs garlic (split)
--one head cabbage (for my folks)
--three pounds Kennebec potatoes (split)
--one pint tomatillos (split)
--one quart tomatoes (split)
--one small box cherry tomatoes (for my folks)
--one bunch leeks (split)
--two small cucumbers (split)
--one small box of mixed summer squash (split)
--as much okra as we wanted! (split)

Yes, you'll notice that My Wonderful Parents took the bulk of the produce this week, but it seemed only fair: last week I took almost everything. Besides, My Dear Papa is feeling better and can eat a wider variety of foods again, and they just splurged on their Christmas present -- a small chest freezer -- so they can start loading that up with good produce or homemade meals.

And on top of all that, they took me home with them and (after a little bit of kitchen work) fed me homemade pizza topped with the Chef Mother's pesto, sauteed CSA eggplant and cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices, and fresh shredded basil. The perfect end to a CSA afternoon!

The Lady Bountiful handed out surveys today to get some feedback on their first CSA year, so I'll be sure to fill that in and return it soon. At this point, My Wonderful Parents and I are agreed that we would like to do this again next year if we can, as it's been such a wonderful experience for all of us. We've especially enjoyed getting to know the Lady Bountiful and the Gentleman Farmer better and to share in some of their joys, including their recent interview for an article (to appear next year, alas!). Our fellow CSA shareholder, Tara -- another wonderful part of our CSA experience -- took the photographs for the article and has a sweet and loving look at our farmers over on her web site that you must see!

I am really going to miss all of this when our share is done this year!

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: October, Week 1

Though it's easy to think of autumn as a slow march to winter, with days growing shorter and progressively colder, I'd like to propose that we consider it instead as a kind of hope chest, in which we gather together the things we will need -- both beautiful and practical -- for the life journey that lies ahead.

October, then, brings us an abundance of treasures to add to that hope chest: memories of golden sunsets and flaming red leaves, the warming tang of wood smoke, the last breath of summer's warmth, and the solace of woolen clothes and simple pleasures. Above all, October provides the solid heft of produce colored like the changing leaves and graced with the keeping quality needed to feed us well into winter.

As the temperature drops, who doesn't start thinking about comfort food? Be it a hearty soup or stew loaded with vegetables, a velvety baked squash, or cookies and cakes laced with sweet warming spices, the food we enjoy the most here at the beginning of autumn reflects the farms' yields of the moment. And yet, much of that new produce will also store well and nourish our hearts and stomachs on even colder days.

In October, we still find the last true summer produce since those plants will hang on until first frost, but we also see a more definite shift toward cool-weather crops. I'll expect to find almost all of these at the market or in my CSA basket:

--tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, peppers
--onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic
--all kinds of squash: pumpkins, acorn, butternut, spaghetti, and even the last summer squash
--dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and chard, as well as a late crop of lettuce
--second plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, as well as Brussels sprouts
--carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, even rutabagas
--potatoes and sweet potatoes
--Jerusalem artichokes
--apples and pears, the last grapes, and possibly fall-bearing raspberries

Our preservation projects shift a little more in October, and though this may seem to be the ideal time to fire up the stove and run the canner for heat as much as for jars of food, canning and pickling often taper off over the month, as does the need to dry other kinds of produce. Instead, we might turn our attention to taking care of some of the little problems that crop up in food preservation, like using up excess fruits by making liqueurs or syrups, or checking on what we've already stashed away to make sure it's still safely preserved.

This past week I took the time to rearrange my pantry shelves so that I could move all the boxes of jars out of my studio and onto the shelves, and as I handled each one, I checked the lid to make sure it was still concave and thus sealed, wiped any sticky streaks off the side of the jar, and arranged it carefully with its kin. I don't have a total number at this point as there were still jars from last year, but I would venture a guess at around 100 jars of jams, pickles, fruit, and tomatoes, all still safely canned and ready for winter.

Though I'm still drying some vegetables, I clearly need to do some rearranging in the cabinets, too, to make room. I probably have close to twenty jars of different vegetables stored in with grains, pulses (beans), and condiments in this side of the cupboard...

...and perhaps ten or so jars and bags of dried fruits, not to mention a large collection of jams lingering from last year, nestled in with all my baking ingredients. At this point, I really don't want to add much more!

Other forms of food preservation for the month, then, will include ways to simplify my cooking later on: more dried produce, more purees to be frozen for easy use, more stocking up on staples (I've already put in a call to the grist mill), and the most basic of all, cold storage. (More on that next month.) I may well end up filling every corner of the kitchen!

Since the global situation is looking a little grim by now, food preservation is rapidly becoming much more important. Maybe you haven't been able to do much this summer, and maybe you have. But as the weather shifts, the harvest shifts, and the economy shifts, you will want to shift your thinking as well from food preservation to food storage. I'm not suggesting that anyone should start hoarding groceries, but it's wise to think about storing some basics for when the power goes out, for when you have family over for the holidays, or for when the need arises to share with others who are less fortunate. You can learn more about food storage at Seeking Simplicity or -- as I often say -- from Sharon Astyk's excellent online course.

And while you're planning ahead for yourself or your family, think about helping others, too. Our nation's food banks are seeing difficult times right now, and as the economy worsens, more people may need to rely on what food banks can provide. If you want to give a loved one a gift, consider making a donation to your local food bank in their name. If you're planning your garden for next year, consider planting an extra row for your local food bank, or consider sharing your garden with a neighbor or a family member. If you're baking bread or cookies for your family or friends, or you're making a big pot of soup, consider taking some to a neighbor or a friend in need. If there's any way you can help, please consider it. Our economy may tank, but our community never should.

Though the harvest season may end soon, October still has many riches to share with us all, and we have opportunities to share those riches with others, now and into the holiday season.

October -- gorgeous, ever-changing, consoling October -- is a month of hope. Let us reap it in our harvest and continue to sow it where it's needed.

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