Sunday, November 16, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: November, Week 3

All of the food preservation methods and projects I've shared up to this point have involved the fresh fruit and vegetables found at the farmers' market, in my CSA basket, and in my garden.

But who expects to live on fruits and vegetables alone? If that were all I had to eat all winter, I'd probably go through it all very quickly because I wouldn't have enough substantial nutrition to keep myself going.

The very end of the harvest season, then, is an excellent time to think about the other things we need to store in the pantry for winter: grains, legumes, and basic ingredients or condiments for your favorite recipes.

Yes, of course, you can buy these things year round, and you often do just to refill supplies. But I find it very useful to start off my major baking season with full cupboards, knowing I have whatever I'm going to need.

Over the past couple of years, I've been very fortunate to build a good relationship with the kind folks at the local grist mill. When I placed this year's order, I asked the Miller if I could see his operations, so when the Renaissance Man and I showed up Friday afternoon, the Miller gladly spent an hour talking with us about his machinery (including the large hammer mill shown here) and about his travels to fairs in the past to demonstrate grinding.

So what did I bring home? Last year was the first time I placed a large bulk order, and this year I nearly tripled that order, requesting well over 100 lbs. of grains and flours. (The box on the left alone contains 50 lbs. of whole wheat flour.)

That's not all for me, though. I ordered flours, pancake mixes, and grits for the Chef Mother and rolled grains (oat and spelt) as well as flour, cornmeal, and pancake mixes for the Renaissance Man. After all, if I'm going to insist on good local grains for myself, I want to make sure my loved ones get the same (especially if they share the end results with me!).

Thanks to the Renaissance Man's resourceful hunting, I now have a small metal shelving unit in my studio/cold storage room to house the bulk of my grains. It's true that grains, especially those already ground into flour, should be refrigerated or even frozen to slow their descent into rancidity, but I figure that (A) this room's temperature is staying well below 55 F, almost to refrigeration temps, and (B) I will use up the flour before it spoils. Guaranteed!

On top of that, I have a 25-lb bucket of hard red winter wheat berries -- along with a new grain mill -- so that I can start grinding my own flour. I'm planning to add an experimental grain patch or two in the garden next year, but I'd eventually like to grow most of my own grains if possible. (Thanks, Emily, for the inspiration -- and thanks, Gene, for your years of experience and your multiple books that prove it's possible!)

As for other pantry items, since my crop of beans didn't yield quite as many dried legumes as I would have liked, I have recently stocked up on some of the beans I use the most, both in dried and canned form (canned in case of power outages, so they're ready to eat). I've also restocked my supply of sweeteners, from cane juice crystals to honey (not enough!) and maple syrup.

I've even bought a couple of two-pound rolls of my favorite local unsalted butter. To store these, I cut them into 1/2 cup sections, wrapped them individually in wax paper, and stored them in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer.

I will probably end up buying some walnuts and pecans soon for holiday baklava baking, but otherwise I'm going to see how long it takes me to work through all the local nuts I recently bought and stored in the studio.

Other items I try to keep on hand in the pantry include: dried milk, spices, baking powder and soda, salt (essential!), pasta (for when I'm too busy or lazy to make my own), vinegar, oil, and tea. These items, aside from dairy and eggs, are what I tend to buy when I need to go grocery shopping in the winter (until produce starts running out). So why not stock them now, before the holiday baking rush at the stores?

If you follow Sharon's blog Casaubon's Book regularly (and you should, even though it's not largely about food, because it covers so much important information), you know that she has been touting the importance of stocking your pantry, even if you can only put $5 toward it each week. Five dollars may not seem like much when you think about ready-made food products, but it can buy a surprising amount of basic ingredients that will carry you through several meals at home.

Not all of these foodstuffs will be locally produced, so don't feel you have to make everything fit the locavore model. You might be astonished, however, to discover that there's more locally produced food than you realize, and this exercise could help you find some of it.

So go ahead. See what you can reasonably add to your pantry to prepare you for winter and to help you use the produce you put up over the summer.

It really is worth the effort now.

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At 11/24/2008 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yum! Looks like a big pile of good eating, there!


At 11/24/2008 11:31 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Eventually, Emily, I hope it will be! :-)

At 11/24/2008 11:33 AM, Blogger Ed Bruske said...

Jennifer, that's great that you have access to a local mill.

At 11/24/2008 11:45 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

It is, Ed -- I feel lucky. I just don't know how much longer these folks will keep it operating, though. He even talked about selling his equipment (didn't give us a ballpark price, though).


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