Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eating from your Garden during the Winter

In trying to prepare our little homestead to be as healthy as possible this winter, I've been pondering how we can continue eating from our garden or at least eating locally grown foods as the months grow colder.

My goal for the fall and winter seasons was to have a well-stocked pantry full of canned and preserved vegetables, dry foodstuffs, and frozen items from which to eat. HA! Well it wasn't too far into autumn when I realized that dream had already burst. With only a few things canned, my pantry shelves looked sad and instead I had to stock up on store-bought items. Such big plans with so little time to accomplish them! However, we did manage to plant some additional veggies to grow during fall including squash and garlic and we still have a few beans and southern peas ripening up every now and then even though it's October already!! In our cold frame we started collards and lettuce plants, and we hope to grow simple greens there throughout the winter.

garlic sprouts shooting up

Our cold filled with collard sprouts and lettuce

So in short, if you are behind on your winter gardening or think that all hope is lost for eating locally, do not despair! Here are some steps you can take to make this goal a reality:

1. If you live in the South like me, you probably still have time to plant and harvest fast-growing vegetables such as greens, lettuces, radishes, and herbs that can be moved indoors.

2. Additionally, cold-hardy crops such as kale, brussel sprouts, beets, carrots and parsnips, leeks, chard, cabbage and others can tolerate winter-weather temperatures. Some of the plants will be more successful if you offer them some protection or a layer of mulch overtop.

3. Shop at local farmer's makets until they close for the season. You'll still be eating locally and be able to sample fall squashes and root vegetables, onions, and potatoes, all of which you may be able to buy in bulk, cure and store in a cool place on your own during the winter.

4. Process farmer's market produce to add to your stock of preserves. Not only will you become more experienced in the art of canning, but you will also save money over the winter season by planning your meals around what's already in your pantry!

5. Get a head start on planning for early spring gardening. Go ahead and plan your seed orders, layout, and which vegetables you will plant where and when according to your temperature zones. Some early spring greens and spring onions can be planted as early as February, especially if you have a cold frame where you can start the seeds and later transfer them to the ground.

It's always best to eat locally and seasonally if you can. A wonderful book on this topic that I've enjoyed reading recently is Barbara Kingsolver's, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. So to encourage you in the journey to eating seasonal, local foods, I'll leave you with a hearty, delicious fall recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Living:

Roasted Parsnip and Leek Bread Pudding

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Olive oil, for drizzling
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus 3 tbsp melted, plus more for dish
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced and rinsed
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 cups heavy cream
5 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 loaf brioche, crust removed and bread cut into 1 inch cubes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle parsnips with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, until caramelized and tender 20-25 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees. Heat 2 tbsp butter over medium heat in saute pan until melted. Add leeks, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5-10 minutes. Add wine, let simmer until reduced, a few minutes. Add thyme, and remove from heat. Stir in roasted parsnips. Whisk together melted butter, heavy cream, eggs, and 3/4 cup Parmesan in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add leek-parsnip mixture, then fold in bread. Butter 2 quart a baking dish, and pour parsnip mixture into dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake until golden brown and puffed, 50 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, return to oven. Bake for 10 minutes more. 

We made this a few weeks ago and it was a tasty reminder that Autumn is here and winter is just around the corner. Enjoy!

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