An Appetite for Winter
The randomness and creativity of January ...
Ah the New Year is here; time to peek in our pantries and freezers, and PLAY! I love the randomness of January and the possibilities of creativity without any holiday pressure.
January is the one month I bake bread before any gardening jobs inside or out ~ even before my favourite “task” of counting what is in my seed tins for the next growing season. I make real yeast cinnamon buns, yes sometimes with Lavender! I make braided poppy seed Challah bread, add “Herbs of Provence” and cheddar for savoury bread to go with winter soups or play with rosemary and olive toppings on focaccia bread. (OK I can’t grow the Olives: my valley is too frosty, I did try!)
Do you still have a yearning for Sweets after Christmas? Let’s check the freezer ... hmmm ... a 3 pound frozen package of mixed Tay berries and Strawberries. Shall I make a cooked jam with Rose syrup or a mixed fruit Cobbler for dessert? Ditto for the same size frozen package of mixed Blueberries and Blackberries with perhaps a home grown Myers Lemon and some grated Nutmeg! Both of these mixed fruit Ziploc’s were last minute harvests from September, quickly chucked in the freezer for “later”. One January afternoon later, I have 7 jars of spicy “Blue” jam and a rosy “Red” cobbler!
Next I find a full 15 pounds of frozen chopped Cherry Rhubarb. Now that is enough of a single fruit for a full batch of “Pink Cloud” Rhubarb wine with 15 pounds of sugar, 5 gallons of water and a sachet of Champagne yeast. (You can tell I have not been quite this deep in my little freezer since harvesting my Rhubarb in June/July!)
Now on the other side of the freezer I find frozen “green gold” mini Ziploc’s of complete Pesto or basic Basil with lemon juice and oil. The basic Basil packages are so versatile with sometimes only a corner needed to flavour a dish. This way my frozen Basil can almost last until next May’s planting!
Another summer stash is my collection of gold, orange or red cherry Tomatoes frozen whole in medium Ziploc’s for sauces and salsas. There are a good number of frozen packages of blanched Cauliflower for curries and Broccoli for lasagne but only one package of sweet green Peas surviving hidden underneath! (I feel like I am walking through the rows of my veggie garden pawing through my freezer!)
Out in the garden shed I have boxes of Potatoes ... yellow, red, purple and white ... plus trays of onions and shallots. Only 8 winter squash are left now but still lots of winter meals there!
My stored apples are kept away from the potatoes in a cupboard on my deck. (Stored apples can make potatoes spoil.) A full box of Cox’s Orange Pippins are left and a few Spartans. Chutneys are a great way to use up ones with spoiled “bits”. The baking Kings long gone ... My daughter Frances made a wonderful apple wine from all the Granny Smith’s in the fall, sadly there is none left for you to sample. (It was that good!)
In my little office are jars of dried herbs all individually labelled. The bottom row is tea mixes ... Check your stash of possible dried herbs you can blend for teas. For example flavour a Chinese or Japanese green tea base with your dried Mint or Lemon Verbena or both! Try adding Lavender flowers to an African Rooibos tea base with a split and chopped vanilla bean ... My “Lady Rose” tea begins with a leafy herbal base of Lemon Balm and a variety of Mints plus a mix of dried edible flower petals like Rose petals, Calendula, Cornflowers and Chamomile. My “Lavender Earl Grey” tea has a pound of Ceylonese Orange pekoe base with about a cup of dried Lavender flowers, half that amount of Bergamot leaves and broken blossoms. You and I may not be able to grow these tea bases of “red”, “green” or “black” with our climate restrictions BUT that doesn’t stop us playing with what we can grow to turn those base teas into fancy teas!
Another row of jars has cooking blends for Italian food, French food, Seafood or everyday dinners! I have always encouraged you to blend your own savoury all purpose cooking blend or “Chefs Blend”. 2009 you may have harvested lots of Basil, 2010 lots of Rosemary ... this past year 2011: Oregano. Which ever herb you dried the most of becomes the flavour base to which you add your smaller harvests of Thyme, French Tarragon, Sage, Summer Savory, or Sweet Marjoram. (I find with the amounts of the individual herbs changing each year, so does the blend ... so keep a rough list of proportions to blend a favourite mix again.) Adding a small amount of dried Lavender transforms the above blend into “Herbs of Provence”!
Place the mixed dried herb collection in your food processor; whiz to your desired texture, pick out any twiggy stems, then store in small bottles. One pinch of these blends can effortlessly change your omelette, soup or casserole from the ordinary to gourmet status and all grown in your garden!
You can see how all those moments you harvested berries, veggies and herbs will pay off! I hope you are amazed as to just what you do have tucked away and how easily to use it! Or it may inspire your planting and harvesting in 2012 for any of these projects.
When I start volunteers on the farm early each spring, I encourage them to choose a project. “What do you want to make? ... A tea? ... A cooking blend? ... A tincture? ... A dream pillow? ... Bath salts? ... Pesto for Christmas? ... Beautiful winter soups? ... Pies that taste of summer?” Whatever they choose, we work backwards. What they need to harvest becomes: what do they need to plant? This exercise also helps narrow all those seed catalogue temptations and gives a do-able focus for the coming season especially for newer green fingers. It also makes it possible for small space gardeners to change the theme yearly without thinking the garden space always needs to be bigger ... Over the years you can see how you could try a very wide range of projects right in the same back yard!
For teaching children gardening; a box bed can hold enough plants for a project, makes a safe area for “grazing”, gives them ownership and accomplishment, and something to show and share for their whole summer of “slaving”. (You would be amazed how many tiny jars of strawberry jam you can make over the season if you can resist eating more than you freeze ... It is only since my son & daughter moved out of home: any strawberries, or peas, make it into my freezer!)
Then there are those of you who are gardenless ... Or have full shade yards, or rock and deer infested gardens. Take heart~ you are still herbalists, gardeners, and chefs if you support all those hard working farmers by buying their treasures to create your winter stash. And thank you. Your enthusiasm keeps us going on over whelming weed or insect infested days! Your projects can encourage us to grow purple Potatoes for blue potato salad or grow hard to find Summer Savory for your grandmother’s Prairie recipes. Some of my favourite customers faithfully bring me seeds from their trips to France or Italy or Australia. New Lavenders, new Basils and perennial Arugula ... new Tomatoes! (Do you know Australia has seeds for Tomato trees? We will see this summer ~)
Ah yes, the magic of gardening is alive and well and whets our appetites even in the dead of dark and stormy tasty Winter!
Happy New Year!
Herbally yours, Lynda
Originally published in the January 2012 edition of the Metchosin Muse