Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving and Beyond (photos)

So many people have asked us what our plans are/were for Thanksgiving because they were curious about whether we could pull off a local holiday meal or not. Well, we must admit that we didn't eat here in Rockford, we spent the holiday with my family.

It's definitely not that we feared we could not produce a fantastic celebration meal with local food (we can and we will in January!) but it was simply my mother's turn to host and my brother was home from California and my sister and her husband came out from Chicago.

We did have some local fare. I was in charge of mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables (carrots and sweet potatoes from our CSA boxes which I roasted with some red onion, garlic, oil, and a touch of honey!). The turkey was local too. For the last 20 years, my mother has been getting her holiday turkeys from a local establishment in Waterman, IL. Although HOKA is a local producer, they are also a commercial operation, large-scale and fairly industrial, which only raises one type of bird: Broad-breasted White. I have occasionally had to sacrifice buying organic, etc in order to source things locally.

After two days of eating largely non-local food at my parents' house, we were back in Rockford Saturday morning where we returned to our regular eating pattern. I did (happily) return with the turkey carcass, which we had frozen on Thanksgiving Day, along with the pan drippings and some skin. Saturday afternoon I cooked it down with some vegetables and herbs. After about four hours I had a large amount of really succulent broth (to taste and to smell). I used my largest stock pot, which at 22 quarts, dwarfs my otherwise large pasta pot (far right in photo).

Today I canned 14 quarts of that stock, reserving two or so plus the meat that fell from the bone for a nice turkey soup tomorrow evening. When I cooked down the stock yesterday I thought I'd freeze it (somehow... there is really no more room to be found in the freezers) but I am so glad that I canned it instead. It will be quicker and easier to use and keep in the cellar. I owe a big thanks to my friend, Joe, for indirectly suggesting that I can it and for lending me his pressure canner so I could do it (broth must be processed at a higher temperature than high acid foods).

Somehow, I had one can in each batch not seal properly (I think I may have over-filled them). On the first batch, a ring popped (I have had a few rings that were older and not completely round anymore... two of them popped off in my hand when I was sealing jars and I pitched [recycled] them. This one waited until it was in the canner to pop off). I was able to pour the contents back into my stock pot to boil again before filling the jars in the second batch.

Unfortunately, in the second batch I had one jar not seal either (although the ring stayed intact). I added that one to the stock and meat I had reserved in the fridge to use for soup tomorrow evening.

So, in the end, I have 12 quarts of stock in cans for use in soups throughout the winter! I have been making soups each week either with vegetable stocks that I made last month and froze, or with water and my ingredients. The latter has not been nearly as satisfying as my typical soups so I'm looking forward to having the turkey stock in addition to my frozen vegetable stock (and I may make up a batch of veggie stock and can that before I return the pressure canner to my friend at the end of the week).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Divine Process

On Saturday I started reading a book that's been sitting on my "to read" shelf for several years; If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende. It is a series of reprints from her social column for the local (Haines, AK) newspaper and a collection of new essays about her life and those around her. I'm only on page 73 but have already been laughing out loud, moved to tears (more than once), and saying, "hmm, that's fascinating," again and again. Now I must admit that part of my interest and connection with the book is due to the fact that I've actually been to some of the places she talks about. But aside from that, she is just telling good stories.

Today I was reading her essay entitled, "Domestic Goddesses," (p.59) which simultaneously shares her experiences with friends and other women in her community and her (largely) self-taught proficiencies in her somewhat subsistence lifestyle. She is very clear about the definitions for subsistence though, both the act of living from the surroundings in a sustainable way and "the quality of having timeless or abstract exsistence." She ends the essay by observing that "there is more than just a bit of the divine in food gathering and preparation. We are all domestic goddesses."

Although I think I'm far from a "domestic goddess," I have felt divine in the processes I've undertaken, the knowledge I've gained, and the knowledge that I was able to prepare and preserve so much food from right around here. And here I must throw in my own dictionary definition: "Divine (informal): extremely good, unusually lovely." I have felt that way about the results of our local food source challenge - even if I haven't always felt that way about the process itself.

When people ask us now how our local eating project is going (an especially popular question now that winter is setting in in Northern Illinois), it's fun to say that it's working, we're eating well, the kids are growing strong and healthy, and we've had a great time learning new things and sourcing things locally. This is all true. I do admit, though, to days where I just didn't feel like cooking or weeks where I got behind in my harvesting/freezing/canning/cellaring operations. But we have a fully-stocked freezer, loaded cellar and pantry shelves, and bins and bins of root vegetables, grains, winter squashes, and onions (I know I need to get the allums out of the bins!). I will post again, hopefully this weekend, about our end of summer harvests and the status of our food stores.

What I really want to say right now is: I think the whole thing has been, and continues to be, divine.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm back to the blog and STILL bringing in food!

Hello and I'm sorry for such a long absence.
It was getting a little hectic there as I was harvesting in my own garden, processing things from my CSA share boxes, buying all I could at the local farmers' markets before they closed for the season, traveling to Bushel and Peck's in Beloit, WI for local foods of all types, and also living my life. Things are finally slowing down now (although I'm still brining in food - more on that in a future post). So, excluding a few weeks of vacation in December, I should be back to my once weekly posting schedule (more as I'm catching up with the activities of the last two months!).

If you would like me to add your e-mail address to my list, I will send out short e-mail notices with links when I make new posts each week. This would allow those of you who want it to know when I've updated the blog. Just send an e-mail to me at and I will add you to the list.

Thanks for sticking with us!