One of my favorite aspects of summer is eating fresh. Yes drinking a cold beer on a hot patio is on the list as is biking, a few hours at the beach and camping. But the aspect of this wonderful season that I enjoy daily is fresh local food.
For me fresh usually means from my garden or our land but I will also support the farmer’s market or our coop which stocks local fresh produce if the garden isn’t producing some specific item. I’m not going to lie, fresh is a lot of work. Fresh means long hours spent outside in the sunshine digging in the dirt or picking produce. Fresh means a sore back on occasion and time crunches in the evening. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. An hour of quiet in the vegetable garden is seriously restorative.
Interestingly enough there are now movements under way for urban community gardens, for school programs that introduce children to both growing and to spending time outside getting dirty. I find that a sad commentary on the state of our world. As a child I grew up helping in the garden, there was no opting out for sitting inside watching TV. We were all expected to pull our weight as all the produce needed to be picked and then frozen or processed. I have wonderful memories of time spent in our huge raspberry patch or the pea patch than ran down the side of the lane way.Those memories in reality morphed into the how, what, where and when of gardening.
Our first two city homes included small gardens shoved absolutely as full as possible so that we had a variety of produce. Our very young children were given little plots within the garden so they could grow the things they liked. They also spent time as they grew up picking peas, raspberries and thinning carrots. I’m proud to report that one has a small herb garden now and the other, once settled in her new home, is talking about planting potatoes, beets and corn. She’ll skip the peas thanks.
I’ve also used gardening as a way to introduce new vegetables to family and friends. Kohlrabi is probably the number one veggie for that but we’ve also served beets, parsnips, brussel sprouts and kale from our garden to great results. On a personal note it gives me a chance to try out new recipes and create many tasty nutritious items.
Spring means a few hours planting followed by the dreaded first and second weedings. Not having a steady access to enough grass clippings is a bit of an issue as it means rows have way more weeds than my city garden ever did. Each year there seems to be a weed du jour! By the end of the second weeding it is time to start eating radishes, spinach, kale and rhubarb. The kohlrabi are the next tasty morsal. These are still the easy days because once the saskatoons and raspberries start riping there is no turning back. Hours spent picking then transplate to time spent cleaning, freezing or processing these delicious local fruit. By the third weeding the beans, peas, cabbage, onions and beets are producing. The kitchen becomes a bee hive of activity as darkness descends; which at this time of year happens sadly too early but the plus to that is it allows more time for the above activites. By the time late summer arrives we are eating carrots, brussel sprouts, potatoes, tomatoes, corn and perhaps this year, squash and pumpkin. The fall work includes digging the parnsips and potatoes and tilling the garden up so that it is ready to repeat again next year. Eating fresh from the garden means little time spent in the produce aisle at the grocery store. I admire a local food journalist who, for a year, ate Saskathewan products only. She didn’t do the 100 mile diet because in our province that distance doesn’t take you very far but she farm gated tons of items that we usually buy at the grocery store. She wrote a book called Prairie Feast which was an interesting mix of journal and recipes. I’m quite sure that we will never get that far in our local eating but we do source meat from the producer whenever possible. Beef, chicken and, lucky us, pork last year. It’s hard to find a lot of local fish but when I see a fish truck at a mall parking lot I pull over.
My day today is a good example of why I won’t miss work when I retire. I started out the am by picking the last of the saskatoons in a light rain. As the day cleared up I spent 3 hours weeding and pruning the tomatoes. I also found, amongst a lot of weeds, our new fledgling aspargus plants that have finally sprouted from the seeds. The potatoes and corn patches got weeded (kind of mostly) and then I moved on to transplanting a few baby kohlrabi. I finished the early evening off by picking raspberries.
The kitchen then got a serious work out as I prepped beets for smoking, a cabbage for sauerkraut, beans and baby carrots for pickling, cooked a saskatoon berry viniagrette and made a raspberry viniagrette. All of that joined the raspberry vinegar and the saskatoon rhubarb compote I processed in the am. All in all it was a stellar day. It’s a good thing I like gardening because eating this well takes time and energy but it is so worth it. So find some ground and throw in some seeds (next year) or take a run to the local farmer’s market. Eating fresh & local for us equals healthy eating.
PS it’s taken me 24 hours to post this as I’ve been busy in the garden & the kitchen (plus photo issues).