Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 23

Sorry - no photos this week - having trouble with the stupid
camera battery. And the stupid printer. Stupid technology. Grrr.

Another big week in food storage. Good news: I think I could comfortably feed us for three months on what I have now. Some stuff will last a year; some things still need more stocking. I feel much more secure, foodwise.

Made a fascinating trip to the Kutztown Produce Auction on Thursday. It's a big pavilion out in the middle of the corn fields, with a parking lot full of farm trucks and buggies. Mennonite owned, it is has been in operation since around 1950 when a group of Old Order farm families bought farms near Fleetwood. I saw an egg auction, nursery stock auction, a lot of produce (local and not), and tons of potted fall mums. Most things come in very large lots - like 6 bushels of green peppers that might go for $4/box, but you have to take all 6. But some lots are smaller. I can see this being a fabulous resource when I am set up to do some serious canning, or to supply a community co-op or event cooking project. Most of the bidders appeared to own restaurants, farm stands, garden centers, large institutions, or food processors. It runs Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday of every week, year-round. Saturday sales include straw and hay (by the ton), and firewood.

DD15 was with me. "OMG, Mom! You brought me out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles of corn, to watch old men sell vegetables for hours, and my cell phone is running out of charge, so I can't even text people. I'll be in the car reading if you want me to load anything you buy." Maybe she isn't quite ready for grid-crash, eh?

I spent most of my time watching and listening to three simultaneous auctioneers. I saw squash I couldn't even identify, gorgeous Chinese cabbages, tons of hot and sweet peppers, and cauliflower bigger than basketballs. Watched Macoun apples go up to $24/bushel in hot bidding, when other varieties were going for $8-10/bu. Eventually, I registered for a number and bought two boxes of those pluots I like so much. That was 56 pounds of pluots - for $9. They take cash, checks, debit and credit cards, and provide a computer print-out of your purchases.

I plan to go back at least once this fall, to buy apples, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and root veggies. I wonder if they auction cider.

Although this would be a fabulous place for corner stores and large families to buy produce, I noticed there was not a single non-white face at the auction. DD15 said she saw one man that looked Hispanic helping load a truck. More than 40,000 Hispanic people living 30 minutes away, many working in nearby Blandon mushroom houses, and none of them buying deeply discounted bulk food. The only people not speaking English were speaking Pennsylvania Dutch.

Planted spinach in three fish boxes, to try making a cold frame for it through the winter.

Harvested: A single Black Beauty eggplant, the whole summer's harvest from that single plant. The "Little Fingers" plant did only slightly better, and I pulled it up weeks ago. Last year was a great eggplant year; I was giving them away right and left. This year, not.

Saved seeds from garlic chives, cinnamon basil, stella d'oro lilies, snapdragon. I'm going to participate in a round robin seed swap, so I need to get them cleaned, bagged up and labeled properly.

On Craigslist, I found a family that had a yard full of fallen black walnuts. We gathered four big plastic shopping bags full, and they still had lots more. I have only ever used these to dye fabric or to antique wood, not to shell them for eating. Hulling and shelling them looks like it will be an adventure, and may require finding some new equipment, like a 4" bench vise. Came home to find a squirrel eating them off our porch, so now they are in a galvanized wash tub covered with a board, until I get time to hull them.

Preserved: I took another stab at banana chips , following instructions from a woman that sells them for school snacks. I had high hopes that thicker slices dipped in pineapple juice would be the charm, and I did better at rotating the trays. But I think my cheap single-temperature dehydrator is too hot. The finished product was still unpleasant and over-cooked. I've lived my life so far without banana slices, so I think I will just give up and keep eating fresh bananas. I can always mash and freeze them for baking.

I got frustrated and told DH I was throwing away my $3 yard sale dehydrator. I said we had lived without home-dried food all this time, and would survive without it. He surprised me by saying he thought I was giving up too easily. I didn't think he would do more than give me a glazed-over look. I don't give him enough credit for paying attention to my food storage efforts.

He did agree to stop with the bananas! But he is right about not giving up on dehydrating. I had slipped in a tray of apple slices dipped in the pineapple juice, with the banana experiment. The apples came out OK. I will try the old-fashioned method of hanging them on a string, for comparison. The apple season has only just begun to rock, so I have plenty of time to experiment with apples.

Made 7 half-pints of plum jam with no pectin and reduced sugar. Nice balance of sweet and tart. Since I had 20+ pounds of pluots to use, I experimented and made 2 pints of plum-ginger jam by cooking in a cup of diced candied ginger. Yummy! Then I made "plum butter" in the crockpot.

Froze 3 bags of cauliflower in soup-recipe-sized portions. These heads had partly frozen in my fridge, which got turned up too high. Then I froze 2 half-head bags of blanched cauliflower for meals, along with 4 bags of blanched broccoli. And 2 half-pound bags of blanched green beans.

Cooked: Another episode in the search for perfect Banana Bread. I tried a recipe from the new whole grain cookbook I got last week, and I like it, even though I slightly under-baked it. Not too sweet, nice chewy texture from the whole wheat flour and wheat germ. Lots of banana, easy to make. Good with butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, or alone. I think we have a strong contender! It would be perfect if DD15 liked it - she wanted it a bit sweeter. She and I are the only ones that eat it.

I got some Asian pears and Macoun apples to try at the Sunday grower market. Also got the usual eggs, three bunches of carrots, a white eggplant, a celeriac, the season's last basil, and another butternut squash. Got a pound bag of homegrown kidney beans from the Reigel family stand - the first time I have seen dried beans at a market stand. All that is for immediate use, not preserving.

The four of us discussed a Family Eating Plan to develop our eating-from-storage skills. We'll see how that goes when we start "walking the talk."

Mom stopped by last night, and I fed her homemade soup, toast with some of the new plum jam, and an Asian pear. I gave her a ripe Bartlett pear to take home for her oatmeal in the morning. It's kind of like feeding a stray cat. Eventually, she will learn to come here for food, and then stay for the winter. LOL

Stored: Time to start working on buying meat. We tend to eat chicken, turkey, and pork. We like various sausages, bacon, and a little scrapple. Our beef tends to be the occasional pot roast and some burgers. We seldom eat steak, since we can't afford anything worth eating. I buy cheap beef cuts like shin to make stock. I'll have to look for some meatloaf mix (beef, pork, and lamb). The holidays are coming up, so I expect to see some good sales. This is also butchering season, so there should be a lot of choice out there. I hope to find a good deal on shrimp, and some fish for DD15 and I. The only finfish that DH eats is albacore tuna, and I have a can/week laid in for him (more would be a mercury risk).

Shopped at the Fairgrounds Market with an eye to freezing recipe-sized meat portions. Bought 2 pieces of smoked ham end, a big smoked ham shank, and a pound of smoked sausage. Can you tell I like me some smoked pork in my bean soup? This market has an on-site smoker that is hard to resist. I also got 3 kinds of fresh sausage, 18 big chicken thighs bagged in sixes for soup, a few beef short ribs, and some turkey thighs. That's about 8 weeks of soup and sauce meat.

Went to a farm stand and bought giant heads of broccoli and cauliflower, three large butternut squash, two other winter squash, about 8 large sweet potatoes, and a couple pounds of green beans.

DH bought huge bottles of 750 ibuprofen and 500 multi-vitamins at BJs. I also sent him to get a case of canned chicken noodle soup for DD12, 6 jugs of laundry detergent, 3 canisters of grated parmesan cheese, two 10-gallon totes to make a worm farm, and a 32-gal trash barrel for storing clothing. I have been under-using him as a shopper - he is very efficient at shopping from a list, not straying off into impulse buying or letting the kids wheedle things out of him.

Made another trip to the BRL grocery liquidator. Got another 48 double rolls of toilet paper for less than $20. I want to start using some cloth wipes, but we just aren't there yet. Some of my other good deals: 40-oz cans of black beans for .49, bags of Nestle chocolate chips for .65, 3-oz of whole allspice for under $2, Barilla whole grain spaghetti for .50/box. Weird stuff: a food service-sized bag of country gravy mix that makes a whole gallon of gravy with just hot water, for $1.49 - I'll re-portion that. Also bought: granola bars, chai tea mix, boxed whole grain cereal (like Total) for the people that won't eat oatmeal like I do, band-aides, canned soup, baking chocolate, ramen, pectin, pasta.

Scored 30# of Gold Medal stoneground whole wheat flour for .75 per 5-lb bag, and it wasn't expired yet. Popped it right into the freezer to make sure it is free of bugs. I love my freezer so much!

We now have enough canned tomato products to make 24 meals worth of pasta sauce, with the average large can costing less than 50 cents. I can make a pasta dinner for four, with garlic bread, for under $1.50 - at that rate, I can afford to put meat in that sauce. :-)

Now, I mostly watching for deals on dry milk, powdered eggs, canned tuna, and butter.

Prepped: Got a big basket at the Goodwill, to use for squash storage. Three large skeins of rusty-red yarn at the Salvation Army store, along with a couple of canning jars.

Did well at the yard sales last weekend, including a wrought iron pot rack, a new Foodsaver for only $10, and a nice set of flannel sheets.

Managed: Stored the squash and sweet potatoes in the cellar, in big baskets I got at the Goodwill. Laid out the 20# of potatoes in one layer on newspaper in a big shallow oak drawer I use for drying things. Rotated the oats and rice out of the freezer after 3 days, and most of the flour into it. Sorted things left in the small freezer over the fridge, and gave it a good scrubbing.

Did more thinking about how manage to manage our water needs. Sticking with the slow recycled milk jug storage for now: 8 gallons stored. Our monthly water bill dropped from $98 to $77 last month. Not sure if that is just seasonal, or because we are being more careful.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: Helped out at the church's fall work day, and trash-picked the discard pile. Got a quarter sheet of nice thin plywood, and two large pieces of foil-backed insulation that I can use to seal off the back cellar door. Also took a discarded play kitchen and put it out at our curb - it was adopted to a new home in less than an hour.

Replaced the power strip in the kitchen with one that has a shut-off switch, so we can turn off all the power-vampire chargers. Harbor Freight has a sale on 4-outlet surge protectors for $2.99.

I have been using a lot of gasoline on these wild stock-up trips. Happily, gas fell to $2.99/gal this week. I know it won't stay there, but I'm glad it fell while I have to use it. Once I get the basic stock-up done, I will develop a more moderate pattern of driving for food. I can say that I have not wasted the miles - I always come back with a loaded car.

Bought $8.58 worth of red wiggler worms at Petsmart (about 100 worms). They sell them for lizard food. I have not been able to find them at bait stores, and I didn't want to spend shipping money online. I will just start slowly until they reproduce. I hope to have worm composting news and photos blogged later this week. DH is a little squicked by the worm containers in the fridge.

Local/Family: All those pluots I bought? I gave a whole 28# box away in bagfuls to neighbors and friends. One had given me iris plants, and another gave me a big bag of cookies - "seconds" from the Pepperidge Farm factory where her husband works. One bag to a lady across the street that just always waves at me.

A woman at church has a family cow that produces more milk than they drink. We might talk about setting up a very small cow share. I am doing some research about how to set that up.

Most of the talk at the church work day was talking about food and recipes. It's time to start some kind of food group there. Part of me wants to share all this local food knowledge I'm gathering, but part of me doesn't want so many people to know I store food. And I am not sure I want everyone competing with my foraging. I am sure that's part of what's wrong with the world - we fear that someone will take our stuff, so we don't collaborate. My blog is pretty anonymous - my church is not.

DH has asked the girls and I not to tell people we store food, because he also envisions people knocking and asking. There would need to be a big pay-off for him to change his mind, not just the warm fuzziness of helping other people prepare. Maybe a co-op buying would do it. Bulk buying is not working with the Neighbor Club - everyone has different cash-flow patterns, and few of them use what I would buy. Some depend on food stamps, some get paychecks.

Learned: Researched a bunch of things: cowshare management, bokashi buckets, worm farms, black walnut harvesting, and the many things to make out of too-many-plums.

Library: Found copy of the Audubon Society's Eastern Forests guide for 99 cents at the Goodwill. Nice bark and leaf ID photos for trees. Ordered McMahon's American Gardener, a reproduction of a 19th-century garden guide, at the recommendation of a listmate from one of my discussion groups.


MeadowLark said...

Here, go check these out and see if they're what yours look like.

These were soaked for about 30-seconds in pine-orange-banana juice ('cause that's what I had) before they were dehydrated.

amanda said...

you have been busy!

i have a great banana bread recipe that i posted about today...and super easy too!
funny you should mention cousing we to college there.

Matriarchy said...

Oh, my bananas were much darker. And yet, some were kind of mushy inside. That's what makes me think my dehydrator runs hot. It cooked them instead of drying them.

Amanda, I will put Julia's recipe in the queue for my experiments. Thanks! K-town is about 20 minutes from me, a little college town surrounded by farms. I checked out your blog, and your freezer was eerily familiar-looking.

Verde said...

Wow, you are doing so much. It is really fun to read. One thing about living where there is so much population density is all the availablitiy of foraging. We don't have thrift stores or farmer's markets or Mennonites... sigh.

Don't worry about the banana chips, bananas are never grown in the contiguous US.

Compairing your mother to a stray cat ... snicker.

I LOVE getting the extra milk from another family. They advertized it for animal feed and I called knowing what it was. It is $8.00 a gallon but I am so loving skimming the cream, making butter and yogurt and am learning to make cheese.

Again, loving to read all about your adventures. Your DH is shaping up nicely ...shhh

MARIE said...

Wow! What a great post. Lots of good ideas.

I'm a Master Gardener working with the Northampton & Lehigh MG's on a display for the Lehigh Valley flower show. The theme is "Gardening Through the Ages". We are trying to show that you're never too young, never to busy, never too old to garden.

One part of the display will be inexpensive containers for gardening. I'm on a mission to find fish boxes. :-) What do you use for soil? Do you use any fertilizer? Anything else I should know about growing plants in fish boxes?

I also work on a Victorian Garden in Historic Bethlehem Industrial Quarter. Thanks for the tip on McMahon's American Gardener.

Matriarchy said...

Hi, Marie! I will have to come up and see the Victorian Garden sometime - is it part of an industrial museum? My kids and I did a lot of work on our region's industrial history when we homeschooled.

Try asking at fish stores for the fish boxes - they ship things like whole salmon in them. They might even have them at grocery stores that carry fresh fish. We get our at a farmer's market stand where my daughter used to work.

I used bagged potting soil in the beginning, because I didn't want weed seeds in it. I topped it with some mushroom soil that a neighbor gave us. I used fish emulsion a few times to fertilize.

I lined mine up along the sidewalk, raised on crates. Use can easily make these waist-high for someone who can't bend or kneel for ground-level gardening, or adjust them to wheel-chair height.

One of the nice things with fish boxes is that you can easily plant a succession of crops in a small space. You can plant one box with spinach and another with lettuce, and when one crop is done, just drop in a few more seeds for the next. They are easily to cover and uncover to protect from bugs, sun, and chill using small pieces of shade cloth or row cover. And since they are raised, the rabbits and many other critters can't get to them.

The boxes do start to deteriorate with use, so you should be prepared to replace them after a few years. All you have to do to prepare them is punch holes in the bottom for drainage - I used a screwdriver to do that. Be careful not to make them so close together that you weaken and break the bottom of the box.

Fish boxes are too shallow for larger plants - but specialty meat is shipped in deeper containers. If someone orders those Omaha steaks by mail, they will come in a styrofoam cooler that would hold a tomato or pepper.

I'll have to come to your Flower Show!

MARIE said...

Thanks for all that information! I will pass it along to the committee. It will be interesting to see how the display turns out.

I hope you get a chance to visit the little LV Flower Show - March 6, 7, 8, 2009 at Allentown Fair Grounds Agri-Plex. There is also a farmer's market in the next building at the fair grounds.

The Victorian Garden is in the Colonial Industrial Quarter behind the Lukenbach Mill and Miller House. It is called Miller House Garden. I hope to do a blog about it soon.

Thanks again.