That first lovely snow of early December fell in soggy slatherings of white that immediately froze solid on every branch and bush, preserving the winter wonderland scenery for a whole week. It seemed to put everyone in a bright holiday mood after the oddly warm fall.
Then it poured rain, and fog cloaked the hills and valleys. Overnight, we were back to a brown November landscape.
Yet the snow returned, most unexpectedly. Huge fluffy flakes floated down this time, piling up in the morning stillness to six inches. Once again, every twig in the forest is marked with its line of snow. Who can resist the urge to bundle up and go stomping out into the pure white beauty of nature, if only to do a little shoveling?
First I want to plan dinner, and my contributions to the upcoming caroling potluck, and the three family Christmas events coming up. My thoughts naturally turn to our stockpiles from the garden. What do we have the most of, and what ought to be used up?
Picking delicious foods from one’s own garden is a huge reward, and makes summer a special time of year, as we eat what is at the peak of ripeness and freshness.
Many gardeners like to freeze, can and pickle their harvest, and I do that too, in moderation.
Yet the easiest garden produce of all is that which only needs to be bagged and stored away, in a dark closet, cool attic or the extra refrigerator. After the garden is buried in bountiful white mounds of snow, we are still eating those recently dug, pulled and plucked fruits and vegetables.
Many people might not realize how much food you can grow and simply store, without processing. Here is what lasts well into winter, and what I better get busy using while it is still good.
Cabbage—especially the leafier Chinese or napa cabbage—is easy to grow and easy to store for many months in a refrigerator. To use, just slice it finely into cole slaw; see today’s recipe. Toss in some chopped apples and fresh or dried cranberries, and top with peanuts or walnuts. This salad is nice left over too, for fish tacos or a tortilla rollup.
Kohlrabi is my new favorite vegetable. If you are not familiar with it, it is in the cabbage family, but makes a large bulb just above the ground. It was described by one author as “a cross between an octopus and a space capsule.” I cut away the thick skin and slice up sweet, crispy and juicy slices. It lasts all the way to spring in the vegetable bin in the fridge, great for dipping in hummus, tossing into a salad, or baking like scalloped potatoes. Kossak kohlrabi is a giant variety for storage.
Carrots are easy to buy, but also easy to grow if you mulch with unsprayed grass clippings to keep the weeds down. I bag them dry but dirty, while others like to scrub them before putting them in the fridge.
Why don’t more people grow celery and leeks? I start them as seedlings in the house, and once inserted into the garden they are usually problem free. It’s much easier to slice a few leeks than to chop up an onion, and the flavor is mild. Celery keeps a couple of months, and it’s nice to have the flavorful leaves which are usually missing from grocery store celery.
Apples are the stars of the fall harvest. What we don’t press into cider, we chill and continue to munch until early spring.
Other storage stars include onions, garlic and shallots, which are dried for a few weeks in the garage and stored at room temperature. Potatoes and sweet potatoes need darkness for storage, while squash and pumpkins seem to be happy in any cool place.
Veggies that need to be chilled long term can be bagged in plastic, but produce lasts longer if you line the bag with a paper towel and either cut slits in the plastic or leave the bag open. Those special “stay fresh” produce bags really do work better, by letting moisture and ethylene gas escape. I’ve been washing and reusing mine for years. Easier yet, put fruits and veggies directly in to their respective bins in the fridge.
It must be admitted that long-term produce storage means that one sometimes has to get over squeamishness. Dirty peels and occasional slimy leaves should be removed, tossed into the compost and forgotten.
After the holidays are over and we’ve feasted on sweets and traditional rich Christmas dishes, then it will be time again for everyday meals of fresh foods we grew ourselves.
Chinese Cole Slaw
Chinese or regular cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar, or any other type
1/2 cup cold-pressed olive oil or sunflower oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Shake dressing in a jar. Toss all together just before serving. Optional: top with chopped walnuts, peanuts, or dried cranberries.