| Building and Honouring Our Local Food System
by Amy Miller
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” —Hippocrates
Autumn has now settled in and the farm has taken on a different look. We raise pastured poultry and pork, as well as a variety of garden crops. Our crops are safely in bins and the garden’s bounty has been brought in and stored, frozen, or preserved for use through fall, winter, and into spring. Our chickens are mostly butchered, and the pigs have been sent to the butcher. With the completion of these harvests, our meals, cold rooms, and freezers start to reflect the season’s bounty. The fall harvest brings an abundance of vegetables to our kitchens. Root crops, squash, pumpkins, and pulses such as peas and lentils add a variety of colour to any meal. Preserved fruits and vegetables line our cold room shelves, and our freezers are topped back up with bags of vegetables ready to be pulled out for meals. Even the variety of meat types and cuts allow for a wide variety of meals in the cold months ahead.
Fall vegetables have many health benefits to us. On our farm, hearty meals made with the fall harvested vegetables provide us with the energy to work outside in less than ideal weather. Along with providing a good source of energy, vegetables also provide us with many of the good vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A, beta carotene, and many good antioxidants. These vitamins allow our body’s immune system to stay strong. Eating meals rich with vegetables full of vitamin C are also great when paired with a cut of red meat. Vitamin C allows for more iron absorption into your body, therefore giving you the extra energy. Another way to bring the health benefits of a fall harvest into your cooking is to use fresh, raw honey in place of many of the refined sugars. Most apiaries harvest their honey in the fall and the types of flowers the bees had to feed on dictates the flavour of the honey. Honey has a natural antibiotic component to it, which comes in handy during the season of colds and the flu. Add a generous tablespoon to a mug with equal part of lemon juice, a cinnamon stick, and some cloves, and you have a natural remedy to help ward off or beat a cold bug.
Another benefit is that many of the root crops store well in a cold area of your basement, allowing you to enjoy them all winter long with little effort. Carrots and beets need a cold storage area that stays between 1ºC–4ºC with low humidity, so if you don’t have a space in your basement, a fridge would work. Potatoes just need a cool and dark place and they will be fine until spring. Garlic and onions can be braided, hung, and then stored all winter and spring. Winter squash varieties such as acorn, hound’s-tooth, spaghetti, and butternut are not only easy to store through the winter, but can be used in colourful festive displays.
Often underestimated items that are both easy to grow in your garden or in pots on a deck, as well as easily dried and stored over winter, are herbs and spices. From basil and sage to mint and oregano, these herbs take little time or effort to grow and in some cases can even be perennial. When harvested properly throughout the growing season, you can easily have enough to use fresh and have some left to dry for winter, adding their rich flavours to your winter cooking. Once harvested, simply tie them in bundles and either hang them upside down in a sunny window, or lay them out on a simple cookie sheet and allow them to dry. Once dried, herbs can be stored in a jar and kept out of direct sunlight.
Through autumn I spend many evenings canning several different preserves, such as chutneys, jams, and syrups. By canning my own preserves, I can control the amount of sugar that goes in, and ensure that good healthy ingredients are included in each jar. Canning also allows the benefits of flavour and shelf life to continue through the whole winter, and in some cases, until the next year’s crop comes in. There are many favourites in our house including chokecherry syrup and canned pears, but the most versatile item is one of many types of chutney. There are many varieties out there, but one of the most common in my kitchen is rhubarb apple chutney (a family recipe).
Rhubarb Apple Chutney
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2/3 cups apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp water
2 tbsp ginger
3 tsp grated lemon peel
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2” pieces (sliced apple can also be substituted up to half the amount)
1 cup raisins
Put first six ingredients in a pot to boil over high heat, stirring often until all of the sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add rhubarb and raisins. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and then simmer gently until the rhubarb is tender (about 5 minutes). Season with salt. At this point it can be canned in 3 half-pint jars or served warm with pork, chicken, or fish.
One of our favourite meals is a roast (either pork, beef, or even a chicken) served with baked potatoes and roasted veggies. Often the best meals are the simplest ones. From beef stew to roast chickens and hams, the value in a good cut of meat is immense. Even after the meal is done, there are so many ways to make leftovers stretch into other meals. For example, a roasted chicken carcass or a ham bone can be made into broth. Add in your leftover vegetables and presto! Another meal that is not only tasty, but is also rich in vitamins and minerals to help you stay warm on a cold day. And what winter meal would be complete without a desert of preserves like canned peaches or pears! This kind of meal goes over great with my family and I keep modifying it by substituting whatever vegetables I have available at the time. I modified this recipe based on one found at www.onceuponachef.com.
Remember, if you have just roasted a chicken or ham, and find yourself with a ham bone or a chicken carcass, don’t let them go to waste. You can simply put whichever one you have into a large stock pot and cover with a couple inches of water. Bring to a boil and then turn it down and let it simmer for the afternoon. Once done, you can let it cool and skim off any excess fat that has hardened on the surface. This broth can then be made into soup right away, or frozen for another day.
Beef Stew with Carrots & Potatoes
3 lbs round steak cut into bite-
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions
5–7 cloves garlic
2 tbsp tomato sauce
1/4 cup flour
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
herbs for seasoning (thyme,
marjoram, oregano, sage)
4 large carrots cut into 1” chunks
1 lb potatoes cut into 1” pieces
Preheat the oven to 325°F and set a rack in the lower middle position.
Pat the beef dry and season with the salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, or heavy soup pot, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Brown the meat in 3 batches, turning with tongs, for about 5 minutes per batch; add 1 tbsp more oil for each batch. (To sear the meat properly, do not crowd the pan and let the meat develop a nice brown crust before turning with tongs.) Transfer the meat to a large plate and set aside.
Add the onions, garlic, and balsamic vinegar; cook, stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping the brown bits from bottom of the pan, for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute more. Add the beef with its juices back to the pan and sprinkle with the flour. Stir with wooden spoon until the flour is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine, beef broth, water, bay leaf, thyme, and sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with a lid, transfer to the preheated oven, and braise for 2 hours.
Remove the pot from the oven and add the carrots and potatoes. Cover and place back in oven for about an hour more, or until the vegetables are cooked, the broth is thickened, and the meat is tender. Fish out the bay leaf and discard, then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve the stew warm—or let it come to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator overnight or until ready to serve. This stew improves in flavour if made at least one day ahead. Reheat, covered, over medium heat or in a 350°F oven. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.
Sage Valley Farm is a fourth generation, family-run farm that raises pastured poultry and pork, as well as a wide variety of produce, herbs, and teas. They started their farm with a desire to create one that produces tasty, nutrient-dense food using organic and regenerative systems to feed their soils. They sell their farm fresh food to a wide variety of customers throughout Saskatchewan and are honoured to play a role in building our local food system. For information call (306) 476-7111, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.knowyourfarmer.ca. Their products are available through The Farmers’ Table (see the display ad on page 9of the 26.2 November/December issue of the WHOLifE Journal).