keeping it going
I’m sitting in the living room at the table, drinking a smoothie made of strawberries and black raspberries from the farm, with a bit of vanilla hemp milk mixed in. I remember picking the berries during the sweltering summer months, heading back out to the fields on my days off with a backpack full of tupperware containers which I would fill to the brim and bike back to the house with. Until this year I didn’t know that different strawberry varieties ripened at different times of the season, nor that each kind tastes totally unique (kent and sable soon became my favourites – tiny and extremely sweet, compared to the huge but watery governor simcoe type). I also learned that some foods are just so much better when they’re warm from the sun – all the juice and sweetness in the berries oozes out in the first bite. Cherry tomatoes, too, taste so much sweeter when they’re a little sun-warm.
some gajo de melon and Thai pink egg cherry tomatoes (and a few others), some of my favourite kinds
The berries in my smoothie were picked on those hot days, cleaned and then frozen for use over the winter. I didn’t realize how in the last couple of years, since I had access to so much home-grown food, I just subconsciously started eating seasonally. When we had our backyard vegetable garden in 2010, I didn’t expect a very big haul because none of us really knew how to grow anything, especially not from seed, and it was really just an experiment. But we ended up with excessive amounts of food! And with minimal work. So many days we had too many zucchinis to know what to do with, and were scrambling to come up with new ways to eat the delicious purple calabash tomatoes and salad greens, to prevent them from rotting in the ground (or on our counter.)
one of my harvests from the backyard garden late last summer: 2 kinds of kale, onions, carrots, 2 kinds of tomatoes, zucchini, soy beans, nasturtiums, and salad greens
So naturally, that summer, I couldn’t really justify buying other vegetables. There was no need, unless we wanted something we weren’t growing, like mushrooms. I remember buying fruit, but even much of that was taken care of by the yard – we have apple and pear trees, a plum tree and a huge raspberry patch (we are so lucky!) The main produce purchases were lemons and avocadoes, some potatoes (apparently the only staple crop we didn’t grow), strawberries we picked at a nearby farm, and the occasional basket of farmer’s market peaches. It wasn’t planned, but when you have access to such a variety of foods, which ripen at different times during the year, you don’t really have to think about eating in season; it just happens. One day you go out and collect snap peas, and then a few weeks later they stop producing but you have cherry tomatoes instead, so you start eating those, and so on.
The summer of 2010 was also the first I’ve had in a while when I was working part-time instead of full, and wasn’t in school. It was glorious to have time to learn new things in new ways and devote days to reading and gardening and preserving. Thanks to the abundance in the backyard and the free time to spend with it, we ended up with jams made from the plums and berries, apple butter from our own apples, pears canned in sweet syrup with spices from the garden, plus lots of frozen herbs, pickled beets and zucchini, and root vegetables stored in buckets of sand. There was definitely not a shortage of garden bounty throughout the winter (in fact we’re still enjoying some of the preserves from that summer).
This year at the farm the same opportunity presented itself, but I had less time and energy to devote to processing the food we grew. In the peak of the berry season I had wanted to host a jam-making day at the farmhouse and invite people to bring their musical instruments (Strawberry Jam was the event name I toyed with!) But those days were some of the hottest, and the workload was steadily rising as more and more crops were ready for harvesting, so the last thing I wanted to do was spend hours over a hot stove. I froze the berries instead. The same thing happened with the tomatoes; it was an excellent tomato season, and I had never canned tomato sauce, so that was also part of my plan for the year. But again time was short, and it was too hot to cook the sauce and then can it in a boiling water bath. So those tomatoes got frozen, too. (My freezer in town is now packed full with bags of red, yellow and orange tomatoes!) There was so much spinach and chard that it couldn’t be eaten fast enough, so those got blanched and went into the freezer too. Other things that made it in were herbs, beet greens (they’re edible and delicious!), and homemade vegetable stock that I cooked on the wood stove using scraps. All this stuff has barely been touched, and awaits cold winter days when I’ll reach them out to make something warm and energizing that contains sunshine, soil and care from the hands of myself and the people I lived and worked with.
Beautiful spinach! I gushed to the farm crew many times about how gorgeous it was
And on top of that, I still get to enjoy the cold-season crops that we harvested together, in the winter share.
As I look back fondly at (and nostalgic for) farm life, and ahead at the winter that always seems longer than expected, it’s a comfort having these bits of the farm with me. Even though I can’t warm up by the wood stove anymore and I don’t hear the coyotes in the middle of the night, I can nourish my body and soul with farm goodness from the kitchen and be reminded that I’m still connected.