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Monday, December 2, 2013

A Wintery Day's Carrot Dig

The Saturday before last we were working on projects outside.  To tell you the truth, I can't even really remember what we were doing.  All I remember is that there was snow on the ground, and the temperatures were expected to drop even further starting that evening.  
I had spent the beginning of November winterizing the garden.  Old plants were pulled.  Mulch was raked up and added to the perennial rhubarb and asparagus. Wire supports were wrapped up and stacked up.  The only things that remained were the broccoli that was still producing and two rows of carrots that needed dug, which had been companion planted with onions under the tomatoes. 

I left these last plants because other things were calling my name, thinking that I just might harvest some more broccoli (which I didn't) and knowing that carrots do quite well being stored in the cool soil. Some people even cover them with a layer of straw for insulation and dig them throughout the winter as needed. 

Not me.

I have a hard enough time finding time to peel them when we would like to eat them, let alone bundling up to go out in the cold, uncover them, and dig them.

Still, I left my carrots, planning to come back to them as soon as I could.

Back to last Saturday . . . As I contemplated the soon to be setting sun, snow covered ground, and my last two rows of carrots in the garden, I decided that they needed dug that evening or I should just forget about them.

After all of the work of preparing the soil, planting the carrots, pulling out weeds, and the fact that I hadn't yet harvested enough to feed our family through the winter, I opted for the former option. 

By the time this decision was made, the light from the warming sun (as warming as you can get in November) was fading fast, and the cold was creeping in.  My 7 and 4 year old headed into the house to warm up, but my 9 and 2 year old were delighted to stay out and help snatch up the carrots being surfaced by my potato fork, fascinated by the worms also unearthed despite the cold, somewhat frozen ground.

I was thankful for their help as well. Good company distracts from cold toes.

In a shorter amount of time than I predicted, our box was filled with beautifully sized carrots and frozen-ish soil stuck around them.

The box of carrots, along with a few worms hiding in stubborn chunks of iced soil, were set in the mud room.  A few days later I worked the last of the soil off, filled a paper grocery sack almost 3/4 full of still chilled carrots, and placed the sack in the storm shelter.

Although I won't dig carrots in the dead of winter, I can periodically muster up courage enough to venture out to the storm shelter in order to bring a assortment of produce into the house to stock the fridge and pantry.

Better yet, however, are the carrots that I can store in our pantry without fear of spoilage AND that are prepared to use.

A couple of years ago I received a free, larger scale food dehydrator in the mail from Cabelas, our favorite store. Okay.  It was once our favorite store.  In a former, non-farming life.  But we still do use our Cabela's card (which we pay off right away each month), and we receive wonderful points that allow me to do things like request a free food dehydrator delivered to my door.

I am still learning all of the things that my food dehydrator can do, but I have found out that one of these things is to dehydrate a good portion of my garden produce which saves freezer space, preserves nutrients, textures and flavors that might be lost in canning, and makes this produce ready to quickly add into my recipes.

While many of my carrots will remain in our storm shelter to be retrieved and eaten fresh, I do dehydrate many of my carrots.  To do this, I take a batch of carrots, peel them, run them through the food processor to thinly and evenly slice them, and then I spread them out onto the trays of my food dehydrator to dehydrate.

What I end up with are jars of carrot slices, 1/4 the volume of pre-dehydrated carrots, that are able to be stored on a shelf in the pantry, free from a blustery winter day's venture to the storm shelter.

Not only that, but I also have pre-sliced carrots that are ready to be used in any recipe of my choosing.

It is what I call Crooked Gap Farm convenience food.

On Saturday, we wanted to set the posts for our hoop house. Ethan needed my help the majority of the day, but 6 hungry mouths still needed to be nourished. My solution, I pull out my convenience food - grabbing jars from the cupboards, baggies from the freezer, and quickly put together meals like this turkey and noodle soup, which can warm on the stove until our meal time.

As I enjoy these warming meal, filled with the produce from our farm, produce that echos my spring, summer, fall, and sometimes wintery days, I am thankful. I am thankful for a husband who lives out his desire to have me stay home with our children, for our children who joyfully join me as I work at home, and for the ability to help support our family through opportunities given to me on the farm.

CGF Turkey and Vegetable Soup
  • 1 qt turkey broth
  • 1 pt turkey
  • 1/4 cup + 2 T dehydrated carrots (1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup +2 T dehydrated green beans (1 1/2 cup fresh or fozen) or 1 pt green beans with juice
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh chopped onion
  • 2 cup frozen sweet corn
  • 1 qt canned diced potatoes or 4 cups raw
  • 2 stalks celery chopped
  • 1/4 cup lentils
  • 1/4 cup wild rice
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic
  • 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)

** This recipe is based on the different ways I have preserved my produce.  Ingredients can be substituted, omitted, or additional ingredients added depending on availability.
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Tools of My Trade
About the same time the simple round food dehydrator we received for our wedding burned out, a friend told me about her Excalibur food dehydrator.  I did a little research on it, and was very impressed with the reviews of how it evenly dehydrates food, the various temperatures you can set, the amount of food it holds, and even all of the other uses it has besides dehydrating foods - such as raising breads or making yogurt. We had accumulated enough Cabela's Club points for me to order the model linked to free of charge. Although the simpler of the models, I am so glad that I went with this dehydrator instead of another round stacking dehydrator.  It is definitely worth every penny, even if I had paid for it!

This book is a wonderful resource on companion planting in order to grow foods without the use of chemicals. It details good and bad companions, how various plants work together for increased flavor, productivity, and pest control.  It includes information not only for the vegetable garden, but also for companion planting with fruits, nut trees, ornamental plants, and much more. Copies of this book can be found used or you can purchase a new copy from the link provided.

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