The garden catalogs are arriving, seducing the gardener with glossy food pornography of next year's harvest. Now is the time to sit down with pencil and paper, recipe notes and old shopping lists and think through what you are going to eat next year. We are conditioned to think in terms of a week's shopping. Stop for a moment and think of a year's eating. Most people have family favorite dishes, repeated several times throughout the year.
What do you need to grow to have the makings of Grandma's spaghetti or Dad's Pad Thai on hand? Spaghetti is tomato sauce, garlic, onions, oregano, basil, savory, rosemary and a little grated lemon peel. Start with the herbs. Oregano, winter savory and rosemary are perennials. The rosemary is marginal in our climate, so put it in a sheltered spot. Tuscan Blue is a good cultivar for this area. Basil is an annual that needs high fertility and warm weather. I like to grow it on my deck in a tub of purchased potting soil, so I can fuss with it. We grow great garlic around here. It you have room to grow some of your own, it will save money.
Onions are always an issue. Onions require precious space in the home garden, diligent weeding and regular watering, but don't sell for that much. If you can find local storage onions and lay in a sack for the fall, great, otherwise buy retail. The urban gardener may choose to grow fresh slicing tomatoes and buy a case of processing tomatoes to put up Grandma's tomato sauce. Any green tomatoes left at the end of the season can be brought inside to ripen in newspaper lined trays. They lack the sweetness of a fresh tomato right off the vine and are best used to make sauce and condiments. Shave off the yellow part of the rind from your lemons, dehydrate and save in a spice jar. You don't even need a dehydrator. Just leave the little curls of peel out and they will dry out. The white part of the rind is bitter, so you don't want that.
One ingredient of Dad's Pad Thai, the Thai basil, can be grown here with sufficient fussing. It will only be fresh for a short season, but you can dry some for the winter. You are out of luck on the lime juice and coconut milk. Success with chili peppers depends on matching the variety to your micro-climate. The central European peppers do well for me, Bulgarian Carrot and Hungarian Black, as well as jalapeno and cayenne. Serranos and anchos are often available locally, check the farmer's market in late summer and dry some for those overcast, pepperless months.
What do you like to eat? Salads in spring (grow, under cover for earlier salad), broccoli in early summer (fantastic local broccoli is available if you'd rather not bother growing your own), corn on the cob (I buy yellow sweet corn, the lady across the street feeds the raccoons and they get all the sweet corn in the neighborhood), potatoes (limited supply locally available, contact your farmer early), roots and squash in winter (grow if you have the space), kale and leeks in late winter (grow)? Green peas are cost effective to buy frozen. They have to be picked and processed immediately or the sugar turns to starch.
What can you grow, where you are, with the space that you have, that will give a boost to next year's cooking? What do you like to cook and can you grow the ingredients or buy them locally? What worked for you this year and what would you do differently? Some people grow to stock the freezer. I mostly quit doing that, because my household lost interest in frozen vegetables after eating fresh food from the winter garden.
The basis for deciding what to grow, what to buy and what to make is some thought given to what your household will actually eat. I can get mine to eat sauerkraut once a month for eight months and not at all during the rush of summer goodness. One solid head of cabbage makes two or more quarts of sauerkraut. So that's easy to figure out. Get 3-4 local heads of nice fat kraut cabbage in August, put up eight quarts in wide-mouthed canning jars, done. The looser home grown garden cabbages tolerate winter very well and are best eaten fresh, sauted with galic and steamed a bit to break down the cellulose.
How much jam does your household eat? Can you make it from what you can grow, u-pick, trade and scrounge? Are there favorite pickles, chutneys and relishes that you can put up? A basic quick meal, for example curried canned garbanzo beans and rice, is improved immeasurably by homemade chutney.
Here's part of my garden list for next year:
Early salad: fill a small bed with horse poop and a layer of top soil in February, plant lettuce and spinach and protect with a row cover. The volunteer lettuce is the earliest, but there is never very much of it.
Mushrooms - Spring is mushroom season. Lay hands on a quantity and dry.
Nettles - harvest in early spring and dry for tea and stock.
Basil - supplement the tub on the deck with enough u-pick basil to make pesto and freeze it. Half Acre Farm does u-pick. Grow lemon, purple and Thai basil. Purple basil can be substituted for shiso, which is a real pain to grow.
Tomatoes - get the starts in the ground earlier and use row covers to keep them warm if we have another dicely spring. Heirloom tomatoes make great sauce, but at $5/lb, the only way to do that is to grow them yourself. Grow more tomatoes.
Peppers - Grow more peppers next year, and concentrate on varieties that do well here.
Corn - grow flint corn (the raccoons distain it)
Summer squash - one each cocozelle and yellow zucchini, pattypan, trombincino and rampicante.
Cucumbers - salad cukes are easier to come by than picklers, particularly the small ones for making cornichons. Grow a few vines of pickling cucumbers on a trellis, so I can do small batches instead of a mad rush to locate pickling cucumbers and process them immediately.
Winter garden - get the winter green stuff planted in August this time, put some old fencing over it to keep the deer out and remember to water, eh?
Edamane - parboiled fresh soybeans are amazingly good. The deer don't seen to like the fuzzy pods.
Green beans - freeze some.
Peas- Grow edible pod peas, snow and snap peas, and buy frozen green peas to make Korean noodles with peas.
Blackberries and plums - forage, gather and trade, since neither grows in my garden. Make some fruit wine next year, less jam, dehydrate the plums, freeze some blackberries.
That's enough to get you going. Now take out pencil, paper, old shopping lists and those glossy seed catalogues and have at it.
Oh, right. Reverse planning is a military term. It means starting with the end state and planning in reverse from there. The patrol leader reverse plans the mission, starting with the time the last soldier has to set foot over the line of return and planning each step backwards from there, arriving at the time the patrol has to leave the line of departure. Whatever time is left before departure is the time to prepare for the mission. I found it a great planning tool for working mothers.
2 servings cooked brown or white rice
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained, or a cup of cooked garbanzos
garlic clove, peeled and diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 teasp. curry powder
Saute onion, garlic and curry powder in a little oil until onions are cooked. Add garbanzos and cook until warm. Serve over rice, topped with a few raisins and coconut shreds. Your choice of chutney, hot sauce, sliced raw apples or suchlike go well.
Sauerkraut in quart jars from Keeping Food fresh by Terre Vivante
Thinly sliced fresh juicy cabbage
Berries of allspice, juniper, whole black peppercorns, bay leaves or caraway seed, peppercorns and bay
Clean wide-mouthed canning jars
Put a few berries in the bottom of the jar. Firmly pack a layer of cabbage. Add a pinch of salt and more spices. Continue until jar is almost full. Add water to within 1/2" of the top, covering the cabbage. Put lids on and set jars on the counter where you can watch them for a few days. Unscrew the lids and burp the gas every day or so. After a week, screw lids down and store in a cool, dark place. Plastic jar lids work well for this, as the brine will eventually eat metal lids. Lasts at least until the following summer.