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Celt's Garden - Summer Frenzy and the Farm Stand on Railroad

Scrape up that pile of horse poop you left usefully rotting last spring and dump it on the winter garden beds. They will need the nutrition to get through the winter. Then plant fall vegies in the beds: kale, broccoli, Asian greens, cabbage, beets, chard, spinach, carrots if you have the soil for it. You may need the nutrition, also. It's official, some 50% of us are un, under, other, or less employed than they would kinda like to be. Tell this to a bunch of Hamsters, and they say, "unnh... duh". Bellingham's famously wasp waisted economy, the one with the big hole in the middle, has forced some residents to get creative for decades. Serious cheapness comes naturally to us.

Binda Colebrook put it very well, "Stubborn peasant thrift." Hold that thought, because the next few weeks get a little frantic. The winter garden has to go in now, or we're looking at $4 a bunch for kale grown in California come December. If you've got that $4, great, you can afford a mango from Peru. If not, aren't you happy for the kale in your patch?

It's also time to put up everything you can get your hands on. Concentrate on stuff your household likes and will actually eat. A bargain on the ingredients isn't worth all the work if a dozen jars of pickled banana chutney sit unappreciated on the shelf. Tomato sauce and all its variations are big hits. The last time I priced organic marinara sauce in midwinter, it was $10 a jar. That puts your time spent home caning in a whole different perspective. Hit the library, the internet or your friends for recipes for jams, pickles, chutneys, flavored vinegar (don't go overboard with this, I finally managed to use up the fancy vinegar from 2006). Get some fat cabbages and put up sauerkraut in quart or half-gallon canning wide-mouth jars. Again, keep it to what your household can reasonably be expected to eat between now and next May.

Scrounge around for deals on the ingredients. The farm stand on Railroad Avenue (north of Holly Street, next to Hohl's Feed and Seed) has deals on jam berries, chicken greens and whatnot. Stop in and ask. Talk to your friends, maybe you can trade for the excess from their fruit trees.

Whatever excess comes out of your garden, share it, trade it, dry it, pickle it, or at last resort, freeze it. I freeze blueberries, cherries, green beans and shelled peas on purpose, broccoli if I come across excess, other vegetables only if I can't fit preservation around my day job. I often use the freezer to time shift the work of making jam by cleaning and slicing the fruit and freezing it in gallon plastic bags.

The herbs get a last cut before mid-August. Then leave them to gather strength for the winter. Thyme is particularly susceptible and may winter-kill if cut back in fall. Vegetables and fruits can go into the dryer, too: thinly slice carrots, summer squash, leaves and stems of beets, celery, kale, apples, plums, bananas, the peaches you got on sale. The dried vegetables go into winter soups. The fruit makes great snacks.

Review your household's eating habits and see what makes sense to make yourself from basic ingredients. I look at this as an engineering optimization problem. Most real world engineering problems are over constrained. This state of affairs is familiar to anyone who has tried to buy the biggest best fanciest cheapest largest capacity most gee-whiz safest car. Can't be done, the problem is over constrained. The situation resolves to sorting among sub-optimal alternatives to find one that works for you.

Bread is a no-brainer until I get overcome with work. A couple loaves of homemade bread and a pizza crust stashed in the freezer is excellent planning ahead for those ah-shit weeks. Soy milk has a ridiculous margin, something like eleven cents worth of organic soybeans in five bucks worth of soy milk. However, it proved to be considerable work for a barely passable product. If soy milk is a big part of your diet, I suggest buying a machine.

Of all the condiments, ketchup has the lowest margin for the do it yourselfer. Ketchup takes a huge amount of ingredients and plenty of time and work for what Muir Glen or Heinz Organic will do very nicely and often on sale. However, ketchup is an outstanding use of the late tomatoes, brought in to ripen in the house when the nights get cool. The late tomatoes don't get enough sun to sweeten up, so the added sugar, vinegar, onion flavor and salt in ketchup suit them very well.

Check out the farm stand on Railroad Avenue (the official name is the Local Food Exchange, a reference to its origins as a CSA pick up point.) It's under new management (Ann and Noah), and the new management is energetically adding new products. There's a spiffy new dairy case jammed with local eggs, milk, cheese, berry juice and cider. There's a large and increasing selection of value added products and dry goods, focusing on local food: four honey producers, jam, two coffee roasters, herb teas, fancy vinegar, canned albacore and salmon, soap, shampoo, hazelnuts, dry beans, new stuff every week. Bluebird farms supplies emmer, farro, pancake mix and cereal. Growing Washington, which operates the farm stand, provides most of the fresh produce from their farm in Everson. A great place to get a bouquet of flowers or drop in for their popular street food: amazingly good peanuts, honey sticks, Twin Brook chocolate milk in pints, local sodas and cider. I cooked up the dry kidney beans and they were just excellent.

Hang in there, folks. This burst of planting, harvesting, scrounging and preserving will pass by mid-September. You will be really glad you did it. Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in the library, get it on CD to listen to while you make jam) put it very well. She said that for a while there it felt like a part time job on top of her regular occupation. Then it was over, and there was all this good stuff to eat.

For a knotted shorts, introspective, Ideological, Philosophical, Historical take on such questions as to whether Feminism is consistent with canning tomatoes or is vegetable gardening a Guy Thing, see Radical Homemaking by Shannon Hayes. In the library, interesting interviews with real people about sub-optimizing their lives. The real people have advice right out of the Tightwad Gazette (library, well worth reading) and innumerable guerilla guides for the self-employed. Somewhere in Bellingham, a bunch of middle aged hippies are saying, "unnh.... DUH".

Chinese Plum Sauce and Other Chutney Recipes

Chutney recipes abound. Any cooked chutney recipe can be canned if it has enough acid, sugar and salt to preserve it. A good taste test comparison is Heinz organic ketchup. Taste some straight on a spoon (not bad, actually) for a good idea of preserving concentration.
Check the Terre Vivante cookbook for some excellent chutney recipes.
Here's one for Chinese Plum Sauce from Better Than Store Bought, slightly modified to take out the corn syrup:

2-4 sweet red peppers
5 lbs apricots, plums or mixed
5 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 packed cups brown sugar
1/2 cup peeled chopped ginger root
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/4 cups mustard seeds, lightly toasted in a skillet
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 small hot peppers, fresh or dried, seeds removed, minced
1 stick cinnamon

Clean and pit the peppers and fruit. Put everything in a really large pot and cook for 1 1/2 hours over a low flame. It should have reduced to a spicy, chunky sauce. If not, cook it more. Remove the cinnamon stick and steam or water bath can in pint jars.

Using the same proportion of salt, sugar, vinegar and fruit, you can come up with endless variations. (From a reply to a comment on the previous post, Jam Session.)

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