Time for Food


August 20, 2014 by Jean

locavore tourI love food. My love is for whole foods, simply prepared, and I cook most of what I eat.  Typically, I’ll cook three or four different dishes in a week, making two servings of each, eating one serving right away and putting the other away for another meal. When I was working, I had to do all my cooking on the weekends for reheating during the week. But one of the luxuries of retirement is the time to prepare food any day of the week.

I eat a mostly plant-based diet, but I am not a strict vegetarian. I eat dairy products and eggs regularly and usually cook a fish meal once a week. Once or twice a year, I will roast a chicken; and I always roast a large turkey during the holidays, freezing leftover turkey meat and quart containers of turkey stock that last for several months.

In addition to eating a mostly plant-based diet, I try to eat mostly local foods. I was inspired to adopt what’s called “locavore” eating a number of years ago by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Pollan’s books, in particular, introduced me to community supported agriculture (CSA) schemes (where you buy a share before the growing season begins and get repaid in food during the harvest season) and to on-line resources like localharvest.org, which can help you find local farm products in your area. I buy only a small amount of food from the supermarket (where relatively little local food is available), buying most at farmers markets and at natural food stores that source local products. Part of my locavore eating includes a CSA membership at a local organic farm.

For a food lover like me, the late summer and early fall harvest time in Maine is a most wonderful time of the year. The CSA I currently belong to sells shares for $150 each during the spring and gives you a credit of $165 that can be used at the farm’s farmers market stall or at their farm market store. Most weeks, I go to the Sunday morning farmers market to get produce, first picking up whatever I can from my CSA and then supplementing it with items from other farm stalls and using my farmers market haul as the basis for the week’s meals. This week, for example, I used up $16 of my CSA credit for a dozen farm-fresh eggs, some tomatoes, fresh onions and garlic, new potatoes, 2 small eggplants and 3 bell peppers. I spent an additional $5 for a very large head of lettuce and a large fennel bulb from another farmer. The fennel was for a pasta and fennel recipe I’ve been wanting to try; the eggplants and peppers, along with two tomatoes, an onion and two cloves of garlic were sprinkled with fresh herbs from my kitchen garden and roasted in a shallow pan, producing a versatile mix that can be used as sauce over pasta or rice, as a side dish, or as filling in roast vegetable burritos. Another onion and some of the potatoes will get cooked with some of the eggs in a potato and onion frittata.

Maine’s large (and growing) number of small family farms make it a wonderful place to eat fresh, local food. But the growing season is short here. Although many farmers have adopted the four-season growing techniques pioneered by Maine farmer Eliot Coleman (see Four Season Harvest), making some items (like fresh salad greens) readily available year round, eating local foods through the long Maine winter also depends on preserving food for later use. When I was a child, I was enchanted by the glass jars of beans, tomatoes, pickles, relishes, and jellies lined up in a glass-fronted cabinet by the washing machine in the basement, products of my mother’s summer and fall canning sessions. Since attending a canning workshop in 2001, I have been canning tomatoes and tomato sauce each fall. Unfortunately, the beginning of school at the same time that canning tomatoes are available often made this more of a chore than a pleasure.

I’ve been looking forward to more time for preserving food now that I’m retired. Recently I was inspired by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s “Backyard Locavore Day,” a tour of six gardens that featured strategies for raising and preserving your own food. Each stop on the tour featured a certified Master Food Preserver volunteer providing information about a particular food-preserving topic – pickling and hot-water bath canning, using and storing green tomatoes, drying and freezing herbs, freezing garden vegetables, fermenting yogurt, and making low-sugar jams and jellies. The volunteers were full of useful information, and the program for the tour included web addresses for more information. Pursuing these on-line sources and following their links led me to the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, an amazing resource.

I’ve already done some food preserving from this year’s harvest. I took advantage of the basil bounty to make several batches of pesto, now stored in one-serving cubes in my freezer. Two weeks ago, I made my annual trek out to a blueberry farm about an hour and a half away for a twenty-pound box of newly picked wild Maine blueberries, now stored in quart containers in the freezer. In the next few weeks, I will have my eye out for canning tomatoes. But now that I have more time for my love of food, I want to expand my food-preserving repertoire, adding both new foods and new techniques. I intend to try my hand at fermenting yogurt. I am also hoping to turn part of the basement under my new addition into a storage area for root crops, apples, and winter squash. Next year, I’m going to invest in some new food-preserving equipment, either a dehydrator or a small chest freezer. One of the joys of retirement for me is having time for food.

10 thoughts on “Time for Food

  1. Jean says:

    Wow, you really ARE a foodie. My biggest problem when I go to the farmers market is buying more than I can use. I need to give more thought to ways to preserve without getting into the whole canning thing. I used to can when I was in my twenties and earlier with my mother but I didn’t enjoy it the way some people do. The farmers markets around here have a lot of organic which really does taste better and locally grown which I understand is defined as grown within 400 miles? I have learned to expand my range of veggies that I eat. The vendors at the market often have hand-outs on how to use certain things.

    I’m surprised you don’t grow a lot of your own vegetables. I’m glad retirement is leading you to a new level of excitement on what to do in the kitchen and with preserving.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I know that problem of buying too much at the farmers market. I try to think about what dishes I am going to make and only buy what I will use in a week or 10 days. (10 days is about the same amount of time it takes fresh produce to show up in the supermarket after it is harvested.) The exception is food that is only available for a brief season and that will either keep for a while (e.g. beets) or that I can preserve in some way (e.g., turning basil into pesto or canning tomatoes).
      It don’t feel as though it makes much sense to grow food for one person; you end up with too much of just a few varieties. I’d rather buy from local farmers and help to support a healthy family farm economy.

  2. It is unfortunate that seeking real food takes such effort. Thankfully, we have a lot of farmers markets in our area during the summer. I make yogurt with Oakhurst whole milk all the time using the method here: http://www.makeyourownyogurt.com/ ~ Rachel @ Grow a Good Life

    • Jean says:

      Rachel, We are very lucky in the farmers markets available in our area. To tell you the truth, I get such pleasure from going to farmers markets that it’s hard to think of it as an effort.
      Thanks for the yogurt recipe. I also have the one from the demonstration on the locavore tour.

  3. Carole says:

    Thanks for a thought provoking post. Since being retired, I have focused on eating healthier. What is your thought on organics? I’ve been reading a lot, and appears the science is not solid on the benefit of organics versus non-organics. But it may be that not enough research has been done; probably not much funding out there for this type of research. About 6 months ago I made the switch, and all dairy, poultry, fruits and vegetables that I purchase are organic. In addition, I make my own bread with whole wheat organic flour. (I use a bread machine so it is easy!)

    I love the idea of supporting local farms in their efforts to produce healthy, organic food. Is it more expensive? Yes, but I find that if I stay seasonal with the fruits and veggies, it helps with the costs.

    You’ve got me thinking about preserving tomatoes. Would love to have that for sauce off season.

    • Jean says:

      Carole, I’m a believer in organic farming and gardening, and a card-carrying member of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. For me, it’s not about whether organic foods have more or different nutrients or whether enough pesticide residues survive in non-organics to be harmful to health. The real question for me is what kinds of food production systems are best for the health of the planet. I don’t think the scientific method is very well suited to answering questions about complex systems, because the strategy of science is to only vary one thing at a time and control everything else. The result is that scientists studying organics tend to focus on questions with measurable variables like the amount of nutrient x in organically and non-organically grown foods of the same type.
      I don’t think that factory farming is sustainable, and I try to avoid factory-farmed food. Growing huge quantities of one crop planted ‘fence row to fence row’ gets high yields in the short run because of economies of scale. But that kind of agriculture generally requires use of chemical fertilizers that deplete the soil rather than build healthier soil structure, and growing lots of just one thing (monoculture) creates much bigger problems with crop pests, which then require chemical pesticides for management. Organic farming is more likely to be (but is not always) done on a smaller scale and usually involves polyculture — growing lots of different crops together.
      My preferences for buying food are as follows: I buy local, organically grown food whenever possible. (The CSAs I have belonged to have always been for certified organic farms.) When I can’t get local certified organic food, I usually go next for locally grown food. In Maine, most food is grown on small family farms, not on factory farms. This means that, even if the farm isn’t certified organic, the farmers are often using relatively small amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. (And if you are buying from a local farmer at a local farmers market, you can actually have a conversation and ask questions about their farming practices.) If I can’t get something I need from a local farm, I will then go for non-local organic. (For example, although there is some wheat grown and milled in Maine, I find that it has a low gluten content and when I try to bake bread with local wheat, the dough doesn’t rise well and I end up with bricks. In order to get wheat that will make nice light, well-risen bread, I buy organic wheat grown in the west.)
      I agree that organically grown food often tastes better. The first time I drank organic milk, it was a revelation — somehow it just tasted richer, even when it was skim milk.
      I also love having tomato sauce and canned tomatoes to use throughout the year. I like mine made without salt, and you have to pay a premium to get tomato products without added salt in the supermarket.

      • Carole says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful and thorough reply! I appreciate your take on organics. I wish I had started these changes earlier in my life; somehow it seems easier to do, now that I am retired and have more time to make an effort in careful food purchases and preparation. Yes, the organic tastes so much better. I notice a big difference with the organic chicken, fruit and yogurt.

        I’ve been using Bob’s Red Mill organic whole wheat flour from Oregon, and add vital wheat gluten to help it rise. I have to tinker a bit with the water flour ratio, depending on the humidity.

        • Jean says:

          Thanks for the tip about vital wheat gluten; it wasn’t a product I was aware of. I will get some and use it with the local organic whole wheat flour to make bread.

  4. Well I love this post. I often talk about eating locally and how we are forced to eat from our local grocer which is not always eating locally. Here if you want organics you get it from Wegmans our big grocer. Our local area here in CNY is missing organic farming. If not for our big grocer we would have precious little organics. They have an organic farm and have trained other farmers throughout western NY so we can get more organics sometimes locally. But truthfully our small farms mostly use pesticides including fruit orchards which we have lots of. Even going to the farmers market here you find very little in organics. I hope eventually we will have more organic farms. We have one restaurant an hour away that is an organic farm and restaurant. We love it and try to eat there 4 times a year.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I faced a similar situation in Gettysburg — big apple-growing region with lots of pesticide use in orchards. I did find some organic farms with CSAs and other interesting small farms (like the one that made artisan goat cheese to die for) by doing a search at localharvest.org. If you’ve never checked out that site, it might be worth your while.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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