August 20, 2014 by Jean
I 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.