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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Drying Onions - Keeping them whole for Winter

Onions are fairly easy to save and use over the winter.  My husband did it accidentally once, pulling out the onions for me on year, placing them in a paper bag to bring in the house, and then forgetting them behind the couch next to the back door.  A few weeks later, they were found, and we used them for the next 7 months without moving the paper bag!  If this is not your preferred method of drying, then I would suggest trying the following way.  I have onions out in the garden, but due to some crazy scheduling conflicts this spring, I planted a few weeks later in the spring than what I am used to, so I happily scoured Eastern Market for the right onions.  You can dry any onion, as long as they still have a fair bit of stem, and the trailing roots, and it is best if they still have the outer, papery skin attached.  I found onions with the first two criteria, but the outer skins had all been removed to make them pretty for buyers.  These can still be dried, you just lose an extra layer of onion.

If you are getting them from your garden, or with the papery outer skin on, do not wash them!  Just rub the dirt off, or, at most, wipe them gently with a damp towel, and keep the tops and tails on.  If the outer skin is removed, just wipe them down.

This is the part where you get to be creative.  You also have to be able to braid.  You basically braid the tops, adding an onion in a layer, about 4-5 all together, and then tie the braids up in something sturdy.
Once the onions are dried on the outside, (the inside will remain moist, but onions are astringent enough that they are usually fine) I cut them down, leaving about a 1/2 inch of the stem, and put them in a paper bag with wood chips (I have a bunny, so the pine bedding from the pet store works fine) and put them in a wicker basket, and keep them in the pantry in the basement.  The area does need to remain dry, so I do have a dehumidifier down there during the summer months.   If you need an onion while they are hanging, just cut one off at the stem!  When you do dry onions, before you use one, check its firmness.  If done right, an onion will remain firm for months.  If you do get one that is soft, remove it quickly to avoid ruining your whole bag.  When using it, peel it like you would a fresh onion, and just check for anything weird.  Very rarely have I had to toss an onion, but it is always better to be safe and check, then to be sorry and sick.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shopping at Eastern Market in Detroit

There is only one place to go on a Saturday morning when you wake up at 5am and can't go back to sleep, the Farmer's Market.  This morning I decided to call a friend, Bethany, who is always up early, and is also a fan of Farmer's Markets.  We agreed to meet at Eastern Market, a half-way point for both of us, and we enjoyed the morning with several thousand other early-birds.  Eastern Market opens at 4am, so were were the late arrivals, but there is always lots of produce and products to buy, and many vendors to visit.  Bethany also commented that it is a place to walk around and feel a part of something bigger, like going back in time when people gathered at the local town center to trade.  Most vendors are happy to talk with you, and in the posted rules, there is a rule against being grumpy!  

This morning I was able to get some things that I am not growing this year, like corn, black beans, pinto beans and garlic cloves; some things that are not yet done growing in my garden, like onions; and the required honey and Amish made bread.  I also picked up two bunches of rosemary, because mine was dismal this year.  Two bunches for $2.00 will dry and last for the whole year.  The prices are much less expensive than store prices, and the produce is fresher and of better quality.  

Bethany bought fresh Michigan peaches, free of all pesticides, (yes, we sniffed and didn't care about strange stares) zucchini, yellow straight-neck squash, kolrobi, and we both bought apple-cider to drink. (The cider was from last falls pressing, and then frozen, but it tasted great!)

The corn will be grilled and we will eat some, but I bought 12 ears so that I can preserve some by freezing.  The onions will be braided and tied-up to be dried, along with the rosemary.  The black beans and pinto beans are already dried, so they will be put in the cupboard for yummy bean soup, and black beans and rice.

I have a love for raw honey, that is unpasteurized honey, which you cannot buy in stores.  I have eaten raw honey for years, we harvested it at the Firestone Farm, and the taste in so much better and more complex.  It is worth the trip alone.  This year I stopped at the "Grown in Detroit" stand and bought some "Wild Detroit Honey" from Green Toe Gardens.
The city bees are actually fairing much better these days than their country cousins, due to less pesticides and more city gardens.  The bees roam all over, and feed on all varieties of flower, so the honey has a different essence compared to bees given fields of clover, or orchards.  You can taste the "wild" and it is delicious.
This article I found talks about these city bees and their honey, it is a great read:

Now that I am home, the corn is soaking, the onions are braided, the rosemary is hanging, and I will posting soon on those projects!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Drying Herbs

My thyme and oregano grow like weeds, and it is great having fresh herbs for canning, but I also like dried herbs for the year, so I dry my own.  It is super easy, and the only things you need are fresh herbs, string, a nice corner with good air circulation, and a stick.
I loved working at Daggett Farm (1760's Historic Farm) because of the drying techniques, and we always used a good, sturdy stick from the yard.  You don't have to use one from the yard, but it is more fun!
I have a nice open area in my kitchen, and I have a ceiling fan to keep the air moving, but a fan is not necessary unless you have high humidity or a closed area.  I cut the herbs in the morning, before it is too hot, which helps keep the oils in the leaves, and then wash them in cool water to get any bugs or other stuff off the leaves.  I then let them dry for a few hours, so that when I tie them up, there is no moisture in the stems.  I then settle down in front of an awesome movie like the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" and start tying up loose bundles of two or three stems each with 100% cotton string.  I like to use hand quilting cotton thread, as it does not retain moisture, and it is very strong for its width.  I then just tie the bundles up to my stick, which is hung between a wall and a cupboard.  Just make sure the herbs have full air.  If you are worried about dust or bugs, drape cheesecloth over, but only one layer.  In my house, it only takes about 3-4 days to dry, and then I pull down the bundles, crush them, and fill up my spice jars.  I put any extra in little cotton cloth bags, and keep them in a paper bag in the pantry.  This amount in the window will fill a jar, so I will dry several batches throughout the summer.  Whatever is leftover when next year rolls around, I just compost.
This process works very well for small leaf herbs, and ( though I do use a dehydrator for other produce) the herbs fair better taste-wise than in a dehydrator.  
With larger leaf herbs like sage and basil, just make sure that the bundles are only 1-2 sprigs and a fan is recommended.  The best drying comes from cool, dry air, not necessarily hot, if it is humid.

Why Farmer's Markets are the BEST!

Love Farmer's Markets!  I have two favorites, but I will happily go to any Farmer's Market I stumble across.  I live close to the Oakland County (Pontiac) Farmer's Market, and they are open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through the spring, summer and fall.  Depending on the season, you can pick up plants, produce, and products like honey and fresh baked breads.  I love going there for my favorite vendors too.  On the Southwest corner, a very nice older gent sells the best sweet corn.  I stop by each week, and he always gives me a deal, and is never stingy with the compliments!  Though I do have a well stocked garden, I do not grow everything, and it is always nice to interact with others at the markets.  I take along a few canvas bags and my market cart to make my trip easy.

 Another vendor sells "ugly tomatoes" on the side.  I buy them all.  They are half price, and are perfect for sauces, pastes, and hot sauce.  Why?  Because you just cut the ugly off!  Unless you are doing a grand presentation, or need perfect slices for a party, you do not need perfect.  If you are concerned about organic and pesticide free produce, some of it is going to be ugly.  Apples do not come off the tree with a layer of wax, and bugs will always want to compete with you for food.  You can certainly be picky, I am, (mealy apples are useless) but one spot here or there can be removed.  Do talk to the vendors, ask them if they use any types of pesticides or herbicides.  It is very important in canning that you get chemical free produce.  No matter how much you wash, pesticides are not readily removed from your produce, and canning can compound the chemicals and cause a bad taste.  If you are uncertain, look at the texture of your produce, is it waxy feeling, (pesticides) does it make your fingers feel sticky?  Smell it.  Yea, you might get a few strange stares, but who cares!  If you are not happy with a particular stall, go to another.  Many organic farmers may not have the certification because it is expensive to get certified, so visit, talk, and feel your food.

Another favorite market is Eastern Market in Detroit.  This market has everything!  There are hundreds of vendors, and you can get just about everything here.  There are shops that surround the market that sell wines, meats, and breakfast!  The pavilions house so many farmers, that you can easily get lost.  Bring a cart, get a map, and get there super early.  The market opens at 4am, and I try to be there at around 6am.
Other little markets dot the area around me, and I like to visit them as well.  You may only be going to make dinner, but these markets are excellent ways to get organic cheap.  Farmer's Markets have great prices, and are usually half of what you would spend for organic at the supermarket.  Also, you are buying local, helping your own local economy, a win-win situation!
If you have a favorite market, send me a comment about it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garden Pictures

These are just a few pics of my garden earlier this month.  Lucy and Ethel are a pair of Araucana chickens.  They are wonderful at pest control, and they do not like anything coming into their yard.  They have chased groundhogs, ground squirrels, crows, chipmunks, and cats out of the garden area.  Love my chickens and their pretty blue eggs!
The trellis is covered in Kentucky Wonder pole beans.  I save seeds every year, and every year they produce more beans than I can can, freeze, and sent to all my friends!  Last year I had over 30 pint jars, 15 freezer packs, and the kids were begging for a break from beans.  This year I cut back on the plants by half.

Why a blog?

I am going to be doing a presentation at the Wyandotte Farmer's Market on September 15th, 2011.  The presentation is about preserving fresh food from your garden, and produce that you can find at local Farmer's Markets.  I decided to start keeping a blog so that people can get information and recipes for preserving their own bounty.
I have been growing my family's food in the backyard for a few years now, and became interested in food preservation while working at Firestone Farm, which is an historical farm at The Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village.  Though I love the recipes that come out of cookbooks of centuries past, I have been working with new recipes too.  I like to use many different methods to preserve food, and I will share them here as my garden produces over the summer.  I will hopefully be canning, (both hot-water bath canning and pressure canning) freezing, drying and pickling.
Right now, it looks like beets may be the first thing on my long list of items to preserve, but I may decide to let them get a wee bigger, and start drying my herbs.  I have a huge batch of oregano, basil, chives, cilantro, thyme, sage, rosemary, and lavender.
As this is my first time recording my endeavors, please have patience!  If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments for now.