Twenty-First-Century Skills

Evidently it has become a problem that so few people like to cook, about 10% of us according to one survey.  Wait!  What about all those cooking shows on television?  Is that just wishful thinking, like someone saying, “Someday I’d like to write a book.”?

I prepare food every single day.  I have my fast-food options: scrambled eggs, salad, tuna or sardines, apples and peanut butter.  I don’t bother with too many fancy recipes.  A lot of meals are simply a steamer filled with what’s available at the time, including potatoes, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, whatever is in season.  Put it on the table with butter, seasonings, and cheese or beans and you have a meal.

We aren’t vegetarians.  I make a pot of beef soup some weeks.  Other weeks I make a beef and pork meatloaf.  A whole chicken lasts a week—fried leg quarters and wings one evening, chicken breasts and vegetables another.  I boil the carcass, removing any meat left on the bones, and make soup. The dog gets gristle, fat, and anything that’s left except the bones.

In my freezer are locally sourced chickens, whole-hog sausage, ground beef from grass-fed cows, and ground lamb.  I raise chickens for meat and eggs, and what I don’t grow in my garden I pick up at the farmers’ market, from gardening friends, and from Oklahoma Food Coop. That includes my Oklahoma peanut butter, Oklahoma lard, and yogurt from grass-fed cows.

What do I buy at the grocery store?  Sardines and tuna, frozen salmon, almonds, avocados, and coffee.  Oranges in their season.  Jar rims and lids.  Apple cider vinegar, although I have made my own.  Chocolate.  And some cheese, although much of that also comes from Oklahoma producers.

When foods are available, I can, freeze, and dehydrate.  In August, my pantry is filling, but I need a lot more green beans, more jars of tomatoes and tomato sauce, and apples.  If they’re available along the roadside when Dale returns from his art shows in Colorado, I’d like another bushel of peaches.

What I thought of, when I heard the piece on NPR bemoaning the loss of cooking skills, was this: what’s missing are time and education.  If you work all day away from home, how do you make time to preserve food?  Without training, how sure can you be that your home-canned foods are safe?  We need to address these issues.  People need to know how to grow and preserve.  As climate change progresses, this education may be what saves us.

Yes, I’m often worn to a nubbin, as my mother would say, during canning season.  But in the winter, when I serve a meal from my freezer or my pantry, I’m grateful that I know how to feed my family.  And I’m proud that I’m passing this education on. The ability to grow and preserve may be more in need in the coming century than even tech skills.  The only thing more important, if things continue to go downhill, may be the ability to find water and dig a well.

 

Beets

I don’t remember eating beets

when I was a kid.

Maybe they don’t grow well

in the humid heat of Zone 7.

 

Now, it’s one of the staples

of my pantry.  We eat them

pickled,

roasted,

just out of the boiling water and sliced,

as a side dish,

on a salad.

 

Remember the discovery!

I was experimenting with pickled beets

and sliced off the rough edges,

popped them into my mouth.

Yum.

Ate a bunch.

 

Next day, thought I was dying.

No tummy ache,

just the mistake

of looking into the toilet

when I flushed.

 

This year, though,

after a couple of dry years,

a friend asked if I wanted beets.

 

She planted two rows,

and did they grow!

 

Two bushels.

Maybe three.

I’ve canned,

Frozen.

Pickled.

 

Now I’m giving them away.

 

Wait!

What if next year is another dry one?

Maybe another canner full,

a few more jars,

one more day boiling water,

slipping skins,

slicing off the rough edges

and popping them into my mouth.

Summer Food and Some Good Advice

Everything changes in the summer.  For starters, I get up early to beat the Oklahoma heat.  I’m a morning writer, but in summer I’ve had to learn to work in writing in short sprints.

Although my usual MO is to keep going until a job is finished, in summer I work in fits and starts. After half an hour, or when I can’t see because my glasses are salted from sweat, I go in to wash my face and get a drink.

I still love my black coffee, but mineral water is my best summer friend.

I don’t plan meals based on what’s thawed or in the pantry but on what is fresh and available. This week it’s yellow squash, the first tomatoes, and new red potatoes.

And cabbage! You may think of soup as a winter meal, but cabbage, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes make a divine soup.  It’s good with lean ground beef, if you have it, or beef broth, but the vegetarian version is mighty fine.

I spend more time in the kitchen in summer, and I sing the praises of a good air conditioner because I am cooking from scratch instead of opening jars and freezer bags.  There are more dishes to clean, but fresh food is so worth the effort.

Canning season has started.  There are roasting beets in the freezer and pickled beets in the pantry.  Corn will be here any day.  My first jars of tomatoes, mandatory for winter soup and spaghetti sauce, are labeled and stored.  I’m making cucumber dills this week.

I planned to process peaches this week, too, but Oklahoma happened.  Last year, a pumpkin plant that sprouted outside one of my chicken runs was already spreading its vines in March.  This year, we had a freeze in late April, the coldest April on record, and peaches are hard to find.  Peaches are a staple in my winter kitchen, and I’m considering what we will use instead when the cold winds blow.

Dale loves peaches canned in a light honey/vanilla syrup.  I love them frozen whole and only partially thawed.  The skins slip right off, and the texture is like sorbet.  Thanks to my friend Linda W. for that lovely trick.

The lack of peaches this year makes me think of the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh’s dream. When your essential foods are plentiful, save the extras.  When they are scarce, you’ll be glad you did.  Man, I wish I’d canned and frozen more peaches than I needed last year!

Take your homesteading advice where you can find it.

Hopefully, apples will be in good supply this fall.  2019 could be an apple winter.