Author Archives: blanchak

surviving midwestern spring…

By Katie Blanchard

It’s that time of year, when flowers are supposed to be sprouting and trees budding and the earth producing a bounty, right? This year, with all the sun and warmth we’ve been having, the buds part is correct, but just like every year, I yet again face the silly disappointment that snow melt does not automatically resurrect the farmer’s market and return local produce to the co-op cooler. This may also have to do with my having just returned from three months studying in places where avocados, papayas, citrus, and mangoes are local…. but, I will have no fear!

Touring the co-op this morning with my Plant Biology class, Strider gave us the wonderful news that this is the first year he’s seen local produce complete the circle of the seasons—he still has local onions from the fall, and the radishes just arrived from Wisconsin Growers. This is great, and gives such hope for the future of year-round production in this part of the world. Equally exciting are the things we can do, and can create, out of the bits of local stuff that is around and can be started quick in the windowsill. Here’s some of the lemonade I’ve made with our few early spring lemons, as it were….

*sprouts! lentils, alfalfa, mung beans, peas….some of these are locally-produced for normal cooking but you can make them even more nutritious-delicious and get out the early-spring itching-to-grow by soaking them in a jar of water overnight, draining them, and then rinsing 3-4 times a day for a couple of days until they are lovely little crunchy things.

*microgreens! I have not actually tried these little guys, but it could be a similar solution to “I need to grow & eat some green things NOW!” Check this out from the perpetually hip Gayla Trail @ You Grow Girl.

*I was very excited to see the new kneaded butter in the dairy section….spring’s first bounty (radishes!) + that lovely butter = only the most jolie of French breakfasts.

*another of my favorite new versatile recipes is herb shortbread, something than can feature more of that delicious butter and either the tidbits of herbs that survived over-wintering or the new plants that are sprouting (or will be soon!) Use any basic flour/sugar/salt/butter recipe and add a tablespoon or so of rosemary, sage, basil, chamomile, or mint!

*roasted parnsips: those freshly-dug creamy beauties from Open Hands are sweet enough to eat raw, but I am a sucker for all roasted roots. Even better? I mashed up roasted parsnips and onions and Singing Hills’ (delicious) chevre for a delicious homemade ravioli filling.



The Real Dirt: why we grow food

We keep swallowing up this land–where do we think our food is going to come from? –The Real Dirt on Farmer John


Posted by blanchak.

Part of my celebration/participation in the Eat Local Challenge for August (and let’s face it, this entire summer season of abundance) has been to finally watch all of those food-and-farm-ish documentaries that I heretofore have just pretended to have seen. Take One: King Corn (watch it) Take Two: The Real Dirt on Farmer John (definitely watch it). Any movie about food or farming that I watch now makes me cry.  Not love stories, birth stories, death stories. Farms. Food. The devastating reality that we are unravelling a large thread of the very fabric of our humanity–but what an inadequate metaphor. You can’t put a metaphor around the fact that we are losing the knowledge of how to feed ourselves, our neighbors, our community, our children! No just the bucolic wonder of picking fruit from living trees and digging potatoes out of the equally vital dirt–but the essential understanding of what dirt even is, what soil means us, for our survival. Kids should be pledging allegiance to the soil of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation atop the holy humus. If I have nightmares, they include this apocalyptic saga: we continue down past peak oil, we’ve destroyed precious ecosystems and the climate in the process, fertilizer becomes a thing of the past, and then we’re left with ravaged lands, barren lands without an iota of organic matter or a speck of any micronutrient. I don’t think the entire Midwest can lay fallow while we wait for the topsoil to rebuild. This is where that resolve comes in: we must grow food. I must grow food. Not just because of nightmare disaster sequences, but because I always want to leave people better fed than when I meet them, and the soil too.

All that said, do see Farmer John if you haven’t already–it’s a delightful and inspiring story of farm rehabilitation as is happening and needs to continue to happen everywhere in rural and urban America.

And come see FRESH on Friday!

Friday Night Dilly Beans, Grandma-Style

Most of my favorite memories of my grandmother are also memories of my favorite food. Inextricable from my thoughts of childhood summertime are lunches on my Grandma’s porch on Hubbard Lake (MI), thesun shimmering off the lake and through the wooded front yard onto the the round, red table set with midsummer royalty: Potato Salad. Sliced Tomatoes. Dilly Beans.

Certainly the pull home to Michigan, to my grandmother’s house, where I have yet to return this summer, was one reason, but it was not the only explanation for what I, a 21-year-old college student, did this past Friday night.

I pickled and frozed 14 quarts of green beans.

I know I know I know—I’m a college student. College = dining hall, foodfoodfood, 10+ choices every day, 3 times a day, all I could ever hope or care or not care to eat. And I’m canning? Strange? Perhaps. But to not seize the bounty of the seaon as a yong person with lots of time and little money seems stranger still. I am currently a single, childless, landless, unapprenticed undergrad, and while summer is certainly busy, these are beach days compared to the chaos of a usual term at Carleton.

So then, seeimg no reason to pay for a meal plan when I can merrily cook my own for a fraction of the price, and seeing no reason to buy Chilean beans and Californian dill in February when I’m got plenty of time to stock up with local produce now, I began the journey of filling my pantry. My goal? A cabinet of edible wonders before the first frost this fall. Here’s step one:

A Complete Recipe for Friday Night Dilly-Beaning

1. Go to the farmer’s market with a large bag. It definitely pays to be a regular customer. The farmer who I bought my beans from is the same woman I bought raspberries from last week and snap peas from the week before that. She certainly gave me a deal on the half-garbage-bag of beans I lugged away from her stand.

2. Recruit friends if this is going to be a team effort, or get some good music if you’re at it alone.

3. Imagine the finished product: a quart jar full of beans. At the bottom: snipped dill flowers and leaves, 3-4 cloves of garlic, 5-6 small wedges of onion. At the top: 2-3 more cloves of garlic & onion wedges. It’s filled with brine. Get enough of the above ingredients to suffice for your desired quantity of jars.

For my $20-Ace-Harware-canner-full of 7 quart-size jars I needed 3 heads of garlic, 6 small onions, 1 large bunch of flowering dill, and LOTS of beans (I froze everything I didn’t pickle). For the brine: 3 quarts of water, 2 cups of white vinegar, a scant 1c pickling or sea salt.

So then,

4. Clean and sterilize the jars in the dishwasher.

5. Clean the beans, snip off the ends, and snip in half if they are really long

6. Place dill flowers, garlic cloves, onion wedges and snipped dill leaves in the bottom of the jars. Fill with beans. *My friend suggested using foot-long beans and curling them inside the jars. I want to try this.

7. Bring water, vinegar and salt to a boil.

8. Simmer jar lids and rings.

9. Place jars in the rack of your canning pot. Fill each jar with boiling brine. Leave a half-inch of head space. Tighten rings and lids onto jars. Lower the rack into the canner.

10. Cover the jars with cold water. Bring water up to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.

11. Turn off heat, remove jars, let them cool and seal.

12. Suffer through a painful couple of months waiting to consume the beans. They are so much better after a couple of months on the shelf.