Story of Supper 1 - Leftovers
condensed food growing adventures
Lunch - the sweets used were a white fleshed variety.
We had people over for New Year's dinner but cooked way too much even for a day of excess. So today, I used what was leftover from one of our kid friendly options - rice with peas and grated sweet potato - and fried it up with some sliced Jeruselum artichokes and onion with kale chips sprinkled on top. Other than the rice, all the rest are easily grown in the Ottawa area. Quinoa, polenta (made from ground corn) or even wild rice would make a nice substitute for the rice in this dish and are also easily grown. If you are interested in going beyond fresh summer eats, there is a movement underfoot to grow grains in the city such as in Lawns to Loaves.
This story begins when I first learned that there were perennial vegetables.* Talk about a paradigm shift! I could have vegetables that were as easy to grow as my herb garden? I started to gather as many as possible including all the classics like horseradish, rhubarb and Jerusalem Artichoke. A friend had brought me some sunchokes for planting from a farmer's market. They grew and grew and grew. My neighbour referred to them as the Jack-in-the-beanstalk plant. After reaching 12ft, they threw out some comically small in comparison yellow sunflowers. After frost, I felt like a kid unearthing the palm sized crunchy tubers from the soil. When we moved here, I brought some descendants of that original variety and have added some other types including one with red skins.
The next chapter happened last fall when I tossed some mixed kale seeds on the cool, wet ground expecting them to sprout in the spring as I usually do of plants that successfully self sow. Late in winter, I seeded long day, storage onions in a flat and in spring my kids dropped shelling peas into a shallow trench. The onions were transplanted in another trench that was carefully tended throughout the season to produce the best growth. Sweet potato tubers that had been placed in warm water in a sunny window had grown slips that were planted as soon as summer had set in which is about the time that the early peas were ready - around the beginning of June. In my family, it is challenging to grow enough peas to freeze because those sweet treats are mostly shelled and devoured while standing over the vines.
By late summer, the kale was in full swing so freshly washed, dried and salted leaves were placed in a dehydrator to make addictive kale chips. Onions had also bulked up so were picked to cure and then their dried leaves were braided to be hung in a cool, dry place. The ground beneath the sweet potatoes was beginning to heave. Before first frost, I carefully pitch forked the soil. The kids collected the sizeable treasures to cure at high heat and humidity for a week or so before being stored at room temperature to continue to deepen in flavour. Frost does not harm the tubers of the Jerusalem artichoke however but improves it. I waited until the ground threatened to freeze solid before digging up the bed, putting up the harvest in pots of dirt that will be stored in the cold cellar.
A few months later, it is all ready for use: the peas are defrosted, the sweet potato and Jerusalem artichoke peeled and sliced, the onion torn from the braid to be caramelized. All fried up with cooked rice and topped with crumbled, dry kale leaves.
* For the interested, please see Plants for a Future (cross check info as there are some errors especially in hardiness zones), Perennial Vegetables by Toensmeier (available at the Ottawa library), or just put terms like culinary herbs, useful wild plants, edible native plants, permaculture plants, or self sowing vegetables into a search engine.
The Sunchoke - Helianthus tuberosus
Sunchokes taken from storage in a pot of dirt in our cellar.
These perennial tuber making members of the sunflower family store their sugars in a form called inulin that can cause gas in some people. Our family does not seem to be affected (thankfully). Inulin is also the culprit in bean's reputation. They are so easy to grow that some people call them invasive though I haven't heard of them seeding themselves this far north so they are more contained. They are sometimes recommended as a warm season screen as they can grow impressively tall - some of mine in my old house were 12 feet tall - but will lodge in a wind storm. As with any self reliant plant, exercising a little control will make them manageable. Put them in a place where they won't be a nuisance or affect the growth of other plants. As they are sunflowers they may cause an allopathic reaction in other plants though I haven't noticed this.
Dig out the patch in the fall after some frost and store in moist sand in a cellar or soil. Their thin skins lose moisture quickly so they may not store as long as some other roots in less than ideal conditions. You can choose to amend the soil then with some compost or well rotted manure and replant some nice looking tubers but I often find that some tubers, or pieces at any rate, will escape your attention restarting the patch again next year. You can leave some in the ground to harvest until the ground freezes and before they start to grow again in the spring.
I've also recently learned that the blanched shoots are quite tasty. You can leave on the skin, just scrub the tubers. To make this easier, knock off the knobs** that may be hiding the dirt and scrub those separately or you can peel the skin. You can use them in similar ways to potatoes but they're flavour, though pleasant in my opinion, is more overwhelming. Raw, they have a crisp, juicy texture and are nice in salad. They can be baked but quickly turn mushy - still tasty though. You can also add them to soups, sauces or fry them. I find they pair really well with seafood.
** In my last residence, the tubers of my variety were quite smooth mostly with few knobbly bits. The ground was quite friable and fertile. Here it is also sandy but less fertile. The plants did not grow as long and the tubers were significantly more knobbly. I'm curious to see if this changes as more organic matter is reincorporated into the soil.