Eating Locally in the Winter - Making the Bounty Last
Originally published in 2001 as Secrets From The Farm - Making the Bounty Last by FarmFolk CityFolk Society in partnership with Granville Island Public Market and Buy BC.
Revised booklet available in print for $2 per copy. Contact us.
Why Eat Locally?
Eating food grown and raised locally is fundamental to the creation of a sustainable food system. It decreases our ecological footprint (the impact your lifestyle choices have on the environment), keeps money in our local economy and builds community. By planting winter gardens, storing and preserving our harvest when it is abundant and celebrating what’s "in season", we discover the bounty and the diversity of our coastal foodlands. Eating locally year round is possible.
In order to eat locally all year round, we must preserve fresh produce when it is most abundant. Preservation techniques halt ripening and prevent spoilage so that our favourite flavours may be enjoyed beyond their seasonal availability.
A traditional method of food preservation. There are two methods that are suitable to safely preserve a seasonal harvest.
Hot Water Bath Canning
Uses boiling water to sterilize food and kill microorganisms. Suitable for high acid foods like fruits and tomatoes. High
acid foods have a pH below 4.5.
Suitable for high and low acid foods. Low acid foods have a greater potential to grow botulism and so require higher temperatures
to be preserved safely.
It is important that:
- Jars are specifically designed to be used for home canning and have no
structural defects such as chips or cracks.
- Equipment must be sterile: jars, lids and seals should be submerged
in rapidly boiling water for 10 minutes.
- Ingredients like salt, sugar and vinegar are important to the taste
and texture of the food, and measured amounts are important for safe and successful
- Follow recommended processing times. Not heat processing long enough
could allow harmful organisms to survive and spoil your preserves.
To ensure a proper seal on your jars:
- Make sure rim of the jar is cleaned of any food particles.
- Leave a 1/2 inch headspace at the top of the jar to allow for food to expand during processing without leaking.
- Follow manufacturer instructions for sealing lids and use these lids only once. Caution: The flat rubber rings for sealing antique jars with wire bails and glass lids often malfunction.
- Apply screw bands until they are only finger tip tight. This allows air in the processed jars to escape and thus create a vacuum seal. Remove screw bands after jars have cooled. If left on during storage they may rust.
- Check your seal before storing. The lid should be concave and not spring back after being pressed down with your thumb. Do not retighten jar lids after processing as this action could possibly break the seal. For maximum shelf life, store jars in a dark, dry and cool place in your home. Refrigerate after opening.
When ready to enjoy your product, make sure:
- The jar is not leaking.
- There are no air bubbles around the seal.
- Contents don’t spurt out when opening.
- There are no signs of mould or foul odours. Never taste questionable product.
Dehydrating is a method of preserving food that removes the water. Without moisture, microorganisms cannot grow. To dry food you can use the heat of the sun, hot air currents or the heat of your oven 110 degrees Celsius. Drying time depends on the type of food, thickness of the piece and the chosen method. Whichever method you choose, be sure there is ventilation so that mould growth is prevented.
Commercially dehydrated food is often treated with sulfides to prevent browning. At home, browning can be prevented by dipping food pieces in an acidulated water solution. Acidulated water can be prepared by mixing 6 tablespoons of lemon juice or 2 tablespoons of ascorbic acid into 1 liter of warm water.
Make sure dried produce is completely cooled before storing and check stores regularly for moisture build up. Throw away any item if it shows signs of mould.
Freezing is an excellent way to preserve small amounts of seasonal surplus for winter.
Berries. strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries freeze quickly and easily. Spread them on cookie sheets to prevent sticking together. Transfer later to ziploc bags. It will be easy to add whatever quantity you like to fruit salads, pancakes, muffins, smoothies and punch. Freeze without sugar to give you flexibility. Frozen fruit can easily be made into jams and sauces at your leisure.
Vegetables. beans, corn, carrots freeze best if blanched first. Plunge them in boiling water for 1 minute and then into ice water for 1 minute before bagging and freezing.
Herbs. Chives, dill and pesto freeze well in ice cubes trays with a small amount of water or oil. Bag when frozen. Plan to consume your frozen food before fresh fruit and veggies begin to appear in your garden or at your market. If you have only a small freezer in your fridge you may want to consider investing in an apartment sized freezer.
- Home Canning www.homecanning.com
- Weck Canning www.weckcanning.com
- Culinary Café www.culinarycafe.com/canning.html
- Organic and Wholefoods, Domine, Andre ed.
- Foundations of Food Preparation, Freeland-Graves, Jeanne, and Gladys Peckham.
- Preserving, Schwartz, Oded.
- The Complete Book of Year- Round Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Delicious
- Recipes, Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard
- Stocking Up: The Third Edition of the Classic Preserving Guide, Carol Hupping
- Visit Fresh Choice Kitchens website for information on canning classes and Food Safe certification. www.communitykitchens.ca
Fermenting your own foods can be a healthy, fun, and nutritious hobby. Fermentation is employed in food preservation techniques to create lactic acid in sour foods such as saurkraut, dry sausages, kimchi and yogurt, or vinegar (acetic acid)
for use in pickling foods.
Consider storing part of your harvest so you can enjoy it in the late fall and winter. You can leave the plants in the ground, or harvest the crop and store it in a cool place indoors.
Leave green leafy vegetables in the ground for continued harvest late into the fall, or perhaps even all winter if you live in the mild coastal climate. Try this method with kale, Brussels sprouts, or Swiss chard. Some people have had success leaving carrots in the ground; others have found themselves providing a food supply to worms or mice!
If you have access to a cool place, not subject to freezing–such as a shed, an unheated garage, or an unheated area of a basement–you could use this space to store a portion of your harvest. Certain fruits and most root vegetables can be stored this way–although it is best to store apples away from other items, as they emit ethlene, a gas, which can make other foods, such as carrots, bitter.
Sort apples to remove those that are bruised or have broken skin. Place them in boxes or baskets, not layered too deeply so as to avoid bruising. For long keeping, the air should be cold and moist; apples keep best at 0°C (32°F) with relative humidity of 80% to 85%. You can keep them at 10°C (50°F), also with high relative humidity, but they won’t last as long. If the apples get too soft for eating, you can use them for cooking.
Carrots do best if they’re kept covered. One storage method is to layer them in a box, using damp sand, damp sawdust, or damp leaves as bedding. Build up the layers like you’d make a lasagna: first an inch thick layer of bedding, then a single layer of carrots, then another layer of bedding and another of carrots. Repeat the process, ending with a layer of bedding on top. The air should be cold and moist, with a temperature from 0°C (32°F) to 5°C (40°F).
Although produce should be stored in humid conditions, you don’t want water condensing on the produce. To prevent this, provide ventilation or air circulation.
Because you’re dealing with natural processes, expect to lose a few items to spoilage–commercial processors do! To cut down losses, check produce before you store it, and remove pieces with cuts or bruises that allow a foothold for spoilage. As well, do a weekly inspection and remove any pieces that are deteriorating so that they don’t affect others.
Books: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables, Bubel, Mike & Nancy.
Sprouting, which involves forcing the growth of new shoots from a bean or seed, is a great starter project for those who are new to gardening or looking for ways to liven up their diet while at the same time contributing to a healthier planet.
Sprouting can be done at home and does not require any special equipment. There are several methods of sprouting, but one of the most common is the jar method.
To sprout seeds in a jar, you will need a large, glass canning jar, a mesh lid, and a handful of your chosen seeds. Virtually any seed can be sprouted, from peanuts to pumpkin seeds, lentils to the more traditional bean or alfalfa sprouts. Once you’ve gathered your sprouting materials, place the seeds in the jar and cover them with water. Seeds need to be soaked prior to sprouting, in order to soften their tough outer hull. The amount of soaking time required will depend on the type of seed you decide to use.
Once soaked, the water should be tipped out of the jar and the seeds rinsed. Keep the jar in a moderately shaded area and tilt it at an angle, with the mesh opening down, so that the water can drain (you may want to place it over a shallow dish or bowl). Leave the jar in the inverted position, but continue to rinse the sprouts two to three times per day. Seeds should sprout within one to two days.
Sprouts are best eaten fresh and tend to mould if kept too long. Experiment with different types of seeds to see which sprouts you like best. You may also want to try mixing a variety of seeds and sprouting them in combination, such as garbonzo (a.k.a. chick peas), adzuki, mung beans, and green lentils. Once fully sprouted, refrigerate.
Web-sites: Living Foods www.living-foods.com >"sprouting" search will provide information & list of books
Mum's Sprouting Seeds www.sprouting.com has information & list of books.
On the west coast, a simple greenhouse–needing neither artificial light nor heat–can extend the growing season from early spring to late fall and prevent tender perennials from freezing. It also protects tomato plants from blight and creates the warmth needed to grow eggplants and peppers to maturity.
A greenhouse does not need to be large to be effective, but it does need to be well-ventilated, oriented to maximize its exposure to daytime sunlight and insulated to hold captured heat. An apartment or townhouse with its own deck or rooftop garden can support a smaller cold frame model. If space is not a deterrent, you may want to consider a larger, freestanding or attached greenhouse.
If your garden space is limited and you plan to use the greenhouse as your primary planting site, an "attached" greenhouse, that is, one that is connected to one of the walls of your home or garage, may be the best option. In addition to being easily accessed, attached greenhouses can also help to heat your home, transferring captured solar energy through the shared wall. Attached greenhouses can also provide an extension of your indoor living space. Many people find their greenhouses so attractive, their plants have to compete with the furniture for space!
Given that we want to use our greenhouse to produce our own food throughout as much of the year as possible, we must pay careful attention to the amount of growing space we have, and plan our plantings accordingly. In order to maximize food production, we should also be aware of the climate/growing seasons in our area and of the types of plants we select. In cooler, wetter climes, like the Pacific Northwest, fruitbearing plants should be replaced by darker, leafy green vegetables as the seasons change. An added benefit to planting leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, or lettuce is that they can be harvested continually (as soon as the leaves are big enough to eat) throughout the winter months.
Web-sites: Greenhouse Gardening Manual www.shelter-systems.com click on Greenhouses
Greenhouse Gardener's Companion www.greenhousegarden.com
Books: Winter Greens: Solar Greenhouses For Cold Climates, Mark A. Craft
Green House Grow How, John Pierce
If you have lots of light coming in your windows, growing vegetables and legumes inside your house or apartment can be fun and economical–with virtually no weeding. It is important to have your plants on a raised surface, so they absorb as much sunlight as possible. If you have a valance or curtain rod, it is possible to lace string between your plant pots and curtain rods for plants that grow upwards (e.g. snowpeas). Follow Square Foot Gardening to get the maximum number of plants per square foot. Worm composters (which can be kept inside) are complementary to indoor gardens, as the compost is extremely rich, and the liquid from the bottom (mixed 1 part worm liquid to 10 parts water) makes an equally rich fertilizer.
The only special task with your indoor garden is pollination. Because bees don’t come inside often, pollinate the flowers yourself by delicately brushing the pollen with a very soft, small paintbrush.
Snowpeas, lettuce, spinach, herbs, beans, carrots, beets, and even corn have been grown indoors– even with north-western exposure!
Books: The Indoor How-to-book of Oats, Peas, Beans & Other Pretty Plants by Hazel Perper
The Indoor Kitchen Garden: Vegetable Growing in a Limited Space by Joy O.I. Spuczynska
Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew
Where to buy organic seeds and bedding plants…
Visit FarmFolk/CityFolk's Knowledge Pantry for more information.
There are hundreds of community gardens in BC. You can Google search “Community Garden” and your city to find one near you. For information on starting one, visit www.vancouver.ca/gardens and click on Community Garden Resources.
Sharing Backyard Gardens
Do you have a backyard garden space to share? Or are you looking for backyard garden space? Visit www.sharingbackyards.com
Books: How Does Your Garden Grow: A Guide to Community Garden Success,
Laura Berman, FoodShare Community Gardening Co-ordinator. $25. To order, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call (416) 363-6441 ext 229.
The Orchard Mason bee is the common name of a nonsocial native bee (Osmia lignaria) that pollinates fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables. It is found throughout most of North America, particularly in wooded areas, but often around homes in towns and cities. With the declining feral or wild bee population, the Orchard Mason bee can be easily attracted to pollinate crop plants. EYA (Environment Youth Alliance) has some great information about the Mason Bee, along with instructions on how to build a Mason Bee home or you can purchase one from EYA or West Coast Seeds or a garden store.
Fruit Tree Projects in BC
The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project, founded in 1999, is a community initiative that operates in four Vancouver neighbourhoods: Mt. Pleasant, Little Mountain, Cedar Cottage, and Kitsilano. Our idea is simple: we build communities and strengthen food security using local backyard fruit. We connect people who have excess fruit from their backyard fruit trees with those who have the time and energy to harvest it. Most of the harvested fruit is donated to community organizations and individuals in need. We also offer canning and pruning workshops to pass on skills which are quickly being lost in our urban environment.
Visit FarmFolk/CityFolk’s online knowledge pantry for a list of BC’s fruit tree projects.
Community Shared Agriculture (CSA)
Community Shared Agriculture is a chance for you to make a direct connection with your food. It is a way for you to have an influence over the way your food is grown. A typical CSA program sells shares to consumers at the beginning of the season. This share entitles the consumer to produce delivered weekly throughout the growing season, usually to a central drop-off point like the farmers’ market. The consumer and the farmer share the risk for the growing season. If a crop fails, or does poorly, not as much food is available, but if there is a bumper crop there is more for everyone. CSA farms grow a wide variety of food, which keeps the consumer happy as well as increasing on-farm biodiversity, strengthening the land. By creating a guaranteed market before the season begins, farmers can concentrate on what they do best–growing–without worrying about how they will sell their produce. You have the opportunity to learn how and where your food is grown as well as participating in the growing process. Supporting local organic farmers means supporting a healthy local food supply and a community-based economy. In recent years, new CSAs have been created such as an Urban Grain CSA and a Salmon CSA. A partial list of CSAs can be found in our knowledge pantry.
What's in season during the winter months? Visit FarmFolk/CityFolk's Knowledge Pantry's "What's in Season" link for a list of Seasonal Charts for British Columbia, including our Get Local seasonal chart (which includes so much more than just fruits and vegetables!) Don't forget to also check out the resources on our Get Local website for great links such as Simply In Season online seasonal recipes.
BC Processed Foods
Don’t forget BC has hundreds of food processors using local ingredients, too! Look for these at your grocery store. You can familiarize yourself with BC processed food products by visiting these websites:
Special thanks to all those involved and especially the volunteers who participated in writing and producing this booklet, including Valerie Whitehead (organizer), Cheryl Laxton rpB.H.E., and Mary Ballon (West Coast Seeds). Thanks…