August 30th: Yes We Can!

Jars packed with vegetables, ready for pickling. Photo copyright 2005 by Zachary D. Lyons. Yes, I can. Well, pickle, actually. Above is an image of my pickling prep from 2005. Every year, I pickle between 70-100 jars of vegetables, from cukes to cherry peppers to okra, and more. I trade them, I gift them, I am always ready for potlucks, and I just plain eat them. I share this with you to remind you that right now, during the most abundant season of the year at Ballard Farmers Market, is the best time for you to be thinking about January. I know you don’t want to, but when January comes, and you realize you no longer have access to summer’s bounty, you will wish you had been thinking about January in summer.

This weekend – August 29 & 30 — marks an inaugural nationwide event called Can Across America. The idea is to encourage Americans to preserve food for their families now, with ingredients they know and trust, so they can enjoy them all winter. The event will have local activities, including workshops to teach the public the science and technique behind safe and easy canning. Check their blog for more information.

Fresh okra from Alvarez Organic Farms. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

I love pickled okra, though it’s great fried, in gumbo, stir-fried with shrimp and in stews. Okra is becoming more and more available here these days. At Ballard Farmers Market, you can find it from Ayala Farms and Alvarez Organic Farms (pictured above).

Red and green Kalle pears from ACMA. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Food preservation is not all about canning, though. Sure, you can can these pears from ACMA, but you can also dry them, sauce them, and some pear varieties also store well, if you do it right. Learn about pear varieties from the farmers at the Ballard Farmers Market, or look up info online. Find out which store well, dry well, sauce well, etc., and learn the best methods for doing these. Me, I get Macintosh apples from a farmer friend each fall and make apple sauce which I freeze, though you can always can it for shelf storage, and I dry pears and Italian prunes.

Shelling beans from Alm Hill Gardens. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Remember that while Ballard Farmers Market runs year round, peak season does not, so we encourage you to preserve foods now. Stocking up on storage crops, and preserving foods now will help you enjoy the Market's peak season goodness well through the dark, wet months. For instance, these shelling beans from Alm Hill Gardens, above, are great fresh right now, but you can also shell them, wash them and freeze them for use in the winter. While I have been told to blanch them before freezing, I didn’t last year, and they kept just fine. I froze them in one-pint freezer bags, and then put several pint bags inside a gallon freezer bag for extra protection. A pint of beans is a standard portion you’d find in a grocery store in a can or bag. Then, when I am ready to use them, I drop them in boiling water, let them return to boiling, and then turn the heat down to let them simmer for another 15-20 minutes, or until desired tenderness.

Sweet corn from Stoney Plains. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Sweet corn, like this corn from Stoney Plains, can also be preserved easily through freezing. As soon as you get it home, husk and de-hair the corn, and then cut the kernels from the cob over a large, preferably rimmed, cutting board, holding the cob point-end down, and put the kernels into one-pint freezer bags. Usually two ears will fill one pint bag. Then place several pints into a one gallon bag. Later, cook like you would any frozen sweet corn, only this will taste better, will save you money, and you will know where it came from.

Desiree potatoes from Olsen Farms. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Many crops store well, like these Desiree potatoes from Olsen Farms. However, if you plan to store a lot of them, you may wish to place a special order with the farm, and ask them to deliver them “dirty”. Leaving some dirt on the potatoes can help to preserve them better. Of course, you can store crops like potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, etc., in a cool, dark, dry place for months. However, it is important again to be sure you are picking long-storage varieties. Many fingerling potato varieties, and all sweet onions, have short storage lives, and hard-neck garlic tends to store for two months, while soft-neck varieties can last four or five months. Again, ask your farmer, or the interweb. Become a knowledgeable eater.

Detroit and chiogga beets from Boistfort Valley Farm. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Root crops, like carrotsturnipsrutabagas, and these beets from Boistfort Valley Farm, store very well, too. Sure, you can can and pickle them, and they keep well in the fridge, but you can also store them in a root cellar or similar very cool, dark, mostly, but not completely dry place for months.

Farmer George from Skagit River Ranch talks through his cuts of meat. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Don’t forget the animal protein. Meat from Skagit River Ranch comes to Market frozen, meaning you can simply take it home and pop it back in the freezer for use days, weeks or months from now, whenever you are in the mood for it. Skagit River Ranch freezes its meat immediately after butchering, to preserve its freshness, so you know you won’t get better quality elsewhere. And while you may not think it stew or roast season now, it will be in short order. Other farms with frozen meats include Quilceda, Olsen, Stokesberry, and Samish Bay.

Freshly harvested and flash-frozen chickens from Growing Things Farm. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Growing Things has frozen fresh chickens, too. These are incredible tasting birds that will make you wonder why you ever bought a grocery store chicken in the first place, and will keep you from doing so again. Buy a few now, so you have them for winter.

I do recommend that, with any frozen meat, seafood or poultry, you put another freezer bag around them to maximize protection in the freezer, and make sure your freezer is working properly. If you have a sick, old freezer, maybe now is the time to retire it and avail yourself of the President’s new “cash for clunkers” appliance campaign. A new, energy efficient fridge or freezer will not only save you a pant-load of money on electricity and reduce greenhouse gasses, it will also preserve your food much better, saving you even more money by preventing premature spoilage. When I got my new fridge, it was amazing to watch my City Light bill go down dramatically. If your fridge or freezer was built before 2001, get a new one. You will thank me.

Pancetta from Sea Breeze Farm. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

You can always leave the preservation to the farmers themselves, like with this pancetta from Sea Breeze Farm. This beautiful, dry-aged and salt-cured pancetta will keep for weeks, and will make many dishes that much more delicious.

Freshly-smoked Alaskan king salmon from Loki Fish. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Or how about some smoked salmon from Loki Fish (pictured above) or Wilson Fish. Vacuum-packed, it will keep in the fridge from a several weeks if unopened, or you can toss it in the freezer, and it will keep even longer.

Slinging veggie quesadillas at Patty Pan Grill. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

But it you just have to have it now, might I suggest you grab a snack from Dev at Patty Pan Grill. She uses ingredients mostly from Market farmers, you know. And she even has a couple of books she wrote for sale.

Two books by Patty's Pan's Devra Gartenstein. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

For a full accounting of what you will find at your Ballard Farmers Market today, to preserve or eat tonight, check the “What’s Fresh Now!” listings in the upper right-hand corner.