By Hannah Curcio
As we race the frost to pick the last tomatoes for canning and fill our cellar with any excess food we can find a way to preserve, it seems there is never enough time to process as much as we hope to store for winter. Our family room now has a queue of food to be processed or sent to the cellar; this week peppers and elderberries are in the dehydrator, potatoes are ready to be carried to their new underground home, cabbage is waiting to be chopped and brined for the fermenting crock, and pears will find their way into cobblers, or cans for winter pear sauce. Two new metal bookshelves decorate one wall of our kitchen, each now filled with winter squash and orange pumpkins. We have also shifted to thinking about winter crops in the hoop house now that summer crops have passed; fresh salad is ready to harvest, but there are many bare rows awaiting carrot, pok choi, and kale seeds. This will be necessary to keep fresh vegetables in our diet through the winter. With a prolific valley fruit year, we have been fortunate to put up many cans of cherries, apricots, apples, and peaches already. Part of our winter squirreling stems from the fear of the unknown; exactly how much food she we put away? What if by mid-January we have exhausted our fruit supply and there is no hope of seeing fresh fruit until June? What happens then? Would our family agree to a winter of leafy greens, meat, eggs and dairy for every meal? Would we call it quits on the diet for the sake of novelty? It seems that the best solution is to keep the dehydrator stuffed and canning stove on boil until there is no longer a surplus of summer and fall food flowing through our kitchen.
While our energy has been directed at food preservation, I have been amazed that there is still time for us to think imaginatively about the foods we’ve been coveting that are currently not available to us, and how we could derive a local food equivalent. In our collective family craving for pizza (after a quick run to the Curds and Whey Farmstead Dairy), we decided this must be the weekend to give some TLC to the hibernating wood fire oven in our pool area. Our energy will be worthwhile when we taste our first farmstead pizza with farmstead herbs, bacon, and local cheese, and tomato sauce from the cellar, on top of dough from Nate and Bekki’s Deep Creek Wheat. While we hear our friend Phoenix makes a mean egg noodle, we have not taken time to perfect our pasta (they are definitely on the to-do list).
Despite missing certain foods, I have asked myself and our family, is there any going back? When June 22, 2020 rolls around, will we return to store noodles, blocks of cheese, and fruit from other continents? Somehow I think not. Or maybe just as an occasional treat. The gratitude we have developed for the production of Surprise Valley, as well as the ways food brings us closer to our friends, cannot be found on a store shelf. Birthday boxes stuffed with Bidwell Canyon Farm canned asparagus, fresh peppers, and Brianmon’s “Rhino Horn” hot sauce are priceless as well as memorable far past the year of the Local Food Experience.