Learning as We Grow
When we started down the road of growing, preserving and preparing our own food – we had a commitment to 100% of the food on our plates being 100% our own, 100% of the time within one year of production. Which we found possible to do, but only if we were content eating canned tomatoes, garlic and onions for breakfast, lunch and dinner 5 months of the year. During the first two years of our journey, we learned to work together – and we learned to let go of a vision that’s as prevalent in media as any other perfect life advertised – the wholesome, easy, perfect farm-to-table life. That may exist somewhere. In our house, it looks much more like life happening – messy, sometimes difficult, sprinkled with failures…..and in all that we had to learn to relax.
Learning by Failing
For us, the key to increasing our ability to grow our own food so that more and more of the food we eat is our own – is to be okay with experimentation and the failures that may come for us. For example, one year we grew a large row of eggplants – which took up space for other things, and demanded we think about what to do with this vegetable. We tried fried eggplant, eggplant parmesan, eggplant lasagna, and so on. In the end – we had to agree that we just do not like eggplant. We feel like we should – but we don’t. We gave the eggplants away and what didn’t go to good homes, remained in the field and we let it go. Lesson learned.
Developing Sustainability and Diversity
The more we grow, the more variety and diversity we have on both our summer plates, as well as our winter plates filled with our preserved, extended growing hoops, and root cellar foods – so that we don’t have to rely on a winter filled with canned tomatoes any longer. It took us 5 years to go from growing mostly tomatoes and green beans and putting up jams – to growing an abundance of foods we have tested over the years to meet our needs and tastes.
Developing our Gardens Palette
One of the big lessons we have learned as a family is to have the taste palette covered in what you grow – because then you can adapt or create nearly any recipe from just about any culture. So if you grow foods that cover sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami then you can cook just about anything you want. This has allowed us to be creative with our cooking in ways we never understood before. For example, we love pica de gallo, which calls for limes – a sour/acidic needed to make the best pica. Iowa climate doesn’t support sustainable lime production. But it does have plenty of rhubarb – an equally sour/acidic flavor. The first time we tried using rhubarb juice [check out our recipe for extracting and canning rhubarb juice] we were hesitant – because we were concerned the entire dish would taste like rhubarb. Then we were pleasantly surprised- because it just tasted like very flavorful pica de gallo – even had a slight lime/citrus flavor to it.
The Importance of Herbs in Home Cooking
Herbs were another big lesson for us. Five years ago, the extent of our herb use was basil. Only one kind of basil. And when we started growing cilantro, dill, tarragon, fennel, thyme, lemon basil, thai basil, large-leaf basil, spearmint, mint, chives, garlic chives, and so on- well, we had no idea what to do with them. Many of the herbs became beautiful plants – but they did not become part of a beautiful plate. It took us a couple of years to understand the power of herbs from our easy pica de gallo [which can be made with cilantro, or mint, or basil or chives or all of these together] to savory roasted vegetables with tarragon and chives, to sweet corn porridge with fruit, sugared nuts and mint, to bean hummus with garlic, thyme, cilantro and rhubarb juice. Herbs just make the food that much more flavorful – and colorful.
This is our life – always learning
We have just started to understand how to make this our life even after several years of living within it – growing, preserving, and preparing the food that is sustainable in our region. We will always have a ton to learn and hope that we will continue to learn from our failures, our challenges, and our successes – and maybe we can help others along the way.