March 4, 2011

DENIS THOET: No quick meals, but time saved by not having to shop for food

Denis Thoet,

Farming is about food, and food is about eating, so what do farmers eat?

Speaking only for myself, and possibly for Michele, we eat year-round mostly things that we grow or get locally.

That gets a little tricky this time of year, which is the time of the "starvation moon" according to Native American science. In other words, if you didn't have your food on hand now, you probably weren't going to find it for a while.

For example, even though we had our best onion year ever, the last four surviving fresh onions went into chicken stock last week. We dried about a bushel of them, so we will make it through, and there's a plucky batch of shallots still hanging in there as well.

Our two freezers are about two-thirds full -- whole chickens, both meat birds from our neighbors and our own layers; most of a side of beef; most of a whole pig from our neighbors. Also remaining in the freezers is squash, spinach, and spelt and wheat flour from nearby Webb Farm.

In the cupboard are about half of the 150 quarts of tomatoes we canned in September and October; half a bushel of garlic, a bunch of bags of dry garlic, and a couple of gallon jars of dry beans. Our russet potatoes in the closet and root cellar are in good shape.

In the refrigerator is yogurt that we make from raw milk from Wholesome Holmstead in Winthrop; butter and cheeses from a farm in Lincolnville, for which we traded five pounds of garlic.

Our 15 remaining chickens have "seen the light" and are laying six to eight eggs a day, up from zero in the winter darkness of December and January.

Things we buy: Olive oil, oatmeal (50-pound bag), bulk flour and spices at the Belfast Co-op and, at the local supermarket, vegetable oil, salt, local apples, raisins, sugar, sardines, anchovies, pasta, rice, lentils, barley, peanut butter, orange juice, wine, beer, popcorn, coffee, tea, milk, butter and cheese (cheddar in a block). I make wine from blueberries and blackberries, and I have had some success with apple wine from cider, although it gets pricey. When we are feeling particularly flush, we will buy a couple of lobsters or a pound or two of haddock as a special treat.

Things we don't buy: Produce, unless we have a rare craving for mushrooms or celery; bread and bakery items; anything from the deli section; anything from the meat section (chicken, pork, beef); potato chips, or any chips for that matter; breakfast cereals; soda of any kind except plain seltzer, nothing frozen, including ice cream, prepared dinners, pizza, french fries or vegetables.

We don't subscribe to food guru Michael Pollan's rule that you shouldn't buy anything with more than five ingredients on the label. Buy things that have one ingredient -- like real food -- or even better, grow it yourself.

One other rule: If we run out of something, we do without. We were without bacon for about three months in 2010. It was torture, because our Saturday and Sunday "big breakfasts" included bacon from our neighbor's nicely raised pigs, and it's rare for a 220-pound pig to have the 52 pounds of bacon that we need to make it through the year. We routinely run out of beef and chicken, which makes it all taste so much better when it comes back around.

As you can probably tell, this isn't the kind of food you can pop into the microwave and have a quick meal. We don't have a microwave. You can take a chicken, however, bake it with potatoes for one meal, stew it, and add vegetables for at least two more meals of pot pies, stew or soup. You save time by not making the trip to the store, and the average time spent making three or four meals from one chicken comes close to the individual microwave jobs.

You can have a few meals from a spaghetti sauce with your own ground beef, tomatoes, onions, garlic and oregano. Make your own pizza, crust and all, and with enough practice, it's better than store-bought.

When you start preparing your own food, you can get good enough at it that you don't really want to bring in someone else's from the store.

Another side effect: Fast food begins to taste like what it really is: Fattening junk not worth eating. It makes people fat, feel bad and gives them indigestion, all consequences we try to avoid here.

As you can probably tell, we don't go out to eat very much. Home cooking, literally, is much better.

Denis Thoet, with his partner Michele Roy, own and manage Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner, longmeadowfarm@roadrun ner.com

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