Don’t be a grasshopper!

The abundance of summer is upon us and as the best that a garden in Maine can offer begins to roll into the farmers’ markets, arrive in your CSA bag or, better still, directly into the kitchen from your own garden, it is time to start thinking about…winter.

I know, I know.  How on Earth can I even write the word?  Wasn’t it just yesterday that we finally finished with last winter and transitioned into summer?  Yes, and we still have plenty of great summer weather and fun to go before the leaves change and the cool air descends upon us.  But, and here’s the most important question, what are you going to eat?

Summer squash is coming in almost faster than I can pick it!

Summer squash is coming in almost faster than I can pick it!

You should be thinking about preserving the harvest while it is in its prime and everything is so abundant.  At this time of year the tables at markets across the state are sagging under the weight of all the amazing fare we farmers and gardeners have been working so hard to create and manage.  All winter long people crave the arrival the opening day at the market.  True, there is nothing like the freshness that comes with this time of year.  But there is no need to sacrifice taste and health in the winter…if you think ahead now.

It starts with the cherry tomatoes...then come the big boys.

It starts with the cherry tomatoes…then come the big boys.

In some cases the flavors of winter are better than those occurring now.  In our house a good example of that principle is pickled beets.  I love pickled beets.  In fact I like them much better than fresh beets.  But it takes forethought to make them happen.  This isn’t always the case.  Tomatoes are never as good as they are when they are first plucked from their vines.  And that season is almost upon us.  Cucumbers and baby zucchini are the same way.  But don’t spend the whole winter pining away for them.  Now is the time to make…well, everything.

As I write this my wife is sitting next to me snapping green beans, the first of the season. Tomorrow I’ll be blanching them and putting them in the freezer.  Later, in August, we’ll be putting together batches of pickled beets, pickled carrots, canning tomatoes, zucchini relish, freezing zucchini bread, and the list goes on.  From raspberries to blackberries now to blueberries and apples as they ripen, we’ll be spending the next few months doing our best to ensure our winter is filled with colors and flavors that, while not the same as summer, make winter so much better.

Picture 355

If you don’t know how to make this happen there are some great classes you could take. There are some at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and you can learn about others by keeping an eye on the calendar at MOFGA.org.  A class will be worth the expense and effort (and might even be fun!) because it will pay for itself every year at this time and in the winter that follows.

Pickled beets are great alone or added to fresh greens available all winter long.

Pickled beets are great alone or added to fresh greens available all winter long.

So as you head off to the market with your reusable produce bags be sure to be thinking about the coming winter, which doesn’t need to be as bleak as you might be picturing it.  Talk to your farmers and gardeners about your options.  Local food.  Eat well – be well.

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Ryan Parker

About Ryan Parker

Ryan Parker is a farmer, writer, artist and musician. He currently lives in Central Maine with his wife, two children, a golden retriever, some pigs and chickens. He raises pastured and forested animals and grows a diverse range of vegetables without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or taxpayer subsidies.