Chow down and put up

A very jammin’ holiday: ‘Tis the season to stay inside and bake, jar and can away. Local author/blogger Ashley English tells you how.

Now is not the time to put away your aprons, Thanksgiving-weary chefs. There are still traditional holiday meals left to make (like the New Year’s suggestions in this section) and ‘tis the season to “put up,” or preserve, food for the winter.

Lucky for us, this time of year is ideal for filling and sealing those Mason jars, says Ashley English, local author of the “Homemade Living” book series, a collection that showcases topics related to small-scale homesteading. The books are warm, funny and practical guides to everything from raising chickens to preserving and canning. She also writes about everyday life on a small farm in Candler at her blog, Small Measure (http://small-measure.blogspot.com/). English recommends grabbing what seasonal selections are left and learning how to preserve them for the months of pale grocery-store tomatoes ahead.

English practically makes a ritual of the Slow Food lifestyle, turning in to the heat of the kitchen when it’s cold outside. “Tending to simmering pots of this and that as the whole house fills with warmth feels right in a way that’s difficult to articulate,” she says. “It feels ceremonial, as though the act of storing away food for the impending dip in mercury is an homage to the harvest. It also feels primordial, squirreling away food for the winter in a manner akin to that of the other creatures we share this terrain with.”

But where do you start? For English, it’s always with local apples. “I’m a lifelong fan of all-things apple,” she says. “Any apple, prepared in any manner, at any time.” Every fall, she picks from local orchards and her mother’s bountiful tree, then heads home and whips up batches of apple butter and applesauce, which she says is one of the easiest ways to ensure you can enjoy local food while waiting on spring. We’ve provided one of English’s recipes for apple butter in these pages.

“It’s so simple to peel, core and chop apples, put them in a pot with some water, and cook them into soft, saucy submission,” she says. From there, English advises either canning or freezing for quick picking come winter. Fuji, Gala, Jonagold, Golden Delicious and Macintosh varieties top her list for applesauce and butters. She prefers Rome, Stayman, Winesap, Pink Lady and Empire for baking.

Apples aren’t the only local foods currently available for ferreting away. English advises stocking up on winter squash and onions, which store well in a root cellar — and if you’ve got one of those, lucky you. English stashes root vegetables (imagine that) in hers, which she loves almost as much as apples. “From roasted parsnips to celeriac slaw, I’m an equal-opportunity root-vegetable eater.” She suggests root-veggie soups, with some local beef, chicken or other protein added in. “They can be easily pressure-canned and made pantry-ready for cold, snowy nights,” she says. And when it comes to preserving local cabbage, which is abundant now, English likes to ferment, and references Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon as recipe resources. 

There’s also local honey, which will last on your shelf as long as you let it. English uses local honey in everything. “It goes into my tea, on my morning yogurt and in any number of baked goods coming out of my kitchen during the holidays.” Snag one of her holiday honey favorites, Holiday Rounds, with the recipe we’ve provided.

English loves heading out to December’s holiday tailgate markets to be sure she has enough honey and to load up on end-of-year crops. She uses all preservation methods — canning, freezing (which retains all the nutrients), drying (especially for fruits) — to help her get through the winter.

As an author who writes about small-scale homesteading and a homesteader herself, she also relishes the opportunity the tailgates provide to talk with the farmers directly and to connect with her food community. Knowing that tailgates close in late December, she encourages shoppers to ask the farmers where their items might be found come January — including restaurant menus — to keep a connection year-round. “We’re fortunate to have a number of outlets in the area that continue carrying leafy greens grown in greenhouses, garlic and root vegetables; they also offer local meats, breads, baked goods, cheeses and honey all winter,” English says.

That’s not the only positive aspect English sees in this less-abundant local-food season. “The short days and long nights of cold-weather months are ideal times for reading up on food preservation,” she says. “That way, once the markets open in April, you’ll be primed and ready to preserve that harvest as well.” Reading is how English became comfortable with preservation, which she acknowledges can be a fearful process for some. “When learning any new food technique, I’ve read all I can about the process, then apprenticed with or taken a class taught by a professional,” she says. “I’ve found this process simultaneously removes the mystique and allays fears and, typically, it’s an awful lot of fun.”

We’ve added a few of English’s recipes; one for preserving apples, and two using already preserved fruit. All three are good for bringing to holiday parties, and the apple butter, jarred nicely with a pretty label, makes a great gift.

The four books of English’s homemade living series, including Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More, can be found wherever Lark Books are sold. English regularly shares homemade living tips and recipes via her blog, small-measure.blogspot.com. Find a list of holiday tailgate market dates, hours and locations at ASAP’s new community website FromHere.org. There, you can also learn more about the Get Local campaign, which spotlights local ingredients year-round. Also, search ASAP’s online Local Food Guide for more information about tailgates and fall and winter local foods, as well as groceries and farm stands open every season.

— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at maggie@asapconnections.org.

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