Sunday, December 13, 2009

Just like summer

Dec. 14 update: Tried the pump, and we have water. No leaks discovered yet!

One way, when you're determined to live mostly on what you grow or forage for yourself, of making sure you get a variety of nutrients, is to grow a lot of kale. We have Red Russian, which does well here, apparently even when you've had, as we've had, three nights in a row below ten degrees Fahrenheit. And of course freezing makes it taste better.

We also still have turnip greens, broccoli, fava greens, bok choi, onion greens, garlic greens, dandelions, arugula (which I don't like as much as Beloved does). Some of these are flourishing mainly because they are in the hoophouse, although the chard and spinach in there are looking pretty hammered. This morning I gathered all the wilted red chard and lettuce leaves for the chickens, who were fine with the limp stuff, and then brought in some kale for us, to have with potatoes and duck eggs.

We live where year-rounds greens are fairly easy to get. But even if there were not such a cornucopia of winter greens to choose from, we can get quite a lot of the same nutrients and flavors (and often do) by using dried greens.

These look great on eggs or oats or rice or squash or pot pie or four-bean soup or ... well, anywhere you might put basil or parsley flakes or Italian seasoning, and they help with any hankering one might have for high-mileage seasonings, such as black pepper. We even drop a small handful in as we knead the bread dough.

This was the first summer we made the stuff, and it was one of our garden's big successes this year, I think. A regular dish in our household is small potatoes sliced, with dehydrated veg leaves sprinkled over, with a little salt and olive oil (the only two high mileage items), zapped for four minutes, covered. The veg leaves reconstitute in the steam as the potatoes cook, and the whole thing comes out tasting just like summer!

Of course, if you're a stickler for the best possible nutrient retention, bundle everything up and dry it the shade the traditional way. Ain't sayin' don't -- let your preferences and your schedule be your guide. But here's what we wound up doing:

Build a solar dehydrator by making, basically, a plywood-floored cold frame with a used sash window and putting in vents at each end, then tipping it up to face the sun like a solar oven.

Window screens or egg cartons will do to help keep the produce off the floor, as air must circulate well. In ninety-degree weather this is a very hot dehydrator, and it's going to lose you some nutrients, but the idea here is to make really dry stuff. You can make a screen or slatted cover for your dehydrator if you think it's drying too fast. We wanted a quick turn around for high volume so we let it run full blast. An alternative is to build more dehydrators and that is something I think we will do.

Fill the box loosely with leaves: parsley, turnip, spinach, cilantro, fava, chard, basil, bok choi, lettuce dandelion, and outer leaves of broccoli, red cabbage, cauliflower, and collards all worked well for us.

After a day or two in hot weather, or longer otherwise, inspect. Whatever "looks dry" can be harvested, and the rest turned and dried some more, and new stuff added. You get the hang of it pretty quickly.

I process by sitting in the shade with a heap of very dry leaves and a cardboard box.

Take a leaf. If, like turnip, it has a long stem and strong midrib and veins, wrap a thumb and forefinger around the stem and strip toward the leaf tip, over the box. All the flat matter should break up and fall into the box; the stem can be discarded into the compost heap. Put your hands in and crumble the flakes up as small as you prefer. This is very satisfyingly tactile, and the smells are enticing. Pour out the box from one corner into your kitchen containers, perhaps with your canning funnel.

If you're confident in how dry your flakes are, you can cover right away, to hold in goodness. I sometimes leave a jar open for a couple of days, just to be sure nothing is damp enough to mold.

You might want to separate varieties. I do this with medicinals -- there's a pint jar labeled "comfrey," another labeled "plantain" and yet another: "blackberry leaf" -- but the food greens tend to go, stirred together, into gallon jars labeled "dried veg." I have a non-discerning palate, I guess ...

To use, reach into the jar as you are making whatever, and sprinkle a pinch over it. Healthy, healthy, healthy!


  1. I'm so happy to hear the hoop house is holding up well. We had a little mishap with ours, and I was thinking of you, because ours is designed more or less like yours - though it might be a little lighter, hence the mishap. The snow collected on the side and put too much pressure on the ribs and the the connectors on top, which snapped... Well, we tried to fix it today. Let's see!
    Happy eating!

  2. These little whacks we get from Momma Nature are the best way we can learn what works -- we're already making plans for an improved version!

  3. Anonymous2:27 PM

    Love the dried greens idea! I had read about drying them but then couldn't figure out what to do with them (we're not really big garnish people) but in eggs or soups would be tasty. And the potato idea is making my mouth water -- DH makes roasted red potatoes with dill and garlic, basted in olive oil. The dried veggies would be a great change.

    How's the frozen pipe thing going? Damage assessment yet, or still too cold?

  4. Well test it tomorrow. A lot of ice around here yet ...

  5. You described that taste of summer so beautifully. I know that taste from the slow roasted tomatoes I keep in the freezer for the cold months. They have never failed to make me smile. I love this dried greens idea and am adding it to my list of what I'll do when I have my garden. But what do you do with blackberry leaves? I've never heard of anyone eating them. It seems magical.

  6. We think of blackberry leaves as more therapeutic than foodish -- traces of vitamin C, though nothing like rose hips, and able to help a little with "the runs." Each of the medicinals has its own rules -- for example, if we ran out of salve for small wounds we can make a paste with plantain leaves or a tincture of them -- it was once known as "soldier's weed" --though I wonder how much good it was for arrows and such ...

  7. We are getting an abundance of greens through the CSA now so I think I'll take your advice and dry some. Unfortunately, we are not in a climate that is conducive to greens year-round because the summer sun is simply too harsh on them. So, for me, the dried greens will taste like winter! :)

    It sounds like you just put fresh leaves straight into your dehydrator. No need to blanch first?

  8. Anonymous12:01 PM

    This was the first year we dried a lot of greens, it was so easy and I am looking forward to all that goodness this winter!

  9. C, have not noticed much to worry about with no-blanch. I think drying must interrupt more processes than freezing.

  10. MH, tried it yet? On eggs 'n potatoes, say, or to garnish a winter squash soup?

  11. What an excellent post. We dry all sorts of fruits, veggies, and herbs but for whatever reason I have never dried any of my greens. I will be doing this next season for sure.

    I love your dehydrator. Would you mind if I added a link to this article under the preservation section of my blog.

    Thanks - Mike

  12. Thank you, sir, and as you wish.


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