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Archive for October, 2009

Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2009.  Please see other posts about fair use.

In the late 1980s I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, on a budget so tight that I spent just $10 total on food and entertainment a week.  If I wanted to go the movies (we did that back then), I had to save up or cut back.  I learned how to eat locally and in season long before the concept was cool because it was all I could afford.  That was how I ate my first acorn squash.  You see, I had been raised on good vegetables including summer squash, but my deep South family had not grown winter squash (or at least I never saw it!).

That year, Madison-area farmers had a bumper crop of gigantic acorn squash, larger than many pie pumpkins.  When I saw a dozen of these big beauties for $2 that was about to go on end-of-market sale for $1.50, I knew I had to try them.  I had no idea how to use them, though,--and we had no internet–so I asked the kid who was tending the booth.  Oh, it’s easy, he told me.  Just cut them in half, scoop out the seed, and put a little water in the hole.  Then bake them at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. He told me I also could stuff them with chopped apples and walnuts and add cinnamon and brown sugar.  I bought the dozen and lugged them home and did exactly what he’d told me.  It was so good, so rich compared to what I’d been eating.

Next week, I went back to the booth to thank him.  He wasn’t there, but his mother was.  When I told her that he had given me cooking directions, she looked stunned.  He had never prepared an acorn squash in his life!  When she told me the squash would keep through the winter, I bought another dozen.

The morals to the story are

  1. eat local and in season if you want to eat cheaply;
  2. acorn squash is easy to prepare, even if you’ve never done it before; and
  3. if you buy two dozen giant acorn squashes for $3 because you’re on a budget and they’re cheap, you’re going to be sick of them by the time you finish them.

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Our basic rule for preparing and eating food in our home is that a significant portion of it be homegrown or local, with organic or free range from farther away as something we’ll accept for a much smaller proportion.  I also usually follow the old Southern rule of “meat and three”:  a small portion of some kind of flesh (fowl or fish in our house) accompanied by a bean, a grain, and a leafy green or other high-nutrient vegetable.  Sometimes we skip the “meat” altogether and just do the latter three.

Tonight, after a big time out in town yesterday, I decided to change the formula a bit.  I wanted the lightest meal I could put together with big flavor.  Our “meat” tonight was a splurge in two ways:  it was sea scallops, which are costly, and, while they were a US product, they certainly did not come from the Ozarks.  I paired them with local broccoli and homegrown butternut squash, all organic.

The question was how to get big flavor with a light treatment.  Somehow I thought Asian, but I didn’t want to pull anything standard out of my repertoire.  I began by peeling, dicing, and baking the butternut squash with a generous dose of ginger and a light application of honey.

I started the broccoli (about two cups of florets) by putting it in a fry pan with water sufficient for it to go about half way up each piece.  I sprinkled salt on the top, put on a lid, and turned the burner on high to start a combination steam-boil.  As soon as the broccoli turned bright green, I removed the lid, tossed around the broccoli, and added a couple of tablespoons of orange preserves (no, not local, but at least organic).  Then I starting cooking off the small amount of water that remained, finally adding about 2/3 cup chopped chives with white bottoms (like scallions)* to the top of the mixture after the last toss.  I was working, by the way, in a 9-inch saute pan.  That meant that all the broccoli was in a single layer, and the liquid had plenty of surface area to cook down.

Last, while I was working on the broccoli, I sauteed four cloves of chopped garlic in a bit of organic spray oil, added a little sherry, and cooked the garlic until it started to soften, all in a 7-inch saute pan.  Then I added the scallops (11 total) and started cooking off the liquid.  I turned the scallops three times each to let the thickening garlic-sherry sauce coat them and then removed them for the final cook-off of the sauce.

Although all of the main ingredients in tonight’s dinner are common enough on Euro-American tables, I tried to bring out the Asian potential of each dish without screaming, “I’m making Chinese tonight,” something I do attempt pretty often.  The chives and orange preserves in the broccoli hinted at Chinese food.  The garlic uplifted the scallops and added another common Asian ingredient.  And the ginger, which could have been prominent in every dish in Asian cuisines, brightened the butternut squash.  Ah, homestyle fusion!  Best of all after yesterday’s hedonism, tonight’s dinner was full of flavor and nutrients but virtually fat free.

This same dinner with minor variations could have gone Italian.  Keep the garlic with the scallops but change the seasoning with the broccoli and squash, and you could be along the Mediterranean coast.

*I have scallions in the garden right now but did not want to use them tonight.  On the other hand, I have way too many chives and thought this would be a great opportunity for thinning them.  I pulled 5 or 6 chives and stripped off the dried leaves, damaged ends, and roots.  Ah, scallions with a bit milder flavor!

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Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2009.

Certain seeds like beets and chard come with their own protective coating that’s designed to slow germination.  As a matter of fact, both of these “seed” in fact are pods that contain several seeds inside.  Other seeds, like corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, and nasturtium, are large enough that it can take a while for moisture to soak in and germinate them.  I try to give all of these seeds a head start by soaking them for at least several hours or as much as 24 hours before I plant.  That way, I need less water to get them started in the garden.  With beet, chard, nasturtium, and other particularly tough seeds, I take it one step further.  I soak for 24 hours.  Then I drain the seed well and put them in a container that I can seal.  I watch them carefully until I see the first signs of sprouting and then plant.  This technique also works well for starting beet and chard seed when it’s too cold in the garden to get them to germinate, but they’ll grow just fine once they get started.  Happy planting!

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Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2009

Every year I begin an epic battle to save my squash from squash bugs and squash vine borers.  Every year I patiently squish the bugs I find, scrape off the eggs, and cut the stems to pull out the borers.  This year I added bright yellow buckets full of water to try to catch the borers’ parents.  Imagine my surprise when a batch of pine straw I got as mulch proved more effective than anything else I’d done.  Here’s the evidence:  squash bugs do not lay their eggs where I put pine straw mulch.  I found no squash bugs in the interior of the patch where the mulch was located, only on the edges.  And I saw little evidence of borers in the area either.  Generally, master gardeners do not recommend pine mulch because of its acidity, but I’m now planning to balance the acidity with application of lime and mulch, mulch, mulch with it.  And the best part?  I got the mulch free from an urban friend who had raked it up for her city waste disposal folks to pick up.

Since I posted this entry, a Dave’s Garden commentator indicated that he’d used pine mulch in his garden for years with no change in acidity in his garden.  That’s reassuring!  See his article here.

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Copyright 2009 by Ozarkhomesteader.  See details on fair use at the end of the post.

Acorn squash is a wonderful, sweet nugget packed with nutrients to keep you healthy through the winter.  Its high natural sugar content is both a gift and a curse for cooks.  Should you highlight the sweetness or bring out the savory?  Today I’m bringing out the savory by melding the flavors of French onion soup with the winter squash.  For two people you’ll need

  • 1 acorn squash, cut in half and seed scooped out (Retain for later roasting.)
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 sweet yellow onion
  • a little olive oil
  • chicken broth (or vegetable broth  for vegetarian option)
  • dried bread cubes, equal to one or two slices (If you don’t have any on hand, cut bread into cubes and dry in an oven on the lowest heat setting possible.)
  • one or two ounces gruyere, swiss or other sweet, nutty cheese, grated

Begin by placing the acorn squash, cut side up, in a casserole dish or cast iron Dutch oven.  Fill the cavity where the seed used to be with water, put a lid on the casserole/Dutch oven, and back the squash at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.  (I also sprinkled with a little spicy seasoning.)Squash, split and baked

Meanwhile, thinly slice the onions and toss in a little olive oil.  When the acorn squash comes out of the oven, reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and put in the onions for about 20 minutes.DSCN2036
Being careful not to penetrate the acorn squash rind, scoop out the luscious orange flesh.rinds
DSCN2032

When the onion is roasted, mix it in with the squash flesh and add a bit of chicken broth to get the whole thing moving.  Put the flesh-onion-broth mixture in the squash rinds and add enough broth, stirring to mix as you add, to bring the mixture almost to the rim of the rind.  (If you have extra flesh mixture, that’s okay.  Just set it aside for a snack on another day.)

Now add the dried bread cubes.daily bread cubes

Finally sprinkle on the cheese. Acorn Squash-French Onion Pudding

Put back in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is melting and the mixture underneath is hot.  Serve and enjoy!

If you prefer a soupier mix, you have two choices.  You could use bigger bowls than the squash rinds.  You could also set aside more of the pumpkin-onion mix for a snack and add in more broth.  At our home, though, we liked this dish best with a thick consistency, more like a savory English pudding than soup.Acorn Squash-French Onion Pudding

Copyright 2009 by Ozarkhomesteader.  I always appreciate good press.  You are welcome to excerpt a tiny portion of this post.  Be sure to include the full URL as well as the credit to Ozarkhomesteader.

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Last week as my husband and I were chomping into a beautiful, rich red watermelon from the garden, I apologized to him for its late arrival.  You see, heavy rain in May and vacation plans in June meant that I planted a lot of my garden late this year.  My husband commented back how many people would feel blessed to be eating sweet, homegrown, organic melon in October.  He’s right!  Although the frost last night has brought future melons to an end, we still have several icebox-sized melons to eat over the next week or so, and all have a flavor and sweetness that you just can’t get at your local megamart.

Several of our favorite melons this year came out of one variety pack from Renee’s Garden:

http://www.reneesgarden.com/seeds/packpg/veg/watermelon.htm

This is a great combination of yellow, orange, and pink-red icebox watermelons, the perfect size for today’s smaller families.

For the record, no, I am not being paid by Renee’s.  I don’t know her.  I just like her seed.

Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2009.

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Gardening is always a gamble.  Unusually cool weather can take you from mid70s to mid50s for daytime temperatures.  Night temperatures can dip perilously close to freezing.  That’s exactly what we’re facing tonight.  So, what will I do?  First, everything that’s close to harvest time is getting harvested.  Almost everything else is getting covered:  glass, plastic, old cotton sheets.  Certain things, though, will easily stand a light frost with no trouble at all.  Among those things are chard.  Great in summer, great in the fall, great through the winter, chard will take a frost easily.  Just trim off any damaged leaves.  It will bounce right back!

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