Hey there. So it’s been a while (I think) since I last did a post about seasonal eating and/or preserves and, hey, Erica has an April “eat down the larder” challenge going on, so I figured: Perfect opportunity! So here I am.
See, on the one hand, it’s April. Which means that, ever since the temperature started peaking above the freezing point (call that one mid-to-late March), and the days started – just barely – being longer than the nights (same time-frame), I’ve been going “Oh, crap! It’s only 3.25 months until the service berries start coming in!” and “Oh, crap! I have to empty out my freezer if there’s going to be room for steamed wild greens come early May!” Which means that I’ve already started “eating down the larder” in anticipation of fresher stuff to come.
Which is dandy.
The fact that empty jars are rolling in from various family members, at the same time, is also dandy… if a bit hilarious. (My gift-jars come back empty, sure, but I also wind up with old pasta-sauce jars from the grocery store… which I don’t think was planned, and which I’m hesitant to use for canning… the lids always seem a little too… cardboard to feel like a safe idea… Maybe someone can reassure me on this one?)
Anyway. The point of this post is to talk about, well, my hoarder tendencies when it comes to food.
Because, while I am trying to incorporate things like 2012 rhubarb syrup and 2013 apple butter version 2.0 (I had, like, 16 jars of the stuff at the end of September and have… at least 8 left) into everything from sweet-and-sour cabbage (it worked!) to half-empty-jars-of-jam pancakes (also worked!), and while eating from the pantry is a pretty much staple thing to do at our place anyway (in that “seasonal eating means never having to by non-tinned tomatoes in january” kind of way)… I’m still seriously freaked out at the thought of intentionally eating the cupboards bare.
Some back story:
I’ve been poor – below-the-poverty-line poor – for most of my self-supporting life. Recently, while still being pretty low-income, the addition of my wife’s salary (retail/production, so low-but-not-minimum wage) has popped my household income over that line. But we’re still pretty broke a lot of the time.
Years of temping have meant that I’m used to making about $12K per year and having multiple month+ periods of being unemployed during any given year.
This means that:
(1) When I have money coming in, I buy non-parishable food.
(2) When I am about to stop having money coming in, I buy non-parishable food (and frequently fill up a coffee-shop gift-card while I’m at it, so I can still go out with my frinds on occasion).
(3) Eating down the larder when I don’t “have to” feels a bit like firing off “Help me I’m lost in the woods” flares in lieu of improvised fireworks, two days before going hiking in Bear Country.
This is not to say that I think it’s a bad idea. Quite the contrary.
It’s to say that… I guess one way of putting it would be to say that my idea of “par” – to use another concept I learned from Erica – fluctuates depending on what kind of money I have lying around and how willing (or wise) I am to trust in local resources (read: foraging and gleaning) to make up the gap. In early April, with buckets of snow still on the ground – albeit melting quickly – I am in the heart of Hungry Month. We are still four weeks away from the earliest wild greens – dandelions and garlic mustard, the latter of which is bitter enough that it doesn’t make a very good primary vegetable in a given meal – and…
Oh, this is silly.
To quote my own sister “You have more food than anybody I know”.
This is something she said to me, in June of 2008, when I was freaking out about having to sell a now formerly-marital home before the cold weather hit, because I knew I couldn’t afford to heat the house. I was for-real afraid that I would not have enough to eat.
And yet I still had more food than anyone else my sister knew. I had cupboards stuffed with whole grains and tinned beans and dried vegetables and pasta… But cooking from the larder is a skill, and I didn’t have it yet.
Now I do.
Now I can throw tinned tomatoes and left-over pork and frozen greens and dried ancho chilies (these are mild, folks) into the frying pan with a little bit of lard (or butter or name-that-oil), stretch it with half a cup of raw red lentils (and a cup of stock or water) or a tin of well-rinsed beans and serve it over millet or rice or quinoa or whatever grain I happen to have on hand… and that’s what we eat all winter.
And I still dread the thought of less than five tins of tomato or cream-of-mushroom soup in the cupboard. I still dread the thought of running out of beans. I still dread the thought of my freezer contents dwindling to where I can see the bottom of the bin.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to fill it up again if I let my stores drop that low.
So, in the past couple of days, I’ve been out and buying things to try and get myself back up to what I think of – in my haphazard way – as “par”, and to make sure I have something to serve all those to-be-eaten-down preserves with or on or in, as well. :-)
Tonight will be grilled cheese sandwiches (with apple butter and hot mustard and tinned garlic-chili tuna) + tinned tomato soup.
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 Which maybe doesn’t bode so well for my hopes of buying meat by the animal… Good thing the local meat CSA delivers in batches rather than in one fell swoop.
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