The Winter Garden

A friend recently wrote a book focusing in part on Alaskans’ longing for specific and unique food items–from box cake mix to whale blubber.

Winter is an ideal time of year for Alaskans to plow through their favorites. In fact, winter is my favorite time to eat food from the garden.

As a dilettante food preserver, the canned pickles in the pantry, the packages of cubed pumpkin in the freezer, and the jars of various ferments in the refrigerator seem more precious to me than fillets of wild salmon.

In recent weeks, I’ve hacked apart three large pumpkins and winter squash, mostly to preserve in the freezer but also to make pie, pumpkin butter, maple-pumpkin-cornbread, stews, pepitas, and a really awful pudding (don’t EVER replace blackstrap molasses with pomegranate molasses). Several more pumpkins and squash are waiting in the living room for their turn to be carved.

Fragrant buttercup squash with saved seeds.

Cutting up pumpkins used to be intimidating, but I’ve learned how to knife through them relatively quickly, stopping the knife tip in the center cavity, and carving down from one end to the other. I scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp with a sharp grapefruit spoon. If I’m cutting up raw cubes of pumpkin for vacuum packing, I’ll start by peel the tough skins off with a sturdy Y-shaped peeler.

I’ve been sharing the last few jars of dill pickles and pickled runner beans with friends and co-workers. The last few too-salty fermented pickles are mellowing out in a water container. I’ll fish those out to dice into tuna salad.

One of the best gifts from the garden at this time of year is the “fast food” provided by kimchi and other fermented vegetables. The jars of lemon-dill kraut, curtido, celery, and hot peppers in the fridge could last until March or April. Everything in those jars is delicious, and if the fridge smells a little spunky, we don’t notice anymore.

Seaweed/sesame kimchi, fermented celery with sage and thyme, and garlic dill slices.

A new treasure from last year’s garden is the small cache of runner beans bagged up in the freezer. For a ski trip this past weekend, some of the purple speckled beans were soaked, cooked and tossed with pesto and pasta. They looked beautiful (staying purple) but I discovered a much more flavorful use for the beans is cooking them and tossing with rosemary, dried marjoram, capers, tarragon vinegar and lots of garlic.

Here are a few recipes that have worked well for us so far this season.

Pumpkin Maple Cornbread (you can cut the sugar and try making your own pepitas if you have really large pumpkin/squash seeds that are too tough to roast).

Warm White Bean Salad with runner beans instead of cannellini.

Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Dilly Beans with runner beans. I prefer this recipe which is in her book. The recipe in the pickle section of her website omits lemon peel.

If you have some favorite recipes for preserved food that you are enjoying this winter, please send along or share them in the comments!