• Eat it on the Radio

    Eat it on the Radio

    In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben focuses on the importance of strong communities for the health and well-being of the planet and its people. He suggests that we can strengthen our home regions by producing more of our own food, generating more of our own energy, and even creating more of our own culture and entertainment. To achieve these goals, McKibben advises, we need to build or rebuild local institutions that draw people together, and one such institution that he cites in his book is a low-power radio station in the Mad River Valley: WMRW-LP Warren, 95.1 FM.

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  • A Passion for Artisan Soap

    A Passion for Artisan Soap

    My soap-making journey started a decade or so ago, when I was becoming more and more sensitized (allergic) to mainstream, detergent-type soaps. Eventually I just couldn’t use them anymore. As I researched the subject, I became alarmed at what was being used in cosmetic products on the market, not to mention all the harmful chemicals leaching into our waterways as a result of those products. I decided to start making my own soap, and the enthusiasm I had back then for soap making has now turned into a passion and a business for me. My only regret is that I didn’t start making them sooner!

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  • Halal in the Hills

    Halal in the Hills

    Art Meade is a 59-year-old livestock and poultry farmer with a thick Maine accent and a farm on Route 100 in Morrisville. He also happens to run the only state-licensed slaughter facility in Vermont that caters to Muslims who practice halal slaughter. This is the Muslim tradition of swiftly slitting the throat of a domesticated meat animal with a sharp knife; the animal is believed to be killed instantly and painlessly (though there is some debate about that). Muslims, who are directed by their religion to eat halal meat, can purchase such meat in Vermont stores, but some prefer to do the slaughter themselves.

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  • How to Start a Community Garden

    How to Start a Community Garden

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • The Story of Bread

    The Story of Bread

    Green Mountain Flour, a new artisan bakery in Windsor owned and operated by Zachary Stremlau and Daniella Malin, takes a unique approach to its craft: it uses local wheat, local milling, and local fuel to create its flours, breads, and pizzas. Here, woodcuts that comprise the bakery’s logo tell “the story of bread,” echoing a time in early New England when, according to Zachary and Daniella, “the farmers knew the miller, the miller milled with stone, and the baker baked with fire.”

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  • How to Get Grounded

    How to Get Grounded

    On a road in Cabot, not far from the land that Laura Dale and Cyrus Pond bought this past March, you can look out to the west at a horizon dominated by the undulating spine of the Green Mountains. For many young farmers in Vermont, the cost of land can seem as daunting and insurmountable as the largest of those mountains in the dead of winter.

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  • Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

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  • Classy Wheat

    Classy Wheat

    Last year, I arrived at The Putney School as their new gardener and was tasked with getting the high school students at this Putney boarding and day school excited about gardening. Early on, the farm manager told me he had planted some wheat on the edge of one of the farm’s hayfields. I was intrigued.

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  • Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    As I downshift off the Putney exit of I-91, my husband, Jerry, is roused from his dozing by the hollow sound of several hundred jostling maple syrup jugs. It’s April, time to buy containers for our maple syrup at Bascom’s 10% container sale, and time to post Farm Camp flyers.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Getting Everyone to the Table

    Getting Everyone to the Table

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • A 10-Year Stroll

    A 10-Year Stroll

    With hundreds of spectators lining Main Street in Brattleboro, the groomed and bedazzled heifers are led down the center of the street to the cheers of onlookers. Hundreds of cows preen for the delighted crowd, followed by more farm animals (bulls, goats, and horses), tractors (also decorated for the parade) floats, clowns, marching bands, street performers, and all manner of groups touting their various farm affiliations.

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  • Cookbooks, Culture,  and Community

    Cookbooks, Culture, and Community

    The case for local nuts. No, I’m not talking about your odd mother-in-law, your bizarre ex-boyfriend, or that whacko who expresses herself, extensively, at town meeting. And I don’t mean aficionados or extremely enthusiastic people. I mean those portable nuggets of nutrition, held aloft by tree limbs. A nut, technically speaking, is a big seed enclosed by a hard shell. And even though you’re now fantasizing about almond and macadamia instead of weirdo and diehard, I’m here to tell you about what nuts we can grow in Vermont, and why.

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  • After the Fire

    After the Fire

    Barn’s burnt down…now I can see the moon. –Chinese proverb

    Yet the converse is also true: Yes, we can see the moon, but it won’t shelter tractors, nor can vegetables be washed, packed, and stored inside its lovely glow. Oh, the moon is beautiful, but what can it do for food and a business after the fire is put out?

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A Canning Party

Canned Goods
Canned Goods ready on the shelf

Written By

Chris Sims

Written on

December 01 , 2011

The canning party began innocently enough. One young mother, living far from her own mother, wanted to learn how to preserve her garden’s bounty. Casually, at church, she asked if she could come help me can. We set up a time, and Sarah and I spent a happy couple of hours pressure-canning green beans.

Sarah has friends. Many friends. She and her husband lead the Navigator Christian Fellowship at the University of Vermont, where Sarah discovered that at least three or four of the students in their group also wanted to learn some old-timey food preservation skills. Could they all come at once, Sarah wondered, and turn it into a canning workshop? I agreed, and we set a date at my house in early September. The students would harvest and can, I’d teach, and in the end I’d serve them all a turkey dinner with everything but the biscuit ingredients and salt coming from our own little Jericho homestead.

The day came. I typed up three pages of basic instructions and general recipes, and printed out six copies. On a dry-erase board, I listed vegetables that were ready to harvest and one or two options for the preservation of each.

By the appointed hour of 3:00 p.m. almost all of the students were there. One of them, walking up the driveway, introduced herself, then sheepishly confessed that she’d brought a friend and hoped that was all right. Other students brought friends, too. I had mentioned the workshop to one of my own friends, and she’d been so intrigued that she wanted to come, too. Come, she did—with a friend. Later, the friend of the friend asked if she could call her husband. Another student wanted to call her husband, too. In the end, there were 13 of us in a 10-by-12-foot kitchen, with spillovers into the dining and living rooms.

We presented the harvest list and invited the students to choose what they’d like to pick. The bush beans had been neglected and really needed to be harvested. There were several green and red cabbages of good size, plus leeks, turnips, kale, garlic, beets, chives, carrots, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, oregano, cilantro, parsley, sage, rosemary, and, of course, thyme. We took a tour of the garden and I handed out large bowls.

My husband, Reed, set up a pre-wash station for the root vegetables outside on a folding table. Everybody washed their harvest, came inside, and started following the written instructions. Within minutes, the house rang with talking, laughing, washing, peeling, chopping, slicing, pounding, simmering, snipping, plucking, packing things into jars, and spreading herbs on trays. I mostly ran around getting pots, pans, bowls, jars, and lids, finding extra ingredients, answering questions, and orchestrating a fine balance of timing. The beets had to be boiled while the beans were being washed; and the beans had to be out of the pressure-canner before the beets were ready to go in, but the cucumbers had to be washed before the beans, lest the pickle makers stood by twiddling their thumbs while waiting for sink space. There were harvest bowls to empty and wash so they could cool hot beets, and the beet pot would soon be needed for cooking the garlic jelly. (One brave soul decided to try garlic jelly.)

The students were on it. An assembly line morphed into being. When seven jars were full of beans, we poured boiling water over them, put on the lids, and started up the pressure canner amid reassurances that the modern units do not tend to explode like the old-fashioned ones. Meanwhile, on one corner of the dining table, three students chopped cabbages, leeks, carrots, a turnip, and some peppers to be preserved by lacto-fermentation.

On another corner of the dining table, our intrepid garlic jelly maker peeled clove after clove after clove. You know how it is when you get to talking: I’d set a whole bowlful of garlic bulbs in front of her and, before she knew it, she had peeled enough garlic to make 60 half-pint jars of jelly. She decided she’d better not make that much, but the extra peeled garlic was not a problem. Much of it went into the lacto-fermentation mix, and the rest we roasted in the oven and froze for later on.

In the living room, Reed and several students sat around the coffee table, enjoying one another’s company as they snipped chives into bits or plucked herb leaves off their stems. We used to have an electric food dehydrator, but we gave it away. Now, we use the solar dehydrator out in the driveway. Said dehydrator also happens to be the family car, but when it’s just sitting there in the sun with the windows closed, it does a fine job drying herbs.

Back in the kitchen, the second batch of beans was under pressure in the canner, and the cooked beets went into a bath of cold water to slip their skins. (The skins are certainly edible and full of vitamins, but they turn tough in the pickling process. I put them aside to feed to the chickens.) Armed with a simple recipe, the students boiled up a syrup of vinegar, sugar, and spices. While it cooked, they sliced the beets into hot jars.

Speaking of vinegar and sugar, did I mention cucumbers? The pickle students opted to make both sweet pickles and dill. The small cucumbers went into a gallon jar to be covered with a cold solution of water, vinegar, and salt—an age-old, crock-pickling recipe. (That’s all there is to it. Dump them in and wait three weeks.) The long, Asian cucumbers became sweet sandwich slices with onions and a little garlic thrown in, seeing as we had extra. That required a boiled syrup, too, but the students finished making it just in time to wash the pan and turn it over to the students who needed it for pickling beets.

Amid the craziness, we ran out of vinegar. Reed had to make a run to the store for more. I got the turkey started in the oven, boiled potatoes as soon as a pot was empty and clean, and baked biscuits beside the roasting garlic.

When it was finally time to eat, we stood to survey our handi-work: a gallon and a half of sauerkraut, 12 quarts of green beans, 2 quarts of canned beets, 10 pints of pickled beets, 8 pints of sweet sandwich pickles, half a gallon of crock pickles, 2 trays of drying herbs, and 8 half-pints of garlic jelly.

Talk around the dinner table turned from enthusiastic and cheerful to enthusiastic and serious. Several students wanted to start a homesteading club, noting that with the imminent decline of oil as we know it, we’re all going to have to know a lot more about raising and preserving our own foods. The students noted that one day’s canning barely put a dent in what we still had growing out in our garden. Reed and I feed ourselves year-round with the vegetables we grow ourselves, and we only have two-thirds of an acre—in town, yet! The same was true years ago with teenage children still living at home. We’re not self-sufficient by any means, but we do grow an awful lot. We get protein from homegrown dry beans and our free-ranging chickens and turkeys. More than half our fruit comes from berries on our property. Ten percent of the grain we eat comes from grinding the flint corn that grows well in the sunniest spots in our garden. If our transportation infrastructure should collapse, we might be hungry, but we would not starve.

The guests stayed to talk until about 9:30 p.m., leaving behind a clean kitchen with all the dishes hand-washed, towel-dried, and put away. Reed and I were grateful for the students’ help. The students appreciated what they’d learned. We all enjoyed the local dinner and the sharing of ideas. Certainly, the success of the event rested largely on being organized and keeping things moving, but the most valuable ingredients turned out to be flexibility and an unwavering sense of humor.

The canning party did more than impart a few skills. It also left us with the confidence that greener, more sustainable living is not only possible but satisfying and fun. The UVM students may not be able to go back to their dorm rooms and grow carrots, but the knowledge will be there for them like a good jar of garden beans, ready to be opened and enjoyed, just as soon as the time is right.

Photo courtesy of Chris Sims

Good-by, and Keep Cold

by Robert Frost

This saying good-by on the edge of the dark
And cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don’t want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don’t want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don’t want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call
I’d summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don’t want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.
“How often already you’ve had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-by and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an axe—
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard’s arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.

“Good-by and Keep Cold” from the book, The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright ©1923, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright ©1951 by Robert Frost. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

About the Author

Place Holder Image

Chris Sims

Chris Sims, a lifelong gardener, turned in recent years to full-time homesteading and sheep farming. She and her husband make their home in Jericho.

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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