• Publishers' Note Summer 2013

    Publishers' Note Summer 2013

    According to a 2009 report prepared by the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, the earliest published account of fish in Lake Champlain was by Zadock Thompson in his Natural History of Vermont (1853). In his report, Thompson described 48 different species of fish, and historically, the commercial fisheries on the lake targeted whitefish, walleye, yellow perch, lake sturgeon, eel, and lake trout.

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  • Set the Table with Garlic Scapes

    Set the Table with Garlic Scapes

    Garlic scapes are one of those totally edible and delicious things that most people don’t even know exist. Every spring, hardneck varieties of garlic (having overwintered but not ready to harvest until July) send up a curlycue stem with a bulbil up top. The bulbil is sort of a mini bulb that can grow new garlic in a couple years or just be eaten like garlic right now.

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  • A Fly in the Ointment

    A Fly in the Ointment

    There’s a small insect causing big damage to soft fruits that ripen late in the season. It’s new to our area, and spreading fast. Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) has been buzzing across the country for the past few years. First, it was found in California in 2008; then in 2009 it moved to Florida, Oregon, and Washington. From Florida, it moved up the East Coast to arrive in New England in 2011, and last year it was found across much of Vermont.

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  • How to Love a Lease—Vermont landowners

    How to Love a Lease—Vermont landowners

    Sustainability, simply stated, is the capacity to endure. But the high cost of land in Vermont, combined with the financial challenges of owning land, are threatening the sustainability of local agriculture. According to Vermont’s Farm to Plate report, “Affordable access to farmland was described [by stakeholders] as a serious barrier for new farmers or those seeking to grow and expand.”

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  • How to Love a Lease—Young farmers

    How to Love a Lease—Young farmers

    At the end of a mostly impassable class 4 road in Calais lies the brick farmhouse of Fair Food Farm. In some ways it seems remote, but as Emily Curtis-Murphy sees it, “It’s a great place to farm.” Before she delves into her experience of farming on leased land, Emily takes me on a brief tour. She and her family rent their house from one landlord and, two miles away, rent land owned by a different landlord for the rest of Fair Food’s operation.

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  • In the Tank

    In the Tank

    On a sunny spring day earlier this year, steam was pouring out of sugarhouses, calves and lambs and kids were being born, and greenhouses were teeming with plant starts. And on Curtis Sjolander’s Mountain Foot Farm in Wheelock, in the barn just behind his house, hundreds of brown trout were swimming in their large tanks, slowly growing in cold waters.

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  • Hooked on Aquaponics

    Hooked on Aquaponics

    Aquaponics is gaining traction on a larger scale as an alternative to traditional methods of produce and fish farming. In developing countries with a limited water supply, people like aquaponics guru Travis Hughey are introducing the concept as a way for individuals to grow their own food while making the most of their limited resources.

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  • Ocean to Mountains

    Ocean to Mountains

    Ethan Wood cannot wait to show you how his scallops twitch. “You see that move?” he asks, breathless. “You see that? These things are alive!” We’re standing in the back of a refrigerated truck in Lebanon, New Hampshire. The scallops, sitting in a plastic box atop a bed of ice, do in fact wriggle when Ethan gives them a little prod. Less than 10 hours ago, the mollusks were still in the waters of Nantucket Bay.

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  • Students Harvest the Future  at Local Colleges

    Students Harvest the Future at Local Colleges

    The agriculture renaissance is upon us. With the growing demand for agriculture graduates, Vermont colleges are leading the way with a variety of agriculture and food-related degrees aimed at preparing students for one of the fastest growing green job fields in the United States. Organic farming, sustainable food systems, nutrition, and animal health are taking center stage during this unique era when environmental and sustainable issues span the globe.

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  • Farmers Kitchen—Les poulets, s’il vous plaît

    Farmers Kitchen—Les poulets, s’il vous plaît

    When we’re selling at a local farmers’ market or get a call ordering a CSA share, we’re often asked, “What is a French chicken?” I, or my wife Rocio, will often say, “Well, it’s a chicken that speaks French and has a little pointy, black mustache,” but actually we’re referring to our certified organic Red Bro chickens. These delicious birds originated from France, where they are referred to as poulet rouge (red chicken) and are found under the label “Rouge” (Red Label).

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  • Last Morsel—The Family Car as Solar Dehydrator

    Last Morsel—The Family Car as Solar Dehydrator

    All summer long, I feast like a queen from the garden, but never lose sight that fall is coming, and we’ll still want to eat. My husband and I therefore freeze, ferment, can, and dehydrate food for winter, and since one of our goals is to avoid the use of fossil fuels to prepare or store our food, we often favor dehydrating.

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Last Morsel—The Family Car as Solar Dehydrator

corn drying in a car

Written By

Chris Sims

Written on

July 03 , 2013

All summer long, I feast like a queen from the garden, but never lose sight that fall is coming, and we’ll still want to eat. My husband and I therefore freeze, ferment, can, and dehydrate food for winter, and since one of our goals is to avoid the use of fossil fuels to prepare or store our food, we often favor dehydrating.

Dehydration has to be done quickly and thoroughly. Too much moisture left behind causes veggies to get moldy in storage. Drying too slowly costs flavor and quality. Too much heat causes scorching.

We started with an electric dehydrator. It had a number of handy trays and a fan that blew warm air across the veggies. It did a good job, but used a lot of electricity.

Sun drying came next. That worked great when we lived in Montana, where laundry dried on the line in as little as 10 minutes and a picnic sandwich turned to toast before we got to the last bite. Not so in Vermont. Bugs abound here, too, making it necessary to screen out unwelcome taste testers. If the day’s produce fails to dry by sundown, we use the oven to finish, but there we go using electricity, again.

Sometimes the best and simplest solution is sitting right under your nose. In this case it was sitting in our driveway. You know how hot a closed vehicle gets on a sunny day? There aren’t many bugs in there, either. I figured the car had all the right conditions for dehydrating food, so I chopped up some herbs and gave it a try.

Here’s our method:

For leafy herbs and greens, snip them off with scissors, or pick off individual leaves. Spread them onto cookie sheets and place in the car. The dashboard works especially well. Every now and then, stir the contents of the trays for more even drying. Finer herbs such as thyme and oregano can be left on the stem and hung on a line between the headrests, secured with clothespins. Herbs may take as little as an hour, greens half a day. If it’s too hot in the car, open the windows a crack.

Dense, moist fruits and vegetables do best on a food grade screen so air can get to them from below as well as above. A reflective cookie sheet under the screen speeds drying. Husked cobs of flint corn can be spread on a clean sheet or hung on clotheslines in the car for the first round of drying. After they’re shelled, spread the kernels on cookie sheets for round two.

To store our dehydrated bounty, we prefer glass jars. (Plastic seems to encourage mold growth.) Herbs and greens should be dry to the point of crumbling. Tomatoes and fruit should be firm and leathery, summer squash somewhere between leathery and crisp. If we’re the least bit worried about mold, we store the dried goods in plastic bags and freeze them.

Dried produce can go straight into soups, stews, sauces, or casseroles without rehydration. They’ll soak up the flavors of broth or marinade while they cook. Dried fruits, including sliced tomatoes and summer squash, can be eaten as snacks, or snipped with scissors and used in breads, desserts, soups, and salads.

Certainly, there are disadvantages to passive solar dehydration in a motor vehicle. That classic “new car smell” indicates that volatiles are leaching from the interior, and we probably don’t want those in our food. Our solution? We don’t buy new vehicles.

Another disadvantage is that some produce imparts an odor to the car. Don’t get me wrong; I like the smell of chives. I really do. It gets a bit old, though, if I have to drive in a chive-laden miasma on a rainy day with all the windows up. On the upside, it makes for an interesting conversation starter when we pick up passengers. Who knows—it might tip an unsuspecting wanna-be gardener over the edge into the delights of greater sustainability and frugal self-sufficiency!

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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Home Stories Issues 2013 Summer 2013 | Issue 25 Last Morsel—The Family Car as Solar Dehydrator