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The Gardener and the Cook: Garden Time + SAUERKRAUT recipe

Our cooking instructor, Eva Sziegti, encourages us to take a gardener’s approach to the changing of the season, and shares a delicious sauerkraut recipe that is also zero-waste!

Cycles

It is fall. It is harvest time. For a gardener, the stage is set for the finale. It is the time of fulfillment, maturity, and abundance. Fall in the garden is gratifying. It is the time of ripening and receiving the gifts of nature, and of our yearlong labor. In October, we enjoy the last autumn flowers, and we tend to cherish them even more than the fresh blooms of spring, because of their impending death.

Harvest time brings baskets full of produce, but also withered leaves, bald brown stalks, half empty beds, and decay. The painstakingly cultivated order is turning into chaos. Luckily, Garden Time is a cyclical time. Decay and death might take over, but we know that this phase is only temporary. The life that seems to disappear will in fact reemerge again in the spring.

Although we acknowledge the cycle of the seasons and try to live in harmony with it, our lives unfold in time that we perceive as linear. However, when facing stress or loss of inner equilibrium, we can all benefit from time spent in the garden, on Garden Time.

Garden Time with Children

Children, especially, thrive on Garden Time. Away from technology and engaged in hands-on tasks, their patience, perseverance, and sense of achievement (without instant gratification) are nourished. Especially if a child has their own garden bed or row to work on, they will learn to make decisions, solve problems, and take responsibility. The garden gives a sense of consistency, a sense of purpose.

And in the fall, there is plenty they can help with. Who wouldn’t like to pick the last peppers and tomatoes of the season, dig up some potatoes, carry a large squash to the kitchen, collect seeds of all shapes and sizes, or make seed packets from paper destined for the recycling bin? Children can get some exercise pulling up weeds and dead plants, covering the beds with blankets of straw, raking, or “driving” the wheelbarrow to the compost pile.

Into the Kitchen

Children also tend to be willing to eat vegetables that they have grown themselves. Of course, the taste of homegrown veggies is on another level versus those from the supermarket.  In the camp’s garden, we see the same scenario play out: a child tastes a freshly picked vegetable and exclaims something along the lines: “I didn’t know I liked cucumbers (or tomatoes, peppers etc.)!”

Speaking of eating—there is certainly a lot that needs to be done in the kitchen during this season as well. Kitchen Time has its own rhythm. Children usually enjoy cooking, especially if they like the food being prepared. They can be our helpers when we preserve the gifts of the garden. Ambitious cooks can engage their children in canning vegetables, making jams, jellies and preserves during this season. Other preserving projects, such as making applesauce, herb salt, or sauerkraut are simple enough to be rewarding even for an inexperienced cook and their family.

So, as we enjoy the last warm days of the fall, harvest the bounty from the garden, save the surplus for the winter, and prepare the garden for the next season, let us feel reassured that the circle of the seasons will go around once again.

 

Sauerkraut Recipe

Making sauerkraut is easy. We don’t even have to do too much. Bacteria, fungi, and time will transform the raw cabbage into sauerkraut—full of beneficial probiotics.  All we need is cabbage, salt, a glass or ceramic vessel to hold the fermenting cabbage, and patience.

 

1 gallon wide-mouth glass jar (or ceramic crock)

about 5 pounds of cabbage (white or red), finely chopped

3 tablespoons sea salt

2 teaspoons whole caraway seed (optional)

2 bay leaves (optional)

 

Preparation:

Put the chopped cabbage in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Let the salted cabbage sit for at least 20 minutes. The salt will start to pull water out of the cabbage. Take cabbage by the hand-full and squeeze more juice out.  The liquid should be squeezed back into the bowl, this will be the brine for the cabbage. Add caraway seeds and bay leaves. Put a bit of the cabbage into the glass jar. Using your fist, tamp it down. This will force more water out of the cabbage. Continue adding small amounts of cabbage and packing it down. When full, put the jar on a plate or on a shallow bowl. (Some of the liquid will spill out onto this plate as the cabbage starts to ferment.) Cover the filled jar with another clean smaller jar or glass (close in diameter to the mouth of the fermentation jar) filled with water (or crystals or stones). This will serve as a weight, keeping the fermenting cabbage submerged. Cover the whole thing with a piece cheesecloth to keep flies out.

Fermentation:

Keep the jar in the kitchen or in a cooler room for slower fermentation. Occasionally, press down the weight to assure that the level of brine rises and the kraut is safely submerged (our goal is an anaerobic fermentation). Sometimes when the cabbage is not too fresh, it may not release enough liquid. If after 24 hours the kraut isn’t submerged, add some salted water to the jar (mix one cup of water with one tablespoon of salt). Leave to ferment. Check your jar every day. If at any time the kraut is not submerged in liquid, add more salted water. As the process of fermentation starts, grey scum will develop. This is normal. Skim what you can off. Wash the jar used as a weight and put it back.

After few days, start checking on the taste of the kraut. It will start to get tangy. In my kitchen, it usually reaches the right tangy-ness in about a week. If you ferment the kraut in a cooler room the process will be longer. Don’t leave the kraut to ferment for too long or it will become unpleasantly soft. When you are happy with your sauerkraut, take off the jar used as a weight. Cover the kraut jar with a lid and store in the refrigerator.

Pfeiffer Center Plant Sale!

The Pfeiffer Center’s Annual Plant Sale will take place this weekend:

Friday, May 19, 9:00am-5:00pm
Saturday, May 20, 9:00am-5:00pm
(Click here to see schedule of bonus activities offered on Saturday)
Sunday, May 21, 9:00am-3:00pm

This is an excellent opportunity to acquire beautiful, healthy, biodynamically raised bedding plants for your garden. For eating, you will find all your favorite vegetables and many varieties of tomatoes. For seasoning, a huge variety of annual and perennial herbs: everything from Anise Hyssop and Basil to Thyme and Summer Savory. And then there are the flowers! Perennials like Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Yarrow, and more; and annuals from Alyssum and Asters to Sunflowers and Zinnias.

Also available will be the Pfeiffer Center’s own-made teas and salves, Pfeiffer Center Garden Gold Biodynamic Compost, and more!

All proceeds from the plant sale benefit the programs of the Pfeiffer Center.

Click here for more details about the event and plant offerings!

Garden Power

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, shares her thoughts on the importance of gardening, as well as a recipe for a delicious post-gardening snack.

Dirty hands, wet boots, a speckle of mud on the face, stones and seeds in the pocket, a basket of fresh vegetables in hand: this is a child coming from the garden. He looks messy and a little tired, but his face glows with satisfaction.

Most children are drawn to gardens and are happy to spend some time in these cultivated slices of nature. By adding a little bit of age appropriate guidance, our gardens can become great informal outdoor classrooms and labs. Gardens serve many purposes and they can provide space for various activities for our children.

Gardening is a great hobby. Those who don’t garden yet and need an excuse to start, will easily find one (or more) reasons to do so. Gardening is of course an extremely practical hobby: a gardener grows food.  But there is more. Having a garden benefits our kids, gardening is therapeutic, and growing your own food is environmentally responsible (as opposed to buying produce shipped from faraway places). To work in the garden means to exercise. Then let’s consider the health benefits of eating very fresh organic vegetables, etc. The list could go on and on.

Gardening has been part of my life since my early years. No matter how small, I have always had a garden or at least several pots of herbs and flowers to satisfy my need to grow plants. When my children were young, they had no choice but to accompany me to the garden. They did not mind. Equipped with small shovels, they never got tired of digging. Children are naturally attracted to dirt. Letting a young child explore the soil and look for worms is a good introductory garden activity. Water is another favorite. Watering never disappoints a child. Small watering cans are best for young children, while older kids can usually be trusted with the hose.

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If you encounter a reluctant young gardener, he or she may be lured to the garden with the promise of a fresh snack. Few could resist a freshly picked strawberry, sweet tender carrot, or the first cherry tomato of the season.

The physical work in the garden engages the muscles. The garden environment engages kids’ senses and imagination. It inspires curiosity and provides space for exploration and magic. The garden is the meeting place of the strivings of humans and the work of nature. We humans sometimes loose. We are not always in control.  So we cultivate patience, perseverance, we figure out plan B, we learn to compromise.  Entering a garden, children are stepping away from the world of technology and from instant gratification. Here they need to wait, be persistent, and take responsibility. They are operating in the real world, where actions have real consequences.

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Gardening is sometimes hard work, but from caring comes satisfaction, sense of purpose, and achievement. It builds self-esteem and teaches how to work with nature. In the microcosm of the garden, the children observe the cycle of life first hand. They learn to understand not only where food comes from, but also what it takes to grow it. They acquire a very useful life skill: how to grow food and provide for themselves. It is empowering. Young gardeners also learn to taste the difference between quality fresh produce and veggies from the supermarket. Their bodies will start craving food that is fresh and nutritious.

“I don’t like the ones from the store, but these are good.” This is a statement often heard during snacking in the garden. It is a hopeful statement. It shows the power of seemingly small things. It reinforces my belief that our gardens can help us raise thriving children.

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And now, for an easy post-gardening snack recipe…

Egg Spread Sandwiches

This is a nutritious, easy to make spread. Older children should be able to prepare this recipe without adults’ help. Younger children can help to peel the eggs and decorate the sandwiches. If you have a garden, use homegrown herbs and vegetables to decorate the sandwiches.

5 hardboiled eggs, finely chopped
4 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons white yogurt or sour cream
1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoon finely chopped onion, green onion or chives
salt and black pepper to taste
sliced bread or baguette
radishes, chives and/or cucumber to decorate the sandwiches

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix, then mash together with a fork. Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed. Spread on bread of sliced baguette. Decorate with fresh vegetables.

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Garden Dreams Coming True

It was a midwinter day. We were engaging in a gardener’s favorite wintertime activity: looking through seed catalogs, planning and daydreaming. As so many gardeners do, we were dreaming about the growing season. We tried not to acknowledge the sight of our frozen garden, the gray emptiness of the ground, the garden fence that seemed to have no purpose in January. We were dreaming of the summer when the gardener no longer remembers the barren soil, the empty beds. With our inner eyes we saw all shades of green in our garden beds, a fence covered with climbing beans, we saw red tomatoes hiding under the leaves, shiny peppers asking to be picked, colorful flowers being visited by bees and butterflies, and busy hands weeding, watering, mulching, picking …

The gardener waiting for the arrival of spring is impatient, she wants to dig and plant. She can’t, so she keeps busy and compensates by looking through seed catalogs. And as she does there is so much hope, so much expectation, that shopping for seeds becomes almost a mania. As if buying a lot, much more than one can plant, or as if ordering the seeds right at that moment could bring the first day of spring closer.

As I was browsing through seed catalogs with my children and planning what to plant and where to build new garden beds my son suddenly said: “Let’s save one garden bed for snack food.” I wasn’t sure what he meant exactly, but I was a very proud mother at that moment. I felt that engaging the kids in gardening activities from an early age was paying off. My child was hoping for snacks from the garden. I couldn’t wait to hear his explanation. It turned out he wanted to plant vegetables he and his sister like to munch on raw, preferably super-freshly picked and right in the garden. My son was dreaming about a garden bed filled with crunchy kohlrabi, buttery salad turnips and radishes, kale, peas in tender pods, and lemony sorrel.

At last, the spring has arrived. We opened our garden shed, took out the tools and went to the garden to start the new gardening season. Turnip, radish and kale seeds were planted directly into garden beds. Kohlrabi seeds were put into planters, emerging seedlings will be kept in the greenhouse for a few weeks. Sorrel, being a hardy perennial, was already there in the garden, the first leaves of the season were ready to be picked.

sorrel

sorrel

Although sorrel is not very well know in these parts of the world, it is well worth planting. This plant with spear-shaped leaves, native throughout Europe and  Euro-Asia, somewhat resembles spinach but its pleasantly sour taste will surprise everyone trying it for the first time. Sorrel is also one of the first greens to come back in early spring, it is ready to be harvested before some other plants are even planted. When established, the gardener can forget about it, it more or less takes care of itself. As a child, I remember picking sorrel leaves growing among the grass under my great-grandmother’s sour cherry tree. I had assumed at the time that sorrel was a wild plant.

In the kitchen, sorrel can be treated as a salad green or leafy vegetable. Use raw sorrel in salads, wraps and sandwiches. The most common sorrel dish is a sorrel sauce, but the tart green leaves work well in soups and sautés as well. Sorrel combines well with potatoes and eggs. The lightness and lemony tang of sorrel sauce nicely compliments dishes made with red meats.

But of course as all young gardeners know, sorrel is best eaten as a snack, just by itself, preferably right in the garden. And as my children were munching on the first leaves of the season, I knew that our garden dreams will all come true.

sorrel and potato frittata

sorrel and potato frittata

Sorrel & Potato Frittata

2 medium potatoes; peeled, sliced and precooked
1 small onion, sliced
3 packed cups sorrel
6 eggs
¼ cup Swiss cheese, grated
2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
pinch of pepper
salt to taste

Heat an 8-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add oil. Add onion and sauté 10 minutes or until tender. Add sorrel and cook, stirring just until sorrel wilts, about 2 minutes. Add precooked potatoes and gently mix with onion and sorrel.

Beat eggs, combine with salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over vegetables in pan. Cook until edges begin to set, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese.

Finish the frittata under the broiler. Using the “low” setting, the top of the frittata should be about 4-5 inches from the flames. Take the frittata out as soon as the top starts to brown, this will probably take no more than a minute.

Cut into wedges and serve with fresh salad.

Leftovers make a great cold lunch.

frittata slice