How Does Your Garden Grow?

As we’ve talked about before, Chicago was Victory Garden Central during WWII. During the war, 1,500 urban gardens popped up, the North Park neighborhood had the largest garden in the country, and tons of food was produced.

Victory gardening was a way for the nation to prioritize its major agricultural resources. Large-scale farming operations could concentrate of the crops needed to feed armies and keep the homefront going with things that couldn’t be effectively gardened, like wheat and corn. Vegetables, which were nutritionally important, and possible to grow at home, were outsourced to the populace, largely women.

The Peterson Garden Project carries on that legacy, by providing space and education for urban gardening. I garden at Vedgewater, at the corner of Broadway and Rosemont. A garden on top of concrete lot, it definitely meets the “urban” requirement. I can see the Red Line “L” train go by from my plot.

Where would you buy ground cherries, for instance?

While I am not producing enough food to make it through rationing, it is a nice addition to our purchased food. I am definitely keeping us in greens. The real retrofitting value lies in feeling more connected to the weather, nature, and my neighbors. I’m also able to grow older and interesting varieties of vegetables, that don’t have enough appeal/ease of growing/etc to be available commercially.
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Spring Time

Spring has technically sprung.

After a mild winter, I’m surprised that I’m still feeling that spring stirring, but feel it I do. Snowdrops and crocuses are dotting the block, the seed catalogs are looking alluring, and it’s possible (not likely, but possible) we got the last of the snow last week. (I didn’t say that.)

With more light and a general sense of possibility, I’m feeling optimistic for my immediate domestic sphere. Like many people, “optimistic” has not been able to describe my general mood since November, at least when looking at the general state of affairs in the world. But in my smaller world, it’s spring and it’s time to clear the dust out the corners. Because if I’m going to be horrified on the regular, the smallest comforts seem necessary.

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Cherry Season: At the Orchard

It’s cherry season!

My home state of Michigan produces 70-75% of the tart cherries grown in the US. Tart or sour cherries are the kind used in cherry pie, and they’re just about my favorite thing. The season is short, the flavor is fantastic, and getting them fresh can be a challenge. So when Bob and I went on a family camping trip just a little ways away from one of my favorite Michigan orchards, Spicer Orchards in Hartland,  we resolved to pick cherries on our way home to Chicago.

photo (4)And pick cherries we did. In a marvelous bit of luck, the day was cooler than usual, with lots of nice cloud cover, so the day was comfortable and the orchard wasn’t too crowded. We picked about 13 pounds of tart cherries, and threw in six pounds of blueberries for good measure.

I find it unadvisable to wear cute vintage clothes for serious picking.
I find it unadvisable to wear cute vintage clothes for serious picking.

Arguably, after the obvious benefit of having cherries, the best thing about picking your own is watching the cherry pitting machine. It costs a little extra, but the mechanical wonder took care of my cherries in about a minute. Since I hand pit cherries with a bent paperclip, which would have taken at least an hour, I would have paid more than the twenty-five cents per pound the orchard charged. AND YOU GET TO WATCH THE MACHINE, I cannot overemphasize that. I didn’t take any video at Spicers, but this machine is quite similar.

Oh so pretty.
Oh so pretty.

What will be done with this bounty of fruit? So far, I’ve canned six pints of cherries in syrup, made a little more than a pint of sour cherry syrup for drinks, and made a batch of cherry and a batch of blueberry scones. The rest of the fruit is going in the freezer, where some of it will await a cool day to make jam, and the rest will be used in various baked goods.

Oh so many.
Oh so many.

How do you like to use sour cherries?

Maker Monday: Make Ahead, Make Space

To take a turn on Game of Thrones: Summer is coming.

There are a lot of things I love about summer, like trips to the beach, working in my garden, not shivering while waiting for the bus, etc. However, I have the heat tolerance of a popsicle. Being excessively warm transforms me from a reasonable person into an angry, wilted mess. A hot sunny day often gets my chronic conditions a-flaring, and let’s not even talk about how easily I sunburn.

If it's over 80 degrees, it's pretty much a given that I have the vapors.
If it’s over 80 degrees, it’s pretty much a given that I have the vapors.

These various things being the case, it is not surprising that I am not keen to turn on my oven in the heat of summer. However, I’ve been baking a lot of my own bread lately, and I’d like to continue to do so. Bread baking keeps the oven going at 350-400 degrees for about an hour. The natural conclusion is to buy bread. OR bake it at four in the morning. OR bake it all now.

Enter the freezer, my hero. I’m baking loaves of bread, wrapping them up in foil, and filing them away for summer time.

Food storage has been an issue for humans for a long, long time. It’s why we learned to dry, pickle, bake, boil, and roast. It’s why we figured out canning, and refrigeration, and flash freezing. Having a ready supply of food has meant the difference between survival and death for most of history.

In more recent, vintage-y times, food storage was a way to be thrifty and prepared. Homemakers stored the bounty of their summer gardens for winter, so they didn’t have to rely on store bought products. During World War II, American homemakers were encouraged to grow and can food, so that factory produced stuff could go to the troops and people who couldn’t preserve their own food. This is why victory gardens were such a big thing, and people could get extra sugar rations for canning.

My own reasons for preparing food are a mix of thrift, preference, and a desire to shake my puny fist at our corporate food system. But since I don’t have a summer kitchen, or a root cellar, or basement, or any of the many appealing options for storage that have seen housewives through the ages, I will first have to make space.

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In Darkness: An Existentialist December

The darkness is becoming too much, lately.

There’s the physical darkness. Here on the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone, it’s getting dark early, as we approach the Solstice later this month. The days are getting shorter and shorter, and the sun appears less and less frequently.

But the physical darkness can be fought. With candles, with blankets, with UV lamps aimed at our faces and vitamin D supplements. The darkness that threatens me now is a dark night of the soul.

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