Sweet Potatoes

There is more to sweet potatoes than a casserole topped with marshmallows.

Do you like sweet potatoes?

Most people think of sweet potatoes only at Thanksgiving. Baked in a casserole with loads of brown sugar, butter and marshmallows melted on top. Although that is a delicious dish reminscent of warmth and family, if that is the only time you are eating sweet potatoes, you are missing out. Sweet potatoes are a delicious, colorful and nutrient rich powerhouse any time of year.

Culivation of sweet potatoes originated in the tropics thousands of years ago. The consistent warm and humid weather provides ideal growing conditions. As humans began to travel the world, they took this vegetable with them and created new varieties.

Even those this relative of the morning glory is a tropical plant if you pay attention to the weather, you can grow them quite well in the 6a zone of Central Illinois. The most prevalent variety and what we grow here at the farm is Beauregard. This variety produces a tuber with dark orange flesh.

Harvest and Storage

As you might imagine with their tropical history, sweet potatoes must be dug before the first frost. If you experience a light frost, it will kill the vines and you should dig the potatoes as soon as possible.

After digging, lay out the potatoes to cure in a warm humid location. This improves the storage capability and makes them sweeter. After two weeks of curing, brush off remaining dirt and store as you would white potatoes.

We have discovered that even though this is the way to prepare for longer term storage, the potatoes are sweet and delicious fresh from the garden.

Preparation

Beauregard sweet potatoes have a smooth creamy flesh when cooked. They are sweet with no additional sugar added. Try cutting into bite size chunks and steaming until tender. Or drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in a 425º oven until done and the edges are carmelized. Most recently I added steamed sweet potatoes in a ramen noodle bowl along with carrot strips fresh from the garden.

Sweet potatoes go beyond a delicious dish. They are good for you with rich stores of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, fiber and other nutrients.

Think about sweet potatoes next time you want to add some color to your plate.

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Home Preserving

Home Canned Green Beans and Tomato Juice

Do you remember when people talked about “putting things by”? 

Perhaps this is just our own vernacular, but to us it means to preserve food for the future.

Garden goodness in Central Illinois doesn’t last forever. We eat fresh vegetables from the garden during the growing season, but what about winter? Do we resort to buying everything at a big box store?

No. We make the most of what we have and preserve for future needs. 

Depending on the vegetable, we can, freeze or dehydrate. The tomato sauce post is an example of preparing a sauce that freezes well. Green beans and tomato juice typically go in the canner.

Green Beans

Canning is actually a misnomer. Home canning is not in “cans” at all. Glass jars with two-piece lids in pint and quart size cover our needs for shelf stable “home canned” items. 

Although home canning is not complicated, below are a few pointers to ensure a high quality and safe product.

Home Preserving Tips 

—Follow a tested recipe from a reputable source. Not every recipe on the internet can be trusted. Your best bet is to get a Ball Canning book or use your state home extension website.

—Know your vegetables. Low acid foods must be canned under pressure, while high acid foods can be processed in a water bath canner. Use the correct process for the vegetable you are preserving.

—Use only new flat lids to ensure a successful seal. Bands and jars in good condition can be re-used.

—Before using a pressure canner, (unless it is brand new) have the lid tested for proper working condition at your local home extension office. 

Home preserving does require some effort, but the reward of home grown vegetables all year long is worth it.

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How To Shop The Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s Market

A Farmer’s Market can be overwhelming. Who has the best product? Who has the best prices? How do I know I am getting a good value for my dollar?

This post will answer your questions. 

Get to know the vendors.

Ask questions about their products. Growers and market vendors should be able to answer your questions. Some questions you can ask are: “When was this picked? Where was it grown? Has it been sprayed? Is it a GMO seed?” Based on answers to these questions, you can make your decision about what to buy.

If this is your first visit to a market, do a quick sweep around the market to see what is available and prices. In small markets, prices will usually be similar with only a bit of variance based on the variety or quantity available. Larger markets may have a more significant price difference among vendors. If you are a regular customer, you will know what to expect from your favorite vendors.

After a quick perusal of what is available, go back and make your purchases. One caution however, vendors may have limited quantities of some items. If you have an established relationship with particular vendors based on their reputation for quality and price, you may want to shop those vendors first.  

Learn what is in season.

Eating seasonally will not only provide the most nutritious bang for your buck, but also the best flavor. Local produce has a limited availability due to growing conditions and climate.

For example, you can find tomatoes in Illinois in May, but these are not likely to have been grown locally. The best tomatoes in Central Illinois are available from early July through the end of August, sometimes even stretching into mid-September. These tomatoes will be fully vine-ripened, bursting with tomato flavor.

Shop a Farmer’s Market first.

Above all, find a local farmer’s market and shop there before the big box stores. Produce will be fresher and there are other some great finds like honey, balms, craft items and much more.  

Plus you have the opportunity to develop relationships with great people. What could be better?

If you would like to read more about how we found a community at the 18th Street Farmer’s Market, check out this book: The Long Road to Market. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healthy Eating

 

Everyone is telling you how to choose your food these days. Diets abound, but this is a quick primer on a few of the terms involved in food choices and our take on each one.

Non GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)

Scientists have genetically modified some of our food crops to enhance production. 

The genes of some plants have been altered in the lab by inserting a gene from a different plant. The most common example is corn and soybeans altered to tolerate the weed killer Roundup. But did you know that canola oil now has an altered fatty acid composition due to genetic modifications?

Organic

Organic food has a special designation and oversight. There are strict standards that must be adhered to if one is going to label a food organic. This also comes at a cost. Organic food producers must meet these regulations and pay fees to label their food organic.

Organic simply means nothing artificial has been done to the seed, plant, soil, water, or fertilizer.

Naturally Grown

This is what we do at Five Feline Farm. We use non GMO seed. There are only natural (read compost) amendments to the soil. Any pesticides are house-made from natural ingredients.

We’re ok with misshapen fruits and vegetables.

Although not organic, we think it’s pretty close.

Clean Eating

This term has come into vogue in the past few years. The most basic definition is to consume only whole foods that would have been recognized by the generation before World War II. Foods that are not processed from an unrelated substance with ingredients that can be read and pronounced by a middle schooler.

Prior to WW II and the dawn of the information age, life moved at a slower pace. Families took time to come together over a meal and share their day. People in rural areas grew a lot of their own food, “putting it up” or “putting it by” to get through the cold winter months. City folks shopped at local grocers. Large multi-line stores were non-existent.

People ate local food in that era. Perishable foods would not make the long journey across country or continents. Anything that was shipped a distance was cost prohibitive for the average consumer.

Our Plan

We are into modern retro-food.

Yes, it’s a new term we made up. Taking advantage of new cooking techniques and the occasional long distance food, most of what we eat is local. Whole foods that Grandma would know. Nothing we can’t pronounce.

We grow and preserve as much as possible here on the Farm. What we do buy gets a thorough label examination. Looking for ingredients we can pronounce or resembles a food more than a lab ingredient. The fewer ingredients the better.

We aren’t perfect in this effort. But each meal and each purchase is an opportunity to make a good decision. In the end we feel better, physically and emotionally. 

Your Turn

Join us in this effort to make better food decisions. Take one meal, one food, one day. Whatever works for you.

Eat a whole food. Read labels.

Make one food choice that is closer to the way Grandma used to eat.

Shop local.

Send us a message through email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and let us know what good food decision you made today.