I’m skeptical of “Montana Native” bumper stickers, as if being born in Montana entitles you to special privileges or sacred knowledge. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not about where you were born, it’s about where you make your home, and how you inhabit your space.
Remember Y2K, when the computers almost stopped ticking and the supermarkets almost ran out of food? Remember the sense of purpose and unity, neighbor helping neighbor dig backyard root cellars and bartering for sacks of potatoes? Like our pioneering forefathers and mothers for whom every year was Y2K, we were ready to get back to basics, and live off the land again. Y2K was cool because it forced many Americans to think about how to provide for their food needs with local sources. Indeed, Y2K was not an event as much as a state of mind.
Whether or not “the big one” ever hits, if you pursue Y2K mind on a regular basis, your time will not be wasted. I promise. It will at least help justify your “Montana Native” bumper sticker. Because if your not eating local, you’re not really inhabiting a place, and you’re no more “native” than knapweed. Y2K mind means taking responsibility for your own food security. It entails developing local connections for your food, such as growing it yourself or purchasing from local farmers. Since our growing season is so short, Y2K mind also entails preserving food for all year long. These practices have a way of ushering you into a realm of awareness that’s as primal as pregnancy, or hiking across the Bob Marshal in a loincloth. You divest yourself from the petroleum-guzzling global food trade, keeping nutrients and economic resources local, and you end up eating better—guaranteed—because you are paying attention to food. Meanwhile, you develop skills, and relationships with skilled people, which will definitely come in handy if the “big one” ever hits.
At this point, there is one more Missoula Farmer’s Market left. This Saturday, Oct. 19, is your last chance to go stock up on crops like apples, potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, turnips, beets and other root crops that can be purchased directly from the farmer now, easily stored, and eaten all winter long.
You need a place that will keep the stuff cool—ideally a root cellar. If you don’t have a root cellar, an unheated garage works pretty good, or an unheated basement. Maybe this year you should experiment with limited quantities of various items, and see how it goes. As you refine your technique, you can go big.
Apples, plums and pears need good air circulation. And they should be stored away from other stuff, because they release ethylene, which causes things to over-ripen. If you are planning on storing these, make sure and get fruit that was picked unripe.
Potatoes should be kept dark. Pack them, and other root crops, into boxes stuffed with dry leaves or straw. Garlic and onions should hang in mesh bags. Winter squash and pumpkins can be stored on shelves. Inspect them from time to time. If you see any mold, wipe it off with a vegetable-oil-coated cloth. If mold takes hold on anything, ditch it ASAP.
In my younger days, I used to just pile my loot in the corner of the garage. I would dig around when I was hungry, discarding moldy stuff as I went. Stuff mostly stored pretty good that way. But since advancing beyond that grasshopper stage, I rarely look back.
Now it’s time to focus awareness upon winter squash—that often ignored but altogether nourishing and delicious staple of the northlands. In my younger days I was able to prove, scientifically, that it is possible to survive happily on nothing but pumpkin/squash pie for weeks at a time. These durable and charismatic members of the cucurbit family are also packed with starch, beta-carotenes and vitamins. My alter-twin step-cousin Don Guido Ashkinazi adds, “It’s the most perfect food...it stores in its own container, tastes good, is good for you, and gets better with age. You can’t say that about a can of tuna.”
Lately, I’ve been into winter squash soup. I prefer to use squash like kombucha or delicata, which don’t need to be peeled. But you can use acorn, red curry, pumpkin, etc., peeled with a knife. Then cut open the squash, remove seeds, cut into chunks, and put them in a pot with a few inches of water. Cook on medium heat with a lid. Add water if necessary until it all falls apart.
Meanwhile, in a pan, fry up some onions, garlic, ginger, hot peppers, mustard seeds, and wine or vinegar. If you want to add some good, chopped bacon, it won’t hurt. When all of these things in the pan have gotten to know each other, add it to the squash. Add water if necessary to keep a soupy consistency. Season it how you like. Some people add curry, or cream, or soy sauce. It’s tough to go wrong, especially if you serve it with a fat dollop of mayonnaise, right smack in the middle of the bowl!
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