With the exception of a few early season delectables that have already come and gone, all food that can be grown here in the banana belt of the Northern Rockies is ripe. Walk the swollen aisles of the Farmers’ Market and witness the full spectrum of the bounty.
This is the second installment on Y2K compliance and the Missoula Farmer’s Market. As I explained in the first installment, Y2K is more than a date on a calendar. It is a state of mind. The concept of storing food at home made a quick dash to the forefront of pop culture when the idea got around that once the computers stopped ticking, the supermarkets would run out of food. This may have seemed like a fad, but it wasn’t too long ago, especially here on the American frontier, when every year was Y2K. Winters were long and cold and imminent, and homesteaders had to not only time Montana’s moving-target-of-a-growing-season perfectly in order to maximize yield, but they had to make their short harvest last all year.
Another good reason to pursue a Y2K frame of mind: In the wake of last week’s showdown between good and evil, the World Trade Center was a target. All around the nation, people walked around stunned, wondering, “What can I do to help?” Many chose to share their blood, a profound and poetically beautiful act of brotherhood and sisterhood. Another less direct but no less significant way that people can help is to decrease their dependence on world trade in general, especially on goods which may be produced by questionable labor practices, must be shipped long distances, and can be produced right here at home. By not feeding the U.S. habit of global dependence, we can promote planetary justice.
The previous Y2K compliance installment focused on pickles. This one focuses on something much easier and less time consuming: cool storage. Apples, cabbage, winter squash, and a whole host of root crops: carrots, potatoes, beets, onions, garlic, turnips, rutabaga, parsnip, etc., are now available in bulk at the Farmers’ Market. You will never get a better buying opportunity here in Missoula, in terms of quality and price, to purchase these items. The market is flooded so prices are low. Why spend two dollars a pound on Yukon Gold potatoes in January when you can buy a pile of them for a dollar a pound right now, and eat them in January?
The trick is to store the goods properly to keep them from spoiling. In the old days, everyone had root cellars underground. The earth is a buffer against extremes in temperature, preventing freezing and overheating all year long. If you are interested in building a root cellar, there are many designs readily available in books. These designs run the gamut from elaborate works of architectural wonder to burying a trash can. But before you hit the hardware store, though, take a moment to consider if the house you live in has some cool, humid-but-not-soggy nooks in the basement where you could eke out a storage pantry.
If you are storing apples and pears, make sure that there is good air circulation, or they will quickly over-ripen. And don’t store them near cabbage, potatoes, and turnips. Apples release ethylene, which will make potatoes sprout, and cabbage and turnips will make apples taste like cabbage and turnips, respectively. Make sure and ask the produce vendor for fruit that was picked unripe.
It is best not to scrub root crops before storing them. Wipe them off to get them reasonably clean, and then pack them into boxes, with lots of dry leaves or straw. Keep potatoes in the dark. Hang onions and garlic in mesh bags. Winter squash and pumpkins can be stored on shelves. Be sure to inspect them every few weeks for mold. If you find any, wipe it off with a cloth coated in vegetable oil. If mold takes over a squash—or any other thing you have stored—get it out of there as soon as possible. Maybe you should experiment with small quantities this year, and prepare for the Big One next year. And for more advanced food storage techniques, refer to a good food storage book.
I’ll leave you with one final world trade morsel for your ruminating pleasure. At the Good Food Store, you can buy a pint bottle of Biota juice, imported from Switzerland, for five dollars and change. The bottle contains the juice of organically grown beets, tomatoes, celery, and carrots. A sip of this exquisite juice can make your day, but something is wrong with this picture: All four of those ingredients are grown abundantly here in Western Montana. And they are all ripe at the same time, that is, right now. So why are we importing it from Switzerland? Perhaps some entrepreneurial type will read this and start a successful business. The rest of us should go to the Farmers’ Market, buy these four simple ingredients and make juice, which can be frozen, canned, or drunk immediately.
You don’t need to go into the wilderness to have a wilderness experience. Find your wild heart at home. Bury your acorns, young squirrel, and get into a Y2K frame of mind.
The Missoula Farmers Market, held every Saturday morning at the north end of Higgins Avenue, will continue until October.