Saturday, 30 January 2010

Stored summer

The food year is like a battery: it gets charged in summer and we in the high latitudes need to live off that charge over winter. Over the last few decades we’ve been living off the sun in the Carboniferous instead, but now that fossil charge is running low, and we need to look at the ways in which we used to do this, and improve on them.

Patrick Whitefield, in his wonderful book The Earth care manual, argues that we would do well to get more of our nutrition from trees. And I can see why: my vigorous apple tree takes about a day of maintenance and harvest a year and produces roughly as much food as my vegetable garden, in which I spend about a day a week. (I admit this is not a fair comparison, amongst others because the apple tree wouldn’t have produced from year 1, but this should make less than a factor 2 difference.)

In late October my tomato plants died, so I was left with lots of green tomatoes. Since I’m trying to reduce my sugar consumption, and thus didn’t want to make chutney, I decided to try lacto fermentation. Lacto fermentation is most well known from Sauerkraut (using cabbage), but it’s also possible to use other vegetables. It’s very easy. You cut the tomatoes in slices, fill a glass jar to 2/3, dissolve 1.5% by weight of salt in enough water to just cover the tomatoes, optionally put a little oil on top (to limit the diffusion of oxygen), cover with a plastic bag and fill the bag with water. Wait at least a month before eating.

By the end of April the weather has warmed up enough that the apples go off, but there is still at least a month to go before the strawberries and raspberries are ripe. This also happens with the vegetables and is known as the hunger gap. One way to fill the hunger gap is with a pressure cooker. Please don’t recycle your glass pots with metal lids; give them to me.


  1. Dear Erik,

    Very inspiring post! tomatoes I have a deal with my neighbour down the lane. He gives me his end-of-the-season tomatoes and windfall apples at the beginning of November and I repay him with two jars of green tomato chutney(perfect for eating just now)

    Next year I'll definitely try fermentation. With luck David will like it too!

    Did you read that section on Sandor Ellix Katz’s work on wild fermentation in Rob Hopkins & Tamzin Pinkerton's book Local Food?

    Yours from the low-carbon larder,


  2. Hi Erik, your apple store is a model of great organisation! I still have a few crates of the autumn's apples in my loft, slowly going soft and wrinkly but still great for cooking. I pile them all into plastic crates and don't do anything special to keep them, apart from removing the odd mouldy one. Do you have any tips to keep them going for longer?

  3. Dear Charlotte,

    Yes, in fact I read Local Food over the last week. Though Sandor's section is very inspiring, and I would have wanted to try this after reading it if I hadn't already. But I'm also glad that I didn't try his recommendation for the amount of salt (off the top of my head 4%, which he admits is appropriate for summer but doesn't give a winter amount), because as it was I found 1.5% a lot, and I'll experiment next year with less and other ways of favouring the lactobacilli over others.

    Dear Gill,

    This year I filled a space with shelves that was presumably left for a kitchen machine like a dishwasher or a refrigerator. This makes it easier to pick out the ones that go off. But I wouldn't expect that that would make them keep longer. It does mean no heating in the kitchen. If I had a cellar I would store them there, because it would heat up more slowly in spring. Since I don't have a cellar I use my pressure cooker instead, which obviously isn't the same, but I find that the apples go sweet in spring and last year I was glad to switch to the acid, if cooked, ones in May.