When I first started gardening in my mother’s back yard, she called me a Russian Peasant. It was not a compliment. I headed out back in the evening with my head wrapped in a scarf to keep the mosquitoes at bay, wearing old sneakers, and carrying a pitchfork. In the late summer, I brought turnips and carrots to her customers, who loved them. Years alter, when I actually met a Gardening Russian Peasant in Portland Oregon, I had to agree—I did look like a peasant. Maybe Irish, rather than Russian, but the general outline was the same. Same big grin. Same scarf around the head. Same old shoes and pitchfork. She raised cabbages and potatoes, chickens and a rooster, in her back yard long before urban farming was cool, even in Portland. We compared notes on our vegetables and the weather by waving our arms and smiling.
Since then, I have embraced my Inner Peasant.
· I grow potatoes. We eat potato bread in the winter.
· I raise chickens. (no rooster, though. Too loud.)
· I wrap a floral scarf around my head in the winter and own an old wool coat with a sparkly brooch.
· I can whatever I can glean from the streets of Corvallis.
· I collect animal manure for the gardens.
· I make soups with beans and root vegetables.
· I wear old hand knit cardigans and mud boots.
· I knit by the fire.
· We grow gooseberries and red currants as well as raspberries and blueberries.
· Pickled beets are a preferred food in March.
· I haul hay in my van.
· I have bean seeds in my pockets, even in January.
· I compost—everything.
· We eat from the farms that surround us, worry about crops and weather, and consider the land a sacred place.
Pickled Beets—from the Joy of Pickling
Harry had two plus pound beets in the fields this week and they were not fibrous. It has been a year for gigantism.
Making pickled beets turns our kitchen into a massacre site, with red liquid everywhere. Just be prepared. Do not use the new kitchen towels. This makes six pints of beets.
7 pounds of beets—peeled, cubed, and cooked until just tender.
2 cinnamon sticks
1T whole allspice
1t whole cloves
1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
2t pickling salt
1 qt cider vinegar
2 cups of water
Simmer spices in liquids for ten minutes while you pack the beets into pint jars. Strain out spices and pour hot liquid over the beets, leaving ½ inch of head room. Close jars and process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before putting away.
Eat in the middle of winter on cold grey days.