The cool and overcast days of spring have been thoroughly dispelled by the long days of June. Sunny days have become abundant and the the garden turns into a steamy jungle with weeds that must be pulled amongst swarms of mosquitoes.
Summer crops such as sweet corn, eggplant, okra, summer squash, green beans, cucumbers, potatoes, and melons have all grown with vigor and are now flowering, and setting early fruit. I have labored hard up to this point. It is pleasing to my eyes.
If I were a peasant in another place and time, perhaps laboring on some fief for the local baron or marquis, these would be the “hungry days”. The winter grain crops would be growing tall and full of barleycorn as would the hay for the animals. The hardest and longest days of the year would be before me: mowing and threshing all day under the full sun in the fields to bring in the Baron's hay and grain.
But until the grain is mowed, threshed and milled there is no new bread to be baked. The animals are all up in the hills, fattening on tender grasses. There is no fresh milk to be had but perhaps some salted butter. Otherwise, the winter's store has been depleted. What is a hard laboring peasant to subsist on?
As the spring has not been too harsh, the garden is now full with "peasant food." These are root vegetables such as beets, carrots, turnips, early potatoes, green onions and green garlic. That, and rows of green full cabbage, shall nourish the body and spirit. Hungry hands dig up these vegetables, unfit for the well-heeled gentry, and into the pot they will go to make rustic soups and stews!
These rustic recipes were created by hard working peoples the world over using only whatever was available at hand at the time. I am always reminded of this when I am in my garden and carry inspiration with my harvests into the kitchen.
I had been looking over some nodes about Beetroot and Borscht; JessicaJ turned me on to some of the recipes that Sneff wrote here. These nodes inspired be to create a rustic peasant's stew using only what I could get out of the garden.
So, out into the garden I step with my gardening knife! It has not rained in a while and the soil is hard and dry. In the garden there is much which is ripe for harvest to fill hungry bellies. For my June Peasant's Stew I gather the following:
- Four nice sized carrots.
- Two nice sized red beets.
- A few green garlic shoots. The bulbs are about the size of a pearl onion.
- Two green onions. Actually, the onions are good sized bulbs and the tops look like they are going to fall within a week or two anyways.
- A nice heaping handful of egg sized early potatoes, the total harvest from one of six of my Yukon Gold potato plants.
- A head of early cabbage.
On the way out of the garden I stop by the cucumber trellis and pick a couple of the year's first cukes. The trimmings from all of the plants go onto the compost pile.
I am pleased that, if needed, I could harvest this many times over and to sustain my family through the hungry days until the grain is in and the bread is baked.
Back in my hovel, I cut up the cucumbers and put them in a bowl with salted vinegar and water for munching on while I start to prepare my stew.
I chop up the onions and garlic and put them into my big pot on the hearth with 2 oz. of butter. The cow or goat was healthy last year and I hid the larder well from the bandits. I simmer the onions and garlic in the butter over medium heat until translucent while I chop the root vegetables into small pieces.
Once the garlic and onions are translucent I put the chopped vegetables into the pot and stir them about for a minute or two before adding water into the pot until the vegetables are covered with an inch of water.
I then chop up the head of cabbage and put them into the pot once I have heated and maintained the stew at a low simmer.
Into a small bowl, I pour a 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and 2 tablespoons of honey that I got from Hans the Beekeeper. I ladle some of the hot liquid from the stew into the bowl and then stir it up until the honey is dissolved and then return it all to the stew.
At this point I taste the stew and add salt to my satisfaction.
In about 30 to 45 minutes the stew is ready when all of the root vegetables are tender and can be cut easily with a spoon. The liquid is a pleasant red color. If I were indeed a peasant, this stew might be served into a bowl like depression in the rough slab of a table on which all the meals are prepared and served on and is most likely the only piece of furniture in the hovel.
But, thanks to the industrial revolution and other benefits of progress, I have nice porcelain tableware that I can serve the stew in.