Tuesday, November 20, 2012

got collard balls?

It sounds like we’re going to talk about something that hangs in a rather grotesque fashion off the underside of a creaky old donkey.  Disappointingly (?), this post will just be about vegetables. 

When I first registered "smallhouse" over at Blogher, I listed it under "family," "feminism," and "food." I have figured out, however, that a food blogger, I am not.  I don’t really want to write about how you cook or preserve stuff. 

I so admire the bloggers that do this (and there are a lot of them!).   Quite honestly, although they spend a lot of time explaining how they do it, I don’t have any idea how they do it.  Most of them seem to have little kids underfoot as they cook fabulous recipes (don’t they have to be original? do they make them up? steal them? I don’t know), while photographing every step of the process in a seemingly pristine kitchen.  They even have fantastic photos of their spices arranged in mesmerizing little pyramids that look like gold dust, or perhaps, cocaine. 

I love looking at those blogs, but making one seems ungodly tedious to me.  Plus, who has time for pictures and recipe writing? I need to get that meal in the oven!

So, while I do talk a lot about food, I’m more interested in the poetry and rhythm of eating than I am in the "how to" of it.  I'm drawn to the activist and spiritual aspects of eating local and seasonal food; you don’t necessarily need a recipe for that.  And while it’s deeply meaningful to me, it’s not always pretty.   So while someone else may have posted a succulent brie spread they've arrayed with candied cranberries and toasted pinenuts for the holidays, today I have: collard balls.

Last week marked the end of our summer/fall farmers' market season, as well as the end of my vegetable coop.  With winter looming and the markets closing, I did a little panic buying last Wednesday.  I returned from the market with, among other things, 4 bunches of humongous collard greens. No, I don’t have a picture.  I actually really enjoy photography, but as I looked at the greens already wilting on the counter, I didn't think photo; I thought freezer. 

I wanted to get them into the freezer while I had time.  But how? you ask, probably desperate for information from this blog that is all philosophy and no instruction.  Well, you clean them, stem them, chop them (optional), boil them for 3 minutes (fancy word=blanch), plunge them into ice water, wring them out, and freeze them. 

Wew! There’s my cooking blog for you, in one sentence.  If you want more, check out  Pick Your Own for tips on picking canning and freezing just about everything.  Anything I  can tell you will have been plagiarized from them anyway. 

I don’t like freezing food because of that double f-word thing.  You know: fossil fuel.  Freezers guzzle it, plastic bags embody it.  I much prefer to can foods, but canned collards?  That spells slime in a jar to me.  As I reluctantly prepared my greens for their individual freezer bags, I had an idea.  When I wrung out the greens, I pressed them into hard balls (enough for one meal), then put them on a cookie sheet to freeze.  Once frozen, I could put them in just one big gallon plastic bag.  Not perfect, but better. 

Here they are (because once I was nearly done, I felt like I had time for photos.  Also, I'm pretending to be an aspiring food blogger--and who doesn’t want to see a picture of collard balls?):


Then I went all food blogger photographer on you and took this:


I've notices that it's a very trendy food blogger thing to focus on just the foreground of your food picture, leaving the ingredients and accoutrements to fade into the fuzzy background (a way of hiding a messy kitchen, I am sure--it's working pretty well for me here). 
Why am I telling you about these “balls” anyway?  Because they will probably be the last thing I store for the winter.  Right now, my refrigerator is packed – turnips, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, ginger, arugula and kale: the last of the harvest. I feel both panicked to eat it all before it goes bad, and sorry to see it go. 

It is no accident that this end of harvest coincides with Thanksgiving.  We rightfully focus a lot of attention on family during this holiday, but family is only half of the story.  Thanksgiving is also about food--a celebration of the food that will get your family through the winter.  With grocery stores that carry canteloupe and blueberries year round, we can easily lose touch with the rhythm of harvest and the battle against scarcity that inspired this holiday.
To be clear, we're not survivalists.  Although I would love to, we don't live off the grid, or even live without the conveniences of the grocery store.  I still buy dry goods like pasta, rice and potato chips.  However, I do everything I can to continue our practice of eating local and organic meat and produce throughout the winter. 

I appreciate this way of eating for so many reasons.  It makes old things new as foods come in and out of season; it instills us with an awareness for the fragility of our food system, especially when a local crop fails and we realize with dismay: no tomatoes this year.  It reminds us to think about where our food comes from, (how it was produced, who did the work, how they were treated), and it teaches us about scarcity so that we can truly appreciate what we have. 

This way of eating has a spiritual aspect because it puts us in rhythm with the earth as it changes around us.  Each season gives something and takes something.  Honoring that cycle feels almost like religion to me.  It also has an activist element because we reject so much of the industrial food system we disagree with while supporting sustainable farming in our community.  Finally, it's not perfect.  I cringe at the stuff I still buy from Trader Joe's which is based far away in, egad, California). 
Our attention to the cycles of food make Thanksgiving a really important holiday because it marks the end of abundance.  We celebrate that by overindulging, by symbolically (and sometimes actually) fattening our selves so we can better survive a winter of scarcity.  By the end of the holiday weekend, I will probably have plowed through the last of the fresh green stuff in my fridge.  We will be sure to appreciate every last bite before we hunker down to spend a winter cozied up in our small house with a big freezer bag full of...collard balls--and the hopeful idea that we have enough.

With that, let us go forth and eat pie!

Happy Thanksgiving!



  1. I pause to reply, tempted to say something ballsy or funny- but really, I just am in awe of you. I feel this great peace reading this, and about the possibility of jettisoning out of the food empire.

    We are getting better and better at local and organic. I really notice now that that grocery store strawberry doesn't actually taste like a strawberry. The "cage free eggs" don't taste nearly as good as the local farmer eggs. Getting more and more curious. Heard of any "group," or interested in one, where people do some of the prep work together and share...like, you know, a village. ??

    1. hey meredith - "food empire" - love that. That's great that you are embracing this process of eating local & organic--and that you recognize that it is a PROCESS. it takes time and patience and an openness to imperfection (which i am not always good at!) but it is so worth it!

      yes on the village. jay talks about this all the time - growing food then inviting others to harvest and share in the prep work. more on that come spring!

      thanks for your nice comment - hope you and yours have a beautiful day tomorrow! :)

  2. Wow, those collard balls look much better than they sound! I'm totally in awe of you too. Have you read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? She's pretty inspiring too. I'm pretty far from Locavorianism (?) right now, but I'd like to get better at it. ... And I love your version of a food blog. Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      I'm not a very starstruck person, but I'm pretty much falling all over myself for barbara kingsolver. A scientist, an environmentalist, and a beautiful artist. when it came out, animal veg. miracle helped to solidify this locavore path i've been on. she inspired me to take things to a higher level. if i have a hero, it's her - so thanks for mentioning her!

      "locavorianism" - if it wasn't a word before, it is now!

      have a great day tomorrow!