Eating Seasonally: Prepare for Flu Season now!

Elderberries are in season on the Pacific NW and may be in your area as well! If, like me, you’re too sensitive to traces and cross contamination to tolerate any of the prepackaged elderberry syrups or prepackaged dried elderberries, now is the time to stock up on the wild foraged stuff and freeze or dehydrate to make into syrup for the flu season. Not familiar with elderberries and why I’d want them for the winter?

Where to Get Them

What we have growing wild and native in the area is blue elderberry. There may be some folks growing black elderberry in the area, but I haven’t found them. Let me know if you know of any in the Western Washington area or even down in to Oregon. If you live outside of the Pacific NW, you may have a different species available to you. The most common species seems to be American Elder, which has a strong folk tradition of medicinal use, but please do your own research and don’t just go taking herbs on my say so.

Only black elderberry (sambucus nigra) has been officially studied for its medicinal effects but I am taking a chance on blue elderberry being as good for you since it’s what I have access to. There’s at least enough folk wisdom referenced about the use of blue elderberry for medicinal purposes to make me feel comfortable doing so. Foraged and Found Edibles at the Seattle Farmer’s market has them right now and hopefully will for a couple more weeks. I emailed ahead and asked them for 13lbs to pick up at the market and he had a box just all prepped for me to pick up when I arrived.

How to Process Elderberries

Note that the stems and unripe berries are toxic, so you will want to carefully pick over your berries and remove those. What I do is wash them and place them still on the stems on baking sheets in my freezer. Then when they’re frozen I take a fork and pull the berries off the stems and remove as many of the stems as I can. I flash freeze again since the berries have melted a bit while I do that, then pick over to get the last of the stems and green berries out and then put into quart bags to freeze. Some stems still make it into the bags so I will rinse them and sift yet again before using.

You could also dehydrate the berries. I just chose to freeze mine.

How to Use and How Much to Store

Here is the recipe I use to make elderberry syrup. 1 cup of berries should make 1.5 cup sof syrup, and 1.5 cups of syrup will make about 5-6 days of doses for one person at the recommended 1 tsp every 2-3 hours.  My 13 lbs of berries made about 8.5 quarts without the stems so that’s about 170 days of flu-level elderberry syrup doses, give or take. Should be plenty for two for the winter, heheh.

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Avoiding Another Lean Winter: Planning out Your Schedule for Preserves

Eating corn free generally requires eating seasonally and at least semi-locally. Things that have been transported a long distance, or grown by a large corporate-style farm, generally have corny things done to them. But of course most foods aren’t available locally for the entire year, so you’ve really got to plan ahead to preserve, or you’ll end up with very little to eat.

Folks who are able to eat grocery store produce are in a somewhat better position, but even if you can eat grocery store food right now, I encourage you to at least store a little bit away in case of emergency. Allergic sensitivity can change rapidly.

Last winter I moved into a larger rental house with a big kitchen and lots of storage space in order to accommodate my increased sensitivity to corn, and during the winter a leak in the basement caused mold to run rampant in it. I am allergic to mold, and the exposure brought my histamine levels up so high (we call this a “full bucket” in the allergy world) that I became hypersensitive to the tiniest traces of corn in foods, meaning that I could no longer tolerate a number of foods that I had previously been okay with. Additionally, I developed (or discovered) new allergies to basically most of the winter vegetables. So the foods that I had available to me locally and totally corn-free were all poison for me anyway.

For about 8 weeks I ate literally two foods, without spices or cooking oils. There was actually few days where I started reacting to my two safe foods, too, and just ate small amounts at a time and waited for the throat constricting to pass before eating some more.

After I figured out about the mold and shut it away from the rest of the house, I was able to add a couple more foods back: Organic lettuce from the grocery store, local unwaxed apples, even some big-box organic berries. Not all brands of course, just a specific one.

But now that summer is here, there are all *kinds* of foods I can eat, and I intend to make sure that I have *plenty* put away to get me through the barren months of winter. And being the Type A personality that I am, I made a spreadsheet with fancy formulas to help me calculate how much I need to preserve each week.

I’ve made this sheet available as a google doc, so you can take advantage of my formulas. Hope it’s useful!

Food Preservation Planning Worksheet

This year I think I am mostly freezing stuff. I can and have done water-bath canning, but I honestly just don’t *like* doing it much. I also have a pressure canner for low-acid things like meat, but haven’t figured out how to use it yet. I have two 5-cubic-foot freezers, but I’m doing a *huge* meat order this summer now that I have some safe sources worked out, so those may fill up fast. Maybe I’ll have to can more.

My tolerated foods can be something of a moving target: I have discovered  a few new food allergies over time, and  also I will sometimes notice build-up reactions to foods that are ever-so-slightly corny and have to cut them. So rather than cooking entire recipes to preserve, I tend to try to store single ingredients without spices as much as possible. This helps cut down on the possibility of having to feed 20 pints of chicken stock to my non-allergic boyfriend just because I’m no longer tolerating a spice in it. Instead I cook the chicken down without even salt and add spices later.

Don’t know what’s in season in your area when? Here’s one way to find out. There may be better charts out there for your area, but that has all the states in the US pretty well covered.

New to the idea of eating locally/seasonally? Here’s a great intro article to get you acclimatized, with links to more resources.