Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden
This post initially appeared on CM.com in November 2010. Given its continued relevance and the current growing season, we're republishing it to give our readers a reminder of what can and should be growing in your garden. Time to get your hands dirty and start growing healthy snack foods.
Last year, after all the essentials were stacked in the cupboards, the freezer full, and the root cellar piled to waist-high with 60% of all the food we needed for a year, I realized I was hungry for a snack. It was a hunger that lasted all last winter. As the winter progressed, I began a shopping list of snacks we could grow in our northern climate, process at harvest, and store away for winter snacking. My new goal in life was to become a professional at squirreling away snack goodies that were healthy, tasty, and nutritious.
By spring, my seed list consisted of turnips, sweet potatoes, sunflowers, popcorn, celery, and carrots, along with dried fruits. Here are the snack recipes that emerged:
In the fall, dig & clean your turnips, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. These will all make chips, so be ready to peel. (Note – the skin of potatoes right out of the ground will scrub off with a rough kitchen scrubber).
The turnips are done first by thin slicing, then salting lightly (it helps draw the moisture out) and tossing with oil (we use olive oil but most any oil will do). Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown (if they are thick, you may need to turn them over). Salt the hot chips with sea salt/pepper or sprinkle with herbs. If you make more than you eat, freeze them and re-heat in a hot oven to crisp up.
A few days later, the potatoes should be ready to process. Scrub off the skins, clean out any damaged parts and get out the slicer. Slice at desired level of thickness. You can process potatoes into potato chips in one of two ways – deep fry, or bake (salt & toss in oil then bake at 375 degrees F). Salt to taste. Again, leftovers go in the freezer and get re-heated in the oven as needed, so store them in the right size bag for your family.
I also do “jo-jos” about now. I keep the best looking potatoes and slice them length-wise and deep fry them in a pressure cooker. If you haven’t used a pressure cooker before, here’s a tip: Only fill the bottom 1/4th of the pot with oil or you could have a real mess on your hands as the oil bubbles up and over. In 15 minutes (depending on the size of the slices), the “jo-jos” are done. I like hot & spicy, so I toss them with paprika, turmeric, red pepper, & sea salt. Some get tossed with just salt. To re-heat them, spread them out on an oven tray and re-heat. We dip them in sour cream; for variety, try garlic, chives, or onion in your sour cream.
A gardening lesson: Our potato crop was a failure for years until we started adding ashes to the compost. The recipe for potato fertilizer is potash, a little manure, and rock dust. This goes 2” deeper than the potato seed. We keep our potato plants “buried” under piles of old hay so we don’t have to dig much. We just rake away the pile of hay, which can then be used in following years until it just turns back into soil. Learn about growing potatoes here.
Sweet potato fries
Next are the sweet potatoes; don’t rush to do these, as sitting sweetens them. About a week or two and they are as sweet as they will get. They also lose some moisture while sitting so they will crisp up better. Follow the directions as for the other chips (above). I like my chips hot, so I sprinkle with cayenne pepper (lightly!), but plain sea salt brings out the flavor, too. If you have enough sweet potatoes – be sure to make your sweet potato fries now – slice and deep fry or bake, then cool and toss in the oven. I love my sweet potato fries drizzled with maple syrup.
To grow good sweet potatoes, put them in poor clay soil. The first year I tried sweet potatoes I had a bumper crop, because the root stock came in the mail late in the season and the only space left was some hard clay, so in they went. I was so impressed with production that I gave them a “better place” in my garden with soft loamy soil and was disappointed with the small under-ground crop, even though the top growth looked ideal. This last year, I divided the hard clay area so I could plant a large group there, and sure enough, it seems the more the roots struggle, the bigger the potato crop. Sweet potato vines are some of the best food for chickens, goats, and sheep. I’m constantly cutting mine back to take to the barn as a treat for the animals. Learn about starting sweet potato slips here.
Next year I plan on trying pumpkin chips, acorn squash chips, and zucchini chips.
“On the go” seeds
On the other side of the snack list are “on the go” seeds. The big ones are the sunflower & pumpkin seeds. These get spiced first then roasted, or dried in the food dehydrator. If you haven’t cleaned a pumpkin for the seeds before, you are in for a nice slimy treat!
Discard any sunflower seeds that look questionable. Both kinds of seeds get soaked (after cleaning) in sea salt water. The pumpkin seeds can be tossed in melted butter and salted lightly before roasting or drying. Stir the seeds occasionally to get a good even drying, and cool before bagging. We bag these in 4” x 6” bags - just big enough to toss in a school bag, briefcase, or purse. Etiquette for eating seeds is questionable, though. Do not spit out the hull. It is more proper to crack the hull open, eat the seed and toss the hull back into the bag, unless you are a kid and sharing your snack for the purpose of a seed spitting contest!
Note: If you want really big seeds, use Mongolian Giant Sunflowers and giant pumpkins grown with a lot of well-composted manure. I add rock dust and wood stove ashes to improve the size, too.
Both sunflowers and pumpkins need as much sun as possible, so plant in the sunniest location you can find. You want them in a good breeze for pollination -- if they are not pollinated, many sunflower seeds won’t develop. Both plants need a large amount of space in the garden, so if you are limited in space, these are not the plants you want to grow unless you are like we are – snackers.
The rest of the snack plan is filled with dried fruits – apples, pears, strawberries, and berries from the woods.
I take advantage of dried food in a couple different ways. Besides eating them as crispy fruits and chewy-taffy roll-ups, I also take dried fruit and throw them in the blender along with a few other ingredients – L-Caritine & taurine- to make our own “monster” drinks. Occasionally, instead of using water I use semi-frozen milk for a fruit smoothie (we freeze our goat’s & sheep’s milk during summer and use it all year).
Now I’m not saying you should give up valuable garden space that you are using to grow essentials like beans, corn, potatoes, and squash. But just because you are growing your freedom and securing your 3Es future, it doesn’t mean boring food. It means more variety, more health, and more real food, because you know where it came from and how it was processed. What’s more, it can be a great family activity – teaching kids skills to last a lifetime and (more important) be fun for everyone.