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Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

Planning and growing your own snack foods
Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 5:41 PM

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 gardenTime 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:

Chips

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.

“Jo-jos”

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.

Dried fruit

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.

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17 Comments

skywillow's picture
skywillow
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 11 2010
Posts: 12
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

End Game,

I like the way that you think. Your attitude appears to be "Let's have a good time as we go through these changes". I will try your recipes. Having been vegetarians since the early 1970s, we (my husband and I) are "snackers", - we have traditionally called ourselves 'grazers"

For us, the ultimate natural snack is Popcorn - with nutritional yeast and olive oil.

How do you determine that you provide 60% of your food? I would not know how to make that calculation (and I am an accountant).

We are in the South near the Southern Appalachians, we cannot use hay with our potatoes for the fire ants will leave their mark.

Keeping in line with your positive attitude, that is also my aspiration for these times, I have a new harmonica,

Tennessee traditions encourage making your own music.

Thanks 

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 11 2009
Posts: 2120
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

NICE, EGP.  I'm already drooling...

(Now, to prod my spousal unit to order the dang food dehydrator already!)

Thanks for the ideas!

Viva -- Sager

JAG's picture
JAG
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 26 2008
Posts: 2490
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

"I keep the best looking potatoes and slice them length-wise and deep fry them in a pressure cooker."

EGP,

I use my pressure cooker nearly everyday in the preparation of winter fare, and I have always read that frying in it was extremely dangerous. Are you really frying under 15 PSI? If so, do you use a quick or slow release? In your experience, does the hot oil degrade the rubber seal and clog the pressure release valve?

Thanks for the article and any feedback you can provide on my questions....Jeff

Woodman's picture
Woodman
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Joined: Sep 26 2008
Posts: 1027
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

Great ideas! 

I find dehydrated foods make great snacks with no mess or further preparation needed.  Dried tomato slices really concentrate the flavor, and seem to digest easier too. I also blanched and dried some corn on the cob grown out back that is good to munch on.  Last year I soaked some cumber chips in dill, lemon juice, and other stuff before drying to make yummy snacks.

I grew a bunch of popcorn this year too, but found the other day some ears in the bottom of the bin were a little moldy (shucked the ears but left on the cob); maybe not dry enough in the sun before storing?  I also tried microwaving an ear in a paperbag but they didn't pop; just smoke! - too wet or too dry?

Apples with Nutella are my daughter's favorite snack; will be great when all the trees I planted last year start bearing.  Carrots are worth growing your own when you pull one out of the ground and can smell the fresh aroma.  My kids eat those up too.

I have plenty of pumpkins left to try doing some seeds.

EndGamePlayer's picture
EndGamePlayer
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 2 2008
Posts: 546
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

Hey guys -this little blog was nothing compared to your super articles!

Something I should add - I found Hull-less pumpkins seeds! I'll get mine going this year - just ask if you want seeds for yourselves. Both Johnnyseeds & HighMowingSeeds have them -- look under "Other Pumpkins" . . . 5 years ago - who'd thought I'd be excited about what type of pumpkin I was growing. . . how times have changed.

Frying in the pressure cooker is faster but unfortunately my guage is broke so I only put oil in the bottom of the pot - or you run the risk of it boiling over. I use it a lot in the fall too Jag since it takes less energy to pressure cook than cook on an open pot.

Here's to munching away . . . or should we say enjoying the "Crash Crunch"

EGP

Full Moon's picture
Full Moon
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2008
Posts: 1258
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

You had to go and put Healthy in front of the Snack  word. LOL   I was thinking Pumpkin Crunch , Apple pie , Carrot cake .

Well it is the season for Thanksgiving  Smile

Actually  we just grab an apple, celery, cucumber etc.  and put peanutbutter or cheese on it for healthy . Or  any fruit with homemade yogurt .

FM

suesullivan's picture
suesullivan
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 6 2008
Posts: 305
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

Thank you, EGP, for this post. I really appreciate the work of all the community members participating in this new series. I was reminded of this blog post about pumpkins grown specifically for their seeds, which I plan to try next year. (This is an excellent, very informative blog, by the way.)

http://matronofhusbandry.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/the-skinny-on-the-naked-seed-pumpkins/

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
Status: Martenson Brigade Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 4 2009
Posts: 2491
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

We had a great summer enjoying various concotions of sun teas.  We have a load of lemon verbena and lemon balm that we throw into a sun tea jar by the handful.  We used green tea and did all of the flavoring with the lemon balm and lemon verbena.  For an added kick we also added a handful of bruised stevia leaves and let the jar sit in the sun all day.

If any of you have a sweet tooth, the stevia is amazing.  Just pop a few leaves into your mouth and it's just like candy, only sweeter.

As a word of warning to the "grazers" out there.  It is highly recommended that as you are working in your garden beds you resist the urge to grab a handful of tabasco peppers and start to munch on them.  I have heard that doing so puts on an extremely humorous show for the neighbors.

Quercus bicolor's picture
Quercus bicolor
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
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Posts: 242
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

EndGamePlayer wrote:

Something I should add - I found Hull-less pumpkins seeds! I'll get mine going this year - just ask if you want seeds for yourselves. Both Johnnyseeds & HighMowingSeeds have them -- look under "Other Pumpkins" . . . 5 years ago - who'd thought I'd be excited about what type of pumpkin I was growing. . . how times have changed.

I grew "Lady Godiva" available from Fedco and probably other seed suppliers.  Right out of the pumpkin the seeds were just like the green ones you buy in the store - great toasted with some spices.

Steve

VeganD's picture
VeganD
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Posts: 627
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

EGP

this is a fun and very enjoyable post. thank you and to everyone so far who has shared their skills and experiences in preparing for the future.

DIAP said

As a word of warning to the "grazers" out there.  It is highly recommended that as you are working in your garden beds you resist the urge to grab a handful of tabasco peppers and start to munch on them.  I have heard that doing so puts on an extremely humorous show for the neighbors.

I just had a terrific jalapeno hummus yesterday, so after drying the tabasco peppers they can be made into tabasco hummus.  So the antidote here is Garbanzos!!!Laughing

Take care

Denise

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
Status: Diamond Member (Online)
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Posts: 3504
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

EGP - thank you for this excellent and inspiring post.

I am wondering if you have a formula for the potato feeding.  You know, ash to rock phosphate to manure.  I am always worried about over doing it on the wood ashes...

Woodman's picture
Woodman
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Posts: 1027
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

The soils in my yard are mostly marine clay! I'll have to try sweet potatos.  My kids will like those potato fries I'm sure.

Although I had a good potato crop this year, I had trouble with the leaves turning brown on the edges and curling in, and gradually the whole plant died.  It did not look like blight.  Maybe there was a nutrient deficiency?  What were the symptoms of your previous potato failures that were fixed by your potato feeding recipe EGP?

Here's how I did my potatos this year, In early May I just laid the seed taters 1' apart in (3) 80' rows on the ground, where I grew corn in 2009.  No tilling required of the clay soils. Then I covered with free compost from the Town (leaf and grass yard "waste"); I must have hauled 25 yards this summer.  As the potato plants grew I heaped more compost and leaves on to keep the potatos covered.  The only challenge was if the chickens got loose they would quickly tear apart and uncover the potatos!

Here's another potato patch made the same way, with mature plants in August 2010, grown from leftover 2009 spuds

See the root cellar thread for the end product!

Tom

plato1965's picture
plato1965
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 18 2009
Posts: 615
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

While I'd dearly love the 4 acres + mule lifestyle, for many of us it's impractical.. lack of skills/cash..

One thing I have been doing over the last couple of years is learning to make decent food from basic ingredients rather than convenience food,

soups, pasta bakes, gratins, "real" chips, coleslaw etc..mainly to save money, but also a quality / independence thing.

Total investment £50,($80)  - stick blender (for soups), ceramic baking dish (multiple uses), cheap food processor, deep fat frier (a kilo of potatoes is waaay cheaper and fresher than the equivalent weight of oven chips..)

Next on my list is figuring out how to make edible snacks like oatmeal bars.. (oats, raisins, treacle are all fairly cheap and have a decent shelf life..) for my girls.

Basic cooking skills are something anyone can learn, even city dwellers... the main cost is time.

EndGamePlayer's picture
EndGamePlayer
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 2 2008
Posts: 546
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

Hi All-

Potash saved my potato crop. I tripped on my way to the compost pile with a bucket of ashes and just dumped the rest of the bucket into the nearby garden where the potatoes ended up in the spring. I knew potash was good for potatoes - but I was pleasently surprised when I dug them up and the plants themselves towered over the non-potash plants. Potaotes were big and bountiful where the most of potash was so now I just "dump it" in rows where the potatoes are going. When "planting" potatoes- I dig a hole, dump some good manure (not composted) and cover the hole back up and put the potato seed on top - then hay goes on - I'm like Woodman - just keep piling hay up all growing season.  To harvest - rake it over and pick out clean taters. If I bury my potatoes (in my bad clay soil) they get buggy, are small and a pain to harvest - even though the topside looked good. If you have good fluffy loamy soil - you may want to mix in potash a little rock dust and manure just below your potato where the main feeder root grows.

Sweet taters - the complete opposite. The first year they got bad clay soil and did really well so I thought I'd get them in a more "productive" spot in the garden. . . which they did nothing. This year - back in the hard clay and very good crop and size. The only things I've added to the clay for sweet potatoes is rock dust (seems to keep bugs from eating the sweet potatoes). I save vines and plant them indoors over winter in the house. What doesn't come inside goes to the chickens, goats, sheep & horse - they love them. Next spring - I'll cut a leaf with some orf the vine, stick it in the ground and start my sweet potatoes from that.

To use rock dust - just sprinkle lightly on a wind-less day and rake lightly. The guy I bought it from said a little goes a long way and the plants seem to really perk up as well as resist bugs. The plants seem to find what they need in it.

Another growing trick - I used to just think manure or fish emulsion was all the garden needed. A few years ago, I read about nutrient dense growing and found potasium & phosphorus can turn un-productive gardens into little power houses. I used to have huge plants with little fruit. The garden "looked beautiful" but produced very little. Once I got the rock dust and potash in - that all changed. I think I can produce 5 times more in the same space - and it seems to work for everything - peas, beans, corn, potatoes. . though some of my plants get a side-dressing of manure - they all now also get some potash & rock dust.

I should note - our manure has lime added to it as we lime the barn over winter to keep the barn smelling fresh (it absorbs odors and keeps hoof-rot away) but Solomons soil recipes (pg 32) have made the biggest difference in our garden soil's productiveness as well as the flavor and texture of our home grown food. For those who also raise animals - chickens or other - growing their food with good soil or just adding rock dust or kelp to their diets can make a huge difference in their health too.

A friend of mine swears by coffee grounds added to the compost and another says bokashi is their secret weapon. I think whatever anyone does to add to the soil in nutrients and micro-organisms will benefit it since so much of the land has been chemically saturated.

Thinking spring 2011 - EGP

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
Status: Martenson Brigade Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 4 2009
Posts: 2491
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

EndGamePlayer wrote:

Sweet taters - the complete opposite. The first year they got bad clay soil and did really well so I thought I'd get them in a more "productive" spot in the garden. . . which they did nothing. This year - back in the hard clay and very good crop and size. The only things I've added to the clay for sweet potatoes is rock dust (seems to keep bugs from eating the sweet potatoes). I save vines and plant them indoors over winter in the house. What doesn't come inside goes to the chickens, goats, sheep & horse - they love them. Next spring - I'll cut a leaf with some orf the vine, stick it in the ground and start my sweet potatoes from that.

To use rock dust - just sprinkle lightly on a wind-less day and rake lightly. The guy I bought it from said a little goes a long way and the plants seem to really perk up as well as resist bugs. The plants seem to find what they need in it.

EGP -

We have had two good years with our sweet potatoes in our raised beds.  We have had spot problems with June Bug larva eating into the outer layer of a few of the spuds, but the spots were easily cut out.  I think we will try adding some rock dust to all of our beds this coming year.

One more question about the vines - we dug our potatoes up a few weeks ago and I tossed all of the vines into our compost pile and they are growing like crazy.  How much do you think I should bring inside for the winter?  We planted 6 slips of Beauregards last year and got close to 30 pounds - not sure if this is good, bad or good enough??.  Winters here in SE Virginia are pretty mild so I think I am going to bring some inside as you suggested and see if I can successfully winter over some outside.

Thanks for the great info.

EndGamePlayer's picture
EndGamePlayer
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 2 2008
Posts: 546
Re: Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden

Hi Dogs-

How many slips do you want? As you saw from throwing the vines in the compost - they grow like crazy. Each vine (slip with a leaf) will grow into a crop so if you bring in 1 vine and plant it indoors over winter - it could produce a 10ft vine with as many leaves.

To plant - cut the vine between leaves and plant about 1" deep. You can cut the vine and wrap it with a damp papertowel and you'll see roots start to develop shortly to get them started indoors early - which is what I do to extend our growing season up north. 

Of course - if you have too many - share with friends & neighbors as they are often used in decorative landscaping and come in colors from lime green to dark purple.

I've also heard of people starting their plants from whole sweet potatoes too but I haven't tried that since this is so easy and I eat the potato =).

Here's to think spring 2011 - EGP

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