Editor's note: cooking with organic produce to make a great organic stew.

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by Mort Mather

I was about to write that eating was my favorite part of gardening. After thinking about it awhile I decided that I could not distinguish a favorite or least favorite part of gardening. I love it all from shopping for seeds (I hate to shop for anything else.) to taking the table scraps to the compost pile. If you saw my compost pile, you might be led to believe that I don't care much for making compost. Not true. I love making compost when I am doing it and when it is finished. My problem is in getting the job started. While I'm confessing I should say that I sometimes have trouble finishing a job, too. I've been building a barn for 15 years.

Eating usually gets started and finished without much problem and is always enjoyed. Today I'm going to cook one of my few specialties, stew. It is a fall tradition with me when all the root vegetables are at their peak. It is perhaps more appropriately a late winter meal as a way to spark up the vegetables that have been stored in the root cellar. We should be eating more cabbage now since it will not last as long as the rutabaga, potatoes, carrots and onions that will go into the stew. Properly stored these vegetables will last until spring.

Proper storage for the potatoes, carrots and rutabaga is near but not below freezing with high humidity. Our cellar was perfect before I put a furnace in there. It has a dirt floor which is always moist. I can hear Wayne and Naomi who service my furnace exclaiming "Moist!!!" You see, there is a little ditch meandering through the cellar to a little settling pond. Overflow from the pond exits the basement through a drainage pipe. There is no water running in the ditch now but there is for most of the year. That keeps the humidity in the cellar pretty high.

There have been years when the stew was all home-grown except for the seasoning (salt and pepper and maybe a bay leaf or more) and a little flour. This year the beef and celery were purchased.

This is going to be a special stew for another reason. This is the first year we have grown more than two kinds of potatoes. Our old standbys were Katahdin and Kennebec and sometimes Green Mountain substituting for one of the others. This year we grew six different varieties—Green Mountain, Carib, Banana, French fingerling, Yukon gold and dark red Norlands. The potato harvest was a disappointment. The plants all died early. I'm told the reason was leafhoppers blown into Maine on some of the southern warm winds we got this summer were spreading blight. I just wish I had been growing my old standards so I could be sure it was the leafhoppers and not more susceptible varieties. The Green Mountain did seem to hold up longer than the others.

Anyway, I have a lot of little potatoes which, because of their size, will not keep as well as larger potatoes. I think I'll have enough small ones to make the stew using whole potatoes. That will make it possible to identify the variety while eating the stew and we can critique them for future reference. I am envisioning a meal similar to my childhood eating alphabet soup and looking for the letters of my name.

İOctober 18, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate. 



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