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Table Talk: Gardening for savings

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A weekly blog about everything from farming food to cooking it

“The old Pennsylvania Dutch, they waste nothing,” said Don Rinker.

He and his wife Eileen grew up in northern Pennsylvania gardening, preserving and freezing all summer to prepare for the winters. They retired to New Haven in 2000, bringing with them the frugal traditions they had always practiced.

Don showed me the dryer that he and his wife Eileen use to preserve the wax beans they grow: It is a broad metal pan with a walled off corner for water.

“You put water in here,” he pointed. “You put it on the stove and you add your yellow beans. It takes 24 hours.”

At the end of the 24 hours, a basket full of wax beans is reduced to a heap of dark, lumpy strings that give off a smoky smell. Throughout the winter, Don and Eileen simply toss a handful into a pot of water with potatoes and meat for a thick, warming stew.

The couple also cans their wax beans and tomatoes, boiling them for at least three hours in the canner. This season, with many vegetables still on the vine, they have already canned twelve quarts of wax beans.

That’s not to mention all of the wax beans (and strawberries and cherry tomatoes) that get eaten before they make it into the house. It takes Don longer to mow when the wax beans are ripe and need taste-testing, and Eileen readily admitted0 that many of the cherry tomatoes only go as far as her mouth. Maggie, their golden retriever, also loves to munch on the ripe beans through the chicken wire fence around the garden.

But their garden grows enough produce that they can certainly get away with a little trimming of the crop. Among the other plants that they grow are tomatoes, strawberries, beets, potatoes and cabbage.

They also grow several experimental varieties, including two types of sweet potatoes, an Amish canning tomato and Winter Luxury pumpkins, an heirloom variety with very thin skin. According to Eileen, this is perfect for pumpkin pie.

“We never had stuff grow (in Pennsylvania) like it grows here,” said Eileen.

Most of the plants were tall and fruitful, but she surveyed the cucumber vines ruefully. “My cucumbers would have been farther along except that someone (looking at Don pointedly) cultivated under the first seeds that I planted.”

The two spoke in turn as they shared memories, recipes and gardening techniques, switching speaking roles as though they had rehearsed them many times over.

But for each of the 44 years they have been married, they said, planting season was a difficult time.

“Our children always laugh,” said Don. “‘Did you plant the garden?’ they say. ‘You’re still together, right?”

Back inside, Eileen Rinker placed a small bowl of freezer slaw on the table in front of me.
“This has been in the freezer for a year,” she said.

Each summer the couple makes batches of the cold salad with their leftover cabbage, which they defrost throughout the winter for a little reminder of summer produce. This batch tasted like summer — cold, light and still crisp (and no mayo).

Don pointed back out toward the garden.

“All this stuff that we have will last us the whole year,” he said. “This is the last of the freezer slaw. The potatoes will last us into March.”

“It takes a little time in the summer, but it’s so great in the winter,” said Eileen.

“And we put table scraps in (the compost bin), and that goes back to the garden in the spring,” added Don.

Eileen nodded. “So we really do recycle what we can and preserve what we can. Not much in this garden is wasted.”

The couple’s frugal ways are accompanied by a great sense of generosity. They bring their extra produce to the Addison County Parent/Child Center, share with friends, neighbors and the people at church.

“You can’t give money to people in the difficult times, because you don’t have it,” said Don. “But you can share with people.”

You can find information about canning here, and more information about canning safety here.

Freezer Slaw
Recipes courtesy Eileen Rinker

Combine and refrigerate for 1 hour (do not drain):
2 heads cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, chopped finely
1 red pepper, chopped finely
1 green pepper, chopped finely
1 Tablespoon salt

Combine and bring to a boil:
2 cups vinegar
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp mustard seed
1 cup water
2 tsp. celery seed

When cool, pour over cabbage mixture. Spoon into freezer containers and freeze.

Note: I chop the vegetables in the food processor.
There are three vegetables along with the cabbage. You could use two green peppers and a carrot, two carrots and a green pepper, or any combination. I use the red pepper, the green pepper, and the carrot because I think it looks the nicest.

Blender Pumpkin Custard Pie
Recipes courtesy Eileen Rinker

1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups cooked mashed pumpkin (Winter Luxury, if you can get it)

1 9” pie shell with high fluted edge

Place the first six ingredients in a blender jar in the order given. Blend about 15 seconds or until thoroughly mixed. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake 20-25 minutes more. The center should jiggle just a little bit; it will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon. Cool, chill and serve.

If you double these ingredients, you will get three 8” pies.

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