Last year I didn't start my own seeds of my favorite leek, the Bleu de Solaize. It's my favorite because it is incredibly winter hardy. I've left it in the ground over winter in previous years, and harvested it during a January thaw, when the air temperature warms but the ground is still frozen. Sometimes those midwinter harvests involve pitchforking out a frozen block of soil, letting it sit in the sun for several hours, then coming back to extract the leeks. But I couldn't get Bleu de Solaize starts last year, so I went with whatever leek starts were available at my local nursery. I don't even remember the variety.
So when late fall started turning into winter, and many leeks were too small to be worth harvesting, I didn't have a whole lot of hope for them. I harvested up until the ground froze, starting with the biggest ones first. The rest were left to winter's untender mercies. But as winter began to loosen its grip on the garden, I cast another evaluating glance over the bedraggled leeks. Some of them certainly were looking large enough to salvage. And with volunteer help around, it seemed like a good food preservation chore to tackle. Besides, that part of the garden is has a date with 25 crowns of purple asparagus in not too many weeks.
My expectations were rather modest. Our volunteer and I loosened the soil with a pitchfork and set about "field dressing" the leeks. We shook off as much of the soil as easily came loose, cut off the roots, stripped off the dirty and damaged outermost layers, and trimmed away most of the greens. There were more beautifully preserved leeks, and larger amounts of leek below the soil surface than I had imagined. There was surprising little damage from frost, even though we found bits of ice held in the layers of the upper green parts of the plants. Leeks are tough plants. I was amazed to find that the harvest just about filled my garden hod. It seems that Bleu de Solaize isn't the only leek that overwinters for us with zero protection.
The harvest tally came to over five (!) pounds (2.3 kg) of trimmed leeks. Only a small number were too damaged to harvest. It was very satisfying to remove so much food from the row, and have it all cleaned up well ahead of the asparagus crowns' arrival. We rinsed the leeks in two changes of water outside, to spare the plumbing in our old farmhouse. Leeks have many virtues, but their hygiene leaves much to be desired. Because of the way they grow up through the soil, they catch a prodigious amount of dirt in their layers. That people are known to put up with the trouble of cleaning such a plant should tell you something about the wonders it can do in the kitchen, though not perhaps the detail that these wonders are particularly on display where soups and potatoes are concerned.
After the outdoor work was done, there was still a good deal of indoor processing left to do. Trimming, assiduous rinsing, chopping, butter melting, cooking and cooling. The end result was a dozen discrete piles of sauteed leeks arranged on sheet pans lined with baking parchment. Once the individual clumps of leeks were frozen solid, I bagged them up. This way I can grab a usefully sized portion of partially cooked leeks out of the freezer whenever needed, rather than having to thaw a huge block of them all at once.
Preserving this many leeks was another task which would have been tedious in the extreme to do all by myself. Having volunteer help made the work lighter, and I had the pleasure of teaching someone about a previously unfamiliar vegetable. Another win with the WWOOF.
I've already got quite a few Bleu de Solaize baby leek sprouts started indoors. And I can't seem to resist planting more of them. I'm hoping we'll have enough to harvest starting in late summer, and still leave plenty for harvest well into this time next year.
I live on a 2/3 acre homestead in a residential neighborhood. A major goal is to demonstrate how much food a non-expert can produce in my particular climate and hardiness zone, with the soils native to my immediate area. We have gardens of annual and perennial plants, keep laying hens and honey bees, and regularly bite off more than we can chew. Another major goal is to pay off our mortgage as fast as possible. Here I blog about frugality, self-reliance, gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, practical skills, half-baked experiments, and preparing to thrive in a lower-energy future.