Waste Not, Want Not: Leeks

Winter 2018 I started leeks from seed to plant in my garden. They grew well and I ended up setting them out in the early spring. These leeks spent all of last summer, fall, winter and this spring in the garden. I kept waiting for them to get bigger but they mostly stayed smallish.

Now that I think about it, I believe the issue was that I never thinned them and they were too crowded. Oh well! Finally they began to flower and I decided it was time to take them out of the garden.

As I pulled them out, I separated them into four piles: 1. Flower heads, 2. Bases (what you think of as a “leek”), 3. Greens and stems, and 4. Yucky bits for the compost.

I was determined not to let any of these plants go to waste since I had dedicated space in the garden to them for so long!

First I addressed the flower heads. I filled a half gallon jar with flowers then topped it off with vinegar. I’ll let it infuse for a few weeks, until the vinegar is quite aromatic and the flowers have lost their color. Then I’ll strain it and use it for salad dressings and to add a burst of oniony flavor to food.

I saved four big flowers for two batches of compound butter. First I cut the flowers off of two flower heads and put them in the food processor. A quick few pulses breaks them up. Next add two sticks of softened butter. I use a high quality, grass-fed butter with a rich color and flavor. Pulse until it all mixes.

Use wax paper to wrap up little sticks of butter to give as gifts or freeze. I spread some that evening on steelhead trout and baked it. It was divine!

Next, on to the “leeks” at the base of each plant. I had to cut the pithy centers out but the outer layers were still tender. I cut them up for a big batch of potato leek soup.

Here is the recipe I followed for a pressure canning friendly soup. It has a little butter but no cream in it. If you just want to freeze your soup, you could use any recipe you like.

It took a long time to pressure can but I’ll really appreciate this taste of the garden come a nice cool fall or winter evening.

Finally, I had a whole 5-gallon bucket of extra leaves and stems. I made two batches of leek broth by simply filling a pot with greens and covering it with water. I cooked at a low simmer until the broth was flavorful and aromatic then strained out the greens for the compost. I shared a bag of leaves with a neighbor and froze a bag to add to chicken broth later.

It feels good to use all the parts of these plants and animals that we tend with such energy and vigor! It really pains me to let any of it go to waste when I think of all that went into raising it up. If only we all had the experience of growing or raising food, maybe there would be less food waste in our country.

Tell me your best “waste not, want not” story. How do you use all the parts of the things you grow?

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