An Essential Eat Local Purchase
I wish I could say this was the essential eat local purchase, but it is, alas, an item not for everyone. I’m talking about a big ol’ spare freezer. If you could, if you have some room in your basement, your garage, maybe some extra un-used room, picking up an extra freezer can greatly enhance your ability to eat local. The freezer allows you to obtain local meat at affordable prices, and it allows you to pack away for the hungrier months. Do consider.
A full size, extra freezer does not require a huge outlay. Chest style freezers start at around $200 and fuller size freezers can be had for less than $400 (for reference, here’s Sears.com’s page of freezers). The Sears outlet in Melrose Park is an especially good place to get a cheap freezer (you can combine that with especially cheap cheeses at Caputo’s). The harder problem becomes finding room for your new purchase. If you live in an apartment or certain types of houses, especially houses with limited basements, you may not have room for the freezer. If you have room, do not let the initial outlay get to you.
While there are winter markets in the Chicago area, it still takes preservation and storage to make your local diet last. There is no easier way to make due than to freeze. Like anything, there are a few tricks or methods, but on the scale, well it aint much. In the olden days, fruit was often frozen with syrup or otherwise with sugar. My family and I have found no need for this. Simply shove it in. Most fruit can even be frozen whole. Still, it helps to get fruit, anything, frozen as quickly and as dryly as possible. The way to do that is to spread fruit on trays, freeze, and then bag. Vegetables need a short blanch; i.e., a few minutes in boiling water and then plunge in ice water. I can give a long list of what to freeze and not to freeze, but my experience is that nearly everything freezes decent enough. The only things I avoid freezing are watery veg like lettuces (obviously), cucumbers, eggplants and the like. Grapes freeze neatly and make a near popsicle like treat. Peas and corn really should be frozen, even if you plan on eating them later in the week because otherwise the sugars turn rapidly to starch. You can make your eating local last a long while through your freezer.
The other strong reason to get a freezer is to enable you to purchase local meat by the side. If you asked me which of the two reasons mattered more to me, I would say that the vehicle for meat outweighs, slightly, the preservation aspect. I am a huge fan of locally raised meat. I want local meat for all the reasons I want local produce: quality farming, farmer’s I know, heirloom breeds, etc. It’s just that the price for local meat, at farmer’s markets or the few available outlets like Cassie’s Green Grocer is high, quite. The price of a side, not. Because we have the freezer space, my family and I have acquired a 1/2 cow, a 1/2 lamb, and a 1/2 hog. It’s a lot of hamburger, but also an ever-ready supply of local meat. I also have to say, vouch, that I have seen little quality drop-off in the meat, even meat that’s been in the freezer for over a year.
Eating local takes a bit of committment, time to get to markets, time to prepare food. Like any good hobby it has its tools and do-dads. One of ours is the freezer.