What Will Winter Taste Like

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December 2, 2008 at 9:38 am

Rob Gardner

Boy, Thanksgiving ends and winter starts like clockwork.  Chicago.  What will it taste like eating local for the winter?

Last night, my wife and I were lucky to be included in a dinner with the farmers from Sandhill Organics.  As I am wont to do, I complained about the lack of winter farming.  They, like most farmers I know, were very happy to be about over for the season–Sandhill has a CSA that runs a few more weeks.  They did agree with me that the reasons to eat local do not vanish come winter.  This Local Family can very much testify to the realistic ability to eat local in this area come winter (and all the time).

Winter eating covers three periods: it begins with the final accumulations, goes through storage and preservation and ends with hanging on and renewal.  Winter eating lasts longer than the calender’s definition of winter.  It began with our first serious snow and lasts full bore until at least the end of March.  These three periods lead to different types of produce.  Throughout the winter, though, it is the time to eat meat, dry beans and stored grains.

The first part of winter, now, eating is roughly akin to the way it has been the last month or so.  That is, the few operating markets, like Green City, will have the same stuff this week as in the last few weeks.  The markets include the last of the field crops, the heartiest brasicas and sturdiest roots, as well as the things the farmers have, that have not sold, the hard squash, the potatoes, the apples.   Maybe if you expect the over-abundance of a summer market, you will find the markets bare now.  I find them quite ample (look at Irv and Shelly’s site for an idea what’s around).  Right now, it is still possible to eat each week from what can be purchased.  It is also possible now, to continue to stock up for later weeks.  We continue to buy apples to put aside and pick up more squash than we can immediately eat.  This Local Family is pretty comfortable in garlic and onions but is yours?

It will not be that long until the Chicago area markets empty of food.  Oh, there will be Robin’s Winter Markets and some version of Green City and Cassie and all, but these markets will not be brimming with food.  It will become harder to eat each week from the market purchases.  Thus, we go to the stores.  We eat the beets and turnips and ‘tato’s we have around.  We eat from the cans; we eat from the freezer.   Local winter meals can still include green salads, maybe not as many, but they mostly taste hearty, classic winter food, things like a good mash-up of assorted roots along side some braised meat.

Then it ends.  It not so much ends, as there is only so long stored food, even in good conditions, lasts.  By February it will be hard to find, either in your improvised root cellar or in the markets, the beets, the celery roots, the rutabagas that kept you alive for the last few months.  It is survival time.  The leanest time for the locavore.  Hopefully, your freezer contains something because there will not be a lot of local food to buy.  There are, however, foods that will last even this long.  Right about now you start discovering your best onion and potato dishes–this Jamie Oliver one is especially good.  Cultivated mushrooms are always around, and in the Bungalow mushrooms become at least a once a week treat.  There is also sprouts and micro-greens that grow indoors, and before you turn your nose, think about finding anything else green.  Finally, always, there are apples.  For the most part, the later apples are not the Turley Winesaps, the Arkansas Black and other heirloom varieties.  But the locavore can always find a Michigan red delicious apple when needed.  We hang on.  Our spring CSA starts in April.  Right before that, we will have tasted the first the ground offers, watercress that can appear while snow still sits and ramps and nettles and maybe some morels.  A turnip will never have tasted so good.

All that time, we will eat meat.  This Local Family’s specific seasonality is enhanced, or made more real, by the fact that we have limited air conditioning in the Bungalow.  We live the summer.  Many of our meals are light and raw, both because we do not want the heat of the oven, nor are we that hungry in the heat.  It is a lot of salads.  Winter time, although we do not make each meal a meat meal, we eat much more meat.

We eat most of our meat from our freezer, from our 1/2 cow still left, our 1/2 lamb, and our 1/2 hog.  For those without such stock, there are places to get local meat.  Arnold’s Farm is at nearly all of the winter markets.  Green City should have meat during its winter incarnation.  Cassie has meat as does Irv and Shelly.  The Wettstein’s come to Oak Park each month.  Ann Fisher posts a notice on LTHForum.com.  The Illinois Farm Direct site has a good list of other meat resources in Illinois (other lists can be found for Wisconsin and Michigan).  You should be able to find much local meat.

There should be another strong staple of the winter diet, beans and grains, one that is harder to find.  Is there non-packaged food that lasts longer, better, than dried beans?  The unfortunate problem is, the Chicago area local food does not contain much in the way of dried beans.  There is only one farmer I know of, Three Sisters in Kanakee, that produces dried beans for area markets.  You can find their stuff now at the Downtown Farmstand.  Grains have been a local quandary for a while, but with people like Ackerman showing up at the winter markets, there should be local grains to be had.

A good portion of the dried beans in the USA come from nearby Michigan.  Much of the local beans in the Bungalow come from Michigan roadtrips.  It is the great oxymoron of local eating that one has to get in the car to hunt down food.  Still, it is a hunt we enjoy.  I will post more on local road trips some other time, both suggestions and reports.  We have begun a long winter season.  There is no reason it cannot be a local season.

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2 Comments

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