Start Fresh with Local

January 8, 2009 at 9:54 am

Rob Gardner

Count me amongst the foodies wowed by the output of Mark Bittman.  He’s a machine.  He might re-use some of his stuff, but would he so overly borrow like I’m doing?  In yesterday’s NYTimes food section, he makes a nice tally for starting fresh in your new year’s kitchen, what to have and toss.  About 2/5th’s of the way through the article, I realized, about everything he had could be localized.  Surely, an even better way to start the new year is to localize your kitchen. 

Here’s my revisions on some of the advice provided by Bittman.

OUT Bouillon cubes or canned stock IN Bittman gives a few quick stock tries LOCALIZED Make vegetable stock from your odds and ends from the CSA box.

OUT Spices older than a year IN Fresh, obviously LOCALIZED Local spices? No, but you spice up your food with dried local chili peppers.  Ideally, you prepared for the winter with your own peppers; leaving them out is about all you need to do.  If you have not, you can probably find dried peppers at the winter markets.

OUT Dried parsley and basil IN Bittman notes that other herbs work dried, he mentions tarragon, rosemary and dill.  I’d surely add oregano, which is often more useful dried. LOCALIZED As above, make your own, but also you will find hoop-house grown herbs around town, even now.  Use something fresh even when the temperature approaches zero.

OUT Canned beans IN Dried Beans LOCALIZED Find nearby beans.  A good amount of fields in Michigan are devoted to beans.  The problem is finding them in Illinois.  If you can ever get to Ann Arbor (and you should) the food complex near Zingermans (this) has a good assortment of the Carlson-Arbogast Farm beans from Howard City Michigan.  Get something exotic like the tye-dyed, yellow eyed beans.  Closer to home, you might find Three Sisters beans.

OUT Canned imitation parmesan IN Real Parmigiano-Reggiano LOCALIZED Made in Wisconsin SarVecchio and American Grana will do you just as good (at 1/2 the price).

OUT Canned peas IN Who’s liked canned peas since my Grandfather died? Bittman says go frozen LOCALIZED Our pea season hits around June.  If you have no peas now, wait.  Once the pea season hits, find someone like Stover’s who shuck the peas pre-market.  Blanch and freeze the peas as soon as you get home.  Even if you eat them the following week, they will be better than if you kept them in the fridge.  Better, crack them open off-season for a taste of real food.

OUT Cheap balsamic or flavored vinegars IN Bittman suggests Sherry vinegar LOCALIZED There’s nothing cheap in flavor or quality in the vinegars produced locally by Jim Vitalo and his Herbally Yours products.  You will find Jim at most of the forthcoming winter markets and in-season, at the Oak Park Farmer’s Market.

OUT Minute Rice or boil-in-bag grains IN Genuine Grains LOCALIZED There is a tendency to wonder if local grains exist.  They do.  When I was at Cassie’s Green Grocer the other day, she had the local corn meal from Ted’s Grains.  Ackerman brings to the Winter Markets flour from wheat grown on their Illinois farms.  If you ever make it to the Amish area in Indiana, you should find the Rinkel brand flours.  Don’t forget real wild rice from Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.

OUT Pancake syrup IN Real maple syrup LOCALIZED If you cannot find local maple syrup, you are not trying very hard.  Here’s a chance to learn about syruping right in Chicago.

THINGS BITTMAN THINKS YOU SHOULD STOCK, LOCALIZED: Real bacon or prosciutto, Nueske’s an obvious one, but I’m especially partial to the pastured pork from C&D Farm in Indiana.  They’ll be at most Winter Markets and then at the Hyde Park and Beverly markets.  Prosciutto, La Quercia.  Walnuts and other nuts, you will be well rewarded if you seek out local nuts, especially the nearly impossible to crack, black walnut.  Again, if you found yourself in Michigan, say Detroit’s Eastern Market, you would find shelled black walnuts.  Otherwise, scour the farmer’s markets, you’ll never know.  Dried fruit High quality Michigan fruit grower, Seedlings, had the foresight to dry surplus harvest.  You should be able to find, without too much looking, their dried apricots, peaches and pears.  You will forsake Trader Joe’s.  Dried Mushrooms You might be like this Local Family and run across a stand in Michigan selling dried morels for a song, otherwise Wisconsin’s River Valley Kitchen should meet your needs.  Winter squash and sweet potatoes I think you will have to wait a while for the latter, but our winter markets should have some winter squash still.  It will keep just fine until the newest crops arrive.

I’ll end where Bittman starts.  He notes that a well stocked pantry can sustain you and produce much better results in your kitchen.  As good as his suggestions are, if you localize them, they will be that much better.