Become a Local Family Now – A Year in Your Life as a Local Family
A couple of weeks ago, I urged you to make the decision to become a local family now. I meant to start giving you tips and pointers on becoming a local family but instead got distracted by rotting food and an interesting forthcoming dinner at Dirk’s with Slow Food Chicago (where at least I invoked the need to eat local fish). Today, let’s get back to the process of becoming a local family, and where I want to start is tell you how it’ll end. I mean not end eating local. Don’t ever stop eating local. I mean once you start eating local in April, what will it be like eating local by next March? What does a year of eating local look like?
April – The tastes of Spring – This is a great year to start eating local in April, but ordinarily, around here, April brings a limited but sharp taste to the table. This year, we are seeing much asparagus already in April. Ordinarily, we get asparagus around here in May and even into June. Instead, April mostly brings the first onions, and their related kin like the ready for backlash, ramps, and leeks. With storage onions mostly gone by April, we cook now with leeks and scallions, and it gives Spring it’s characteristic, unique, taste. Your preservation goals for April: a lot of people love to pickle ramps to have them around for the rest of the year.
May – More farmer’s markets open in May around the Chicago area, and several CSA farms are in the middle of their early seasons. May brings two types of crops. First, you get an array of indoor grown, hoop-house, produce. Typical crops include rocket, lettuces, chard and spinach. In addition, a lot of the first to market will be the same things you’ve been eating in the winter, roots like beets and turnips. The other group of May crops are all those shoots and leaves and stems first leaping towards the warming sun. Usually, you’ll find asparagus now. You’ll also find plants only edible in this early stage like ferns and nettles. An example of an edible stem is a vegetable more thought of as a fruit, rhubarb. Your preservation goals for May: Your new set of roots will last several weeks in your fridge, so don’t feel the need to use them at once. On the other hand, asparagus needs to be eaten or put-away as soon as possible. They make a nice snack or accessory, pickled. Frozen, they work fine in dishes where texture does not matter like soups and pasta. As rhubarb is always eaten cooked, freezing hardly effects things, so put some away this month.
June – The calendar turns to summer in June, but the Local Calendar very much says “Spring” this time of year, or at least what we’ve been educated over the years to think of as Spring food. You should be able to find peas and sugar snaps a lot. You should also be able to find the first fruit to eat out of hand, strawberries. Your preservation goals for June: Peas, like asparagus, don’t wait around for you. Eat them soon or freeze them soon. Since the passing of my grandfather, no one likes canned peas. On the other hand, who does not like strawberry jam.
July – We eat cherry pie on the fourth of July because that’s the time of year we have cherries to eat, right. We are fortunate to be in a part of the country with access to excellent cherries. In fact, those cold months we detest lead to these cherries we love. At the farmer’s market you can find sweet cherries and the tart cherries pictured above. Enjoy. At the farmer’s market, because by July, all the Chicago area farmer’s markets will be open and ample. Enjoy. The locavore gets, in July, the last of Spring, still plenty of cool weather crops like a run of broccoli, and the first of summer as tomatoes, especially smaller tomatoes, will sneak in. Your preservation goals for the July: take advantage of the limited cherry season. Like rhubarb, tart cherries are always cooked, so freeze just fine. They make all sorts of fine canned goods too, and be like the French and put some away in brandy for your winter drinking needs.
August – Who is not a locavore now. The markets are awash with fruits and vegetables. It is also the era of accessible and affordable. You will find local food in many neighborhood grocery stores. Look to your weekly supplements for reports of local. Get it because nothing beats the taste of local, like the taste of real tomatoes. I’m pretty convinced nothing beats the taste of our local fruits like Michigan peaches either. You will find it all now, from cukes to zukes. In the peak of summer, you will also, start to see the later crops, but note that summer apples, summer (sweet) onions, and summer (newly grown) potatoes, are a treat special to market shoppers. Your preservation goals for August: Put away as much as you can! Pickle patty pan squash. Put extra corn away in your freezer. Yes, it’s another one of those eat now or get away things. Do not, however, think to root cellar anything yet. It’s not cool enough, and the summer crops are not right for storage. Summer apples do make great sauce.
September – It looks mostly like August, with so much to eat. Like, you saw some apples in August, you will see more varieties of apples in September. All those fruits of the summer sun, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, will be joined by the beginning of fall foods like roots, and the cabbage family. Your preservation goals for September: Continue to put away as you can. This time of year brings the best tomatoes for sauce and the best peaches for jam. I love to get as much fresh oregano as I can to dry. You can also start stocking up a bit, your cold storage with squash, onions, garlic, and potatoes for the long haul.
October – October usually brings a mix of brutal and pleasant weather in this area. It can snow! Still, the markets look a lot more like summer than some might think as tomatoes, sweet corn, and such will be in ample supplies. While we know many chefs who will start throwing all sorts of squash and Brussels sprouts and celery root on their menu, we strongly encourage you in October to revel in the eggplants, zucchini, etc. still around. Your preservation notes for October: Get your root cellar stocked. Apples, root veg like carrots, potatoes. Think especially the kinds of apples and potatoes you won’t find later. Also, think things like garlic that you need to last. You may have more tomatoes to put away.
November – By November, a lot of the Chicago area farmer’s markets have wrapped up. The markets open, however, will have plenty of cold weather crops. You may also find a round of hoop-house fare. The November markets usually bring the best deals of the year. We often find in November, heirloom squash for a $1 per. This time of year, gets you green tomatoes, the last picked before hard frost. They make great pickles, but they also make great dishes featuring their piquant flavor. We like them in pasta sauce. We put our harvest festival, Thanksgiving, pretty much after the harvest, yet you can make your dinner from what’s around. Thanksgiving, though, is also the time to start opening your pickles and preserves. Your preservation goals for November look a lot like the month before, but with the added bonus of the cheaper produce. Besides pickling green tomatoes, they make great additions to relishes for canning.
December – What’s left? At the markets open, you will find the last crops of the year. You will find apples and potatoes. If the weather cooperates, farmers can also bring in from their fields, leeks, spinach, kale. These frost kissed vegetables are at their best this time of year. Use as much as you can from the markets. Some CSAs will still be dropping off through December. You will, however, also be cooking from the stores. Your preservation goals for December: As long as you find stuff, you can store stuff. Overall, your root cellar should be net positive in December.
January – Here’s where your work will start paying off. There are winter markets, but you’ll never know what you’ll find. Maybe some hoop-house lettuce this week. Maybe a farmer has some surplus carrots next week. You can rely on all the materials in cold storage, in the freezer and in the canning room. In addition, the winter diet turns much more to meats, to beans. You don’t have to give in to the tyranny of the fresh because you know local products, put away with care are better than the flown in food out there for others. This is the time of year to get your CSA. Your preservation goals for January: We don’t expect you to be putting away. Use what you have and supplement from what you may find.
February – The taste of winter remains a mix of the spinach find and the storage box. Who knows what you’ll bring home from the winter market. At home, get rid of your least hardy stored crops. Find your cabbage recipes, your greens recipes. Those potatoes, apples, sunchokes, they’ll last a bit longer. You start to think of sprouts and mushrooms as delicious additions to meals. Your preservation goals for February are to manage what’s there. One bad apple does spoil the bunch, so watch for them.
March – Here’s where things get tricky. As you read about Alice Waters serving green things to her customers you will be scrounging for anything left. Onions become not just an accessory but an entree. This is truly the hungry season, but with good planning and a bit of diligence, you can make it. By the end of the month, it is typical for watercress to be growing! Your preservation goals for March will be a combination of getting to the end and cleaning up what did not make it. As the weather warms, you may need to re-figure your cold storage spots.
Throughout the year, you can compare your fate to this Local Family. I would not be surprised if you do some things better. And when things look a bit stale, we hope we can provide a bit of inspiration. Your resources for the year, they can come from all the pages of the Local Beet. Use our Local Calendar to find events, our Market Locator to know where to go. We’ll have recipes and tips all year long from how to freeze asparagus to making your own root cellar. We strongly believe that the reasons to eat local don’t go away when the markets close. We believe you can eat local each month of the year.
Have a great local year!