Play the Long Game, Now With Easy To Do’s
When I last checked in, it was to remind you that myself and my Local Family plays the eat local long game. That is, we look not just to eat local when our markets are bountiful. We look to eat eat local in the days ahead too. And when I last checked in, I listed several reasons why we liked playing long. You and your family can also play.
You can play long several ways. You can spend time freezing and canning and drying and fermenting the seasonal bounty to have it around for the leaner months. You can be a winter market fanatic, making it to Green City or Evanston or one of the roving markets put on by Faith in Place at churches around the Chicago area. You can even road trip to Madison or other places with thriving scenes. Or you can try cold weather gardening, harvesting hearty crops like kale. Build your own hoop-houses too for winter planting. Do what makes sense for you given your time and resources.
Still, there are easy things to do. Things you can do to add a little local to your life no matter how many tomatoes you did not can this year. Take peppers. We’re on the down slope of the local pepper season, but that does not mean that the markets are not pretty full of peppers, both sweet and hot. Peppers you can easily keep around. Peppers with thinner flesh shrivel up with little effort on your part. All you have to do is make sure none get moldy. You can then grind the results for home-made spice, use them as-is in cooking, or later re-hydrate for applications like chili and harrisa. Thicker hot peppers like jalepenos can be preserved in brine–you can try a 50-50 water to vinegar to start. For sweet peppers, the best way to keep them around is to roast them and place them in a jar thoroughly covered with olive oil.
Take some of that other end of season crops–zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and celery–combine with olives and capers for caponata. This mix will last a good amount of time in your fridge. Caponata tastes great cold (really at room temperature), but you can also use it as a pasta sauce.
You should also be packing away potatoes, onions and garlic now. The first two, you might find all winter, but you can find now at better prices and in more varieties the last, garlic, you might not be able to find come winter. You want these things around because they play vital roles in so many winter recipes. Then, when you are totally out of winter vegetable ideas, you can also make creamed onions or something like that. Ideally, you want to store potatoes and onions as cold as possible, around 40 degrees, but until it gets that cold, just find some where to keep them, maybe your garage, or as you can see from my picture, the basement. You may have heard not to store onions and potatoes near each other. You may do this because you’ve heard potatoes and onions give off conflicting gases that speed the destruction of the other. This may be true, but more importantly you want to store your onions (and garlic) in a dry setting and you want to store your potatoes in a damp setting. Both, however, want it dark. Onions will sprout and potatoes can turn green under their skins.
Take, finally, tomatoes. Nothing separates warm weather eating from cold weather eating than the demise of the tomato season. Tomato season ends around here rather abruptly and harshly, when a hard frost arrives. There can be many more days of Indian summer, but tomatoes cannot make it past that first good frost. You need to be active ahead of that near-by date (a date that’s already happened to some area farms). You can continue eating tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, not preserved tomatoes, in a few ways. Tomatoes picked with a bit of blush, can be coaxed to ripen over time on your counter. Certain types of tomatoes harvested before the frost, like juliets, those oblong grape tomatoes, will last several weeks when kept cold. Granted, juliets or counter-ripened tomatoes are not the ones to use for your Caprese salad, yet they’ll still outshine supermarket lab-matoes.
Onions, peppers, potatoes, garlic; throw in winter squash, which you can also use as seasonal tableau, and you’re half way to finishing the long game anyways. You don’t want to live all winter just on onions and potatoes. Yet, you’ll make your winter eating that much better by having a good store of those items. More importantly, the longer you’re eating those preserved peppers and prepared capontata the longer it will take you to really dig into the cold weather eating. Play your cards right and you can have fresh tomatoes well into November. There’s a lot of easy ways to play the long game, and a lot of easy ways to stay a local family.