Last Minute Locavore Lessons
Eat Local Later
That’s a box o’ acorn squash getting us ready for local eating all winter. Filling your own crate of squash is one of the last minute lessons I have for you as run out of time, with our Chicago area markets winding down. It takes no special abilities, no arduous tasks to put away hard squashes. Just fill a box. Before getting to other lessons, however, I want to get a few housekeeping matters out of the way. I promised a “Cooking For Two” post that would explain the huge lapses in posts. I have exacerbated that by avoiding the Cooking For Two post. You will see, soon, I hope, the reason, a decent one, for the disappearance of the Local Family in blog. Second, of more mundane matters, this time of year, I would normally be all over root cellaring, my own and the bibliography of Local Beet posts from prior years of the topic. The freakish late Indian Summer has limited cold storage and the usefulness of talking about cold storage. I’ll get to it when I get to it. What I need to get at are things to do now.
Back in those halcyon days when I occasionally posted instead of not at all, I provided some easy ways to eat local later. Let’s continue that path because by Halloween no one’s canning 50 pounds of tomatoes or looking to put away the season’s bounty. It’s more like, OMG, this is the last week, what do I do. Without buying up mason jars (even if they may now be on sale) or packing up the freezer, there are several ways to extend your market. Start with tomatoes.
Not all my current inventory of tomatoes look pretty. The pain of cutting away unusable tomato flesh gets mitigated by lesser price I have been paying for these late season heirlooms. The photo lesson here is that you do not need a perfect tomato to have a good tomato, especially when you can eat any tomatoes in November. The other lesson, not apparent in the picture is that some of these tomatoes were purchased less than fully ripe. Or to be more clear on the lesson, as long as a tomato is harvested with the ripening process started, no matter how green and hard the tomato starts on your counter, it will eventually get somewhere closer to edible. Sure, these will not be your peak Caprese salad tomatoes, but as I say, the base level for a good tomato falls as your diet otherwise fills with roots and other cold weather crops. Believe me, there is pleasure left in those last tomatoes. So, stock up on what you find. Be patient with them. Coax as much red as you can. Cauterize around the parts that go bad too soon. That’s your first lesson.
Second lesson, know what survives. I told you above that root cellaring would be left for another time. Before you fill your cellar, fill your fridge. The essential lesson of root cellaring is that with a lot of cold, a decent amount of moisture and enough darkness, many fruits and vegetables can stay succulent and edible for long periods. Your fridge is cold. As long as its door is shut, your fridge is dark. What it’s not, though, is dank. There’re workaround for that, you can use a fridge as a root cellar, but remember, this is not a root cellaring post. Today’s lesson is all about good enough. Your fridge is good enough for grapes, for Asian pears, for ABA. See in a month or so, your local fruit selection will be apples or apples. Which means, for me at least, you want now, ABA, anything but apples. Local grapes, Concords and what not, stay just fine for long periods in your fridge. Cram as many as you can in there to keep from getting to your apple supplies. Second lesson is easy to learn.
Third lesson and last lesson for today requires work. I’m talking the bane of my locavore existence, roasting peppers. There is nothing I love and loathe more. Exquisite enjoyment in eating, exquisite torture in preparation. Yes, after many years of experimentation in methods, I have mastered the roasted pepper. Step one, flame-roast the peppers. Ensure a good, even, total char, think the New Zealand rugby team, all-black. Step two, put cooked peppers in a bowl, seal tight with plastic wrap. Wait. This process will loosen the skins and make the peeling much easier. If. You. Wait. Step three, with a knife, scrap off the black, the seeds, the pith, the stems, anything you don’t want to eat. I’ve tried fingers, which makes a huge mess and running water which sacrifices an enormous amount of flavor. The knife does not remove effort or time, but it’s the best you can do. There’s a fourth step in there if you want, save the pepper juice, but I never find I get enough to follow that step. Step five A/five B, make the magic happen. There’s roasting peppers and there’s roasting peppers for the season. With this extra work, you can make your peppers last a long time. Option A, make a weak pickling solution, maybe 1/2 water to vinegar, pack your peppers in there with a small amount of sugar to balance the flavors. Or use oil. If you submerge your roasted peppers in oil, you will have an effective barrier from rot. In the fridge, both styles of peppers will last for at least six weeks. You can find lots of peppers left in these last markets, follow this lesson to get the most of your purchases.
Beyond the time it takes to roast peppers, we’re not talking much to do to follow through on this week’s lessons. Stock up on squash, let tomatoes ripen, fill your fridge with grapes. Do not regret what could have been as you enter the darker days.