Baby, It's Still Cold Outside... And I'm Hungry
March 2, 2010 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Eating well (deliciously, locally, healthfully) in winter. Help me find some resources and inspiration.

Spring may technically be less than three weeks away, but my local farmer's market doesn't start for almost two months and the first CSA box is still over three months away. Here in the upper Midwest, my produce choices around this time of year seem to be limited to digging through a bin of rotting acorn squash or buying whatever fruit and veggies are shipped in from Chile.

I'm looking for some great tips, food blogs, or other resources that deal with long winters and short growing seasons. (It seems like most food blogers I enjoy reading are located in much more temperate or major metropolitan areas.) I'm very interested in eating locally and sustainably, but just don't know how to do it well when nothing is growing here. Vegetarian or veg-heavy resources are especially welcome (we do eat some meat).

Help me make it to asparagus season!
posted by rebeccabeagle to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Hi, Maine here. We share your pain.

In Portland, recently, some people took the initiative to contact their favorite local farmer's market farmers, and started - first - a "reservations only" farmer's market (they emailed you a "menu" of available things, you reserved them and picked them up in-town one morning a week), and more recently an indoor farmer's market.

Get in touch with your CSA and local farmers. You may be surprised what produce they can still provide.

Longer term, you want to invest in a freezer, a canning set up, and a dehydrator. Over the summer, do everything you can to preserve the produce you're buying. That's the only true solution to long winters & short growing seasons.
posted by anastasiav at 2:36 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eating locally grown produce all winter in cold climates pretty much requires that you can or freeze it when it's in season. A good resource for safe information on canning and freezing is the local county extension service, like this one in Nebraska.
posted by Ery at 2:38 PM on March 2, 2010

Roots and dark leafy greens. Nigel Slater seems to come up with great recipes for them every year, and there's something heartening about having parsnips, carrots, turnips, celeriac, beetroot etc. for the long push through winter.
posted by holgate at 2:41 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've eaten roasted sweet potatoes (cut into slices or spears, brush with olive oil, salt and pepper, cook for 25 mins at 400 degrees, turning after 20 mins) just about every night this week. They are perfect winter food.
posted by decathecting at 3:06 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

AnastasiaV has a great comment, and we've found that working here (Seacoast NH/MA). A number of Winter CSA programs like this one (check out that nice list of produce) and this one (runs through end of March, then you wait for the season to pick up again) have popped up. If the farmers are assured that there will be buyers, they plan ahead to grow extra storage crops and extend their seasons. Someone around you might already be running a Winter CSA.

The secret to eating locavore-style in the winter, though, isn't a ready source of fresh produce, which is somewhat scarce and monotonous even if you have a farmer. As others have said, it's storage.

If you begin this year, you can start salting away stuff for winter storage in early spring. The first chives (chopped fine, or made into chive butter) and peas can be popped into the freezer. Blanched spinach, kale, and chard can go into the freezer in bags, too. When berries start to come in, go to a pick your own and pick a ton to freeze. Get corn on the cob and cut it off and freeze the kernels. Learn to process and can tomatoes (it's pretty easy) and make vinegar pickles (you can pickle cukes and asparagus and even carrots and parsnips). Some people get really into the preserving thing and do stuff like make saurkraut and jardiniera.

A lot of people I know have taken the plunge and gotten a chest freezer or upright freezer. I'd like to, as well, just haven't gone there yet. It can make a huge difference.

Aside from storage, the other thing you can do is just reach for some recipe variety. In winter, you can shift your diet to traditional sort of wintry foods, and still cover all your basic nutrient groups. In winter I depend a lot on the tougher leafy greens (kale and chard), squash (such a variety - acorn, butternut, delicata, pumpkin), potatoes, carrots, beans, bread, pasta, cheeses, dried grains, dried beans, and meats. I eat a little heartier (it's colder). Common dishes: roasted root vegetables with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, often roasted with chunks of local sausage; squash soups, like butternut with cumin; pastas, like butternut squash ravioli, long pasta with chard, bacon, and garlic, or penne with sausage, white beans, and kale; roasted meats with polenta and some kind of spicy sauce, often tomato-based; pizzas (as always) topped with caramelized onions, cheeses, sausage, sauteed greens, and even small dice of squash tossed in oil; chilies and bean soups/stews; beef and pork stews.

What's your local/statewide food community like? Is there a Slow Food or a locavore group you can get connected with? Those people often have resources and ideas really well suited to your area.

You titled your post Eating Well, and at first I thought you were referring to the magazine. I just discovered this magazine and love it. It's everything Cooking Light kind of used to be and is failing to be now - it's real, healthy food, lots of it seasonal, with no convenience ingredients. Here is a page of their 10 most popular winter recipes. Not all is locally source-able, but you'll see some of my favorite standbys popping up there again. I will admit I sometimes get worn out on the greens + white beans formula...

Boston Globe article on winter locavore eating
A simple how-to for year planning
posted by Miko at 4:49 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like the urban hennery blog-typing this on my phone so can't link but you can google. She has entries all winter long in a "dark days of winter" challenge-fellow bloggers describing local and/or seasonal meals.
posted by purenitrous at 4:54 PM on March 2, 2010

Can and freeze during the summer, as Ery says.
posted by salvia at 6:35 PM on March 2, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life is a sort of starry-eyed but readable book about Barbara Kingsolver's family's gradually learning to eat locally over the course of a year. Mostly narrative, but dotted with tips and experiences. Each month-based chapter includes a couple recipes, usually veg-friendly. In accord with what everyone has already said, her family decides to start its year around the time the local farmers' markets are opening up in early spring because it's pretty hard to eat locally in winter without food already socked away from the previous growing season.

While you wait for asparagus, you could compromise by using store-bought canned or frozen produce, which may not be local but is usually packaged in season. Also, remember that "local" isn't always directly synonymous with "fresher" and "more sustainable." Depending on your local climate and growing season, "sustainable" can mean longer-distance produce and meats raised in a region better suited to the particular food you're seeking.

Some other stuff you might find useful;

NRDC's listings of local produce in season by state and half-month

CUESA's general seasonal calendars for vegetables, fruits & nuts, and meat & dairy (printable PDFs available)

In visual form, GOOD's attractive chart

Epicurious provides a seasonal ingredient map. Usually, a list of currently in-season produce with links to recipes that feature each ingredient will pop up. March is a "hungry month" in most states, so your pop-up will probably just lamely and linklessly suggest storage fruits and root vegetables.
posted by hat at 7:57 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Use dried beans for you stews and soups? Bean-based soups are perfect in the winter. Recipe-wise you could make: White Bean Soup, Red Lentil Soup, Spicy Harira Soup (w/ chickpeas) and many many more.
posted by kitchencrush at 12:13 AM on March 3, 2010

Just ran across this recipe - looks like a great winter produce variation on traditional shepherd's pie.
posted by Miko at 6:14 AM on March 3, 2010

I'll second Miko's entire comment and add another endorsement for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I also love the blog, where she talks about canning all during the growing season (she's in Philly, I believe) and this winter she's done once a week posts about meals from entirely local ingredients.

I can also tell you I got into canning for the first time this past summer, and I plan to do a lot more in the way of tomatoes this summer, as we are already out of tomatoes AND salsa (my fiance can go through a pint of salsa in less than a week. Or in one sitting.) We still have lots of pickles, and lots of frozen fruit, and I plan to freeze some of our CSA and garden greens this year as well. Good luck!
posted by hungrybruno at 8:02 AM on March 3, 2010

I'm not sure which would come out on top if you weighed local food frozen for 4 months vs. imported produce in winter, but I've got a prized bag of Hatch chile in the freezer which makes a winter full of dried bean and sad veg stews more bearable. Maybe theres something similar that you could stock up on. Canning would be a better idea (especially if you're prone to power outages). But none of that will really help you out now.

So, favorite winter recipes!:I also totally admire the philosophy of local food, but without domestic imports, or serious planing there are just some parts of the US that could not be lived in. But, this comes from a Texan who was munching on fresh local corn in November.
posted by fontophilic at 8:51 AM on March 3, 2010

When thinking about local food, don't forget that environmental sustainability is just one goal (however important) of building up the local food system. Also important is food security and ensuring a local supply of food (and know-how), local economic development and greater return of profits to the community, land conservation, better use of open space, more transparency on the food production practices in use, and strong interpersonal connections within one's community.

There will always be trade among regions, but it's in every region's interest to produce as great a percentage of local food locally as is possible. There is some land that is not particularly habitable that we have made so, but generally by using practices that will not prove sustainable/affordable in the long run - depending on abundant and cheap fossil fuel and access to clean water over long distances.
posted by Miko at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2010

Gabi--who writes Brokeass Gourmet always shops at local Farmer's Markets and tailors her recipes to whatever is freshest--highly recommended for the best in seasonal cooking!
posted by chaoscutie at 3:03 PM on March 3, 2010

I recently spoke with the author of The Locavore Way and her book has some great tips about eating locally in the winter.

My own tip is to really really use the meat that you do buy. I buy bone-in fatty cuts in the winter and slow cook them. In return of course I get meat, but I also get rendered out fat and I save the bones. The bones go into stock with the tops and other less appetizing parts of my root veggies. Both the stock and the fat go a long way in many other foods tasty. I both in my mashed potatoes (the rendered fat can be substituted for some butter), squash stews, risotto, beans, soups...and pretty much everything.

The good news is that farmers are catching on to the demand. One I know started a commercial kitchen to freeze and can his summer and fall produce. He does a CSA with it now and it seems very successful. I expect the idea to spread. We'd all love to be good planners and do it ourselves, but it's good to have a backup.

Here we also have a local company that does pickled local veggies that are still in stock. When I lived in the Midwest they had one too. It's becoming very popular and I'm very happy with the delicious carrot pickles I just ate. Local and probiotic.

Dairy is also an option. I would look on to find a local farmer. Farmer's markets are nice, but they are a pain for farmers to go to and farmers with in-demand products often get enough demand from word of mouth. Greenhouse arugula is another product that goes fast.
posted by melissam at 6:52 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the input. Sounds like my best bet is to start preserving- get over my fear of canning and think about investing in a chest freezer. A few local CSAs do offer "winter" shares, but none of them go any later than December.

Oh, and purenitrous, the "Dark Days" challenge at Urban Hennery is absolutely perfect! Just the sort of thing I've been looking for.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 1:10 PM on March 4, 2010

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