October 9, 2016 by Jean
For as long as I can remember, I have loved to eat. There is an old family story about the time I dislocated my shoulder as a toddler; my parents decided I was seriously injured and should be taken to the emergency room when I wouldn’t stop crying to eat my favorite food! Throughout my childhood, I was an enthusiastic eater who never had to be called to the dinner table twice (although I was decidedly unenthusiastic about some foods – especially peas, liver, and orange juice). In adulthood, I developed a love for fresh, whole foods simply prepared.
Around 2008, reading three books – Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food and Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – got me enthused about eating local foods, and I became what is called a “locavore,” a person who plans meals around what is available locally. I joined a farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture plan) where I could get freshly harvested food each week directly from the farm, and I bought as much of my food as possible from farmers’ markets and farm stands, using grocery stores mostly as a supplement to my local food shopping. I am not by any means a strict locavore; three staples of my diet – tea, chocolate, and peanut butter – are definitely not grown in New England! I also buy non-local condiments and spices and an occasional ingredient that is not in season locally (e.g., the avocado garnish for this week’s burritos). For the most part, though, I try to buy local foods that are in season.
Eating local produce year round can be tricky in a place where there is usually snow on the ground from November to April. Fortunately for me, quite a few Maine farmers have adopted the four-season growing practices made popular by Eliot Coleman; this means that some local foods, like salad greens and carrots are now being harvested here through the winter. Other foods – for example, apples, potatoes, pumpkins and winter squash – keep for quite a long time after harvest and are available through most of the winter. With many foods, however, the trick to eating locally is to buy them in bulk when they are harvested and preserve them for eating during the winter and spring.
So at this time of year, I spend quite a bit of time preserving the harvest. In August, I bought a thirty-pound box of Maine wild blueberries, cleaned them, and repackaged them in quart bags (about 21 quarts) for the freezer. I have also frozen several batches of pesto made from fresh local basil, and I have quart bags of sliced red and green peppers in the freezer for winter recipes. One of my big projects each fall is canning tomatoes. Last weekend, I finally got around to purchasing a 25-pound box of canning tomatoes, cleaning them, peeling them, cutting them up, and processing them in a boiling water canner. This is a time-consuming process, but I love having the intense flavor of vine-ripened local tomatoes for use in winter recipes. (And, since I’m canning them myself, I can leave out all the salt that comes in commercially canned tomatoes.)
As fall progresses and turns into winter, I’ll add more items to my winter stockpile, including pumpkins and winter squashes that I roast and puree and freeze for use in various recipes, especially soups and desserts (pumpkin pie, anyone?). After I make my annual roast turkey feast (usually for Christmas), I’ll freeze enough gallons of turkey stock and pounds of turkey meat to last until next year’s turkey.
I count myself lucky to live in a rural state with a vibrant small-farm economy and a significant population of locavore foodies to support that economy. Bon appetit!