Daily Archives: February 2, 2012

Imbolg and Cooking for People Who Don’t – OR: Eating Local in the Dead of Winter

So. It just so happens that February Second – along with being Imbolg – is also the launch-date for the first annual(?) “Cooking for People Who Don’t” blog carnival. I find this sort of glorious given Imbolg’s translation as “in the belly”.
The idea behind the carnival is, effectively, that (1) Food Security Matters, and (2) “Security” has as much to do with skillsets as it does with availability.
Which brings me to my own topic for the carnival which is: Eating Local in the Dead of Winter.

Kale, celebration & sweet dumpling squashes, turnips, cabbage, garlic, celeriac, golden beets, carrots, hot-house cilantro

See, if you have a root cellar (or, say, a garage), a big kitchen with lots of storage space, and/or a chest freezer… eating local in winter is easy. You buy (or grow) stuff that keeps really well and gets harvested in late October, and you put it in your root cellar for later. Or you blanche[1] summer veggies and berries by the kilogram and put them in the chest freezer. Or you fill your pantry up with dried or canned/jarred summer fruit, plus soups[2] and tomato sauces against the coming cold.
But what if you’re like me and you have limited space? What if your freezer is the 4-cubic-footer attached to your fridge, you’re on the fourth floor and don’t have a storage-unit let along a root cellar, and your kitchen is one of those badly-laid-out 1970s messes that make “shove it under the bed” look like an efficient storage technique? Then what do you do?
Part of me just says “Increase your definition of ‘local’ to include several hours (and possibly an international border) south of where you actually live”. I fall back on this a lot (such as when buying frozen “product of Canada” broccoli or peas) and just hope they were grown in Niagara or Quebec, rather than BC.
If you live in Ottawa, in a small space, and want to eat local during winter, what do you do?
First: Find out what’s in season at your local farmer’s market (or by checking your local availability guide). You don’t have to do your shopping at the farmer’s market, but it’ll give you an idea of what to look for where-ever you do decide to go. Try here for a list of what’s in season (and when) in Ontario.
Second: have a look at what your grocery store stocks.
It’s funny[3] (though not actually surprising) that, while the grocery store in the wealthy neighbourhood just south of me has rafts of locally grown food – and seems to take a fair bit of pride in telling its customers exactly which Ottawa Valley farms provided this week’s boat load of apples, for example – my own local White People Food[4] grocery store tends to get its winter-friendly (and locally available) produce from Texas, California, Chile, and China[5].
But I’m digressing.
Why do I say “find out what your usual grocery store stocks in terms of local produce”?
Because, if you have a small space, you’re not going to have the luxury of buying long-keeping – or easily preserved – produce in bulk and Putting It Up in your house for later. You’re going to have to rely on what your grocery store stocks at any given time because, chances are, if you stuff your fridge full of root-veggies the second you see them, some of them are going to get soft or moldy or just plain rotten in the bottom of your veggie drawer before you get a chance to use them.
Which is another thing: You need to be aware of how long things keep.
Sure, most – if not all – winter veggies (If you’re in my area – northeastern woodlands region – we’re talking: Winter squash, Apples, Onions, Cabbages, Turnip, Rutabaga, Garlic, Daikon Radish, Beets, Carrots, Parsnips, Leeks, and Potatoes) are long-keeping. They have to be. But some last longer than others.
Beets and carrots don’t last as long as turnips and rutabagas, for example and, while those boxes of pre-chopped squash and turnip are great – WAY less work if you’re in a rush or have trouble cutting firm-fleshed veggies on your own – they tend go slimy and disgusting inside of 48 hours (whereas whole butternut squash or whole turnips will stay fine and dandy in the fridge – and even out of it – for months). So plan ahead on that one.

potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash, rutabagas, beets, red cabbage, broccolini

Now, me? I’m writing from the perspective of someone who (a) has only two people to feed, but (b) is still learning how to cook for groups smaller than 4-6. Left-overs are the bane of my existence, since they tend not to get eaten. Thus it’s my challenge to figure out how to keep us in veggies without cooking too many at a time. Currently I’m working on the “fill half your plate” measurement which works out to, say, one large Ruby Queen beet, a quarter of a rutabaga, and about one third of a peeled celeriac OR half an apple, a cup of shredded cabbage, a quarter of an onion, a tablespoon of raddish pickle, half a cup of shredded carrots and a handful of dried cranberries (crumbled walnuts optional). If people want to weigh in on this, that would be awesome.
The trick there, if you have the same problem, is buy really small amounts – like three carrots or fewer, or one SMALL rutabaga or celeriac, at a time. It’ll mean more frequent trips to the grocery store, but it’ll also make things a lot easier in terms of getting through your veggie drawer in a timely manner and in making sure that your veggie drawer has as much variety as possible. (Handy segue).
See, in summer, you are typically faced with a huge variety of fairly short-keeping veggies – leafy greens and delicate fruits, and stuff of that ilk that you have to use up fast (or preserve in a way you can store easily in your small space) quickly. In winter, it’s different. At this time, the challenge is to work with the few long-keeping veggies you have available locally, and try to get them to stay Interesting for months at a time.
One way to do that is through using condiments: Grainy mustard goes gloriously with cabbage, and the thick (occasionally cloying) sweetness of root veggies.
Beets and rutabagas can be brightened up beautifully with a balsamic vinegar marinade (easy: you chop up, and par-boil, a couple of beets and some rutabaga, then chuck them in a baking dish with half a diced onion and douse the whole thing in balsamic vinegar before you bake it for half an hour).
Sweet potatoes and winter squash taste fantastic (on their own, or) with the addition of a spicy apple-cranberry or peach-apricot chutney. You can also contrast their sweetness with a dollop of plain yoghurt or some crumbled sharp cheese (think chevre or cheddar, for example).
You can also add more variety to your fruits and veggies in winter by including preserves in your diet: Chutneys on squash or added to slow-cooked pulled pork, pickled cucumber or radishes added to remoulade or waldorf salad.
With all this in mind (and hoping that it’s been useful to at least a couple of people), I’m going to end with links to various recipes that rely on the veggies I’ve listed here.
Roasted Turnips with Balsamic Vinegar
Honey-Glazed Turnip and Carrots
Creamy Turnip Paprika Soup
Beer-Braised Turnip
Braised Mushrooms (includes instructions for how braising works)
Warm Salad of Roast Beets, Lentils, and Balsamic Onions
Beet Curry
Beet and Celeriac Soup
Leek Gratin
Samosa Pie with Apple-Butter Chutney
Rosti Potatoes
You can also check out my recipe tab for a few ways of playing with cabbage (as well as a lot of dessert recipes).

Parsnips, beets, turban squash

Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] Blanching is a cooking technique where-by you dunk veggies (peas, green beans, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, just about whatever you like) in boiling water for a brief period of time, and then pull them out and run them under cold water (to stop them from cooking further). This technique allows you to freeze vegetables (to keep them from spoiling) without their then turning into mush when you re-thaw them. Frozen veggies from the grocery store have been pre-cooked in this way.
You can find more about blanching (plus a handy table on how long to blanch specific veggies – cooking times are in minutes) here or here.
This youtube video will walk you through the technique.
[2] Note: If you’re trying home-canning (jams, sauces, chutneys, etc) and you’re using the hot water method of sealing the jars (you re-boil the sterilized jars once they’ve been filled and sealed) rather than using a pressure-canner, you need to make sure that your preserves are on the acidic side. Tomatoes are very close to acidic enough on their own, and anything with heaps of sugar in it (jams, jellies, anything preserved “in light syrup”) or vinegar (various chutneys and sour pickles) will have an appropriate pH as well.
[3] If, by “funny”, you mean “I want to kick things”.
[4] I live in China Town, where much of the produce is imported from China and geared to a non-European type diet. Which is dandy, unless you want (a) milk, or (b) food grown in Ontario and Quebec.
[5] Typically locally-produced, in-season foods are much less expensive than their counterparts from elsewhere – Baking potatoes from the States are $0.20-$0.60 more expensive per pound than russet or white-flesh or Yukon Gold potatoes from Ontario, in the above-mentioned grocery store. Likewise, apples from New Zealand are $0.40/lb more expensive than apples from Eastern Ontario or Western Quebec – so chances are at least reasonable that your local grocery store won’t be a complete local-food desert.