My mantra on how's it going (Eat Local), has always been, don't ask me now, ask me later. In other words, right now it's easy to eat local (say at the peak of farmer's markets), but I don't know how easy it will be in a few months when we are dipping into the larder. After about two years of concerted efforts to eat local, there's a lot more now and a lot less waiting for later. It really has not been that hard to remain local in our house. Rather, just now is when it's just getting difficult to eat local. In fact the hardest time for an eat local-er in the upper Midwest is this time of year.
It's really not that hard to eat local in Chicago from November through February. First of all, cold(er) weather barely stops farmer's like my friend Vicki. As long as the grounds not frozen stiff she can grow, especially beets and carrots. What cannot grow outside, grows inside. Not tasteless raised in test-tube stuff but real food. With a bit of high tech covering, nature can be quite fooled. Yes, that was local lettuce on my table in January. Winter harvested vegetables even made it to Whole Foods in River Forest, IL from another local farm, Driftless Organics.
Another reason why it was not that hard to stay local is that things stay. My wife is to cook book collecting as I am to computer poker, that is to say an addict. Our desire to eat local causes (caused?) her to buy many books on fruits and vegetables. Invariably, the books will note storage periods for items much less than we find. We have learned that many things stay, stay for many months. In fact, we still have rutabaga's, ground cherries, and sunchokes from last fall's farmer's markets. This on top of potatoes and onions and garlic that should stay. We froze and we use that too, but we use maybe less than we thought (or expected).
We learn. We need to put away even more onions and garlic. Potatoes last but pay attention to the variety because some last longer than others (generally the larger the longer). We froze too much fruit and not enough vegetables. All of our frozen food tastes great, no loss of quality. It's just that there's less to be done with frozen fruit. It cannot go in the kid's lunches. Instead we use it mostly for smoothies and desserts. Aside from salads, frozen vegetables can be used in any dish. Five minutes in the microwave, a dab of butter (local of course) and there's a dish of asparagus that tastes about as good as last June. We need to do more than freeze. What we really needed to do is dry/make fruit leather.
Now is the season of dried fruit. Chicago Tribune writer Bill Daly wrote of seasonal eating last year. He noted that spring is the hungry season, the hardest time to eat local in this part of the world. All of those apples that lingered, well they're gone. Our cheatin' citrus has about run its course. A lot of what's been put down has been eaten. It's about 30 days until Vicki's spring CSA starts. So, we decided to purchase a lot of dried fruits from Trader Joe's. None of it's from our food-shed. Instead it serves to remind us that it IS what we should be eating now. Don't ask me now, but ask me later about the raisins we are eating.
Vital Information is where once upon a time I wrote about eating local in Chicago, but now mostly lies doormat as I cure my addiction to computer poker.