Localvore winter

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(HOST) Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, and the harvest is well and truly over, what options do we have for local foods in the long winter months ahead? Commentator Helen Labun Jordan has been studying the problem.

(LABUN JORDAN) It really isn’t that hard to name foods that are still available locally this time of year. After all, Thanksgiving is a traditional way to celebrate this food. Many of us are still eating left-over local potatoes, squash, cornbread and turkey – even Vermont-raised cranberries – from our holiday dinners. It’s a few weeks “after” the Thanksgiving feast that we begin to lose a ready answer for what makes a seasonal menu. Most of us are content to wait for warmer weather before we even consider looking for local food.

But this year, instead of looking at Thanksgiving as the last local food event before summer, I’ve decided to consider it the start of exploring local foods for the winter. And it turns out that I’m not alone in this new perspective on winter. In fact, many Vermonters are taking a winter localvore challenge – dedicating one week in January to eating nothing but foods grown within 100 miles of home. And they’ve got options. There are winter farmers-markets. There are winter farm shares from CSAs. There are specialty food producers who run a year-round food business and who often start with local ingredients, like salsa makers who develop their secret recipes from backyard gardens or bakers working with local grain.

Of course, it’s one thing to find winter sources for local ingredients and it’s another to turn them into something that tastes good. I recently spent a month working on this next step in recipe development classes at a local bakery. The first lesson of the baking classes was how to properly measure flour; the second lesson was to get comfortable with trial and error. It seems obvious, but I’m not naturally inclined to give recipes a second chance after an initial disaster. With the help of these classes, however, I’ve progressed from scones like misshapen cookies and apple pie with four times the correct amount of sweetener, to developing perfectly acceptable recipes. I’ll be fully prepared to make apple cakes and pumpkin custards, thick cookies and buttery scones, with local ingredients that are available all winter long.

Still, my favorite source of local food for the winter is my parents’ root cellar. It’s fully stocked with dill pickles, bread & butter pickles, pickled beets, canned green beans, canned tomatoes, grape jelly, and even peach butter from our own Vermont-raised peaches.

The more I look for local foods, the more possibilities I find. And you don’t need canning equipment or hours of baking lessons to take advantage of year-round local eating. Most stores carry local dairy products, many have local meat and eggs, maple syrup is everywhere, and cold storage systems let us find great tasting, inexpensive local apples through the spring. Those who want to explore further afield can visit any one of several websites that list Vermont food sources. Or you can join in the Winter Localvore Challenge and find ideas from others in search of a menu that sticks close to home. And yes, the ingredients for many of those Thanksgiving favorites will be available in January, too.

Helen Labun Jordan works at the Vermont Council on Rural Development. You can find this commentary and links to local winter food sources at VPR.net.

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