Seasonal Ingredients: Winter

My wrist is mostly healed! So now writing in this blog won’t require a hand brace. It’s good to be back!

It is now December, and the first snows are coming in and reminding us all that, although the official start of winter is still twelve days away, the seasons are in transition…and so should be our pantries!

When researching the local, seasonal ingredients that Massachusetts offers in the winter, I was quite disheartened. While I certainly never imagined that our frozen, snow-covered winter grounds would produce a bounty of colorful produce, I have had also never imagined how people would get along without the supermarket.

During the summer, I puffed with pride at the success of my tomato and basil plants and revelled at this small step towards independence from the modern food industry. Even in the cool fall months my garden managed to squeeze of several juicy, albeit small, tomatoes and even a few juicy green peppers.

But now all that is over. My garden plot has been frozen over for a few weeks and is now dusted with a light coating of fresh snow. What would I do without the giant supermarket down the street? What did people do before the giant supermarket (or even the small ones) existed? The answer is pretty simple, actually: They ate preserved food. Using picking and canning and burying people who lived in cold climates had to stretch their fall harvest. A lot of meat and potatoes and cheeses, and perhaps some winter greens as well. But in this day and age, with modern agriculture and refrigeration…i is very easy to reach for those brightly colored imported fruits and flash frozen vegetables grown on the other side of the country, or even the planet.

In an effort to live more naturally, despite the fact that I know I will probably give in to bananas from Mexico or tomatoes from California, I will try my hardest to stick to these winter ingredients. Whether or not I will be able to find them local is a different story. But by enjoying these hearty vegetables, I will hopefully be able to harness of their resilience to cold and make it through yet another brutal New England winter!

Barley

Beets

Broccoli

Broccoli Rabe

Brussels Sprouts

Cauliflower

Fennel

Kale

Leeks

Oats

Onions

Parsnips

Potatoes

Pumpkin

Rice

Rutabagas

Sweet Potatoes

Turnips

Winter Squash

*Items in Italics represents “preserved” items that people who lived here without refrigeration would likely have been able to hold onto through the cold months.

Here again is that handy link so you can find what grows best in your area this time of year.
Seasonal Ingredient Map US: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/seasonalingredientmap

Tomato Sandwiches

The fall growing season is at it’s peak, and despite the near-freezing overnight temperatures my tomatoes are somehow still popping out juicy red orbs every other day. For my first real vegetable patch, I’d say I did pretty well.

Perhaps my favorite way to enjoy these succulent garden jewels was Mediterranean style: raw with little olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh lemon. The deep, tart flavor of the tomatoes intensified with the rich oil and the spicy pepper. It became a staple for my office lunch box. Every day for at least a week in September I would slather two slices of whole grain toast with goat cheese and top them with these marinated tomatoes. My tiny gray cubicle was momentarily transformed into a lush Tuscan garden and I couldn’t wait to go home and harvest for of my delicious Roma tomatoes!

As the season progressed and more ruby orbs ripened in the yard, my mother came to realize that one of her coworkers also grew a lot of tomatoes…only hers were bright yellow! And one more week later, my aunt handed us a bag of fresh green tomatoes from her garden too! Now this was just absurd. So deliciously absurd!

A fraction of the tomatoes, from the garden and gifts

A fraction of the tomatoes, from the garden and gifts

I began to dream up all sorts of ways to incorporate this colorful bounty into my sandwiches, appreciating the variety that arises from just one vegetable in one region of this vast world. But I wanted to make sure of two things: 1) I keep the tomatoes raw to appreciate their natural unadulterated flavor, and 2) I keep these sandwiches relatively healthy, and free of too much processed food (what’s the point of having fresh tomatoes if everything else was created in a lab?).

For best results I liked to marinate the tomatoes in whatever dressing I was using (balsamic vinegar, pesto, olive oil, etc). Put the tomatoes in a sandwich bag, and spread the cheese or hummus or mayo on the bread in advance. It makes for easy and quick assembly, leaving you more time to enjoy your lunch break!

Here are a just a few of the recipes I came up with.

1. Sunny Day: Cream cheese, yellow tomatoes, red onion, lemon juice

best enjoyed outside

best enjoyed outside

2. Caprese: Goat cheese, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, tomatoes, fresh basil
photo 3

3. Go Green: Pesto, light Swiss, yellow tomato (I would have added avocados, but they’re not in season!)
photo 4

4. Red Hot: Hummus, Roma tomatoes, olive oil, black pepper, crushed red pepper
photo 1

These are just a few of the infinite ways to enjoy fresh home-grown tomatoes. What’s your favorite way to eat yours?

Seasonal Ingredients: Fall

A quick afternoon post as I plan for the week!

Fall is most definitely here, flashing it’s vibrant red-and-rust colors all over my front lawn. This week, as I enjoyed a peaceful retreat in the mountains with my family, the house was filled with the warm smell of pie and hot mulled cider…and all those other great seasonal favorites that this cozy time of year carried with it.

It really got me thinking about how much I love living in New England. Most of the associations people have of this season come from here! Pumpkins, apples, cranberries…not to mention Thanksgiving… yea, you’re welcome!

In all serious, I wanted to set out and discover which other foods were seasonal to this area  besides those popularized by various Starbucks concoctions. I found this handy dandy tool that shows you which produce items are in season in your region in any given month.

Seasonal Ingredient Map US:  http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/seasonalingredientmap

Of course, if you are like me and live in Massachusetts there is a big gap in the growing season from about November to April because the ground is just plain frozen…but it really puts it in perspective the impact of place on the diet, and also sheds some light on the nature of the modern food system and the supermarket. If you live in a climate similar to mine, and you see bananas and oranges in mid-January…WALK AWAY! Chances are they are covered in pesticides, were picked a month ago, and required a lot of polluting fuel to arrive in your grocery basket.

For anyone who may be interested in seasonal  cooking (or is following my endeavors to keep my pantry as in-season as possible), here is a list of ingredients I will be trying to optimize from October-November while they are still fresh and (hopefully also) local. Again, these are from Massachusetts, so if you want to see what in season near you, click on the link above.  The list may just surprise you:

– apples (so many possibilities!)

– broccoli

– cabbage

– carrots

– celery

– cranberries

– eggplants

– lettuce

– peppers

– potatoes

– pumpkins (I love living here)

– radishes

– raspberries (didn’t know that! will have to stock up!)

– tomatoes

– turnips

– watermelon (another pleasant surprise)

– winter squash

Here also is an interesting article on the benefits of local seasonal eating, both on your health and the environment: http://food-hub.org/files/resources/Seasonal%20Foods%20A%20New%20Menu%20for%20Public%20health.pdf

Happy cooking! And more importantly, happy autumn!