The wisest words on local foods come, I think, from Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She writes, "If you’re reading this in midwinter and that is your solution, put the thought away. Just never mind, come back in six months. Eating locally in winter is easy. But the time to think about that would be in August."
Unlike going zero waste, unlike shopping secondhand, unlike mending your clothing when it rips, shopping locally as a way to reduce your environmental impact is something that can only be done a certain time of year. The time to think about it is August, June, even April, and, surely, October. Depending on where you live, the availability of local produce in the winter might be slim or none; many farmers’ markets closer for the season in October. But, if you have room in your budget, you can choose to buy a few extra, long-lasting foods now, and store them so that you can eat them in the months to come.
Preserving food need not be a huge kitchen operation, requiring bushels bought and a canning kettle and a whole weekend or two set aside for the endeavor. If you have the time and the inclination - by all means. But for us, this fall has been unexpectedly busy and it was all I could do to make applesauce and throw berries in the freezer and can five jars of pickles. This is all to say: putting up food gets a bad rap. It’s not just the purview of pioneers or farmers or urban homesteaders or the time-rich. Putting up local foods for the winter can equally mean storing some onions in a dark part of your pantry and purchasing a few extra squash to display on the countertop until you eat them. Some ideas for stocking up, easily, below.
-Buy a few bunches of herbs to dry. Herbs in season at the farmers’ market are cheap and abundant, sold in huge and fragrant bunches. Contrasted with the plastic-packaged variety at the grocery store or the often-insipid dried variety, it makes fiscal and flavorful sense to dry your own. (Plus, this way you pay local farmers, not a global conglomerate). I think herb drying can be easier than we think; here’s my five-minute approach.
-Freeze tomatoes. If it seems criminal to freeze a peak-season, juicy, ripe, plump tomato, it might be even more criminal to forego doing so and thus resign oneself to months of a tomato fast, the canned variety, or - shudder - supermarket tomatoes in December. I freeze tomatoes whole, with the skins on. They won’t be good for eating raw after you freeze them, but they’re excellent in soups and sauces.
-Stock up on squash, onions, and garlic. All should last for months when stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. When I purchase extras, I make a habit of checking on each squash or allium twice per week, so that I can quickly identify ones that are past their peak and use them up rather than letting them rot or grow feelers.
-Make an extra batch. If you’re buying apples for applesauce, buy double. If you’re buying a flat of tomatoes for soup, buy two and freeze the second batch of soup. It can be a pain to spend time to turn farmers’ market foods into something to freeze - especially when that time could be spent going on walks to watch the leaves change, or eagerly watching the thermometer climb back to cycling weather. If you’re already cooking, though, you might not notice the pinch.
-Look for items that are already preserved. Popcorn kernels, dried beans, locally milled grains: local foods where the work is done for you. If you’re able, grabbing an extra bag as the farmers’ market winds down for the year supports farmers, reduces the carbon footprint of your meals, introduces you to a new variety or flavor (cranberry beans, yum), and lets you find the holy grail: bulk AND local.
Other favorite foods to stock up on in the fall? What’s growing where you live?
(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).