Of Pressure Cookers and Black Radish French Fries: How to Keep it Local in the Wintertime

By Adam Brock

With a million farmer’s markets, CSAs, and green restaurants starting up in the New York area, it’s getting easier and easier to eat locally – that is, between April and November. But what about during the dark, cold days of winter? Without all those local peaches and basil, it might seem like time to turn to Chile and California, but in fact there’s an abundance of great local food even in January – it just requires a different approach. I asked a bunch of my locavore pals how they dealt with the challenge, and was amazed with the feast of solutions they presented.

First up are some tips from Annie Myers of Thoughts On The Table:

  • If you eat meat (smartly, of course) there’s plenty of it this time of year. Check out: 3-Corner Field Farm (Karen sells at the Union Square Greenmarket) and DiPaolo Turkey (also at Union Square, and several other greenmarkets).
  • Root vegetables are in! And they’re my favorite, to be honest. beets, parsnips, turnips, carrots, onions, potatoes…are always good roasted with oil and salt, pureed thick or thin, boiled in soups, or made into spreads.
  • Use milk and cheese! Especially as part of recipes with the root veggies. The animals need a rest at some point during the year of course, but it’s not necessarily this one! And plenty of cheesemakers are making their winter cheeses. go to the Greenmarket, or to Saxelby Cheesemongers at the Essex Street Market, for plenty of local cheeses, and Ronnybrook and Evan’s Farmhouse Creamery for milk and yogurt.
  • Embrace the bread. Bakeries may not be using local grains, but I’m working on finding more of that, and in any case, it’s a good time of year to support your local baker. And there are always local jams and spreads available, preserved from the summer.
  • Greenhouse tomatoes are great. Expensive, yes, but just as good as the summer ones.
  • Can or pickle the root vegetables! And if you pickle beets, don’t put more than one or two cloves in the jar, like I did. You’ll get something that tastes like beet-shaped cloves.
  • Embrace local businesses. If it feels like local products aren’t plentiful enough for you, it’s still “locavore” to avoid large companies, brands, and mass-produced foods, and support artisan work (like the baker), rather than industrial machinery.

My friend Abby Rosenbaum seconds Annie’s thoughts on root vegetables and canning, and also suggests making the most of dried fruits and beans.

Andrew Faust, permaculturalist and founder of the Center for Bioregional Living, gives us this handy list of veggies to buy (and grow!):

  • All root crops: potatoes, garlic, turnips, celeriacs. Especially experiment with, say, black radish french fries, or rutbaga with your mashed potatoes.
  • For leaf crops: kale, collards, dandelion, chickories
  • Be starting mizuna, purple mustard, arugula and lettuce in indoor window boxes or pots.
  • Cabbage (fermented and fresh), carrots and beets

Finally, Kerry Trueman of Eating Liberally gives us a cornucopia of tips for buying and cooking local winter foods like a pro:

First, let’s put to rest the notion that the winter pickin’s at the Greenmarket are slim. OK, so there’s not much in the way of salad greens, but we are, in fact, blessed with an abundance of root vegetables, squashes, apples, pears, and the meat, dairy, and bread vendors don’t go into hibernation either.

Thanks to our globalized food chain, though, we’ve grown so used to an eternal summer of hothouse tomatoes and raspberries from Chile that everyone turns up their noses at turnips. And the sweet potato’s only invited to most American dinner tables once a year, on Thanksgiving—what a waste of a versatile, nutritious and tasty tuber. Other root vegetables I’m especially fond of are parsnips and beets— if you can find beets with the greens intact, you get two vegetables for the price of one, because beet greens are essentially the same as Swiss chard.

Winter produce does require a bit more planning than summer’s eat-it-now bounty; you have to buy your Bosc pears a few days beforehand and let them ripen, and most root vegetables are better eaten cooked than raw. On the other hand, you can buy a gorgeous heirloom squash and admire it for weeks or even months before making it into a soup or stew.

The Greenmarket’s obviously the ideal source for those looking to eat as locally as possible. But it does have its limitations; if you’re pursuing a predominantly plant-based diet for your own health as well as the health of the planet, you’ll want to include plenty of beans and whole grains in your diet, most of which are not produced locally. I have been able to find locally grown and milled corn meal, spelt flour, and buckwheat, but for other grains and beans I go to Integral Yoga, Life Thyme or Kalustyan’s.

There are some staples I end up buying at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, things like ginger, soy sauce, olive oil, lemons, canned fish and so on. But we strive to buy as much of our food from our local farmers as we possibly can. I’m more of a retrovore than a locavore, which is to say that I prefer the kind of food that pre-dates industrial agriculture—pasture-raised animal products, minimally processed foods, ideally from our own region whenever possible. No pears from Argentina or asparagus from Peru or garlic from China.

I go to the Greenmarket nearly every other day to bring our kitchen scraps to the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s drop-off site, so I’m in the habit of browsing the stalls and buying whatever looks good. I bring a list, but it’s best to be flexible—yesterday, my list called for red onions, blue potatoes, and garlic, none of which was available. So I came home instead with sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and an acorn squash. It’s all good, and if you’re not sure what to do with it, the Greenmarket booth has pages of simple and
tasty recipes there for the taking.

The thing that makes it so easy for me to cook up all this produce is a life-changing—and, sadly, rather expensive—appliance; the new, improved pressure cooker (not to be confused with the ones that our grandmas used, which had a reputation for blowing their tops off.) I use mine two or three times a day and can’t imagine life without it. It’s the ultimate low-carbon cooker, because it lets you make all kinds of dishes in a fraction of the time they would take to cook conventionally. It’s a godsend for making grains, beans, soups and stews and cooks any kind of vegetable you can think of in just a few
minutes.

The Greenmarket is definitely a streamlined operation in the winter, but I know several farmers upstate who are devising ways to extend their growing season with alternatively heated greenhouses and other innovations, so I suspect we’ll have more variety in the future. In the meantime, though, take advantage of all the treats the market has to offer: the magenta-pink watermelon radishes that taste almost like jicama; Adirondack blue potatoes; Hawthorne Valley’s jalapeno sauerkraut; fresh-baked cider donuts from any of the apple vendors, and so on. Just go to the Greenmarket with an open mind–you’ll be sure to find something delicious and filling.

photo credit: flickr/ianqui 

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6 thoughts on “Of Pressure Cookers and Black Radish French Fries: How to Keep it Local in the Wintertime

  1. Rosa says:

    I love our pressure cooker. I’ve only owned it about 6 weeks and it’s gotten more use than any other small appliance ever (though in the fall I think my dehydrator might match it.)

    It’s faster, and uses less energy, than any other kind of cooking. We also got Lorna Sass’s vegetarian pressure cooking book, so along with the beans & greens soups we usually eat all winter, we’ve been making risottos and bean salsas and mashed root vegetables in it.

    I can’t believe I spent so long trying to cook without this thing.

  2. kerry Trueman says:

    I worship Lorna Sass! Her Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure is my bible. You should know that she’s also the goddess of whole grains–her latest book, Whole Grains Every Day Every Way is terrific, too.

  3. Rob Archangel says:

    Hey WGY,

    Another idea is to put up vegetables yourself, by means of canning, drying or my favorite, lacto-fermenting. There’s tons of stuff out there on it, but my favorite source of info is ‘Wild Fermentation’ by Sandor Katz. Lacto-fermentation the only means of preserving food we’ve yet devised that enhances, rather than diminishes nutrition, plus fermented foods taste good! Just about all the artisanal and luxury foods we can think of are products of fermentation, lacto- or otherwise: breads, cheeses, yogurts, cured meats, olives, wines and spirits, not to mention all the vegetable ferments like sauerkraut, kim chi, pickles, etc. Space is limited in NYC, but it doesn’t take much, and the stuff just gets better as time goes on.

  4. Kate says:

    Adam,

    I want to weigh in on this! In addition to seconding Annie’s recommendations, give a shoutout to local seafood. Blue Moon Fish (http://bluemoonfish.com/) serves up at the Greenmarket, and they are just one of many Long Island fisheries. Be sure to read up on which fish are advisable to eat re: mercury levels and population sustainability (nix the cod). There’s nothing like caramelized sea scallops over parsnip puree in February!

    Piggybacking on Rob’s comment – let your present quest for local wintertime fare inspire you to can, freeze and preserve all through the coming growing season. Hothouse tomatoes maybe expensive now, but mid-summer, they’ll be priced right for stocking up your cabinets with sauce. The possibilities for preservation are endless. Check out the cookbook “Homegrown, Pure and Simple” for inspiration.

    I’m going to be contributing seasonal recipes to Just Food’s new blog, starting Feb. 5 – keep an eye out.

    Can’t wait to see you Sunday!

  5. Li says:

    4th Street Food Co-op also strives to bring the most local produce and dairy (we are a veg co-op) we can find to NYC. We’re located on 4th st between Bowery and 2nd Ave, and open more often than the Greenmarket. Just sayin’.

    We also have Mizuna Greens and *might* get black radish this tuesday. Keepin’ it local and keepin’ it real.

    x.o.
    Li

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