Top 3 Veggies for Eat Some, Freeze Some

Overflowing Harvest Basket!

Overflowing Harvest Basket!

Wow my garden is overflowing!  The early season rain and late season heat have combined to produce a jungle out there!  As much as I love fresh vegetables in season, there is no way I can eat my way through this situation.  My friends, family, and co-workers are starting to dread my appearance with my “big bag of whatever was ripe that morning”.   While I revel in how easy it is to eat and share fresh amazing produce now, come winter the limited availability of locally raised, fresh organic produce makes me sad. So this is my survival tactic – eat now, freeze some for later. These are my top 3 veggies for this strategy:

#3.  Sweet Corn. It can be a challenge to find organic and sustainably grown sweet corn, and when I find it I buy a bunch. Who can argue against fresh picked corn, lightly steamed and served with creamy butter and sea salt, or soaked in the husk and grilled until the kernels caramelize into a nutty sweetness? That said, corn is pretty filling and I can only eat so much at once. So, while one group of ears is cooking, the other group is getting sliced off the cob, popped into freezer bags, and stacked into the freezer. I find that freezing the kernels from two ears of corn per bag provides the nearly perfect portion for winter chowders, sweet corn risotto, corn fritters, and anything else “corn”. The amazing thing is that this method seems to perfectly preserve that fresh corn “pop” and wonderful flavor.

#2.  Peppers. Peppers to me are as much of a stable as carrots, onions, and celery. I love fresh picked sweet peppers raw in my salads, dipped in hummus, or just to nibble on through the day. Peppers always seem to ripen in bulk, way more than I could ever eat before they spoil. So I eat some now, and the simply wash, chop, and freeze the rest. Although frozen peppers lose their fresh crunchy texture, they keep that summertime flavor and work perfectly in soups, stews, chili, and any other recipe that calls for peppers. One of my favorites is to use the frozen peppers in Chicken Cacciatore with a chicken from one of my local farmers.

#1 Tomatoes. Ok, I admit it, I am a tomato addict and can do an entire story just on this one fruit. I can eat tomatoes – so long as they are fresh and local – every single day and not tire of them. Even so, the prolific nature of my many tomato plants outpaces even my appetite, so while I enjoy fresh tomatoes raw in any way you can think of in season, I take a few extras and dice them and put them in the freezer. Like peppers, they will lose a little in texture, but the amazing fresh tomato taste remains and is awesome in the winter when mixed with pasta or used in any of a variety of soups and stews and sauces. My favorite winter soup is tomato, white bean, and rosemary. Even as I enjoy the slice of that Brandywine on a sandwich, I am thinking of that soup in my future as I put the remaining in the freezer.

So eat now, and eat later!  Enjoy being a locavore all year!

Recipe for a Rainy Day and a Giant Bulb of Fennel….

The Giant Fennel Bulb

The Giant Fennel Bulb

With the weather promising cold and rain today, last night I made a run down to my garden to see what might be primed for picking.  While rummaging through an overgrown patch of swiss chard, there I found this amazing bulb of fennel.  By amazing I mean nearly the size of my head.

Fennel is a wonderful, aromatic plant that is a member of the carrot family.  In ancient times it was revered by the Greeks and Romans both for its culinary as well as medicinal properties.   All parts of fennel are edible, the fronds are also lovely and you can even freeze it if you don’t mind the loss of texture.  Young fennel bulbs are tender and delicious raw in salads and pair wonderfully with many Italian dishes.  But I had no idea what to do with this giant bulb.  It’s roots were so impressive that it took  two hands and a lot of strength for me to pull it out – fennel is actually a perennial so it grows to survive and thrive no matter what the weather.   I could not imagine eating this giant raw.  After spending some time googling around ideas, I finally came up with my own inspiration:  fennel simmered until tender with olive oil, garlic and sweet red onions, then finished with fresh picked cherry tomatoes and swiss chard.  Served over pasta and topped with fresh parmesan….wonderful!  Here are the top things I learned in this process.

  1. Cleaning fennel takes some attention.  Dirt gets into all of the crevices of the bulb.  To get the grit out, I found that washing the bulb, slicing it thin, and then running the slices through my salad spinner worked great to get it all clean.  Remember to remove the core!
  2. Fennel and swiss chard are an AMAZING combination.  The sweet, aromatic anise flavor of the fennel pairs wonderfully with the bitter greens of the swiss chard.
  3. While any fresh tomato may do, I used whole cherry tomatoes.  The effect was lovely.  Intense tomato flavor, a little “pop”.  My personal favorite for this recipe are my home-grown organic gardener’s sweetheart tomatoes (thank you Fruition Seeds!).
  4. You don’t need a recipe.  Just put it together any way and in any combination that works for you.  My main advice is to layer the flavors and the cooking, starting with meat (Italian sausage or diced pancetta work great in this recipe) and longer cooking aromatics first (the fennel, onion, and garlic) and layering in the other ingredients based on their cooking time, with tender greens like swiss chard at the very end.
  5. This tastes amazing over your favorite pasta, rice, or grains!

    The end result:  Fennel, Tomato and Swiss Chard Sauce

    The end result: Fennel, Tomato and Swiss Chard Sauce

To find sources of swiss chard, tomatoes, and fennel near you, check out our on-line directory.  Enjoy a cool rainy day of locavore cooking and eating!

Discovering Joy, Community, and a Healthier Self through Local Food

Sondra Gjersoe is one of the friendly voices you may hear when you dial our general office line.  She’s the Administrative Assistant for NOFA-NY, and when she’s not answering general inquiries, she coordinates Sponsorship and Advertising opportunities, the Locavore Challenge, the Farmers Pledge program, the Neighborhood Farm Share program and so much more!  Here’s her tale of becoming a Locavore.

About a decade ago, I had a bit of a revelation. I had reached an all-time low, the end of a long term relationship, dissatisfaction in my job, a loss of self-identity and self-worth. I would go to work, come home, shut myself off from the world and sit in front of the computer fiddling around until I was so tired I’d pass out. My sedentary lifestyle took its toll on me physically; I reached my heaviest weight ever, and began to have heart palpitations at work when I was moving quickly. This was different from the Sondra I knew I could be.  I come from a long line of mariners (ask me how to pronounce “Gjersoe” the proper way).  My Scandinavian heritage and childhood upbringing instilled in me a great love for the sea, a frolicsome friend full of joy, laughter and mirth… I go there when I’m happy and my spirit longs to be wild and free.  At that dark time in my life, just like other periods of struggle or quiet reflection, I was longing to feel grounded, longing to be reminded of the roots I had forged in my community and longing to share in the creation of new growth.  I knew I had to be willing–nay, eager–to put forth the effort to make positive changes to improve my health, and the pathway seemed to involve connecting to the earth and growing anew.

I eased into it, did some research on nutrition and started changing my diet, incorporating fresh organic foods rich in vitamins and nutrients that boosted my mental health. I began to visit local farmer’s markets and discovered a rich tapestry of life, a community coming together.

So much inspiration can come from a box of vibrantly colored "lunchbox" peppers.

So much inspiration can come from a box of vibrantly colored “lunchbox” peppers.

I would often strike up conversations with the farmers, learning more about their lives, their passion for farming. There was a sense of coming together and sharing and I found myself filled with inspiration. I started doing things that brought me joy again; cooking new dishes, sewing, yoga, and I bought myself a bike and started cycling.

SondraCycling

The weight flew off, my muscles strengthened, and the feel-good endorphins kicked in.  I was living again, laughing, appreciating the abundance around me. I realized that though the source of the change started within me, I fueled that power to change with healthy, delicious food rooted in a community both vibrant and welcoming.

Stir FrySharing recipes and ideas was important at the start of my locavore journey.  My wok became my best friend as I began to eat more healthy, so I thought I’d link you to a garlic chicken stir-fry recipe.  That said, I don’t worry too much over recipes–technique is more important than what can look like lengthy ingredient lists.  [Editor’s note: if you want more recipes and technique guidance, Serious Eats will walk you through all the ways to maximize flavor while you choose which local and organic produce and meats to use as the star players].  I prefer to play “mad scientist” with what’s available and seeing what I come up with.  It’s part of the fun of taking ownership over my healthy lifestyle.

How a Reformed Tomato Hater Preserves Tomato Bliss

BIG Brandywine!

BIG Brandywine!

When I was young I hated tomatoes.  You know the kind I am talking about.  They were packed three to a plastic tray and wrapped in cellophane.  They were pale red on the outside and almost transparent on the inside, and they were hard.  So hard if you threw one at your brother it wouldn’t break open.  It would hurt.

I remember vividly the first time I tasted a real tomato, picked fresh and sun-warmed directly off the sprawling vine that my neighbor was tending among her flowers.  It was a revelation!  A hefty classic beefsteak that, when sliced, was larger than the bread I used to make my sandwich.  It was bright red throughout, juicy and sweet and slightly acidic.  I was hooked.

From cherries to beefsteaks and from red to yellow, purple, orange, and even black, the tastes and varieties of tomatoes available at our local farm stands, farmers markets, and CSAs are astounding and delicious!  As I look at my own garden this year, I am grateful for the farmers and seed savers who have brought back my favorite heirloom varieties that seemed long gone when I was a child.  Who knew tomatoes would become one of my favorite foods?

But here is the problem.  If you are a tomato lover like me, you may have also planted many more tomatoes than you could ever eat.  Even during a harsh growing year like this one and with the late blight finally hitting my plantings, I still have more tomatoes ripening than I can reasonably consume before they go bad.  I can’t stand the thought of wasting a single tomato.  However, the thought of standing over a hot stove, canning or putting up a sauce is well, uninspiring to me!

So here is my solution – slow roasting and freezing

Take any variety and amount of tomatoes you have on hand.  Slice them in halves or quarters if need be, cherries can stay whole.   Put them in a pan, drizzle with good olive oil, add some minced garlic to taste, along with a good grind of sea salt and fresh pepper.    I wait and add herbs later.  Pop the pan in a 300 degree oven for about 2-3 hours, until you see the tomatoes caramelize.  Remove them and when they come to room temperature, pack into the container of your choice and freeze!

Some cold and blustery Friday night in February, when you are settling in for the weekend and in no mood to go out, take this out of the freezer.  It is delicious served with hot fresh pasta, or you can chop it up more finely and use it as a topping on any kind of toasted bread – it makes a great bruschetta or pizza depending on the herbs and other toppings you choose.   Now you can enjoy your fresh local tomatoes all year!

Roasted Tomatoes with EVOO and Garlic

Roasted Tomatoes with EVOO and Garlic

How My Locavore Breakfast Measures Changes in the Local Food System

I eat oatmeal almost every day, with fruit and yogurt.  Eating my breakfast on the second day of Locavore month, I had a moment of realization.  This was locally grown food, and it was not the struggle to source my oatmeal that it was on September 2nd, 2013 (and 2012 or 2011).    In years past, September meant an alternative porridge made from New York cornmeal or buckwheat groats; or cold pre-cooked wheat berries, barley or Freekeh bathed in yogurt and fruit (very cooling during a September heat wave).  Great as those breakfasts could be, I did always miss oats in September; it seemed a weird thing to give up in the spirit of going as local-foods as possible, because I knew oats were and are indeed grown in New York (I was always on the hunt for rolled NY oats in bulk, grabbing them when I could).  It’s not as though I was pining for the mangoes and bananas I ate when I lived in the tropics…So, what’s changed that’s made my breakfast more easy to source locally?  It’s not really about a shift in the amount of oats planted in New York (maybe a little shift, but not that much).  Rather, I can pinpoint two important factors, which affect every locavore in some way.

Nectarines thanks to K & S Bischoping Farm in Williamson, NY; Oats grown at Gianforte Farm in Cazenovia, NY; Yogurt cultured in my apartment in Rochester, NY, from cows raised and grazed in East Meredith, NY and bottled by First Light Creamery

Nectarines thanks to K & S Bischoping Farm in Williamson, NY; Oats grown at Gianforte Farm in Cazenovia, NY; Yogurt cultured in my apartment in Rochester, NY, from cows raised and grazed in East Meredith, NY and bottled by First Light Creamery

Factor 1.  Value-Added Production.  This is a broad group of processes and actions that turn today’s harvest into tomorrow’s shelved products.  It could be as simple as labeling and packaging a ready-to-go food, or as complex as a certified commercial scale processing of fruits into jams or milk into aged cheese.  Value-added production allows for farmers to offer more than a raw, fresh product; from the locavore’s perspective, value-added processing done by small-scale producers and artisans allows for eaters to have locally grown versions of the foods and products they regularly eat: from syrup to pancake mix, jam to bread, a lot of foods fall into the value-added product category.  These processes allow for products to be sold in a greater range of venues, from farm stands to grocery stores.  Because of value-added processing (specifically, farmers being able to roll the oats, and a local bakery packaging them for sale) I’m able to reliably find bags of organic, New York-grown oats in at least one supermarket in Rochester, NY as well as at several farmers’ markets.  My brain is happy because I’m able to reconcile my love of oats with my desire to support local organic farms; my mouth and belly definitely notice a difference in the sweet, fresh flavor of the oats.  This is not a food I just eat during locavore month (which would be something hard to source reliably or economically throughout the year).  This breakfast absolutely has a superior flavor and is now just as convenient for me to source as any alternative.

RFIT_ABCS of preserving2Behind the increased visibility and availability of many foods made with local ingredients, there is a bigger story.  Farmers choose to add value to a raw product, anticipating being able to sell it differently (at a different price, scale, venue or time of year).  Consumers pay a different price for that same amount of good produced at the farm, hence the term value-added, but it’s not necessarily easy for a small-scale producer or food artisan to make investments in the technology and marketing effort to get that product made (or simply packaged according to the end sellers’ requirements) and sold.  Last week, the USDA released its list of Value-Added Producer Grants for 2014.  I had not paid much attention to this grant in the past, but this year it really hit me because many of the farms I work with (and that NOFA-NY works with) were on the list of recipients.  The USDA funded investments for Ashlee Kleinhammer (North Country Creamery) to quickly label her yogurt containers (a major labor-saver); for hops processing for McCollum orchards (again, ensuring quality and labor efficiency) and to support marketing and processing support for many growers who want to produce and sell hard cider from their New York fruit.  This grant will boost producers across the US so they can sell more than a raw product, and put that product into markets that normally could not or would not accept a raw product.  Even without a grant, producers seek ways to add value to their raw products, giving those farmers sales opportunities beyond the growing/producing season, sometimes beyond the farmstand, and sometimes beyond a one-on-one relationship with a customer (which happens to be Factor 2 below).  They are able to use beautiful, descriptive labels to tell the story of their farm from shelves of an independent cheese shop or natural food store and reach customers who are quick to gravitate to a highly flavorful, thoughtfully crafted food or ingredient to include in their meals.

Factor 2. Direct Marketing.  Direct marketing and distribution opportunities bring farmers and their customers in direct contact, without many of the traditional buyers, brokers and sellers involved in large-scale movement of food from farm to tables.  Examples of direct marketing are Community-Supported Agriculture, farm stands (wherein the products sold at the stand are the farmer’s own), and farmers’ markets.  The direct marketing option often (not always) allows for the local eater to get to know farmers, to tell them what they’re looking for, to hear what’s going on at the farm, and put a face and a story behind the food on the table at home.  Extremely important to both producer and consumer, direct marketing ensures that the most possible money is going to the farmers because the food hasn’t been bought and re-sold by a number of middlemen.

garlic_DavidTuran_AtTheMarketThis direct from farm to consumer marketing works for farmers at a certain scale, but isn’t the only way that farmers choose to make their living (in other words, don’t read this as a directive to never buy local products sold outside of direct marketing channels).  While value-added can open up opportunities for farmers to reach consumers indirectly, direct marketing benefits farmers and consumers to similar heights; case in point: the fruit and yogurt on my oatmeal.  In my own fortunate situation of living in Finger Lakes/Western New York, there is never a week I’m without local fruit.  True, about half the year it’s apples and whatever fruits I froze or dried from the summer (I admit to eating out-of-location bananas and mangoes during the winter).  I am buying those apples from farmers during the winter, thanks to recently-established winter producers’ markets; I could go on for hours debating my favorite summer fruits, so ripe and tender because having traveled only a short distance from farm to the market, and I’m pretty sure the farmers near me used to think I was feeding a family of four on the amount I would purchase (nope, just me).  The milk that I turn into yogurt is available at farmers’ markets, too, though I have pre-paid the farmers who own the pasteurization and bottling facility (again, value-added products) for a weekly half gallon of cream-top grassfed milk along the lines of a vegetable Community Supported Agriculture share.  In short, I invest up front and hope for all to go as planned, but understand that product loss might happen and I’m not getting a refund in exchange for the fact that the farmer continues to farm.  I’m putting my grocery money directly to the farmers in these instances, receiving satisfaction and major flavor rewards.  This is not a challenge for me in the sense that I have to make myself do this.  It happens year-round, thanks to the people who recruit producers to sell directly to consumers.  Have you thanked your farmers’ market manager lately?  Put that on your to-do list (I just did).

Direct buying is an alternative grocery shopping option.  For example, I could buy yogurt under the label of Ithaca Milk Company, Maple Hill Creamery, Evans Farmhouse Creamery (also recipients of a Value-Added Producer Grant), or several other creameries that stock the shelves at stores in Rochester.  I’m fortunate that these brands were created, turning hormone-free, often grassfed milk into yogurt which I can reliably find and providing dairy farmers a way to transform their raw product for slightly longer shelf life and higher value.  Yet, I love to get my half gallon of creamy Jersey Cow milk from First Light Farm & Creamery (I’m one of the customers who “asked for it for years” thanks to regularly seeing the farmers at weekly markets) and devote part of it to yogurt and part of it to some other delicious cause (lately, that has been sherbet and ice cream).  Since I’m not allowed to keep a cow in Rochester, I’m glad that direct marketing (and in a pinch, local grocery stores partnering with farms) provides multiple chances for me to secure a half gallon of top-quality organic milk.

Farmers’ markets have rapidly increased in number, and many have increased in size/diversity of products, over the past few years.  Grants and incentives now make it possible for farmers to accept EBT (SNAP, WIC and other benefits programs) in New York, meaning that those beneficiaries can get to know farmers and flavorful foods.  CSA is an increasingly popular way for farmers to distribute their produce, with a rise in participation of local organizations and partnerships that help bridge the price for lower-income consumers.  Farmers receive their asking price, and customers enjoy quality, seasonal foods.

Yes, this whole blog entry started in a revelation that came to me over sleepy bowl of post-long-weekend breakfast porridge.  A lot has changed since my first official locavore challenge (though I’d been a local eater for years prior, my first challenge caused me to examine what more I could be doing as a locavore).  Locavores, what’s changed for you since you first discovered local eating?  Was it yesterday, last week, or last year?  Let’s all take our moments this month stop and enjoy the positive trends in our local food culture, and get out there and keep supporting the diverse and growing options for local food enjoyment!

Further reading:

Being a Locavore, because I Can’t NOT be a Locavore

Our Locavore Challenge starts tomorrow, September 1st!  We invited our Locavore Challenge intern, Tess, to write a post about what that word, “locavore,” meant to her.  Here’s her great response.

When I was asked what being a “locavore” meant to me, the first thing that came to mind was spending summer vacations at home with my mom and little sister. My mom was prepping us to be locavores without us even being aware with her close attention to (or what we thought was an obsession, at the time) what foods were in season during the summer months and beyond. Strawberries, cantaloupe and black cherries were always a part of our breakfast and mid-morning snack breaks between playing in our infamous dirt pile. Corn on the cob was a staple of our nightly dinners around the picnic table in our backyard. Eating asparagus past June was a no-no (which was fine with me, as I hadn’t developed a taste for it yet). To this day, my mom almost never buys produce out of season due to her old adage of it “just not tasting right”.fresh rasberries

Now that I am older and a little bit wiser when it comes to shopping for produce, I totally understand why my mom was so adamant about only buying produce in season. There is something about picking a strawberry fresh off the vine in the beginning of the summer that just doesn’t compare to buying them from the grocery store in the off season, after it has probably traveled thousands of miles from its original patch. Besides the great taste, the other big motivation for me to embrace my inner locavore is knowing that I am supporting local farmers and my community in more ways than one. I grew up in the country, and the thought of giving a boost to my local economy and reducing pollution in any way I can is comforting. It just makes more sense to me – we live in a world where big corporations seem to cast a looming shadow over local farms and small communities, so each time I buy something fresh from a farmer in my hometown; it really does make me feel better about myself and my community. How could it not? I realize that at this point in my life, I can’t really imagine shopping or cooking any other way when it comes to my produce.

Can you guess what month this photo was taken?  Hint: everything was harvested at the same time, in Rochester, NY.

Can you guess what month this photo was taken? Hint: everything was harvested at the same time, in Rochester, NY.

That’s why I’m excited to see how many other people get motivated to go locavore during NOFA-NY’s Locavore Challenge in September. I’m glad I got to grow up with a locavore of my own. Thanks mom!