For those who regularly shop the local farmers’ market, the last markets of the season serve up bittersweet emotions. On one hand, the amazing abundance of the fall harvest packs the stalls, from apples to acorn squash. Yet there’s also this rampant feeling of sad emptiness akin to the emotive last day of summer camp. We realistically know the growing season, at least for most parts of the country, is quickly heading to the seasonal end and our days of fresh local bounty sit numbered.
Or do they? With a little strategic planning and stock-up shopping at the final farmers’ markets, you can create your own mini market at home, continuing to savor those local flavors through the dead of winter.
Just ask Cindy Torres, manager of the Longmont Farmers’ Market outside Boulder, Colorado. Torres passionately works toward helping people, particularly county commissioners, make the connection between a healthy local food system and healthy economic development. She co-founded the Boulder County Food and Agriculture Policy Council and serves as a Food and Society Policy Fellow.
“With a little bit of planning and preparation, we can readily eat local till the spring markets start up again,” explains Torres. Here are her favorite five tips:
1. Identify Your Needs
A simple but important first step, think about what it is you like to eat and use the most of and prioritize stocking up on those items. “There’s no point in buying something and never eating it,” Torres adds. Think potatoes, for example, as these are a basic staple in most family’s kitchen and easily store into the winter.
2. Assess Your Storage
“Take a look at what type of storage you have available at home since this will determine what and how much you should buy,” advises Torres. A basic dark basement that can keep relatively dry can serve as ideal storage for root crops through the spring. Storing potatoes in double brown grocery bags works well.
3. Think Dehydration
Limited on storage space? Try dehydrating as a space efficient food preservation technique. “Dehydrating also works great for stocking up on herbs,” adds Torres.
4. Gather Farmer Advice
“Ask the farmers at your market what varietals work best for storage,” Torres recommends. “Some tomatoes, for example, are better for canning while others are meant to be eaten fresh.”
5. Cook Up Winter Creativity
After you squirrel away your winter booty, use the slower winter months to experiment with new ways to prepare and use your veggies. “It’s a mistake to stick to just the traditional way of preparing something,” advises Torres. “Experiment with a new twist on an old favorite. For example, try pureeing vegetables such as cauliflower or turnips for a creamy soup base.
“More than just food on your plate, eating local year round connects you directly to the economic health of your community,” sums up Torres. “Supporting local agriculture goes beyond just food, it helps increase social justice by creating a food system that is fair and accessible to all.”
That community spirit thrives at the Longmont Farmers’ Market. “We’re very fortunate to have Deb Taylor, locally known as “Chef Deb,” volunteer to do cooking demonstrations, demos and samples to help our market community discover new ideas for eating locall,” adds Torres. Read more from Chef Deb on her blog at www.TheTastyBits.blogspot.com
Here’s one of Chef Deb’s seasonal favorite recipes: Butternut Squash and Fennel Gratin:
Recipe: Butternut Squash and Fennel Gratin
“The minute we feel the first chill in the air we immediately begin to think in terms of fall foods: Simmering soups and stews, slow braised meats and vegetables, breads and muffins made with apples, pumpkins, cinnamon and cloves,” Chef Deb explains. “In France, simple ingredients cooked this way are called “gratins”, not to be confused with the cheese laden, American version of ‘au gratin.’ The beauty of this recipe is you could easily layer
this with sautéed greens, or add fresh lasagna noodles in the layers, some fried sage leaves, and use local goat cheese on top, all baked and bubbly. Pure autumn nirvana.”
4 as a Main course
6-8 as a side dish
2-2 1/2 pounds Butternut Squash, peeled*, seeded**, sliced thinly
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 small bulbs fennel, cored, stalks removed, thinly sliced (save the fennel fronds)
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic
1 pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
1/2-cup half and half
1/2-cup heavy cream
3-4 ounces grated hard local cheese (or gruyere, parmesan, pecorino)
Sea or kosher salt
Fresh Ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350° Butter or oil a 9 x 13 inch casserole pan.
Place a medium sized skillet over medium-low heat, next add olive oil and sweat (meaning lower heat and no color on your vegetables, you just want them to release their natural juices) the fennel and onions until both are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Next add nutmeg, cream, half and half, 2 teaspoons sea salt and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.
Chop a few tablespoons of the fennel fronds.
Place half of butternut squash in the bottom of the casserole; top with half the fennel/onion mixture, some fennel fronds, and lightly salt and pepper. Repeat, ending with all the cream and fronds. Salt and pepper again. The cream will not cover all the squash, but it will bubble up while it cooks.
Cover casserole with foil and place on a sheet pat in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, top with grated cheese and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, before eating. Enjoy with a crisp green salad topped with toasted seeds and light vinaigrette.
*Squash peels easier with a swivel “y” peeler.
**Seeds can be roasted too: toss seeds with olive oil, salt and pepper and place them on a small pan. Roast in the over (while gratin is baking) for 7-10 minutes, or until they begin to be fragrant, and turn light to golden brown. Taste, and add more salt if needed. These can be used in a salad accompanying the Butternut Squash and Fennel Gratin.
Photo credit: John Ivanko