Writer T.S. Eliot famously stated, “April is the cruelest month,” in the opening of his opus poem “The Waste Land.” For devotees of local food, April might be cruel, but February and March can feel downright brutal, especially if you reside in one of the colder climates. Compared to the local food bounty in May through October, the winter months tend to stretch our reserves, as well as our creativity, for maintaining a strict, or even inspired, local diet. By February even the most resourceful chefs and locavores grow tired of winter staples, like root vegetables and even the ever-popular kale, and develop a hunger for something seasonal, but something delicious and stimulating as well.
Many locavores approach winter with one concept in mind—planning. As our resourceful ancestors did, dedicated local eaters stock up on all manner of seasonal fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season and preserve their flavor and nutrition by canning, freezing, dehydrating, or even pickling. This takes work and a certain amount of preparation as well as a penchant for taking the long view. Another option to stay vital and engaged with what winter has to offer is to sign up for a winter CSA (community supported agriculture). This is a financial agreement you make with a local farm, or distributor, to supply you with a share of cultivated food, such as fruits, vegetables, or even meat, throughout the winter. Many CSA’s offer pick-up locations, and some will even ship your share directly to your home, which provides a welcome bounty at your door every few weeks. There are no shortage of CSA options, whether in winter or even year round, but this is an arrangement you need to prepare for and is not always something you can begin in mid-winter.
For those of you who are not planners at heart, but still desire some seasonal treasures, even in the heart of winter, there is still hope. Many regional farmers markets hold indoor winter markets, supplying the devoted with all manner of potatoes, cold-stored apples and pears, and various cheeses and meats. If you dig even deeper, you can find some regional treasures in these markets, as well as some natural foods and gourmet shops, and uncover some rarified and little-known delicacies of the season.
Here are four winter edibles that are worth seeking out in the four main regions of the United States.
Persimmons trace their origins to Asia, but have become somewhat ubiquitous throughout New England and much of the Mid-Atlantic region. Their orange-red, globe-like appearance is striking. In the Northeast, the fuyus and hachiyas are probably the two most common varieties grown and sold. Hachiyas, with their soft, jelly-like texture, are like a ready-made pudding. You can sprinkle them with a bit of raw honey and simply enjoy with a spoon. The fuyus have a bit more structure to them and are good for slicing, as well as baking when ripe. Both varieties are rich in vitamin C and high in antioxidants. Here are some alluring persimmon recipe ideas.
The honey tangerine reveals itself with its enticing name. This Florida native, also known as the Murcott orange, is small in stature but enormously fragrant, especially once peeled. While it doesn’t actually taste like honey, it is marked by its extremely, pleasant sweetness—much like a Clementine, just a whole lot sweeter. While you can cook with honey tangerines, they tend to have a great deal of seeds, and are better enjoyed by simply peeling and eating.
The cactus pear, or more playfully known as the prickly pear, is a culinary challenge worth the attempt. These neon-colored fruit grow on the end of the Nopales cactus, found throughout the deserts of the southwest. The fruit holds a bounty of both proven and unproven health benefits and makes a vital and vibrant juice that can be added to everything from smoothies to cocktails. If harvested right from the cactus, the pear lives up to its name with countless thorns sticking out of the fruit’s skin. However these fruits can be widely purchased from local farmer’s markets and even Mexican markets throughout the region.
Oysters thrive in colder weather, as well as in colder waters, and winter is an ideal time to gather oysters in their prime. The Northwest has long been regarded as a destination for oysters, holding some of the best sustainable oyster farms in the country, as well as remarkable varieties like the Kumamoto and the tiny, but incredibly flavorful, Olympia. Oysters are a plentiful, seasonal, nutritious, and sustainable treat that is worth seeking out. They are best served raw and cold.
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies