Thursday, November 20, 2014

Winter is Here!

by Andrea Yoder
Winter sets in to the valley surrounding Harmony Valley Farm
The onset of winter came a bit early this year and I must say I’m still adjusting to this change of season. Before the cold set in, we scrambled to harvest what we could and managed to bring in tons of root vegetables (literally), as well as the last of our greens. We stretched the greens season as far as we could and the collards and baby bok choi in this week’s box will be the last of the fresh greens. It’s official…we have transitioned to our winter diet.

When choosing to support local food systems and eat locally, by default you also choose to eat seasonally. With four distinct seasons to eat through, seasonal eating in the Midwest keeps things interesting and can be a lot of fun. As the seasons change, our bodies crave the foods it needs to nourish it at that time of year. On the flip side, nature provides us with what we need at that time as well. In the spring we can’t get enough of the early season fresh greens and other light, cleansing foods to bring our bodies out of winter mode. During the summer we eat light, refreshing foods to cool our bodies...cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, etc. Fall is the time of bounty when summer and winter vegetables collide and we have a window of time when both summer and winter crops are available. Peppers make it into dishes alongside winter squash. Greens that were once topped with summer veggies are now served with apples and pears. Finally, winter sets in and we transition completely to a diet based on storage crops. We work very hard to grow and harvest winter squash, cabbage, root vegetables, onions, garlic, and other crops to put into storage. These foods are meant to be stored and will last throughout the winter. They are rich in nutrients and will nourish us during a time when we aren’t able to harvest vegetables from our fields. These foods, along with anything that was preserved during the summer, frozen meat, dried beans, etc will sustain us until spring breaks through. Each season brings its own set of ingredients and an abundance of opportunities to explore endless ways to prepare them.

Storage vegetables offer seasonal cooking options through the winter
For those who may not have as much experience with seasonal cooking & eating during the winter, a box of storage vegetables might be a bit intimidating. “What am I supposed to do with all of this food? I’ll never be able to eat all of this!” Don’t worry…you’ll be able to eat it all, but you aren’t supposed to eat it all in one week. Most of the items in your box this week and the ones we’ll be delivering in December and January are meant to be stored and eaten over time. If stored properly, you should be able to get the full value out of the vegetables in your share. Refer to the storage tips in the back of your CSA calendar, as well as the information we include in our weekly newsletters, to help you determine how to store each vegetable.

“How will I prepare all of these vegetables?” First of all, don’t ever let a vegetable intimidate you…it’s just a vegetable! Most storage vegetables can be cooked in a variety of ways and in today’s world of technology there are endless resources to guide you along the way. If you’re worried about getting bored with eating roots, cabbages, squash and sweet potatoes for the next several months, I would encourage you to approach this time of year with a different set of eyes. People all around the world eat some of the same vegetables we’re eating. Take a little time and look to some other cultures for recipe ideas to keep cooking interesting and fun. For example, there are some great curry dishes that include squash, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables. Stir-fry is a dish that can be made any time of year based on the vegetables you have available. Choose your favorite stir-fry sauce and meat if you wish. Stir-fry carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, beauty heart radishes, cabbage and even turnips. Put the veggies, meat and sauce together and you have dinner!

Roasted root vegetables, soups, stews and gratins are also warm favorites for this time of year. You can keep these dishes varied and exciting by experimenting with different spice combinations and different ingredients as garnishes. For example, treat yourself to a nice bottle of flavored nut oil, such as hazelnut or walnut. Add just a drizzle to a bowl of butternut squash soup or roasted root vegetables to add something a little different. Aged cheeses, toasted nuts and seeds, flavored vinegar, dried mushrooms, dried fruit and dried chiles are just a few things you can experiment with as garnishes to finish a dish and add an element of interest.

Finally, if you get stuck and can’t think of anything to make for dinner, use your resources. Fairshare CSA coalition’s cookbook,  Farm-Fresh and Fast is a great resource to guide you through a Midwestern winter. Don’t forget about Local Thyme, an online menu planning service for CSA. As a Harmony Valley Farm CSA member, you have free access to the Local Thyme website. You can search for recipes, get further information about specific vegetables and create your own menu plan with a shopping list. There is more information about this resource in this week’s “What’s In the Box” email. Finally, use your community. There are other people in your neighborhood who may have some of the same vegetables in their refrigerator as well. Have a potluck and inspire each other! Every December there is a group of Madison CSA members that get together to celebrate root vegetables with their annual Root Party. It’s a lot of fun, the food is always great, and it gives you ideas of other ways to use your vegetables.Our online recipe database can give you ideas for using some of those root veggies lurking in the back of your refrigerator.

We are grateful for the opportunity to have grown vegetables for you this year. We hope your Thanksgiving tables reflect the bounty of our fall harvest next week and your winter is full of nourishing, warm meals to share with family and friends.

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