Not Your Grandma's Pantry
Autumn is officially here, which in my life means two things: 1) my work schedule just became insanely hectic, and 2) every available space in my apartment is filling up with preserved foods.
But before I share some things about my locavore’s pantry, a few words about why I’ve been a.w.o.l. from posts for a while. My cat GT, beloved companion for a decade and a half, passed away a few weeks ago. Her absence hit me hard, and still does.
However, there is a new feline companion in my home and we are becoming fast friends. Introducing Ella, as in Fitzgerald, because she has a big voice:
Fall is when my teaching schedule kicks in to overdrive. It is also when my other life resumes, which this year includes rehearsal directing Nutcracker for Dances Patrelle and choreographing a contemporary version of Petrouchka for Adelphi University. On top of that, I just stepped in as Gardening Program Coordinator for the New York Botanical Garden’s Continuing Education department. Hectic, like I said, but things I care about and love doing, so I’m not complaining.
In the midst of all that, this is the height of the food preservation season. Some of the summer crops are still coming in (eggplant, peppers, etc.) but so are the first fall crops. I’ve been lucky enough to find quite a bountiful supply of wild edible mushrooms this month to add to the abundance. This is no time for an overbooked urban locavore to ignore the harvest. So I’ve been sneaking in canning, drying, lacto-fermenting, and freezing whenever I have the time and energy.
It’s actually much easier than it sounds. I’m not talking about all burners going on the stove and a vat of tomatoes bubbling while I sweat and stir. I’m talking about a jar or two here, a little chopping there, and bit by little bit it is adding up to a sizeable winter larder.
The 21st century reasons for preserving food in New York City are not what they would have been on a rural farm a hundred years ago. Unless the world really falls apart, I’m not in danger of starvation. In the city, I’m surrounded by food options: restaurants, delis, corner vendors, take out, delivery. But most of the food available from those places travels thousands of miles and therefore carries a huge environmental impact. It also isn’t as good as what I can make from fresh, seasonal ingredients, and it doesn’t support the small farmers in my community.
Could I survive on a locavore’s diet in NYC without doing any food preservation? Sure. There are farmers’ markets open year-round here, and some CSA’s offer winter shares. I’d have all the animal products including dairy and eggs that I could want.
But the variety of other foods would be frightfully limited: root vegetables, a few tough greens like cabbage; winter squash, and apples. Food preservation means that I can have some blueberries in my yogurt in January, summer’s okra for winter’s gumbo, etc. Does this contradict the idea of eating seasonally? Not at all, because those blueberries and okra pods were harvested locally when they were in season and at their peak. That is a whole different story, environmentally, gastronomically, and nutritionally, from buying a pallid tomato from another continent during the cold months.
So my pantry is filling up, my work life is overbooked, Ella is purring loudly by my side, and the abundant fall harvests are still coming in from the garden, the field, the farmers’ markets, and my CSA.This past week my mom was visiting from California and I put her to work on some Romano beans:
Two bits of news from the local foods community: Just Food is offering workshops on how to start a CSA in your neighborhood. You can find out more here.
And next week is Eat Drink Local Week. Restaurants in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens will be featuring local ingredients on their menus from 9/27-10/4. You can find out which restaurants are participating here.
I wish you a gorgeous end of September ’09.
Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith