It's winter, and there's not much sun, so you'd think nothing is growing locally — but you'd be wrong. Lots of produce grows all winter, and local farmers, markets and chefs stand ready to supply it and keep you healthy.
Whether grown in greenhouses, the open air or (with root veggies) underground, a lot of produce does well in our usually mild winters. So look for nutrient-rich leafy greens, winter squash and the subterranean stuff, such as carrots, beets and potatoes.
These are not "lite" veggies but come packed with a broad range of minerals. Leafy greens, with kale topping the list, love cool weather and come crammed with beta carotene, potassium, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin and calcium. Squash have lots of fiber, vitamins C and B2 and potassium.
Ashland Food Co-op will stock lots of organic, local, squash, cabbage, potatoes (from the Klamath Basin), kale and other greens, says outreach director Annie Hoy, adding that "the key to eating local in the winter is preserving local harvest in the fall, with tomatoes and peaches topping the list."
With an increased emphasis on buying local (to help local farmers prosper and reduce our carbon impact from transporting food long distances), you'll see more restaurants making note of the fact they are using local produce and are members of The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy (THRIVE).
One of them, Craig Fleischman, sous chef of Peerless Restaurant in Ashland, not only cooks with local produce as much as possible, he will be teaching a class on great dishes with local winter vegetables early next year at the Co-op (consult the Co-op's online class schedule for January-February by going to www.ashlandfood.coop/events/events.php).
Some of Fleischman's favorites include Ginger-Butternut Squash Soup, Sweet Parsnip Purée and Sautéed Kale.
For the soup, he says, just sauté onion, add a tablespoon or two of diced ginger, a little cinnamon and nutmeg, then peel and de-seed one butternut squash, cube it, sauté with the other ingredients and add a little coconut milk, to cover. Cook till tender. Puree in a food processor and season.
The Sweet Parsnip Purée is made like mashed potatoes. Peel and boil some parsnips, add cream and butter.
For kale, sauté it with minced garlic, salt and pepper, then de-glaze with a little white wine (splash it in when cooking is almost done).
For recipes in this and other styles, Fleischman recommends the book "Culinary Artistry," by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. He also advises talking to the Co-op produce people, who are always ready to share lots of good information.
Suzanne Fry of Fry Family Farm in Talent, planned to supply the Co-op and other markets with a steady stream of salad mix, winter squash, chard, kale and potatoes all winter.
Unusually hard, prolonged freezes in December killed many of the crops the Fry family planned to sell, but they have still have greenhouse crops available, plus vegetables harvested in the fall for storage.
"Winter squash has a lot of good, complex carbohydrates we need in winter months, and they store well for long periods in cool rooms," says Fry.
Preparing squash is easy, Fry notes. Cut it in half and bake at 350 degrees, till done (with a little water in the hollow), then add salt, pepper and butter, to taste, and eat. The big ones go in soups or add them to other veggies in a stir-fry. You can also cut it up and add it — with onions, mushrooms and herbs — to risotto dishes.
Another way to enjoy a wider array of veggies in winter is to plant a garden yourself, and that's something to start thinking about in winter.
"A garden is something you have to do yourself," says Hoy. "You plant it not just for the summer. You put produce away in fall and, by spring, when it's gone, the first (warm-season) produce is coming in."