Eating as a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food, as much as possible) means looking ahead to prepare for the lean winter months when few fresh ingredients are available in our cool winter climate. Part of preparing for winter involves preserving and storing fall harvested foods by canning, fermenting, freezing, salting, smoking, drying and root cellaring.
However, a Pacific Northwest winter isn't a total fresh food wasteland. Besides crops that can be stored fresh, such as potatoes, apples and winter squash, there are also a few foods that reach their flavor apex during winter, especially root vegetables such as beets, parsnips, carrots, etc.
I learned about how winter can enhance flavors first hand one February when I hadn't finished cleaning up my garden in the fall. There were still some battered looking Brussels sprouts on sturdy stalks poking up through a light snow covering. I picked them as much out of curiosity as anything. By pulling off a few more outer leaves than usual from these giant sized sprouts, I ended up with some very healthy looking green globes. Steamed lightly, they turned out to be the sweetest and best Brussels sprouts I've ever eaten. I was enchanted!
Since then, I've enjoyed learning about winter vegetables and how to cook with them. One of the best resources I've found is a cookbook by local author Lane Morgan called "Winter Harvest Cookbook: How to select and prepare fresh seasonal produce all winter long."
This wonderful book was first published in 1990. For its 20th anniversary in 2010, Morgan thoroughly revised and updated it and a new edition was released. It's the kind of cookbook that's fun just to read, even if you aren't an avid cook.
Morgan, now a Bellingham resident, explains in the book's new preface that she originally wrote the book while living on a homestead farm near the Canadian border. Cooking on a woodstove, gardening and raising animals and children were part of her lifestyle at the time. Now a grandmother, she says, "I still garden year-round, but the livestock is gone along with the woodstove. I have a microwave, a food processor, and even a bread machine. What hasn't changed is my appreciation of local food and sustainable practices, and my conviction that eating with the seasons is best for our health, our palate and our planet."
Her writing and recipes reflect that appreciation and conviction. The book begins with an overview of winter ingredients, which included some new to me. Kale and kohlrabi I expected, but scorzonera and rampion were intriguing discoveries.
Morgan says, "There are no corn recipes in this book, no fresh tomatoes or sweet peppers, no green beans or eggplant, no strawberries or sugar snap peas. But implicit in the celebration of one season is the anticipation of the next. It's like a secret spice that adds flavor to what we have right now." I can relate to that. Right now while I'm still enjoying the bounty of late summer, I also give a nod to my Brussels sprouts, who will wait patiently for their first winter freeze a few months from now to give them special sweetness. And in the bed next to them, I'm already looking forward to next spring's first harvest of fresh asparagus. It's like being visited by old friends every season!
Today's recipe is reprinted by permission of the author, Lane Morgan (page 68 in "Winter Harvest Cookbook"). I chose a robust soup for our chillier fall evenings. The recipe is shown exactly as published, with notes added about how I adapted it to use all locally grown ingredients, including sources. I sauteed the beef sausage before adding the leeks and garlic. You can find the beef sausage recipe on my blog: whatcomlocavore.com
Here are Morgan's notes about this dish:
"This is Portugal's best-known soup, and it also marks one of the early uses of the potato in European cooking. It is an epitome of traditional Mediterranean homestead cooking; for most families every ingredient was produced at home. The simple vegetable backdrop showed off the flavorings of regional sausages. When times were hard and the household sausage supply was gone, families poured the meatless soup over crusty slices of bread. Vegetarians can use the same method today, increasing the garlic to compensate for the missing sausage spices. I have also seen versions with tempeh substituting for the meat. The kale is cooked only briefly so be sure and shred it into small strips. The Tuscan (aka Black Palm) Kale is a good choice here. It's part-cabbage pedigree gives the leaves a bit of extra heft, and makes it especially good in soups and stews. Other kales, winter cabbage, or collards, also work well. It's a fine use for greens that are a bit weather-beaten but still flavorful. Some recipes call for pureeing the potatoes. I prefer them simply diced, but it's a matter of taste."
3 tablespoons olive oil (I used hazelnut oil, Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1 or more cloves garlic (home garden, Lummi Island)
1 medium leek with 2 inches green, chopped (Full Bloom Farm, Lummi Island)
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced (home garden, Lummi Island)
1 linguica, chorizo or other spicy sausage, sliced (I used 1/2 pound spicy homemade ground beef sausage with beef from Second Wind Farm, Everson)
5 cups chicken or vegetables stock (homemade - Morgan provides a great vegetable stock recipe)
1 pound kale or collards (one large bunch), shredded, with tough ribs removed (home garden, Lummi Island)
salt and pepper
Heat olive oil in soup kettle, add garlic and leek, and saute gently until leek becomes transparent.
Add potatoes, sausage, and stock. Bring to boil and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add shredded kale or collards and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, depending on toughness of kale. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.
Drizzle another tablespoon of good olive oil on top before serving.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com