Spring will officially begin tomorrow, and with it comes the tradition of spring cleaning. People sort through attics, air out basements, sweep down those high cobwebs, and maybe even tackle cleaning those narrow blinds.
People may also interpret the tradition to include a physical cleanse, eating foods and drinking natural teas known for helping release toxins from the body. A favorite tonic food is stinging nettles, and those have been ready for wildcrafting from the woods for at least a couple of weeks now. It won't be long before they bloom and will no longer be the tasty spring morsels they are right now.
For a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible), spring is a time to go through the pantry, dig into the deep recesses of the freezer, and clear out the last jars and packages of last year's food. It's also time to begin planning for next winter.
What? Planning for the winter in the spring? Does it sound a little perverse for a Northwesterner, who should be totally captivated by the sunnier spring weather, to already be thinking about next winter?
Yes. When you focus on eating locally grown food, you have to take into account the so-called winter "hunger gap." The phrase refers to the winter months when very little food is growing in the fields or garden to be harvested for eating fresh. The best time to plan for the "hunger gap" is before spring planting begins.
I start with the winter plan I wrote up last year, and evaluate how it worked out. Then I tweak the plan as necessary.
For example, last year I bought 40 pounds of organic Roma tomatoes to can during their peak season for use during the rest of the year. I began talking with the farmers about them last May to ensure they would have a chance to include my order in their planting plans. We chatted about the tomatoes occasionally over the next few months to stay in touch about how the harvest was shaping up. It turned out to be a great year, and every single tomato in the order was perfect and full of flavor.
That was the good news. The bad news was I just opened the last jar of those amazing tomatoes in my pantry last week. No more farm-grown tomatoes until they come into season again later this summer - months from now. Bah!
So, as I develop plans for next winter's food supply, I made a note to order 20 extra pounds of tomatoes this year. That should be enough to last from this summer to the next at the rate our family eats them.
I'm also considering getting those extra 20 pounds in a different variety - perhaps some San Marzano tomatoes. We like the sauce varieties because they hold up well to canning, and have a rich texture and taste. I can them whole, which is quick and easy, and then we make them into sauces, salsa, soups, chili, etc., as we need them.
I also made a note to talk to the farmers even earlier this year. May was a little late for their planning purposes.
In the spring, besides looking to see which of our favorite foods is in short supply, I also do an informal inventory of what's left of last year's food. I want to make sure I get it used soon, so there will be enough space for this summer's fresh bounty. That's especially important in the freezer, where space is tightly limited. We usually buy a quarter of beef in February or March, so the freezer is as empty as it gets just before then.
This year, I found a large bag of peas - harvested at a u-pick in 2011. Hmm. Those got pulled out immediately, of course. The quality still looked surprisingly good, so I used them to make today's recipe (below).
Because the peas were over a year old, I decided not to serve them as a side dish on their own. Instead, I chose to mix them with other ingredients to make spaetzle. Spaetzle is a dish with German origins. Some call them dumplings, while others consider them a form of pasta.
You can serve spaetzle as you would any other pasta or dumplings - with your favorite pasta sauce, mixed with steamed or sautéed vegetables, in soups, etc. Spaetzle are fun to make and these were hearty and delicious.
2 cups frozen peas (Half Acre Farm, Ferndale)
4 eggs (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
1/2 cup water or broth
1 tablespoon fresh oregano (home garden, Lummi Island)
2-inch piece of smoked cayenne pepper, minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shallots, coarsely chopped (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1/2 cup hazelnut oil (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
2 cups flour (Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill, Burlington)
Strainer or colander with 1/4-inch holes
Put a large pot of water on over high heat to bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, put peas in a blender. (They don't have to be thawed.) Add eggs, water, oregano, smoked cayenne pepper, salt, chopped shallots and hazelnut oil. Puree until fairly smooth.
Pour pea mixture into a mixing bowl and slowly add 1 cup flour. Stir until well mixed, then add 1/4 cup of flour at a time, beating each in before adding the next. Keep adding flour just until the texture is thick enough that it doesn't flow easily through the holes in the strainer or colander.
When the water is at a full rolling boil, use a rubber spatula to scoop up small amounts of the pea dough, hold the strainer or colander over the boiling water, and push the dough through the holes. The dough should naturally break into pieces about an inch long or so.
When the pieces of dough float on the top of the boiling water in a single layer of pieces, stop and cook until pieces no longer will stick together easily, about 3 minutes. Use a strainer to remove them from the water and drain. Push another batch of spaetzle into the boiling water and repeat until all of the dough is cooked.
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
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham; bellinghamcountrygardens.com
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.