Eating as a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown foods, as much as possible) has led me to develop some new skills. Over the past four years I've learned to pickle vegetables, can fruits and ferment sauerkraut. I've experimented with smoking and dehydrating various foods. I've learned to buy beef in bulk and to plan for winter ingredients in the summer.
One skill I've learned wasn't as obvious, but is essential. The ability to adapt recipes with local ingredients is something I've learned gradually since I began transitioning to eat this way.
Methods for adapting recipes are as personal as your individual taste preferences, so you'll have to do some experimenting. However there are a few general guidelines I can share that might shorten your learning curve.
The first step is to see which ingredients in your recipe are available locally. Many non-citrus fruits, vegetables, herbs and meats are readily available locally and seasonally. If your recipe is one you like to enjoy year-round, you'll need to spend a little time thinking about how you can purchase the ingredients when they are in season and preserve them for use out of season.
Next, if the ingredient doesn't grow in our climate, I ask myself what it does in the recipe. What is its purpose?
Sometimes, other ingredients in the recipe serve similar functions and the ingredient can simply be omitted. Because fresh local foods are often more flavorful than their well-traveled grocery store counterparts, I've found that a lot of herbs and spices simply aren't necessary.
If the ingredient is definitely necessary to make the recipe work, I look for something local that can be substituted to accomplish the same goal. For example, lemons don't grow locally, but in most cases apple cider vinegar makes a good substitute for lemon juice. The flavor will not be the same, but the balance of sour with other tastes in the recipe will still be satisfying.
Olive oil is another ingredient that requires replacement. I initially tried butter (or ghee), but then I discovered that locally grown hazelnut oil has many of the same cooking characteristics of olive oil.
I've also learned how to substitute local honey for sugar. Use about half as much honey as you would sugar. You may also need to reduce the amount of other liquids in the recipe.
I used to wonder if I could get along without cinnamon, a spice I cooked with frequently. After some experimenting, I found that the taste of fresh mint leaves usually makes a good replacement for cinnamon. Minted apples, for instance, are as delicious to me as cinnamon apples in most dishes. Again, the flavor is not the same at all, but I find it equally enjoyable. As a result, I don't even miss cinnamon, so I don't feel deprived.
If I can't replace an ingredient satisfactorily, I start researching how far afield I'd have to go to find the ingredient. Wheat doesn't grow well here in Whatcom County, but it does just east of the mountains. I learned that Fairhaven Organic Flour Mills tries to source their grains as close to home as possible. Buying wheat flour from them is the closest thing to a local solution I've been able to find at this time.
If all else fails, I consider how important the recipe is to my cooking repertoire. Is this a dish I would really miss? If I absolutely must have the recipe in my life (such as a traditional family recipe or a particular favorite of someone in the family), I may need to make an exception for the missing ingredient and buy some produced outside of Whatcom County. My current exceptions are salt, baking powder, baking soda, chocolate and coffee.
I hope you'll try adapting your own favorite recipes. Your first few attempts may require some effort, but with practice it can be rewarding. If you have trouble finding ingredients or acceptable replacements, let me know. I enjoy trying to solve sourcing puzzles.
Following is a recipe for cheesecake that uses local paneer cheese instead of cream cheese. It also uses hazelnut flour in the crust instead of nonlocal graham crackers.
The most wonderful thing about this cheesecake is its flexibility. You can eat it as is, or put a different topping on every slice, if you like. Besides the sour cream topping suggested at the end of the recipe, you could top it with plain or sweetened fruit, berries, homemade jam, or (nonlocal) melted chocolate.
Go easy with the toppings, though. This is a very rich cheesecake!
1 1/3 cups hazelnut flour (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1/2 cup butter, melted (homemade with organic cream from Silver Springs Creamery, Lynden)
1 teaspoon honey (Guilmette's Busy Bees, Everson)
11/2 pounds paneer cheese (Appel Farms, Ferndale)
5 tablespoons honey (Guilmette's Busy Bees, Everson)
3 egg yolks (neighbor, Lummi Island)
5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make the crust, mix the hazelnut flour, melted butter and 1 teaspoon honey. Press the mixture firmly into a springform cheesecake pan or pie plate.
Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then set aside.
To make the filling, start by finely grating the paneer. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. (Note: if you have a very strong blender, such as a Vitamix, you can do all of this in the blender.)
Place the mixture in a saucepan over medium heat. Using a candy or cheese thermometer, heat the ingredients slowly to 160 degrees, stirring constantly. Watch carefully and do not boil.
When the mixture is up to temperature, remove immediately from the heat and pour into the cooled pie crust. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely. It will take at least an hour or two.
The cheesecake can be served as is, or with a topping. A mixture of local sour cream and honey to taste is perfect.
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, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore's Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day to day locavore activities, "like" Whatcom Locavore on Facebook (www.facebook.com/whatcomlocavore) and "follow" on Twitter, @WhatcomLocavore. For locavore menus, recipes, and more resources, read her blog at whatcomlocavore.com.