Monday, March 7, 2011

The Road Is Paved...


As I am typing these words, it is snowing outside. It's hard to believe that we are two weeks away from the official start of Spring. Yet, deep inside I am smiling: all is well, more snow is expected, meaning that my yearly snow-dump-sometime-around-my-birthday is back, after a two-year absence. I was practically holding my breath, crossing my fingers and toes that the world had not gone so completely askew that I would have to do without my birthday snowstorm. I'll take any sign that Mother Nature is still following her course. Even a few flakes.

March has definitely come in roaring like a lion, what with all the unrest and revolutions in the Middle East. I feel kind of silly writing about food and snow, whilst ignoring the turmoil. However, I will mention the subject because some of you must have heard how the events in Libya may affect future prices of food. It is the sad reality that our modern dependence on imported produce renders our food subject to price hikes due to the cost of fuel. The price of basic foods has already been steadily increasing over the past few years, because of disastrous crops; weather woes; financial meltdowns; and so many other events that are seemingly beyond our control.

Like large farms switching from food to cash crops for ethanol. I don't want to go into a political rant, but it makes my blood boil to think that perfectly good land is being used to produce car fuel instead of feeding living beings. Which is why I cannot stop stressing the importance of supporting small farmers, by buying local produce at farmers' markets (or even at the supermarket), through a CSA partnership, or through the purchase of fairly traded products. By supporting them, we give them the means to continue tending to the land.

Things to look for in March:
Apples
Local apples are usually available until early April, but I find that their quality starts to wane before then. Of course, my opinion is based on the fact that I prefer super crisp apples. It's a good time to stock up on apple sauce and other apple-y before they are gone for good. Chunks of peeled and cored apples can be frozen for smoothies and pies.

Beets, Endives, and other winter stalwarts
It never ceases to amaze me how farmers manage to produce such a beautiful array of vegetables that keep throughout the winter. Although, I know that many amongst us are starting to get antsy in anticipation of spring vegetables, let's sit still for a minute and think about this awesome notion: if we all made an effort, tweaked our eating habits a bit, we would be able to eat abundantly, and quite well, pretty much with nothing but local vegetables. (Fruits are another issue altogether...) Beets; rutabaga; turnips; onions; carrots; potatoes; endives will be around for a while yet, at least until the first outdoor greens arrives.

Maple Syrup
This delight is contingent on the spring thaw, so whether or not we will see the new harvest in March will depend on Mother Nature. However, if you feel up to dabbling in a little syrup making, you can probably start tapping your trees right away, up until the buds break. 
According to Euell Gibbons, many trees other than the sugar maple can be tapped to produce a delightful syrup. Birch syrup is actually quite lovely, if difficult to find. You will probably have to try your hand at sap collecting if you want to try it. By the way, Mr Gibbons' book Stalking the Wild Asparagus is an absolute must-have if you are at all interested in foraging for wild foods: he only writes about what is tasty, not merely edible, and gives recipes and tips on how to eat your wild crops. While the book contains precise drawings, you will also need a photographic guide to find your way around, Peterson Field Guides and the Audubon Society's guides are highly recommended.

Wild Treats
It doesn't quite feel like it where I live, but it is just about open season for foraging. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where the snow and ground has thawed -ambient temperatures aside- you can start digging for dandelion greens. You read right: dig for greens! I love dandelions, but I know that many do not like its bitterness. However, the immature leaf buds are a tasty, if somewhat messy, treat that can be harvested as soon as the ground has thawed out enough to root around in. Just look for bare spots in the lawn (left-over leaves from last year might still be hanging about), and start digging! The gnarly knot of unopened leaves is as mild as dandelions will ever get, and can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked in a bit of butter.
I obviously can't see through the snow, but I know that my stand of wild garlic is inching its way up.  Other wild foods are also making their move towards the light, so keep your eyes peeled: so many tasty bites are pushing their way up through the slush and mud, you just need to be around to harvest them.
One last word on foraging: don't think that you need to go to the countryside or even in the woods to reap a bushel of wilderness. Lots of wild things can be had even in cities, 'wild' simply refers to plants that have escaped cultivation.

Dates of Note
March 8 is International Women's Day, but also happens to be Mardi Gras this year. Why not put on a Fat Tuesday Feast for the women in your life this Tuesday?
March 24 is David Suzuki's 75th birthday! Surely a locally sourced toast for this eco-warrior par excellence is in order.
March 26 marks the fourth year of Earth Hour. Even though turning off the lights for one hour is a purely symbolic gesture, it is still a powerful gesture. While the Canadian government's lack of environmental action is despairing, my (and many other) local government has been a yearly participant in Earth Hour. These same local governments have also taken it upon themselves to green up their policies and practices. Perhaps yours will too.



Bon app'!




3 comments:

  1. I totally agree with the frustrations you voice here. We have to do what we can to support locally grown. Relying on foreign grown produce is just ridiculous!

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  2. Appreciate the information and we look forward to checking out Eugell Gibbon's foraging books. We love to forage and put up the bounty. We did a bit of foraging last year and we made our own maple syrup for the first time. We hope to tap our trees again this year when we return from Florida (fingers crossed we won't be too late). Can you recommend any other good foraging books? Thanks.

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  3. To the Turnbulls: You know, I've been looking for a good foraging book for a long time, and aside from Gibbon's book, I have yet to find a good book for North American wild foods. There are a few very good (and necessary) guides, but cookery books are rare: I think it might have to do with the unfortunate fact that North Americans are not big foraging enthusiasts.
    All that said, Rodale Books is slated to publish a book this summer called Hunt, Gather, Cook. Rodale is a reliable publisher of all things organic, so it might be worth taking a look at the book. Also, I find that many European cook books have a chapter on wild foods, The River Cottage Cookbook is one such example.
    If I ever find more books, I'll make sure to post about them.

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