Gleason column: Eating through the seasons in Colorado
One reason to love living in Colorado: seasons. We have four of them. You can’t really confuse one with another. They lend a rhythm to the year, our jobs, our moods. They are distinct, extreme, relentless.
Eating locally requires eating foods in their season, and adds variety and flavor to life. The website Lifehacker sums up well the advantages of eating seasonally. “The same reasons that keep the cost of seasonal food down also drive its quality up: The food is grown closer to you so it doesn’t spoil on its trip, it’s harvested at the peak of its season…and sold during its season, before it spoils. Ideally, this means you’re getting fruits and vegetables that haven’t had time to lose their flavor or their health benefits by sitting in a shipping container for a trip across the ocean.”
Seasons pose a special challenge — and reward — for anyone aspiring to eat locally.
In the summer months, greens from a kitchen garden, produce from the almost daily summer parade of farmers markets, and fruits and vegetables from roadside stands and pickup trucks abound.
Autumn arrives, leaves fall, the festive landscape dims to 50 shades of gray, snow flies.
How to eat locally in winter?
Our ancestors survived without grapes from Chile, mangoes from Mexico, or refrigeration. Not long ago, a Florida orange in your Christmas stocking was a special treat.
The book “Plenty” documents the struggles and victories of a couple scrupulously adhering to the 100-mile diet for a year in the Pacific Northwest. I recommend reading it.
Some foods store well. Winter squash, beets, carrots and potatoes filled the old root cellars and made hearty winter stews.
Some apple varieties are keepers. Ed knows his golden delicious will last in the refrigerator until February, and the Arkansas black even longer.
Dried Italian plums, apricots and apples line the pantry shelves and tide us through the winter. I mix them with nuts and seeds for snacks and sprinkle them on cereal for breakfast.
Jams and preserves capture the wild sweetness of summer, and let me pair fruits in daring combinations like cherry/rhubarb and apricot/yellow plum.
And then there’s a freezer full of steer or lamb.
If my garden and our two-acre farm of fruit trees, grape vines and perennial asparagus and rhubarb have taught me anything, it’s how much food a little land can produce.
Here’s one of my go-to winter dishes. Pasta with salmon and pesto is fast and easy and gourmet.
I start with Pappardelle’s pasta, the best choice for flavor and keeping it local. The company started 30 years ago in Denver with hand-rolled, small-batch pastas in flavors nobody this side of Italy had ever before considered. The company has grown, mechanized, and changed hands, but still calls Denver home. Pappardelle’s forgoes advertising, instead focusing on farmers markets and specialty stores. It’s not cheap, but the flavor is worth it.
In the summertime, when the chance of frost is past, I plant basil among the tomatoes in my garden. The aroma is divine when I brush past them. I pinch off leaves and buds all summer to keep the plant growing, and toss them into green salads, caprese and pasta.
When summer ends, I uproot the plants. The leaves go in the Ninja blender with local garlic, California olive oil, salt and walnuts grown right here on Colby Farm. I scoop the paste into jars and squirrel them away in the freezer. Pesto might be my favorite way to recapture the magic of the garden.
My friend and co-worker Susan has a side business. She and her husband buy quantities of salmon, marinade it in secret sauce and finish it in their own smokehouse. Susan’s smoked salmon is to die for.
The salmon may not have local origins, but it’s processed by hand here, and I am happy to give my business to a neighbor. An important piece of the local formula is to keep our money circulating locally, empowering communities.
Pappardelle’s pasta tossed with my pesto and Susan’s smoked salmon is a classic, mouthwatering combo, guaranteed to take the chill off a winter’s night.
I remember winter from the verge of spring. The world greens around us, and soon summer will thrust forth her abundance. I anticipate sturdy spears of asparagus standing erect, appearing suddenly as if by a miracle.
This will be my last column on local food in these pages. It seems, gentle reader, we did not meet nor rage enough online. It’s a tough business.
Mark Bittman wrote a book I would have reviewed here eventually, had the column continued forever.
In “Food Matters,” Bittman points out that “by simply changing what we eat we can have an immediate impact on our own health and a very real effect on global warming — and the environment, and animal cruelty, and food prices.”
We all eat every day, 300 million Americans, 7 billion humans. Sourcing food locally sends roots and tendrils into so many areas of endeavor and concern: economy, environment, energy, climate, health, personal and community empowerment.
You have a choice, and you have real power.
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