Eat Local, Seasonal, and Fresh
Have you heard of the locavore movement? A locavore is someone who eats foods grown locally whenever possible. An increasing number of people in the Western New York area and beyond are determined to rethink how the eat, beginning with where their food comes from. Is this a trend or a lifestyle with staying power? If you trust that generations before us were on to something in eating what was available around them—in their own backyard or from their neighbor’s farm—then you’ll agree this is not a fad. It is an overdue opportunity to change our culture’s steps away from wholesome food toward convenience. Eating local, seasonal, and fresh food allows us to enjoy our area’s produce bounty when at its peak, optimizing flavor and function. It also supports our local economy by keeping dollars in our community and helping area farmers earn a living for their tireless work.
There are many simple changes you can make to become a locavore. Look for local options in the produce section of your favorite supermarket. They are often marked with special signage at Tops Friendly Markets and Wegmans. The Lexington Co-op offers a large variety of local produce, dairy, meat, and more. When possible, visit your local farmers’ market to buy the freshest goods available directly from area farmers and purveyors. You may also explore purchasing a share of produce, eggs, meat, or other goods from a farm, known as Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). While they are popular in the prime growing season, some, such as Oles Farm’s Promised Land CSA, offer shares that run through the winter months. They are available in many communities around Western New York in order to increase convenience for interested participants. Lastly, consider growing your own vegetables in a backyard garden or within a community garden space. You can plan ahead during the cold months so you’re ready by the time spring arrives. It may be as small as a couple of pots or as large as your yard allows. If you have a plentiful harvest, you can share with family or friends, or put some away for later by canning or freezing.
A simple, tasty soup, featuring just a handful of ingredients and a few steps, makes an excellent meal when the weather turns chilly. With leeks and herbs from Native Offerings and potatoes from Thorpe’s Organic Family Farm, you’re well on your way to a soup featuring locally sourced ingredients.
Creamy potato leek soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large leeks, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
2 medium potatoes (about 1/2 pound), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Optional: parsley sprigs or chives, for garnish
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.
- Add the potato and chicken stock and bring to a boil.
- Cover partially and simmer over low heat until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
- Add the cream and simmer for 10 minutes longer.
- Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, and then return it to the pan.
- Season the soup with salt and pepper; garnish with parsley or chives and serve.
Don’t neglect to include meat in your arsenal of local ingredients. Select a package of Italian sausage from the popular Painted Meadow Farm stand at the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers’ Market to make an Umbrian favorite, sausages in the skillet with grapes. While you’re there, select a basket of green grapes from Rich Erdle Farm, also available at the Lexington Co-Op, and grab a hefty bulb of garlic.
Sausages in the skillet with grapes
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s recipe
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 pounds sweet Italian sausages (about 8 links)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 ¼ pounds green grapes, picked from the stem and washed (about 3 cups)
- Pour the olive oil into the skillet, toss in the garlic cloves, and set it over low heat. When the garlic is sizzling, place the sausages in one layer, and cover the pan. Cook the sausages slowly, turning and moving them around the skillet occasionally; after 10 minutes or so, sprinkle the crushed red pepper in between the sausages. Continue low and slow cooking for 25 to 30 minutes in all, until the sausages are cooked through and nicely browned all over. Remove the pan from the burner, tilt it, and carefully spoon out excess fat.
- Set the skillet back over low heat, and scatter in the grapes. Stir them so they reach the pan’s bottom, moistening them with meat juices. Cover, and cook for 10 minutes, until the grapes begin to soften, wrinkle, and release their own juices. Remove the cover, turn the heat to high, and boil the pan juices to concentrate them to a syrupy consistency, stirring and turning the sausages and grapes frequently to glaze them.
- To serve family-style, arrange the sausages on a warm platter, topped with the grapes and pan juices. Or serve them right from the pan (cut in half, if large), spooning grapes and thickened juices over each portion.
Finally, to satisfy your sweet tooth, try a quintessential fall dessert featuring one the area’s leading fruits. According to the New York Apple Association, New York State produces an average of 25 million bushels of apples annually, making it the second highest producer in the country. Apple crisp is a delicious way to enjoy local apples as a dessert, and several varieties are available through October. Select your favorite from farms such as Dan Tower Farm and Busti Cider Mill, and you can make this in a jiffy. It will require little more than what you have on hand in your pantry and refrigerator. Tart, crunchy, and juicy apples are best for this recipe, and Gala and Empire varieties taste great when baked.
5 tart apples, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oats
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup butter, softened
- Heat oven to 375°F.
- Arrange apples in a baking pan roughly sized 8” x 8” x 2”.
- Using a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers, mix all remaining ingredients besides 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle mixture over apples.
- Cover apple mixture with thin slices of reserved butter.
- Bake until topping is golden brown and apples are tender, about 25-30 minutes.
- Serve warm. Eat as is or add whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Leftovers may be sealed and stored in the refrigerator for up to four days. I recommend using a glass baking dish with a removable cover so you can pop on the top to keep it in the refrigerator and then remove the top to reheat in the oven. When you make this dessert for your family or dinner guests and they won’t be able to resist the warm and inviting aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter. Savor the flavors of fall with this delightful treat on a cool night.
From enjoying fresh food when it is meant to be eaten to supporting our community, eating local provides us all with many benefits. Consider adapting some of these locavore lifestyle changes if you haven’t already, and make these recipes with locally sourced ingredients. I’m sure you’ll find yourself enjoying the focus on local flavor.
Originally published in Forever Young, October 2013