Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us all enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are Jessica’s seven best bets for the fall and winter season. You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at www.localfoodswheel.com
Cured Meats: On many traditional family farms, one of the last tasks of the harvest season was to slaughter a fattened hog and cure the meat to add to the family’s winter larder. Hams, bacon, trotters (feet), hocks, and a wide variety of sausages would be salted, smoked, and sometimes fermented before being stored for the winter. They would be brought into the kitchen judiciously as needed, to be added to other dishes or enjoyed on their own. Even if it’s hard to keep this tradition in the city, we are lucky to be able to enjoy many varieties of cured meats from such local, artisanal producers as Fatted Calf and Boccalone.
Brussels Sprouts: Maligned by some, these little treasures are a locavore’s delight when they can be found at our winter farmers markets. Brussels sprouts are sweeter after a frost, so they make an ideal winter treat. And by all means, don’t be discouraged by the little brown spots usually found on local organic sprouts, just lovingly peel off the outer layer to get to the less-blemished interior. I like to saute them in a little butter or olive oil before adding some chicken broth to the pan, lidding it, and letting them steam until just tender.
Beets: Wonderful any time of year, beets are never more welcome than in the drizzly chill of our Bay Area winters. My mother used to steam beets and slather them in butter with a sprinkling of salt and insist there was nothing better, comparing them to candy. I prefer to roast them in olive oil, often with other winter root vegetables. And I also make sure winter doesn’t go by without at least one pot of hot beet borscht with cabbage, carrots, and a generous pinch of caraway seeds. It’s a great vegetarian dish, but even better when made with a longsimmered beef-bone broth. Serve it with a big dollop of creme fraiche, a slice of dark rye bread, and plenty of butter.
Satsumas: This is the iconic fruit of the Bay Area rainy season, a golden supplement to the diminished sunshine. Just as sweet and juicy as the glamorous fruits of summer, the seedless and easy-to-peel satsumas give me extra incentive to brave a downpour to get to the farmers market. I love to section them and add them to a salad of little gem lettuces and blue cheese. But really, they’re perfect all by themselves. All you need to do is put them in a bowl, admire them often, and when you have a minute, sit down and peel and eat one after another until you feel refreshed and ready to return to whatever task you were doing.
Pickled Vegetables: The past decade has seen a wonderful renaissance in pickling vegetables, and a revival in the nearly lost art of lactofermentation. Perhaps the ultimate pickled vegetable, sauerkraut cured in salt (without vinegar) is full of beneficial bacteria, vitamin C, and lots of active enzymes that help whatever ails us. Sauerkraut pairs particularly well with sausages, but don’t hesitate to try a spoonful in your hot soup! Kimchi, its spicier Korean cousin, is a favorite of those who love hot, garlicky things, but it can also be mellower if you make it yourself. Traditionally pickled cucumbers are wonderful to have on hand as well, and a slice on your plate gives a homemade hamburger or grilled cheese sandwich that extra je ne sais quoi that makes a simple meal completely satisfying. Great East Bay sources for pickled vegetables include Cultured and Three Stone Hearth.
Mutton: The term mutton refers to the meat of sheep that are over a year old—when they’re younger it’s considered lamb. For those of you who think of mutton as tough, gamey, or just old-fashioned, it is time to reconsider your image of this time-honored meat. Many people prefer mutton to lamb, saying it has more flavor. Prince Charles calls mutton his “favorite dish,” and helped launch the Mutton Renaissance Campaign. The ground meat is almost indistinguishable from lamb, but is half the price and helps support farmers who need a market for their older animals. Mutton stew meat is ideal for braising, and braises are especially suited to winter. Try substituting mutton in any recipe for lamb stew; just be sure to let it simmer over low heat until completely tender. You won’t be disappointed, and both your pocketbook and local farmers and ranchers will thank you. Marin Sun Farms is one of the best local sources.
Escarole: This might be my favorite winter vegetable; I’m happy to gobble it up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I tend to saute it in olive oil, add a splash of chicken broth, and steam it in the pan. Or I’ll make it into a soup with tomato paste, beef broth, sprouted wheat berries, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. While I savor the “regular” escarole, I can get even more excited about its cousin in the chicory family, pan di zucchero. So many farms in Northern California are growing this “sugarloaf ” variety that you now have your pick at the farmers markets. Some heads are sweeter and others more bitter. If you do end up with a really bitter head, try grating lots of fresh Parmigiano over the top after you saute it. In general, bitter greens love lots of fat, salt, and Parmigiano.
Jessica Prentice is the author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection and co-founder of Three Stone Hearth Community Supported Kitchen in Berkeley. www.threestonehearth.com