Thursday, February 12, 2009

Midwinter Locavore Update


Dirty Hairy Salsify

The midwinter locavore is prey to soul-searing temptation at the grocery store: "DON'T touch those hothouse imported tomatoes -- we have parsnips back at the house!"

"It's been ages since we had a bag of potato chips...(long, sorrowful pause)...maybe I can make ... parsnip fries with salsa."

"No mushrooms for us, until we finish the damn salsify."

The parsnips have been the roughest part. Ben says, edge of menace in his voice: "I am ready to be DONE with parsnips." Peggy is dogged with the haunting conviction that they taste like pee (we do not want to know how she knows).

In comparison to parsnips, most of the other vegetables in our weekly box of locally-produced, organically-grown, seasonally-available midwinter vegetables are light and cheerful, and we greet them with comparatively glad cries:"Onions!... a teeny garlic!" "More turnips -- yummm."

Potatoes and the beauteous beet (both purple and golden!) are the gods of this weekly boxed assortment. Celeriac, peeled and used as a root-veg form of celery, is also lovely. Not to mention tart and crunchy big white radishes.

BUT below parsnips lie worse vegetable snakepits.
These are the salsifies. There's salsify, and then there' salsify, or oyster plant. The local farmers who are in this experiment with us to make a better world (and who have to suffer the email and verbal commentary on what they send out each week), have dealt us the black salsify hand in only one weekly delivery -- so far.

That week, I cooked both the salsify -- white tubers that arrived bearing their original soil -- and the black salsify -- black tubers with black skins -- and set bowls of both on the table for us to taste-test. Both salsifies take a lot of rugged preparation: you basically have to shave them (see photo). Cleaning off the dirt and excess skin and rootlets is detail work -- not quick. When you prepare salsify, you are worshipping Mother Nature at her most basic. Digging up and cleaning native sunflower tubers is just a little bit more onerous.

Ben has a frequent diagnosis of "It tastes like dirt!" (and he's a caver, so he knows), and when we sampled the two salsifies we heard that comment quickly, although we were fascinated by the oyster scent and flavor of the black salsify. The white has that 'slightly nutty' flavor found in so many marginalized yet nutritious foods: bland, starchy, filling.

This is Thursday afternoon: a new vegetable box looms, and there's excitement coming our way -- leeks!!

It will be St Michael's Day in mid-March (still a month distant). He's the patron saint of Wales, and the Welsh celebrate their rainy, blustery holiday with leek soup feasts. The Scots wash down their haggis with whisky at Burns night feasts: is there a liquor to brighten leek soup?

Actually this is great fun, and we are learning a lot and liking almost all of it. But we do look forward to the lighthearted joys of spring and summer crops (some of which we grumbled about last year) -- Swiss chard, spinach, and eventually the pinnacle: summer-grown tomatoes, green beans, and corn on the cob.

BUT for now: "Don't touch those tomatoes, we have a whole bin of carrots to work our way through before Thursday."