Take advantage of spring’s bounty and enjoy the enhanced flavors of locally sourced foods.
How does that Byrds song go?
“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose, under Heaven…a time to plant, a time to reap.”
The best time to reap — and enjoy — fresh fruits and vegetables is when they are in season. Like the anticipated sweet strawberries that kick-start our summer in June or the juicy ripe tomatoes hot off the vine in July. And let’s not forget those crisp apples on a breezy September afternoon. Yum …
So what seasonal goodness should we be looking for right now in our local markets?
April brings us fresh leafy greens, wild mushrooms, tender asparagus and perennial herbs.
“Food in season just tastes better,” says Leslie Schaller, business and governance coordinator of Casa Nueva restaurant in Athens. “Whether you grow it in your own garden, or purchase it at a local farmers market or co-op, it’s exciting to eat timely, seasonal food. It helps you become in tune with the natural world, enjoying its tempo, while enjoying the local food culture.”
The folks at Casa Nueva have been enjoying this camaraderie for 25-plus years. The restaurant’s close relationship with the Athens Farmers Market, as well as local farmers and the local economy, has created a trust that is an important feature of direct agricultural marketing. It’s also made it possible for Casa Nueva to add fresh, seasonal flavors to the menu.
“We believe in the local economy,” says Schaller. “While the global marketplace allows us to buy virtually any food at any time, that’s not a sustainable option that will help the environment and develop our community. … Eating local serves up fresh, ripened-on-the-vine, healthy alternatives to produce harvested unripe, then treated with chemicals and ripened during shipping. It serves a big role in bringing folks back to seasonal flavor, which has a direct correlation to the increase in local farmers markets.”
According to the USDA’s 2011 National Farmers Market Directory, more and more farmers are marketing their products directly to consumers. In fact, according to the USDA, Ohio has experienced a rapid growth, adding 278 markets last year, up 31 percent from 2010, a solid indicator of the staying power of local and regional foods.
“There is a disconnect when people are away from the land,” says Phillip Nabors, owner of Mustard Seed Markets in Solon and Montrose, stores that promote more than 30 primary farmers’ produce within 40 miles of the stores.
“We’re committed to local, organic produce. My wife and I have always had a garden. It warms the spirit to grow and eat your own seasonal food,” Nabors adds.
Eating locally produced food also helps consumers understand its natural, physical state. Many grocery stores, for example, have “beauty” standards — if, say, an orange is not bright enough, or an apple is not perfectly shaped, they are left unharvested or are disposed of by the grower, creating a lot of waste.
“Eating the ugly fruit can be pretty good,” says Nabors. “That’s part of the disconnect people have … understanding what an apple may look like in its natural state, without the chemically produced uniformity of ‘cosmetically’ beautiful fruit. It’s the access to nature that local, seasonal food provides.”
While “local” has a geographic connotation, there’s no real consensus on the distance between production and consumption. The 2008 Farm Act considers “local” as less than 400 miles or within the state of its production. You can locate a farmers market near you by going to ohioproud.org/markets.php.
Awareness of local produce choices has also been attributed to the “slow food” movement, which encourages traditional ways of growing, producing and preparing food. Slow cooking is a way to rediscover forgotten flavors, the ones your grandma knew so well.
“Good food makes eating an event, it turns eating into a celebration,” says Nabors. “There is a sacred nature to food when celebrating a big day, a fast or a feast, which is rooted in seasonal harvest observations. Consider Thanksgiving. There’s a comfort in the ritual pattern of creating and eating Grandma’s pumpkin pie, corn soufflé or sweet potatoes. Of course these dishes are all made with seasonally harvested produce.”
If you want to enjoy timely, seasonal eats, then consider yourself one in a growing number of people who understand the natural cycle Mother Nature so kindly orchestrated for us.
Enjoy the harvest.
These recipes take advantage of what early spring has to offer folks in Ohio.
Roasted Green & White Asparagus
Recipe courtesy of Casa Nueva Restaurant | Serves 6–8
1 pound each, white and green asparagus, trimmed, ends peeled and diagonally sliced into 2-inch sections
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
1/2 bunch, flat-leaf parsley (save 3 tablespoons for garnish)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Clean, trim and slice asparagus, lay out on a parchment-paper-covered sheet pan. Mix marinade ingredients, brush on asparagus and roast in oven until tender. Plate and sprinkle with chopped parsley for garnish.
Wild Mushroom Thyme!
Recipe courtesy of Karen Bender, Mustard Seed Markets | Serves 4
1 pound mushrooms — oysters, morels, shitake, your favorites
4 tablespoons fresh unsalted organic butter, divided
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 lemon thyme sprigs
4 slices of crusty bread
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup local goat cheese
1 red pepper, roasted and julienned
1 tablespoon balsamic syrup*
*Cook’s note: If you don’t have balsamic syrup, simply simmer balsamic vinegar until it is reduced and resembles syrup.
Clean and dry mushrooms. Julienne mushrooms. In a non-stick sauté pan at medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter, add mushrooms, toss to coat. Let mushrooms sit on stove without stirring until golden brown edges appear. Toss to brown other side. Remove pan from heat and spoon mushrooms into a bowl, season with salt and pepper. In the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of butter and shallots, quickly sauté shallots, do not burn. Add wine and reduce until absorbed, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms with their juice back into the pan with 1 more tablespoon of butter and sprigs of lemon thyme. Toss until herbs are hot, set aside.
Slice bread 1/2-inch thick. Brush with olive oil and toast over fire. Spread goat cheese on toasted bread, spoon mushrooms over bread and garnish with roasted red peppers and a drizzle of balsamic syrup.