Every year about this time, in the dead of the Chesapeake winter, people constantly mention to me their dismay of no local food being available for their kitchens. They long for the spring and the return of neighborhood famers markets and roadside stands. Perhaps it’s a lack of imagination, or maybe just not wanting to go out in the cold, but truth be told, there is local food available year round. One just need look a bit harder.
In the Baltimore area we are fortunate to have a year-round farmers market, The Waverly 32nd Street Farmers Market. While not all the product sold there in the winter is local (as opposed to their summer market, which requires all product to be local), most of the various greens, apples, pears, and numerous root vegetables such as; onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips & rutabaga are from local farms.
Often the image of a farmers market is one of stands overflowing with primarily produce and fruit. But take a closer look and there are local dairies making superb cheeses, yogurt, ice cream and fresh milk in all denominations. There are farms selling local raised and pastured meat and poultry, semi-local olive oil (it’s a long story), goat cheese, as well as local bakeries and local coffee roasters.
For most anyone who enjoys cooking, the aforementioned products are the basis for hundreds, if not thousands of recipes. So there is really no excuse for not being able to cook local, even in winter. We as a culture have fed ourselves, and fed ourselves well in the winter, for thousands of years.
I recently did a segment with Maryland Public Television’s Maryland Farm & Harvest series on buying in the winter. The day we were to tape the show there was snow on the ground and with the wind chill factored in, a temperature of 17 below zero. Not that I am a fair weather shopper, but I was pretty sure that it was not the perfect day to tape a show at the Waverly Market that particular morning.
So I suggested we pay a visit to the Mill Valley General Store in the Baltimore neighborhood of Remington. This is another terrific choice for year-round local food products and is conveniently located right off I-83. Mill Valley is the creation of one of the pioneers and visionaries of our local food movement, Cheryl Wade. The store works with quite a variety of local farmers and artisan food makers. Not only do they have a wonderful selection of local produce, there is a well-stocked bulk food section as well.
After stops at Mill Valley and the Waverly Farmers Market I had gathered all the ingredients necessary to put together a lovely winter stew. The version that follows is all vegetarian, but could easily accommodate some stewed; chicken, bison, beef, or even better lamb, all of which are available at the local markets.
Winter Root Vegetable Stew
A simple salad, along with a loaf of crusty whole grain bread, is the perfect accompaniment to this stew. It may seem like a lot of stew, but it holds up well for days, and the flavor just gets better and better.
Yields about 1 gallon of stew
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
10 to 12 cups (peeled and cut into attractive chunks) root vegetables (see note)
2 cups carrot chunks
10 or more cups vegetable stock, or broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large heavy-bottomed pot or in a stockpot, cook the onion, leeks, garlic and ginger in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions and leeks are translucent and sweet, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the root vegetables and carrots and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 10 cups of the vegetable stock, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium, and cook until the vegetables are just tender, 30 to 40 minutes. For a lovely, creamy stew, remove about half of the soup to a bowl, and set aside. Then puree the remaining stew that is in the pot with an immersion blender, or alternately in batches of a blender with a tight fitting lid.
Return the unblended portion of the stew back to the pot, mix well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat before serving.
Note on root vegetable combination: Choose a number of root veggies for the stew, such as: rutabagas, potatoes, celery stalks, celery root, parsnips and turnips. At least one or two parsnips are a must, as the parsnips give a fantastic sweet dimension to the stew.