The Cherokee who lived here 600 years ago called February "The Starving Moon." By now, stocks of stored foods ran low. The harsh weather kept new growth dormant. Game scurried wary and thin.
Small surprise that fresh local food is scarce in the market. Fresh basil, dill and mint, sprouts of various kinds and storage foods like sweet potatoes and winter squash were all I found this week. The freezer case contained frozen beef from two local producers, Mitchell Farm in Blaine, and Three Forks Cattle Company in Pall Mall, TN. The market also now stocks fresh milk from Cruze Dairy, located in Knoxville. The dairy raises grass-fed Jersey cows and produces milk that reminds me of my childhood on the farm. Local cheeses from Sweetwater Valley and Locust Grove round out the offerings.
With a bit of technology, the menu could be much more varied, however. Our simple cold frame protects chervil, lettuce, spinach and tatsoi. With a larger protected growing space and better planning, we could have a much bigger harvest. I am surprised that local farmers have not followed in the footsteps of Elliot Coleman, farmer, inventor and author. Coleman profitably produces vegetables for sale year round on the coast of Maine (Zone 5). Surely, we can do the same in our milder climate.
Another way, of course, to have local food during the depths of winter is to preserve as much of the seasonal harvest as possible. Over the years we have learned that the best approach involves two critical planning steps:
1) Choose preservation methods suited to the food you plan to grow.
2) Decide how much of each food product you can use during the cold months.
Now is a good time to research methods and make plans for preserving an abundant harvest during the coming season.
Do not rely on only one method of preservation for a given crop, where that is possible. Tomatoes, for example, can be frozen or canned. You get different results that are suited to different applications in the kitchen. Frozen tomatoes are easy to prepare, convenient when used and excellent in cooked dishes or sauce. Canned tomatoes retain some of their texture and can be drained and used like fresh tomatoes in salsa or on a salad. They can also be used, of course, in cooking.
For preserved foods that are seasoned and cooked, make more than one recipe. Cucumber pickles can be dilled, sweet, bread-and-butter, etc. Having this kind of variety available in the winter pantry helps you create more interesting menus to stave off the winter blues.