March 21 • 05:53 AM

Spring chicken, winter foods

December 05, 2007
I so appreciate that some of you have taken the time to email me, and I'm thrilled about your interest! With each message and morsel of good information that you share, you re-ignite my passion for this amazing food landscape that lies so close to home.

Most importantly, you remind me that I'm not alone in this mission to fundamentally revolutionize how I nourish myself. As it turns out, there's at least a small colony of you who confess to lasting and satisfying affairs with your Seal-A-Meals and Ball canning jars. Thank you, ladies, for the spicy encouragement!

The patriot in me likes a good grass-roots movement, and this one resonates in my heart, mind, body, and soul. I love everything about eating local, which is loosely defined as anything grown within 50 to 100 miles of where you live. I love the sacred simplicity it's imbued into my family's hectic, modern life. I love that I'm saving precious fossil fuel by shopping local. Most of all, I love shaking the hand that feeds me. It humbles me to depend upon another in such a plain, yet profound way.

Did I say I love everything about eating local? Did I? Well, there I go romanticizing again. Inherent in most life-changing commitments lies inexperience—a combination of naiveté and ignorance that must be vigorously weeded out for the transformation to succeed. How quickly I forget that stretch just a couple months ago, when I feverishly worked the farm-to-freezer assembly plant in my kitchen…

Like some sort of market nymph, donning breezy skirts and rope sandals, I frolicked through the summer's bounty, casual and carefree. I pondered daily menus with my morning java, and scribbled shopping lists in my check register at stoplights. Driving home, I would pick up a "couple of these" for dinner tonight, or a "bunch of those" for tomorrow's lunch, always getting "just enough."

My husband and I would often dine alfresco, and behold the western sun in its descent behind our neighbor's russet-stained, century-old barn. For all I knew, we could have been on extended holiday in bucolic Tuscany…that is, until my farm-fresh fantasy all came to a screeching halt. Just as the vendors began to fold up their tents, I awoke to a late-September's nightmare: I had no food to eat for the winter.

I had been trained by a very conservative, resourceful Mama to always buy "just enough"—whether it be food or clothes, a house or car. Would this now be my greatest personal folly, resulting in the inconceivable tragedy of my own starvation? I had not stockpiled any of those fruits or vegetables harvested at top succulence, and what's worse, I seemed not to have inherited the country woman's instinct for "putting up" foods. I was in a jam…in a pickle…and, oh, what I wouldn't have done to actually have some!

Wisely, I recognized I didn't have the expertise or the time to manage a successful canning operation (there's always next year!), and opted instead for the convenience of a moderately-priced vacuum sealer. How hard could it be to freeze things? Well, though I think it's less work to freeze than to can, it still wasn't a cakewalk.

Thank goodness for people like Barb Slamka, of Romeo's Northern Farm Market, who is a fountain of food knowledge, and compassion.

"So, what do you plan on doing with all these?," she asks, raising a curious brow. Inquiring minds want to know… what could you possibly do with 15 stalks of Brussels sprouts, eight heads of cabbage, six heads of cauliflower, and the market's last few quarts of green beans?

Come to find, Barb is used to this sort of quantity-frenzy, but perhaps she had never quite seen that doe-in-the-headlights vacuity like she did in me that day. Like a sponsoring sorority sister, she told me exactly how to cut, how long to blanch, and offered a few terrific freezing tips. For instance, if you have the space, she suggested bagging the whole cabbage in a tight plastic bag, and freezing it that way until ready to use. It's a lot less fuss, which is fine with me!

Later that day at the Almont Farmers' Market, I loaded a bushel of corn into the car, about four-dozen ears to be exact. Compared to other vegetables, corn's nutritional value is mediocre at best, but its crisp, sweet taste is undeniable. Regardless, I dreaded de-kernelling all those cobs! But I thank my lucky stars for running into the effervescent Marie Wirtz, who first consoled me, then cheered me on.

Marie, who works at the Dryden Post Office and is also quite a hosta enthusiast, was kind enough to share her super-quick freezing trick, which is to totally bypass the blanching or scalding step. At first I was a little suspect about the omission, but later learned that the method is acceptable, especially for soups. Best of all, the taste really is cob-fresh, weeks after freezing.

Now, go ahead, and say it. (I know you want to.) "Gosh, Cynthia, it seems like an awful lot of work, this eating local thing." Honestly, it can be, especially when you're a rookie at it like me—a spring chicken, so to speak. The local road offers many benefits, but sometimes can be more demanding, time-consuming, and labor-intensive.

In the middle of freezer initiation week, I remember looking into the mirror only to see one of those hardscrabble, Depression-era women—much like those in Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"—staring back at me. I was a world away from Tuscany, and getting all gussied up to stroll the aisles at Meijer's seemed like the perfect antidote to my exhaustion. But without a single cubic inch of freezer space left, I decided it best to stay put at home. I think I spent the rest of the day cozied up to my cookbooks, looking up cabbage recipes. Cabbage Pepper Relish, anyone?

Email Cynthia at

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