During a Pandemic, Does it Matter if Food is Locally Grown?

While the lockdown of our nation can leave us feeling as if we are living in end times, the sun continues to shine and nature responds.

I dream of gardening but am realistic enough to know I can not provide for myself on any kind of sustainable level. That’s why every spring I exchange vows with with my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmer.

He vows to use resilient methods to grow nutritious food to the best of his ability, and I vow to support his efforts financially.

In the middle of a pandemic, I have never been more grateful for this relationship.

The idea of going into a store and purchasing worldwide imports causes me a bit of anxiety for a host of reasons. When I try to talk logic to my fear mongering self, and track down whether the “what-ifs” are probable, I make a discovery.

The origin of my particular fear––too many unknown variables. Food grown, handled and shipped passes through many hands and ports with little oversight to ensure its safety.

In a world ripe with pandemic, it seems like some sci-fi thriller set-up that we now live in a nation that is dependent on other countries to secure our nutrition and health.

But hey, I don’t want to focus on the negative aspects our lock down especially when there are so many really great options to get food closer to home.

I hear your subversive grumbling under your breath, words like expensive, elitist. Yes, I know we have all been stressed by uncertainty, job loss, bills, and almost insurmountable stress. Right now, we all swim in the same milieu.

However, I’m here to remind you, the decision to buy local matters because it helps to create a resilient local community. A resilient community, my friend, is exactly what we need right now.

Your decision to buy local has the potential to prevent degrading of the ecological integrity of the earth, which in the long run, has the potential to support health. Our health, and that of the planet.

The decision to buy local, helps restore integrity in the food system. Aligning with a farmer is a mutual relationship, a vow of faith and of caring and responsibility toward each other and toward the earth.

The decision to buy local, reconnects us with where our food is grown and how it is produced. Since we are all dependent on the earth, how it is produced is a really big deal.

The decision to buy local means you are helping to preserve farmland while creating economic opportunities for farmers in your local community. Farmers in your community, even if they aren’t in your backyard, protect the soil, prevent run off, protect watersheds and wildlife.

The decision to buy local means you are directly contributing to your local economy. Your farmer receives the full retail value of each dollar you spend. It’s not being eaten up bioprocessing, transportation, fuel and packing costs. No, thanks to you, it will likely stay in the community where the farmer lives.

The decision to buy local will prevent the extinction of a vast variety of food. By now you know the food typically found in the supermarket is narrowed down to those mass-produced, industry standards that can withstand transportation and maintain shelf stability. The juicy heirlooms with thin skin and that bruise with jostling, don’t make the cut. If they aren’t sold, they aren’t grown and eventually die out.

The decision to buy local will allow you to encounter foods that are authentically different in physical qualities including appearance, taste and color.

The decision to buy local means you will get food that tastes good naturally. Local foods are fresher, more flavorful, and promise more nutrients than their fatigued world travelers from exotic and distant locales.

The decision to buy local means you reduce your dependance on non-renewable energy sources and you contribute to cleaner air. No matter how it travels, transport of food requires fossil fuels, a major source of air pollution. It also requires the use of, and expenditures for, publicly funded infrastructure.

The decision to buy local can save you money and preserve family and farming traditions.

Yes it will require more work on your part, but preparing food is a sharable skill as is the pleasure of eating it.

Holy Basil Batman!

Proof that CSAs offer the most unique opportunities to discover new things, I was introduced to Tulsi basil, commonly known as Holy basil, when my CSA, Rare Earth Farm, dropped off a plant starter at the beginning of the season.

What I found instantly remarkable is how rubbing the leaves of this basil brought to mind the sweet smell of Juicy Fruit gum.

But Juicy Fruit gum is a far cry from how Tulsi basil is thought of in India, its country of origin.  There, Tulsi basil is believed to have medicinal and spiritual properties and is revered for those qualities; its place of honor is second only to the Lotus flower.

If planted, Hindu’s believe it bestows divine protection in the home. For those who embrace the ancient health practice of Ayurveda, Tulsi basil is consumed as a tea for its positive effects on the immune system.

Visually it is a stunning herb. It develops purple candle-like flowers as it goes into seed and sports duller, rougher, and thicker leaves than its thinner skinned, greasier sheened Italian cousins, Genovese, and Napoletano.

Since this little beauty was delivered, I have been thinking of ways to showcase its flavor and aroma. Certainly it would work well anywhere one might use Italian basil varieties. But, rather than going the traditional savory route, I wanted to highlight its fragrantly sweet aroma. Using our humid and hot days as inspiration, I gravitated to the Pineapple-Basil Sorbet recipe from Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud Cookbook.

Using basil in this sorbet heightens the flavor compounds of the pineapple, without overpowering them. It tampers down the potentially cloying tang, and tart sweetness of the pineapple by introducing a dimension of depth to for the palate to anchor itself to. While I can’t claim pineapple-basil sorbet offers any immune protection, I do believe as it slowly melts on your tongue you will be thinking restorative thoughts.

Holy Basil Pineapple Sorbet

1 fresh pineapple

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Tulsi basil (other basil will work too)

2/3 cup water

  1. Peel, cut, remove the core from the pineapple and cut into chunks. Place the prepared pineapple into a blender and puree until completely smooth.
  2. Press the puree through a fine mesh strainer. Measure out 2 cups of puree and reserve.
  3. Combine the sugar, basil and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let sit for about 15 minutes. This will infuse the simple syrup with basil flavor.
  4. After infusing, strain the syrup into a bowl and allow it to reach room temperature. When at room temperature stir in the reserved pineapple puree. From this point, you can continue on or cover the mixture with plastic wrap lightly pressed against the surface, and refrigerate.
  5. Using an ice cream maker, according to directions, freeze the mixture. After it is churned to the desired texture, scrape the sorbet into a container, cover it, and put it in the freezer for at least an hour to firm before serving.

Note: 1 pineapple will likely offer up 3 cups of puree, might want to adjust the recipe to use it all.

Makes about 1-1/2 pints

Shake And Bake, Garlic Scape

IMG_3363Before I started gardening in earnest, I planted garlic. Nothing major just a head here and there. I would divide the individual cloves and  plant them, root side down. And, every spring, I was rewarded for my  bulb planting efforts with small garlic heads.

What I didn’t know back then was that I was supposed to cut the flower head, called scapes, off the stalk that grows from the head of garlic. Without cutting the scape, the energy that drives the bulb to grow is diluted. My early efforts at growing untrimmed garlic, resulted in those decidedly small garlic heads.

Not only do I know better now, In October before the ground freezes, you’ll find me planting hundreds of cloves of garlic. By the time late June comes around and the flower heads appear to plump on the stalk, I cut them off. Sensing the power struggle is over, the plant’s fused energy shifts to send vital growth to the grounded head.

Gathering up the scapes in my bag, I leave with good intentions. To be honest, I always have good intentions for those scapes. And yet, more often than I’d like to admit, they end up on the compost pile. Somehow I’ve never had the desire to whiz up scape pesto when I still have frozen garlic pesto my freezer from last year.

But this year, I promised myself, not to compost my scapes. To waste food, I ‘ve worked hard to grow seems counterproductive.

I thought about doing something simple with them like braising or roasting. I settled on roasting them in a high temperature oven, the same way I roast asparagus.

To start, I wrangled the unruly scapes into bundles, cut them into bite size pieces, and threw them into a plastic bag. I drizzled oil, sprinkled salt and pepper, sealed the bag and shook it until everything glistened with oil. I tossed the scapes on a pan, and put it on the top rack of a preheated oven at 425 degrees. IMG_3371

Slowly, the house filled with the heady aroma of garlic.  I removed the pan after 25 minutes when they were slightly brown. The thinest bits, the very top of the flower head,  were crisp as a delicate potato chip that with one touch of the tongue shattered into sharp shards.

The thicker stalk body, was soft and tender.  Everything had a velvety garlic flavor that was  decidedly more mellow than slow roasted garlic cloves slipped out of their skin waiting to be smeared on a torn piece of baguette. 

These crisp and tender scapes were eaten without hesitation. I realized for the first time this curly green stalk that at best I had treated as a nuisance, and at worst, ignored, was in fact, a seasonal treasure.

If there had been leftovers, I would have used them in a breakfast omelet. But with no leftovers, and no more garlic to trim, I’ll have to wait until next year.

Waiting, after all, is part of the point of eating seasonal foods . To capture  a flavor at its peak, is a moment of simple joy that comes from the work of our hands.

Got a special way with garlic scapes?  I’d love to hear about it.