Somewhere between the crate of clementines from Spain and this winter's zillionth banana, I started to get a little depressed. And not just about food.
Our summer bounties of sweet blueberries, plump corn and more kinds of eggplant than anyone knew existed may make eating a joy, but they also help us feel connected to our surroundings, to understand the bigger picture of the climate and the terrain where we live.
So when the time of year arrives for us to huddle indoors and eat imported produce, it can feel isolating.
Well, forget that. This winter, I'm trying to banish my doldrums by thinking beyond produce, about other ways to eat what's produced locally. Here are some ways you can, too.
A winter community market. North Jersey offers several opportunities. The most consistent is in Ramsey each Sunday through March, which offers more than 20 vendors. Manager Nancy Boone says you can expect to see local organic apples and pears, kale, spinach and squashes, honey and maple syrup, olive oil, milk and cheese, eggs and meats.
Ringwood also offers a winter market, though it's held once a month, including locally made pickles, grass-fed beef, pasta, pizza and jams, said marketing director Teri Powers.
Slow Food Northern New Jersey offers a yearly harvest event to encourage more people to eat locally year-round. This year, it will include farmers that grow in tunnels or using hydroponics. That means you may see some lettuces among the winter greens, said president Margaret Noon.
"Clearly the potatoes you're getting locally, it's a smaller window when they were harvested until when you're getting them. With potatoes, garlic and onions, when you go to the supermarket, you really don't know how long it's been sitting there," Noon said.
Eggs. If you've never gotten fresh eggs from free-roaming hens kept by a local farmer, you're in for a treat. The beautiful dark-yellow/orange yolks amaze me every time I crack one open.
Local eggs are available at all of the above markets, as well as roadside stands and some grocery stores. Luciane Gilan, the chef-owner of Porto Alegre Café in Ramsey, uses eggs from Southtown Farms in Mahwah for her omelettes and her signature dish of eggs baked in a clay dish with black beans and queso blanco. She marvels at their rich flavor, and says customers notice the difference.
Southtown's owner, Matt Soldano, keeps his no-antibiotic chickens outdoors and sells meat in spring through fall, and eggs year-round from his Mahwah roadside stand ($5 a dozen) and at Morano's market in Ramsey. He's been thrilled to find a growing number of people willing to "pay a little more to get a little more."
Meat. Meat raised in New Jersey, New York or Pennsylvania is widely available – from local farms like Goffle Road Poultry farm in Wyckoff, to the New Jersey grass-fed beef and New York lamb, veal and pork available at Whole Foods, to the poultry and game meat available at dartagnan.com, or the company's Jersey-raised poussin (young chicken), sold at Fairway in Fort Lee or served at Bareli's in Secaucus.
It's also a special treat to buy meat from one of the area's smaller farms, who often welcome visitors to get a behind-the-scenes look at how they raise their animals. Louis Tommaso of LL Pittenger Farm in Andover, Sussex County, freezes his hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and sells it out of the Ramsey farmers' market and his own farm. "You can see the hay we grow, the feed that we produce. You could stick your hands in my bag of grains, add milk and sit there and eat it as a bowl of cereal."
Seafood. Whole Foods routinely offers New Jersey clams and Connecticut oysters, as well as fresh fish that could include Jersey fluke or bluefish, says spokesman Michael Sinatra.
Off the Hook, the fish stand and eatery at DiPiero's in Montvale, is selling Jersey sea scallops, Long Island monkfish, swordfish and mako shark, and Connecticut clams, oysters and mussels. The stand also sells all of those to local restaurants.
And to that …
Ask restaurants which dishes on their menu are made with local ingredients. Ralph Perrotti, the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn's new executive chef, is serving a dish with Goffle duck, organic fingerling sweet potatoes from Pennsylvania and leeks from Phillips Farm in Milford, Hunterdon County.
Craig Levy, the chef of Rocca in Glen Rock, offers a salmon dish with a mix of maroon, yellow and regular orange carrots from Phillips. "I think the freshness and the flavor is incredible," he said.
- The Ramsey Farmers’ Market runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays through March (except for President’s Day weekend) at Eric Smith School, 2 Monroe St. in Ramsey. ramseyfarmersmarket.org.
- The Ringwood Winter Farmers’ Market will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Feb. 18, March 17 and April 21 at the Ringwood Park and Ride (Cannici Drive off Skyline Drive). ringwoodfarmersmarket.org.
- Slow Food Northern NJ’s fourth annual local harvest market will run from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, at Morristown High School, 50 Early St., Morristown. slowfoodnnj.org.
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