Not-so-local limbu achaar

What’s a locavore to do when she wants to learn to prepare foods that absolutely-must include imports?

My mother-in-law is kindly showing me how to cook many of her favourite recipes–recipes passed down by her own mother, who like my MIL, cook in the Bohra tradition. Considering that Bohras are originally from India, many of these recipes rely on imported foods… Like the organic lemons I just jarred in my first attempt at making limbu achaar, or lemon chutney.

At first, I worried a bit about the lemons. I am, after all, trying to eat as locally as possible and I didn’t even look at the sign at the natural food store to see where these particular lemons originated from before I picked them up. However, after fruitlessly searching for an online food mile calculator that would allow me to figure out the footprint of these lemons, I took a step back to think about the big picture.

Humans have been moving foods around the world for centuries. I just finished reading a cookbook of early Canadian colonial foods and there in the recipes, amid ingredients like Wapiti Elk, beaver tail and (passenger) pigeon, are lemons. These fruits have been prized by people in colder climes and shipped around the world for centuries. Granted, many of these recipes called for dried lemon peel, however, there were some featuring juice from fresh lemons that would have travelled for kilometers to reach the colonial outposts in Canada.

The chutney-making process is a method of preserving lemons–you salt the fruit and let it stand for days which draws out the liquid to create a goopy chutney and allows you to keep the lemons for much longer than they would have lasted whole. As corny as it sounds, while cutting up these lemons and covering them with salt, I started to feel connected to my husband’s ancestors. I could imagine women somewhere tropical working to preserve the bounty of the lemon season so that it would last into the coming months–much like my ancestors would try to preserve the strawberry or raspberry harvest here in Canada.

While these lemons were imported with a questionable footprint, preserving fruits is part of living with the seasons, making fruits last for months is a skill those of us interested in eating locally should embrace. Plus, lemons are a treat, something we just can’t grow here in Canada. Now let’s just hope those lemons in my achaar arrived by boat and didn’t come from somewhere as far away as South Africa.