Incredible locavore options for mid-winter feast

I’m recovering this morning from a spectacular feast shared with friends last night. On the menu: duck, cabbage cooked with fish sauce (a delicious way to  enjoy any bitter-tasting brassica–just don’t forget to add sugar and water), turban squash, potatoes from my dad’s garden, chestnut soup and a lovely dessert concocted by my husband that was inspired by the Dutch Baby puff pancake recipe we usually make for breakfast. Christmas dinner was similarly fantastic, with an incredible variety of foods grown and raised nearby.

I have been really impressed so far this winter by the selection of foods available at the farmers’ markets. Compared to what I remember from last year, I would say the offerings have doubled. A week ago Saturday, I went to both the St. Lawrence Market and the Wychwood Barns and was overwhelmed by the farmers’ displays. There was kale, broccoli and cabbage fresh from the fields–the broccoli, a cold-resistant plant, had frost on its stalks. I also bought celeriac, Brussels sprouts, carrots and a vegetable I’ve never tried called salsify.

I don’t think the change in the amount of local foods available in December can only be attributed to the milder winter in these parts. I think that demand for fresh and local foods at markets like the Wychwood Barns has given farmers  the opportunity to extend the season. If people like me would rather buy slightly-frosted broccoli over well-travelled stalks then they’ll service this new and growing market.

At the St. Lawrence Market, a busy downtown market that sells to a wide range of people (not just locavores and foodies), one farmer was selling asparagus from Peru. I asked him why he was offering asparagus along with his traditional Ontario early-winter fare of cabbages, turnips and carrots. He said that if a customer arrived who was planning to make an asparagus risotto for a dinner party that night and couldn’t find all the ingredients she needed to prepare her meal, then next time, she would head to the supermarket and he would lose a customer. We’ve heard the same rationale from supermarkets for offering imported vegetables all year round.

This proved to me, yet again, the importance of consumer demand in the building of a strong and sustainable local food system. If only we could learn to eat in season once again, the rest would follow more quickly.