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Seasonal Cooking in the Dead of Winter

January 14, 2014

It doesn’t feel like winter. Maybe part of that is that I’m here in central New Jersey and I’m accustomed to the bleak and bitter cold of upstate New York. Maybe it’s because yesterday it got up to fifty degrees and I went outside without a jacket, hat or gloves. Or maybe it’s because I have yet to make my first pot of split pea soup.

They say it’s going to get colder. Mrs. Fussy says not to tempt fate, there are still many months of winter ahead. But I’m already starting to plan for spring, and I know I’m not alone.

Just last week I went to the Princeton farmers market. In winter the frequency of the event is reduced to once per month. It’s not easy to eat locally and seasonally in the northeast during the doldrums of winter. There are plenty of people who think it’s a fool’s errand when so much of the year our farmland produces nothing but mud and ice.

Luckily, there are also plenty of people who delight in the challenge, and I’m hoping they might inspire you.

Maybe you remember my old friend chef Noah Sheetz from the Chef’s Consortium. He recently wrote a piece on root cellar cooking. It’s probably too late to build a root cellar of your own, but it sounds relatively simple. Chef Noah outlines the process.

But the thrust of the story is that despite fields being frozen hard and covered in a layer of snow, there is still a world of delicious produce squirreled away underground,

Photographer Jane Feldman visited the root cellar where she stocked up on winter squash, carrots, beets, potatoes and cabbage. For three days Jane lived on soul-warming classic winter soups like butternut squash and ginger bisque and borscht.

Noah’s post has a recipe for hot borscht, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you Leah the Nosher’s borscht recipe from the Jewish Food Festival last year. She and I wanted to share something that was delicious and could be made primarily from local and seasonal ingredients. While hers is a cold soup, it can be ladled over hot potatoes. Holy cow that sounds good. I may have to remember to do that this season.

There’s a lot you can do with carrots, potatoes, winter squash, beets, cabbage, and onions. If you need a bit of hand holding, and find these recipes a bit overwhelming (or perhaps too beet-centric), Different Drummer’s kitchen in Albany is having a slow cooker meals class where one of the dishes being taught is Chuck Roast with Potatoes, Carrots and Squash. I’d be curious to hear what the instructor says about slow cookers. Truth be told, mine has gone unloved for far too long. I’m going to blame the temperate New Jersey winter. But this is a totally seasonal dish.

My favorites, of course, are the great variety of hearty and healthy dishes that come from dried legumes and pulses. My hope is to make at least two batches of the most delicious split pea soup in the known universe before winter is over. I finally found the ham hocks at the farmers market.

Nothing can stop me now.

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