My column on what to do now to eat well this summer is up on the Trib’s website.
One note: Westphalia Vineyards has loads of vine cuttings they’ll give you as well. Tim Pingleton, the production manager there, brought in a paper bag-full for me on a recent trip to Columbia (but came after I’d turned my column in). Thanks Tim.
Fortune might favor the bold, but neither luck nor derring-do will put good food on your table this summer. For that you will need to be prepared, and January is the time to take care of that.
The first thing to do is to walk over to your pantry and throw out all of the spices and dried herbs that are more than a year old. Actually, just throw out the dried basil and parsley; those are nasty young or old. Replace the old stuff in small amounts, either from the grocery store bins or in little packages from World Harvest. Be sure to pick up cardamom – which will be heavenly sprinkled over sautéed cauliflower this summer – and cumin, which is good in almost anything.
Then it’s time to do some thinking about your garden. A flowerpot with basil and parsley counts, but since food you grow yourself is almost free, you might consider expanding a little this year. Regardless, the time is now to order seeds. Eric Reuter, who raises a variety of produce on his farm just north of Columbia, suggests using these cold months to select and buy seed for the produce you hope to raise during warmer weather.
“Many seed companies start to run out of popular varieties, and because of increasing interest in home gardening and market farming, the demand is rising,” he explained in an e-mail. “It is never too early to order seeds because they can just sit on a dark shelf until you’re ready to use them.”
Eric, who hopes to begin selling at the Columbia Farmers Market in April, recommends Seed Savers Exchange, an Iowa-based vegetable conservancy. Seed Savers is a not-for-profit group that is attempting to preserve our agricultural history by selling traditional, heritage varieties of seed – genetically modified organisms need not apply. Other heirloom seed providers include Baker Creek and Fedco Seed.
January is also a good time to consider where you’ll be getting your food this year. Mid-Missouri is home to a number of community supported agriculture (CSA) programs – essentially local-food subscriptions – that can take produce, meats, dairy and eggs off your to-do list for the year. In a CSA program, consumers receive weekly produce directly from a farmer or group of farmers. You rarely know what you’ll be getting from week to week, but because local produce hasn’t been on a truck for a week, it lasts longer, and you have more time to plan your meals. Most CSAs begin in April, but at least one – including Guy Clark’s Fertile Crescent Farms – offers a discount for signing up early. The consumer gets high-quality produce at a reasonable price, but farmers benefit as well.
“People can pay for the whole season up front, in three payments or monthly,” Clark told me. “The mixture of people paying with all three options gives me an infusion of capital at the start of the season when I am buying seeds and other inputs but also gives me steadier income throughout the season.”
January might seem like an odd time to be thinking about grilling, but this is the time of year many wineries trim back their vines for the coming growing season. Get your hands on some of these trimmings, and you’ll be grilling in style come warmer weather. Most of these prunings go to waste, but Les Bourgeois Vineyards and others will give them to you – all you have to do is ask. Simply stack them in the garage or by the grill and they’ll be ready to toss into a fire, imparting a nice Norton smokiness to your summer pork chops.
While we’re on the subject of barbecue, the more grill-minded among us might consider signing up for the Kansas City Barbeque Society-certified barbecue judging class that is scheduled for Saturday, March 21, from 9:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Eckles Hall on the University of Missouri campus.
The cost is $75 for non-members (and includes a one-year membership in the KCBS) or $40 for members. I’ve been looking forward to this since the Roots ’N Blues ’N BBQ contest, which introduced me to a whole other world. I’d never seen people eat ribs, brisket and pulled pork in complete, contemplative silence without a beer in sight, but it was a whole lot of fun.
Missouri weather in mid-January can be downright depressing. But with a little work and advance planning, you’ll be eating well all summer. Besides, before you know it we’ll be cursing the return of lawn-mowing weather.
Seed Savers Exchange http://www.seedsavers.org/
Fedco Seeds http://www.fedcoseeds.com
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Dan & Joanne Nelson
Fertile Crescent Farms
Rob and Angela Hemwall
Jim Thomas Jr. and Rose Thomas
The Root Cellar
Walker Claridge and Kimberly Griffin
Barbecue judging class:
Scott Rowson works in communications at the University of Missouri, lives and eats in Columbia and writes about it at ShowMeEats.com. Reach him at ShowMeEats@gmail.com.