Local Foods, Even in December

Humans have been importing foods from far-off places throughout recorded history, so we’re not likely to stop now. But perhaps we could strike a better balance, as of old, choosing local foods when available, and thinking of imports more as supplements for what we can’t get at home.

My December This Green Life addresses this topic and points out that seasonal eating with local foods is possible even at this time of year up north. It includes a wonderful seasonal recipe for Green Gumbo, created by the green New York caterer, Mary Cleaver of The Cleaver Company. Here it is again in printable form. (Click the iPaper down arrow in the top band for the print and email controls.)

Green Gumbo Serves 12 8 T. 6 T. 2 ½ bunch 2 1 cup 1 T. 1 tsp 1 tsp ¼ tsp 3 8 cups 2T 2 quarts 1 To taste 4T Grapeseed or Olive oil Flour Medium onions, chopped Celery, chopped Green bell peppers, chopped Scallions, chopped (plus ½ cup for garnish) Garlic, minced Ground white pepper Aleppo pepper Cayenne pepper Medium turnips, diced Three or more of the following winter greens, chopped: Turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, kale, or chard Fresh thyme leaves Vegetable broth Bouquet Garni (parsley stems, bay leaf & thyme) Salt, pepper & Tabasco sauce Chopped Italian parsley 1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat 8 T. oil and whisk in the flour. Whisk over mediumhigh heat until the roux is the color of peanut butter. 2. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, turnips, scallions, garlic, white pepper, Aleppo and Cayenne. Stir to coat with the roux. Add the Cover and sweat over medium low heat for 5 minutes or until beginning to soften. 3. Add the turnips and greens, stir and cook for about 10 minutes or until wilted. Add thyme. Stir in the vegetable broth, 2 cups at a time, bringing the mixture to a boil after each addition. 4. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the bouquet garni and simmer gently for about an hour. Cool and refrigerate. Reheat gently when ready to serve. 5. Garnish with chopped parsley and scallions.


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7 Responses to Local Foods, Even in December

  1. Small Footprints December 15, 2008 at 4:57 pm #

    Thank you for posting this Gumbo recipe … it looks wonderful! I’m looking forward to your “This Green Life” article!

    Take Care!

    Small Footprints

  2. Anonymous December 18, 2008 at 11:11 am #


    Where’s the meat or seafood? Need either shrimp and crabs from coastal Louisiana or chicken and sausage. If sausage, it will come either from the abitroir or be made within 100 miles of God’s Contry in Eunice, or Ville Platte, or Mamou, or Church Point. And the gumbo should be cooked by someone whose last name ends in eaux.

    T8 (15/64ths LA Coonass; 32/64ths upstate NY yankee)

  3. Anonymous December 18, 2008 at 11:13 am #

    Just saw on the website that nothing is in season in Illinois in late December. So, does that mean we should eat frozen or canned fruits and vegetables?

  4. Karen Downing December 18, 2008 at 12:21 pm #

    It would have been nice for you to credit Barbara Kingsolver, author of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” whose book (published May 2007) covers this topic in much more detail. You may not have copied her words, but the ideas are stated in almost the same fashion. And although the ideas may not have originated with her, with a bestselling book she certainly has done more to spread the gospel of “eating locally” than any other adherent I’ve come across, and should be credited as such.
    Thank you for considering adding such a reference to this column.

  5. Sheryl December 23, 2008 at 12:29 pm #

    I will respond to all the foregoing in one…

    Small Footprints —
    Thanks, I hope you enjoyed the recipe and article.

    To the gumbo traditionalist —
    Granted, this recipe isn’t what most people think of when they think of gumbo. But you probably know where to go for that kind of thing. This is something different — a vegetarian dish made with seasonal ingredients that takes its inspiration from gumbo. Give it a try! A few dashes of hot sauce at the end make it sing. Also, take a look at this oral history:


    especially the part at the end about what exactly gumbo is.

    Illinois —
    There are lots of fresh foods available from nearby states. See if you can get your hands on them. At the farmer’s markets in New York, for instance, we get produce and animal products from Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as our home state.

    Karen —

    I’m happy to credit Barbara Kingsolver for writing what is reputed to be a very good book (I haven’t read it) and helping to popularize the idea of local food, but if I were to credit someone, I think it would be Alice Waters, who introduced the idea to America decades ago. Of course, she didn’t originate it either. It’s the traditional way of cooking in every place with a native cuisine and can still be experienced around the world. Go to Sicily in August, for example, and you’ll eat eggplant practically every night.

    By the way, my first column on the subject dates back in 2004. It was a piece called Eating in the Neighborhood and can still be read at http://nrdc.org/thisgreenlife/0407.asp.

  6. michele December 23, 2008 at 5:55 pm #


    Eating locally is a wonderful concept. However, as I dig out from more than a foot of snow, I remember that there is nothing growing locally. In fact, in this season, there is no farmer’s market in operation offering Michigan produce. To deal with this lack, I choose more frozen fruits and vegetables when the local isn’t available. Is this a viable choice?

  7. Sheryl December 30, 2008 at 12:12 pm #

    Michele, I hope the snow has melted by now.

    I don’t know of any studies comparing frozen with fresh/non-local fresh food, so have no advice to offer on that score. Personally, I wouldn’t sweat it. Just go with as much local food as you can the rest of the year and keep imports to a minimum.

    One option for the future is to build yourself a root cellar. That would enable you to store local potatoes, onions, carrots, winter squash, apples and other items grown or bought in fall for use in winter. You might not be able to meet all your needs this way, but at least some of them. According to this article in the New York Times, it’s an old idea gaining popularity again: