Is March the Hardest Month to Eat Local?

I admonished myself last summer, as I canned tomatoes for days at a time, that I would certainly not need this many tomatoes! Well, I realize now that I was just tired of canning. This week, as I find myself heading down to the pantry, staring at shelves that used to be well-stocked, but are now almost empty, I'm reminded that, at these latitudes, March is the hardest month to eat local.


Yes, there are still plenty of root vegetables available. But who isn't tired of potatoes, parsnips, celeriac and beets by now? As for everything else, it's just too early. Last week, there was still snow in my yard, and nothing but mold, as far as I know, grows in the snow.


The good news is that I can almost touch the presence of farmers markets and I know our local farmers are intensely planning and getting baby vegetables ready to plant. I am salivating over thoughts of the fresh, early-spring harvest, and am literally counting down the weeks until farmers markets open again and the CSAs begin their deliveries.


But if you, like me, can't wait, here's a secret that I learned from my days working on an organic vegetable farm. Micro greens. I've learned to grow small heads of our favorite salad greens in small cell packs on every counter in our home (nicely heated to 66 degrees). We never intend for these plants to see our yard, but they make for lovely salad trimmings as they absorb the sunlight of our windowpanes and the water from our kitchen sink. Sometimes, local eating requires a little improvisation. This trick becomes possible as soon as the seed catalogs arrive in the mail and our local greenhouse begins supplying seeds.


To aid my excitement for this year's growing season, I've been flipping through my favorite cooking magazines and archives of CSA recipes, and drooling over the ingredients that will soon grace my kitchen. It’s the perfect time to anticipate the flavors that my two favorite spring delicacies, asparagus and rhubarb, will bring to my table in just a few weeks.


One of my go-to recipes for asparagus (some would call this a side,I call it a meal) is a recipe I pulled from Cooking Light many years ago;  it’s so simple. You bake as much asparagus as you like, sprinkled with salt and pepper, at 400 degrees until tender -- just shy of 15 minutes. Towards the end of its time in the oven, melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove from heat, mix in two parts soy sauce with one part balsamic vinegar, and simply drizzle the combination over the finished asparagus and top with fresh cracked pepper. 


I also love the combination of eggs, a bit of salty meat, and asparagus. I often sauté some prosciutto in garlicky olive oil until it's crisp. I add soba noodles that I’ve cooked al dente alongside fresh asparagus sprigs and a bit of their cooking liquid to the pan with prosciutto at medium heat until moistened and the cooking liquid has been incorporated. I plate these combinations and top with an egg sunny side up (with just hardened yolks) and some freshly grated parmesan cheese. It’s the perfect quick meal for breakfast or an easy lunch or light dinner. 


I've made an agreement with myself to find less decadent ways to enjoy rhubarb, but for the time being, it’s all about desert. (And I figure I deserve it, after a long winter of living without fresh produce.) One of my favorite recipes, pulled from The Produce Bible, is Rhubarb and Apple Upside-Down Cake. It's perfect with my morning cup of joe.


It's also pretty simple to make. Just preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch deep round cake pan and line the base with baking paper. Put 1 cup of sugar in a saucepan with 1/3 cup of water and heat gently, shaking occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and cook until the sugar becomes a pale caramel color. Pour melted sugar into the lined baking pan and press 2 cups of chopped rhubarb and 1 small chopped apple I (3/4 inch pieces) into the sugar mixture. Beat 2 eggs, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract until frothy. Fold in 1/3 cup of melted butter and sift 1 cup of flour over the top. Stir the mixture until its soft. Spoon gently over the fruit and bake for 45 min or until the flour mixture is set.


Mmmmm... with recipes like these to look forward to, it's hard to be patient. But we're almost to April. I can make it.

Alicia Jabbar
is a self-described foodie, cook, and advocate for local and delicious foods. Alicia spent several years living in San Francisco, but last year spent seven months living and working on a farm on the East Coast. Now she's in Boulder, Colorado, where she is pursuing an opportunity to become an organic farmer. The single best aspect about food, she says, is the community it engages and the conversation it creates. We couldn't agree more.