If you are serious about eating locally and reducing the number of miles your food travels, Corvallis Oregon is an excellent place to live. Not only do we have several large organic farms and a variety of smaller operations which run a Winter Market from January until April, a farm which wild crafts and grows an amazing variety of mushrooms, and a young man who apprenticed with Joel Salatin and now raises meat animals using his principles, but we also have the Bean and Grain project, which has been looking at returning grass seed acreage in the Willamette Valley to growing staple crops—oats, wheat, and beans. For the last three years, they have organized a Fill Your Pantry event, where people can stock up, direct from farmers, for the winter. We buy oatmeal, wheat, and beans every year. Add that to the potatoes, onions, winter squash, canned tomatoes and dried fruit we stash away in September, and you have the basis for our winter meals.
Oatmeal is the backbone of winter breakfast. I rotate hot oatmeal with dried fruits and walnuts or hazelnuts with home made yogurt, compote, and granola made from local oats. Even with some exotic brown sugar and barley flakes thrown in, we have drastically reduced our breakfast mileage, especially compared to cold cereal, which is coming from Canada. And it lasts longer in our tummies. On the weekends, we’ll eat oatmeal waffles or our own chicken eggs with toast, made with home ground wheat—although, right now, we’re eating duck eggs from Sunbow. Why do chickens molt in the coldest times of the year?
Local beans are the most remarkable food we have. Black, Pinto, Indian Woman, garbanzo beans AND lentils—they are beautiful, poured into old fashioned canning jars and sitting on the pantry shelf. The first year I had locally grown beans, we never did eat them; they were too lovely to look at. Beans are not easy to grow in the valley. The season is tricky; spring rains keep the ground cool into late May some years and an early fall rain may mess with the drying in the field. Harry at Sunbow has been experimenting both with varieties and planting times for years, trying to push open the spring window. Garbanzos can be planted in March—but they don’t grow well for the first month. One year, the pintos were harvested in the rain, and they take three washings to come clean; our soil is clearly gray clay. But, every year, there are more varieties. I pour them into the crockpot every Sunday morning, add garlic, onions, and whatever vegetables are around and slow cook our weekday lunches. Before dinner, we ladle the soup into pint sized canning jars. With a slice or two of fresh bread, we’re styling. Fast food.
We’ve been eating like this for several years now. It is normal to make bread dough and yogurt while cooking dinner, to plan around what is available in the fields and pantry rather than what we can buy in the grocery store, even at our local co-op, which really focuses on purchasing and promoting food from the five counties that touch ours. I don’t think it costs anymore than my old way of doing things. I am, after all, a Master Forager all summer long. And we support people we know when we buy their food, rather than some faceless corporation. But, most importantly, it tastes better.
Curried Lentils and Winter Squash— altered from Recipes from the Root Cellar
The original recipe calls for stuffing the squash with the lentils, but that takes longer and we were hungry.
Cook 1 cup of lentils until nice and soft
While the lentils cook, back a winter squash, cut in half, face down, in the oven
While the lentils and squash cook, sauté a chopped onion and 2 garlic cloves in olive oil until lovely and soft. About half way through, add 1 T of cumin, 1 T of curry powder, some salt and pepper. When they are done, slowly pour in ½ cup of buttermilk. It may break down and look ugly, but it’s ok. Just stir it in. If you can, add the lentils to the pan and cook together slowly until the squash is done.
Serve on a purple plate with some pickled beets on the side.