Up North and Off the Grid: Local Dining

I grew up in the countryside, where eating locally was as simple as going out to the garden to pick a tomato. I learned about edible wilds walking through the fields at Grandpa’s farm. Could this really have been 50 years ago?

Nearly 40 years ago I was visiting my grandpa as an adult, and he invited me to stay for lunch. He promised a meal that would rival the best restaurant. He sliced a couple of chunks of ground beef from the freezer and put them in a frying pan to cook. He sliced tomatoes and cucumbers from his garden, fresh bread Grandma had baked, and set it all of the table with their freshly churned butter. He was right – it was the best meal I’d ever enjoyed.

How has our world changed since then? How has our food changed?

Here in the wilds of northern Ontario, I can still walk out to the garden to pick a tomato for lunch, and I can still gather wild daisy leaves to garnish it. Perhaps even more important, I can buy locally grown chickens and beef that taste just as good as my grandpa raised on his little farm.

September is harvest month, and is the best time to seek locally grown food. For us, this includes hiking in the forest to find wild mushrooms and wild hazelnuts, chokecherries and wild raspberries. It means covering the garden on cold nights, trying to hold back the early frosts from the tomatoes and beans. And continuing our harvest of weeds: purslane, chickweed and chicory, to name a few.

The advantage of knowing the edible weeds in the garden is that most of them are frost hardy. We’ll still be bringing in tender chickweed and daisy leaves for our salads until the snow flies.

If you garden, you really need to learn your weeds! Including weeds in your menu can at least double the amount of food you can harvest from your garden. And these “wild” bonus greens are delicious. Go to the library and get some books on edible wild plants! Or contact me for information about our edible wild plants course here at Kukagami, September 25 to 27th.

Thanks to a growing awareness of the goodness of locally grown foods, retailers are starting to promote produce from our local farmers. When we go to Sudbury for supplies, we are fortunate to have a little store downtown which only stocks foods that are locally produced. This gives our small local farmers a dedicated outlet for their products, and people like me a chance to eat as well as my grandparents did. And the best news is that the prices are competitive with the stuff that’s imported.

Eat well, live well!

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