“Local? No, no. None of this here is local,” said the sour-faced woman wrapped in blankets next to her table of produce. “But at least I’m honest. You see that guy over there? He’s selling strawberries as ‘home grown.’” The woman scoffed and shook her head. “Home grown! In February!”
I knew better than to expect local strawberries at this time of year. (Although I wondered if maybe that guy’s hometown was in Mexico… I really want to believe people). I was just trying to find potatoes and greens for some brunch dishes.
Unless I’d been dreaming over the past few weeks, locally-grown root vegetables, squash, and apples did exist in the D.C.-area winter. I bought them regularly at the farmer’s market near where I live. Greenhouse-grown kale, Asian mix, and tatsoi were also available. The problem was that I needed the veggies now, so I could get down to cooking. Unable to use my familiar venue, I had headed downtown to a weekly market that featured produce vendors among jewelry makers, antique sellers, and purveyors of fancy cheese.
A man who had been selling vegetables across the way suddenly appeared next to me. He had the ruddy look of a farmer, but he proceeded to give me the same story as the reseller.
I explained my understanding that farmers can keep potatoes and such in cold storage for quite a while, and that greens actually like the cold weather. The red-cheeked man shook his head. “If they tell you it’s their potatoes, they’re lying to you,” he said. “That over there is the last of my squash for this year. I’ve been farming for 47 years and I’m telling you–there’s no way they still have potatoes.”
I didn’t know what to do. I almost cried right then and there among the fruit and vegetable and craft sellers.
Have they been lying to me? I thought. Have I been enjoying my tasty Yukon Golds, sweet red onions, and golden rutabagas based on a lie? Or have I just stepped temporarily into the Twilight Zone?
I didn’t stick around for the farmer’s opinions on greens. Instead, I headed to a health food store for some organic vegetables. Their stickers said they were from California, but at least I knew for sure.
The following week, I headed back to my beloved market and picked out my regular collection of potatoes from the bushel crate. The friendly woman on the other side of the table weighed them and I paid. Then I hovered there for a moment, not sure if I should move on or ask what I both wanted and dreaded to know.
“Um, are these your potatoes?” I inquired. “That you grew this fall?”
“Of course,” the woman replied. Her smile faded a little, perhaps with the surprise that I’d ever doubt her. “To sell here, they have to be.”
Yay! I thought. It was all I could do to keep myself from leaping over the table full of scales and bottles of cider to hug her. Later, I checked the farm’s website—just to be completely sure—and confirmed that it was a producer-only market.
I’m still not sure what was going on with that blanket-draped vegetable seller and the veteran farmer. One day, I’ll go back and tell them I found what they insisted did not exist. And I’ll tell them that those local winter potatoes were darn good – and sweeter than any February strawberry.
Here’s a recipe for the wonderful days of (local) root veggies ahead.
Makes 6-8 servings
Note: instead of dividing the onions and caramelizing one, you can simply grate both onions and throw them in with the potatoes.
• 2 Tbs. olive oil
• 2 medium yellow onions, one grated and one diced
• 8 medium potatoes, grated (peeling optional)
• 2 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
• 6 eggs
• 1 Tbs. sea salt
• ½-1 tsp. ground black pepper
• ½ cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a skillet on med-high and add diced onion. Reduce heat to med-low and continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they caramelize (become golden and cook down). This should take about 20 minutes.
While onions are cooking, grate the potatoes and remaining onion. Let sit in a colander for about 5 minutes. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, salt, pepper, rosemary, and ½ cup oil. Squeeze out excess moisture in the grated potato and onion, then add to the egg mixture along with the caramelized onions. Mix thoroughly. Pour into greased 8×8 pan (9×9 or 9×12 will also work. Baking time may be reduced, so check often).
Bake at 375 for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until outside is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm with your favorite main dish. It’s also good cold the next day!