Finding abundance in Vermont winters

A trip to northern California stands in stark contrast to the Yankee credo ‘Waste not, want not’

BRATTLEBORO — Last month, my husband Mark and I took a trip out West. We landed in Sacramento and drove a scenic loop through Oregon and Washington state, stopping along the way to promote our newly-hatched book.

I hadn't visited in about 20 years and missed it so. The Northwest reminds me of a slightly nicer version of the Northeast: progressive,-active,-and friendly-er.

Maybe it's the wide skies and gentle weather, but there is an openness about the landscape and its people that leaves me expansive and nostalgic.

But there was one thing that was not nicer. Let's call it “the rotting.”

The growing season in northern California is year-round. As we strolled along the winding town roads, we passed community gardens and fruit trees. On Dec. 1, we saw tomatoes still on the vine! The community gardens were filled with kale, salad greens, broccoli, and cauliflower.

But no one was picking. Veggies sat spoiling on the vines.

I was dumbstruck at the amount of waste. Dozens of persimmons and citrus trees dotted each road. Hundreds of fruits sat on the branches and rotted on the ground near the trunks.

We cycled through an olive grove at a local university - miles of olive trees lined the bike path, laden with unused bounty. Edible and medicinal herb bushes the size of hedges were left abandoned in botanical parks.

My Yankee sensibility boiled. Manically, visions of community outreach programs mosh-pitted in my head.

* * *

Say what I will about New England culture, but there's one thing going for us: Waste Not, Want Not.

The Northeast is a culture that appreciates the value of - well, everything. We are not blessed with a 12-month growing season; we've got four good months in a good year. Therefore, we make the most of our summer months, tucking away vittles to sustain us through the winter.

We pickle, dry, can, jar, jam, ferment, bake, freeze, and salt. What we don't eat, we feed to the animals or compost.

Yankees are a prudent lot, and the shadow side of prudence is gratitude. As Bonnie Raitt put it, “Life gets mighty precious, when there is less of it to waste.”

Okay, one might occasionally spot some rotten apples fertilizing their mother trees. Ayuh. We might be Vermonters, but we are still human, by Jesus. Maybe next year, I'll gather up all those apples and make some cider and applesauce. But compared to the hedonistic waste of sunny California, we Vermonters are demigods of conservation.

* * *

Once the Holiday Hoopla is behind us, we enter Real Winter. Let's not fool ourselves with that sweet January thaw; we've got months left of this stuff.

This is where Yankee ingenuity shines brightly, like a citrus tree in December. Yankee food ain't sexy in the winter, but it is healthy and abundant: turnips, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, squash, parsnips, onions, and garlic could sustain you quite well until April.

Sprinkle your diet with protein from local meats, perch fillets from ice fishing and, if you're lucky, venison from November's hunt. Bend the localvore credo and eat beans, nuts, and seeds.

And that's it: you will FARE WELL - Fresh, Ripe, Whole, and Local - even in our darkest hours.

My two favorite winter meals are stews and scrambles. A winter stew is a mixture of roots, brassica, and squash ... whatever you like. The stew is flavored with olive oil, apple cider, and tamari - a healthier version of soy sauce. I added greenhouse cilantro and hot peppers to warm the belly.

If you're a meat eater, egg scrambles are my favorite way to add health to a hearty breakfast. One suggestion: Wild Carrot Farm bacon with Fair Winds farm-fresh eggs, sautéed with greenhouse salad mix and garlic from our garden.

Garlic is a champ. Garlic is the ultimate healing herb; with antibiotic, anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties, it supports a hard-working immune system in the winter. Garlic also helps lower blood pressure and supports cardiac health. Plus, it keeps the vampires away, though I'll bet our recent cold spell also discouraged their visit.

Yes, it is possible to FARE WELL, even in Vermont winters. Just remember to waste not and be grateful for our own version of abundance.

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