MARKET REPORT – DEC. 21ST 2018
Yams. Brussels sprouts. Cranberry Sauce. Not everyday items on most dinner plates through the year, but huge interest for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Are they in our DNA?
Despite absolutely stunning changes to our social landscape over the last 2 generations, changes we couldn’t have possibly predicted back then, some things never change. If we go back even farther, the traditional food of winter family feasts had no special significance – it was about which food stores well, year after year, and those became traditions of necessity for some.
Consider the venerable Rutabaga, always on my family meal plan for the holidays. A nutrition packed Yellow Swedish turnip (although it originated in Switzerland) that can sit in the field, unaffected by temperatures far below freezing, harvested as late as possible after fall frosts, which sweetens them up, and capable of storing for 8 months. This is what rural folk lived on in the dark days of winter and early spring before supermarkets and refrigeration. Cabbage – we are often selling BC storage cabbage, harvested in September in the Interior, well into April or May. Brussels sprouts, harvested in the late fall can be stored, packed in blocks of ice at -1C, for 2 months. And yams, and carrots and potatoes – all traditional foods that could be pickled, fermented, canned, frozen, or stored for ½ a year or more. (You know you can buy canned potatoes and carrots at some supermarkets, right?)
Our traditional holiday meals are based on what was in the root cellar for the winter across rural Canada and America (and Ireland and Poland and Siberia) for millennia.
Rutabaga were so important that today it is still a controlled vegetable in BC. Supply management quota systems are generally designed to limit production (supply) to demand so there is no need to discount and overly compete, which keeps farms profitable. We have an elaborate supply management system in Canada for all dairy products, eggs, chicken, pork, potatoes, greenhouse tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers and Romaine lettuce. And Rutabaga. (And also on green and red leaf lettuce on Vancouver Island.) Why Rutabaga? Many years ago it was determined that this was an essential vegetable, as in, when there is nothing else, let them eat turnips! So to grow Rutabaga commercially in B.C. there is a quota system to make sure there isn’t over-supply, driving prices down, and making it un-profitable to grow. Because when push comes to shove, we need to keep 250 acres of Rutabagas in production every year. Survival food. And who knew that we eat 25 million pounds of Rutabaga in BC. We don’t – that’s 8 pounds per person. And…I don’t think 90% of the population knows what it is, how to cook it, or ever eats it. Which leaves us 10%’ers eating 80 pounds each. I probably come close, but BC does export a lot of turnips south and east as well.
Do you eat them? I recently made a big batch of Swedes and took them to a community hall potluck. They were the first to ‘sell out’, along with my secret celeriac recipe. People said, “oh those remind me of my childhood…..”
Buy a biggie and take it home. I’ll talk you through this. Fry up a huge sweet onion in butter – lots of butter (or oil, but as far as I know, everything is better with butter.) Add your favorite spices or herbs (I use a hint of cayenne, some paprika, celery seed, garlic and a touch of thyme.) Cut your rutabaga up (which takes some effort) into cubes and boil the crap out of them until they are totally mushy and not just sort of soft. Drain and mash them like you would make mashed potatoes. Dump the turnip goop into the frying pan, stir in with the onions and flip chunks of it over just as it starts to brown on the bottom and keep going until you are afraid of burning them. Now, sprinkle a few pinches of brown sugar on top and serve. I can’t get enough.
Maybe you will look at all those vegetables on your plate if you are part of a holiday feast differently, and consider them historical relics that harken back to the day when food security wasn’t a topic of discussion, but was actually survival over the winter in Northern Europe, Eurasia, Canada and the top ½ of the U.S. Your root cellar WAS food security.
Oh…one other thing. I mentioned celeriac above. Slice those bizarre roots in slices about ½ cm (1/3 inch) and boil for 6 minutes (max). Not cooked through, but a little soft. Drain. Dredge in a bowl with flour, nutritional yeast, your favorite savories, a dash of salt, a healthy dash of pepper, some paprika and bake on a well-oiled baking sheet at 400 for 15 minutes each side. Can’t get better than that!
Will be back to you next week with current updates on a very interesting vegetable market!