Okay, so it is time for me to come clean; I do not exclusively eat the food less traveled. Gasp! Yes it is true. I love to be creative with my food, and occasionally this means bringing in a guest ingredient (or two) that has traveled across the globe. The interesting thing is that by eating mostly local food I am more conscious of the journey these guest ingredients have taken, and conscious of the substitutions I would have to make to have the meal be entirely local.
Usually my worst offense is salt. I use salt in almost everything…and am utterly aware that we do not have a salt source in Wisconsin. Right now I am using pink sea salt from Pakistan. It is a bit easier with salt to at least know the crystal’s origin. Next time I buy I’m sure my salt will be from some other local. Out of my curiosity for this necessary kitchen item I have added Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky to my reading list. What the heck did people use before salt? In lieu of a substitute I keep buying the imported variety.
This brings me to my second worse offense; spices. Herbs I am good with, I grow my own and dry them or keep them in the house on the windowsill for winter use. Whatever I don’t grow I buy at the farmer’s market. Spices are a different story. I have no idea where most of my spices come from. I assume the indian ones come from India, and the Thai ones from Thailand. But most likely this is an inaccurate assumption. The main reason that I use spices is that cooking in season can, lets face it, get a little boring, especially over the Winter and in early Spring. Curried root vegetables are a welcome change from the more traditional hearty stews and roasted roots I typically make.
The third category of food-stuff that I typically get from across the globe is oils. Yes, I can always use local butter in their place, but it is really nice to have some variety. Plus, I often want a healthy oil choice, such as coconut or olive oil. Those two are staples in my pantry. One of my goals this summer is to seek out some local oils I can use. I’m sure there are some healthy nut oils made somewhere in the midwest. Besides, it is really hard to make a vinaigrette using butter!
The next category is vinegar. I try to use apple cider vinegar, but occasionally the taste is over powering, or just wrong for a dish. So, you will also find a bottle of balsamic and a bottle of rice wine vinegar in my cupboard. I feel like I should be able to at least find a source of balsamic vinegar in Michigan (with the number of vineyards it boasts), but I haven’t thus far.
Number five on the list is citrus. This one is really tricky. I have used vinegar in place of citrus in a few recipes with some success, but truly citrus cannot be replaced. I may just need to get a greenhouse to fight nature on this one. For now I am not going to worry too much about my citrus intake, and limit it to using the fruit to add flavor to a dish instead of eating an orange a day.
The last category that most would assume I struggle with is sugar. But, surprisingly there is a sweet, local, sugar company nearby. The Michigan Sugar Company, which makes Pioneer Sugar. Uses sugar beets to make granulated, powdered, and brown sugar. I don’t use sugar in much of my cooking, but it is pretty much a requirement with dessert! I also love honey. And I find that eating local honey tends to keep my allergies at bay. So sugar I have figured out! Now if I could just work on the other 5 areas.
Most of this list includes items that are local to the south of France. When I was living there I purchased everything from the market. It was an amazing existence, but I have no plans to move back anytime soon (unfortunately!) so I am challenging myself to really look at the sources of these flavor filled pantry staples and find out is a local source is possible. It is my goal to seek out as many of these items locally as I can. I will get back to you with the results in a few months. I encourage you to do the same!
In the mean time, if you have suggestions they are always welcome.