How to Eat Local in Winter

eat local san francisco skyline

Translated for San Franciscans.

I’ve lived in San Francisco long enough to pine for the heady days when gentrification was just a glimmer in current developers’ eyes and everything tech took place in a land far, far to the south called Silicon Valley. The current state of this city has pushed me to a state of despair in recent years, so I made a resolution for 2020: hunt down, appreciate, and participate in things I like about the City by the Bay. And let’s face it, being able to eat locally all winter long is nothing to take for granted. I should know, having grown up in the winter wonderland known as Minnesota, where snow instead of fresh produce is on offer a solid portion of the year. As so much of the country struggles with what local foods they can scrounge up come winter, we loll about in an embarrassing bounty. “Eat local in winter” guides require translation around here.

eat local handful of radishes

1. Remember root vegetables

In San Franciscan: The trials of going without fresh tomatoes
While our fellow citizens plod down to their root cellars* in search of an un-sprouted potato or gaze at bulbous old beets in the “local” section in the produce aisle of their grocery store (farmers markets often having been closed since well before the new year), we can blithely stroll into almost any market for wide range of California-grown greens of all kinds, brassicas, root vegetables—sometimes even early baby versions with greens attached, and even spring-like wonders such as radishes and pea sprouts and asparagus while the days are still relatively short. Sure, favas won’t be in for a bit, and even we have to wait for summer for eggplant and peppers and tomatoes and corn, but I’ve tried complaining about the lack of locally grown okra in January to acquaintances north and east; it doesn’t play well.

2. Enjoy a wide variety of dried and preserved fruit

In San Franciscan: Santa comes every day
Oranges are so precious other places that they are put in Christmas stockings. Santa delivers them because how else could such a sweet and aromatic delight even exist? That single Christmas orange is a bright spot in a winter otherwise filled with prunes and raisins and mincemeat, which is a fancy name for a bunch of prunes and raisins dressed up as pie filling. To a San Franciscan, an orange is at best pedestrian. We have our satsumas and kumquats, our Meyer lemons and citrons. In the worst depths of winter, we must briefly go without California-grown avocados. It is a hardship we endure with the same civic pride and camaraderie that has seen us through earthquakes and protest marches threatened by rain.

eat local plate of oysters

3. Don’t forget local fish

In San Franciscan: Crab, oyster, crab, oyster; repeat
Did you know landlocked Americans spend a portion of the winter hauling out augers and ice saws to cut holes in frozen-over lakes to get the protein they need to see them through winter? Once they’ve cut the hole, they then spend hours sitting in the cold, holding onto a string, hoping to lure a fish—cold-blooded and made way less hungry than usual by the chilly water—into taking the bait and becoming dinner. Reflect on that the next time you order another dozen Tomales Bay oysters at happy hour or blithely pick up locally caught crab at the corner store.

eat local sliced baguette

4. Locally grown grains count too

In San Franciscan: Sourdough or croissant?
There was one winter that was so harsh when I was growing up that the trains stopped running. Food became scarce. We took turns grinding the seed grain for the spring crop in a coffee grinder to make coarse bread. Pa grew so weary he couldn’t play his fiddle to pass the time. Wait, my dad never played a fiddle… I may be thinking of the Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In any case, the trains eventually came through. Trains, I can only imagine, from California, filled with every imaginable delight, including bread and pastries of such quality they inspired locals to have the kind of loyalty reserved for sport teams elsewhere. If I have to break up one more brawl between Tartine fans and Josey Baker Bread supporters on MUNI, I may need a new resolution.

*To the horror of many Californians, root cellars are rooms dug into the ground designed for long-term storage of fresh fruit (apples and pears) and vegetables (winter squash and all those tubers and roots), as well as nuts and even cured meats. The house I grew up in, which was smack dab in the middle of Minneapolis and in no way a farmhouse, had a root cellar. One of the rooms in the otherwise normal basement had a dirt wall. Despite its intended purpose, we did not store food in this room. If memory serves, my mom kept the good china there. And by good china, I mean the fancy porcelain dishes—get your mind out of the gutter.

SF skyline: Meriç Dağlı/Unsplash
Radish: Veronika Galkina/Unsplash
Oysters: Bruce Cole
Baguette: Rodolfo Marques/Unsplash