What Does a Wisconsin Farmer Eat in Early Spring?

This was the question twirling in the back of my mind as I left the abundance of sunny California farms and my flourishing backyard garden for fields still deep in snow. (That is, when I wasn’t too busy wondering if I’d packed enough layers to keep me warm.) If February is the “hunger gap,” where does that leave you by the end of March in the Midwest?

The view from the kitchen window in April

View from the kitchen window in April

It was indeed an adjustment to pile on layers and walk through slush up to my knees, and suddenly face the challenge of stocking a nearly barren kitchen and feeding myself three meals a day. Now, more than a month later, some overwintered spinach and parsnips have come my way, and we are about to start harvesting the first of the salad greens. Meanwhile, I am still leaning heavily on vegetables shipped from California, bulk beans and grains, and pickled vegetables. Here are some of the more exciting discoveries of the past two months in the kitchen:

“Quinoa Confetti”: Quick, colorful, and delicious!

  • “Quinoa confetti”: quinoa with grated carrot and beet, and toasted sunflower seeds. Grated carrots, beets, and seeds also make for a great green salad, especially with a hard boiled egg, or as a delicious salad all on their own. For that matter, carrots and toasted sunflower seeds are handy to have around as a quick snack to grab on the run.
  • Two parts olive oil to one part balsamic vinegar makes a wonderful dressing for almost any salad. Throw in a few rosemary leaves and a sprinkle of salt and pepper if you have them.
  • A big pot of beans is a life saver! I usually cook 2 cups at a time of a rotating selection of beans (pinto, garbanzo, white beans, and black eyed peas), let them cool on the stove overnight, then store them in the fridge. This gives me a quick protein source to incorporate into one of my meals for the next five days or so. So far, I’ve always been able to use up a pot before they begin to ferment or I grow weary of them.
  • Never underestimate the power of polenta. Quick and versatile. The possibilities are nearly endless.

    Polenta, garbanzos, and roasted broccoli. Yum.

    Baked polenta, sauteed chard, and a duck egg.

  • Orange zest is great on oatmeal! I grated all of the zest from a few of my oranges before I cut them, and saved it in a small container in the fridge. After a month, it has browned some, but still flavors baked goods, dressings, and breakfast just as well!
  • Fresh cranberries, orange (flesh and zest), and lots of sugar blended together make for a quick delightful “jam” that lasts a few months in the fridge. That is, if you don’t devour it all first! Another great oatmeal topping.
  • Peppers boiled with white distilled vinegar and sugar, then cooled in the refrigerator overnight make a quick and lovely relish. This is the best use I’ve found for the chopped green peppers taking up much of the freezer — I throw them into the pot still frozen, as they quickly turn gelatinous when stored thawed in the fridge. A great accompaniment for autumn harvest biscuits. I have yet to try it on oatmeal, but may well soon!

Looking forward to the first flush of spring greens, and only needing one pair of pants soon. It is April after all!

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