Here at Willy Street Co-op, we are privileged enough to have access to quite an education on food politics. Long before terms such as “local” and “organic” came into vogue in the national discourse, our membership and staff have been giving them real meaning by transforming ideology into practice—into habit, even.

However, we can all improve upon the degree to which we put our money where our mouths are; that is, here in Wisconsin. So on to the topic of eating locally, I thought I would begin to address the biggest challenge expressed to me by our membership, which is eating locally out of season. This article is the second in a series, each of which will outline one way in which we can overcome obstacles to eating locally in Wisconsin all year long.

As someone who took the Eat Local Challenge in October of last year, I will tell you that it becomes increasingly difficult to eat inspired and varied meals once the local season is done here. (My previous article on my experience with the Eat Local Challenge is available here: http://www.willystreet.coop/article/678 ) For those of you unfamiliar with the Eat Local Challenge, it is a commitment I took for one month last year to eat foods grown and produced only in Wisconsin or within a 150-mile radius of Dane County, which includes parts of Illinois and Iowa. Let me just say that I loved the opportunity, but I grew tired of eating so much meat, cheese, and root vegetables. Luckily, I had an advantage. One critical component that made the Eat Local Challenge sustainable for me was something I did long before October’s arrival. In fact, it is something I do every year throughout the summer months in anticipation of the long and inevitable Wisconsin winter—home food preservation.

Misconceptions

Over the course of the last ten years, canning and preserving have helped me to extend the season so that I am able to eat locally even in the dead of winter! Much to my disbelief, however, many extremely kitchen-savvy customers I encounter regularly express a deep intimidation when it comes to canning and home food preservation. Many believe that you must be a gardener in order to can and preserve your food; others just think it is too complicated or dangerous.

Those beliefs are just not true. While canning and home food preservation are some work and do take a bit of education in order to get started, they are not prohibitively difficult tasks to tackle in an afternoon or evening. The best strategy as a novice is to start small, doing manageable batches one at a time rather than planning a weekend extravaganza that will leave you tired and cranky. Don’t get me wrong—I would love nothing more than for all of you to become deeply impassioned about opportunities to deepen our community’s commitment to both local agriculture and a local economy via extreme canning and preserving, the likes of which Barbara Kingsolver discusses in her classic book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. But I also know that not everyone is up for that kind of endeavor. My goal here is not to overwhelm, but to inspire. So let’s start simple, with a project that involves very little labor given its reward—pesto! There is no hot stove involved, no education necessary about food safety and botulism. (Yet. No promises for next month, though.) All you need for now is a food processor or a blender. We are lucky enough to be located next to a thrift store, so if you don’t have a food processor or blender, St. Vinnie’s can definitely help you no matter your budget.

I do happen to be a gardener, but it is not necessary in order to make this wonderful treat. Every year I pre-order 12 to 24 living basil plants from the Produce department, which we source locally from organic farmers Scott Williams and April Yancer at Garden to Be in Mt. Horeb. This year they are supplying us with Genovese Sweet, which is my favorite variety of basil for pesto. Feel free to ask a Produce stocker for assistance if you’d like to do this, as well. You may plant them, which I do in order to let them get even bigger, or you can use them immediately.

Over the years I have tried many pesto recipes, however my friend Amanda’s reigns superior over all I’ve tried previously. She has graciously allowed me to publish her secret, and you’ll thank her for that mid-February. You see, unlike some pesto I’ve made in the past, this recipe remains as bright green and as fresh tasting as the day it was made. I promise. Enjoy it over RP’s locally made pasta, or on Potter’s locally made crackers. You won’t be disappointed. And if I’m lucky, you’ll like it so much that it’ll convince you to let me talk you into water bath canning tomatoes next time.

Amanda Vender Venter’s Famous Pesto

(Guaranteed to stay as fresh-tasting and bright green as the day you freeze it.)

  • 1/2 lb. basil leaves
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil (you may have to add a bit more if it ends up needing more liquid to grind everything up)
  • 1/4 c. nuts (I use unsalted, unroasted almonds since they are cheaper than other nuts and still tasty)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 oz. hard cheese (I use romano or parmesan in chunks and then just guess at 2 ounces and then cut it into smaller chunks and throw it in the food processor and it grinds up pretty well)
  • Zest of one lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • Juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt (I use a coarse kosher salt, so if you are using regular salt, start with 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Directions: Grind in food processor until smooth—taste and adjust if necessary. It should be pretty salty and zingy. Yields about 2 cups of pesto. Freezes beautifully in half-pint mason jars. Leave appropriate headspace in each jar to account for expansion due to freezing. (I use my eleven-cup food processor when preparing this amount of pesto. If you have a smaller food processor, I would suggest cutting the recipe in half. If you don’t have a food processor and are going to use a blender, go with grated cheese instead of chunks and you may need to add additional oil or water to get it to blend smoothly.)