The ground is frozen. I haven’t thrown a shovel into it in weeks. Anything outdoors is dormant for the Winter. Some growth continues with the help of high tunnels and greenhouse structures. The structures provide protection from the freezing temperatures. The garlic that will be harvested in Summer and Fall has been planted. It needs to rest over the winter for the best yield, inserted mere weeks ago while we could still get a spade in the soil. Many farms are focusing on clean-up, on projects that have been neglected during the heavy growing season. Living in the Pacific Northwest means we fully experience the change, the weather and the four seasons. Though our winters can be mild, there is no guarantee on what January will bring. It can be bitterly cold, the body reacting by craving the indoors. Regardless of snow fall, this month definitely promotes the urge to get cozy.
Eating seasonally here means a shift from expecting meals full of fresh herbs and plentiful greens. There are cold, hardy greens that continue to make their way through the door and onto the table. I welcome cabbage, kale, arugula, Winter salad mix, and chicory into my meal planning but accessibility to these can be limited due to the harshness of Winter. Root crops are highlighted in my dinner plans. Beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, rutabaga, celeriac, parsley root, and radishes fill roasting pans along with leeks or onions and are covered with local mustard, and a drizzle of maple syrup becomes a dinner staple. Stews and soups warm our bodies and support the need to cozy up inside and watch the glow of the fire. We lean heavily on the pantry, stocked with preserves and ferments. The freezers that hold Summer’s bounty are contributing to the flavor palate in each meal.
Winter squash has been stock piled and it becomes part of the routine to use their purees as a substitute for the tomatoes that were once the main ingredient in my sauces. I slice Winter carrots by the handfuls and watch my daughter enjoy the sweet taste that this season has to offer. She enjoys the extra sugar that has been pulled into the root after the cold frost hits the buried plant. Potatoes become a staple once again as they will store well into Spring.
The soil that provides us this bounty is now hidden under cover crops, mulch or snow. Thus, it waits, dormant, anticipating the rise in temperature when the seedlings that are being carefully tended in the greenhouses take their place outside. Meanwhile January is a time for warm cups of tea and coffee. Many farmers and gardeners pour over seed catalogs, glancing outside to the cold and daydreaming of the yield to come. It is during this time that dreams and goals are set. New flavors are thought up to bring into the kitchen as soon as the first bitter greens become available. Dandelion greens call out to me as my body begins to crave the change in season. January is a time to bury ourselves among new and old cookbooks, deepening that desire to try new recipes and to revisit old ones that have been forgotten. The kitchen remains a big focal point in the home regardless of season, but each brings in its very own flavor profile and challenges us to find new favorites that we enjoy, that our family enjoys, or that we want to share with our friends.
When I am working with my customers I try to prepare them for what January has to offer. Expect roots, is always my lead in. Expect a lot of them. Expect potatoes, radishes, carrots, onions and celeriac but also expect Winter squash. If we are lucky and the weather permits you might even see some winter hardy greens like kale and winter lettuce mix. Often the amount of roots that are part of this season can seem intimidating but the great thing about winter produce is that is stores well; really well. There is a reason that root cellars used to be commonplace in homes, providing a perfect temperature for the roots to keep until the snow begins to melt and greens start to answer the call of the sun’s warmth.
Roots inspire me, or maybe it is the need to bring something cozy to the dinner table. Either way, the relationship between the weather outside and the root-filled pantry led me to create a smoky vegetable beef soup using leftover baked potatoes, dried smoked sweet peppers, garlic, salt, oregano, apple cider vinegar, broth, frozen tomatoes, purple topped turnips, and celeriac. It was a hardy meal that warmed us all, as we lifted our glasses in cheer and slurped up broth between laughs and shared stories of our day.
January can be a challenging month to eat locally, depending upon your location, but it also offers up the opportunity to explore all the possibilities that root vegetables, Winter squash and greens have to offer. And although January is bitterly cold in the Pacific Northwest, it opens the door to hope and new beginnings. It is the month that feels like the stillness before the burst of energy that Spring brings.
About the Author
Jen Iacoboni lives in the Pacific Northwest where she runs a boutique style community supported agriculture business called Heart in Soil. Jen works with local farmers to bring seasonal food to her customers. She enjoys spending time in her kitchen cooking, baking and creating new recipes, and cooking from some of her favorite cookbooks. Jen dabbles in growing her own food at her city home and feels it is an important experience for the human body to grow something, to cook something, to be part of the food that nourishes our bodies.
Jen’s Smoky Vegetable Soup
Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 30 min
Total Time: 1 hr
- 1-2 medium baked potatoes
- 4 sweet smoked peppers or 1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp oregano
- 2-3 cups water
- 2 Tbl apple cider vinegar
- 2-3 cups broth
- 4 frozen tomatoes (or 2-4 cups crushed tomatoes)
- 2-4 purple topped turnips sliced into 1 inch cubes
- 1 medium sized celeriac peeled and sliced into 1 inch cubes
- 1 lb hamburger meat (optional)
- 1 medium sized onion
- 1 Tbl rosemary
- 1⁄2-1 cup milk (optional)
- Combine baked potatoes, smoked sweet peppers, garlic, salt, oregano, and water and process in a blender until smooth.
- Transfer into a stock pot and add the apple cider vinegar, broth, tomatoes, turnips and celeriac. Bring to a boil.
- In the meantime, in a skillet sauté onion, add in hamburger meat (you could use a smoky tempeh or lentils instead), sprinkle with salt.
- Once the meat is cooked and onions are tender, transfer into the stockpot and stir. Add rosemary and milk (optional).
- Turn down to a simmer and simmer 20-30 minutes at least or longer for more flavor.