What's in Season: Beets and Monkfish
Photo by Michael Piazza / Styled by Catrine Kelty
While winter isn’t considered the most prolific growing season in the Northeast, there are certainly folks here working to feed our population year-round. An increasing number of farmers are utilizing hoop houses, greenhouses or freight containers for commercial ventures, and home gardeners are harvesting their own bounty using indoor grow systems like the Tower Garden, Grove and other aquaponic verticals.
So even in the coldest part of the year, many New Englanders are actually eating freshly picked local produce on a regular basis, whether they bought it from one of the numerous winter farmers markets in the area or they grew it themselves.
Our ancestors would be amazed. Even a century ago, before widespread home refrigeration, larders and root cellars had to be filled by late autumn to get a family through the winter. It was long-storing vegetables—along with grains, beans and potted, cured meats—that made up the winter diet of our Colonial forebears, nary a green vegetable in sight. This is why, despite the advent of year-round local greens and regionally produced hydroponics like tomatoes and cukes— not to mention the industrial global food system that brings watermelon to our shelves even in December—our traditional winter foods in New England have remained those that were picked in the fall and store well. Read: roots, tubers, alliums and squash.
Our wild fisheries have a winter season, too, and this is when some of the best New England seafood is brought to shore. If you follow the old adage to only eat oysters in months containing an “r,” you’ll find yourself square in their best season right now, continuing through April. Tender, sweet Nantucket Bay scallops—whose harvest is dwindling, and increasingly expensive—are worth seeking out if you can find (and afford) them. Sadly, Maine’s delicate wild pink shrimp has declined in such a rapid way that the once abundant winter catch is now heavily restricted, and sometimes even canceled altogether, as warming oceans diminish the population. Monkfish and skate, however, are abundant and plentiful and at their best from November to March, relatively low on the price scale for local fish, and as versatile and easy to cook as any fish out there.
Here are two recipes to highlight local wintertime food.