January 4, 2010 — Do you like local vegetables, but wish you could find them more easily? Are you stumped about how to cook them when you do find them? Is buying local produce more expensive or more hassle than shopping in a conventional supermarket?
Those are among the questions that will be answered in a new course on "Local Food For Thought," open to anyone through the University of Virginia's School of Continuing and Professional Studies. The class starts Jan. 27 and meets Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Darden School of Business. (Details below) U.Va. employees can pay for tuition with their annual $2,000 educational benefit.
The course will begin with an examination of this region's cuisine and food heritage, and the personal, community and environmental aspects and benefits of eating local (along with a discussion of what exactly that means), said instructor Lisa Reeder, a local food advocate and educator who trained at the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York City before working for several years in a few of the city's more innovative kitchens.
Then the course will cover more pragmatic concerns, Reeder said, starting with how to access local food year-round, including which local stores and area producers offer what foods, and when.
Practical cooking tips, and one cooking-and-eating class, will demonstrate how to cook seasonally with what's available by knowing some basics about flavor families and making good use of (nearly) year-round local crops like kale, beets, apples, cabbage and winter squash.
Using local foods allows for simpler, faster and easier cooking, Reeder said. The varying harvest of fresh local veggies and fruit provides built-in constraints that simplify meal planning.
Familiar foods reveal new identities when prepared and served fresh from the field, she said. Freshly harvested potatoes are sweet with sugar that hasn't yet turned to starch, for instance.
"Many people say they don't like kale or beets, but they love them when we cook them in the class," Reeder said. "It's such a difference having a fresh, flavorful product that's in season and hasn't been sitting on a supermarket shelf for six days."
The vibrant flavors of local food often need little more than a bit of salt or some fresh butter and herbs, Reeder said.
"It almost feels like cheating because it's so easy," she said, in contrast to the long list of ingredients and sophisticated preparation that goes into most restaurant cooking, partly to compensate for using less-fresh ingredients.
Reeder will co-teach the course with local foods enthusiast and writer Carroll Ann Friedmann, founder of Virginia Friends of Farmers and treasurer of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association.
Friedmann will share how she cooks for a family of five with 80 percent local food, and spends less than she did when shopping conventionally at area grocery stores.
She also will discuss some of the less obvious benefits of local food. For instance, a home garden can involve children and kindle an enthusiasm for fresh, healthy food, as well as providing exercise and a connection to the land and the seasons.
The eight class meetings will end with a screening of the movie "Fresh." The class will also be encouraged to visit at least one exemplary local food producer, such as Wade's Mill or Polyface Farm, both in the Shenandoah Valley.
• "Local Food For Thought,"
Open to anyone through U.Va.'s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
Jan. 27 to March 24, Wednesdays, 7 to 9 p.m., Room 160 at the Darden School of Business. Includes one cooking-and-eating class and a screening of the movie "Fresh."
Cost is $190.
Advance registration open now. 30-student limit.