Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eating Local (Almost)

It's that time of year for the many "Eat Local Challenges" to hit the cyberstreets (funny how they always seem to happen in the middle of summer, when local produce is at the peak of ripeness . . .) Having once again wussed out of undertaking such an endeavor, I've been taking great delight watching from the sidelines as various bloggers have adapted (or failed to adapt) to the challenge of eating only foods produced within a circumscribed area (such as North and South Carolina, as in the case of the "Eat Carolina Food Challenge").

One interesting thing is how many of the bloggers taking the challenge don't fall back upon traditional local recipes, which you would think would be the easiest route for making tasty dinners with just things produced in the region. Instead, they go through all sorts of contortions trying to adapt any number of international fusion dishes to ingredients they can find locally. One old friend of mine, irked because she couldn't make proper tortillas with locally-milled wheat flour, cheated and snuck in a little self-rising flour made by the same company but with ingredients that come from who knows where. Just my two cents, but maybe a meal involving tortillas isn't something that's optimal for "eat local" week?

And then there's coffee. I can't tell you the number of "eat local challenge" entrants I've seen who've included, without comment, coffee that was roasted locally (for example, at Charleston Coffee Roasters for a Chucktown-based blogger). While I suppose there are some style points for getting freshly-roasted coffee, I'm hard pressed to see how this advances the goal of "sustainable, local agriculture." What could be more symbolic of large scale, global agriculture than beans grown on overseas coffee plantations?

I feel for the poor bloggers who are deprived of their morning caffeine fix. Here in Charleston, I suppose, you could make do with a stiff cup of tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation, but in other states you're pretty much screwed.

But, for those locavores who really want to stick to the letter of the game, I have a solution, for others have been through similar deprivations in the past (though, perhaps, not quite so self-imposed). During the Civil War, Southerners found themselves similarly cut off from their normal supplies of coffees. While some hoarded beans and diluted their limited supplies, others were more resourceful and devised substitutes. In The Confederate Housewife, John Hammond Moore compiles over a dozen substitute recipes published in Civil War-era newspapers, including the following:

  • Corn & Rice Coffee: Equal parts corn and rice, ground and boiled

  • Rye coffee: "Take Rye, boil it not so much as to burst the grain, then dry it, either in the sun, on the stove, or in a kiln, after which it is ready for parching, to be used like the real Coffee Bean."

  • Sweet Potato Coffee: "Peel sweet potatoes and cut to a size of coffee beans. Spread in the sun until perfectly dry. Then parch in an oven or pan until thoroughly brown before being ground."

  • Persimmon Coffee: "Save the seeds of the persimmon after they have been boiled, and you let out the slop; for they are excellent for coffee, rather stronger and rougher than the genuine Rio [I'll bet!--Ed.]; hence I mix two parts of dried potatoes to one of persimmon seeds."

There's many more examples, but this should be sufficient to get you through that morning coffee craving while sticking true to the eat local principles. Enjoy!

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