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Table Talk: Weybridge House and the winter of local eating

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Posted on September 29, 2009 | Blog Category:
By Andrea Suozzo



A blog about everything from cooking food to farming it.

Fall is a whirlwind of change. The leaves change, the air gets colder and we say goodbye to summer berries and greens and welcome their more hearty cousins: sweet winter squash, potatoes, onions, apples.

For the inhabitants of Middlebury College’s Weybridge House, this fall isn’t about saying goodbye to summer’s produce: instead, the 18 residents of the cooperative environmental interest house have been figuring out how to pickle, freeze and can it all.

That’s because this year, the residents of the house have decided to go completely local, vowing to eat only locally produced foods for the entire academic year.

Weybridge meals have nearly always been vegetarian in the past, and have been local whenever possible. They’re no strangers to buying in bulk, and their weekly chore list includes titles like “breadmaker” and “cheesemaker” and “Co-op shopper” and this year they are beginning forays into yogurt-making as well.

Even with all their experience, though, they’ve had to do a lot of work to bring about the transition to local. The house has four shares in the CSA at Popoma Farm in Whiting, which will give them weekly vegetables well into November. They are getting bulk supplies from Gleason’s Grains, Golden Russet Farm, Monument Farms Dairy and Cabot Creamery, among other providers. They’ve also been buying produce from the Middlebury College Organic Garden, which sells to them at conventional produce prices.

To complicate matters, the house feeds more than just those who live there — it welcomes guests from the college community for dinner Monday through Thursday evenings. On a recent cold, rainy night, nearly 30 people crowded into the living area, bumping up against the stove. The opening and closing outside door sent gusts of chill air into the room, but the windows were blurred with the heat of the oven and the warmth of many people.


A vanished batch of all-local potato leek soup.

Most evenings, the Weybridge house residents (who call themselves “Weybeans”) and their guests crowd into the circle of couches and chairs in the warmly-lit living room area to eat dinner on mismatched bowls and spoons. The kitchen and a large table occupy the other side of the room, and jars of pickles, dilly beans and tomatoes fill the shelves. A room down the hall hides a chest freezer and shelves full of preserves, and the basement holds two more freezers, boxes of onions and gallons of honey and cider vinegar.

While the sheer amount of food needed to get 18 people and guests through the winter seems staggering, the house residents are unfazed. Michaela Skiles, one of the heads of the house, keeps track of all purchases in extensive budget and rationing spreadsheets on her computer, and each Sunday she brings out bags and jars of produce that they will use for the week at the house meeting.


Jars of preserves stored up for the winter.

As Skiles scrolled through lists of food that they had already preserved and stored, she read off some of the higher numbers: 210 pounds of stew tomatoes, 98 pounds of paste tomatoes, 57 pounds of ketchup, 67 pounds of blueberries and 133 pounds of peaches.

Also among their stores are dried beans, herbs, hot peppers and garlic, pickled cucumbers, green beans and beets, and frozen blueberries, zucchini, strawberries, spinach and pesto. And they still have to stock up on onions, potatoes, squash and apples for the winter.

The house will also buy milk, cream, eggs and cheese weekly, and they will also be replenishing their supplies of flour, apple cider vinegar, tofu and tempeh (these both from Hardwick-based Vermont Soy).

There is already a wide variety of food put away to get the house through the winter. And out of their $16,000 budget, over $12,000 still remains to buy fall produce and weekly food supplies throughout the winter.


One of Weybridge House's three freezers, filled with frozen fruits and vegetables.

“It would seem that we’re doing amazingly well,” said Samantha Parry, who has been handling the house’s budget.

Even the Weyfeast (a twice-yearly event) last week didn’t put the budget out by much — Weybridge house hosted 250 people for dinner and fed them all on $500.

Still, Parry cautioned, there will be costs that even careful budgeting can’t predict, so any extra money will come in handy.

But even more than shortages in their own local supplies, it is what they do not have that will provide the biggest challenge in cooking this year. The Weybeans are allowing themselves only four non-local things: salt, baking powder, baking soda and yeast. This means no sugar, nuts or spices.

Local alternatives are maple syrup and honey instead of sugar, tofu and tempeh for vegan protein and local coriander and herbs instead of spices.

“And we’re going to be using a lot of garlic,” said Skiles with a grin.

You can read up on the latest news in Weybridge House's winter of local eating on their blog at http://middfood.weebly.com.

Butternut Squash Wheatberry Risotto
Recipe courtesy Samantha Parry — from the Weyfeast

This recipe requires some thinking ahead in order to prepare the wheatberries, but since butternut squash is in season it can be made using 100% local ingredients.

Ingredients
4 cups wheatberries
1 lb onions, diced
4 or 5 cloves of garlic
dried tarragon
8 cups vegetable stock
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cream
salt
1 butternut squash, diced

1. Soak wheatberries for two days.
2. Roast butternut squash at 300 degrees for 1.5 hours.
3. In a medium sized pot, sweat the onions and garlic in a little butter
4. Add wheatberries, then add stock to just cover wheatberries (Make stock by boiling kitchen scraps, staining, and adding salt. Brassicas work great)
5. Let cook over a medium heat until all liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process until the wheatberries are cooked and the stock stops being absorbed.
6. Add butter and cream and stir until incorporated.
7. Add butternut squash
8. Stir to combine, add salt and tarragon to taste.

Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here or see other Table Talk entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.

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