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Prime Time: Locavore ambitions challenging in winter

I have locavore ambitions but it's tough to be one living in Northern Minnesota. My Grandma Ida (b.1880, d. 1957) was more of a locavore than I can possibly be. She died a good 50 years before the term popped into the language.

Locavore has various definitions. It basically means that a person is committed to eating principally locally grown foods. Some definitions allow that food grown within 250 miles is OK. I don't think there's much hope for eating things grown in North or South Dakota, Wisconsin or Iowa during the winter. And poor Manitoba and Ontario, our Canadian neighbors to the north. There's one Canadian exception I note below, but it wasn't grown in March.

Ida, on the other hand, had a basement with hundreds of gleaming jars on the shelves. They all contained locally grown food that fed her family all through the winter. In August and September, she'd stoke up the wood stove to can hundreds of quarts of beans, peas, corn, tomatoes and carrots, as well as rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries from the garden. She'd take the kids to the woods to pick blueberries, and blueberry sauce was canned as well. The root cellar held potatoes from the garden, and in the basement there were barrels of dill pickles from garden cucumbers and sauerkraut from the cabbages that had flourished under the northern sun in the summertime.

Yes, Ida and her family were locavores long before the word was invented.

Most of us, on the other hand, are pitiful international eaters. Oh yes, I have rhubarb in the freezer, as well as some frozen hot dishes that have cabbage as a major component. And I do know women who still can, and they can claim the locavore title. But let's take a look at the other food I have on hand. My grocery store holds signs saying where all of the fresh fruits and vegetables came from. While most are grown in the United States, we do eat internationally. These bananas are from Guatemala. The avocados grew in Mexico. This waxed rutabaga came from Canada. Carrots grew in California and the parsnips, bless them, came from Anoka, Minn. Although both the carrots and parsnips have information in French on the plastic bags they came in, which makes them just a bit suspect. The prize, however goes to the Clementines that come in a nifty wooden box and carry an address in Morocco. The beautiful little round tangerines made the longest journey, and are still sweet and fresh. The box also bears a web site address, and I click away and find it. Oh dear. It's all in French and I can only make out a few words, learned in a long-ago college class. Clearly the French, who have a reputation for fine food, enjoy vegetables not grown locally. And I take a certain satisfaction in discovering that the average temperature in Paris in March is in the 40s, and it's not a lot warmer in southern France during this month. So the French can abandon ideas of being locovores in the winter as well. That makes me feel marginally better.

But oh, Ida. You breathed your last years ago. You live on in the memory of those of us who knew you. The kitchen that knew 100-plus temperatures from the hot wood stove on canning afternoons has been remodeled several times. You wouldn't recognize it. The room as well lives on only in memory. The word locovore wasn't in your vocabulary along with the Swedish of your childhood and your immigrant English. But you and the other canners of your time were surely locovores. And Ida, I'd drink a toast to you. But as an old Lutheran, you might not approve. But you'll approve of this for sure: bless your memory, Grandma Ida.