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Eating adventures

02/07/07 12:00AM By
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(HOST) Vermont's agriculture offers us not only standard fare, like milk and maple syrup, but also the chance for adventure - exploring local food. Commentator Helen Labun Jordan is enjoying her winter, experimenting with new possibilities for a local menu.

(LABUN JORDAN) This winter, I've been trying to eat more local foods. It's easier to stay focused in summer, faced with all that produce, but in winter there's still plenty to eat - you just have to remember to look for it.

I recently decided to expand my winter options by learning to cook organ meat - specifically, beef hearts. I remembered dissecting a cow's heart in seventh grade and that was kind of interesting. These hearts also have a lot of meat. They're the size of a small serving platter. Getting so much meat for one preparation would leave time in my schedule for other local cooking projects. And, they're a lot cheaper than other local meat, freeing up room in my budget for more maple syrup or the occasional fancy steak.

Of course, the beef heart scheme wasn't without its challenges. For one thing, I'd been a vegetarian for twelve years. Eating local meat seemed like the philosophically correct thing to do; I would be supporting a form of local agriculture well-suited to Vermont's land. But after over a decade of soy protein I had no idea how to cook meat. Plus, I wanted a hundred percent local dish, which meant that most recipes wouldn't work. I did have a bottle of local wine on hand that I thought would be useful. So, I hoped for the best and thawed the meat, but somewhere between the thawing and the cooking, I came down with the flu.

When my husband got home from work that evening, I handed him the meat, the wine, and a 1968 Joy of Cooking, and headed to bed. "It says to remove the arteries first," I warned him. I think you can figure it out from there.

He looked at the cookbook.

"And I want you to replace all of the ingredients, except the heart, with wine, I added.

He looked at the recipe some more. "What does 'simmer' mean?" he asked.

"Oh dear," I said.

The next day, I discovered that beef heart tastes good. In fact, it tastes like normal beef. I found that vaguely disappointing because I like adventurous eating. If I could find a new dish to sample every day, I would. And not just to satisfy my own curiosity. The heart, for example, adds one more marketable piece to the cow. That helps local farmers have one more product to sell. Sometimes buying new food items can support an entirely different kind of business like what happened with organic farming several decades ago. Or, I can find a new use for a familiar product, like making a good taco filling with local dried beans instead of canned. This substitution means I can buy more local food and also save money by switching away from a highly processed option. The money I save goes toward sampling even more new products. It's a win-win situation.

Of course, beyond trying a new food once, you also have to like it enough to keep eating it. . . and I'm looking forward to when my husband makes his new beef heart special again.

Helen Labun Jordan works at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

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