It isn’t just the weather. It isn’t just the terrain. It might encompass to a degree the indigenous cultures, but there definitely is a world of difference in what we have and have-not at our Fergus Falls Grocery venue. It’s taking getting “used to” and there are plusses and minuses, delights and frustrations.
Certainly it is true that the West Coast is more cosmopolitan, more of a “melting-pot” society and consequently the products fill the demand. While living there, we found that lychee nuts were do-able, chutney – on the shelf in a variety of brands, Mexican cocoa powder – no problem. And all of this readily available in the local California supermarket, not merely from the trendy specialty grocer. Not so in Fergus Falls . And where is the turbinado? How else can you make that sweet-crunch on the top of your pie crust? Or peach cobbler? Or sugar cookies? Or simply enhance your bowl of oatmeal?
Here in Fergus Falls it is difficult to find a proper English orange marmalade, for instance. And I not only prefer it on my toast, I require it for the basis of my best salad dressing. (Note: Mash together equal amounts of marmalade and Dijon mustard. Drizzle and beat in olive oil and white wine vinegar until perfect and sweet/tangy.)
My personal chef is particularly at odds with the local pricing of fresh fruits and vegetables, which would send Alice Waters to the poorhouse and has seriously hampered our own culinary practices. I must admit that in the past I have always tended to go to the grocery store and purchase whatever I needed, willy-nilly, while T.M. price-compares and reads labels and makes intelligent shopping choices. Thank goodness. And so he is quick to point out that here the leeks are $4.49 a bunch! As is one measly head of butter lettuce. A small package of carrots – $4.19. One bell pepper – $2.18. Chilis – $4.00 a pound. A small half carton of blueberries or raspberries – $4.99. One pineapple – $4.69. Uff Da!
To be fair, this is a long way and many time zones from all-season gardening. No more sage and parsley and oregano to pick from my personal herb box for Christmas dinner. The expense of shipping clear across the continent and not just deposited the minimal miles from coastal harbors, most likely adds to the overall cost of goods. The local produce stands were long gone here with the coming of fall. It’s a different world.
Having said that, there are bravos to spread around too. This is the land of wild rice, for instance, and I have only begun to explore those culinary possibilities. And Corn is king. Some of my best memories have to do with going with Uncle Lawrence out to cousin Gayle’s farm to pick field corn and hurry it home to plunge into boiling water and dredge with butter. Lots of butter.
And there are local purveyors like Gretchen and Pat Boyum who not only show up at the local Concert in the Summer Park with their fresh, organic wares (mushrooms and radishes extraordinaire in particular memory) but call us personally about eggs from “their girls” and “gift us” with their homemade chevre.
Then there is the Falls Bakery and the Premiere Meat Co. (of previous huzzahs) which both eclipse to the max, any similar venue of their ilk in the whole of our California experience. And in the coming year we can sign up with Bluebird Gardens, a CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture) to receive our weekly bushel box of assorted produce, and even choose to personally participate in the harvest and walk among the many bluebird houses and have a picnic in their woods.
Lately we have noticed that local restaurants such as the Viking Café are advertising LUTEFISK! Also, certain Lutheran Churches are having lutefisk and/or meatball dinners pre-holiday. You certainly couldn’t get that in L.A. Lutefisk (for non-Scandanavian epicures) is a type of cod, processed in lye and boiled and served with lots of butter. I know. I’m not going to go the way of the lutefisk jokes! However, it’s availability does put it clearly in the “plus” category. For some.
The biggest plus to my mind, however, is that every local market, big or small, features lefsa – that potato-base, grilled “tortilla-esque” delicacy that can be filled with cheese, or cold meatballs, or (like my mother preferred) rolled up around butter and brown sugar, or anything your heart desires. I tried to make lefsa recently and wound up with flour everywhere – table, floor, my front and somehow, my back! And I didn’t get them thin enough and I now have a deeper-than-the-ocean respect for the ladies at Our Savior”s Lutheran Church who kept us supplied each holiday season. Bless their hearts. I’m going to try again under the guidance of Aunt Lil and if all else fails my cousin Maryanne and I like Freddy’s, a commercial version which is the next best thing.
A local big box store (which shall be nameless) actually used their Sara Lee case just for lefsa this past week – another small local version called “Laura’s Lefsa”.
But then they ruined it all with the following display: