Nearly every Saturday, Adrienne Moore’s eco bags are stretched to capacity with fresh produce and artisan foods as she maneuvers from booth to booth at the downtown Red Stick Farmers Market. Today her finds include goat ribs, pastured poultry, fresh chevre, handmade breads and scads of winter vegetables and fruits from Louisiana farmers and producers. Moore says she’s a longtime fan of eating local, but recently her commitment has hit a new high. Today, she’s part of the growing number of Baton Rougeans who have emphatically retooled their culinary customs to fit the seasons.
“The food tastes better, it’s better for me and I have a relationship with the farmers who grow it,” says Moore. “It’s become a real passion.”
Moore’s habit is to buy the majority of her shopping list from Red Stick vendors and fetch items she can’t find there, like olive oil and paper towels, from local grocers. The market’s changing content drives her choices in recipes. “I come home and typically spend the morning washing and prepping everything,” she says. “Then I start cooking for the week.”
Moore is not alone. More Baton Rougeans concerned with food safety and quality are becoming locavores, says Big River Economic & Agricultural Development Alliance (BREADA) Executive Director Copper Alvarez.
“We’re seeing a lot of age groups, including young families, who are doing it for lifetime health,” Alvarez says. “If you can eat seasonally for half of your meals you’re doing a lot for your own well-being.”
That’s because farmers harvest fruits and vegetables “right up to the last minute,” preventing the nutritional content from degrading, says Alvarez. Furthermore, small batch—rather than commercial-scale—production maintains the nutrients in soil, yielding foods with significantly higher vitamin content, says Red Stick vendor Hutch McClendon, who farms near Ethyl, La.
McClendon, a former software executive, got into organic farming after his wife was diagnosed a few years ago with inflammatory breast cancer.
“I really wanted us to have fresh foods with no additives or preservatives,” McClendon says. “There’s a real health component to this, and as a family, we’ve seen a big difference.”
Indeed, health is a big motivator for eating seasonal—but so is taste. Gourmet Girls owner Kathy Mangham plans her catering menu by the calendar. “It makes sense,” she says, “because the flavor is so much better.”
Louisiana’s year-round growing season, regional seafood and artisan producers create a bounty that’s unequaled in other parts of the country. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find by month.
Juicy Louisiana strawberries emerge in the winter and continue through the spring.
Cold weather crops like winter squash and greens are also in good supply. Oysters are available all year but are plumpest during colder months.
Crops like mustard, turnip and collard greens, onions, shallots and Irish potatoes continue to be available. It’s a great time to try homey stone-ground grits, fresh cheeses and grass-fed beef from the farmers’ market. Crawfish start to make an appearance at local seafood markets.
Early tomatoes, bell peppers, snap beans and all sorts of other crops, including small batches of fava beans, sweet peas and even artichokes, emerge. Strawberries continue. Fat Tuesday is March 8 this year, so pick up a handmade king cake from local bakers Nannette Mayhall or Strands Cafe downtown.
Now begins the “sweet spot” of the growing season as spring crops merge with more summer crops. Shrimpers begin to catch white shrimp now through December and brown shrimp through next February.
There’s an explosion of crops in May, including long-awaited, flavorful summer tomatoes. Crawfish are at their peak. Try goat’s milk chevre and feta from the market’s goat dairy vendors, and create chicken salad from a free range bird.
Another high point in the calendar, June brings fleeting gems like fresh corn, more tomatoes and summer staples like peppers and cucumbers. Blueberries, blackberries, peaches and figs are in full swing, so visit a local pick-your-own orchard. Hot weather also means blue crabs.
Pick up a Washington Parish watermelon for Fourth of July from the market or a local grocer. Much of the summer bounty continues and also includes cabbage, Southern peas, broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower and squash.
Farmers are in transition this month, as the heat intensifies and preparation for fall crops begins. Okra is plentiful, so make a pot of gumbo and top it with Red Stick vendor Lionel Key’s hand-ground filé.
A second round of tomatoes appears this month. Create a fresh sauce, and pick up handmade dried pasta from Fresina’s. Sample local honey from Chenier Farms or Bocage Honey, both found at the market.
Early in the month, find hearty summer favorites like cucumbers, peppers and eggplant. Persimmons, beets, lettuces, English peas and pumpkins emerge, too. Create a decadent Halloween basket with vendor Steve Lawrence’s handmade chocolates.
Sweet potatoes, mirlitons, greens, spinach and winter squash are a few of the fall crops that land on local Thanksgiving tables. Fresh pecans are available for use in handmade pralines and pies. Native citrus, including satsumas, Meyer lemons, oranges, kumquats and grapefruits first appear.
Create bread pudding using Smith Creamery milk and cream, hand-gathered eggs and an artisan baguette, all available at the market. Make a gift basket with local items like Community Coffee, Red Stick Spice Co. oils and spices and Louisiana Seafood condiments.