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I have lived with a root cellar my entire adult life. I consider it an absolute necessity, the hub of winter’s culinary adventures, the go-to place for apples, winter pears, onions, leeks, potatoes, carrots, winter radish, beets, cabbage, rutabagas, celeriac, Chinese cabbage, parsnips and endive.

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Maine and Vermont have two of the fastest growing local food movements in the country. That is apparent in the number of new farms and people trying to figure out how to get onto a piece of land; through the health of the seed industry; in local farmers’ markets; in the availability of local community supported agriculture farms; and on the plates of local restaurants.

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I don’t grow rhubarb. My neighbor has a double row with more than 20 plants in it. I just cross the street and pick what I need. Walking back to my house, a bundle of red stalks in my arms, I get to take in the view of my farm. I like the shift in perspective. I like the broadened view. I like the little discoveries that happen along the journey – a closer look at the rose of Sharon bush, or the pear in blossom; how the peach buds fared on this side of the road. This is a well established rhubarb patch and part of a well established friendship, one filled with many favors, both ways, and no tally sheet.

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In A Midwife’s Tale, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich tells of walking across the frozen Kennebec River in Hallowell at Thanksgiving time. The river is tidal there, well past Augusta. In winter, the ice heaves and jams and builds up, often causing troublesome backup floods in March. These days, we don’t get winters cold enough to freeze the rivers that solid until January or later. Last winter barely dipped below zero in central Maine. Sections of the Kennebec in Hallowell never froze.

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CranberriesThe first time I saw cranberries growing in the wild was on a canoe trip in springtime. A few friends and I were paddling along a meandering stretch of a small river in Aroostook County. The waters were exceptionally high due to spring rains, and we were able to cut corners on most of the oxbows in the river. We started to see little red berries swaying in the slight current. After knocking them with the blade of our paddles, they floated to the surface. I scooped a few into my hand. They were cranberries!

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Now that summer is here and the plants are in the ground, I am taking my cues from the ripening vegetables. Those first tender harvests of broccoli and zucchini are divine reminders of why we do this work. And the height of it all is fresh salsa season. Fruit and cilantro, then tomatoes and hot peppers and every combination of vegetable and garden spices.

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Toki Oshima drawingIn the dark of the root cellar, the bright tales of last year’s harvests are fading. The warm fall season did not help the storage quality of any of the root crops. Those concerted efforts to use up the stores have fallen short of the mark. Either we do something soon or all this food will be compost or chicken food. Honorable fates, but let's try to get more of this onto our plates. These recipes offer ideas for cleaning out the root cellar.

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RaspberriesThis time of year, many of us struggle with the urge to hibernate, to stay home and drink tea by the fire and read or work on a winter project, yet the social demands of the holidays pull us out far and, often, long into the night. Add in the hours of a full-time job and we are often pulled in too many directions. My solution is warm comfort food.

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From spring through fall, Maine cranks out the fruit. Our winter weary palates get shocked awake with rhubarb. In June, our eyes roll back with the divine perfection of sun-ripened strawberries. July brings on a rush of fleeting pleasures with raspberries, mulberries, gooseberries, sour cherries, currants and blueberries. In August, the blueberries continue, and fall raspberries, peaches and plums join the earliest ripening apples. September holds grapes, pears, apples, hardy kiwis and cranberries in her arms of plenty.

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Harvest Kitchen drawing by Toki OshimaOn his show “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor once did a monologue about four people who went for a car ride in order to see the odometer turn to 200,000 miles. He took listeners through the town and out to the country, where our attention was turned to the crows in a cornfield, then the monologue traveled off with our minds meandering to other rich topics, only to have Garrison bring our attention abruptly back to the odometer, which then read 200,003 miles!

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Toki Oshima drawingIn the last few years, I have noticed a significant increase in the number of small dairy operations, many of them organic, in Maine. Transitioning to organic has helped small dairy farms survive. Selling milk wholesale is one option, but I have noted an increasing number of farms marketing their milk and value-added products such as cheese and yogurt to natural food and gourmet shops, and even to Hannaford supermarkets.

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This summer I trialed 10 varieties of green soybeans for a local seed company. I planted and labeled each variety carefully, then took notes at various stages of development. The crowning event was the edamame (green soybean) taste-off. I steamed each variety separately, then shelled them into individual bowls. All of them had the delicious, nutty taste of green soybeans, but three were a little sweeter: ‘Sayamasume,’ ‘Beer Friend’ and ‘Shironomai.’ My old favorites, ‘Shirofumi’ and ‘Maple Glen,’ were delicious but not in the top three. ‘Beer Friend’ had larger beans than the others.

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Toki Oshima drawingA great many of my culinary efforts start with Alliums in some form. Shallots, potato onions, and bulb onions of all shapes, color and intensity are the main fare. The leeks, bunching onions, chives, and scallions vary and extend the season, bringing more of the springtime of the soil into every day.

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Toki Oshima drawingHave you been through the Exhibition Hall yet? Common Ground Fair’s Exhibition Hall is a hall of marvels. You walk from the hustle and bustle of the fairgrounds into the cool quiet sanctum of mellowed wooden timbers and high ceilings. The outside world falls away. You focus on rows of tables crammed full of flowers and vegetables, then your focus narrows to each section of vegetables as you walk along the edge of table after table.

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About 15 years ago, I wrote a column entitled “What is Tofu?” Tofu was just hitting the market shelf in individual, one-pound containers. Until then, it was only available at co-op storefronts or health food stores. Today, tofu and many other soy products, including tempeh, soy milk, soy cheese and soy “meats,” are readily available in most supermarkets in all sorts of convenient, life-extending packaging.

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CiderCider is an extraordinarily versatile beverage that can be enjoyed in its many forms, sweet, semi-sweet, dry, sparkling, still, apple brandy and apple jack, as well as in a staggering number of hot and mulled drinks. Recently, the United States has rediscovered this beverage that quenched the thirst of its founders. Interest in cider making and hard cider has been growing as fast as the microbrewing industry.

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