The Case for Local Produce

Amaretto Pear Strudel (Vegan Farm-to-Table) with Pears from Brunnenburg Farm

(Approximately 5 min read)

I’m No Chef

Ten years ago, the only thing I knew how to cook was pasta. Without exaggeration, I cooked it *every* *single* *day.*

Back then, I only bought non-perishables; shelf-life was the name of the game. If I could have taken a pill for sustenance, I would have. Cooking and shopping were inconveniences and I never thought twice about nutrition (beyond protein) or the agricultural system.

Thankfully, a lot has changed since then and somethings I’ve learned have really surprised me. The adage that “you don’t know what you don’t know” is fairly representative of how long it took me to start asking questions about our food system. But before I get into that, it’s pear season…

The Strudel

Work on the farm this week was all about pears! Harvesting (into what closely resembled a hockey bag), slicing, de-stemming, and peeling crates full of them was exhausting work. Lucky for me, that work earned me a big take-home bag of fresh fruit.

At lunch, we had been treated to a delicious pastry that I thought I might be able to recreate. I started my baking adventure googling all I knew about what I had tasted: “Pear Tart,” “Amaretto Pear Strudel,” “Puff Pastry with Fruit.” Nothing quite matched so I decided to wing it.

At the grocery store I picked up:

  • Amaretto (an Italian almond liquor)
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Brown Sugar
  • Vanilla
  • Puff Pastry (conveniently vegan)
  • Almonds (blanched)
  • Powdered Sugar

(Side note: I trialed my 4th grocery store of the neighborhood for this recipe – I have not yet built up the courage to test out my language skills at the Centro Storico vendors or the Sabato farmer’s market.)

Obviously, being the serious chef that I am, I started out with a taste test of the Amaretto. It’s pretty strong but mostly reminds me of candied almonds. I give it two thumbs up.

I then got to chopping at my farm-fresh pears. I experimented with a few shapes: slices with the skins, peeled wedges, and decided to go with peeled cubes for my strudel (about 3 pears turned out to be the right amount).

In a frying pan, I mixed a thin layer of amaretto with a a bit of water, a tablespoon of brown sugar, and topped with grated ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Next, I added the cubed pears and covered, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes on a medium-low heat.

When I tasted these pears, I had a flashback of Ratatouille’s Anton-Ego-proportion. I was back at Jay Peak, Vermont, with my Dad and brother, at Christmas breakfast sometime around high school. Poached Pear Pancakes had been on the menu and this tasted just like the warmth of the fireplace that day and the smell of pine garland and Christmas trees. I love when unexpected things bring back forgotten memories.

While the amaretto mixture was working on the stove, I pre-heated the oven to 200C (~400F) and unrolled the vegan puff-pastry dough. I googled some designs and spaced my dough into three columns, slicing Christmas tree branches with a butter knife into the outside rows.

I retained the liquid as I strained the amaretto soaked pears and loaded them into the center column. I added some dark chocolate spread to half (after also taste-testing, ovviamente). Then I criss-crossed the arms to hug-in the filling.

Instead of an egg-wash, which I usually replace with a plant-based-milk-wash, I threw the strained liquid back into the sauce pan and turned up the heat. I added my chopped almond slivers and let it reduce into a sticky syrup. I topped the strudel with this mixture and popped it into the oven for about 30 minutes.

To recap:

  • Amaretto, sugar, and spices in a sauce pan for 15 minutes
  • Tuck the cooked pears into the puff pastry design of your choosing
  • Bake at 200C for 30 minutes.

I dusted with some powdered sugar before digging in. Wow! The crunch, the pears, the amaretto syrup, these were delizioso. I shared with some teammates and neighbors and they were impressed, but undeservingly; this dessert was so easy.

With the leftover pears, I made vegan pancakes to recreate that Christmas feeling and a second puff pastry sheet with new shapes… and more chocolate.

Local Produce Matters

Part of the reason I sought out working on the farm was to understand our food system and to find a deeper connection with nature and it’s inherent cycles. After making this pastry, my mind went back to grad school classes discussing the definition of sustainability. For example, how do you compare the sustainability of plastic and glass bottles. At first look, it seems obvious – plastic is the anthesis of sustainability. But actually, it’s not so simple. If we are looking through the lens of plastic-pollution in the ocean, glass is the obvious choice; but if we are looking through the lens of CO2 emissions, heavier glass bottles burn more fuel and contribute more to global warming. (I still try to avoid plastics whenever I can. They take 5000 years to biodegrade!)

One such comparison was a seemingly simple question about produce: What is more sustainable – Organic or Local?

The answer wasn’t straight forward at all. It was the first time I really started thinking about all the steps that go into getting food to our plates. Seasonality, geographic origins, production and shipping of fertilizers, were all tradeoff factors in determining the most “sustainable.” There was no definitive global answer, but there were some really notable take-aways that stuck with me.

First of all, when you buy in-season produce, less resources are required to grow that food. I remember thinking, “seasonality?” It so obvious now, but I had never questioned the fact that I could always find my avocados, any time of year. Secondly, when you buy local, there are lower transportation emissions and small farms tend to grow a larger variety of plants. This is better for the ecosystem in terms of biodiversity and soil health. And as a bonus, there is often less packaging. The plastic required to keep fruits and veggies fresh from far away isn’t necessary when you get it fresh from the local farm. And finally, the kicker for me, pesticides and other chemicals used in non-organic farming poison the air and water in and around farming communities. In assessing the superiority of organic or local produce, my take away was to prioritize both, and to think about seasonality as well.

From a health stand-point, did you know that fruits and vegetables start losing nutrients within 24 hours of being harvested? I didn’t.

This article, from The Beet, makes the case that local food is more nutritious. One reason being, standard produce is often picked before it is ripe so it can “look good” by the time it’s transported to the store; when harvested ripe, produce contains higher nutrient density. (If you are curious about what grows near you this time of year, and live in the states, try this out: Seasonal Food Guide.)

All this to say: When was the last time you thought about how your meal got to your plate?

Hey there!

I’m Jacquie and I’m an American hockey player living in Bolzano, Italy. I write about hockey, sustainability, and food.

More About Me

One thought on “The Case for Local Produce

  1. OMG Jacquie!!! Quella ricetta suona e sembra così deliziosa!!! I will try it in the next couple of weeks and will let you know how it turns out. Also, great perspectives on local vs. organic…and how your sense of smell took you back to a fond family memory from high school. I read somewhere that smell is the sense that is most associated with memory. Anyway, grazie mille per la ricetta ed il tuo racconto. Ciao, Luigi

    Liked by 1 person

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