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Best Cook In Town: To Be a Locavore

Best Cook In Town: To Be a Locavore
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Beth Richardson scoops peach and hot-pepper salsa out of a mason jar and into a small bowl and pushes it toward me. “Try this!” she says, her voice reflecting a mix of pride and unrestrained gusto for good food. The salsa is bright yellow with specks of green and tastes hot and sweet to the tongue. Beth is a “locavore”–a person who prefers to eat locally grown food–and by “local” she means a lot of what she’s raised herself.

Living as they do on six acres in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Beth and her husband, Peter, keep a garden, a small orchard, berry patches, a flock of chickens, and several beehives. It’s pretty much all right here–and what’s not right here can be had from the local farmers’ market or Portland’s Whole Foods market, which sells milk and meat from locally raised livestock. If they can’t eat all their produce at once, Beth cans it and saves it for when the garden is under snow. This is what it means to be a locavore.

In the summer, the produce comes in wheelbarrow loads, too much even for the Richardsons’ family of four. At first Beth gave food away until she couldn’t give it away anymore. Then she took a “master preserver class” offered by the local extension service. “That opened my eyes like never before,” she says. “Until then, I had no idea what I could do with all I had.” Once everything comes out of the canning kettle, there’s still too much for the family to handle, so “everyone’s Christmas gifts are canned goods, honey, or eggs,” she adds.

Now Beth’s pantry shelves groan in the late fall, with pickles and sauerkraut, gingered pears, chutneys, and, of course, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Anything she has in abundance is fair game, plus anything her neighbors produce as well. “Next door, they have the prettiest flowering quince,” Beth explains. “But later in the season, the fruit was all over the ground. I gathered it all up and made a wonderful quince jam out of it. I have a bit of a reputation around here as a forager.”

In the process, Beth, who works full-time as an assistant professor of business administration at St. Joseph’s College of Maine in Standish, has taught her neighbors and even their children to cook and to appreciate local foods. “We all made pickled beets together,” she says, “and, honestly, most of those kids had never even eaten a beet. I made converts out of all of them.”

While Beth has been talking, she’s been busily opening various jars of salsas, chutneys, jams, relishes, and sauerkrauts for me to sample. Everything is tasty, sharp, and very fresh–the flavors and colors vivid. “Oh! I almost forgot!” she exclaims. She races back into the pantry and returns with a jar of marinated sweet green peppers.

“I haven’t even tried these yet,” she says, as she unscrews the ring and pops the tin lid off with a can opener. “I had such a huge crop of peppers last fall that I didn’t know what to do with all of them. I was trying every recipe in the book. Then I tried this one. I added fresh thyme and oregano.” She draws out long pepper slices, lays them on a plate, and cuts them into bite-size pieces. She takes one for herself and pushes the plate toward me. “Wow!” she says. “These are awesome!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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