"At home" and "local" conjure up visions of a gingham tablecloth, tomatoes on the windowsill and an apple pie cooling on the stovetop. If you are comfortable with this picture, then you're already on the garden path to the Food Channel's lists of food trends and foods to watch in 2011.
They (www.foodchannel.com) and their market research companies have identified directions in which American food culture is moving. Not surprisingly, some are reactions to negative events of the past two years: the economy and illnesses caused by contamination.
Fresh is in. This may not seem like news in an area where backyard garden plots are part of summer life, but for those who don't grown their own, farmers markets are on the increase. Supporting local farming is better for the economy and the environment. Your money and, probably, the farmer's will stay in this region and will not have the added environmental costs of transportation from California or South America, nor the safety concerns of food from parts unknown.
T-L Photo/Glynis Valenti
Chef Gene Evans spends time at the Ohio Valley Farmers Market both shopping and doing cooking demonstrations using market produce.
"Knowing the farmer and the food that he or she produces creates a more intimate relationship with the process," says Chef Gene Evans, chef and instructor of the Culinary Arts Program at West Virginia Northern Community College. "I like to use [market] food as an inspiration for menu creation and as an illustration to the students about freshness."
Susan West of the Ohio Valley Farmers Market in Bellaire and St. Clairsville says the produce booths are the most popular and that the farmers are happy with the support from customers. One thing she noticed about attendance in 2010 was that "more people are purchasing."
What produce will customers be looking for in 2011? According to the "foods to watch" list, sweet potatoes and beans will be hot this year. Evans says he looks for heirloom beans and varieties he hasn't seen before to put a new twist on his menus and substitutes sweet potatoes for potato and pasta, bumping up the vitamins, color and flavor in his dishes.
Related to the market trend, is an increase in specialty shops: butchers, cheeses, bakeries, etc. In Europe, people have shopped daily for centuries buying warm bread or freshly cut pork chops from their friends and neighbors. Americans live at a faster pace, though, and shopping for groceries has mostly been scheduled in for once or twice a week. It seems people are now tiring of the pre-packaged dinners and are trying to make their ways toward a healthier, more local path to enjoying what they eat.
At Valley Cheese Company, third generation shop owner Janet Richardson has noticed that customers do come in more often to buy fresh. Specializing in Amish country products, she also believes "the quality and the one-on-one service" are reasons that they have seen an increase in customers of late.
Bakery trends include gluten-free pastries and breads, using organic ingredients and baking pies.
In fact, a recent article called 2011 "The Year of the Pie," and the Food Channel says watch for small pies, both sweet and savory varieties. As it happens, sausage is also on their "foods to watch" list-that is, freshly made with locally raised lean meat.
Once people are home with their fresh food, what do the trends say they'll be doing with it? More men will be cooking dinner for one thing. In a phenomenon that Time Magazine labeled a "sheconomy," women are beginning to earn more money and work longer than men. Men may have shorter or more flexible schedules or opt to be "stay at home dads" who are now spending at least triple of the amount of time cooking than in 1970.
Chef Evans says he has several male friends that do home cooking and speculates that the popularity of cooking shows and networks has simplified food for the consumer and made it more "approachable."
Another 2011 food trend that ties in with all of the above is home canning. According to statistics, it's not just for grandmas anymore. A recent survey by Jarden Products, makers of Ball canning jars, discovered an estimated 50 percent of home canners are under 45 years old.
Savoring local, fresh produce and saving money in the food budget are two reasons people can, but food safety isthe top reason given. Knowing where the food comes from and how it is prepared raises the comfort level for many. Salt, sugar and spices can be easily regulated for special diets and preferences. Glass and lids can be sterilized and reused for next year's crop, or jars of colorful peaches and tomatoes can be tied with ribbon and recipes for thoughtful , inexpensive gifts.
When the apron strings get tight, one of the 2011 food trends is stepping outside the comfort zone. Try something new, even if it's preparing something a different way. As it happens, two "foods to watch" are fish (with fins) and gourmet ice pops.
Even in meat and potatoes country, haddock is not exotic. Fish is a healthy alternative, though, to any meat. Farm-raised fish are becoming more popular for their controlled diets and environments. Hybrid bluegill is sneaking up the charts and has three times the Omega 3's of salmon. Try a ceviche (seafood stew) at a nice restaurant. For cooking at home, ask a local fish market for recommendations on fish and recipes.
Give the kids the frozen orange juice. Tamarind, chile pepper and cheesecake are flavors only adults can appreciate in ice pops. Paired with fruits, juices, cream and alcohol they're becoming a really hot dessert item. Look for them at restaurants next summer and online (for recipes) now.
Back to basics seems to be what the trends are saying, and not just with food. It looks like 2011 will be another year of simplifying and being mindful of health, budget and each other.
Glynis Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.