Want to Cook Local? There’s An App For That
A lot of Americans are beginning to express interest in the idea of eating local, seasonal food. But at the same time, most of us spend our days working (at least) 40 hours a week, cramming social, extracurricular, and athletic events into evenings and weekends. Who has time to cook—let alone go to the farmer’s market, pick out produce, and plan meals?
This was the motivation behind Huckle & Goose, a new cooking app and website for people who want to eat local, but don’t have the time to create meal plans on their own. The app provides weekly curated recipe plans, specific to U.S. region, complete with an automated shopping list. Farmers across the U.S. email Huckle & Goose their harvest schedule, and the plans are then tailored for each region based on what’s available.
The company was started by sisters-in-law Christine Lucaciu and Anca Toderic. Both are Romanian: Toderic was born there, and Lucaciu is a first-generation American citizen. This Romanian heritage gave them a love of local, seasonal food. Toderic remembers canning tomato sauce and going to the market with her grandmother. There was an appreciation and awareness of produce’s seasonality: Toderic and her siblings would each get one orange at Christmastime, as a special treat. You can imagine, then, Toderic’s astonishment when first walking into an American grocery store, and seeing mountains of oranges in the produce section. This was “the land of milk, honey, and processed foods,” says Lucaciu. But several years ago, Lucaciu and Toderic encountered the locavore movement—and they adopted the idea wholeheartedly: “Now we don’t have to wait until summer trips to Romania to taste grass-fed meats and vegetables full of flavor,” Lucaciu said.
However, buying local has its challenges—Lucaciu and Toderic found it difficult to plan the meals they had envisioned when they bought their fresh produce. Kohlrabis and beets rotted in the back of their fridge, while they searched for recipes that were feasible to create on a busy schedule. This challenge inspired Huckle & Goose. The name refers to huckleberries and gooseberries—two berries that aren’t grown conventionally, and are only available a few months a year. “Not being able to buy them at the grocery store whenever the mood strikes cultivates a deeply rooted sense of gratitude and patience that’s so rare in our Western food culture,” Lucaciu and Toderic say on their website. In addition to the weekly meal plans, Huckle & Goose offers an archive of searchable recipes and a blog with additional cooking tips and ideas.
I signed up for a trial version of the app, and have been using it over the past couple weeks. Thus far, I’ve been impressed by the ease of the app and the versatility of the recipes. Some are more complicated than others—but Lucaciu and Toderic didn’t want to make the recipes too easy. Cooking, they said, is supposed to take time: it’s a ritual that we can enjoy. Though they offer some easy recipes, they also encourage people to try new and challenging ones.
Lucaciu and Toderic are also conscientious of the cost that often accompanies buying local—and for this reason, they offer a lot recipes that have a shorter ingredient list. This is the secret and the joy of buying local: fresh things taste great on their own, so you don’t have to add much.
Some cooks are more independent than others, and this will definitely affect how, and whether, they decide to use Huckle & Goose. Thankfully, users can customize and create their own recipe plans if they don’t like the ones provided. I ended up making my own custom plan this week, gathering a few of H&G’s recipes from the past few weeks. This enabled me to use the meat and produce I already had, plus some extras I found at the farmer’s market. I tend to be a more independent cook, and also like to cut costs wherever I can. When I didn’t have something that the recipes called for, I improvised—supplementing fresh herbs with dried, ricotta with other cheeses, eggplant with zucchini, etc. Those who like a strict meal plan will get one—but those who, like me, tend to patch things together in a more spontaneous fashion, will be able to do so.
One of the first things I made was potato and ricotta gnocchi—one of their more time-consuming recipes, but gnocchi is a personal favorite (and we already had leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge, so I had a head start). They have some great, simple side recipes—like roasted asparagus, a beet avocado salad, a fava bean salad, etc. Tuesday, I adapted a chicken recipe to accompany ratatouille with some leftover produce. Yesterday, I made beet and honey whole wheat pizza. Tonight, I’m making egg salad croissant sandwiches with radishes, and a chilled cucumber and avocado soup (I just have to toss the ingredients in the blender—it doesn’t get easier than that).
Overall, using the app this week, I’ve managed to make the meals in 30 minutes to an hour, and cleanup has been fairly easy (with the exception of the gnocchi, which required a little more time and dishes). But the best thing about this app is that it has me thinking seasonally—and it has taken some of the stress and time out of meal planning. Usually, I come home, stare at the contents of the fridge for a good 15 minutes, and then throw things together in what I hope will be a tasty combination. I rarely create a meal plan, and often end up grabbing the same staples from the grocery store, because I don’t think I have time to make anything different. Huckle & Goose gave me a fresh excitement for grocery shopping and cooking. Some of the app’s ingredients—fresh herbs, seafood, almond meal, for instance—are often expensive. But thrifty cooks can always use cheap replacements—dried herbs, chicken, normal flour.
Will I continue to use the app? I think so—once winter comes along, I want to continue eating seasonal produce. But because I’m new to this, I don’t even know what produce is seasonal in the winter months, besides kale and citrus. An app like this helps me navigate the overwhelming glory of summer produce, but may also help me buy the best produce of the winter season.
Cooking is supposed to be a fun, enjoyable way to gather in community, to enjoy the regions we come from, and to be thankful for the beauty and diversity of our seasons. But Americans have largely forgotten what it means to eat locally or seasonally. Hopefully—whether it be through an app like Huckle and Goose, or through some other service—we will re-learn what it means to appreciate our place, and its food.