The fresh flowers are the first colors to catch my eye. They beam a welcome and beg me to bury my nose into their midst and inhale this early summer day. It is still a relatively cool morning and only the foreshadowing of a hot and humid day teases in the morning air. I hold the hands of my little girls a wee bit tighter and tell them to take a deep breath and smell. Sweetly scented strawberries and those amazing cream filled whoopee pies fill our noses. The Friday morning ritual has begun.
A local farmer’s market is a delight for the senses: smells and sights and tastes of the season inspire healthy eating and the opportunity to invest in meaningful community relationships. My girls smile and say hello to the farmer who offers them a taste of her strawberries; my boys scan the scene, looking for baked goods. I stop to chat with the farmer about the baby spinach and we exchange ideas about a salad that combines her spinach and strawberries with the fresh goat cheese to be had a few stalls down from her. It is early in the farmer’s market season in my town and we are meeting new friends and re-acquainting ourselves with familiar faces from last year.
I have a list, the fruit of careful research about what to expect this time of year. I’ve sketched some menus based on what I can reasonably hope to find. But I know that I will happily skip away from the plans on the list should one of the farmers have something different to offer, particularly if they can suggest a way to prepare it.
Sarah, my smallest child, holds my hand tightly, her eyes wide with wonder, scanning the scene. Tugging me just a bit, she is eager to absorb it all. She doesn’t remember last year’s visits, when she rode through this market snuggled up against me in a baby carrier. This is a playground for a child who is an adventurous, enthusiastic eater of all things fresh and flavorful. Sarah is eager to taste and see. And so am I. It is market season at last and we will fill our basket with the fresh and flavorful: brown eggs, free range chicken, spring greens, abundant ripe strawberries, asparagus, and a bouquet of those wildflowers. Tonight, our dinner will be fine, fresh, and rooted firmly in the local soil.
Make the Most of Your Trip:
- Go early . You will find the best selection if you arrive early. Early mornings at the market are cooler and everything (and everyone) is fresh and crisp. The sensory experience of fresh produce artfully displayed, piled high, and smelling unmistakably of summer is not to be missed.
- Go late: If you arrive at the end of the selling period, there are fewer people there. You won’t have as much from which to choose, but you are likely to score a bargain or two. Farmers begin to discount deeply in order to avoid transporting their goods again.
- Bring bags or boxes. Some vendors will provide their own bags, but you can’t count on it and bringing your own will endear you to the man behind the table.
- Bring a cooler (or two) and pack it with ice packs. You don’t want to limit your buying ability by worrying about whether everything will wilt and spoil on the hot ride home.
- Think big! The best deals to be had are the ones where you are willing to work in bulk. Whatever is at harvest peak will be most abundant and least expensive. Buy large and take it home to freeze, can, jelly, jam or dehydrate.
- Bring cash. It’s definitely the preferred currency and, in many cases, the only currency. Some vendors might participate in the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program. If your family qualifies, be sure to ask about it.
- Have a teachable spirit. Ask lots of questions. Farmers are passionate about what they’ve brought. If you see something unfamiliar, ask about it. You’ll broaden your horizons and you are very likely to go home with some new cooking tips, too.
- Do a little research ahead of time. Get to know your local growing times. If you know when to expect each crop to be at its peak, you’ll make better decisions at each stand. Talk to the famers and ask what to expect in the coming weeks. This is community-supported agriculture. Get to know your community and be a part of it.
- And, since you know what you are likely to find, because you know what is in season, have a rough sketch of a meal plan in mind before you go. You need to be flexible, but a plan that can change is a good idea. It will keep you from wandering aimlessly, either unable to decide what to buy or buying too much too impulsively.
- Prepare to be spontaneous. Particularly if you are sharing the experience with children, it’s good to be ready to grant them each a small treat, whether it’s the season’s first strawberries or something new they’ve never tired before, indulging in unexpected bounty is part of the experience.
- Expect a little dirt. Root vegetables will still have greens attached and you’ll have to shake the dirt from them. Everything will be fresher—but it will definitely look it, too. Learn to clean and store fresh-from-the-farm treasures.
Books for Little Market Shoppers:-)!
Farmer's Market Day A sweet little girl has happy adventures at the Farmer's Market.
Simply in Season: Recipes that Celebrate fresh, local food in the spirit of More with Less by Mary Beth Lind; Herald Press
Fresh From the Farmer’s Market: Year ‘Round Recipes for the Pick of the Crop by Janet Fletcher, Chronicle Books.
Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets, by Deborah Madison, Clarkson Potter
Fettuccine Gazpacho Salad
Serves 8 to 10
2 cans (14 ½ ounces) diced tomatoes (do not drain) or use 10-12 whole fresh tomatoes, about 2 pounds. You can peel the fresh tomatoes, if you like. I don’t—it all gets chopped fine in the blender and peeling tomatoes in a hot kitchen isn’t my favorite thing to do.
3 medium cloves garlic
½- 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (more or less, according to taste)
¼ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 pound fettuccine (fresh fettuccine takes it to a whole new level)
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 medium red bell pepper , chopped
1 medium yellow bell pepper , chopped
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes , halved
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (Alternatively, cilantro is a different flavor, but also really good. And then again, fresh basil is another good choice. Go with what looks best at the market.)
3 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pitted black olives , quartered
- Puree diced tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt in blender until smooth. Transfer to bowl (don’t use metal), cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta and cook until al dente. Drain pasta, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
- Place cucumber, red and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, parsley, scallions, and oil in large serving bowl and toss well to combine.
- Add pasta and pureed dressing and toss again.
Salad should be allowed to sit in the refrigerator at least two hours and can be refrigerated overnight. This is a great do-ahead dish for a summer party. Scatter olives over top. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
3 cups fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons white sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
2/3 cup unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- In an 8 inch square baking dish, mix blueberries, 3 tablespoons sugar, and orange juice. Set aside. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, cream butter and ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Gradually add flour mixture, stirring just until ingredients are combined. Do not overmix or your crust will be tough and chewy. Drop batter by rounded tablespoons over blueberry mixture. Try to cover as much of filling as possible.
- Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbling.
Fresh Greens and Strawberry Salad
tablespoons strawberry vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 ounces baby spinach, baby lettuces, and arugula (8 cups)
1/2 pound strawberries, cut lengthwise into thick slices (1 ½ cups)
1/2 cup pecan halves (3 ½ ounces), toasted and cooled
goat cheese (optional)
- Whisk together vinegar, a rounded ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
- Add oil in a slow stream, whisking well.
- Put mixed greens, strawberries, and pecans in a large bowl and toss with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat.
- Sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese.
Roasted Beets in Balsamic Vinaigrette
Beets “bleed,” so to keep the juices in while they cook, leave on the skins, the roots on the bottom, and at least an inch of the green stems. It’s especially pretty to cook both red and yellow beets—you don’t want the colors to bleed on to each other. After they’re cooked, peel the beets over a bowl, since beet juice stains are nearly impossible to remove from wood or plastic surfaces. Expect that your hands will be stained.
This makes enough for a summer side dish for 4 people. Toss with toasted pecans and crumbled goat cheese.
Roasted beets are really good in a salad of mixed greens; the marinade makes a salad dressing.
medium beets (about 2 pounds total)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Trim the beets, leaving on the skin, an inch of the stem, and the tail on the bottom of each, then scrub and drain. Place the beets in a small casserole dish just big enough to hold them. Pour the water and olive oil over the beets then cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and bake until tender and easily pierced with a sharp paring knife, about 1 ½ hours. (Honest disclaimer: I do this in a disposable pan. The beet juice carmelizes, which is delicious, and incredibly hard to clean off the pan.)
3. Remove the casserole from the oven and uncover the beets carefully, keeping your face and hands away from the steam. Let them cool completely in the dish.
4. Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the salt, and pepper in a medium-size bowl and whisk to blend. Taste and add more olive oil, if desired.
5. Peel the cooled beets with the back of a paring knife and cut into ½-inch slices. Add to the dressing in the bowl and toss gently but thoroughly to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator, for up to 24 hours.
Makes one medium loaf
1 medium zucchini
1 medium carrot
¾ cup sugar
½ cup butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cup unbleached flour or white whole wheat flour
zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup walnuts
1 large egg
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Finely shred the zucchini and carrot.
3. In a large mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix by hand until just blended.
4. Fold in carrots and zucchini.
5. Transfer to a greased and floured bread pan and bake for approximately 65 minutes.
Peruvian Roasted Chicken
teaspoons olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 ¼ teaspoons ground black pepper
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large sweet onions, peeled and thickly sliced
1 chicken, cut into 10 serving pieces
2 red or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into rings
1 lemon, sliced
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Oil a large roasting pan and set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic, lemon juice and oil to make a paste.
- Place onions in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the paste.
- Rub chicken pieces with remaining paste and place in prepared pan.
- Cover the chicken with onions, peppers and lemon.
- Roast, basting occasionally with pan juices, until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.
- Serve over rice.
~ a variation of this post originally appeared in Faith and Family Magazine. Now, we go to the Market on Saturday mornings, even closer to home.