The Joy of Farmers’ Markets

My favorite morning activity in summer is shopping the local farmers’ markets. The Park Ridge market is the one I visit most often as it’s just a couple miles from my home. Most of the participating farmers are from Michigan, although there are a couple from southern Illinois.

There’s nothing like the flavor of fruits and vegetables picked just hours earlier. Right now, strawberries and asparagus are in season and taste fabulous. I am anxiously awaiting Michigan peaches, which should be out within a month or so. Blackberries, raspberries, cherries and apricots are due soon as well. And then there’s the heirloom tomatoes as the summer wears on.

Lest you think it’s all about produce….there’s also a cheese vendor, a flower farmer, a couple bakeries, a garden nursery, the mushroom guy and a salsa guy at the Park Ridge market.

My first experience with farmers’ markets began during college in Madison, Wisconsin, home of one of the largest farmers’ markets in the country. The entire Capitol Square is lined with booths featuring Wisconsin farmers and other purveyors. In Madison, there are a number of organic meat purveyors featuring beef, pork, lamb, poultry, bison, ostrich, venison, and products such as sausages, jerkies and other cured meats.

The artisan cheesemakers are there, along with bakeries, honey vendors, and produce farmers.

As luck would have it, while visiting my in-laws during Passover, the Market opened for the first time this season. Although the pickings were slim after a brutal winter, I was able to find spring garlic and ramps, also known as wild leeks. Ramps are the latest trendy ingredient during spring, and when sauteed in a bit of butter, have an oniony/garlicky flavor that is unmatched by any other combination of plants from the onion or garlic family. Ramps are particularly difficult to find in the Midwest, as the season is very short, and the few farmers who grow them sell their harvest to the top restaurants.

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