Posts Tagged ‘farmer’s market’

The Garden of my Youth

My favorite harbinger of spring, the Park Ridge Farmer’s Market, opened a couple weeks ago.

Because it’s so early in the season, the majority of the vendors were selling seedlings, potted plants and garden starter kits. I wistfully remembered the vegetable and herb garden I had planted in my parents’ backyard some 20 years ago.¬† I originally planted basil to feed my pesto addiction, and then beefsteak tomatoes because I simply could not stand the perfect-looking but flavorless imposters found in the supermarkets. That successful five-foot by five-foot plot¬† in the first year led to a five by ten plot the second year, adding plum and cherry tomatoes as well as parsley to the basil and beefsteaks. Somehow by the third year, my little garden grew to 5 by 20 with all the usual suspects, plus cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchini and strawberries.

I learned a lot during those years. Rabbits love strawberries. Clay is very difficult to rototill. A single zucchini can quadruple in size overnight while its plant grows to invade the next block. That porous black fabric really does prevent weeds. Cucumbers have nasty barbs on them that will draw blood. Cilantro and bell peppers will NOT grow for me, no matter how much loving care I provide. Making sauce with real homegrown tomatoes is a labor of love, with a strong emphasis on labor. Pesto will freeze very well provided all you use is basil, garlic and olive oil, adding the pinenuts and cheese right before serving.

With my father’s help watering, weeding and rototilling, I had quite the little victory garden. When my mother asked why I didn’t grow flowers, I told her that if I am going to do all of this work in the dirt, I wanted to be able to eat the rewards. While flowers are pretty, they’re not as tasty as a homegrown tomato topped with fresh pesto sauce.

In autumn, 1994, I bought a condo. Two of the selling points were the extra-large kitchen and large west-facing balcony. The following spring, I decided to do some container gardening on my 25 by 8 foot balcony. A few herbs and some grape and plum tomatoes were the extent of my motivation. But, due to my corporate job, I traveled too much to really tend to those pots properly. Eventually I gave up, leaving a tangle of dried out stems and leaves. The gardener in me died in 1995. The corporate job ended in 2000.

Since then, I have the time to plant and raise herbs and vegetables, but those pots sit unused in the corner of my balcony, filled with 12-year-old potting soil and the remains of the roots of my last container garden. Each Saturday morning, I stare wistfully at the tomato seedlings at the market and think, “maybe next year.”


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.