Spring Guide to Farmer's Markets
by Kimberley Thompson, Tastemaker in Residence
Spring, one hopes, is knocking on the proverbial door. Due to the never-ending "Polar Vortex" of the last 4 months, my "Spring Crazies" have attempted to boot my cabin fever to the curb! I am refusing to wear boots, coats or mittens. All heavy woolens are washed and put away; lighter and brighter clothing resides in panoramic splendor in my dressing room. I don't care if we have a day or three of crappy weather still to come; I can LAYER!
The timing of the Spring Crazies begins with my annual garden review. Once done, all plans on paper and seeds purchased, my next project begins.
The mapping out of my weekly Farmer's Market visits. Yes, visits plural. Since my brother, the wonderful man he is, will make me ANY jellies, jams and savories I desire; I make a point of visiting multiple markets each week to find the produce that inspires me. (Apparently the need to chop, dice, reduce, and ladle boiling liquids all landed in his genetic gene pool; zero from the rest of his siblings!)
For savory items; I hit Fulton Farmers Market and Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market. For quantities of fruit, I am at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and Bob's Produce Ranch (not a farmer's market per say but still my best choice for Georgia peaches and Bartlett pears by the lug). The best selection of ramps and organic garlic (about 10 heirloom varieties) comes from the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market. Fresh meats come from the St. Paul Farmers Market and Mill City Farmers' Market.
(For the best food to eat while browsing, go to either Mill City or Fulton.)
Never going in with a plan; I walk until inspiration driven by the bounty in the stalls, stops me. Fresh mushrooms make me hunger for slow roasted catsup. Smooth orbs of leeks inspire visions of sweet and tangy chutneys.
A rare find of gooseberries causes much celebration: a pungent, fruity mostarda relish for meats will grace my larder this fall. Cucumbers will be divided between crunchy sweet/sour nibbles and zesty refrigerator pickles.
The fruits are one of my favorites: I try to only buy from the local area, fresh picked. (Well, peaches, pears and citrus are an exception.) Sour cherries immediately go home to be washed pitted and frozen for the world's best cherry pie come fall. Strawberries (what I haven't already consumed) are hulled and frozen: waiting to be cooked together with blueberries and fall raspberries for triple-berry jam. Nirvana!
Inspiration also comes from the market vendors. If I am not familiar with their produce, I ask about it. I have been introduced to many of the peppers and herbs that now take up room in my produce bags by the person behind the table.
Naturally, farmers markets inspire and feed many aspects of my life; not just my refrigerator and dry larder. The visual beauty of dewy produce, the amber jars of local honeys, farm fresh eggs, exuberant bouquets of garden flowers all surround me while oddly soothing conversations weave in and out of hearing. It is more than our roots or a return to the land. It is a continuum of nature and nurture. It satisfies the craving for food; physically and mentally. It links people from not only different walks of life; but also from diversified regions of the world. It encourages creativity of palates. Farmers Markets bless us with abundance, selection and adventure. What can be better than that?