Eating seasonably is a bit challenging in a colder climate. Even in the coldest months, it seemed some part of California was always growing something when I lived there. Here, the earth sleeps and our few and far between (indoor) farmers markets go back to our roots: carrots, potatoes, beets, and turnips. The indoor markets are an enjoyable winter outing, but they are nothing like the outdoor summer markets for quantity and variety. Rain or shine, frost or sun, wind or calm, our outdoor farmers markets start in May no matter the weather. March and April shyly introduce the spring, the joy of bright yellow daffodils is followed by the bursting forth of multi-colored tulips and the gradual greening of the trees as the earth awakens. Those early months of growth produce some lovely blooms but very little in the way of food. May is not a month of abundance, not yet.
The first few weeks of the farmers’ market in the spring is a promise of food. Stalls are filled with little vegetable seedlings and tiny herb plants in small pots and packs. Farmers who travel a distance from further south, or farmers with green houses and covers for their plants in the field, have a few early greens. More often than not, vendors tables are loaded with nothing but baby plants that will be something one day but not this day. But there is one thing that shows up early and trumpets spring as loudly as the daffodils: asparagus. Like daffodils, asparagus just appears one day and disappears just as quickly. From one week to the next, just when I am chiding myself for being in an asparagus rut, it vanishes. Early risers might find the last little bit in that week of disappearing, but by the time I come along there is not a stalk to be found anywhere. And there will not be a stalk to be found for the remainder of the year, not until the seasons turn and spring begins again will we once again see that precious spring asparagus. Last week, opening day, I picked up most of my herb plants and discovered some asparagus as I was paying for the herbs. When cooked, it was unlike anything that had been showing up at grocery stores, young and tender and such a mild fresh flavor. I knew I would return for more, and keep returning until it vanishes.
Saturday the temperatures dropped, the wind blew in grand gusts, and dark clouds gathered but I had a mission and would not be deterred. With wool socks, sweater, woolly shawl wrapped about the neck, and jacket over it all I braved the graduation weekend traffic and the Midwest so-you-thought-it-was-spring weather for my quest: asparagus and three types of herb plants still missing from my garden, oregano, marjoram, and tarragon. We needed more of that spring asparagus and the market is the only place to get it. There was no choice but to bundle up and to market, to market, jiggidy jig.
Thankfully the vendor still had plenty of asparagus when I arrived, and this week he had beautiful purple ones. Although he had none of the herbs I was looking for, he did
have some bright green, fresh sprigs of green garlic that found their way into my market basket.
My herb quest required a bit more effort. I had simply forgotten to get oregano last week and fortunately it was not difficult to find, but for some reason tarragon and marjoram are not common in these here parts. We walked up and down every aisle at a brisk pace to keep warm, witnessing one pop-up tent get picked up by the wind, fly over the market, and landing with a crash into the street. Vendors shivered, bundled up in whatever they could find, and if the little pots of herbs, vegetables, and bedding plants could speak I am sure they would have been saying, “You have got to be kidding me.” Those baby plants wanted to get out of the cold wind and back to the cozy greenhouse from whence they came. At the last table in the last aisle we saw a small display of seedling pots, a little cluster of marjoram and a little sprig of tarragon were waiting for a new home.
The outdoor farmers’ market in the first few weeks is exciting because–although it lacks the abundance of produce, number of vendors, and large crowds of the summer and early fall–it is one of the early signs of a world awakening. Soon, very soon, fresh food grown locally will be available once again. Herb plants will shoot up and fill out into great globes, little fresh leaves ready to clip when needed in the kitchen. The long dark winter of dried herbs, aging root vegetables, hothouse greens, and under-ripened produce brought from thousands of miles away is coming to an end. Eating seasonably will become not just easier but desirable as well.
What We Cooked
Saturday night we simply steamed the asparagus. Interestingly, the purple asparagus when cooked looks a bit darker than the green but loses most of the purple color.
Tonight the plan is to roughly follow a green garlic pasta recipe from a site that the Google search turned up, Serious Eats. Apparently the recipe is based on an Alice Waters recipe using regular globe garlic. I plan to add some pan seared asparagus and sautéed shrimp. The recipe calls for parsley, hope there is enough parsley in my newly planted herb garden in spite of recent torrential thunderstorms followed by high winds and a cold snap. In other words, our typical Midwest spring weather.