The Evanston Farmers’ Market opened this Saturday, and the Green City Market will have it’s fist day Wednesday. All over the region farmers’ markets are starting up for the season. This is exciting to those of us who love cooking with fresh, local ingredients; who look forward to the one (or more if you’re lucky) morning a week of prowling through stalls filled with just-picked fruits, dirt-streaked vegetables, and radiant greens, who know our favorite farmers by name and have a preferred vendor for different each type of produce.
I find that no matter how much of the summer’s fruit I freeze, can, or preserve, by February I’m out of last summer’s produce. By March, when the weather starts hinting at spring, I start perusing harvest schedules, dreaming of ripe strawberries and pea shoots. By April, when morels are sprouting in the woods and good asparagus is available even at chain supermarkets, I’m writing down recipes and getting my reusable bags ready. So when the Evanston market opened for the first time on Saturday, I was there early (before the some of the vendors were even finished setting up), ready to stock up on whatever produce was ripe and ready so early in the spring.
There’s never much available at the first week’s market, and even less so this year as it opened a week earlier than usual. But after a long winter of blandly out-of-season produce, it all looked wonderful. Braving the cold, windy weather, my co-worker Tracy and I picked up morel and cremini mushrooms, green and purple asparagus, tender new arugula, free-range eggs and locally grown and cured bacon, huge stalks of rhubarb, cioppino onions and bunches of green garlic, and fresh mint and basil. For those with a green thumb, plenty of vendors offered seedling plants from strawberries to sage. A few stands had put out the last of the winter-stored potatoes and cider. We emptied our wallets and filled two heavy canvas bags.
One of the perks of working at The Spice House is that we’re all pretty good cooks, and we often cook together. Several of us gathered for dinner Saturday night and turned our market bounty into the best pizza night ever. The green garlic became a sauce to spread over the fresh-made dough. Each vegetable was sauteed or roasted individually, so we could top our pizzas as we liked. What didn’t go on the pizzas we ate with cheese and crackers as an appetizer, washed down with mojitos made with the fresh mint. The rhubarb was turned into a Scandinavian rhubarb cake to finish.
With five people eating it, this week’s market purchases are pretty much gone. I’m already watching the progress of the plants at my favorite farms, including Henry’s Farm and Nichols Farm, planning next’s week’s dinner. I’m crossing my fingers that the pea shoots and garlic scapes will show up. If you live in Evanston, maybe I’ll see you there.