Saturday mornings in the summer are a total about-face from my winter routine. Up with the sun with a cup of coffee, I sit with a piece of paper and pencil, figure out what I’m going to cook for the week, grab my bags, and head out for my local farmer’s market.
Farmer’s markets weren’t something I grew up with, but following college, I visited my first one when it opened in town, which had just a couple of booths with farmers selling vegetables. At the time, I didn’t really know what organic meant nor were my cooking skills honed enough to know what to do with most of the veggies, so I stuck with what I knew: peas, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes. That same farmer’s market has expanded ten fold in the past two decades, moved its location, and now is one of the largest in the state.
I’ve been going to my own farmer’s market for more than ten years and along with the usual fruits and vegetables has come a plethora of other vendors. This year we have two local vineyards, meat, greeting cards, jewelry, homemade soap, flowers, prepared food, maple syrup, baked goods, and various crafters. This year I can even get my knives sharpened at $3 a pop! But I’m really there for the food.
Unlike my grocery list that is neatly organized, I go to the farmer’s market with some cash in my pocket, no list, and unusual reckless abandon. My method is always the same, start at one end, going down the other, checking out what is available and their prices, then going back to my usual farmers. And I always end up buying more than we can eat in a week’s time. Who can resist the gorgeous fresh garlic still on its stalk? The pint of bright red tomatoes? All the emerald-colored herbs that will fill my car with the aroma of summer? The fridge overfloweth with fresh vegetables and fruit.
Herbs are something I love to buy, but I usually end up with too much and too many times have made their way to the compost pile because I didn’t use them in time. A couple of years ago, staring at some wilting herbs in their water, I decided to make something with them so I could use them up and have summer all year long–Garlic Herb Butter! And it’s so easy; take some minced new garlic and some minced herbs, I like basil, parsley, dill, oregano, or a combination, and mix together. Take some butter and make a paste with the herbs. (Depending on how much you have for garlic and herbs will be how much butter you use.) When you finish mixing, take a cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper and with a tablespoon, measure out into herb butter patties and place in the freezer. When they are frozen, I take them out, wrap each one individually, and store in a freezer bag. I make several different combinations and just keep them in the freezer. I use these for sauteing vegetables in the wintertime and buttering homemade bread; the aroma of the fresh garlic and herbs is wonderful; it takes me back to my hot kitchen in the middle of summer! And they keep forever; I found some in the back of the freezer this winter with a date I won’t to say, but it was still fresh and was delicious with some winter vegetables!
Another dish to make is something I call Farmer’s Market Salad, with veggies that are currently in the season at the farmer’s market, aside from the ingredients for the dressing, of course. You can use any combination: fresh lettuce mix and/or spinach, steamed green beans, tomatoes, fresh corn, scallions, cooked new potatoes, cucumbers, herbs, basically any vegetable you buy can go in the salad. Since everything is so fresh and tasty, I don’t like to adorn it too much, so some olive oil, salt and pepper, and a splash of either lemon or vinegar will do. Who knows, maybe I’ll see olive oil and lemon purveyors next summer!