Friday, June 1, 2012

From Farm to Table: Farm Stands and Farmers' Markets

The season of quests for outdoor strolls and indulging in freshly grown local produce is welcomed once again; consider a new game plan for contemplating dinner menus.  While many of us try our hand with cultivating herbs and vegetables in our own backyards, what better way to wile away a lazy weekend morning than to take a stroll through your local farmers’ market?  Even the greenest of thumbs cannot present an entire meal solely from his or her gardening plot.  Compliment your own harvest with that of other local epicurean producers who share in your passion for fresh foods.

Nothing beats provisions that are locally grown and prepared by dedicated farmers and artisan culinary creators.  There are a couple of ways in which you can support these local producers.  One, if you live in an area where such businesses are abundant, is to take a leisurely drive and visit several of these locales, selecting the most appealing bounty that each establishment has to offer that day.  Here on Long Island, the entire North Fork is a local food Mecca to which residents make regular pilgrimages.  Two main roads run the length of the fork, each flanked on both sides by local farm stands, pick your own fruit orchards, wine vineyards, cheese makers, bakers and the like.  Many of the farm stands offer jarred products that are produced locally as well, such as honeys and jams.

The other way to partake in one-stop local grocery shopping is to frequent a farmers’ market.  To drift off of my home turf briefly, I recently experienced a pleasurable couple of hours at a farmers’ market down in Marietta, Georgia.  The open-air market sets up for business every weekend in Marietta Square, in the old village adjacent to a picturesque park.  The market boasts dozens of local farmers and vendors peddling their wares which range from locally grown fruits and vegetables, locally produced cheeses including goat cheese, jams, condiments, pies, artisan breads and other baked goods, sausages, and other delectable delights to delve into.  There were even representatives from a few of the local restaurants offering flavorful introductions to their establishments.  Most vendors offered samples of their highlighted merchandise for that week, so one can try a nibble of something before committing to bring home a sack full.  Live music serenades browsers, dog owners lead their faithful companions as they shop, and a beckoning fountain in the park welcomes picnicking on any tasty eats that you just cannot wait to take home before indulging.  Some weeks also feature local arts and crafts vendors as well.  The market was bustling and its popularity clearly demonstrates that this is a highly coveted thing to do on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  My first and only trip here yielded purchases of several cheeses for an after dinner cheese course that evening, some croissants for the next morning’s breakfast and a jar of jalapeƱo-raspberry jam that I knew Brian would enjoy.  I could have bought so much more if I had been facing an extended stay in that area. 

Upon returning home, I did some Internet browsing to find that there are indeed several weekend farmers’ markets throughout the summer on Long Island.  With the extensive array of locally produced foods here, I thought it shocking that I had yet to encounter such markets.  There is one in Greenport that looks like it warrants immediate exploration.  Some of the farmers’ markets appear to be quite small with only a few vendors.  Luckily, I do have the advantage of a very local and friendly farm stand that I can frequent any day of the week for fresh produce and a few locally produced gastronomic gems.

During the summer months, make the weekly trek to a farmers’ market and/or farm stands.  Go into this with your eyes and imagination open, ready to plan that evening’s dinner solely around the freshest seasonal bounty that you happen to find.  A simple drive along that North Fork here can result in a fresh local duck from Miloski’s Poultry Farm, locally grown seasonal vegetables from numerous farm stands to toss on the grill as well, some locally produced cheese from the Catapano Dairy Farm to nibble on before dinner, a local bottle of wine from any of over forty vineyards to have with dinner, a locally baked bread to accompany the meal and a locally baked fruit pie to conclude it, both available at Briermere Farms.  Add a jar of locally produced jam to have on hand, and some fresh picked strawberries or peaches to enjoy with breakfast the next day.  You will reap the benefits of incorporating fresh, natural foods into your diet and support your local growers as well, a combination that makes me feel good both physically and mentally with every meal that results from these purchases.

Here are two of my recipes for a spinach salad.  One rendition contains bacon and eggs, plus mushrooms, green bell pepper, olives and Brian’s honey mustard dressing.  The other contains goat cheese as the protein source, and different ingredients.  As long as you keep the spinach, go ahead and swap out other ingredients in favor of whatever seasonal veggies and even fruits are in the spotlight.  If asparagus is abundant, for example, go ahead and cut the spears into one-inch lengths and then blanch them.  Once chilled, toss them into the mix.  Have fun with it.  If strawberry season is past and blueberries are coming into their own, use those instead.

Spinach Salad with Bacon

6 cups fresh spinach leaves *
1 pound bacon, cut into 2 inch lengths
4 eggs, hard boiled, cooled, peeled and chopped *
1 large green bell pepper, cored and cut into one inch squares *
10 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup black olives

Fry the bacon in a frying pan over medium-high head until jut starting to crisp.  Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and combine with all remaining ingredients in a large salad serving bowl.  Serves four.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Goat Cheese and Pecans

6 cups fresh spinach leaves *
1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved *
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and cut into one inch squares *
10 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup goat cheese, crumbled *

Place the pecans in a single layer in a frying pan and toast over medium heat until aromatic.  Remove from heat.  Combine all ingredients in a large salad serving bowl.  Serves four.

Both of the above recipes are best served with Brian’s honey mustard dressing:

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup honey *
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients with either a wire whisk or in a mini food processor.

* Denotes ingredients that can typically be purchased locally from a farm stand or farmers’ market.  Accompany the salad with a bread and pie from a local artisan baker or farm stand, and a locally produced bottle of wine and you have a meal that is fresh and one that you can feel good about.

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