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The Rise of Spring

Awakening Creation

Spring. Warm, sunny days. Cool rains. The green of the budding trees is almost electric, and emerging plants are the same. Their lime color is cheerful yet soothing. I am daily transfixed by the new strawberries poking their leaves up through the caramel mulch. Lily of the valley are slowly uncoiling their leaves. Soon the intoxicating perfume of their flowers will greet me each day.

The garlic cloves I buried in a corner bed last fall have long been up and stretching toward the sky. I cannot stop thinking about the garlic scape pesto I will be creating from the curly scapes that will swirl up from each plant. As I look across my other garden beds, I see the tiny evidence of early spring peas, lettuces, and pak choi.

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Garlic shoots

Spring Preparation

The time has not yet arrived for planting my summer seeds and plants. In this part of the country, we wait for the soil temperatures to warm up. What I am doing now is collecting. My stack of vegetable seed packets increases by the day. A wide array of pepper and tomato plants are hardening in my yard and garage. Flowers and plants with interesting foliage await being planted into ceramic pots.

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Collecting plants

Gardens with multi-season plantings bring life to the spring season when we have been without outside color for months. Some of my favorites are the early bulbs such as the subtly-hued Lenten rose, stubby crocuses that almost look like they are laughing at late winter as they push themselves up through the frosty remnants of winter, muscari with its clusters of tiny indigo grape-like flowers standing at attention up and down the stem, and fritillaria whose upside down tulip-shaped flowers look like miniature plum checkerboards. These are of course in addition to the many varieties and shades of daffodils and tulips.

The First Market

Just as I welcome the visual freshness of spring, so I also eagerly anticipate the clean crispness of spring fruits and vegetables. The weekly summer tradition of going to the farmers market began this weekend. Like walking through a seasonal portal, the opening of the farmers market is, for me, the start of my summer gardening season. Catching up with the farmers, scouting their new offerings, listening to the bluegrass band, buying something here, tasting something there. The aroma of coffee beans grinding or pizza baking in a wood-fired oven. It all comes together to lift my spirits. It is saying, “hello spring,” “hello warm sunshine,” “hello cool rich earth!” “Are you ready to welcome and nurture what I’m planting this year?”

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Farmers market bounty

Cooking for Spring

Of course, I brought home some culinary gems; trumpet mushrooms, Japanese spinach, and bok choy. These formed the components of our evening meal. So upon returning from the farmers market, I had to create in the kitchen. The ingredients called for simple dishes. We needed to hear the crunch of the bok choy and feel the bite of the emerald Japanese spinach. I decided to do an Asian interpretation by tossing in some pistachios and drizzling the greens with a mixture of peanut and sesame oil, Tamari sauce, freshly grated ginger root, minced garlic, and rice wine vinegar.

The just-harvested trumpet mushrooms that I buy at the market are so marvelous that I had to do the classic preparation of sauteing them in butter albeit with the twist of a sprinkling truffle salt. Strips of Ataulfo mangoes topped with coarsely ground pepper and charcoal-grilled chicken thighs marinated in a mixture of Vietnamese lemon curry, sea salt, and black pepper rounded out the dinner plates.

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I wake up to the multitude of birds chirping outside my bedroom window and go to sleep to the sound of gentle rain. Digging into the chocolate dirt, I carefully place my seeds within. I clean windows, sweep sidewalks, wash off yard furniture, and for the next five months we move our lives outdoors. Yes, spring has arrived. She has flung her bountiful self upon us, and I am basking in her presence.

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Farm to Your Table

If it’s Saturday morning and it’s summer, our farmers market is open for business. The center aisle is packed with shoppers. A folk music group serenades us with background tunes. A young couple meanders, sipping their steaming cups of freshly brewed Cherrybean coffee. Others are loaded down with bags of vegetables or a massive bouquet from Alissa’s Flower Farm. The aroma of wood-fired pizza wafts through the air, welcoming us in from the parking lot. We bump into friends, catch up on the latest happenings, compare loot, promise to get together soon, and then move on.

Produce at the Market

I have so many favorite stops. I make it a habit to buy a little something from many. Sunnyside Gardens is my go-to for unique and colorful annuals that make up the flower pots flanking my front door.

John at The Cornucopia was kind enough to bring me a bushel of basil last year when I was binge-making pesto. He carries gorgeous greens like red bok choy and long, curly garlic scapes. He is always ready to tell an interesting story. We know about how he had to harvest his 1400 heads of garlic early because of flooding.

I count on Jensen Sweet Corn for their purple, lime green, and pale orange cauliflower. True to its name, their sweet corn is deliciously sweet.

I have become quite obsessed with the pearl oyster mushrooms from Daniel at Dakota Mushrooms and Microgreens, often making the trip to the farmers market with the intention of picking up some of these tasty fungi. Pearl oyster mushrooms, when sauteed in a little olive oil, finished with sherry and truffle salt, and served with roasted new potatoes is positively addictive.

The middle of August is the time for picking up flats of tomatoes from Carper Sweet Corn and Produce or Seedtime and Harvest. These ruby heirlooms are an essential component to canned salsa, pasta sauce, and tomato basil bisque.

I must not forget to give a shout-out to a recent farmers market addition, Darin at D’s Smoked Nuts. Darin slow-smokes a variety of nuts, then adds some spicy heat. His nuts are almost as good as his quirky videos on his website, or should I say they’re much better.

Cauliflower from Jensen Sweet Corn roasted with green olives and golden raisins

A Rich History

The history behind markets such as these goes back thousands of years to when farmers would bring their wares to the nearest town to sell in a centralized space. This central plaza was the place to be. Business was conducted, and people met to socialize.

In the history of our country, the first official farmers market was located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They actually designed the town around a central lot that was designated as the Central Market. This market continues to thrive today with many of the vendors being multi-generational. From that first market, farmers markets grew into a movement. Today there are approximately 8000 official farmers markets in the U.S. This of course does not include roadside stands and other pop-up markets (originally called “curb markets”) that you come across as you drive our nation’s byways.

Farmers Markets Today

What is it about a farmers market that is so magnetic? Why do we go to it even though we often have our own gardens at home? Perhaps it is the pervasive sense of celebrating community. Or is it about honoring our local family farmers and food artisans? A century ago the average family farm produced over fifty different kinds of crops or products. The resurgence of this sort of diversified farmer with just-picked organic produce faithfully offered each week, rain or shine, is an inspiration.

Supporting their commitment and hard work is crucial to their success. Crafting delicious dishes from these nutritious gems is beneficial for all. In our house, the weekly summertime tradition is such: Saturday morning, go to the farmers market and pick from our garden, then Saturday evening, cook from the bounty.

From cheese that is cultured just up the road to freshly-baked pastries. From hand-made soaps to cuts of bison, eggplants to zinnias, it’s all there at your farmers market. You just need to bring it home to your table.