Just a little note before we launch this blog officially: The first rule of shopping at your favorite local farmer’s market is to be there before the bell rings; otherwise, the good stuff is gone. The same can be true for blogging about your local farmer’s market. Starting your blog behind schedule probably means talking about great stuff that your audience can’t get any more—especially the first of the season stuff that is gone in the blink of an eye. So, in the following inaugural blog for Green Gal of the Midwest, we’re talking about some gone-but-great goodies. You’ll be so ready next year, right?
Every Saturday morning from mid-May to mid-October I bike to my local farmer’s market, The Land of Goshen Community Market in Edwardsville, IL. I have a backpack and a basket on my bike for transport, which limits my purchase of some of the most delicious, healthy and environmentally sustainable food choices I will ever encounter.
Limits can be a good thing because my eyes are always bigger than my ability to use up or store all that bounty. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know my local growers, learned how the seasons in southwestern Illinois flow and improved my cooking and freezing skills (canning… still working on that one). If I’m careful and plan, I can stretch some of the market goodies all the way past Christmas. (Think homemade pesto at Thanksgiving, raspberry sauce on cheesecake at New Year’s and fresh-frozen green beans in January—that will NOT end up in the proverbial casserole with canned soup, BTW!)
Who could not love the experience, tastes, smells and community connection of a local farmer’s market?
But every season I see them appear—those first-time market goers with blank stares, who wander aimlessly among the booths and eventually settle on a bunch of carrots, a box of strawberries, some Kettle Korn and a nicely carved wooden box. Nothing wrong with those purchases (although I don’t’ eat Kettle Korn myself), but those fledgling shoppers many times never return because they are overwhelmed by choices, confused by unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, and left wondering about how to cook those items when they get them home.
You see, most everything from farmer’s markets is “start-from-scratch” food, and some things—like garlic scapes or Jerusalem artichokes–have never appeared in the superstore down the road. So what to choose, how much to buy, how to prepare it and what sort of time investment all this will take often transforms from questions to roadblocks. I know this because this is how I started out.
So let’s begin with something fun and foreign to many: garlic scapes. Daydream Farms, where I am enrolled in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture will be discussed down the road, so stay tuned.) offers garlic scapes from late May through the end of June, give or take a week depending on the season and exactly where you live. Garlic scapes are the flower part of the hardneck garlic plant that appears before the garlic bulb under the ground is ready to be unearthed. They look like something from another planet or something in an ultra-modern floral display featured in Architectural Digest. But what they really are is delicious.
Scapes are removed, my farmer Bruce Haas tells me, so that the familiar garlic bulb can grow, and until a couple of years ago he just tossed them away. Then a fancy chef friend told him about the high demand for these brief-season delicacies at expensive restaurants, and my farmer started bringing them to the market, offering free samples to get us hooked. Now we fight over scapes, even though there are plenty to go around. Not only are they wonderful right from the stand but also can be easily frozen for winter soups and sauces later on—just wash, let air dry and toss in a dated freezer bag. Keeps all winter!
Here’s where to start with garlic scapes—wash, let dry, chop in bite-size pieces. Use the entire stem and little flower bulb, discarding only the very tip that is usually dry. Sauté over medium-high heat in a nice oil. For this I use a good olive oil, although many cooks prefer something with higher flashpoint. But try the olive oil because it marries so well with garlic. Salt with a good-quality, semi-coarse sea salt as you sauté and let the magic begin.
These scapes will start to caramelize and take on the rich taste of roasted garlic. Once they are tender and sticky sweet you can add them to anything that would benefit from this rich taste—pasta sauce, dips, eggs, casseroles and so on. I’ve even substituted them in recipes that call for minced or chopped garlic. Just keep in mind they need to be cooked—at least that’s my opinion. The scape is tough. Although I have never tried them raw, apparently it can be done. Check out the July issue of Feast Magazine, pg. 46: There’s a recipe for “Garlic Scape and Tomato Gazpacho”. Simple and fresh and great for the beginning cook. As you grow as a cook, Feast is a must-read resource with a great social media component.
To get you started with scapes right now, try an egg scramble:
In a non-stick or cast iron skillet, sauté three or four chopped scapes in olive oil, salting a little. Once they start caramelizing, add a handful of sliced mushrooms and continue to sauté. As the mushrooms begin to cook, add a splash (1-2 T) of dry, white sherry—not cooking sherry, something nice you wouldn’t mind putting in your mouth. The sherry will make the mushrooms pop with flavor. Let these cook for a few minutes.
In the meantime, whip four farm-fresh eggs—a farmer’s market egg is worth every extra penny, so don’t skimp here—with seasonings to taste (Remember you’ve already added salt, so go easy on that, but consider fresh black pepper or even red pepper flakes for deep flavor and heat.).
Throw in a half cup chopped spinach, if you like, and four or five diced cherry tomatoes, if they are available. Do not ruin your dish with supermarket, tasteless tomatoes; better to wait for the real thing to come to the market. Add the egg-veggie mixture to your sauté and scramble until the eggs are at your preferred consistency and doneness. Super healthy, super good, super easy, super fast. Just, well… super.
Do you cook with scapes? What’s your favorite recipe? Do you freeze them whole or chop before? Let’s start a conversation.
Shop local, eat healthy, and be brave in the kitchen!
Looking for your own Farmer’s Market? There are sites dedicated to getting you connected. I found “Trust Your Gut”—a blog devoted to information on my local growers with no trouble at all. Another trusted place to go is the USDA website.