In the first week of February, it might seem premature to start planning shopping menus for the 2016 Farmer’s Market season. But, really, it’s not. Like seed shopping and garden planning, preparing for the market is best done well before you step up to that first vendor table. One of my favorite meals—good at any time of year—is my Season’s Best Vegetable Soup, which takes full advantage of fresh, in-season produce, as well as pantry staples and the food you are able to store, freeze or can during the plentiful growing seasons.

Vegetable soup ingredients

For my February soup pot, I  was able to use frozen bell peppers, green beans, pesto, tomatoes, a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano and my own freshly-made vegetable stock. Other ingredients did need to come from the grocery store, but still, it’s a pretty green-decision pot of goodness!

This soup is highly flexible. You can build from the basic ingredient choices to create a signature soup that is all your own. Use any combination of these suggestions below, but unless you have a stock pot WAY bigger than mine, you will not be able to use all the choices. This takes the day to prepare, (be brave) but it is a huge reward in terms of flavor and wellness (not to mention leftovers). This is another of my creations that my friend Deb refers to as Kitchen Yoga. Om.

The ingredients in the recipe below are listed by “season” and are not meant to be all-inclusive. Think of them as a list of inspiration for your own culinary masterpiece. Ready? Set. Cook!

 

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stock pot with soup fixings.

Your largest stock pot is suggested for this recipe. You want to give everything plenty of room.

Keep in mind that the produce schedule listed in the ingredients pertains to the Midwest in my neck of the woods—Edwardsville, IL, near St. Louis on the east side of the Mississippi River. It is not all-inclusive; for one thing, it only contains produce you might use in this soup recipe, not all the produce available during the current season. And what is available depends on the time of the month, weather, when seeds were sown, your farmers’ preference and many other factors. Remember that the number one rule of shopping at the farmer’s market is to go with the flow, and this soup allows for just that.

To find out what’s growing in your area, you can check out The Sustainable Table (includes recipes and detailed information on vegetables and fruits) and your state Department of Agriculture (usually has a nice visual chart you can print). Once the market season begins, I check the Facebook page for The Land of Goshen Community Market at least once per week and begin texting my local growers about what’s going to be in their booths. It really pays to get to know the people who grow your food and run your markets. Not only will you be better prepared, make the best use of fresh food and avoid waste, you’ll make a whole bunch of new, very cool friends.

One last note: my husband the meat-eater likes to warm up his bowl of leftover soup in a separate pot from mine so that he can add cooked chicken and turkey meat or cooked ground beef. He says it’s yummy. We want everyone to have a place at the table, right?

Got your market plan in place? Spring is just around the corner!