June into July

Q: Is it time for ‘maters yet?
A: Not quite, but they’re coming!!!

And when they do, I’ll be slicing up a bowl, sprinkling a little sugar and pepper (try it!) on them, and eating them just like that, with a cold beverage.

If you have cherry tomato plants, you may start seeing those ripen — we’ve had a few orange ones in our garden already! And a handful of green tomatoes have appeared on the larger plants, still growing and still quite green. Now, it’s just a matter of keeping the squirrels from taste testing the produce!

 

 

In the meantime, the variety at the market has ramped up considerably since opening. You should expect to see all of the following from at least one of the farmers at the market:

  • Beets
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Celeriac
  • Chard
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggs
  • Fennel
  • Greens
  • Herbs
  • Kale
  • Meat
  • Potatoes
  • Summer Squash
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini

At home, I’ve been enjoying lots of “make ’em up” salads, using whatever we have from the garden/market/csa basket. I’ve been experimenting with a buttermilk salad dressing (it uses jam, which is a perfect way to use up some of my jam experiments as well!), and it brings everything together nicely, as does a lemony tahini dressing.

I tried a quick-pickle of some haukerei turnips and radishes (just 1:1 cider vinegar and sugar), and tiny cucumbers from the garden as well, plus some herbs and cheese. I’d happily toss roasted carrots or beets on this salad, along with beans and/or grains, or even a scoop of hummus.

 

The other thing we’ve been enjoying lately has been some combo of soup, salad, and open-face sandwiches. The other night, we got this curried red lentil from Green Top, brought them home and added more veggies to stretch them a bit, and put salads together to go with them. Two of the large containers at Green Top ($4.99 ea) fed three adults very well!

I wish I could bring myself to bake in the summer, but the availability of freshly-baked bread from Common Ground and Green Top, as well as the market, makes it more than ok. This Paesano from Central IL Bakehouse in Champaign is my go-to for toast, all summer long.

 

Other salad dressings we LOVE:

Don’t be afraid to put things together and taste! If you roast a few things at once, you can enjoy them throughout the week. Sweet potato rounds, beets, carrots, etc. keep well in the fridge for a few days. Add a bit of good cheese, and you have a great bowl!

Sister Time and Little Green Caterpillars in the Broccoli

I bet you’re wondering where I’m going with this.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about perfection/imperfection, in the context of this blog and local food.

Fairly often during the summer, my sister and I spend part of the weekend cooking most of our meals for the coming week. Nothing fancy, just egg/meat/grain or egg/potato bowls for breakfasts, meat/veg bowls for lunches, and sometimes we add some favorite childhood recipes to put away in the deep freezer for winter. It can seem like a lot of work while we’re doing it, but it saves a lot of time and energy during the coming weeks and provides quality grownup sister time. We share many fond memories of food from our childhood, and time spent in the kitchens of our mom and grandmothers. Now that we’re both in our 40s, and living as geographically near each other as we have since our 20s, it’s fun to see what we remember and enjoy making.

One of the things that came to mind as we were prepping broccoli last year (and drowning a bunch of those ubiquitous green caterpillars!): prioritizing local food has meant broadening or changing our expectations about the food we buy.

Produce in the grocery store tends to be brightly-colored, shiny, uniform, unblemished. They’re visually appealing, right? I’m sure marketing agencies have done studies about what most appeals to consumers, and what they’re likely to buy — even what sizes and packaging are most attractive. And as consumers, I think maybe we’ve come to prize so many surface qualities without necessarily thinking about whether they’re the qualities that matter most to us.

On the flip side, I think we’ve been conditioned to expect the lack of anything else living in our food.

I’ve been dealing with these little green caterpillars in the garden for so long, it doesn’t bother me at all to find them in our locally-grown market broccoli. I bring it home from the market with an awareness that it was cut only yesterday, cut from a plant still growing in the ground just down the road. It’s just from a bigger garden, and whatever I expect from garden produce pretty much translates to farmers’ market produce. At worst, it’s an extra step to dunk the broccoli and dispatch the green guys when they float up. At best, it’s a fun sort of game to find them all. Regardless, the rewards of the richer, fresher, sweeter broccoli are so worth it.

If I brought home a head of broccoli from the grocery store and found caterpillars, it would probably be quite a shock. As much as I love to garden and cook and eat vegetables, I don’t think about the living plant in the ground when I shop at the grocery store. And that’s bad for farmers because it means that as a grocery store consumer, I’m probably a pretty typical consumer, with typical “it’s so shiny!” expectations.

After a year of ruminating on the little green caterpillars, I’d hoped to organize my thoughts into something more profound, but this is all I’ve got: buy the less-shiny, less-perfect produce, and don’t be afraid of the little green caterpillars!

Bits and Pieces: A New Series on Local Readers’ Perspectives on (Local) Food

Today’s guest: Me (Stephanie)!  Because if you need a guinea pig for a new series, best to try it out on yourself first instead.

what does local food mean to you?

I find that its so easy for my food purchasing and consumption to be thoughtless;  thinking about local means more thinking period. It means trying to be more thoughtful about where the food I buy comes from, about what it takes to grow and get it to us, and how we use it. By learning more about our local farms, their growing seasons and some of their growing methods and challenges, getting to know their produce, adds something that feels more important to me than just eating tastier food. I recently ate a lovely small watermelon, thinking about all the rain that farms didn’t get this summer, knowing that they had to irrigate to produce this waterbomb. They have to pay for water, and I’d rather be on the side of helping them continue to irrigate if they need to, rather than relying on some bigger operation in the tropics. I have a hard time believing that just because we can turn food production into something that’s automated and divorced from the land, that we should.

what do you love most about local food?

I love the surprise of it, that nothing’s ever quite the same. Sometimes that means getting something that spoils faster than you expected it to, or finding that the weather interfered with a crop you were looking forward to. But much more often, it means discovering flavors that are more intense or complex than you expected, or getting your picky-eater nephew to eat a blackberry because he helped you pick them and he got into finding the blackest ones because his auntie told him that those were the sweetest, and that made him curious about how they tasted.

what do you use most often, and where does it come from?

Onions, tomatoes, potatoes. I grow a lot of tomatoes, but I buy the varieties I don’t grow well from the market, mostly PrairiErth Farm. It’s the larger ones, like Kellogg’s breakfast that I don’t grow; we have too many garden critters that like them, so ours don’t make it to ripening!

do you preserve any of your local food?

Yes, when I find time to plan ahead. Buying the quantity, clearing a weekend, deciding what to make and making room for it.

if so, what are some of the things that you preserve, and how?

Freezing: Marinara from tomatoes and garlic; applesauce; soups (red pepper, butternut squash, tomato); pestos and herbs frozen in ice cubes or olive oil.
Canning: Pickled Beets, Jam (berries and peaches), sometimes pickled okra or green beans; occasionally salsas.

is there anything you’ve wanted to preserve, but haven’t yet?

Dehydrating anything; I haven’t done any, really. And I’d like to find more pickled/relish things that I like.

do you grow any herbs or veg at home?

Always kale and tomatoes, basil and cilantro, usually parsley, usually beets and chard

if so, how do you incorporate that into your cooking / meals?

I often forget about the kale, but come fall I use it often. The tomatoes generally get roasted and frozen, the kale quickly sauteed or steamed with fish or meat. Cilantro and Basil gets used in pesto more often than fresh.

what’s your favorite season of local food?

Fall!! I love root veggies! Parsnips, beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes! Everything gets sweeter after a frost, and even sweeter in the oven.

what are some of the challenges of using local food / cooking / meals?

Keeping up with the harvest! and buying enough but not too much on Saturday at the market, so that you can use it all before it spoils. doing the right kind of prep over the weekend to be able to incorporate things into our weekly meals. Prep is definitely the thing I have the most trouble with. I like to cook, so I have to keep telling myself to cook meals rather than more jam.

what do you think you do really well around cooking/meals, and how do you do it?

I’m pretty good with making large quantities of soups and sauces and freezing them; it’s a bunch of work all at once, that pays off throughout the winter/spring. And it’s a great thing to be able to quickly defrost and take to a sick friend.

what do you want to learn more about?

Dehydrating! And other meal-prep strategies for making full use of summer produce.

if you could have one fruit or vegetable growing in your backyard right now, what would it be?

A lemon tree!