For months this past winter, I survived on turnips and squash, garlic, parsnips and kale. Apples were my only fruit refuge, and by February, I had grown weary of their taste. Then all of a sudden, spring hit like a wave, the greenmarket actually turned green. Gone were the days of dull monotone root vegetables, which were replaced by lettuces in varying shapes and sizes, the pink of rhubarb and strawberries, asparagus, new potatoes and the feeling that spring was finally here.
I am personally thrilled about the appearance of anything leafy – greens that I can pick in my garden or greens that someone picked not far away. But how did the farmers feel about the new spring arrivals? All those people who actually work the land, sow the seeds and watch them grow, what were they excited about? One Friday in early June, I headed down to Union Square farmers' market to find answers to my questions.
While some people had to mull it over, Elly of Patches of Star Goat Dairy was quick with her answer – “Mint!” Not what I was expecting, but she explained that she uses it in her products and it is impossible to dry, freeze or jar in an acceptable way. If anybody out there has any ideas, be sure to let her know.
Over at Ardith Mae, another goat dairy, Shereen had a tougher time coming up with a specific answer, initially saying, “anything seasonal- tomatoes, asparagus.” With a bit more thought, though, her answer morphed to “bacon,” another seasonal treat on her farm. She and her husband raise several pigs a year and shortly after slaughtering season, she explained, the bacon is gone.
Beth, namesake of Beth’s Farm Kitchen, was excited about strawberries and rhubarb. Not surprisingly, Beth makes a whole lot of jam, so the production window for some of her favorites, “which come and go very fast,” is short. Beth also brought up the subject of mushrooms, specifically morels, which she stir-fries with asparagus and puts atop Freekeh, a grain previously unbeknownst to me but carried by the illustrious Cayuga Pure Organics.
While walking across the market, a patch of red caught by eye. Tomatoes? This early? “Organic, hothouse tomatoes,” Gabriel, intern at McEnroe Organic Farm, explained to me. He did not need to deliberate long over his answer to my seasonal food question – “Pears.”
Suko, coordinator of the education program at McEnroe said that she is excited about doing more foraging this year, mainly for dandelion greens and chicory.
At the Berried Treasures Farm stand where I bought myself some tiny red potatoes, Franca had one of the most unusual answers – “Wild hearts of palm.” I didn’t even know those grew in the Northeast! Sautéed ramps was her other reply, perhaps one of the trendiest spring vegetables around.
While only a brief round up of what a few farmers relish, the answers give me a sense of excitement for foods to come. Some were typical (asparagus), some out of left field (hearts of palm). Next time you're at the farmers' market, ask your favorite producer what it is they are looking forward to. They may point you in the direction of a new ingredient, or remind you of an old springtime favorite.