One of the things I love about summer is visiting the Farmers’ Market. It’s almost like a social hour. I see people I haven’t seen in weeks – or months – and we catch up on what’s going on in our lives while buying fresh vegetables for dinner.
For 13 years, I lived in the Kansas City area and occasionally went to the River Market on Saturday mornings, buying way too much food. The tomatoes were beautiful, the blueberries plentiful, and the zucchini overwhelming! My roommate Debbie (yes, it’s true) and I had a great time navigating through the crowds, finding our favorites, and planning menus for the next couple of days, always with eyes bigger than our stomachs. When I moved to Sedalia in 1984, I found no such market selling good, clean food.
A few years ago, however, Bev Rollings investigated what was necessary to establish a good market, and we have been better because of her efforts. Going to our farmers’ market has certainly made me a more adventurous cook, scouring cooking magazines to find new and innovative ways to use vegetables in my meal plans.
I now make a tomato “dressing,” ripe tomatoes marinated in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, thyme (which grows in the back yard), garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. After the dressing sits for a while, I pour it over tomato napoleons (slices of ripe tomato interspersed with fresh mozzarella and sprinkled with fresh cut basil).
The napoleons are much better when I can find and use heirloom tomatoes; those are a little late this year because of the rain, according to the woman at the market who grows and sells them. I recently found a recipe for a zucchini soup that I am going to make this weekend, and if I can find one of those spiral cut “Veg-o-Matic” things, I am going to create zucchini “noodles” in vinaigrette that look like angel hair pasta. And you should taste watermelon gazpacho and “Summer Soup”!
Our market has inspired me to go to other markets to see what farmers in other areas have to offer. In Springfield, many farmers are Asian and they sell long beans. I haven’t been tempted to buy those yet, because I don’t really like fresh green beans – for some odd reason, I love the canned variety, with or without onion and bacon. Other than that, though, their market looks a lot like ours.
Max and I went to the Kansas City market on the Fourth of July, and it, too, offered the same kinds of produce our market sells. One big difference is that the farmers’ market is in the middle of lots of grocery stores and ethnic food shops, so when we are there, we can buy fresh goat cheese and fresh buffalo mozzarella, as well as real salami and types of pasta we’ve never seen anywhere else.
My heart, however, remains with our farmers, who work hard to grow our vegetables. In Kansas City, some of the vendors have stacks and stacks of crates of veggies. I wonder whether those people have grown the food or whether they have bought it from somewhere else, then trucked it in to sell it. In both Springfield and Kansas City, because of those stacks, I wonder whether the farmers are small farmers like ours, or whether they are big corporations, supplying both farmers’ markets and grocery stores. I like that I know our vendors and know that they grow the food I am buying.
I also like that I don’t have to push my way through hordes and throngs of people milling and lollygagging about. All lollygaggers at our market politely stand away from the vendors’ tent openings so that shoppers can see the produce and buy what they want quickly.
Most important, however, is the sense of community we get at the market. We know the people now. We expect to see our favorite vendors. We appreciate their hard work and what it provides us. And I appreciate the additions to my cooking repertoire. Summer food is really good food.
See you there next Tuesday.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.