Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
November, 2009
Regional Report

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Late autumn harvest -- gourds and peppers in their splendor.

Farmers' Market Feast

Among the dozen speckled, brown-and-tan, fresh-laid eggs were two cracked ones. I grimaced -- and hesitated. The farmer dropped the price to $2. "They'll be fine if you eat them in a day or two," he said. I nodded, adding them to the Farmers' Market's fresh beets, cantaloupe, and fragrant peaches to buy.

If you've ever enjoyed freshly harvested eggs you'll appreciate my surprise at their extraordinarily delicious taste. Heavenly lightness and fluffiness! Two eggs, gently whisked, filled and frothed in the frying pan. They exploded -- equaling three or four "dated" supermarket eggs. The farmer was right. Those damaged two were too scrumptious to describe. Color me now spoiled. It's real fresh eggs -- or none.

Farmer's markets nationwide are raising the bar. They're introducing us to new taste experiences, unusual fruits and vegetables, and homemade condiments. And our neighbors.

Yes, farmer's markets have become emblematic of the locavore movement -- eating food harvested from within a 100-mile radius, primarily for environmental and health reasons.

There's something to be said for buying food directly from the people who've tilled the soil, sown the seed, pulled the weeds, and dug up the potatoes they hand us. Waiting in line we chat about the weather, ask about a strange-shaped vegetable, learn new ways to cook. This is person-to-person, intracommunity connection.

Mid-October I was fortunate to be in Madison, Wisconsin on a Saturday. Dane County's Farmer's Market on the Square is open on Saturdays and Wednesdays until mid-November, when it goes indoors. The DCFM is reported to be the largest producer-only farmer's market in the United States.

About 150 vendors surround the granite Capital Building -- sellers artfully creating displays showing products at their best, each stall looking finer than the next. The biggest, reddest radishes were bunched and ready for nibbling. Nearly 40 bushel baskets of organically grown apples were labeled and arranged from sweetest to less sweet on one side; puckering tart to less tart on the other. Many small-sized, heritage varieties. Free samples.

Heirloom chartreuse, horned Romanesco broccoli was described as sweeter than regular broccoli. The vendor suggested steaming it whole, drizzling with melted butter, and sprinkling with lemon pepper and shredded Parmesan cheese. If I'd had access to a kitchen, I'd certainly have bought an alien-looking head to taste.

I couldn't resist a 1-ounce bottle of Herb-n-Oyster Mushroom Seasoning; easier to carry than the fragile, creamy fans of oyster mushrooms that first caught my eye. The vendor couple concocted the seasoning -- pricey at $8. He urged me to use it generously, 2 to 3 tablespoons in eggs, for example.

This being Wisconsin, there were dozens of homemade cheeses. And bags of white cheese curds, a form I initially resisted. "It's squeaky cheese," my Texas friend urged. Yes, a spongy regional delicacy that's an acquired taste.

Autumn bounty spilled out on vendors' tables. Mounds of fingerling, Yukon Gold, and red-skinned potatoes. Beyond the orange pumpkins was a tumble of yellow, green, and tan winged gourds flanked by red, green, and orange bell peppers.

And a table full of popcorn -- hull-less Red Baby Rice, Black, tweedy-looking Calico. How many bags can I stuff in the backpack?

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