Return to the Farmer’s Market

September 1, 2008 at 10:14 am

Rob Gardner

We manage to remain local for a whole week without visiting a farmer’s market.  We could probably continue to do so by visiting all the area grocery stores with local.  This Local Family lives close to an outstanding grocery store, Angelo Caputo’s (the one at 2560 N. Harlem, Elmwood Park).  Last week we could find much local there from red pears to blue berries; pale cabbage to bright tomatoes.  A local family does not need to shop farmer’s markets this time of year.  But if you are a gonna hit a farmer’s market, might as well hit a big one, a great one, one of the best in the Chicago area.  I am not talking about my area Oak Park market.  I am talking about Oak Park’s demographic rival, Evanston.  It has been ages since I have visited the Evanston Farmer’s Market, and I do not believe I have ever visited it when it is so peak-y.  What a market.

Although it has no bearing on the rest of this post, nor does it diminish or distract at all from how much I love-loved the Evanston market, I will state that I am not ready to give away Oak Park’s standing as “the best Chicago area market.”  Something to do with feel and all.  Still, like I say, that’s neither here nor there for the story at hand.  The story of Evanston is that this is one freakin’ huge market.  The market is dominated by three notable and prominent vendors in the local eating community: Henry’s Farm, Nichol’s and Green Acres.  Each of these stands over-flowed with harvest time bounty.  None of these farmers satisfied an itch for something.  The had to satisfy an itch for everything.  Many types of potatoes, assorted peppers, unusual Asian vegetables; cultivated to wild.  Really, the market shoppers most concentrated on these mega stands.  The flow of people aisles away lets up a lot.  As good as the three vendors are, the Evanston market offered much, much more.  There were at least three other vendors offering organic goods including a stand offering organic apples and grapes.  That is really a rarity in Chicago area markets.  There were all the Michigan peaches and nectarines one wants this time of year.  There was eggs and cheese (good Wisconsin cheese like Brunkow and Mt. Sterling Creamery–gosh I wish I was going straight home so I could have purchased some of their feta) and meats from Heartland and the other Wettstein’s (Larry and Marilyn’s Organic Pasture Family Farm).  This local guy stood around for a bit, daunted.

The first thing to buy, though, came easy.  Buy heirloom tomatoes.  Of course ugly tomatoes pervaded, but whose to buy.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Nichol’s had them for $2/lb, yet before I could pull the trigger, and thank God I wanted to do more re-con, I saw them at Green Acres for $1.50/per.  I count about 24 on two platters in our dining room.  Then, we had to buy fruit.  My wife reminds everyone she sees how I failed her on her recent birthday by not getting her another bushel of peaches.  I planned to redeem myself, but we never found the right combination of price/aroma.  We only got a few quarts, plus some white peaches and some nectarines.  Our final agenda item, sweet peppers, and we bought a good amount from Green Acres and Henry in a few shapes.  The just because purchases: “wild” arugula and certainly wilder purslane.  Our needed herbal supplements: flat leaf parsley and mint (basil came generously donated by a friend).  Our needed surprise: sweet potatoes.

Two days before Evanston, we got our weekly CSA box:

  • Cucumbers (5 or so full size/12 or so pickle size)
  • Muskmelon
  • Green peppers (2)
  • Cherry tomatoes (2 baskets)
  • Slicing tomatoes  (about 5)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Onion
  • Peaches

Other local purchases this week:

  • House made mozzarella from Marion St. Cheese Market (made from Trader’s Point Creamery milk)
  • Michigan pears from Caputo’s
  • A bushel of Michigan plum tomatoes from Caputo’s

We can be a local family about now without a farmer’s market, but we had a good time being a local family this week by visiting an outstanding farmer’s market.