Sowing Our Oats
Just this past Wednesday at the Green City Market’s volunteer dinner, I was speaking with a friend who has been a long-time resource for the market. For many years, she served as the volunteer coordinator and more recently as one of the authors of our guide, “Know Your Farmer”. We both agreed that the market and the larger Chicago community has finally reached a tipping point, where once it was a struggle to bring farmers and shoppers to the market, we now have an embarrassment of riches. When she became involved with the organization, a year or so before I did, there were under 20 farmers, the market was once a week, and the shoppers dedicated but modest in number. Today, over the course of the season, we had around 60 different producers. And shoppers? In the dead of Winter, they numbered well into the thousands.
One the many benefits of this meteoric rise is the introduction of products heretofore unavailable locally. For example, it was such a great moment for the Market and for Chicago when chef-turned-farmer Tracey Vowell began bringing her wonderful products on a regular basis. Formerly the managing chef of Frontera Grill, Vowell now owns Three Sisters Garden, a farm in Kankakee. All of her varied offerings, including black beans, pea and sunflower sprouts, corn smut and cornmeal, are really terrific but my two favorites are the rolled oats and pecans.
The oats are flat and dimpled, nutty in flavor. Toasted and cooked in water or milk, they yield a nourishing and satisfying breakfast. I haven’t used them in my oatmeal cookie recipe yet, but I’m quite certain that it will be one of the best versions yet. The pecans are meaty, about the size of a grown man’s thumb with a rounded, caramelized flavor. I love tossing them after toasting into a spinach salad with dried cranberries and dressed with a cranberry-honey vinaigrette.
A fresh bag of both these ingredients both inspired the creation of this very local granola. Neither too sweet nor too sticky, this recipe allows the true flavors of each to shine. I like this as a cereal with milk or as a topping for yogurt or fruit. Please note that because it’s low in oil and sugar, it does not clump.
Makes 4 ½ cups
3 cups rolled oats
1 tablespoon flax seeds
¼ cup maple syrup or more to taste
¼ cup canola or grapeseed oil
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
a pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup dried fruit, such as cherries, strawberries or blueberries
METHODS: Preheat the oven to 350° F. In a large bowl, mix together the first six ingredients. Add a pinch, really a whisper of cinnamon. Stir well and spread out the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with either silpat or parchment. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until light brown.