Chicago area farmer’s markets have always been about tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, strawberries that are red damnit, and produce not found at Jewel-i-nicks like lemon cucumbers, damson plums and summer apples. In recent years, markets have added meats, pastured poultry and farm eggs. There’s plenty of cheese and plenty of good bread. Did you know there’s plenty of other interesting stuff at our markets.
I tell this story all the time. I laid out some serious dough for something once called “prosciutto americano” simply because the label said Iowa. I like to find local food. And by now, everybody knows that La Quercia hams are about as good as any hams made anywhere. Yet back then, I only knew about it because I’m looking for the local finds. It did not teach me, but it sure reinforced for me, that about always, the local product is a good product. Some of these things below may be as famous as La Quercia prosciutto americano some day.
I’ve listed below some fun products you can find at markets. Let us know what you are finding too.
- Granola – Our local pantry has often included the locally made Milk n’ Honey granola, but lately the pantry’s hosted a granola I find at some of the many farmer’s markets where River Valley Ranch also sells their mushrooms. Made with fruit from Mick Klug farms, this granola actually rarely stays in my pantry as I’ve usually eaten it within a few days of purchase.
- Fish – What are markets need are some fishmongers (if they could only keep the ice from melting) selling day boat Lake Superior whitefish and other prized freshwater fish. In fact, to tide things over, Chef Foss can sell Shanghai Bass. Until some of that happens, there’s frozen Great Lakes fish sold by Jakes’s Country Meats. You can find Jake’s at the Wednesday Elmhurst market and several other markets around town.
- Compound butters – I admit freely, that my awareness of Maggie’s Gourmet, named after the kitchen maven’s daughter, comes solely from her stand being next to my wife’s Tomato Mountain stand at the Northfield Farmer’s Market. So. Does not mean that her butters, mixed with fresh ingredients from her own gardens, do not taste very good. Moreover, does not mean that her butters do not address some major kitchen needs. I mean instantly, you have a dish when you dab some compound butter across. It works on vegetables, meat, rice or pasta. We’ve been known to slather on bagels. Jane, with her flavored butters named after her daughter is also at the mid-week Northbrook market.
- Tofu – On LTHForum, David “Hat” Hammond attempts to give tofu many chances, although Local Beet founder, Michael Morowitz notes that tofu can be an easy, flexitarian pantry staple. They and others can get high quality, traditionally made Phoenix Bean tofu at the Andersonville Farmer’s Market.
- Vinegars – Jim Vitalo may be another friend of mine, but again it aint gonna stop me hepping his delicious hand made vinegars from Herbally Yours. I’m especially partial to his chili sauces, and I find his balsamic a perfect “kitchen” balsamic vinegar. At the Oak Park Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, the Hine’s VA Market on Thursdays and here and there around town.
Please share some of your unique market finds. We’ll update this list as needed.