When Life Offers You Rutabagas Take the Biggest Ones – A Good Day of Winter Marketing

November 16, 2010 at 11:28 am

Rob Gardner

brussels and rutabegas


Any November Saturday that takes me to two winter markets is a good Saturday, but when I walk away with change from ten after getting oh about 15 pounds of rutabagas as well as a tree’s worth of Brussels sprouts, and let me tell you about the greens included, it’s a good Saturday of winter marketing.

I got my first pleasant surprise of the day just past Cermak, driving south on Cicero.  My wife, on her way to sell for Tomato Mountain Farm, in the car with me (actually given her responsibility I was in the car with her), mentioned how Cermak seemed so far away yet we had so far to go to get to Beverly.  “Yeah”, I responded and did the math on how many more blocks we needed.  But my math did not equal her math, and this time it had nothing to do with sloppy calculations on my part.  I had us going to 95th.  My wife said drive to 108th.  Mmmmm.  The winter market I knew, the one that sent me an email, the one I mentioned the day earlier on the Local Beet, was in Beverly.  We were driving to Beverly.  She said drive to 108th.  OK, as alluded to above, the South side of Chicago neighborhood of Beverly contained two winter markets on November 13, 2010.

My wife worked the market I did not know, at Olivia’s Garden.  This market included pastured pork from Crystal and her C & D Farm; more good local meats from Mint Creek, the fine products from our friend Jim the Vinegar Guy Vitalo, and produce grown in the community garden of Pullman.  In addition to the local goodies, the market included two people selling humus and two people selling pita bread and a third selling pita chips.  I could live with all three pita vendors.  I found the pita chips, covered in cheeses and spices, incredibly addictive.  From another pita vendor, I found also fresh made (still warm) flat pies of spinach, feta and garlic; so I can safely proclaim the final pita vendor, sold by a Susan Sarandon doppelganger, about the best pita bread I’ve every had.  It’s like when my friend Steve P talks about how the French make better risotto than the Italians, I’m telling you know one knows how to improve pita like the French.  The pita from Olives 4 You is fluffy yet still substantial, not too heavy yet a lot more substance than most other pitas.  Seek this out.

Around 10 AM, I left my wife and her array of salsas and other organic tomato products for the winter market I knew, the one a block north of 95th in a Beverly Church.  Here, I found a very full booth from Chicago Botanic’s Windy City Harvest. Amongst the offerings, recently harvested rutabagas.  I marveled over the size of the one one the table.  “You think that’s something, look at this.”  This would be the result of leaving a rutabaga root in the ground as things got colder.  This would be a rutabaga just under the size of a basketball.  And no there is nothing woody or starchy or watery about a big rutabaga.  It is not like a summer squash where big is not better.   On the contrary, I figured, as the rutabagas were being sold by the piece, not by the pound, why not get the most gigantic.  More value.  All I had to lose was time it would take to cook.  If I tried to cook this baby whole, it would take the whole afternoon.  So, chunk it up I though.  Besides all that root, Windy City Harvest sold me the entire rutabaga plant.  I had never seen anyone sell rutabaga greens, but I figured why not eat those greens too.  I mean a rutabaga is just a variant of a turnip, and we eat turnip greens.  Some google revealed that I assumed correctly.

Then, to go with rutabaga, I picked up Brussels sprouts.  Like the rutabaga, Windy City sold me the entire plant.  I never realized, being not much of a gardener, how much there was to a Brussels sprout plant.  Even when you get a stalk of sprouts, it turns out that you are only getting half of the actual stalk.  With some serious cleaver action, I now have two stalks worth of sprouts.  And leaves too, as with the rutabagas, this cabbage variant also has a huge amount of apparently edible side leaves, leaves that look a lot like collards.  I understand from Twitter that Top Chef Stephanie Izard, has already wowed the world with Brussels sprout leaves.  All of that food, it cost me $2 for each rutabaga and, I believe, $2.50 for the Brussels sprouts.  If I wanted to spend more money at Windy City Harvest, I could have purchased lettuce, beets, spinach, kale, herbs and probably a few other things I did not note.  Also at the Beverly winter market, I could have purchased from about eight varieties of apples at Seedlings.  I chose the one, Courtland, that went best for the girl next door to Seedlings making to order, caramel apples.  Earlier in the day, from the Pullman Gardens woman, I got tiny carrots and hot peppers.  I came home Saturday with a lot of food for the larders.

I’m glad I got so much for my rutabagas and Brussels sprouts as I had done so little cold weather shopping until this Saturday.  When I hit the last Oak Park farmer’s market of the year, do you know what I walked away with?  Tomatoes and bell peppers.  Just the other day we finished the last cucumbers in the house.  I’ve tried as long as possible to reject the change in seasons.  Still, as the inevitable chill settles in, I find myself pleased with our winter market options, including the options I did not know.

It would be bad enough that my wife was working at a winter market I did not know about in Beverly.  It turns out that during the course of the day, I learned that the City of Chicago market at Lincoln/Damen/Irving would be continuing through November, and the the Tuesday market in Lincoln Square, where my wife also worked, would also continue through November.  It seems like winter marketing should be good for a lot of you.