Evanston Winter Farmers Market: February 2012 Update

February 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Now that spring is on its way, it’s time to get back into the groove of visiting the farmers market on Saturday morning, and picking up those good things you just can’t find in the supermarket, no matter how upscale may be.  You can continue to be a locavore, even in mid-winter, though you may have to stretch “local” to include Wisconsin – not really a huge compromise, compared to eating vegetables and fruit jetted in from the Southern Hemisphere in mid-winter.

Speaking of Wisconsin, the first vendors you encounter when entering the Great Room of the Evanston Ecology Center, the home of this market, are Wisconsin-based Evanston farmers market staples: River Valley Mushroom Ranch and Brunkow Cheese.  River Valley Ranch carries not only fresh mushrooms, but also pasta sauces, salsas, fresh ravioli, grow-your-own kits, and other products. One notable addition to the summer line of products:  fresh eggs.   Brunkow, also a fixture at the venerable Dane County farmers market in Madison, WI, can augment your eggs and mushrooms with their meticulously organic hand-made aged cheeses; try an aged cheddar, or one of their flavored cheeses, such as the delicious herb and garlic.   A visit to these two vendors could easily provide a base for at least a week of meals.

To complete those meals, augment these products with Illinois-grown potatoes, garlic, and shallots from another long-time Evanston summer market favorite, Nichols Farm & Orchard. The entire north wall of the room is occupied by Nichols’s tables of local produce appropriate for the season; in addition the root crops, the heirloom varieties of apples grown for winter storage are also available.   If you are a gardener, keep in mind that the potatoes, garlic, and shallots are suitable for use very soon as seed crops for spring planting.  Take advantage not only of the variety available, but also of the knowledge that you are using a locally grown crop, acclimated for Illinois soils and growing conditions, and this year’s early spring availability via this market.

A good recent find – locally manufactured, if not grown – is Futter’s Nut Butters, based in the far north suburb of Lake Zurich.  Futter’s sells a very wide variety of nut butters, including rarely-seen kinds such as pistachio, Brazil nut, walnut, and hazelnut, as well as interesting blends, such as a cinnamon-flavored pecan-cashew butter (great for baking, as well as for livening up oatmeal). Futter’s also carries whole nuts, both raw and dry-roasted, as well as nut brittles, and gluten-free cookie mixes.  Futter’s is an interesting resource for bakers, wannabe healthy snackers, and both vegetarians and hard-core vegans.

Not to forget four-legged friends, the market is also home to Northshore Pet Chef, a Highland Park maker and seller of natural dog and cat foods, as well as pet treats.  The treats are available in offbeat varieties, such as peanut butter, salmon, sweet potato, and blueberry (!), many of which are gluten-free, should that be of concern.   A nice find for the pampered North Shore pet.

Visit the Evanston Winter Market a visit this weekend, and keep it (relatively) local.  One note: while a sizable free parking lot is available just across Bridge street, handicapped parking is extremely limited, and sometimes completely blocked by vendors, making access for the mobility-challenged possibly problematic.  No street parking is available on either McCormick or Bridge streets, nor is there a crosswalk directly from the lot to the Ecology Center.   While Bridge Street is not particularly busy, it is a good idea to be mindful and aware of the limitations and possible hazards of the location.

Evanston Winter Farmers Market
Evanston Ecology Center
2024 McCormick Blvd
Saturdays, 9AM to 1PM through 4/28/2012
Free parking available in the lot across Bridge St.