There’s an old saw that goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Vermont just wait a bit”; and it couldn’t be truer than during the month of May, a month that teases us with the unrelenting heartlessness of an older sibling. One day we are biking and gardening under clear, blue skies, and the next we are wrapped in a blanket, wondering if it was a little premature to clean the wood stove and put it to bed for the season. While our taste buds are craving strawberries and asparagus, our local produce shelves still are stocked with kale and cabbages. Or are they?
Not that long ago, spring would have been a difficult season to start a weekly food column in Vermont based on fresh, local produce and provisions. Now, however, thanks to the growing demand for both, and to area farmers striving to meet those demands, one can find plenty of fresh fare to eat and to write about. With the use of greenhouses and up-to-date storage facilities, producers in our area are able to offer locally grown foodstuffs year round. And, if you know where to look, you can find grass fed beef, hand crafted cheeses, truly fresh eggs, free-range chickens and raw whole milk.
I spoke with David Schoales, manager of the Brattleboro Farmer’s Market, to find out what produce their farmers are offering this week. At the market you will find baby greens of all sorts: spinach, Asian, mustard, dandelion, arugula, tatsoi, kale, lettuces; also, copious quantities of rhubarb, and, if you’re fortunate, ramps (wild leeks). He also mentioned that you would find the best selection of seedlings and perennials in the area.
Remember that May is the month of taunting, and while the heat of the middle day sun is warming you at the farmer’s market, remember that when the sun goes down and the temperature drops, we’ll be looking around for a sweater and debating whether to relight the stove. When the weather tricks the appetite, turn to ingredients that are equally good served hot or cold. That way, you’ll be prepared for almost anything. Go to the farmer’s market and pick up an assortment of greens: dandy lion, mustard, kale for a sauté, and a couple of pounds of spinach. Don’t forget the fresh herbs. I like to buy some potted ones that I can use now and then plant while I await my seed crop. I chose parsley, basil, dill, and tarragon. My oregano, thyme and mint are already flourishing in the garden from last year.
You’ll have the option of either sautéing the greens with olive oil, a couple of chopped garlic cloves, a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon, or of assembling a salad by tossing the greens with a fresh herb vinaigrette, created by trimming the tips off your potted tarragon, basil, parsley, and dill, and whisking them with olive oil and a little sherry vinegar. If you were lucky, you found ramps. Ramps have a uniquely pungent flavor, a combination of garlic and onion. Just wash them off carefully; use the bulb and as much of the green that looks moist and tender, chop and add to your sauté or salad.
With the spinach you can make either a warming meal or a hearty salad. This is my favorite way to eat Putney Pasta’s cheese tortellini. Slowly wilt a few fat cloves of chopped garlic in 1/2 cup of olive oil. (To peel the garlic, place the flat of your knife onto an unpeeled clove and wham the heal of your hand onto the blade, flattening out the cloves. The skin will pop off and the clove will remain obediently on your cutting board ready for chopping.) Cook one package of tortellini as directed, drain, and while its still hot, toss with the garlic and the garlic infused oil, about a pound of baby spinach, chopped sundried tomatoes, freshly shredded parmesan or asiago cheese, toasted pinenuts, salt, pepper and a few snippets of basil. Serve immediately or let cool to room temperature.
The Brattleboro Farmer’s Market is open on Saturdays from 9 to 2 in West Brattleboro and on Wednesdays from 10 to 2 in the Brattleboro Co-op Plaza/Whetstone Pathway. For more information, check out their website at firstname.lastname@example.org.