Just How Fresh Can You Get Y’all

So many people abandon the farmers market in the winter months. I appreciate that my farmers market isn’t so crowded during the cold season, but I wonder if people really know what they’re missing.

I can understand that people may be too busy fighting a mild bout of seasonal affective disorder to get to the market; these last few weeks of rain have been a struggle for me, too. But if there’s one place that reminds me that winter is temporary (even when it feels most permanent), and that not everything wilts and dies in these cold, dark days, it’s the farmers market.

I should point out that I mean a California farmers market. The market might not hold the same appeal if you live in an area that isn’t able to produce much in the winter. My sister’s New York City farmers market is grim right now. It’s all potatoes and root vegetables, she says. There’s nothing green. A Seattle-based blogger reported recently that there were only a handful of stands at her farmers market. But those of us in California have no reason to stay home (other than the allure of a warm bed, which is admittedly strong on these blustery mornings).

Don’t listen to anyone who says that there is nothing at the farmers market in the winter. Our market has has so much to offer than it’s almost embarrassing. There’s wealth of greens, different kinds of kale, rapini, chard, dandelion greens, arugula, cabbage — add in some of the beans available and you’ve got all the makings of a good soup, and what else would you be making this time of year?

There’s so much at our farmers market that we’ve tried three new vegetables this past month alone: nettles, sunchokes and celeriac. The celeriac preparation I chose resulted in a disappointing green slop, but the sunchokes were delicious. It’s a bit strange to eat something that has the taste of an artichoke and the texture of a potato. (To make the sunchoke even more strange, I read that they’re are actually part of the sunflower family). Regardless, they’re worth seeking out.

I was not enthusiastic when Mr. WholeHog suggested trying nettles. If a food is so prickly that you can’t touch it, isn’t that a sign that you shouldn’t eat it? But I found that nettles are worth the hassle (and if you have a pair of tongs, they aren’t even really a hassle). We parboiled them and initially we had them on a pizza. We sauteed our second batch. Regardless of the preparation, the nettles were terrific and they’re also worth eating if you are feeling a little weather-related malaise because their bright green color is like spring on a plate.

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Perhaps even better than the greens and the new vegetables this time of year is the citrus. During this dark time of year, I seek out anything that makes the days seem brighter and my replacement for the sun in the last few weeks was the neon-like cheer of Meyer lemons.

Oranges are at the peak of their season right now and this past week, we bought three kinds: clementines, Satsuma mandarins and cara caras. The cara caras are an incredible cross between a grapefruit and a Navel orange. To me, the result is far better than the components — and a fruit like this offers another reason to hit the farmers market: I’ve never seen a cara cara at a regular grocery store.

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