Renaissance of the Farmers’ Market

Photo courtesy of The City of Brampton
Photo courtesy of The City of Brampton

This article was originally published in Tidings Magazine.

It’s Saturday, eight in the morning, and already the street is buzzing with conversations and activity. I’d hoped to be here early enough to miss the crowds (a pet peeve of mine) and have first pick of the colourful produce. I guess everyone else had the same idea. Ten years ago, you could roll a bowling ball down the middle of Main Street at this hour. Now, people come out early, carrying bags or pulling wagons ready to fill them with the freshest vegetables, the sweetest fruit and the juiciest pies. I’m at the Brampton farmers’ market this morning, and like so many other markets around Ontario, mine is undergoing a kind of renaissance.

Score one for the locavores. Without them working to spread the love for local food over the last decade or so, I doubt the masses would have ever made their way back from the convenience of one-stop-shopping at the grocery store. Here at the market, I can talk to the farmers and taste the food that was grown not far from my home. If I have one pet peeve, though, (ok, another … oh, alright, I have many), it’s that farmers don’t always sell what they grow. Buyer beware is the rule. My favourite one is the farmer who sells piles of English cucumbers nicely wrapped in plastic. Tell me why they need to be wrapped before coming to the market if they were supposedly picked not long before market day. Can we say, “food terminal”? Know-what-grows-when is all the advice I can give. One more thing: look for the MyPick sign at each vendor’s stall. Created by Farmers’ Markets Ontario, MyPick is a verification program that inspects each member’s farm twice a year to make sure they’re growing what they sell. Neat, eh? There are farmers’ markets springing up all over the place. Mall parking lots make a great market locale, and historic buildings, like Toronto’s St. Laurence Market get a new lease on life. Keep an eye out, and you’ll always come across one somewhere on your travels, and not just on Saturdays either.

Here, the city closes off the main thoroughfare to accommodate a growing number of farmers, buskers and food vendors. It’s a happening place. Look around – you’ll see everyone smiling. Maybe that’s why people fill the street every Saturday. The market junkie admiring the flat beans tells me that he looks forward to trying veg that can’t be easily found at the store. My neighbour insists that the warm aromas of artisan-made pies and cookies make her mouth water. As for me, I have no idea what I’m looking for. I’m on a mission to answer the question that’s foremost in my mind right now: what’s new at the market today?

Pumpkin – Orange Muffins
The recipe for these tasty muffins comes courtesy of Andrews’ Scenic Acres and Scotch Block Winery, a 165 acre family farm and winery located in picturesque Halton Hills, Ontario.
Makes 12 muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp each salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg
1 cup raisins (optional)
1 egg
1 ¾ cups cooked pumpkin puree
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp grated orange rind
½ cup orange juice

1. In large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
2. In separate bowl, beat egg; blend in pumpkin, oil, orange rind and juice. Pour all at once over dry ingredients; stir just enough to blend. Spoon into large greased or paper lined muffin cups, filling to tops.
3. Bake in 375° F oven for about 25 minutes or until golden and tops are firm to the touch. Let stand for 5 minutes before removing from pans to cool on racks.

Sweet Peas in Wine
This one’s an old family favourite. The only definite is that you have to use fresh-shelled peas. The frozen peas from the store just don’t taste the same.

3 tbsp olive oil
6 cups fresh-shelled peas
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and finely chopped
1 tbsp basil leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup water
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a large pan. Add peas and Swiss chard. Stir and toss until vegetables are coated in oil. Add basil, mint and parsley; stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add wine and water.
2. Partially cover pan. Let simmer until the liquid has evaporated and peas are soft. If liquid evaporates before peas are cooked, just add a splash of equal parts wine and water.

Tomato Salad
I always look forward to eating a whole lot of this salad all summer long. It’s a great way to use up the truckload of tomatoes I end up buying.

1 garlic clove, sliced in half
4 tomatoes, quartered and seeds removed
1 green pepper, chopped into bite-sized chunks
½ onion, thinly sliced
4 basil leaves, ripped into pieces
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (best quality)
Salt, to taste

1. Rub the inside of the serving bowl well with the two halves of garlic clove. Add tomatoes, green pepper, onion and basil to the bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, stir together olive oil and salt. Pour dressing over tomato mixture and toss gently. Adjust seasoning.

Apple Spice Cake
I’ve been making this one for decades. Not sure where it came from originally! Spicy and sweet, this one works out nicely as muffins, too.

2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1-3/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
½ cup butter
1-1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup applesauce

1. Coat walnuts in a little flour and set aside.
2. In another bowl, combine remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
2. In a separate bowl, cream butter, brown sugar and eggs until light and fluffy.
3. Add dry ingredients alternately with applesauce. Stir in nuts.
4. Spread batter into two greased 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 pans. Bake at 325°F for 45 to 55 minutes.

Roasted Harvest Soup
This recipe was inspired by a cajun recipe I learned at a cooking class I took about 15 years ago. Perfect for those cooler nights. Again, it’s a great way to use up some of those extra vegetables crammed into your fridge.

Soup Base
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 to 3 sage leaves, finely chopped
¼ tsp cayenne
½ tsp salt
3 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
6 to 8 plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
3 leeks, white part only, sliced lengthwise, washed and dried
6 cups chicken stock
½ cup cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the Garnish
6 oz hot pancetta, diced
½ small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp butter
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped finely
4 green onions, finely sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Soup Base
1. In a small bowl, mix together olive oil, thyme, sage, cayenne and salt.
2. Brush or toss vegetables with the olive oil mixture. Place the vegetables in a roasting pan, and roast at 350°F for 1-1/4 hours, or until they are beginning to brown.
3. Remove from the pan and place in a food processor. Purée completely.
4. Place vegetables into a large stock pot. Add the stock. Simmer for 15 minutes then add the cream. Simmer again for a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes longer to blend the flavours.

For the Garnish
1. Sauté the pancetta on medium heat until crispy. Set aside.
2. Pour off the fat.
3. Over medium heat, sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
4. Add butter to pan. Add Swiss chard, stirring and tossing to cook. Add a little water to pan if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To Serve
1. Reheat greens, if necessary.
2. Divide greens into soup bowls. Pour very hot soup onto the greens. Garnish with the sautéed hot pancetta and green onions.


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