I returned to Sullivan County in late April, after spending half a year in Oaxaca, Mexico. There, the produce is abundant year-round, and only occasionally does a vendor tell me that some fruit or vegetable I’m looking for is out of season. A few weeks later I usually find the item back on display.
Rebecca, our yoga teacher, had emailed me while we were in Mexico to say she’d been to Wild Yarrow Farm in Cochecton, and the owner, Jeffrey, had seedlings for arugula, onions, leeks, mustard greens, lettuce and kale.
On Jeffrey’s website I saw with excitement that he has lots of varieties of basil and other herbs. This is of utmost importance to me, as I use fresh herbs in my cooking daily until fall, when their demise always grieves me.
I was eager to return home and see what else was available in our area, both at the farmers’ markets and at nearby farms and nurseries.
When we first pulled into the driveway after being picked up by a friend at Newark Airport and deposited back home, I immediately saw the light and dark yellow heads of daffodils all over the property.
We had heard rumors that it had been an unusually mild winter, but I was still surprised to see the daffs and our forsythia in full bloom.
As I passed my garden, which abuts the house, I saw that mint, thyme and chives had sprouted up in full force. I was getting spring fever!
My sister Janet and I didn’t get to the farmer’s market in Callicoon until mid-May. We came home to find the weather cold, cloudy and rainy. The driveway became mud and we didn’t venture out much until it let up.
I didn’t know what to expect at the market, so spent some time walking from booth to booth to get an idea of what was available. I was surprised to see vegetables that I think of more as cold-weather fare being sold: potatoes, beets, purple and yellow onions, shallots and carrots.
But I soon spotted Swiss chard, wild and cremini mushrooms, spinach, delicate microgreens, bok choy and totsoi. Totsoi is a leafy green popular throughout Asia. Its taste is more delicate than bok choy and is similar to that of spinach. I bought a bunch to use in a stir-fry.
There were a handful of vendors selling flowering plants as well as herbs. As usual, there were baked goods, both gluten-free and those offered by bakers of sweet traditional fare. Additionally, I noted maple syrup, fresh eggs, wine, meat and chicken, as well as an assortment of apples.
Then I hit upon the harbingers of this time of the year: sunchokes, fiddlehead ferns and ramps. Sunchokes, previously called Jerusalem artichokes, are a tuberous root of a native North American plant in the sunflower family.
Their sweet, nutty, crunchy qualities make them ideal for eating raw, thinly sliced in salads, or on their own with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and topped with shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
They can be sliced and roasted like potatoes, or made into a creamy soup.
Fiddleheads are the furled front of a young fern, harvested for use as a vegetable. The taste is sweet like asparagus, grassy and snappy like green beans, with a touch of broccoli stems.
I’m not sure why many people go gaga over ramps, since I can’t recall if I’ve ever used them, but I was determined to try them this year and bought a bunch. They look similar to spring onions, but the flavor is garlicky, which mellows once cooked. As with spring onions, you can eat ramps from top (long flat leaves) to bulb.
I very much like Swiss chard and have used it in many ways. It’s sometimes sautéed with onions, so I thought I’d try using the ramps instead for more of a kick. Chard stems can be cut like celery and used in a dish; they simply need more time in the pan to soften.
The simple recipe I came up with can be jazzed up with a variety of other elements. For instance, when you remove the pan lid, add a handful of dried cranberries or raisins. Or add some toasted almonds, sliced or slivered, just before serving.
One more option: crumble a little feta or goat cheese on top of the dish at the table.
Welcome to spring, and here’s to summer, with the abundance of sun-kissed fruit, vegetables and herbs at our fingertips.
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