It's farmers market time again, where Utahns can sample, shop and socialize.
Nature's jewelry box is on full display, with ruby-red cherries, emerald-colored leafy greens and golden apricots. Not to mention zucchini, carrots, beets, cucumbers, rhubarb, snap peas, summer squash, peppers, radishes and onions. As the season goes on, you'll see more sweet corn, tomatoes, melons, apples, pears, peaches and so on.
There are now 20 or so farmers markets dotting the state, from Logan to Springdale, ranging in size and offerings. Depending on the market, you can listen to live music, taste-test cheese or olive oil, and rub on homemade hand cream or lip balm while checking out crafts and fresh-cut flowers.
Farmers markets can be a healthful way to shop, according to American Institute for Cancer Research. The group encourages Americans to indulge in the season's bounty of cancer-protective produce.
"This time of year offers us a chance to wean ourselves off of expensive, processed convenience foods and take charge of what we feed ourselves and our families," said dietitian Karen Collins, nutrition adviser to the American Institute for Cancer Research. "It's generally cheaper and healthier to make your own meals. And it's easy to get inspired by the huge variety of fresh vegetables and fruits now available at local farm stands and farmers markets."
It looks like Americans are already listening. According to a recent report from Information Resources Inc., 53 percent of American consumers say they are taking more time to cook meals from scratch than they did six months ago, and 55 percent say they are buying fewer prepared meals.
Buying local food keeps neighboring farmers and food purveyors in business in your own community, according to Alison Einerson, executive director of Local First, a nonprofit group that promotes local businesses and products. Also, local food doesn't need to be shipped hundreds of miles, which saves on energy, fuel emissions and traffic congestion.
To showcase typical farmers market finds, Local First recently sponsored two chef cook-offs at the Downtown Farmers Market. So what can you do with a basket of Morgan Valley Lamb, Honey of Deseret, arugula, spinach, carrots and baby beets from Borski Farms and Bell Organics, Winder cream, butter and bacon, Beehive Cheese cheddar, Gnome Grown Mushrooms and Week's berries?
Daniel Sagetree and Bo Dean of One World Cafe cubed the lamb, floured the pieces and browned them in olive oil with the carrots, adding a little garlic powder, ginger and rosemary. They steeped the cream with mint leaves, then added curry spices, honey and blended in a little flour and butter to thicken it into a chutney sauce for the lamb and carrots. They shredded beets and carrots into a salad served with a vinaigrette.
Jerry Liedtke of Tin Angel Cafe sauteed bacon and mushrooms. Then he added cream and cooked it into a flavorful sauce for wilted greens and fresh strawberries. The dish was topped with a slice of Beehive Cheese's Promontory cheddar, lightly floured and quickly seared for a crusty exterior. He also sauteed a honey-and-fennel-seasoned lamb chop and served it with a porcini pancake. The diced mushrooms were sauteed in butter and added to a batter of flour, egg, cream and lemon juice, and then cooked.
Liedtke's restaurant uses as much farmers market produce as possible. Some of his tips:
• Get the best value for your money by paying attention to which fruits or vegetables are most plentiful.
"They're cheaper when they're really plentiful, and farmers have so much they're trying to get rid of it," Liedtke said. "So plan ahead. When you know tomato season is coming, you can buy a lot. You can enjoy them fresh the first day, and then make the rest into tomato sauce to use later. Or with apricots, when you realize you'll start getting fruit flies all over your house if you don't prep them up, you can puree them into smoothies. So you start thinking of things like drying or freezing. The food dictates what you need to do, or else it will go bad."
• Choose produce at various stages of ripeness. "Often people are thinking only of their first meal," Liedtke said. "But you can buy two tomatoes ripe and ready to eat, and two that will be ready in three days. That's the beauty of being able to hand-pick your produce."
• Taste samples and talk to the farmers. "I had the experience of buying a bag of cherries without tasting them first, then I went around and I tasted other farmers' cherries I could totally tell that some were far superior. The farmers will be happy to tell you about their practices, if they pick only at night or if they are all-organic. All these variables give the food a little personality, and you can decide which farms you like better."
• Use simple preparations that spotlight fresh flavor. "Fresh arugula really adds more flavor in salads or on pasta," Liedtke said. "Whenever you can use fresh ingredients, you'll get more flavor than something that's been ripened in a cardboard box and sat in a cooler for two months."
Keep in mind that the selection at farmers markets changes with the local growing season, so you won't find exotic or out-of-season fruits and vegetables found in supermarkets. And some markets include more crafts and ready-made foods than others. For instance, the Utah Botanical Center's market in Kaysville has handmade soaps and lotions, and crafts, while the Tooele market allows produce only.
Michelle Pitt, who oversees it the Tooele market, said the mayor and City Council "felt the Farmers Market was becoming more of a flea market or swap meet, and they would like to keep it as a true farmers market," she said. "This is our first year keeping it as a produce-only market, so we'll see how the public responds."
General shopping tips:
• Wear comfortable shoes and sun protection.
• Come with cash in small bills, as many vendors are not equipped to take credit cards.
• To transport your purchases, bring a sturdy shopping bag, a wagon, rolling cooler or empty kid's stroller. You may not want to lug a 10-pound watermelon, bunches of carrots and a few jars of salsa several blocks to your car.
• Part of the fun is trying something new. Take a chance and bring home a fruit or veggie that you're not familiar with. Golden beets? Striped eggplant? Go for it.• If it will be a while before you get home from the market, bring a cooler. Don't let your food sit in a hot car for several hours while you run errands.
HERBED SUMMER GREEN BEANS
1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary leaves (or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh)
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves (or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or table salt
Place beans in medium saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil Reduce heat to low; simmer 4-6 minutes or until tender-crisp. Drain. Return beans to saucepan. Toss with remaining ingredients. Stir over medium heat 1-2 minutes, or until heated through. McCormick & Co.
DILLED SHRIMP CUCUMBER CUP WITH BOURSIN CHEESE
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
12 large cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp, split in half lengthwise
In a medium-size bowl, stir together the olive oil and chopped dill; add the shrimp, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, cut the cucumber width-wise into twenty-four 1/2-inch sections. With a melon-baller, scoop out the central seeded area from one side of each section to create a cup.Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the Boursin cheese to soften it. With a teaspoon, fill each cucumber cup with Boursin cheese; top each with one shrimp half. Garnish each cup with a dill sprig, and serve. Makes 24 cucumber cups/8 servings. "The Berghoff Family Cookbook: From Our Table to Yours," by Carlyn Berghoff and Jan Berghof, with Nancy Ross Ryan (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $29.95
SUMMER SQUASH SAUTE
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow squash, in 1/4-inch thick slices
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary leaves (or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh)
1 large fresh clove garlic or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or table salt
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Add squash and zucchini; cook and stir 3 minutes. Sprinkle with rosemary, garlic powder, pepper and sea salt. Add tomatoes; cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp. Serves 4.Nutrition per serving: 64 calories, 4 grams fat, 2 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, no cholesterol, 108 mg sodium, 2 grams fiber. McCormick & Co.