We’re about a month away from Farmers' Market season, and I want to talk about the importance of SEASONALITY! I absolutely love supporting local and eating seasonal produce and I’m lucky to live in a good place for it. I love Maryland. My dad grew up on the Severn River and his siblings all settled in this beautiful state. Spending time with family consisted of crab feasts, sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and fishing on the dock. We often visited my Aunt Nancy on her farm “Rock Hill Orchard” in Mt. Airy.
Spending time on the farm was special. We always picked strawberries in June and I still remember how juicy and sweet they tasted. Celebrating the seasons on the farm led me to deeply appreciate farm life. Understanding that my aunt and uncle dedicated their lives every day to the feeding people has stuck with me. They retired many years ago and resettled on the Eastern Shore. Although I can’t visit Rock Hill Orchard anymore, the memories have stayed with me and laid a foundation for my love of food.
In college, I majored in Food Marketing because of my passion for food, farms, cooking and of course, marketing. I spent a semester studying abroad in Italy, tasting my way through 25 flavorful cities and towns. My favorite part was visiting the vineyards of Tuscany. I realized that even though they weren’t growing strawberries or pumpkins, these grape growers were farmers. They worked tirelessly during harvest and produced wine to share with people around the world. I loved learning the stories of each family-owned vineyard and appreciated their work ethic.
While in Florence, I learned about the “Slow Food Movement,” a reaction to the fast food fad. The Slow Food Movement brings together people who appreciate real food and make choices that are best for the community and the environment.
Immersed in these ideals, I began skipping grocery stores in order to shop at the Mercado Centrale or the smaller market on Via de Macchi closer to my apartment in Santa Croce Piazza. I spoke to farmers or butchers and gained a true understanding of the origins of my food. At the time, I thought that this was just the Italian way and that I’d never be able to replicate my lifestyle when I returned to the United States.
I moved to Baltimore in 2011. Immediately, I felt an overwhelming desire to reconnect with the Slow Food Movement and seek out locally grown food. I found the Baltimore Farmers Market under the Jones Falls Expressway and instantly connected. I became friends with the farmers and understood their stories, how they grew their produce, their cooking recommendations and best practices. My eyes were open to this way of life and I’ve never looked back!
First, let’s talk about flavor. Have you ever flown cross country? Think about how you felt. Perhaps you were bloated, tired, cranky or just exhausted. Now, think about your food. It can look pretty tired if it flies all the way across country, too! The taste of a freshly picked apple is exponentially better than one that’s been sitting under bright lights at the grocery store for days or weeks. The easiest reason to eat seasonally is because the flavor and quality is so much better. In addition, the nutrition is higher. Plants receive nourishment from sun, water and soil. Once picked, the nutrition starts to diminish. Think about the difference between bright and juicy tomatoes at a roadside stand in the country in the middle of summer vs. tomatoes stacked at the grocery store in the dead of winter. Which one’s more appealing?
Another reason why I love eating produce that’s in season is because it means I’m supporting my local economy. I think it’s so beautiful for me to stand in line at the pea stand at the Baltimore Farmers Market knowing that I’m face to face with the people who picked the peas in the field. And, what makes the peas special is realizing that by late May, they won’t be available! It’s an exciting supply vs. demand rush that I look forward to each spring. This also lends to the feeling of community. When I support a local vendor, I know that I’m helping someone run their business-- not buy their third car or vacation home.
The first thing I do when I get to the Baltimore Farmers’ Market is order a falafel wrap because its toppings vary every time, depending on what’s in season. It’s really amazing to see the ways the falafel wrap changes between the beginning of Farmers Market Season (springtime) vs. the end (fall) and how different the flavors taste with the falafel. It’s an odd meal to have first thing in the morning, but it’s become a bit of a tradition for me to enjoy in one hand as I fill my basket with produce for the week in the other.
My favorite way to embrace seasonality is through home cooking. I absolutely love putting together a bunch of different ingredients from the Farmers’ Market and coming up with a wild salad or funky soup. It’s also fun to experiment. For example, if I buy too much basil, then I can come up with new uses for it. Last summer, I made a garlic/basil pesto hummus solely because I didn’t want all of my basil to go bad. It was great to spread over eggs and roasted veggies. It’s also great to eat seasonally in response to your body’s own needs. I’m more likely to crave fruits like juicy watermelon and cantaloupe in the summer because that’s what my body needs. Lately this winter, I’ve been enjoying warming foods like baked sweet potatoes, roasted butternut squash and hearty stews. Give the body what it wants!
So, how can you eat seasonally? Find your local farmers market here. If you don’t have access to a Farmers Market, then why not try to visit one while on vacation. Buy souvenirs there instead of at the airport. Do your family, friends and co-workers really need another t shirt/key chain!? Get them locally produced jam, made with strawberries made last week.
If you are local but waking up is hard for you, there are plenty of ways you can support your farmer without going to the Farmers Market. One way is through Hungry Harvest. They rescue/recover produce, curate boxes and deliver them to your home. So, not only are you feeding your body seasonal produce and supporting farmers, you’re also doing your part to reduce waste!
In addition, you can go directly to a farm or order their produce/goods online. My client, Gunpowder Bison, is a farm based in Monkton, Maryland. You can order their bison meat online, or visit their Farm Wednesday through Sunday (11AM- 7 PM) and buy bison meat and local products from their farm store. Good news-- they’ll also be at the Baltimore Farmers Market this year with my other client, Gundalow Juice, which I’m super excited about.
I will leave you with a couple of recipes/ways to incorporate various local ingredients into your weekly menus. Let’s start with breakfast. I love egg bakes. I'm perfectly happy making an egg bake in the crockpot on Sunday and enjoying the same dish for the next few days. My usual combinations include:
Egg + Gunpowder Bison Breakfast Sausage with Sage + Onions + Dino Kale
Egg + local bacon + Sweet Potatoes + Kale
The process is simple. I start by cooking the onions, garlic and then veggies in a large skillet, then I add in the breakfast meat after a few minutes. While that heats up, I crack and beat 8-12 eggs, depending on their size and how many servings I plan to prepare. My rule of thumb is usually 2 eggs and one breakfast sausage per serving, but it's up to you to make that determination. I add all ingredients to the crockpot and I cook on high for about 2 hours. I know it's ready when the egg has cooked through and it doesn't wiggle when I shake the crockpot.
Because summer is my favorite season, I’ll include a gazpacho recipe for you to hold onto. Traditionally made with tomatoes, this refreshing twist on an old favorite can be served as a dessert soup at the end of a hearty meal or as part of a brunch buffet.
Cucumber Cantaloupe Gazpacho
2 cups (1-inch cubes) cantaloupe
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp cilantro for garnish
Salt to taste
Method: Place cantaloupe, cucumber in a food processor and blend until puréed. Refrigerate until chilled. Garnish with cilantro.