Kohlrabi and More Praise for the Farmer’s Market

“What’s that?” asked my Little Sister.  We were standing under a tent at my local farmer’s market, surrounded on three sides  by fresh produce.  “I have no idea,” I said as we stood in line waiting to make our purchases.  “But he’s got a price list – let’s see what’s on there that we’ve never heard of.”  And that’s how we figured out the strange looking thing in front of us was kohlrabi.

It took some time to reach the front of the line, but I didn’t mind because there was so much to take in just standing there.  The guy in front of me was buying fresh corn meal.  This was the second time in a month that I have met someone who grinds local corn into cornmeal.  The farmer was explaining what it could be used for and how to store it.  And I knew when my turn came the farmer would patiently answer all my questions, too.  I got to the front of the line and asked “What’s that?” as I pointed to what I suspected was Kohlrabi.  “That’s a thing called Kohlrabi,” he said.  We were right!

The next question I asked is the reason I love Farmer’s Markets: What do you do with it?  He explained how to bake it, or that I could roast it, or eat it raw, or put it in salads.  I asked what it tasted like, how long it would take to cook, and then said, “I’ll take one.”  It was only fifty-five cents.  For that much, it was worth the adventure of trying something new.

I moved on to the guy who sells pork and beef.  My Little Sister is a vegetarian – or at the stage where she’s trying on the idea.  I raved about this guy’s stuff anyway, and when the farmer offered us a taste test of some grilled pork she took some, too.  He apologized for not calling me in the spring for tutoring for his son.  He explained that his other daughter had been able to help instead.  “No problem,” I said.  “I’m just glad he got the help he needed.”  I then explained to my Little Sister that I had bought meat from this guy over the winter.  I went to his house to pick it up as he doesn’t sell at winter farm markets.  And during that conversation he found out I tutored math and took my number.

“Now these are wonderful,” he said as he pulled some frozen ham hocks out.  “For soups, you mean?” I asked.  “Well, you could use them for that, but I just put them in a crock pot, cover them with water, and they just melt off the bone when they’re done.”  I’d never bought let alone cooked with ham hocks before.  I was in.  “All right – I’ll take them.  And some of your sweet sausage.”  I explained to my little sister, “This is the best sausage ever,” recalling the first time I ever bought meat from him was the day he was offerings tastes of his sausage.

I ran into one of my former high school teachers there, and his wife who is in my crochet group.  I introduced my Little Sister and after a chat with them she said, “You know everyone here!”  I laughed as we made our way to the bakery tent where I introduced her to the delights of Hello Dolly bars.

And then I realized her comment was just another reason I love farmers markets.  Yes, you may run into someone you know at the grocery store.  But how often do you meet the people who grow your food?  Probably never, because most of them live in California or Florida or Kansas.  I first started coming to Farmer’s Markets in an effort to buy local and reduce my environmental impact.  Then the additional perks just kept piling up: the food tastes better, there is much more variety, I can look at something and, instead of wondering what it is, I can simply ask and then learn how to make it.  I don’t have to wait on long lines being tempted by candy bars on either side of me.  I may wait on a line, but everyone on it wants shares similar values to me and wants to chat.  A lot of them even have cute dogs with them.  And I get to build relationships with local people.  People who are doing something they love and want to share it with others.  How can you beat that?

Watermelon Radishes

“Just sign in over there and I’ll start putting your share together,” said the young woman behind the table.  It was a Saturday afternoon and I was at the local college picking up my winter farm share.  Yes, it’s winter.  No, not much grows around here in winter.  But the local farms got together and saved some of their earlier harvests – either by freezing or putting in root cellars – and then sold “shares” to the public.  So once a month from Dec – March, I go pick up my goodies.

As I filled up my green reusable shopping bag, she said,”And be sure to check out what our other vendors are selling – especially the watermelon radishes.”

“Watermelon radishes?” I asked.  “What are those?”

“Oh – they’re delicious!  You can go try them at the table over there.”  I looked over to see a heavily bearded man in flannel standing behind a table.  Lined up on the table in front of him were open plastic containers, the contents of which I couldn’t see from where I was standing.  “Okay,” I said.  “I’ll take a look.”

The guy looked like he belonged in Vermont, not one hundred miles north of New York City.  “Hello,” I said cheerfully.  He nodded in reply, looking a little shy.  I recognized the name of his farm as the one where this months carrots came from.  “Oh – so you’re the one who grew the carrots I just got,” I said, trying to make conversation.  “No,” he said.  “I didn’t grow them.  They just stored them in my root cellar.”  “Oh,” I said.  “Is this your root cellar here?”   I pointed to an open magazine facing me on the table.  The picture showed what looked like a basement with a dirt floor and raised sandboxes all over the room.  “Yeah,” he replied, “I’m the only one locally with a commercial root cellar.  We store the carrots in the sand you see there.”  Now I was talking his language.  He proceeded to tell me about the other vegetables he stored in the root cellar.

“And what are these?” I asked, pointing to white orbs the size of beets sitting in a square plastic container on the table.  “Watermelon radishes,” he replied.  “You can try a slice if you’d like.”  My childhood fear of foreign foods reared its ugly head.  Stalling, I asked, “Why do they call them watermelon radishes?” hoping he’d say they tasted like watermelons.  “Because they’re red on the inside and have a whitish/green rind on the outside.”

Remembering I’m now an adult who should try new things, I took a slice and popped it in my mouth.  Wow.  “They’ve got a little kick!” I said.  He shrugged.  “They’re a little peppery people say,” he replied.

“What do you do with them?” I asked.  “I just grate them and eat them like a salad.”  “Do you peel them first?”  “No – just wash ’em and shred ’em.”  I noticed his lunch of wild grains and figured he wasn’t one to doctor with his food too much.  “Ok.  I’ll take some.”

It was only as I was driving home that I realized I didn’t own a grater.  Having moved ten times in ten years, it had gotten lost along the way.  I knew not to fear.  While at mom and dad’s house in the coming week, I mentioned my lack of this kitchen utensil that, in the past year, I’d never needed.  “Oh – I’m sure I’ve got an extra one,” my mother said. I was sure she did.  This wouldn’t be the first time I’d found success in checking with mom and dad before running out to a store.

At home with my new acquisition – a plastic green tupperware shredder circa 1975 – I googled “watermelon radishes.”  It was just like he said – people pretty much just shred them up.  But I did find a dijon vinaigrette recipe for a dressing.  I had all the ingredients, and so put it together and poured some over my shredded radishes.  It was delicious!

And then tonight, while looking around on the web for other local markets in my area, I happened upon a farm with a cafe that serves breads made with their own flour – they grow and mill the grains themselves!  In fact, every ingredient in every dish they serve is local.  I read an article about the place and it’s owner.  His favorite dish?  Shredded watermelon radishes with salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar.  And I can say, from personal experience, he’s right.  It’s delicious:)