Just a few weeks ago, we were trudging along in our winter coats amid snowflakes and chilly winds, but now it’s spring – and that means we can turn to the Charles Town Farmers Market for the makings of .
When the market opens for the season Saturday, shoppers won’t find tomatoes, corn, peaches or other summer favorites, but they’ll still see plenty of nature’s best, including free-range eggs, queso fresco and other goat cheeses, fresh herbs including parsley and dill plus Swiss chard, red Russian kale and other greens.
Such real food – fresh, well-grown and unprocessed – is what Americans have gotten away from in recent decades, leading to an epidemic of obesity and other health woes, posits Michael Pollan in his bestseller, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”
Creating meals using the season’s bounty from local growers and producers is one way to remedy the problem, Pollan explains. That falls in line with his three tenants: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”
To Pollan, food isn’t the merely edible, food-like items many of us toss into our shopping carts, the bars, chips, drinks and other packaged goods that each bear a warning sign of sorts in the form of a long list of ingredients that often includes the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup along with a host of unfamiliar, unpronounceable chemical additives.
He also urges us to step away from what’s long been the trend in the Western diet – lots of food served up fast and cheap. We’d be healthier and happier, he writes, eating less but spending more on high-quality food and investing time in cooking real meals at home.
Pollan grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s in Long Island, N.Y., where shopping at the farmers market was the norm. He advocates we plan vegetable gardens of our own and then connect with local growers and producers for the rest of the food on our tables.
Instead of an anonymous shopping experience at the supermarket, “shake the hand that feeds you,” he advises in “In Defense of Food.”
Anyone who cares about nutrition and health would do well to buy fresh, locally grown food from a farmer’s market or by joining a Community Supported Agriculture program, Pollan told an interviewer.
How can you know what you’re getting? At the supermarket, asking questions of growers isn’t practical and the nutritional information found on many food labels is hard to decipher and often misleading.
Pollan’s advice: “Talk to farmers, visit their farms or get on the web – you’ll be surprised how many interesting possibilities there are today within a short drive of your home,” he said when “In Defense of Food” was released in 2009.
Taking such an approach to shopping for food does require more time than zipping into the megamart and piling up a cart, but Pollan – now a resident of California, where he lives with his wife and son – says this effort comes with innumerable payoffs.
“Going to the farmer’s market, meeting farmers and learning what to do with an unfamiliar vegetable, is one of the most pleasurable things I do every week—infinitely more stimulating than going to the supermarket,” he said in the interview with his publisher, which can be found at Penguin.com. “The industrial food chain has convinced us that shopping for and preparing food and eating together at a table is an unbearable burden and inconvenience; that message might be a good way to sell convenience food, but it’s simply not true.
“These are some of the greatest pleasures in life!”
Cooking with quality, fresh items from the farm market adds more flavor to any dish, agrees Brian Tanguay, who grows hydroponic herbs and greens and raises free-range chickens for Tangy Produce, the Shepherdstown business he owns with his partner Colleen Curran.
For instance, there’s a huge taste difference between the free-range eggs found at the Charles Town Farmers Market and eggs sold at the grocery store, Tanguay said. “It’s like comparing juicy, succulent garden tomatoes to flavorless store-bought tomatoes – there really is no comparison.”
His chickens live the way chickens did for generations. They don’t take drugs – no hormones or medications designed to maximize egg production – and they spend their days roaming the land, not confined to a small indoor space.
“Our chickens are released from the coop every morning where they’re free to exercise, socialize, explore and forage for insects and vegetation as they desire,” Tanguay said. “This makes for healthier chickens which in turn produce healthier, tastier eggs.”
Here, we share recipes for four dishes, each of which rely on eggs or other ingredients that will be on sale at the market along 100 S. Samuel St. on Saturday.
Huevos Rancheros is a showcase for one of Suzanne Behrmann’s varieties of the goat cheese she makes at Shepherd’s Whey Creamery in Martinsburg.
Two other recipes come from Charles Town businesses, Angie Jimenez’s Rivas Salsa and Fionna Harrison’s Slaynt Vie Farm. Jimenez shares how to make the Mexican chicken soup she loves best while Harrison’s offering is a versatile quiche adapted from Anna Thomas’s 1978 “The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two.”
Finally, Tanguay and Curran’s dill and parsley are the stars of a buttermilk dressing that’s also low in fat.
A look at four first-day-of-farm market recipes:
SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK: We’d love to hear from readers about their experiences cooking from the farm market for a Life feature to run later this spring. Post pictures, recipes, anecdotes and the like on the Spirit’s Facebook page or send them to us (Christine@spiritofjefferson.com or 114 N. Charles St., Charles Town 25414).